Sunday, July 31, 2022

#JULYGANTIC - What's Next?

 In reading through all these Giant-related adventures and sourcebooks, occasionally some ideas sparked - things I would want to try, were I writing up some adventure sites for each of the classic Giants.  

Early on, after reading Crypt of the Death Giants, I knew doing something with a giant tomb or burial complex would be a fun write-up.  For whatever reason, rather than thinking about the big giants, my mind went immediately to hill giants - in particular hill giants as mound-builders, late paleolithic or early Bronze Age, that sort of thing.  The trick here is how to make the site interesting without just saying "okay, undead hill giants".  You'd want some of that, yes, but unless it's a small site, there would need to be something else going on.   Maybe throw some modern-day hill giants into the mix, some internal strife or rivalry.  A question of royal descent, or rival ancestor cults, so "who is actually buried here" starts to matter more than the cool-factor of bashing undead giants (which is still cool, but benefits from some slight context).

Stone giants are more difficult for me.  We've seen several riffs on making stone giants memorable beyond the Monster Manual basics, and I think some of them (stone giant monks!) are a bit of a stretch.  How do you do novel stone giants without doing the same "talking to stones", stone shape, rock carving rune stuff?  Maybe this is the spot to indulge my love of "giants on huge beasts".  Purple worm?  Could we do a Mad Max gang of stone giants who ride small purple worms or other beasts through the ancient colossal worm-tunnels?

For the storm giant, I'd write up a single storm/sea giant who lives in a lake and really play up the tutelary spirit angle.  The giant is the lake and the lake is the giant, and the smallfolk of the fishing village treat him like the demigod he is.  Perhaps I'd make him a literal demigod, and truly tied to the lake - as in, he can't leave.  Maybe his ancestors could, back when the lake was better-tied to rivers and things, but with the changing landscape this isolated mountain lake is both the giant's kingdom and his prison.  You could do the whole thing where he needs a bride, that would be suitably fairy-tale.  You think the PCs want to be matchmakers for the lake giant?  What would they get out of it?  Things to think about.

I know for a frost giant location I'd want to eschew the traditional "frozen viking" thing and use a different skin for the frost giants - probably do a riff on cartoon Soviets.  Frost giants with ushanka and furred longcoats, then riff on either Soviet-era nonsense or Peter the Great type stuff as desired.  I have this mental image of a potemkin village sculpted out of ice, but I don't have a why yet, and that's what would have to drive the adventure.  But a setup with a Dear Leader/Burgomeister Meisterburger type, with limited troops, might suggest a scenario more appropriate for sneaking around by PCs of lower than standard level for dealing with frost giants, and that would have some value.

The idea of a vast subterranean fire giant city intrigues me, but I think that's too ambitious to actually write up in a shareable form.  Perhaps a mountaintop trading post where the fire giants interact with other giants, or other races.  What would such a thing look like, and who would visit it?  Maybe envision a mixture of frontier trading post and a stock exchange.  I like the idea of it, but I haven't figured how to weaponize it as a useful adventure site yet.

Finally, for the cloud giants, it has to be a cloud island.  In this case, I'm thinking of a cloud giant palace with a village on the large island, fallen into disrepute.  The previous ruler(s) are gone, and now the spendthrift, layabout son is in charge, and this new Raja is a mess.  He's turned the place into a debauched salon for all of his hipster friends where they lay around drinking fashionable beverages, talking petty trash, pretending to be philosophers, that sort of thing.  Is there something up there the PCs need?  Is it worth overthrowing the Raja?

I've jotted all these down in a googledoc and will keep messing with them.  Who knows, maybe they'll see full writeup here on the blog, or via another venue eventually.  The key to these things is to keep thinking, keep experimenting, and most of all - keep playing.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

#JULYGANTIC in Summary - The Best

 Here we are, wrapping up #JULYGANTIC - a whole month of giants.

The experiment was a failure on several important levels.  Firstly, because I didn't manage to run any giant-related adventures this month (or any D&D at all).  Playing > Writing About.  The second failing was that nobody else got in on the hashtag, far as I can tell.  Oh well, this is why we try things.  I hope it's been entertaining for regular readers, maybe picked up some new readers, and introduced folks to adventures they didn't know were out there.

The success of JULYGANTIC is that I cranked out so many posts - some short, some longer, but building some discipline in pre-writing and scheduling blogposts was probably worth it for me.  And now of course I must be acknowledged as the world's greatest expert in giant-themed adventures.  Or something.

Of all the material I read through in the past two months, these are the adventures I would consider running (and these are maybe in order of preference, but I'm not 100% on that):

Dark Clouds Gather. Nicely-done TSR-era adventure with strong "exotic" S&S vibe.

In Vino Gigantus. 5e jam with solid fairy-tale and old-school-grind undertone.

Ark of the Mountains. 5e DDAL adventure that seems adaptable to a great romp on a flying ship.

Aerie of the Cloud Giant Strategos. AD&D/OSRIC module, suitable for pairing with Against the Giants or running by itself.

Sanctuary of Belches. 5e dungeon with an interesting setup.

Ancient Blood. AD&D, nice Beowulf/curses vibe.

Them Apples. AD&D, low-level low-power sneak-heist with good humor potential.

Palace In The Sky. AD&D, solid cloud giant flying-island adventure with motivated NPCs.

Warrens of the Stone Giant Thane. 4e, good representation of the Against the Giants model.

There are sections or encounters from a number of other adventures that I would consider stealing outright and dropping on a hexmap, but the above are the ones that make me say “huh, I could run this”.  Obviously I’m biased - some of the scenarios there are ones that have a fun/gonzo/goofy factor higher than average. I didn't discuss it in this series, but I've run Cloud Giant's Bargain twice, and I think there's good stuff to be used there as well.

I was also surprised and pleased with the content in all three of the giant-themed sourcebooks I read during #JULYGANTIC. While I really only recommend Giantcraft for Forgotten Realms/5e DMs, Legends & Lairs Giant Lore and Role-Aids Giants were both solid reads full of useable ideas.

Tomorrow's post will cover "giant concepts inspired by all this reading" - some ideas I want to throw out in the ether and maybe develop and add to my own campaign map.

