Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Because I started playing in this period of transition between generations, I often don't feel I belong to either one. I wasn't a wargamer nor was I old enough to hang out with the high schoolers, but I was enough old enough to look down my nose at the "kiddies" whose first exposure to RPGs with either the Moldvay or (worse) Mentzer boxed sets (even though I owned and adored the former -- and still do). And while the Holmes Blue Book does get a lot of love in the old school world these days, that's a comparatively new development. For the most of my time in the hobby, the Holmes edit was the "forgotten" edition of D&D, particularly once the hobby expanded greatly as the Moldvay and Mentzer devotees entered it.
I mention all of this because, for me, the 1981 compilation module G1-2-3, Against the Giants, encapsulates a lot of the weirdness of my early days in the hobby. I never owned any of the pastel-covered modules on which this one is based, but they were still kicking around hobby and bookstores. Indeed, I did own some pastel-covered modules, since I bought them in 1980 before they were redone. So, my friends and I had a mishmash of stuff published from before we started playing, as well as contemporary stuff published later. There's more to the weirdness than that, though. For the most part, we played RPGs amongst ourselves, but, every so often, a friend's father and older brother would run stuff for us. Even more rarely, the older brother and his friends would run us through a module. Such was the case with Against the Giants.
I can still very clearly remember that summer day back in 1981, because we were playing outside, sitting in the backyard or at a picnic table. Because none of us had any characters of the requisite levels (8-12), we had to make use of the pregenerated PCs from the back of the book. I wound up with the terrifically named Cloyer Bulse the Magsman, who was a thief, a class I never played (I've always been a fighter or cleric kind of guy). One of my friends played Fonkin Hoddypeak and another Redmod Dumple. The fact that I can still, three decades later, remember these character's names and who played them says a lot about how much I enjoyed that summer's day.
We never managed to get very far into the module, because the first part, Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, is a real slog -- and my friend's teenage brother was a ruthless referee. I don't believe any of us actually died at his hands, but we were hurting. The Steading is just packed with hill giants and their servants and our referee was very good at using them. To our credit, we managed to outsmart him on quite a few occasions, among being to stir up dissent amongst the hill giant's orcish slaves so as to create a useful distraction for our own activities. We had a lot of fun, partly because we got to play high-level characters, something we'd never done before, and partly because we were playing with "the cool kids," or at least what we assumed were cool kids, since we had so little experience of coolness ourselves.
Later on, I'd referee Against the Giants for friends and I can recount many a tale of their exploits, such as an opportune use of creeping doom against a roomful of hill giants and inter-party strife after the discovery of a ring of three wishes in the Glacial Rift. If a module's goodness is to be judged solely on the fun had while playing it, I think Against the Giants has to be one of the most fun of all. I'll always hold it in special regard, because it symbolizes that weird time when I was initiated into the hobby that I'd have for the rest of my life.