What's really remarkable about these modules, the first ones ever published by TSR for D&D, is how many people's memories of them differ rather radically from their actual texts. The biggest misconception is that they're plot-driven, when in fact there's only the thinnest of plots in them. G1 begins thusly:
Giants have been raiding the lands of men in large bands, with giants of different sorts in these marauding groups. Death and destruction have been laid heavily upon every place these monsters have visited. This has caused great anger in high places, for life and property loss means failure of the vows of noble rulers to protect the life and goods of each and every subject - and possible lean times for the rulers as well as the ruled. Therefore, a party of the bravest and most powerful adventurers has been assembled and given the charge to punish the miscreant giants. These adventurers must deliver a sharp check, deal a lesson to theclan of hill giants nearby, orelse return and put their heads upon the block for the headsman’s axe!And that's extent of its "plot." The body of the adventure itself consists simply of a map and description of the steading, the dungeon beneath, and its inhabitants and their treasures. The description of Nosnra, the main "villain" of the adventure, provides only game stats and nothing more. He is not given any real background or motivations and indeed his role in planning and/or executing the giant raids mentioned above is never explained. In his treasury, the characters find a map of the Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl and a magical chain that will transport up to 6 people to said locale.
Module G2 follows a very similar pattern to G1, with Jarl Grugnur not being given any background or motivations other than simply being the leader -- and most powerful example -- of the frost giants who are among those raiding civilized lands. In his private cavern can be found a magical lever that transports people outside the Hall of the Fire Giant King, Snurre Iron Belly. But, again, that's the extent of the "plot": seek out the frost giant stronghold and deliver a blow to them that might dissuade them from ever again attacking the lands of men.
Module G3 ramps up the actual plot elements somewhat, but not by much. In King Snurre's council room, there is a signed missive from the drow high priestess Eclavdra, encouraging the fire giant monarch to make an alliance with as many giants and humanoids as he can muster so that they might march united against the nearby settled lands. No explanation of why Eclavdra wishes this is provided and even the description of the drow leader provides no more details. There is a hint of a suggestion that the drow may be doing the bidding of the Elder Elemental God, a shrine to whom is found in the lower level of the Hall, but even the drow's connection to this Lovecraftian entity is implied (by proximity and their use of tentacle rods) rather than outright stated. When the drow flee the adventurers (or are killed by them), they leave behind a map of their escape route into the deep caverns beneath the world.
Modules D1 and D2 provide nothing in the way of a "plot." They are simply descriptions of locales and encounters along the way to the drow metropolis of Erelhei-Cinlu. Along the descent into the depths of the earth, the characters might make various friends and enemies to aid them in their explorations, but none of these encounters is part of a grand plot as such. Instead, what we get is a subterranean "wilderness," with many different monster lairs, along with the usual tricks and traps. Even the fabled Shrine of the Kuo-Toa is mostly a dungeon without any greater significance, although the characters may loot from it drow brooches and clothing to aid them in infiltrating the Vault of the Drow.
Module D3 is, like its immediate predecessors, mostly a travelogue, in this case of the drow city and its surrounding areas. The only plot we get is the following text, in the description of the House of Eilserv:
The Eilservs have long seen a need for an absolute monarch to rule the Vault, and as the noble house of first precedence, they have reasoned that their mistress should be Queen of All Drow. When this was proposed, the priestesses of Lolth supported the other noble families aligned against the Eilservs, fearing that such a change would abolish their position as the final authority over all disputes and actions of the Dark Elves. Thereafter, the Eilservs and their followers turned away from the demoness and proclaimed their deity to be an Elder Elemental God [see MODULE GI-2-3). Although there is no open warfare, there is much hatred, and both factions seek to destroy each other. An attempt to move worship of their deity into the upper world, establish a puppet kindom there, and grow so powerful from this success that their demands for absolute rulership no longer be thwarted, was ruined of late, and theIn this text, we finally get an explanation of the reasons for the alliance of the various giants, as well as some specific insight into the politics of Erelhei-Cinlu. Beyond that, though, there is nothing. The city is otherwise treated much like a wilderness area, with individual "lairs" of drow here and there and the Fane of Lolth is given a map as if it were a dungeon like any other. There is even an opportunity to square off against the Demon Queen of Spiders' physical form if the characters prove themselves bold (or unlucky). It's interesting too that there's a dissident male drow imprisoned in the Fane named Nilonim, who is neutral aligned -- with good tendencies -- and who leads a band of rebels trying to overthrow the nobles of Erelhei-Cinlu. D3 ends with this rather inspiring text:
family is now retrenching
THIS ENDS THE DESCENT INTOTerrific stuff.
THE DEPTHS BUT BEGINS MANY
NEW AND EXCITING PROSPECTS
My memories of these modules were quite different than the reality. My recollections were of a number of memorable encounters with various antagonists, strong connections between the various groups of evildoers, and an overall coherence that simply isn't there. But then I was the referee for all these modules and ran them many times. I provided huge doses of "connective tissue" based on what my players did and how well they succeeded (or failed). The end result was as least as much "my" module as it was Gygax's.
One of the key things I noticed in rereading these modules is how there are no "events" that occur within them. They're largely static, with the monsters occupying some location (or series of locations, since some of them do move around). Events occur when these monsters interact with the PCs. They're almost entirely player-driven rather than being modules where things happen to the characters by fiat of the plot. Thus, there is no inherent "drama" in them other than what the players bring to them. I like that and my memories bear out the fact that "steady state" adventure locales can and do inspire great roleplaying moments.
I'll still have to ponder some more about the concept of an old school adventure path, but I'm more convinced than ever that we have a good model here in the Giants/Drow series. What we need now is for someone to produce another series in the same general vein. A project for the future perhaps ...