Friday, July 29, 2022

#JULYGANTIC: Giant Lore & Giants


 Remember all those Legends & Lairs books that came out during Third Edition.  They did one on Giant Lore - let's see how much novelty and inspiration it holds!  Keep in mind that since this is from the d20 era, a good bit of it may be pretty easily compatible with 5e or any Pathfinder with a few tweaks.  More work required for OSR of course.

Dire frost troll, at your service.

The first chapter offers new giants.  The giant amazons, with their beguiling gaze, are suitably pulpy and a nice spin.  The half-ogre, half-hobgoblin brutigans don't do much for me, though.  Dire frost trolls at first seem like something you don't need separate stats for, but then they give them an interesting battle howl and some spell resistance (because they're from the dawn of time and stuff) and we start to see how we might want to use a monster.  Next are ghost giants, who aren't ghosts, but instead stealthy mercenaries with shadow powers.  Ninja giants, anybody?  If you're doing Shadowfell stuff, maybe these guys could play a role.  Glutton giants, self-explanatory.  Nightmare giants that literally puppet sleeping victims like marionettes hanging from their astral silver cords?  Now that's interesting.  Some variant trolls up next.  Finally the tinkerkin, who are giant crafters; I think this statblock makes more sense as a one-off faerie giant thing than yet another subspecies or caste of giants, but you could put one of these guys somewhere on a mountain hex and just let the magic happen.

This being 3e, the next chapter is templates for giants.  We get Avarice, Envy, Wrath, and Plague- all pretty interesting - and then rules for giant-kin lycanthropes.  There's a little templating subsystem for giant lycanthropes of course, but most intriguing are the sample ones they have statted out - the ogre were-rhino and the fire giant were-tyrannosaur in particular.  What if King Snurre turned into a tyrannosaur mid-combat?  One of the templates in this chapter is "troll-blooded", which is painfully 3e.  Why do we need an entire template for this instead of just saying "this giant regenerates at rate x"?  I guess because they add a rending attack.  This one fails the "wow I wouldn't have thought of that" test hard.  Regardless, if you know you're running a lot of giants - especially if they're mostly the same type - maybe a look at this template chapter will provide some variation to keep your players from yawning.  This is followed by a chapter of prestige classes (thankfully they're for giants and don't rehash giant-hunting), which will serve the same purpose for our 3.x friends.

Do all the Legends & Lairs have art this dope?

The feats chapter which follows is full of some pretty standard attempts at specializing giants, but it might serve to inspire.  Of interest is the optional "hammerfall" attack which giants may perform, hurling themselves forward to crush smaller creatures.  We are given details and cost for armor for Large and larger creatures, which could come in handy.  Next up are some spells which...well, other than true enlarge, have nothing to do with giants.

The magic items have more giant flavor to them for sure.  There are giant drums, some weapons, and a cloak which turns a giant into a waterfall.  That's very cool, and there's your encounter right there in the item description.

Dang it, the last chapter is about prestige classes for people who aren't giants.  We get a giant slayer (of course), and the more interesting giant-seed, who emulates a particular kind of giant.  Feats are provided here as well.

As someone who isn't going to use a good chunk of this book, I have to say the parts I do find intriguing - the new monsters, the magic items, the templates and general inspiration - are probably worth the five bucks this pdf costs.  If you're planning a giant-focused campaign - and we've been talking about several of them on the blog this month - dropping the five bucks for these inspirations is probably worth it, even if you're running a pre-d20 version of D&D.  Now I'm wondering if any of the other Legends & Lairs are worth it...

Wizard in the corner has some serious B/X vibes.


Back in the 80s Mayfair Games gave us the "Role Aids" series of AD&D-compatible supplements; Giants is not only all about giants, but designed to accompany a series of Grenadier miniatures.  I remember the Role Aids ads in Dragon magazine - Lich Lords in particular - but the only one I ever owned was one of the monster books.

Giant magic is to be feared!

The work begins with an origin story for the giant races involving Titans, runemagic, and other concepts you've seen before, but mixed in a nice way.  It features not only a unified giant society at one point (like we see in Faerun's Ostoria), but also a fairly recent giant civil war, which is pretty intriguing, and the idea of fire giant vs frost giant (and various allies on both sides) makes good mythic sense.  There's a good section about giant biology, and information on giant society in general (including their pets). Finally, we're introduced to giant magic in the form of runecasting as well as the giant's curse.  Throughout, Giants keeps its subjects mythical and magical.  The first section of the book is rounded out by note on giant weaponry, and using giants as player characters (!).

Then we get into the giants by type!  Each subsection follows the same pattern - we get a description of the giant type, stats, a map of a lair, stats for pets and companions, and appropriate magic items and hooks.  Not too shabby.

The Titans are shining Hellenic good guys, as per the Monster Manual, with pet sphinxes and shedu.

The warped Chaos Giants get a random feature generator, lots of background (because these aren't standard AD&D giants I guess), spells, items.  One of their typical spells calls nearby creatures of chaos, which could be a neat encounter.

The Dwarven Giant seems a strange concept at first, but they could fill an interesting role in your campaign.  They are Lawful, dwarflike in temperament, and often friendly to small-folk.  Plus they have pet xorn!

Just your friendly neighborhood dwarven giant!

The Fire Giants here are pretty standard, although the bonus pets (lava snakes!) are cool.  

Forest Giants are huge druid/ranger types, with all the tropes that entails.  Giant squirrels, tree-shepherds, the whole nine yards.

Frost Giants, too, hew close to their Monster Manual origins, although in the Giants telling of things, the Frost Giants are the progenitors of some of these variant species.  One of the magic items here turns a giant into a snow-shark that can swim through snow and ice; that's pretty keen, but I think I'd want to just give that power to some frost giants were-snow-sharks and see where it takes us.

You want to do a 'cattle raid of Cooley' gimmick with gorgons?  Could be very cool...

The Hill Giants in this book have as their pets giant weasels and a kind of small tyrannosaur (which hunts in packs), and they use gorgons as beasts of burden.  The Sea and Stone giants deliver some minor variation from what you'd expect (the Stone giants in this book keep strange cats in their caverns).  Here the Storm giants are the offspring of Chaos and Frost.  We also get a writeup on Two-Headed Giants, primitive and dangerous.

The last giant is the Death Giant, of which there is only one, though he has many avatars.  He's basically the grim reaper for giants, or the Black Racer if you know your Fourth World.  The last connection between the giants scattered around the multiverse and their plane of origin.

