It’s Tuesday, high noon at Wizards of the Coast… which can only mean one thing: time to break out the massive table-sized map, the dozens of miniatures, and continue through our Against the Giants campaign! R&D’s Mike Mearls DMs this lunchtime campaign, hosting a retinue of players through an updated version of the classic series. What hope do they have?
Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, part 2
So long as there’s lunchtime, there’s the lunchtime campaign! At last report, the Great Hall had been entered and massive melee engage with the assembled giants. How did we fare?
For starters, party death and attrition left us with the following group of dedicated giant hunters (with new characters materializing to replace the slain, including Bart’s master of shrouds generously put forward by the message board community):
- Anthropomorphic Bat Druid, with fleshraker dinosaur (Rob Watkins)
- Dwarf Divine Mind/Fighter/War Mind (Andrew Finch)
- Gnome Sorcerer/Fiend Binder, with vrock (Chris Thomasson)
- Gnome Arcane Trickster (Steven Montana)
- Gnome Cleric/Warlock/Master of Shrouds (Bart Carroll)
The fight erupts, and the party immediately jumps into the fray. Bart’s master of shrouds starts off by healing Andrew’s dwarf (using gauntlets of the blood lord, for maximum effect), and summoning four shadows to start draining off hill giant strength. (As it turns out, not so effective a tactic. The shadows are incorporeal, but the giants are suitably armed with magic weapons. They delay, but do not significantly hamper, the giants.)
Andrew’s dwarf (enlarged, we note, though somehow retaining its AC bonus against giants… must be racial knowledge, we rationalize) launches himself bravely into the Great Hall (#11), where the giants have thrown themselves into a frenzy. With the banners and decorations, it quickly becomes apparent what’s going on: We’ve just interrupted Chief Nosnra’s birthday celebration, and he’s none to happy about it. (Why are we here? the PCs ask themselves. Obviously we’re upset because we weren’t invited, and decided to crash the birthday.)
Once more, the party finds itself in a heap of trouble. We’ve whittled away many of the low-level hill giants, but now the stone giants from the Great Hall have come around to start lobbing stones down our hallway. Chief Nosnra, meanwhile, has gone into a rage and slams Andrew to the ground for near fatal damage.
Mike Mearls: It's worth noting that Nosnra also frenzied, as befits a hill giant with levels in… frenzied berserker!
At the end of the session, the part is either taking cover, or else surrounding and healing Andrew’s dwarf to get him back on his feet. The shadows form a wall around Nosnra, and Bart animates a zombie hill giant from the cadaver-filled hallway to help as well. Will it be enough?
Nosnra fights well, quickly wiping out the shadows surrounding him. Rob’s druid unleashes his companion fleshraker dinosaur (dubbed “Bo-Bo”), with an Armor Class raised so high that there’s little chance of anything touching it. Bo-Bo finishes off the giants in the hallway, and then enters the Great Hall.
The dinosaur is definitely needed here. While the party joked when Andrew notched his character’s location on the map with pen instead of pencil, it becomes all too prescient a move: Although healed last session, his dwarf stands up and immediately gets clobbered with three critical strikes against him. Down he goes, having already penned his own gravestone on the map.
Mike Mearls: This was a really interesting set of rolls. This game took place on my birthday, and the dice gods look down and said unto the world, Mike shall know the glory of rolling well today. I rolled natural 20s on three attacks against Andrew's dwarf. Twice, he negated them with his displacement spell. The third time, not so much. Splat went the dwarf.
Meanwhile, Chris’s and Stephen’s spellcasting whittles away a few more giants—including the massive stone giant chief, come to help celebrate. Unbelievably, few giants are left and the tide may have turned… if the party can stay alive.
Victory! Of sorts… with the Great Hall virtually cleared of celebrants, few remain except two stone giants, their chief, and Nosnra. Once more, a summoned greater shadow proves useless, and Bart’s gnome is forced to stone shape a protective bunker over his head. Meanwhile, the stone giants go on an absolute rampage—virtually untouched so far, they make good use of true strike and Power Attacks to locate and squash the party’s invisible spellcasters.
Yet Chris and Stephen’s casters survive (barely), throwing off fire seeds, lightening bolts, and a final confusion spell to all but clear the Great Hall. But the true hero of the day? That would be Bo-Bo the dinosaur, who clamped his teeth around Nosnra and finally brought the big chieftain down.
The Great Hall is ours. And with the bulk of the hill giants slain, we claim victory over the entire steading.
Mike Mearls: The stone giants were clear MVPs of the adventure. There were enough giants that they could spend a round using true strike before charging in, either riding the +20 on the attack to an auto hit, or cashing in their entire base attack for a ton of extra damage. I initially considering doing this with all the elite hill giants, but opted for the stone giants only. That turned out to be the right call. Otherwise, everyone but the dinosaur would've died.
For this lunchtime campaign, it was decided not to spend the next few sessions clearing out the rest of the steading, including the dungeons below. For those who remember the original module, this meant bypassing the fire giants in the Armory and Smithy (#16), the Cavern of the Carrion Crawlers (#23), and four insane manticores guarding the Chief’s Treasure Room (#33)—but so be it. We were just happy to have survived so far.
What did we learn from this first foray against the giants? To state the obvious, a good party mix is essential, including heavy beaters, spellcasters and at least one healer (or with plenty of healing magic spread around). Minions proved especially effectively, with summoned shadows able to create a barrier, plus Chris’s vrock and Rob’s dinosaur contributing more to the battlefield than any PC (and with better defenses to survive it).
Mike Mearls: The one thing I learned is the importance of balance in designing character options. I can't create an NPC or monster that can reliable hit the dinosaur pet without almost automatically hitting everyone else. Putting the DM into the position of challenging one PC or the rest of the party makes for a bad game. It's something that high level play makes all the more obvious.
“This Ends the Expedition to the Steading.” But not the end of the lunchtime campaign. Since we all remembered the “chain of weird black metal” from the chief’s treasure in the original module, which transported users to the Glacier Rift, it was decided that a speak with dead spell obtained this information for Chief Nosnra’s corpse.
Next stop: The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. While we didn’t loot the steading, Mike proposed that all characters advance from 11th to 13th level, gaining the corresponding wealth to equip themselves.
Chris Thomasson already has a new fiend in mind for his fiend binder: a retriever (of the demonic, not golden, variety). After all, a retriever’s eye ray deals a whopping 12d6 points of fire damage. (Of course, Mr. Mearls might have his frost giants prepared against our obvious fire tactics. We’ll soon see just what he has in store…)
Mike Mearls:The frost giant rift doesn't have quite the focus of the steading, but it still looks like lots of fun. Expect more whacky, potentially abusive combinations of the base frost giant and prestige classes.
All in all, the hill giants took down three PCs. I was happy with how that went, and the game has proven popular enough to keep running. I think people like the chance to try out weird, high level characters, and as DM it's interesting running a game where I try to kill off PCs without cheating. It's definitely a change of pace from my regular campaigns.