Review: “Revenge of the Giants”

revengeofthegiantsRevenge of the Giants is the first WotC “mega-adventure” for 4e. It’s also the first adventure put out by them for 4e that comes in hardback book form (with a double-sided flip map attached in the back) instead of the double book folio style. The book is 160 pages and takes characters from 12th to 17th level.

This is a review based on one read-through and has not been played in any part by me. This review contains some minor spoilers as well.

As you can probably tell from the title, this adventure features giants, giants, and more giants. You get hill giants, frost giants, fire giants, the possibly friendly astral giants, and their bigger brother titans. The overall picture is that the PCs are trying to stop the unified giants as they try to free an imprisoned primordial, and the PCs (inducted via the two last defenders of an ancient order who hang out in a ghost town) are the only hope to stop them. The structure resembles the classic Against the Giants series, and anyone who is familiar with that original module will see much in common.

My initial impression is that as much as I like the idea, there’s no way I could run it for my group due to how many combats there are (and how many of them look the same, at least on paper.) In addition to all the fights that fill out the adventure (the amount you’ve come to expect from published D&D adventures), there’s random encounters, and additional fights that could come about as a result of failing skill challenges. That’s a lot of fighting, and most of the fights are against, you guessed it, giants.

Speaking of skill challenges, a lot of the non-combat portions are represented by skill challenges. But even stranger, they most (if not all) take the form of a specialized form of skill challenge where all the PCs roll a certain skill, and a success or failure is accrued if the majority of PCs succeed on the check or fail. There’s some neat encounters that involve trying to resettle the ghost town, infiltrating a hill giant compound in a manner clearly inspired by Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (a module I should also point out that I’ve never played but have read), and my favorite, a trip back in time to visit some D&D meta-world past. But all in all, the amount of non-combat situations seems sparse, and at the beginning, there’s not even a standard home base town full of people to interact with.

Still, there is a mix of combat and non-combat encounters, and many of the battles are interesting set pieces. There is diversity in the various situations you get into that properly represent paragon-level adventuring (there’s just not a lot of diversity in monsters.) If you’ve played in any of the previous WotC-made adventures, you’ll know what you’re getting here, just in a bit of a different format. This is a mega-adventure in every sense, from the scope of the plot to the amount of battles your PCs will find themselves in. I plan on taking chunks off the adventure and using it as inspiration in my current campaign (the hill giant section comes to mind) but unless your group is OK with spending 5 levels worth of encounters fighting giants, it might be a tough sell as a complete package.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, the Geek's Dream Girl.

Comments

  1. Nice write up. My gaming group tends to use home made adventures, so mega dungeons don’t tend to work for us. As you mention at the end, borrowing individual encounters from the adventure probably work best.

    I’m dissappointed to hear that there isn’t much in the way of skill challenges or non combat challenges. With DMG 2 out on the same day and some expanded skill challenge information contained there, it would have been nice to see them apply that content to the Revenge of the Giants module.
    .-= Wimwick´s last blog ..Dungeon Master’s Guide 2: Skill Challenges =-.

  2. It sounds like yet another lost opportunity on WOTC’s part to produce an adventure with an actual storyline, rather than just a sequence of fights. I own KotS, Thunderspire, and Seekers of the Ashen Crown, and I don’t anticipate buying anymore of their mods — they’re formulaic and flat. Thunderspire has potential through the labyrinth, but that potential doesn’t come to fruition in the mod itself. I plan on integrating ideas and encounters from it into my Eberron campaign, but not as a single whole. Ditto for Ashen Crown: it’s got great potential, but it falls flat in execution.

    I don’t spend $20 or $30 on a mod that’s got potential, but no follow-through. That’s what WOTC mods seem to promise, and that’s what RotG seems to deliver, too. Hopefully 3rd-party publishers will fill the gap over time.

  3. @Jeremy: I will point you toward my preview of E1: Death’s Reach (which I still haven’t played, since we’re disclosing that all over the place now :D) – http://www.critical-hits.com/2009/04/19/preview-e1-deaths-reach/

    Death’s Reach was impressive to me because out of all the WotC modules it seems like it has a lot of great non-combat situations in it. That said, it still has a TON of combat in it just like the others, but to me the epic tier non-combat situations (and the overall story) are very cool in E1 and stand out above their other modules.

  4. Wimwick: I should clarify that there’s a lot of skill challenges, and many of them are interesting. But many of them A. are not social related ones and B. take the form of “everyone roll this skill on round 1, everyone roll this skill on round 2, see if a majority of PCs passed or failed” that eliminates decision-making.

    Jeremy: While I liked Thunderspire (one of the dungeons is really a lot of fun and well put together) I tend to agree with you. I go back and forth on writing an article called “1 good idea surrounded by 30 combat encounters.”