Next up we have a section detailing the city of Clanfast, where giants come together to trade and have council.  I don't think I've seen "mixed city of giants" written up before in a product.  Lots of info and potential encounters here, especially in the part of the city where the dreams of the Titans take material form.  There's an underworld, too, of course.

Mayfair's Giants is pretty interesting.  If you're looking for a substantially-different take on giants, this book will certainly provide that.  The couple novel giant types are interesting, as are the surprising twists on a few of them.  The lair maps might come in handy, too.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

#JULYGANTIC: In Vino Gigantus

 Today's read-through is of the Frog God adventure In Vino Gigantus, penned by TridentCon attendee James Spahn.  It's for lower-level 5e characters.  Let's read!

In theory you could append the Wine Cellar to any old Cloud Castle map...

The gimmick: a debauched storm giant noble shanghais the PCs into dealing with his flooded wine cellar.  That's it, that's the setup - prepare for Basement Adventure, but at ten times normal size.

The adventure starts with the PCs being magically taken and transported to the flying home of the storm giant lush, where he proceeds to read an entire column of boxed text while the PCs eat an amazing repast in his hall.  Attacking Clovis the giant and his ogre servants (not to mention his ogre mage butler) is probably a bad idea at this level.  Far better to take the job - there's pay at the end, after all.  Unrelated gripe: vanilla ogres as the servitors of a fancy storm giant noble don't sit right with me...I'd have to reskin them as tempest ogres (whatever that means), or give them bird heads or something.  Eagle-headed ogres in fine livery sounds pretty fantastic to me.

The wine cellar is immense by small-folk standards, and contains "mundane" hazards like giant centipedes, rats, and frogs so you can do a proper Incredible Shrinking Man homage (and you should).  PCs will want to climb up on barrels and furniture as the adventure moves on, so there's a good bit of potential verticality throughout.  There do seem to be some scenes here where we're imagining the storm giant being even bigger than the 'canon' thirty feet or so - I think for a setup like this the PCs work best at "action figure size" but really they ought to be one-fifth the height of the storm giant?  The fight with the salt & pepper shakers makes less sense with bigger PCs.  Regardless, the whole adventure has size in mind - how are you going to pull the giant wine bottle that opens the secret door, that sort of thing.  There's a basement kitchen, a cold-storage room, and so forth.  Beware the weasels!

So many salt and pepper jokes you could do

One interesting bit is that there's another adventuring party down here.  Clovis sent them on the same mission you're on and then either forgot or presumed they failed, but here they still are.  Some other solid encounters follow, including the feral undead cats - yes, you read that right - and plenty of giant rats and spiders.  There are a lot of critters down here, especially if you trigger a lot of random encounters in the long slog across the biggest rooms - which means this adventure is potentially more lethal than it first seems.  Maybe that's why Clovis gives you healing potions at the start!

Eventually the heroes will find the storm giant's dog (Donner the Thunder Terrier), who is both captive of the giant spiders and the actual cause of the flooding.  What group of PCs wouldn't try to save the giant lightning dog?  This is a neat fight, with Donner's panicked thunder-barks causing the unstable foundation beneath your feet to crumble away, falling into the cloudstuff and sky below.

All in all, this is a solid low- or even mid-level scenario.  It could work as a DCC funnel or fit in a con slot if you dialed back on the extra random encounters.  I could see myself using this - the memorable parts, besides the dog, are going to be the interaction with the 'big' environment and how the PCs get around some of the obstacles.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

#JULYGANTIC: Dark Clouds Gather

 Dark Clouds Gather is an AD&D adventure for levels 7-9, produced by TSR UK.  There is a lot going on here, and there are cloud giants in it, so that's my excuse to read through it thoroughly now.  Plenty of people suggest the TSR UK stuff is better than many of the US-produced modules of the time - let's see.

Flying scimitar-baboon wants you dead.

The ancient backstory here involves an archmage (Devral) teaming up with aaracokraa and good cloud giants to deal with the evil mind-witch Yesorkh and her winged baboon henchmen.  Yesorkh was defeated and trapped in a gem, but now has been freed by an irresponsible cloud giant.  Obviously her plans for world domination pick up where they left off, and we have our adventure.

The hook as presented involves the PCs coming upon some townsfolk trying to kill an aaracokra that they presume is a demon.  Already converting this adventure to 5e assumptions is out the window, isn't it.  The heroes witness a mockery of a trial for the feathered devil; if they intervene, they too are accused of being in league with dark forces, and we end up with a trial by combat.  Obviously the PCs will win this one against the burliest villager, so now they have the aaracokra Tcho'eh as a pal, and can hear his tale.

A memorable ascent to the birdfolk aerie.

Tcho'eh wants the PCs to come with him to Tikki-ti-jarra, home of the aaracokra, to assist with the raids on their nests.  Apparently the bird-shaman saw the PCs in a vision and sent Tcho-'eh out into the world of man to find them.  Help me, Obi-Wan!  There's an overland trek through a mountain pass.

In the next section, the heroes visit Tikki-ti-jarra, demesne of the aaracokra where, after a misunderstanding, Tcho'eh takes the PCs before the shaman.  The shaman tells the PCs how a cloud giant and his army of winged baboons ("snow demons") are wiping out the bird-folk; and that said giant operates out of a cloud castle.  CLOUD CASTLE ALERT now you have my attention even more.  Unfortunately, the shaman's exposition triggers the cloud castle showing up and attacking.  How dreadfully inconvenient.

Several waves of ba'atun (baboon dudes) wreak havoc on Tikki-ti-jarra; the module gives details on the units within the swarm and when they should arrive, round by round.  PCs can help fight them off, but the numbers are too great, and by the time the ba'atun return to the cloud castle, Tikki-ti-jarra is in ruins, with most of the aarakocra slain.

The shaman tells of a vision he's had of a flying craft shaped like a fish, which is somehow key in overthrowing the cloud giant.  The PCs, able to recognize a chapter transition, agree to seek out this skyfish in hopes of using it against the ba'atun.  Following the shaman's vision, off we go to see the wisdom of the giant eagles.  Meanwhile, the remaining aarakocra will bury the dead and then head to the last birdfolk refuge.

Hey look, giants!

