Reading “The Steading Of The Hill Giant Chief” as a Modern Gamer

Original 1978 module cover for G1 - Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
Original 1978 module cover.

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently took advantage of Wizards of the Coast making a lot of old TSR content available for purchase as PDFs. I bought all seven of the GDQ series modules, which I’ve been wanting to read for years now. The set have the distinction of being voted “the single greatest adventure of all time” by Dungeon magazine back in 2004, and the arguably more awesome distinction of being listed among Stephen Colbert’s favorite memories.

I’m generally a pretty slow reader, but I’ve been using every spare moment for the last day racing through these glorious tomes. I don’t have a ton of experience with oldschool modules, but I’ve certainly found them a lot more engaging than many modern modules I’ve read. And I’m really, immensely disappointed that I don’t have any players who are anywhere near ready to run through them. My D&D&LB players are just starting to reach level 2 (lowest recommended level for these is 8). My ToKiMo  players–while closer to the appropriate level–have not been playing with the level of high-mortality that these modules demand.

Surprisingly though, my player’s level of experience is my only real concern with running these modules for a Pathfinder group. The work of modifying the adventures for a modern game is really no work at all. I had once thought, based on my experience with modules for rules heavy systems like D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder, that converting a module to a new system would be difficult. But in these adventures there are so few rules or stat blocks that there’s hardly anything to change.

Take, for example, the first of the seven modules: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, which I purchased as part of the compilation “Against the Giants.” Along with two maps (one of the interior of the Hill Giant Stead, and one of the dungeon below it), there are 7 pages of adventure information and room descriptions, broken up by art. Based on my experience running oldschool style dungeon-crawls in Pathfinder, the content in these 7 measly pages could last for at least 2 game sessions, if not 3 or 4.

Only occasionally are game rules even mentioned, and in those instances it would be the work of mere moments to update them appropriately. For example, in room 17A of the dungeon level, part of the description includes this passage:

Behind this altar is a flight of low, uneven steps which lead to an alcove with a concave back wall of purplish-black, glassy appearing substance. If any creature stands before this wall and gazes upon it for one round, a writhing amorphous form of sickly mauves and violets will be seen stretching its formless members towards the viewer. The sight causes the creature seeing it to have a 50% chance of becoming insane.”

Now, if you want, you could just play that as written. The mechanics are explained in their entirety right there on the page: a 50% chance. If you’d rather make the module consistent with Pathfinder, though, it only takes a second. 50% chance is pretty damned high, so I’d say Will Save, DC: 18.

There are no NPC stat blocks in this module, so no real work to do there. Although there are two captive NPCs in the dungeon (an elf and a dwarf) who may join the party if rescued. But since no character sheets for those characters are included anyway, it seems that even the DMs of 1978 were expected to make their own character sheets for these characters. Surely we can take a moment to do the same, right?

All of the monsters in the module are standard. At the time players were meant to look them up in the AD&D Monster Manual, and as luck would have it, all of the monsters are still around in the Pathfinder Bestiary. Watch, I’ll even do all the work for you, in order of introduction:

  • Orc, Page 222
  • Hill Giant, Page 150
  • Ogre, Page 220
  • Cloud Giant, Page 147
  • Stone Giant, Page 151
  • Cave Bear, Page 31
  • Dire Wolf, Page 278
  • Bugbear, Page 38
  • Trogdolyte, Page 267
  • Giant Lizard, Page 194
  • Carrion Crawler…okay this one isn’t in there. Most likely copyrighted by Wizards. But if you play Pathfinder, you’ve probably got a 3.5 Monster Manual handy. It’s on Page 30 of that book.
  • Manticore, Page 199

Bam. I just updated the module for you.

Of course, there are a lot of AD&D anachronisms which you’ll need to deal with. Instead of “2d6 damage,” you’ll see things like “2-12 damage.” But that’s not difficult to figure out. There are also a few instances when one monster fights “as another monster,” but that’s not difficult either. When the module says that Hill Giants fight “as ogres,” it just means that you should use the Ogre stat block for these Hill Giants, because they’re not big badasses yet. Easy peasy.