    In addition to E1 that Bartoneus recommends, the adventure in the back of the Eberron Campaign Guide is pretty solid and interesting.

  5. You didn’t play it through? Pshaw!!!

    I kid of course.

    While a lot of wotc modules lack thick stories, I almost prefer this. It gives me the room to tailor it for my own ongoing campaign. I’m just about three nights into “Nightwyrm Fortress” an I plan to play through all of the published adventures in that series ending with “Prince of Undeath”. Though published, I’ve woven them together into a single story that deeply involves the players. It means a couple of modifications here and there but it’s pretty easy to do.

    A combat heavy module does the heavy lifting for me, giving me the harder parts (good encounter design) with room to tailor the story to fit my players.

    However, multiple battles against the same type of foes can get grindy fast. That sounds line the case here.

    One other major problem I have is when wotc publishes encounters with lots of monsters represented by rare d&d miniatures (like fire giants and titans). Granted I don’t NEED them, but I use minis for all our battles and it can cost me up to $30 a battle to have the right ones. I don’t have a problem with one or two rares, but fire giant minions? Come in!

    I had this problem with cyclops minions and lots of slaads in Nightwyrm. If wizards produces both DDM and the modules, they could do us a favor and keep rares rare.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Three Acting Tips for D&D =-.

  6. Mike: I agree to an extent, though at the same time, there can be more pieces to hook off stories from in published modules. I don’t need every eventuality detailed, but some more space dedicated to opportunities or even just interesting concepts that I can run with I prefer to another combat against Fire Giant Strike Teams.

    The DDM issue is complex to say the least, but I share in your frustration.

  7. WIZARD OF THE COST says:

    HOW DARETH THOU REVIEW THINE MODULE WITHOUT PLAYING?

    THE SMITING SHALL BE SWIFT AND SEVERE PUNY WEBSITE

    SO SPEAKETH THE WIZARD OF THE COST

  8. Dave, yours is one of the first websites I check daily, to read about D&D 4e. Usually, I very much enjoy what you’ve written and I tend to agree with you a ton more than disagree.

    Sometimes though, I feel like you review something based on a glance-over, like this module. No, I haven’t played it and I certainly don’t get advance copies like some of you bloggers do, but I also think Mike made very, very good points. A published module does a LOT of legwork for the DM, and I have, for all my 26+ years of DMing, pulled pieces from published modules.

    Your bias seems negative, although I am not trying to criticize you. Some people preordered, and now have it on the way but are expecting to be disappointed, before even opening the thing. Hopefully, they have a Mike around to show them a cup half full, instead of a cup half empty.

    Was the classic versions of this adventure/theme the best story or most complicated, intricate epic of all time? Or was it a collection of fights against giant-kind? Were those sourcebooks “Ecology of Giants” which was 90% pure fluff, or were those classic modules a mix of fluff and hearty crunch? If you were a younger game just getting exposed to “giant-kind” adventures for the first time… isn’t this a decent product, all under 1 cover, to do it?

    I haven’t ordered it yet, and I won’t for a while…because my campaign isn’t out of Heroic yet. But geez, give the WotC guys a little of a break, especially if you are writing a withering review on something you haven’t completely read [from the PoV of a DM preparing for his campaign and drawing inspiration] or haven’t played through yet.
    .-= GrecoG´s last blog ..Controversial Trek =-.

  9. I had faith that a module called Revenge of the Giants would be more than, well, a string of fights against Giants. I don’t know what inspired me to possess this faith. But it is now gone, and I can return to my normal life.
    .-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Monsters of Eden: Those Earthbound =-.

  10. GrecoG:

    Don’t take this as a defensive response since your points are taken, but I do feel the need to respond.

    Sometimes though, I feel like you review something based on a glance-over, like this module.

    I read it through once to get a feel for it as a whole, then skimmed back through parts that were unclear, and went through it again as I wrote the review (which I made purposely short.) I gave it enough of a read that I felt comfortable giving my review and that additional readings wouldn’t help. The only thing that would help is to run it, which clearly isn’t an option in a timely manner, especially for a mega-adventure.

    A published module does a LOT of legwork for the DM, and I have, for all my 26+ years of DMing, pulled pieces from published modules.

    I agree, but clearly some published modules are more useful for this than others.

    Your bias seems negative, although I am not trying to criticize you. Some people preordered, and now have it on the way but are expecting to be disappointed, before even opening the thing.

    I try to be as unbiased as I can, presenting a review from all sides to better tell potential consumers whether to buy or not. It’s not aimed at the people who pre-ordered (their minds are already made up) but the people who are deciding to buy today or not.

    Was the classic versions of this adventure/theme the best story or most complicated, intricate epic of all time? Or was it a collection of fights against giant-kind? Were those sourcebooks “Ecology of Giants” which was 90% pure fluff, or were those classic modules a mix of fluff and hearty crunch? If you were a younger game just getting exposed to “giant-kind” adventures for the first time… isn’t this a decent product, all under 1 cover, to do it?