The giant eagles understand some of the imagery in the shaman's vision, and give directions to the tower of ice that appeared in the dream.  PCs head toward Mount Ederglow, help out some dwarves against frost giants (yay GIANTS), and the dwarves show the way.  Lots of trudging through snowy mountain passes - you could add quite a few encounters here if you needed to, although maybe the mutant flying polar owlbears are sufficient.  Since there are frost giants around and we're in the icy mountains, of course there are remorhaz.  It's some kind of rule.

On the way to the skyfish and Devral's crystalline citadel, there's a nice encounter with spriggans.  Gotta love the spriggans, and in this case it's combat with them, then they show up later in short-folk form to try to trick the PCs.  Once in the citadel, it's appropriately got some magical traps and puzzles - this ancient wizardess knew what she was doing.  There's exposition to be found here about Yesorkh as well, so perhaps the PCs can start to piece together what's going on.  The point here is to get powered-up here at the home of Yesorkh's ancient enemy, Devral.  PCs are supposed to get control of the skyfish craft (and maybe the glass griffon that's here as well).  Time to rendezvous at the birdfolk rally point and prepare to assault the cloud castle.

You could run the whole battle with minis, and the adventure suggests keeping track using hex paper and the AD&D air combat rules.  Bully for you if you do it this way!  There's also a simpler version where the castle and assaulters are moving directly toward one another, but either way, you're going to have to track a mess of stuff.  The PCs in the skyfish are accompanied by the remaining aarakocra and the giant eagles, the air elemental the birdfolk immediately summon (remember this is AD&D, they can do that because they are not meant to be a PC race) and the baddies have a mess of ba'atun.  The individual winged baboons aren't awful - although in a pack they'd be nasty - but each unit has a leader who can shoot ice bolts and webs.  I don't want to be five thousand feet above ground using wings of flying and get hit by a web spell, do you?  Eventually the baddies send out some manticores as well.

Those who finally assault the castle itself have more ba'atun to deal with, as well as some hill giants and ogres. The music room in the castle contains a sentient talking harp, for extra cloud giant bonus points.  Pursuing big bad Yesorkh (who is possessing the body of the cloud giant, Lachlan) you'll tangle with a pair of hasted verbeeg as well.  You can rescue Lachlan's children, which is a good idea.  Nasty ba'atun evil priests guarantee there are some undead to mess with here as well.  Like a proper BBEG, if Yesorkh can escape, she attempts it.

Ready for a big aerial battle?

There's a good amount of treasure here, including spellbooks.  You can score even more treasure if you managed to drive Yesorkh out of Lachlan without the giant being killed.  I imagine if you're a party of mid-to-high level AD&D characters, having a neutral good cloud giant with a flying castle in your debt would be pretty useful.  If you're playing AD&D with gold-for-xp and training rules (but I repeat myself), you'll probably be happy at the end of this saga.  Except the part where the authors say you can't steal the cloud castle.  /sigh

Dark Clouds Gather is pretty great.  It's got a sword-and-sorcery vibe for the bad guys, the locations are sufficiently exotic, and the magic feels magical.  The least-satisfying bit is the beginning with the villagers, who are generic European types - if you moved this whole thing to the faux-Himalayas you might be better off in that respect.  There's a lot of content here, I wouldn't try to run a chunk of Dark Clouds Gather for a con slot or as a one-shot, even if you trimmed it hardcore you'd be missing out.  Given the snowy mountain angle you could drop this just about anywhere.  The ba'atun make for cool enemies throughout.  The tone in Dark Clouds Gather might even lend itself to Dungeon Crawl Classics or Hyperborea.

If you're running a game that can handle birdfolk as PCs, then this is the right module to run to unlock that option - by the end of it, the aarakocra (this tribe at least) are reduced to almost nil, so you'd have a good reason to add a birdfolk to the party to quest around and look for the other lost bird tribes (or whatever).

Dark Clouds Gather is pretty linear as-written, because it follows the epic storyline.  You could tie in some side-stuff to make it feel less linear, or maybe not push the PCs as hard and see what they do.  Maybe they don't help the aarakocra, and the ba'atun wipe them out in your campaign; you'll still have Yesorkh flying around as something to deal with.

Dark Clouds Gather has nice illustrations throughout, including most NPCs.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

#JULYGANTIC: A Dearth of Fire Giants

 I didn't play or run any of Season Three of D&D Adventurers League, but I know there was a bit with fire giants, so I grabbed those episodes and got to reading.  Same goal as before - is there anything here worth stealing?

The gimmick in Season Three - "Rage of Demons" - is tied to the Out of the Abyss hardback adventure, in which demon lords show up and throw the Underdark into disarray.  The backstory on the episodes we care about here is that fire giants from the subterranean city of Maerimydra have pushed into, and taken over, the drow outpost of Szith Morcane.  Now I don't know about you, but while I often think of fire giants as having halls under mountains, I guess I didn't really think about them as Underdark types, so now I'm thinking an entire subterranean fire giant city is kind of a badass idea.  Naturally the juxtaposition of drow and fire giants puts us in mind of Against the Giants, if we are so inclined...

"Grrr I'm nowhere to be found in these adventures about Fire Giants!" 
- Argath The Slight Exaggerator


There is so much exposition.  See, a faction of death-worshipping drow, led by an archmage and a half-fiend, overthrew the Lolth-worshippers in Maerimydra.  However, since then, that faction had its ass kicked by a group of fire giants led by the original half-fiend's kid, a six-fingered type called Hledh.  Hledh is a descendant of Graz'zt, a famous demon lord who is now walking around the Underdark beneath Hillsfar thanks to the setup of Out of the Abyss.  The eponymous Szith Morcane is a distant outpost of Maerimydra, and now that the fire giant stuff is going on, a mess of drow refugees from that city are swelling Szith Morcane, but with the fire giants constantly attacking, the only place to flee now is through a recently-opened sinkhole to the surface.   /deep breath  I'm confused, are the PCs going to be asked to help the drow death-cultists?  I know drow are a standard playable thing in 5e, but death-cultists?

The story starts when, on the road, the PCs come across a famous bard who has just survived a drow attack and captured one of them.  The PCs go with her to Elventree and get some exposition.  Meet several NPCs.  Finally exposition about the drow outpost and the fire giants. There's a wrestling match to convince one of the NPCs that the PCs can handle the mission of going down to Szith Morcane.  We're several scenes into the adventure at this point and the PCs haven't done much.  Why couldn't they be the ones to fight the drow and capture one?  Why the NPC theatre?

