Art of the Genre: Against the Giants

Art of the Genre: Against the Giants

Ryan Harvey is at it again in the Black Gate L.A. offices, his collection of vintage zoot suits making the reception area look like a rainbow of color from the 30s. Having no desire to see him try on another while our two receptionists cheer him on, I decided to take my recently received VIP passes to the premiere of Sucker Punch at Mann’s Chinese Theatre [BG membership has its privileges] and exited to the observation deck.

Jeff Dee introduces us to Ice Toads
Jeff Dee introduces us to Ice Toads

L.A. is a funny place, bright, beautiful, and hiding a pasty underbelly that’s only seen if you know where to look. It’s nothing like Indiana, my place of birth, where poverty isn’t hidden behind a veil of Botox and palm trees.

I’d just returned from the Hoosier state, my little town surrounded by corn fields and meth labs, but no matter what, it’s there I can truly feel comfortable. Seated in the house where I was raised on the banks of the Tippecanoe, I found myself surrounded by friends I’ve had for thirty-five years, and the reason we’re still friends is and will always be role-playing.

It connects us even when everything else in the world says we shouldn’t have anything to discuss, and this past week was no different. As a testament to the passing of years, we decided to play the old TSR 1st Edition D&D Against the Giants module series, the last time we’d opened those venerable module’s pages was 1995 when character sheets still had character sketch boxes in the upper right corner.

Remember, giants are big, even those of the Hills!
Remember, giants are big, even those of the Hills!

This current week we used Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG, and it was a blast once again, some new twists brought in that we’d never seen before. There was a running nostalgia behind it, the module acting as a kind of time machine to the past.

If you’ve ever played G1-2-3 you know what I mean. I first played this module in 7th grade, our party completely inept as we tried to climb the hill giant fortress instead of just opening the front door. We didn’t finish the module, and actually didn’t really start it as the bulk of us fell off the roof, but that didn’t impact the feeling that I’d experienced something fundamentally awesome and changing in my gaming life.

My next run against Gygax’s classic Giants came in 1986, this time my party ready for the assault. In those days, at fifteen years of age, you and your characters were basically immortal killing machines, and we cut a swath through Steading, Rift, and Hall like a hot knife through butter.

It was like comic-book power, and I still get heady thinking about it. You were fighting giants for god’s sake! In my mind’s eye I can see the hill giant chief in his long feast hall hefting tankards of beer with ogres, dire bears, his crazed wife, and even a cloud giant emissary. I well remember the name of the dwarf we saved from his fire giant overseers, Mongo Ironhammer, and the unbelievable amount of treasure one could collect if you looked in the right places [like the illusionary torch that was actually a NG Sword of Giant Slaying].

The frost giants were no less impressive, their rift filled with huge white puddings, and the ice dome of the great remorhaz that held a ring of three wishes. I caught my first glimpse of Bill Willingham’s black and white art here as well, his ability to capture the female form [well mainly the breasts] making my teenage blood run hot.

She has huge... tracts of land!
She has huge... tracts of land!

Then came the blazing and brass Hall of King Snurre. That first fight, the epic battle against the king and his honor guard, was like Ali versus Frazier. If you were lucky, you could find his secret treasure trove with all those heaping chests, one with near a hundred rings. It was also here, in the room of a fallen dwarf, you got the gauntlets of ogre power that allowed one lucky fighter in your group the chance to unleash the true might of the Hammer of Thunderbolts along with Girdle of Giant Strength you’d recovered in the first two modules.

Indeed, these were dreams for any adventurer, most of us only scratching the surface of all that compellation module contained. When I was looking into replaying these classics again, I found that Dragonsfoot had a freely downloadable additional giant module, G4 Sanctum of the Stone Giant Lord. This 4th volume extends the mission, and I loved the way RC Pinnell integrated some classic touches from the first three into this edition.

Another intriguing part of the newest running of these modules was that my friends and I had moved away from 1st Edition D&D in the late 90s as 3rd Edition came out. We now played Paizo’s version, an updated accounting of the 3.5 OGL, so we had to dig into the meat of each of these modules and see if anything would be broken in the new system. The most glaring issue was the upgrading of the giants, and the new versus old giants were like comparing a bicycle to a freight train.

As we weighted the changes [two of us deciding to share the DMing duties] I was brought back to something that has stuck with me since those beginning days, a quote by Gygax found in the back pages of the original DMG as an Afterward [pg 230].

What?!  I can fight Stone Giants too!
What?! I can fight Stone Giants too!

“It is the spirit of the game, not the letter of the rules, which is important. Never hold the letter written, nor allow some barracks room lawyer to force quotations from the rule book upon you, if it goes against the obvious intent of the game. As you hew the line with respect to the conformity of major systems and uniformity of play in general, also be certain the game is mastered by you and not by your players. Within the broad parameters given in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Volumes, you are creator and final arbiter. By ordering things as they should be, the game as a whole first, your campaign next, and your participants thereafter, you will be playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as it was meant to be. May you find as much pleasure in so doing as the rest of us do!”

In this fashion we reworked these classics, added our own storyline [and unbeknownst to me removed the ring of three wishes from the remorhaz dome, damn you Mark!], and when we sat down to game all the good that is role-playing came flooding back.

These modules are true pieces of history, the artwork involved stemming from a time when the gaming world was new and truly inventive. The art, expanded from the original 1978 modules into a combined 1981 edition of G-1-2-3 Against the Giants, included the talents of David C. Sutherland III, David A. Trampier, Jeff Dee, David S LaForce, Erol Otis, and Willinghan, their images have capturing my imagination for thirty years.

So, in final thought, I hope you’ve enjoyed remembering Against the Giants as much as I enjoyed playing them, and if anyone sees me at GenCon this year, be sure to ask how G3 went since we ran out of time and decided to save it for our next gathering.

Comic III
Comic III

Note: If you just can’t get enough of killing giants and stealing their wealth, you can find more modules in the 1st Edition D&D setting from RC Pinnell at Lulu. Each module is print on demand and priced $7.00 or less. I my opinion, you can’t go wrong, either as a player, a fan, or a collector. These modules can be found here, and include:

G5: Curse of the Cloud Giant Queen
G6: The Forge of the Fomorian Smith Lord
G7: Giants in the Deep
G8: Manor of the Mountain Giant King
G9: Secret of the Swamp Giant Steward

Ah, and for those of you looking for the Noodles/Taylor comic, now named ‘The Critical Hit’, here is the latest installment. Enjoy!

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Brian Murphy

Great post about some great modules. G3 in particular is a meatgrinder, with plenty of TPK potential. But my favorite was always G2 with the remorhaz and the white pudding!


Thanks for sharing your memories about G1-3. My gaming group was more into making our own adventures than using commercial modules, so I missed out on most of the module fun.

Critical hit – Great name! I’ve been wondering what you might have come up with and it suits the series very well in my opinion. I’m not sure what I like best: the expression on the fighters face, the fact the wizard conjured up lemons and butter before the crab is dead, or the small crustacean floating by while holding his sign.

I really hope you two, (Noodles & Taylor), can keep this going for some time. I understand it won’t happen every week, but a couple of times a month would be grand.


L.A. offices? Between the mention of LA offices and the “Giants” series of modules, we’ve got to get together and game some time.

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