    I’m honestly not sure what all you’re asking for… and as I point out in the review, I’m not the best one to make comparisons to Against the Giants because I haven’t played that either. What I can tell you is that if this adventure (in whatever system) were run by a younger, more inexperienced me, I’m sure I would get complaints about how many times you fight the same set of giants, and in similar fashion.

    I had high hopes that there would be out and out “here’s an encounter where your characters can have interesting interactions with giants” that I could lift for my game even if I didn’t want to run the module, but it was much more sparse than I hoped. I’ve certainly seen other published adventures (Hook Mountain Massacre and its followup come to mind) that run with that idea. There’s also been other adventures they’ve put out that handle this better IMO… H2 and P2 (and according to Danny, E1) all handle this quite well. I have a lot of adventures from other WotC sources I like for this kind of thing too.

    But geez, give the WotC guys a little of a break, especially if you are writing a withering review on something you haven’t completely read [from the PoV of a DM preparing for his campaign and drawing inspiration] or haven’t played through yet.

    I could be surprised were I to actually play it, that’s for certain. As you know as a longtime reader of the blog, I have a lot of praise for the WotC guys, even when others do not (come on, did you read my DMG2 review? It’s one of the best RPG books I’ve ever read!) There just happened to be two books recently I was disappointed in after reading, and I’ve got to say so.

    Hope that helps you understand where I’m coming from. I encourage you to vote in our poll if you’d like to see more reviews where we play the game/module in question.

  11. I really loved the original Against the Giants series for reasons I will probably discuss in a blog post soon. I have run the series many times over the decades I have been playing, and have converted it to both AD&D 2e and D&D 3e.

    That being said, Against the Giants suffered from many of the same issues you described in Revenge of the Giants, such as being too combat focused and having many, many repetitive combats.

    This may be a case of the remake hewing too close to the source material. On the other hand, I will probably buy it regardless because of my love for the original.
    .-= Rob a.k.a. “A Hero”´s last blog ..The treatment of women and minorities in D&D =-.

  12. Jason Richardson says:

    Posted on Goodman Games’ Twitter account, and I think useful here too:

    “Wondering why some game reviewers are idiots. Newspapers don’t review movies based on a script. Why review a module without playing it?”

  13. Jason:

    Not sure if you’re actively calling me an idiot here or not, but we discuss that very thing in the ongoing poll:

    http://www.critical-hits.com/2009/09/14/inq-of-the-week-on-reviewing/

    In short, at least a decent chunk of our audience thinks it’s OK for me to review without having played it as long as that it’s stated upfront, but it’s not ideal.

  14. Jason Richardson says:

    Not calling you anything. I just thought it might be useful to the conversation to see what professional game designers think about the subject. Delete my post of you’d like.

    Personally, I vote that reviewers need to actually play, preferably run, a module/adventure before they review it.

  15. I think reviewing an adventure without it playing it perfectly acceptable as long as the review declares this.

    Time makes it impossible to play before review – a film reviewer only has to sacrifice a couple of hours of their own time but even for a small dungeon, you need 20 hours of play for four or more people. If Goodman games want to pay me + four other at least minimum wages for that time then yes, I will play before review. Until then, they need to get a sense of perspective.

    The other reason why it is OK to read and not play for a review is that this is what most GMs do. We ran a poll a little while ago [ http://6d6fireball.com/rpg/poll-why-do-we-buy-this-stuff/ ] and only 25% of people brought adventures to play them. The rest brought them to get ideas, extract encounters or simply to read.
    .-= Chris Tregenza´s last blog ..Steampunk Art =-.

  16. As a reviewer myself, I can tell you that it’s not very practical to play the adventure. The blogger would need to put aside his campaign, enlist 5 players and spend weeks or months to get through the adventure. Not only is it an absurd amount of effort to produce just one of several articles in a week, but most people already know if they want the product by the time it has been out for that long.

    It is all well and good for people who happen to have played the adventure to review it, but it is not practical for us to go so far out of our way to play it.
    .-= Nicholas´s last blog ..Nerd Watching: Dragons in Cyberspace! =-.

  17. Dave,

    Just to address the Poll: I voted Other (my view can not be addressed in the options provided).

    I think it’s fine to review the product without having ran or played it; so long as that disclaimer is made clearly. Which you did.

    That puts the responsibility of filtering the reviewer’s perspective on the reader. However, that in no way excludes the review of having real value. The fact that there are a lot of combats and a large proportion of them are against one creature type (giants) is something very useful for me to know. Though not unexpected. But my point is; I’m prepared to take your word on that, and obvious or not, it’s something I did want to be confirmed before I shell out any money for the product.

    And before you think I’m giving you a poke in the eye, I thought it was a fine review.