The heroes go to The Waydown, a sinkhole that leads to the underdark, and talk to more NPCs.  All the NPCs have names and you'd better remember them because I bet they turn up again whether you want them to or not.  Finally the PCs descend into the hole.  We're six pages into the adventure proper and the PCs haven't seen any action except the solo wrestling contest, unless of course they elected to jump that bard in the road in the first place.

You head down an underground river, fight some kuo-toa, then come upon derro hunting myconids.  If you rescue the myconids, they are friendly and can take you to their mind flayer buddy who knows where there's a portal to get to Szith Morcane easily.  This bit probably plays best if the myconids neglect to mention that their friend Huum is an illithid, but regardless, he's a "I'll help you for a price" type and can get you to the portal.

Finally you get to Szith Morcane to find that the drow outpost has been absolutely rocked by fire giants, demons, and their drow and quaggoth slaves. The best way to climb across the initial chasm is by carefully walking an enormous spiderweb -- this is a neat scene and worth replicating.  We see the leg of the immense spider, but it doesn't attack for some reason.  Guess it's a cutscene.

Within Szith Morcane, there are drow prisoners to free, demon-led patrols to deal with, and of course drow and demons to fight.  Oh man, there's only a single fire giant here, with some drow buddies, to interrogate the drow wizard.  One giant?  I feel suckered.

This scenario is like an Underdark Greatest Hits thing, with drow and kuo-toa and some quaggoth and duergar in there...oh, and myconids...  but it's a mess.


In this scenario the heroes try to retake the outpost of Szith Morcane (there are intervening adventures all about gathering more Underdark allies like the myconids).  The adventure starts out with some wilderness (underdark) encounter options and interesting terrain features to use.  When the PCs get to Szith Morcane, they cross over on the web pathways again.  The outpost is guarded by azer and hellhounds as you make your way toward Dengor, the fire giant commander.

The next chapter gives information on the enemy forces and how to run chunks of it, using the PCs' allies to assist without overshining the party.  Actual numbers of foes that can be whittled down - this seems to be a lot more improvisation allowed than I'm accustomed to in a DDAL scenario.  Optional scenes are detailed for contacting the drow resistance and some stone giants, and bringing them to your side.  The authors provide lots of optional encounters - azer, drow, etc., even a bronze/shadow dragon that might be convinced to assist your cause.  Having the dragon means the dragon fights and kills the behir that's coming up, so you don't have to.  I suppose this could all feel appropriately cinematic if you ran it right and your group was amenable, but handing the PCs a dragon they've just met will never feel like a great payoff - you're better off actually meeting the dragon several adventures ago.

When you actually run the attack on Szith Morcane, it's all about drow and azer and hellhounds, then some fire giants, including Dengor, who has some cleric abilities.  Oh, and salamanders, of course.  There are also helmed horrors, because at this stage in 5e everybody had some and DDAL isn't allowed to invent monsters.  There's a cool flaming warhammer to grab -- but it loses its enchantment after a couple hours.  Come on, DDAL.

Two other adventures in this Season ostensibly deal with Maerimydra - 03-04 It's All In The Blood and the double-sized 03-15 Assault on Maerimydra.  In both cases, the only fire giants who appear are fiend-blooded and of minor consequence to the plot; this Season is about demons.  You're not going to find giant content here to steal.

In fact, there isn't much giant content in the two Szith Morcane adventures, either, unless we're counting the azer and salamanders.  And because they've taken over a drow outpost, while there's a spider-shaped room, there's nothing particularly 'fire giant' going on there to steal for your home-made fire giant demense.  Shame, that.

Monday, July 25, 2022

#JULYGANTIC Giantslayer

 Pathfinder has a giant-focused Adventure Path called Giantslayer.  Let's take a look.

Pathfinder chapter headings sell adventure and peril better than WotC covers.  Pure facts.


In the town of Trunau, the PCs start out investigating a murder, but soon find that there are orcs looking for a giant's tomb.  The town is situated in human lands near orc lands, so there are plenty of half-orc citizens of the town, and the adventure plays on this tension.  Eventually the hill giant chieftain Grenseldek leads her orcs in a siege of the town.  The siege includes a subsystem whereby PCs gain "resolve points" which help determine the larger fate of the town based on the PC actions.  At the end of the siege, the PCs face Crusher, the cave giant ally of the orcish horde.  CRUSHER KNOWS ONLY PAIN.  

The orcs seek, and have located during the siege, the subterranean tomb of an old hill giant hero.  That's the goal - to get in there.  So of course the PCs chase 'em in!  Obviously things are timed such that you don't catch up to the orcs until the final chamber, duh.  Within the tomb the PCs will find half of a map to a great giantslayer's tomb, and some pretty badass armor relative to the level of the PCs.

Minimal actual giant content in the adventure part of this one, which is understandable given the level range.  There are of course lore details about giants in Golarion, some feats and spells.


In part two, the PCs head up the river to the marsh to find the rest of the orc/giant problem.  There are some interesting river encounters herein, and more of the "good orcs and bad orcs" theme.  Finally you arrive at the Ghostlight Marsh (and be aware, marsh giants are the next step in the PF giant CR ladder).  So there's a marsh giant, ogres, more orcs, and some swamp hazards, before attacking/infiltrating the orcish fortress.  The place is crawling with orcs and a couple giants, and the chapel has a good-guy ghost of a cleric in it, which is probably a nice break from all the orcs.

So it turns out that Grenseldek, the leader of this band of hill giants, ogres, and orcs, has attempted to offer her hand in matrimony to a storm giant (more about him later in the AP, surely).  Grenseldek has assembled a mighty dowry of treasure here, but her bid to be queen has been cruelly rebuffed by the storm tyrant, who is of course far above her station.  Defeating Grenseldek not only protects the town of Trunau, but gets the PCs the other half of the map to the giantslayer's tomb.  And knowledge that this storm giant tyrant guy is out there, of course.


Volstus the Storm Tyrant is gathering an army in a hidden valley in the Mindspin Mountains.  But nearer to Trunau is the dwarf giantslayer tomb, which probably contains special steel that won the last war against the giants.  Obviously we need to use our map and go there!

The small tomb itself is occupied by some rather nasty ettercaps, including the corrupted dwarf/ettercap monstrosity "Stilgrit, the Mother of Spiders", who is as gross as you'd expect.  This map and encounters might be worth stealing just as a brilliant ettercap lair.  The tomb-proper also features the accursed murderer who killed the giantslayer in the first place, and a couple interesting magic items.

