(5e) Giantslayer

By M. T. Black & Richard Jansen-Parkes
Self Published
Levels 1-2

Yegor Bonecruncher is the most ferocious hill giant in the land. When he begins terrorising the small village of Frickley, the inhabitants have only one hope – the legendary warrior, Jahia Giantslayer. The PCs undertake a dangerous trek through the High Forest to find her, battling wild fey magic all the way. But can Jahia live up to her own legend?

This fourteen page adventure features the party taking a (very short) wilderness journey to find a retired adventurer, in order to fight a hill giant.You get two or three fights, plus the hill giant fight, in addition to a couple of persuade rolls. It’s (generally) not offensive. The publishers blurb notes that the designer is critically acclaimed. That’s one strike against it out of the gate.

Rather than focusing on the absurd power creep in 5e, I will instead note that a portion of this adventure focuses on getting the villagers to stay and fight instead of running away. Abstracted, the giant will start down 36HP if they do, and then their arrows will do 15 points a round to him. (I guess no firing in to melee penalties in 5e?) Getting the farmers to stay knocks the giant down 30 hp and getting the hunters to stay knocks him down by about 15 points a round. Best case, that leaves him about 30 hp to go. No unreasonable for a party of 1’s, especially if the retired adventurer is recruited, since she absorbs one giant attack a round for four rounds and does a further 15 points a round to him. This reveals two things. First, this is really a social adventure. Recruiting the farmers and hunters, as well as the adventurer, is critical to the success of the adventure. There are some throw-away words to getting the villagers to help, but I felt that the text could have been clearer on this point … the party needs to understand the importance of getting them to help, otherwise they can’t make meaningful decisions about it. Yes, it IS mentioned, but it feels abstracted when first brought up. Second, it harkens back to the time when you bought hirelings and henchmen with you to the dungeon. Getting a big ass group together to fight the monsters does more damage to them and makes it less likely YOU will be targeted. No one ever brings enough people with them, and abstracted hirelinelig/henchmen in combat rules should be a thing.

Suggested hooks are: your father dies and you go back home to your village. Ug. All adventurers are orphans for a reason, so the DM can’t fuck with their families. This is a perfect example of bad hook writing. Multiple half-column read-alouds make me grown out loud on the quality of the writing. Overwrought. “… where farmers and hunters share gossip over a flagon or two or ale and the odd bowl of mutton stew.” It’s a fucking generic fantasy inn. You’ve done nothing to it to make it interesting. Just say its a fucking inn and don’t make us wade through the failed novelist text. And you know, there’s nothing like intro read-aloud text that has the words “Suddenly you hear shouts up ahead …” Every. Fucking. Time. It’s like there’s a template these people use called “Bad 5e Adventure Writing.”

Beyond all of this garbage is some dubious advice out roleplaying. Yes, it does mention that you should have the players roleplay their persuade attempts instead of just rolling the die. I fondly recall DM’s a 4e con game once where, when I asked this, one of the players said ‘Ug, your one of THOSE dm’s …” Yes, I am; we’re playing D&D and not Warhammer minis. In spite of this advice, though, the designer then goes about fucking things up. You MUST persuade. You can’t bribe, or intimidate, or do other things. Those are all auto-fails. Bull. Shit. First, I’m not sure its ever ok to have hidden rules. “Haha! Jokes on you! I had hidden rules and you fail now because you didn’t read my mind!” But, more than that, Fuck you for deciding in advance how the party has to play this out. Let me intimidate or bribe people. What fucking difference does it make? It’s not your fucking story, it’s the players. If they want to bribe people then who cares? Just tell them the farmer is very proud, give them disadvantage maybe, or adjust the combat potential at the end with some morale pretext.

But, all is not bleak. The main NPC”s have some summary boxes that are easy to find. WAY too long, but still, I appreciate the effort. Less text than a half-column each would have made it easier to roleplay the major players all at once and keep track of them. So, hearts in the right place, just totally fucked by implementation. There are nice notes though, like a farmer embellishing a story and his brother vouching for him that give the DM good cues on adding flavor to the otherwise boring overwrought text. Likewise an encounter or two have some interesting things going on, like a harpy luring the party up a boulder to fall to their deaths.

