Revenge of the Giants

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 136: Revenge of the Giants




Reading through this series has led to plenty of surprises, but few of them have been as large for me as seeing former Planescape author Bill Slaviscek’s name listed as one of Revenge of the Giants‘ authors. Longtime readers of this series may remember my somewhat antagonistic view towards Slaviscek’s previous contributions. Two of the three worst adventures in the campaign setting were written by him, and his sole contribution that I did enjoy, Harbinger House, broke a ton of Sigil’s rules along the way (and relied, at times, a lot on the DM to make it work). He’d also long ago risen from the ranks of the designers, serving as Director of Roleplaying Design and Development at Wizards of the Coast for nearly a decade at the time of this release. This wouldn’t last much longer, given the fate of Fourth Edition and the need for a fall guy to take the blame for its sales, but for a multitude of reasons I don’t really place the edition’s failure at his feet—that was a complex mixture of dozens of compounding bad ideas, many of which resulted from corporate dictates originating with Hasbro. Given the nature of his job, it’s the real was surprise to learn that not only did Slaviscek co-author this work, but during the same period of time he was involved with designing the Castle Ravenloft Board Game and even writing a D&D tie-in novel. Seems like a poor use of his time, but hey, it did give us another intermittently planar adventure.

Revenge of the Giants might sound like a revision of the old first edition AD&D Against the Giants series by Gary Gygax, but in actuality it bears little relationship to that original work. To quote from our old standby Shannon Appelcline


Revenge of the Giants is neither a remake nor a continuation of the classic G1-2-3 adventures. Instead, it’s a[n] homage. Not only does it feature hill giants, frost giants, and fire giants attacking the human lands, but there are also a number of little touches that are reminiscent of the original. For example, the players must infiltrate the hill giant compound (just like in G1) and later if they meet the fire giant leader, they’ll find his name is King Snarr (as opposed to Snurre in G3). There are even drow, though they’re not the masterminds behind everything!

Concise and worthwhile analysis, Shannon, but why that last exclamation point, what’s that all about? Ahem, sorry, anyhow, the book was the first of a tiny number of hardcover adventure modules released for Fourth Edition, and was marketed as a “mega-adventure,” despite being just 160 pages long and so not even as long as two of the normal adventures duct-taped together. Its formatting also had a big disadvantage compared with the HPE adventure path (for lack of a better name) in that it still used the embarrassing and cursed delve format but was only contained in one volume, making a difficult-to-parse adventure even more frustrating to make sense of, let alone use for play. If you want a master class in how not to structure your RPG adventure for playability, this would be the place to look. As noted by Dragonbait on ENWorld’s forums, “You’ll need to read it VERY CAREFULLY. It lacks a really cohesive synopses at the beginning and many MAJOR details are given in the middle of skill challenges or in the encounter descriptions.”

Obanar is the only NPC you’re guaranteed to speak with more than once in this adventure, but he’s so dull I couldn’t even remember his name at the end of it.

I’ve written a lot so far about what Revenge of the Giants isn’t, i.e. clearly written or a remake of beloved adventures from earlier, but what exactly is it? Here’s where the “mega” part of that marketing line does come into play, as this is really a full-on campaign. Giants are planning on waking up a primordial in order to be evil (seriously, that’s their whole motivation), and players need to stop them by either punching them in the face enough or putting back together the artifact which originally trapped said primordial. In this driving McGuffin, it’s not too different from the overall HPE campaign, and I’m sure I’m not the only one extremely bored by the “bring back a primordial” plotline that suffuses so much of Fourth Edition, but that’s ultimately what this is, and I suspect that more repetitions of this are in store for us until we finish the goddamn edition. Revenge as a campaign is an interesting combination of linear and open. Players will have to do pretty much everything included in the book eventually, but the order of this is at least left up to players, giving that illusion of openness that feels very video game-y to me, which is particularly fitting for all of the other video game-y aspects of Fourth Edition. 

One of my particular issues with this module is that I hate its hub structure—not as an overall idea, but in the particularities of how it’s used here. Players will meet an ancient warrior (meaning that despite his humanity he’s over 100 years old, with no explanation for this given) who tells them about the encroaching threat of giants. He is defending an inexplicably deserted city—which goes against everything we know about how cities, people, and civilizations work—and from there he will proceed to tell the PCs a list of things to do. They check off this list and then fight the big bad. There’s no town to do roleplaying in, there’s just a quest-giving NPC, and likewise the bad guys are bad just because they like being evil. If you’re interested in a nuanced storyline filled with choices and fun people to interact with, this isn’t for you. You can pick which giants to punch first, but that’s really as far as the choices extend. 

A person called Windjammer on the Paizo forums described this structure way back in 2009 by saying:


So you get multiple sub-parts of the campaign the PCs have to resolve. Each of these feature a set of prepared encounters and locations, and a list of further encounters (i.e. just the monsters listed, not their stat blocks). So the building blocks are all there. But they’re linked in an abysmal way. Once the PCs enter the starting encounter of one of the subplots, the module railroads them from one encounter to the next. 

As others said, making this work at your table will take lots of effort. There’s next to no information of what the places visited look like—we get no images nor descriptive text of key locales—and you basically have to work from scratch to make these places come alive at all.