When the PCs get to the valley, there are lots of little places to explore and encounters, including both the non-giant (perytons! leucrotta!) and the giant (hill giants, some giant wights).  Since the valley was once home to a giant civilization, it is littered with ruined shrines and the like.  Eventually they get to the end of the valley with the Cathedral where all the giants are gathering.  Sneaking past all the encamped ogres, ettins, and giants will be a challenge, but once you've done so, you can get into the Cathedral itself, deal with its guardians, and confront the stone giant Urathash, who's in charge here.  Oh, and Urathash has a dragon.

The gimmick here is that once PCs have access to the forge in the cathedral, they can return here to use the forge's magic powers - one of which is, in conjunction with the magic hammer from the first book, to resize giant-sized arms and armor, even magical ones.  Like that nasty weapon the boss of the next module used?  Bring it here and shrink it so your barbarian can use it.  It's a neat idea - one that would play out more in a less story-driven campaign I suspect.   How often do we expect PCs to come back here?

The bestiary in this one has some neat stuff, like mongrel giants (ie giants of one type with some ancestry of another), and the living cave painting, which sounds very cool and maybe now that I've said it you don't actually need stats for it.  The page of mongrel giant variants is worth looking at to spice up your Storm King's Thunder or Against the Giants.

Cyclops eyebeam goes pew pew


Undead frost giant queen.  There's your hook.  Skirkatla is one of the Storm Tyrant's lieutenants, and this adventure is her chance to shine - and maybe betray the Tyrant.

The PCs head to the frost giant village and their job there is to disperse the forces by means of sabotage, not direct combat.  Pathfinder being Pathfinder, we now have some mechanics for earning Sabotage Points (which are good, and undermine the giant army) but also Outrage Points, which are bad because it means you're convincing the giants they're under direct attack.  The higher the Outrage meter goes, the more vigilant and trigger-happy the giants get, increasing patrols and scouts, adding wicked undead stuff to night patrols, and so forth.  It's a conceit, but an interesting one, and I wonder how well it works in play.  It reminds me of the Chaos index in Hill Cantons material.

We get a map and description of an entire frost giant town and its inhabitants (possibly worth stealing); what the PCs do next is up to them.  This is one of those setups when you wonder what a stealth-heavy party would do with it - sneaking invisibly into the meadhall, that sort of thing.  Plenty of giants (not just frost) and other things to tangle with here, including an immense wickerman.  If the heroes are successful in getting enough giants to abandon the village, they'll have access to Skirkatla's Crypt.

The crypt is a decent-sized one-level dungeon!  What's in here?  Some frost giants, sure, but also some nasty necromantic creations - an icy mammoth and a huge centauroid headless horseman among them.  Ghosts, undead frost giants -- this is reminding me of Crypt of the Death Giants.  Push through the whole thing and defeat Skirkatla and her tomb giant minions, and you walk out with some nice treasure and a map to the fire giants.  Tradition!


Speaking of tradition, the fire giants are in a subterranean complex beneath a volcanic caldera.  Plenty of giants and trolls, and thank goodness there's an otyugh in the midden.  Hellhounds, of course.

Ashpeak is a training-grounds for fire giants (and now other giants).  They have a magic rod that builds walls so the giants can practice knocking them down, and if that isn't a PF/3.x solution to a problem, then I don't know what is.  The concept of having mock castles and keeps for the giants to train against is intriguing, but it doesn't seem to result in a really interesting scenario here.  Plenty of traps, though.

The upper levels have the forge/smeltworks you'd expect in a fire giant lair, plus the inevitable salamanders (there you are, Perry!).  Then there's the red dragon rookery...yikes.  If you make it past here, you enter the levels containing the King and Queen, and it's still a rough go up here.  

When you defeat the fire giants, you learn that the Storm Tyrant's flying castle is moored above the volcano.  The adventure says you don't have any downtime between this adventure and the next, but you do have time to run back to the Cathedral to shrink some weapons if you're quick about it (?).


Volstus the Storm Tyrant has a flying castle and an orb of red dragonkind.  You can imagine where this is going.  The PCs have to cross the top of the caldera and penetrate the force field around the castle, and the giants know they're coming.  Just getting to the castle will require dealing with some ash giants, giant scorpions, and a giant who throws alchemical bombs.

Ironcloud Keep is big, and well-defended.  In addition to giants, trolls, magical beasties, and the like, there are traps - some crazy ones.  A 15th-level orc general.  Weird stuff.  Over fifty rooms of this.  That's not a complaint, this is a huge dungeon.  This will take a while.  There are all sorts of evil ambassadors for variety.  Oozes.  More weird stuff.  An old red dragon.  And, finally, Volstus the Storm Tyrant.  These last battles will go easier for you if you made friends with the dragon two adventures back.


Writing an homage to Against the Giants isn't easy.  You have the giant ladder to play with, and certain things you have to throw in there, but you need to do it in a way that feels fresh.  Both SKT and Giantslayer took a shot at it, with mixed results in both.  That's the nature of it.

Luckily, we thieves and cannibals can steal from one to supplement the other, or weld them both into an unholy ettin of fun.  There are encounters and lairs in Giantslayer worth stealing for your game, and perhaps less metaplot to excise while you're doing it relative to SKT.  However, if you're adapting this for non-PF, you're going to miss out on some of the nice PF mechanical cleverness (much of which I'm sure I don't appreciate in reading through these).

If you're only going to pick up one of these to steal from, go with Forge of the Giant God or Ice Tomb of the Giant Queen.  There's more stealable stuff per page in these two, and Forge in particular is low enough level that you're more likely to get a chance to run it.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

#JULYGANTIC: Colossus, Arise!

 Colossus, Arise is a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure by Harley Stroh.  It's ostensibly for Level 8 DCC characters, which might mean something like level 15ish AD&D characters or the equivalent.  It's a suitably high-level jam.  Let's read!

Short exposition: the temple-city of Stylos, long-buried and home to some giant post-Atlantean types called the Ur-Lireans, is back. The Ur-Lireans want to conquer, destroy, and bring about the Fourth Age of Man (pssst, that means you Third Age types need to die).  To do this, they're going to raise up an army of uplifted giant half-breeds (the Sons of the Second Age), let them purge the world so the titans can return, and in the mix is the fact that the baddies' HQ sits atop the corpse of the gigantic chaos champion Cadixtat, the eponymous Colossus, who was put down by titans in a previous age.  Got that?  Evil giant Atlanteans, half-giants, Colossus.