The hook doesn’t really finish till page six (unless you count the village asd the adventure, which you could, given the persuade rolls.) There’s only a couple of wilderness encounters, since the hermits hut for the adventurer is only a couple of hours away. Those tend to be half page affairs, for simple things like “a fallen log” or “crossing a river on slippery stones.”

This is, essentially, an adventure written for ten years olds. It’s not meant to be, but its so simplistic to give that effect. I don’t mind basic, and its short and simple enough that you can almost keep the entire thing in your head … for better or worse.

This isn’t a terrible adventure. Most of the bullshit can be ignored. Some additional text to liven up the final fight would have been a good addition, but, whatever. It’s $2 and its not the great steaming pile of shit most 5e adventures seem to be.

This is $2 at DMsguild. The preview is only two pages long. You get to see the long read-aloud as well as the “start the adventurers off immediately with a fight!” bullshit and how its implemented THIS time.

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17 Responses to (5e) Giantslayer

  1. Saint says:

    I played this at a con with the author. We avoided most of the obvious bait (e.g. the Giantslayer NPC) and came up with an elaborate plan to trap the giant instead.

    It was a lot of fun, but I’m not surprised to see how 5E-ified the written adventure is.

  2. Hi Bryce,

    Your website has been a guilty pleasure of mine for some time, and I’ve been waiting for the day when you reviewed one of my adventures. You didn’t disappoint!

    It’s late at night here in Sydney town, and I feel like interacting with your review. I think a lot about this stuff, and I like talking to folk who do too. This adventure is nearly two years old now, so hopefully I can approach it with a little objectivity! But we’ll see.

    * Things I think you got right *

    I do think some of the boxed text runs long, and I’ve tended to cut that down in more recent adventures. For example, if writing it now I would make the opening text about the faun attack much shorter. And conversation with Randur I would reduce to dot points rather than include his whole speech.

    There is a heap of info I’m trying to get across in those first few pages. I’d be looking at ways to break that up better these days. I’ve also got more confidence now that people will pick up the thread of something from a few lines rather than spelling everything out.

    I agree the hooks (there are two) are a little weak, though it surprises me that hooks worry you, actually. Some of the adventures on your love list don’t really have hooks at all beyond “here is a cool place to adventure” (which may be sufficient).

    I also agree I shouldn’t have been so restrictive as regards interacting with the villagers. Today I would leave the intimidate option open (a bribe is a form of persuasion). I know how much you dislike persuasion rolls, but the charisma skills are part of 5e. People have these skills and expect to be able to use them.

    I also think the village and inn are a too generic. If writing it today, I’d be trying to find one unique thing about the inn to mention – of just say not much.

    I haven’t looked at this adventure closely for about a year, and there are a lot of things I would do differently these days. It’s good to see I’m learning.

    * Things I think you got wrong *

    You kinda acknowledge it, but it’s wrong to say the hook lasts until page 6. Fighting the satyrs, meeting the Brighthearths, then talking to the factions in the village – these are all part of the adventure.

    Starting an adventure with a fight is fine, IMO. Especially for a one shot, people like to loosen their swords early on.

    The NPC summary boxes are not half a column each, I also used plenty of white space in the layout. I’d tighten the summary up a little these days, but I think they are still pretty good.

    The encounters aren’t as overwritten as you suggest (the “fallen log” encounter, is closer to a half a column, for example, and there are a couple of complexities there that account for the length).

    You said it was an adventure written for 10 year olds and “It’s not meant to be…” Actually, it kinda is. I try to write adventures that are easy for people to run. I’ve had a lot of folk tell me these are the first adventures they ever ran as a DM, and were super easy to use. I’m always pleased to hear that a 12yo has run one of my adventures and found it easy to use – that seems a feature not a bug to me!

