Friday, July 1, 2022

#JULYGANTIC: Crypt of the Death Giants!

 Welcome to July and #JULYGANTIC!

Today I'm going to do a reading-review of the short adventure Crypt of the Death Giants, which is a D&D Adventurers League joint intended for level 17-20 characters.  It's intended to fill a two-hour slot!  I love the title of this one although given its level range, 5e-ness, Faerun-ness, I'll probably never run it.


The adventure involves the PCs going to a storm-shrouded ruin, clashing with some baddies, and coming to understand what the ruin is.  Sounds good, but can it live up to that epic title?  Maybe.  Crypt of the Death Giants is intended to allude to both Storm King's Thunder and Against The Giants (which had been redone in Tales From The Yawning Portal previous to its release).

The early matter of the adventure is taken up by the background nonsense and expository time getting the PCs to want to investigate the ruin.  The place has always had a perpetual storm around it, but lately the storm's been bigger, darker, and more violent.  Off we go!

As it turns out, the place is an ancient ruin of a storm giant temple complex.  The principal conflict comes from the PCs arriving right after a bunch of drow death cultists who want to resurrect the storm giants buried there for use as, y'know, undead warriors.  They'll also need to cope with the crypt's guardians.

Observations on reading:

1. I like the idea that there's a storm giant crypt out here in the middle of nowhere.  Ruins are where it's at.

2. Drow death cultists don't do anything for me, but at least it's an allusion to Against the Giants, and you could swap in your local undead-loving faction quite easily.

3. When the PCs discover a bunch of dead drow, the adventure has a sidebar covering what those corpses know, should speak with dead be used.  Nice!  Makes sense given the level of the adventure and that it's org-play.

4. The first guardian of the crypt, is an old storm giant who has turned, over time, into a sentient storm.  That's very cool and worth stealing regardless of edition.

5. By the time you get inside the crypt itself, the drow weirdos have already started resurrecting the 'honor guard' giants buried within.  Time to interrupt a ritual (which is sufficiently pulpy and I won't complain about it).  The adventure has a little chart for tracking how long it takes the PCs to get in here - so you know how far along the ritual is - but, in true new-school sense, it isn't tracking actual game-time, it's tracking "number of setbacks" (ie scenes).  I do like that PCs are penalized for having taken a short rest by now.  GET IN THERE.

6. To get to the priests who are doing the naughty resurrection, you have to fight a storm giant zombie, a drow archmage, a drow lich, and a draegloth (drow-demon-thing).  I haven't run any 5e at this tier but I have to presume that, properly run, this is a nasty-ass fight.  There are a bunch of magic effects in place in the room, the cultists get lair actions, and the more setbacks the PCs have suffered, the more baddies there are.

7. Some of the bad guys attempt to teleport out after they've created death giants, and they'll add to the forces in a later scenario.  I found that interesting, in my DDAL experience their scenarios don't really do that - let one thing affect another - because so much of it is canned.

8. If the PCs are wholly successful and also don't loot the crypt, the guardian of the place gives them access to some interesting downtime stuff where they can learn about giants and get some soft rewards.  I like seeing this kind of thing in D&D, even if I don't love how codified it is in DDAL.

All the DDAL stuff would benefit greatly from art.

CONCLUSION: There's some cool stuff in Crypt of the Death Giants.  If you're a 5e DM with a high-level group and you like complex combats, it's probably worth checking out just for that ending.  Everybody else...well, resurrecting dead giants seems like something most any death cult would attempt, if they knew where to get 'em.  You could replicate the vibe of this adventure at a significantly lower level.  There's no reason a party of 5th-levels couldn't have the same sort of experience with a death-priest or whatever finding a giant's tomb, and it wouldn't have to be storm giants, either.  Any old giant would work, and maybe some of them would be even more interesting.  Maybe do a Neanderthal-style burial for some hill giant chieftains - who were of course buried with their beloved cave bears.  UNDEAD CAVE BEARS.

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