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.

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