I highly recommend these modules to Pathfinder players who enjoy dungeon crawling. They’re cheap, solidly designed, and will be a very different experience from the Pathfinder modules you may be used to.

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11 thoughts on “Reading “The Steading Of The Hill Giant Chief” as a Modern Gamer”

  1. It’s great to hear you are enjoying some old classics. This bit may sound like a canned response, but perhaps just running a one-shot or two with B2 or B1 (since it’s free atm) to better position your players for “being ready” would be helpful.

    Of course, just jumping right in always works too.

    While not specifically addressed in your post, I think your reading of G1 exhibits the false selling point of 5E, “You can use 5E to play classic modules!” As your post wonderfully shows, you don’t need a specific system to convert anything you want to play. I would go so far to say, most “classic modules” are far easier to work with in other systems, because of the style they were written in.

    I hope you write up a post-mortem of how your game(s) went. With some luck, perhaps it won’t be a literal post-mortem for all of the players.

    1. Haha! One would hope not.

      I actually also picked up both B1 and B2, so running those is something I’ll probably get around to eventually. But changing the tone of a campaign isn’t an easy thing. When everybody is having fun with the way the game currently is, the GM can’t just show up and say “I’m going to ramp up the difficulty on you.”

      At least, I don’t think a GM should do that. Instead, I’ve been slowly ramping up on the difficulty, and introducing more dungeon based play.

      1. In regards to changing the tone, I agree. That was my thought behind the B1/B2 one-shots. I think it would be helpful to introduce them via this method, outside the normal campaign.

        I personally do not see it as “ramping up on the difficulty.” It is a different style of play that is required, which, from the sound of it, they may not be accustomed to.

        But, your point is taken. Whether one refers to it as “more difficult” or “different play-style” it is disruptive to mess with the player’s expectation in any form, especially one a particular style has already been established.

        1. Ah, I see your intent. That’s an interesting idea. I may do that!

          I actually think it’s pretty fair to deem these modules as ‘more difficult’ rather than ‘a different play style.’ Ultimately, the style is established by me as the GM, and I try to keep that pretty consistent across the various games I run. It’s a style heavily influenced by old school play. The main difference between my Pathfinder game, and the game these modules present, is that my Pathfinder game is more forgiving of mistakes. HP pools are a little larger compared to damage dealt, there are fewer instant death effects, and players have better odds to make their saving throws.

  2. I find these old modules hard to read, they are so damn dense. I have D1-2 as actual books and even that one hurts my weak eyes. I was thinking about getting the same combo as you, though, so I could print up my own super-module. (Though D1-3 are the only ones in that set i’m actually interested in.)

    Your points about old modules being universal seems spot on. That’s one plus of a rules light system. I’m curious to see what D&D Next modules look like.

    1. I know what you mean. I’ve been trying to get through an old Ed Greenwood module called “The Endless Stair” for a long time now. Every time I pick it up I end up putting it down again pretty quickly.

      And the 3 original booklets Gygax and Arneson wrote are damned near un-readable.

      But I’d recommend G123. Much more legible than most of the stuff from that period, IMHO.

  3. I will be curious to see what you think of B1 and B2. I find B1 pretty weak (though it has a few good set pieces, if I recall correctly) while B2 is a masterpiece of beginning sandbox campaign design. The map for B1 is also less than coherent.

    1. Keep on the Boarderlands is so frequently referenced in the OSR, that I kinda have to read it just to find out what all the fuss is about. And, ya know, B1 was free. =P

      I don’t know if I’ll actually write posts about them when I read them, but I’m sure I’ll have some kind of opinion to share.

      1. I downloaded B1 last night and the only thing I enjoyed about it was the description of the slaughtered adventure party at the entrance and the contents of the various store rooms.

        Why B2 you ask? Well B2 was the adventure that came with most gorgnard’s first copy of D&D and it’s cool because it fully details a keep and then a complex of monster caves. Now the monster caves are a ridiculous wheel o’ humanoids, but the wilderness map, keep and random encounters are good. It crams a lot of campaign into a small package. Personally it doesn’t do that much for me, but it was fun to play before I knew what D&D was. I mean there’s a minotaur and an evil priest!

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