    * Things you didn’t see *

    Well, you probably saw them but didn’t acknowledge them. And actually, there is only one. I thought you would acknowledge that the adventure is pretty open in how you approach it. The main fight at the end gives players a battlefield to prepare, and there are lots of ways to tackle that fight. There are no real restrictions placed on the adventurers, and I’ve heard of many different strategies taken.

    One experienced group of players decided they didn’t need the giantslayer at all, and they defeated the giant just by clever tactics. So it’s very open in that respect. Your mathematical analysis of the giant fight was correct, but was a bit reductionistic about the fight, which everyone has loved.

    I also worked pretty hard to ensure that the wilderness trek was not just a linear thing, but that there were meaningful options to take. The presence of guides (and the fact you had a choice of guide) was intended to provide some information to make the choice of path more meaningful. I still think it is a pretty effective approach.

    * The Future *

    I suspect you will be reviewing more and more 5e adventures given so many are now being published. It also seems that Swords & Wizardry adventure publishing is slowing down a little, although you are probably better placed to comment on that than me.

    I look forward to you reviewing more of my adventures at some point, and it will be interesting to see if the more recent ones are more to your liking than Giantslayer. This one (although over a year old) might be more up your alley – http://www.dmsguild.com/product/205741/.


    PS – I’d happily send you complementary copies of any of my stuff you want to review, but I believe you have a policy of paying for everything. If that changes, let me know.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Re: Start with a Fight.
      I’m somewhat cynical when I see an adventure starting this way. I’ve seen a lot of bad adventure writing advice, official TSR/WOTC/Pathfinder and otherwise, note this. I think it focuses on the wrong thing. Is that what D&D is? Combat? We have to start that way or we won’t meet expectations? The players need that to have a good time?

      I’m open to it being a XP thing. If combat=XP then people focus on combat and an initial combat makes more sense. If Gold=XP then forcing combat is almost always a bad idea because it takes away player agency. If plot=XP then. again, maybe ok? I don’t know. It feels like this concept is mixed up in it somehow. It’s like starting your novel with “it was a dark and stormy night …”

      • * It’s like starting your novel with “it was a dark and stormy night …” *

        Every adventure used to start in a tavern (I’ve done plenty of those myself), so if everything now either starts in a tavern or a fight, we are making progress. But we need a few more options!

        • Gus L says:

          If we look at adventure structure from a high level there are two popular ideas A) Location based B) Scene based. In a location based adventure – where the locus of play is exploration, faction and how the players deal with that then a tavern works – or at least a location on a map and a rumor table works (I prefer sticking the PCs in a crap situation – but it’s the same thing). In a scene based game where the adventure consists of a narrative of scene to scene and so starting in a fight makes sense as a classic narrative cliche and works better then most as it’s very clear.

          Like most things though it’s not as simple as hook design – it’s adventure structure as a whole – are you writing a narrative or a location and then what works best as a hook … cause it’s a different answer.

    • Great to see MTB reply. I enjoyed running this as a finale to a low level season. With a bit more prep I would have name-dropped Jahia much earlier in my season, but she is a great NPC, because she won’t outshine most groups, but is still awesome.
      I felt redhead huntress Tastra would have been a better guide option than the kid. Who links Jahia to a village just a few hours away? I made Tastra Jahia’s granddaughter but followed MTB framing making her unaware of the connection. With more prep I would make her aware, keen to get advice from granny Jahia, but threatened by terrifying surrounds.

      • Ah, that’s a nice suggestion. Tastra is another cool little NPC who deserved a bit more airtime.

        My design goal for the adventure was to create a prequel for Storm Kings Thunder. But I wanted first level characters to face a real giant (rather than the giants dog or something like that).

        As noted above, I think Bryce makes some good criticisms. But the feedback from those who have played it has been universally good, so I think it ultimately succeeds as an adventure.

  3. Jeff says:

    Giants grow in size between edtions. In 5e a hill giant is 16 feet tall. Any player worth thier place at the table is going to argue that the plebs firing towards the chest of the giant should have plenty of room to aim over the melee fighters head.

