Thoughts on the Frost and Fire Giants (and Stone Giants, too!)

Following up on my musings about the connection between the Elder Elemental God and the Hill Giants in G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, I would like to move on to the other two modules in the series.

The next one, G2 The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl is going to be the shortest in terms of analysis. There’s no direct connection to the Elder Elemental God anywhere in the place. That in itself is noteworthy, as there is in the other two. I would posit that the frost giants were brought in as allies after the hill giants, and possibly after the fire giants. The drow are definitely directly involved in advising the frost giants, however, as we are directly told that of false map in the lower level area 4A “Of course, this is a ruse, cleverly laid by those who motivate the giants…”

Those being Eclavdra and her drow, of course. So the drow are actively micro-managing the frost giants.

There is one line in G2 which is often overlooked, and which points to another missing part of this venerable and well-loved series. In the Background section, we read “…their most important mission, however, is to gather intelligence as to what or who is behind the unholy alliance of hill, stone, frost, and possibly other types of giants as well.”

Note that it doesn’t mention fire giants, but does mention stone giants!*

There are a few stone giants in the glacial rift, there to “see how well the frost giants are doing in their war on humankind.” We also have representatives of the ogre-magi, who have signed a treaty with the frost giants (presumably to join the war), and apparently the frost giant jarl has only recently sworn fealty to the lord of the fire giants, as the latter’s representatives bear a silver bear statue as a token of the frost giants’ jarl’s loyalty.

More grist for the mill of hill giant discontent, by the way. The frost giants are making things happen, getting new allies, and are cozening up to the fire giants, who are directly connected to the drow. There are some hill giant messengers here, but only to deliver a report on Nosnra’s success to the frost and then fire giants. The hill giants could well be feeling they’ve been given the short end of the stick, as I speculated in the previous article.

Now let’s move on to G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King, which I always viewed as the best of the series. This was the biggie of the series, with three levels, and costing a whopping $5.50, as opposed to $4.50 for the other two (if I recall correctly). It’s also the most complex, with both drow and fire giants to contend with, amongst others. And, of course, it serves as the lead-in to the D1-3 series of modules.

First, the description of one of the scrolls in Snurre’s council room specifically says it has “instructions for the King, telling him to gather forces of hill, stone, frost, and fire giants, along with whatever strength he can raise in ogres, ogre-magi, cloud giants, and any other creatures for an all-out attack ont he provinces to the east and northeast.” It’s from Eclavdra, and “promises powerful help from ‘Drow'”.

Remember that in 1978, the drow were just a footnote in the Monster Manual. But it’s also interesting to see the stone giants included once again in the roster of those involved in the attacks. There are also stone giant engineers who have been working for Snurre, presumably to build out his underground lair.

Something else of interest is that no one is here to be convinced to join the giant/drow cause. All that work is apparently being delegated to the frost giants.

But the centerpiece of the adventure is the Temple of the Eye on the second level. This is the prototypical temple of the Elder Elemental God. The pillars radiate uneasiness (“simulate this by making players uneasy in whatever way you find best” – Gygax you magnificent sadist) or fear; the altar can invoke the Eye and thus cause death, insanity, aging, or other nastiness; and a tentacle can pull one or more unlucky slobs to their ineffable doom if the Elder Elemental God is summoned.

This is an encounter custom-made for the paranoid players in Gygax’s campaign, rather than the bull-in-a-china-shop players in every other campaign outside of Arneson’s. But it also hearkens back to the weird abandoned temple we saw in the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. But here, it seems, one can actually summon the EEG, whereas there one can only summon a vague vision of a tentacle.

Side note – the ceiling in the Temple of the Eye is at least 50′ high, so the ramp between levels 1 and 2 is either very long, or very steep, or both.

Side note the second – the inclusion of tentacle rods in the 5E DMG as magic items for drow seems a bit odd. I think they were included by someone who didn’t realize that they were wielded by the very small faction of drow that were opposed to Lolth. Fair enough; many people don’t realize Lolth isn’t the big bad of the series.

A few things about the Temple of the Eye. First, it’s in active use by both the fire giants and their servants and slaves, and the priests are drow. There are explicit areas of the temple for the giants and servants, and there is no mention of any giant priests.

Contrast that with the temple in G1, which is obviously not in use (because it’s behind the rebel orc barricade), and has no mention of priests whatsoever (although recall that rubble-choked passage to the second level through the vestry).

I’ve got two brilliant theories here.

First and foremost, I think this can play very well into my idea about the weird abandoned temple in G1. As we’ve seen, that was a much lower-powered place, not fully capable of invoking the Elder Elemental God itself. Perhaps it’s a function of physical size, or location (where the EEG is able to project itself onto Oerth might be subject to all sorts of unknowable restrictions based on non-Euclidean geometry), or something else.