The adventure starts with some reasons the PCs might care about what's going on, and notes that we're presuming the Ur-Lireans have been active for a bit, so all the random wilderness encounters around Stylos will be themed to this adventure at this point.  I'll point out that all of this Ur-Lirean and Cadixtat stuff will pay off far better if you seed it in the campaign earlier - but you already know that.  Colossus, Arise isn't one of those DCC modules that lends itself to being run, trimmed and fast-paced in a con slot.

The ruins of the city of Stylos are crawling with Sons of the Second Age, but the only building really standing is the baddie HQ, the House of Cadixtat.  We're given a random table but not much more on the ruins themselves - you may want to use something here to plus-up the ruins if you think your group is going to want to really skulk about them.  But of course if they're mission-oriented, they're going to want to immediately sneak to the House of Cadixtat.  The only Sons allowed inside HQ are Master Goat and his seven animal-themed pals, but they each get a cool bestial helmet; unfortunately they're all identical dudes other than the Master.  I figure some players will expect the guy in the wolf helmet to fight differently than the guy in the hawk helmet, and so forth - might be worth jotting down some notes on ways to implement that during the fight.  The dude in the bull helmet should absolutely charge the PCs.

The encounters in the House all have "play value" in the sense that there's something special going on.  Here, the guys chained to the walls have a chance of busting out each round and changing the combat entirely; there, we have some prayer beads that grant a vision (complete with a handout).  Drink the wrong thing, fall asleep for a century.  DCC modules are often very good at giving you these toys to help create memorable moments at the table.  One of the big things here is an Ur-Lirean metal that has antimagic properties - surely your team's wizard will want to mess with that...

Level two is where things get weirder.  First of all, the veil between life and death is thin here, so there's a neat mechanic whereby the ghosts of dead PCs, henchmen, and so forth might show up to offer a warning.  Again, this module demands regular campaign play, not a one-shot.  PCs can tangle with a prophetess enshrouded in magical flames, and then there's the hel-ooze, which is the cerebral fluid of the dead-not-quite-dead colossus.  There's an ossuary with some nasty runes, and a secret door that you'll probably find (but what if you don't?).  

The Ur-Lireans are busting open Cadixtat's canopic jars and using his bodily fluids for foul purposes, and thankfully we have a whole sidebar on what happens if PCs drink those fluids.  And there's plenty of this hel-ooze around, including in the room where the army of Fourth Men are waiting to hatch from eggs.  Lots of weird sword-and-sorcery imagery in this one, and a lot of Law versus Chaos stuff that permeates many of the DCC modules.  The lead Ur-Lirean, the Handmaiden, is performing the ceremony that will end the Third Age, awaken Cadixtat the Colossus, and so forth - can the PCs stop her in time?   You're going to hope they can't because dealing with the Colossus is the payoff here.

The first important bit is fighting off the colossal brain and the living hel-ooze.  Once this is taken care of, the PCs might think they've won, but unfortunately there's still the body.  Undead, headless titan corpse, anyone?  Without the controlling force of his brain, the resurrected Cadixtat proceeds to attack everything in sight (well, not in sight - you know what I mean).  There's a table for it and everything!  A couple possible ways to kill this horrible thing are suggested, but PC ingenuity might find an even better way.

Colossus Arise is a good DCC adventure by several measures - it uses the themes common to that line (including Law vs Chaos, corruption, and obvious weird tale inspiration), it has "toys" throughout that encourage lethal experimentation and/or thoughtful play, and it's pretty linear.  In a sense it's a good high-level bookend to Sailors on the Starless Sea.  It would definitely be fun to run or play, but absolutely will benefit from being used as the high-level capstone to an ongoing campaign.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

#JULYGANTIC: Broodmother Skyfortress

 Broodmother Skyfortress was celebrated on release because everybody liked Jeff Rients and his blog (fair enough).  Unfortunately, I don't think it's much of an adventure (here comes the hate mail, and I could use the clicks I guess).  

Let's read!



1. Broodmother Skyfortress is two things - a collection of Jeff's blogposts (which we won't address here), and an adventure outline involving unleashing some destructive sky-giants upon your precious campaign world.  I think, in form, the adventure is more like a stream-of-consciousness discussion masquerading as an adventure outline.  Whether that floats your boat may vary.  If this content had been released in 2020 instead of 2016, it would've been a series of YouTube videos.

2. The concept of the adventure is that a castle full of giants floats into the region, and the giants start tearing things up.  Great!  Only these are space giants of the shark-centaur variety rather than folklore giants.  BECAUSE GONZO.  If you aren't ready to add sharkspace elephagiants to your campaign world, get your snowflake head out of your ass, this is LotFP and you should be ready to destroy your campaign at the drop of a hat.  So you can buy another LotFP adventure and destroy the next campaign!  Also please note that, other than the potential to change the face of your game world, this adventure is tonally different than the "standard" alt-Europe LotFP adventure.  If you chase Better Than Any Man with this thing,  either your players are going to get whiplash or you aren't making Broodmother sufficiently wahoo.

3. The seven "giants" that live in the skyfortress are absolutely massive and require some dedicated, if simple, rules.  Each has a personality etc.  Rients includes some optional rules tweaks suitable for making any giant (even non-shark ones) scarier.  The tone throughout these descriptions is conversational, which means the book is NOT the pinnacle of the faboo-fashionable "information presentation" OSR subculture - not by a long shot.  Those people will still love this book, though, because Rients.  I do like the individual giants - they have gimmicks and designators rather than names, as if they were named by the obsessive fans of Broodmother Skyfortress (Cannon, 1983) who have seen the film a thousand times on laserdisc and own the 'making of' book that came out in Japan.

I guess Rients' audience here is...who exactly?  New-schoolers?

4. The art in here is good, but many of the pictures that aren't of the shark-giant adventure seem to be of Rients in various wizardly poses.  I'm sorry, but that's weird.  Did Jeff get to keep all the originals on those?  Was that in the contract?  I'm all for not taking ourselves seriously (are you  new here?) but this gag isn't doing it for me.  There is a TON of art in this book; the Kirby-homage stuff is my favorite of course.