    The flip side of this is, sometimes you’re not going to know all the issues with an adventure until you run it. There is one third party 4E adventure that has received stellar reviews that I have some issues with, and I never saw them until I actually ran it myself. Thus, there is a point to be made on either side.

    In conclusion, with the appropriate disclaimer, a read-through review is acceptable. The reviewer can still offer some important insights. The play-through reviewer might carry more weight, but the value of either review is not mutually exclusive.

  18. Dave, for the record, I don’t mind reviews before playing. And yes, I did enjoy your review of DMG2. :) And yes, I do generally enjoy your posts. I really appreciate that you dissected by my post and answered it in such detail. I mean that.

    I guess all I would add is this: Dungeon Delve seems to be a popular book among the personal, game-store, and also RPGA gamers I’ve spoken with. Yet, I’ve never used one thing at all from it. Some people like the delve/combats format more than others. I think you and I like a little more story and plot and cool, “wow, amazing, awesome” crunch AND fluff in our D&D products, which is one of the things people use to tout PF/Paizo “over” WotC.

    I also know you like 4e, and I do too. I don’t worry about the publishers or designers filling it with fluff. I like to add my own and used to re-write 90% of the 3.x fluff, so I like less fluff now in 4e. I like chocolate, someone else may like strawberry. It’s preference.

    I guess that is what I mean by my comments to your review. The book/module may work for one person, to whom it gives exactly what they want, and some of us will just use a few crumbs. I scanned the maps today posted for free on WotC site [don’t get me started on posted maps – I hate when they do that] and it looks like a great deal of material in the module, which I would use little bit by bit over years, and therefore, will probably be worth me buying. :)

    imho

  19. I’ve used the Dungeon Delve book a lot. I’d prefer if WOTC published more delve books than full published adventures. They’re more modular and more useful in both one shot games and longer campaigns. That said, my group enjoye all
    of the H and P series and I’m looking forward to the E series.

    I think read through reviews are useful, but I do think we miss things that won’t be apparent until later, sometimes months later. It took a while for us to realize that paragon+ minions were underpowered and solos had too many hitpoints. I don’t think any of
    the original reviews of the first monster manual mentioned this. For that reason, I probably won’t know how good the DMG2 is until I’ve used it a little while. This isn’t to say that an initial review isn’t worth while, but for products like this, only time will tell.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Three Acting Tips for D&D =-.

  20. This review was pretty much what I expected from this product. I was hoping it would be really cool, but WotC modules have really been disappointing me. I like the 4E system, but I sure wish they could write better adventures (ie like the ones paizo publishes). I guess maybe they are trying to keep them generic so that they can more easily be integrated into a dms home campaign, but I don’t see why they need to be just one combat after another. I hate the analogy that 4E plays like a video game because there is no reason why it has to, but I find the adventures they publish do feel like that. A big part of the problem I think is the format of their adventures. Sure the encounter format is useful for actually running an encounter, but it is also very constraining and seems to suck the creativity, story and life out their adventures. There has to be some sort of happy median out there. It’s unfortunate that they can’t seem to find it.

  21. I liked Dungeon Delve a lot, even if it doesn’t come all the way through on my review: http://www.critical-hits.com/2009/02/08/review-dungeon-delve/

    I just expect different things from an adventure… especially a mega-adventure.

    All that said, I may lift one of the sections for my campaign this weekend. I guess my point is that even if there’s more story opportunities it doesn’t negate the ability to adapt it to your campaign or steal pieces of it (and often, helps it.)

  22. Failed Saving Throw says:

    I have never understood the concept of “it’s not a real review unless you’ve played the game.” As a long-time DM, what I look for in reviews of products like this is an examination into whether it’s worth buying in the first place. Everyone plays modules differently according to their personal styles and the likes/dislikes of their specific group. I need to know whether something is well-written, if the plot sucks, if it’s too linear, features an overload of combat, is too repetitive, has shoddy artwork or grammatical mistakes, etc.

    That said, this was a good review. It gave me insight into the module and what it contains, and a good opinion of why some people aren’t going to like how everything is structured.

  23. I haven’t had a chance to go over it in depth yet, but after cracking it open and going over it a bit, I’m really liking what I’m seeing. I wish they had done all of the other adventures this way. I much prefer the book format instead of the two-book portfolio thing.

    I’m also not seeing a lot of redundancy like I expected. There seems to be a good mix of varied encounters that don’t ALL use piles of rare miniatures. I don’t exactly know when I’ll run this but I like what I’m seeing.
    .-= Mike Shea´s last blog ..Three Acting Tips for D&D =-.

  24. Mike: I knew I should have stopped you from getting that book!

    My problem with variety didn’t solely come from the printed encounters, but the addition of the random encounters, and all the encounters you can go through from failing skill challenges. Then it gets redundant.