But imagine this scenario. The hill giants stumble across the weird abandoned temple whilst clearing out the dungeon beneath the Steading. In so doing, they tickle the peripheral awareness of the EEG, making themselves known, but not able to be acted upon. The giants excavate further to the second level, and discover an entry to the drow underworld. This brings the Eilservs into the picture, directed by the EEG to this newly-activated hive of activity, and sets off the whole use-giants-to-gain-power-in-the-Vault plot.

But here’s the kicker. The Eilservs, being ambitious, don’t stop at hill giants, and as they move on to other giant races, they finally come upon the fire giants, who have access to a fully-functional temple that can invoke a portion of the Elder Elemental God, and the drow move in to control them through the cult. Not needing the shrine discovered by the hill giants, the entrance to the second level, and the potential back door into the underworld, is ordered sealed. The hill giants, kicked to the proverbial curb, are now useful only as cannon fodder and lackeys. Nosnra doesn’t like that one bit, but can’t do much about it. Still, it’s a wedge that could, in theory, be used against the Eilservs.

Oh that sounds good. Really good.

But here’s my second brilliant theory, and it revolves around why the fire giants’ temple is called the Temple of the Eye.

There was a television show in the mid-70’s called Kolchak the Night Stalker. It featured Darren McGavin as Karl Kolchack, a Chicago reporter who invariably stumbled across stories involving vampires, or aliens, or zombies, or what have you. There was one episode, titled The Energy Eater (link goes to the full episode!). It turns out that the monster is an ancient Indian bear god who is sleeping underneath a newly-constructed hospital. In one scene, a bunch of x-ray plates are scattered on the ground, and when put together to make a single image show an immense eye, proving that the creature exists.

An eye.

We already know that Gygax was influenced by this short-lived show (1974-1975), because he’s on record saying that the reason rakshasas are vulnerable to blessed crossbow bolts is because that was a plot point in another episode of the series, Horror in the Heights.

I submit that different temples of the Elder Elemental God might be able to manifest different pieces of that weird entity. The one beneath the hall of the fire giants is a temple of the eye. There might be others elsewhere; a temple of the maw, a temple of the brain, etc. Just a thought, although it might admittedly take the idea too far. At the very least, I think it’s entirely plausible that Gygax was influenced by the show to have the image of the disembodied eye in his own mind when putting this module together.


* There is already a module by RC Pinnell, titled G4 Sanctum of the Stone Giant Lord. It departs from the whole Elder Elemental God theme of G1 and G3, however, and is apparently part of a whole series that covers many giant types not mentioned in the original material. A review of it, or its sequels, is out of the scope of this article, but I present it for those who might be interested.

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Frost and Fire Giants (and Stone Giants, too!)

  1. I have really enjoyed your notes on G1-G2-G3. Not least because I am about to DM it for the second time ever, the first having been back in the ‘80s, and your ideas have been key to developing the entire campaign arc with an eye to details and a multilayered plot.

    To the point, however: your theory regarding different temples of the EEG being manifestations of the deity reminded me of a key story regarding Tibetan cosmology and sacred landscape. In it, the pre-Buddhist geography of the Tibetan plateau was held to represent a gigantic, supine demoness whose willpower and motions were a cause of constant catastrophe on the surface world of men. As legend has it, the first Tibetan king to convert to Buddhism, Songtsen Gampo, mapped the body of the demoness and ordered a series of 12 concentric, ‘extremity taming’ temples to be built in key sites of geomantic power. These sites were located on the extremities and joints of the demoness, with the thirteenth, the Jokhang (the holiest temple in Tibet, at the centre of Lhasa) being at the heart/core of the demoness. This tamed the demoness and paved the way for the domestication of pre-Buddhist deities, and their conversion into Buddhist gods and powerful beings. Perhaps that can offer some ideas to further develop your theory.

    A couple of links to some of the info above:

  2. I didn't see a mention in your blogpost, but in the 4th Edition days, Dungeon Magazine did 4E versions of various classic modules; the Giant series was one of them. However, they added a completely brand-new adventure featuring stone giants as well.

  3. I know this comment comes late to the conversation, but I frequently read through your archives due to a shared love of Greyhawk. Your second theory reminds me of the big bad from the Malazan Book of the Fallen series.

    *Spoilers abound here for the series*

    The overarching antagonist is the Crippled God, who is chained up but still able to act here and there. Ages ago, he was an alien god called forth to battle a god-king, but was torn apart when summoned due to not being of this reality/universe. His body parts fell scattered across the world. Some took on their own sentience and became their own lesser being, while other body parts where seized by advantageous creatures who used the power to make themselves stronger.

    The god is weakened and broken due to parts of himself being scattered, but if those pieces can be brought back together, he can revive to full godly power.

    Of course, the writer(s) of that series did play 2nd edition and based the books off of their gaming, so that very well could be their take on the Elder Elemental God.

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