This is related to perhaps the most surprising issue of all with this “mega” adventure, which is that aside from battle maps there’s almost no new art here. Seriously. It’s 160 pages in a hardcover book but with an art budget that seemed to be nil, consisting primarily of reprints I recognized from before and maybe half a dozen new works, none of which cover locations. There’s more new artwork in any of the HPE adventures, which are far cheaper and shorter. You’re going to have a difficult time picturing what’s happening here as a DM, and this is a problem the adventure really just doesn’t give a crap about. 

Admittedly, there is one slight alteration in format between this and earlier Fourth Edition adventures, which is that Revenge features not just a ton of combat but also wave after wave of monotonous “skill challenges.” Appelcline wrote about this aspect as well, saying, “These encounters take a somewhat unusual form: they involve the players all making rolls against a specific skill in each round, and being graded on whether they succeed or fail as a group. This in turn takes away some of the agency of the adventure, turning the skill challenges into set die-rolling exercises.” Another way of saying this is that you chuck dice again and again and see what happens, making it so that even non-combat encounters are graded on a binary success-failure scale. While it’s not difficult to adjust these challenges to make them less awful, as-written this is an underwhelming way of trying to integrate non-combat events into what is essentially a dungeon crawl-based game system. 

As much as I complain about Fourth Edition’s artwork, Mike Schley’s maps are excellent and stand the test of time. Patreon is a mess of a site for many reasons, but that’s no reason not to check out his work and support it here.

Let’s move onto the planar content. One leg of this adventure involves traveling to the Astral Sea in order to recruit astral giants as allies, who are like other giants except not necessarily evil. PCs travel the planes by… just taking an ordinary ship from an ordinary Prime Material port. “This port town is located on the coast of a jungle island in the natural world, but it sits on a border where the space between the planes is thin.” At times, it feels like Fourth Edition wants to make traveling the planes as basic and boring as possible, removing any possibility of specialness or excitement, and that’s certainly the case here. This ship brings the PCs to “the Temple of Inchoate Mysteries, a cathedral-like building floating in the Astral Sea,” which sounds cool enough, but you’ve read essentially the entire description of it already. The astral giants also fight any visitors, even friendly ones, because the adventure needed more combat or something. It turns out, drow have been corrupting a leader of the astral giants and, uhh, yeah that’s pretty much it, time to head home. What an exciting planar adventure, the highlight of which is that one of four encounters can possibly be talked past rather than fought through. *sigh*


Players also head to the Feywild in a somehow even more dull sidequest to the Court of Fallen Leaves, hoping to recruit some eladrin against the giants. What is the Court itself like? I have no idea except that it’s a crumbling castle with three towers and two buildings made out of white marble. Following a couple skill checks, players are already done and back home. This portion of the adventure is given two pages in total (a single encounter), and what would be a fantastic opportunity for political roleplaying is left almost entirely to the DM to turn into something interesting. 

Astral giants are unimpressive to say the least. I don’t think anyone is sad that they’ve never been seen or heard from again.

My least favorite planar journey in Revenge takes PCs to part of the Elemental Chaos on a boat driven by a djinn. Once again, this situation has potential, but the actual plane and what happens on it is completely forgettable. Turns out, you can also just ride a boat over to Elemental Chaos, too, which isn’t too surprising since what’s there is just a frosty island filled with giants. I guess the planes of Fourth Edition are less “other worlds and realities” and more “islands you can swim to.” This section of Revenge receives a lot of coverage, probably because how players tackle its monsters is theoretically open, though in reality it’s going to mean a dozen fights and little else. There are varying giant factions contentending for rulership, but none of them are pleasant and in most cases it’s going to result in more fisticuffs regardless of what players try. With our first real journey there, we learn that apparently, Elemental Chaos is identical to the Prime in every conceivable way except that… shit, I can’t figure out a way that it’s not identical. Players will never know that they left the Prime unless you told them, and even then they’re likely to forget this. Oh I’m sorry, not the Prime Material Plane, I mean the “natural world.” *deeper sigh*


There’s still one more planar jaunt at the very end of the adventure. The quest-giver sends the PCs back to Elemental Chaos, and at least this time the adventure tries to make it different. “You see a strange and disturbing sky full of lightning, sleet, fire, and rain. An island of blasted rock floats in this sky of warring elements.” This is completely different from before, and while I appreciate planes having varying landscapes, it just meshes poorly with what we already saw of this location. Here, players will fight three titans they’ve already defeated, then a powered down version of the primordial, who is significantly less impressive than the titans. The landscape is sorta planar, but that hardly matters because all that players can do at this point is punch things in the face until the adventure ends. 

Torrians are described as “lionid,” which isn’t a word (the word is leonine). Also, no they’re not, just look above. Also, my God is their design dumb. Like the astral giants, no one mourned their permanent disappearance.

I really can see the potential in Revenge of the Giants, and with this could understand using some of its framework on a greatly altered campaign. There are worthwhile ideas here, but they tend to be rushed, in favor of making every combat encounter unique. I actually prefer this to Bill’s first contribution to this series, The Deva Spark, but on the whole it really emblematizes everything that’s wrong with this edition. For instance, there’s only really a single NPC that characters will speak to repeatedly, and he’s about as dull and complex as a rusted spoon. There’s a ton of journeying, but all of it feels the same because even when traveling the planes the rules and locations stay on overly familiar ground. It’s all a very basic, power fantasy bit of stereotypical D&D that plays it safe until the very end. While not actively bad, Revenge of the Giants is still a C- student, so forgettable that it slips out of your mind moments after reading through it, and it’s hard to imagine why someone would want to spend a year or so playing through the entire campaign when there’s so much better stuff available already.

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