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At the end of the year, we look at the gift of books, the wintry elements, and giants!
And with it, the hope for gifts given (or rather, gifts received). Some of my fondest memories from holidays past are of finding D&D books under the tree. Back in 1984, it was no less than the Red Box Basic Game. The very next year, it was the Monster Manual II (the Basic Game taught me and my friends the rules; after that, we cobbled together as much content as we could from the AD&D books).
This was back in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Christmas-time was invariably blustery, frigid, and (most crucially, for school closures) snow-filled. In other words, the perfect weather to sit inside all day and leaf through books of monsters—some empirically cool (from the D-section of the MMII alone, we have demon lords and princes, daemons, and the fabled demilich), some questionably bizarre (we're looking at you, modrons).
With the MMII in particular, there were a few entries that fit right in with the winter weather. Always a fan of the elementals myself, I was thrilled to find the new para-elementals of smoke, magma, ooze, and of course cold.
The original elementals—earth, air, fire, and water—have been part of the game's earliest bestiaries, based on the classic Greek concepts of the elements. (Not that the Greek system provided a universal view of the elements. A fifth element has appeared in various cultures, sometimes that of aether or the void (or love, according to Luc Besson); Chinese concepts instead held earth, fire, water, metal, and wood as the classic elements.)
A few odd notes on the game's first elementals include the restriction, in the original edition, that only one could be summoned per day—by anyone. "Thus, if a character possessed a device to call up an Air Elemental, but before he could employ it an opponent conjured an Air Elemental, another could not be created until the next day." Earth and fire elementals could also not cross water (although, by the 1st Edition Monster Manual, earth elementals could do so but only by traveling underground below the body of water itself). Water elementals also required a large body of water to be summoned from, while fire elementals required a flame of considerable heat (such as a large fire or a lava pool).
Although fire represented a classic element, cold elementals entered the game soon after. Back in Dragon 29 (July 1979), an article appeared suggesting such new "para-elements" as cold (as well as moist, hot, dry, and—odder still—"beginning" elementals, which could open doors, dispel evil magic, and remove some curses; and "ending" elementals, which could close doors as a wizard lock, dispel good magic, and curse as an Evil High Priest). Ice para-elementals appeared in the MMII, followed by the shiverbug, iceling, snowfury, and frigidarch (the "frost kings," second only in power to Cryonax himself) in Dragon 129.
Of course, when it comes to the element of cold, we would be much remiss not to kneel before Cryonax. Arriving in the 1E Fiend Folio, Cryonax was listed as prince of evil cold creatures before any true para-elemental plane of cold had even been established. He was so dominate, he simply established a castle of ice, quartz and glass "at the juncture of the Planes of Air and Water and drawing power from the Negative Material Plane."
But that it is not what we're here to talk about!
Against the Giants
Cryonax was not the only claimant to the cold throne. The MMII also brought us Kostchtchie—the demon lord so powerful that he kept a pair of leucrotta for pets; that his hammer stunned opponents through their entire next round of actions; and that he was served by frost giants along with an ancient white dragon for his steed.
Without adding more on Kostchtchie, it's his allegiance with giants that we're especially interested in.
A massive timber stronghold hides among the hills. The well-worn trail that you've been following ends before a pair of 15-foot-high doors made of ironbound logs. Thicker logs comprise the walls of the stronghold. The wooden roof inclines toward the middle, reaching a height of 30 feet at its peak. The stronghold has no windows, but a squat watchtower overlooks the entrance. Smoke rises from numerous stone chimneys.
A log guardhouse stands apart from the main stronghold, but connected by a palisade wall of vertical logs 15 feet high. Heavy log doors set into the palisade lead to a courtyard lodged between the two buildings.
This description should sound familiar to anyone who's ever played through the original. This month, we present the first adventure in our 4th Edition Against the Giants series. Chris Perkins mentioned this project in an earlier editorial—and not only had Chris revised the original trilogy of adventures for 4E play, but he also added a fourth adventure to the series as well, focused on the neglected stone giants.
Consistently ranked among the most popular adventures of all time, the G-series was originally published back in 1978. That same year, it was played in the Origins Convention, in a tournament which involved "over 275 players and judges in two days of grueling, torturous fun honed sharp by the nature of the competition. Teams of nine each adventured through up to three rounds slaying giants and other fearsome monsters..."
Dragon 19 even provided a description of the final events by the winning team (hailing from Michigan and West Virginia University):
Round 1: The first round led us to the hill giant's stronghold...
We gained entry through the east side entrance, which turned out to be the kennel. After casting a silence 15' radius spell, the dire wolves inside were quickly dispatched. We then searched a major portion of the upper level and killed four or five giants in the process, including an old matron whose potions and treasure we took.
We made a brief and fruitless entrance into the lower level only to set off a trap which left six members of our party locked in combat with four insane manticores. The manticores were killed without serious injury to the group, and a passwall spell brought about an escape from the room.
We returned to the upstairs and charmed a hill giant into pointing out which giant at the feast going on in the Great Hall was the chief. We surrounded this room from two sides and sent the charmed giant into the Hall with the order to point out the chief by kissing him on the cheek. This was also to be the signal for our two groups to attack. Two fireballs, a javelin of lightning, a confusion spell, and a good deal of slashing and hacking later, the giants were wiped out to a man and the steading was aflame.
The group, still intact, cut off the hill giant chiefs head and quickly left by the front gate. The cleric blocked pursuit by casting a blade barrier across the entrance. We then cast a speak with dead on the head, and subsequent questioning revealed the next step to be taken on our quest.
We're thrilled to present the 4th Edition version of these adventures. As Chris writes about updating the original, "In reimagining "Steading of the Hill Giant Chief," I've inflicted some violence to the maps and encounters to make the adventure a fun and balanced 4th Edition experience, acknowledging that this creates some mapping challenges for Dungeon Masters with limited tabletop space. I hope that DMs with fond memories of the original read this latest incarnation and feel the same overwhelming desire to run the adventure as I felt back in 1980, when I read Gary Gygax's adventure for the first time."
In December, "Steading of the Hill Giant Chief" releases for characters level 12-14. The series then continues with "Warrens of the Stone Giant Thane" (Dungeon 197), "Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl" (Dungeon 198), and "Hall of the Fire Giant King" (Dungeon 199).
But that it was not what we're here to talk about!
Book of Vile Darkness
This is what we've come to talk about! At least, in closing. This year, a new book has arrived for the holidays. And as we've been previewing, the current Book of Vile Darkness now offers options and advice for both creating evil characters and running evil-themed campaigns.
Although beneficial, this was no book to be taken lightly.
The original in-game version was once described as the ineffably evil meat and drink to priests of that alignment. As detailed in the 1st Edition DMG, neutral characters daring read this book had to save or become evil (immediately seeking out an evil cleric to confirm their new alignment). Good characters took damage and had a high chance of being visited and attacked by a night hag. And as for good clerics so much as perusing its pages, they had to immediately save or die; if successful, they had to save again or fall permanently insane; and if still successful, they nevertheless potentially lost hundreds of thousands of experience points.
As mentioned in our article on cursed items, there seemed a cursed version of all too many magic items meant to trick trusting adventurers. The book of vile darkness somewhat fell into this camp, as an evil counterpart to thebook of exalted deeds. Reading either book required one week, but doing so granted a cleric of the correct alignment 1 point of Wisdom and placed them mid-way into the next level of experience. Not a bad gift—assuming you were of the correct alignment.