5. Random tables to determine the sky-giants' origin and what that means in the context of dealing with them.  Fine, although I'm not convinced this does anything for replayability of the module, it's just randomization for the heck of it.  Rients is trying to get the reader/GM to think about certain questions, and the cascade effects of the choices they make.  

6. The next section is event tables and wandering encounters for the Skyfortress.  As PCs explore the skyfortress, engaging (or avoiding!) the giants, they'll learn a few things about its origin.  The maps are nice, although I wish they were in the encounter section instead of at the back.  I also kinda wish there were a black-and-white version of the maps in the pdf for printing (I know, that's crazy talk, who's going to actually run this?)

Whether this is true or not it still sounds like why-even-try excuse-making.


I'm going to poke around and see if I can find a review of Broodmother Skyfortress from someone who actually ran it as an adventure, rather than shout COOL! at the first half and then actually give the second half (the blog reprints) a close reading.

Broodmother Skyfortress is a chain of thought-experiments showing how Jeff Rients would come up with a gonzo, world-changing adventure (with maximum Kirby dots).  As an adventure outline, it does its job minimally - which is a bug or a feature depending on what you're looking for.  I think it's a stunningly long book for as anemic as the adventure itself is.  Rients' voice comes through in the writing, which is great for an advice column, maybe less so for an actual adventure.  Broodmother Skyfortress is an advice column (or YouTube series) masquerading as an adventure.

"You can't criticize it like it's an adventure, it's more/different than that"   Nope, you can keep that nonsense to yourself.  The book advertises itself as an adventure.  Take it up with Raggi.

Friday, July 22, 2022

#JULYGANTIC A Mighty Miscellany

 If you hop over to DriveThru, there's a lot of giant-related content available.  Lists, stock art, battlemaps, and of course adventures.  I've selected a few to look at here; being a sucker for cloud giants, it's mostly cloud giant stuff.  Are all published cloud giant flying-castles basically the same?  It turns out...pretty much yes.


Raging Swan Press has a whole series of these supplements with different themes; obviously I chose the cloud giant one as a representative sample.  The intent of the product is to provide ideas and tables themed around a certain kind of lair, which you, the harried DM, then use to plus-up a published scenario or something from your own addled brain.  It's really only two pages of content, the rest is the OGL and an ad for Patreon, etc.  The lists include features outside the castle, items to spruce up rooms, appearances for some cloud giants, trinkets, and more.  I think the lists are pretty good - especially when they lean toward fairy-tale stuff.  If you're running a published adventure that already has a lot of good details and intriguing "toys to play with", these lists will be less useful to you, but if you're starting from scratch, or using something bare-bones, tossing these two pages in your DM binder might be worth it.


Bugbear games offers this cloud giant castle as part of its series of largely system neutral short adventures.  This is a quick-and-dirty sky-castle in which Baron Cirrus has abducted a princess (because that's what cloud giants do in fairy tales).  The castle's pretty generic, which is good or bad depending on what you're looking for.  The Baron employs ogres, hobgoblins, and goblins, and there's also an ettin and a mage.  The stables may contain up to ten wyverns!  The hand-drawn maps look like maps you drew yourself.  So this whole thing is very basic, but because of that could be run without having really pre-read it.  Could be good for keeping around for when 'cloud giant' turns up on the wilderness encounter table.


Castles & Crusades produced this four-page James Ward adventure!  The gimmick here is that the cloud giant is in ill health and has lost control of his cloud-island.  There are a mess of orcs, a dragon to bribe, an elf to rescue, lots of treasure (some of it cursed), and a few minor twists.  I question a few things about this adventure, such as why is there a fountain of deadly poison in the room where the giant sleeps?  Is this why he's sick?  Why didn't James Ward bother to give the giant a name?  The giant is the only one who can move the tower, via mental command, and when he kicks the (large) bucket, the tower will crash to the ground.  It's almost like the author doesn't want PCs to steal the cloud giant tower, which is LAME.  They should at least be able to try, and to make things worse!  The giant is so sickly that he's easy to coup de grace -- which means we've been given an adventure containing a dragon you don't fight, and a giant you don't fight.  Enjoy the orcs, I guess?


Castles & Crusades again, this time a full-length adventure for levels 3-5.  It is unrelated to Giant's Rapture.  Time to go to sea and stop the rapacious raids of the Fomorian Sea Giants!  From an island in the Otherworld, a mage called Stormgazer leads the giants and dark fey in their assaults on the mortal world as he searches for his missing children.  PCs will engage with some raiding fairy forces and then head to the Otherworld via the sea.

A Celtic-themed journey into the seas of faerie sounds GREAT, and this adventure looks pretty good, but I wish the writing were a little trimmed back.  It's a big verbose and not presented in an easy-to-run way.  There are a couple suggested island encounters for en route - you could definitely do a whole Dawn Treader or Odysseus vibe here.  Once you get to Stormgazer's isle, you can make your way through his fortification (good mix of monsters here, and some nice treasure).  The adventure assumes once you get to Stormgazer, you are assumed not to fight him (he's kick your asses, I guess), but instead to hear his motivations for the raids, and then agree to seek out his three children lost in the mortal world, and return them to him.  Fairy tale goodness!  The adventure nicely notes that disproportionate time may have passed in the mortal world, depending on how you want to run your Otherworld.

The heroes return to the world of man and head to Caerleon, home to Arthur.  Yes, that Arthur.  The three faery children are there, among other orphans, having been hidden in the mortal world by their mother for fear of their mad father Stormgazer.  There's an elf spy in the court who spirits away the kids, and at the same time the faerie forces lay siege to the place, so the PCs fight in that big battle, then head out to locate the kids' mother.

Once they have the mother in tow (there's a hag involved in that), it's back to sailing to the Otherworld to give Stormgazer the business.  Good thing it's a whole trip, because this NPC has a page of exposition to throw at you.  Fight Stormgazer and you earn the faerie mother's rewards, and of course the raids stop.   I am confused and disappointed that the magic items she gives you are bog-standard out of the DMG rather than Cool Celtic Things.

I think Giant's Wrath would make a good adventure, or adventure framework, for a Celtic-heavy game or a pseudohistorical one.  I'd probably add more "on the seas of faerie" stuff and more Arthur action, but the structure of this adventure is sound and should produce robust Celtic myth pastiche.