    Forget what the dwarves tell you massed archers are the best way to take down a giant especially if you can find 2e archers who get two shots per round and do 1d8 points of damage.

    • Yeah, I did think about this when I was putting that combat encounter together. It seemed clear that the archers would be firing above the heads of the adventurers. Possibly that was worth a note in the adventure.

  4. * The main NPC”s have some summary boxes that are easy to find. WAY too long, but still, I appreciate the effort. *

    I thought these were pretty tight, really. Here is the longest NPC summary – I’d be curious to hear if your readers think it is way too long.

    Tastra Fleetsong
    Half-Elf female. Hunter. Red hair.
    Ideal: In the wild, the most important thing is making sure you can take care of yourself and your family.
    Bond: Frickley has been good to me over the years, but villages are made of people, not houses.
    Flaw: I have no respect for anybody who can’t make themselves useful or who doesn’t show ambition. Who would want to spend their entire life tending to the same field over and over again?

    • Gus L says:

      Bryce loves a really concise everything. I don’t think he’s always right, but I do think editing thing down to gists is something I wish I was better at. It never hurts to cut a sentence.

      e.g. Ideal, Flaw & Bond can be combined into something like:

      A wild-lands individualist who finds worth in her ability to care for her friends and family. Devoted to the people of Frickey, but really too many aren’t ambitious enough and too beholden to their pitiful huts and fields rather then making themselves useful.

      Also because I’m a dick, day drinking bad Chianti: that’s a boring, vanilla fantasy 1/2 elf hunter – like could she be more central casting? Has she ever had to eat the flesh of her former companions who died of exposure crossing ‘icy mother f’ing death pass’? Did her nose get ripped off by Redbeak Olga the ‘Owlbear Queen of the Pine Hells’? Has she looked into the eye of the demigod of the Meadow and been found wanting? ‘Cause otherwise why isn’t she still out shooting orcs with movie Bilbo or the Pathfinder iconics?

      • I do find the 5e heading format to be more useful than a flat paragraph of text, but YMMV.

        Have you published anything yourself, Gus? I’d be interested to read some of your work as you obviously give this all some thought.

        I’d love to see a Bryce written adventure too, but he is probably in too deep as a critic at this point!

        • Gus L. says:

          I’m a weirdo in that I don’t believe in publishing for money on platforms like RPGnow. I’ve released a few hundred pages of PDF of varying quality over the past 10 years and you can find several reviewed here. Bryce complains about my verbosity mostly. Feel free to take the piss out of them.

          Here’s where they live on the internet.

          • I’ll have a look Gus – cheers!

          • I just read your “Goodbye and Good Luck” post, written just a few months ago. I found it quite sad. I think you might be right with regards to what is happening in the OSR, and I wonder how long it can survive now as a self-identifying community.

          • To my knowledge, there’s like 3 or 4 alt-right OSR guys. Where are the rest?

          • Edgewise says:

            I very much enjoyed Giantslayer as a player, and once I picked it up, I thought the text accurately described what I had experienced at the table. For the most part, I agree with Richard’s analysis of his own work.

            The only part of the adventure that I was less than pleased with was the recruitment of the retired giant slayer. Our DM didn’t run it as a series of simple checks, for which I was grateful.

            An approach that could address the lack of a strong hook and this encounter at the same time: the villagers who stay will offer a reward if the adventurers can slay the giant, but the giant slayer wants a big cut of that. Then it becomes more of an opportunity for role-playing and intra-party discussion.

            FWIW the hook is the part I care least about in a published adventure. The reason is that this is always going to be the thing that is most customized to fit to the campaigns that it’s used in. As a GM I really only need an interesting site or situation.

            Richard, as an avid consumer of OSR, I strongly vouch for GusL and his contributions to the scene. He designs excellent adventures, and Bryce has some valuable reviews of them that highlight what’s worth emulating.

            As for the alt-right in OSR, my experience is like Venger implies i.e. it can be easily avoided. But YMMV – that probably goes double for those with a blogging presence, as that may attract all kinds of conversations. I don’t think it’s a threat to the community, though.

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