Looking Over Book of Challenges: Hill Giant Madness
Three weakened hill giants are terrorizing the countryside.
Giving the townspeople useful information they can tell the PCs is good.
While the boxed text runs a little longer than I’d like, the actual content is mostly good and well-written. “He […] holds onto his club with the intensity of a drowning man holding onto a life preserver” stands out as a particularly good line, even with the gap in its logic.
While none of their personalities or similar characteristics are spelled out clearly, the details of the giants’ handicaps provide some hints about how to play each of them differently.
Modeling partial blindness as giving all of that creature’s targets partial concealment is a smooth mechanic.
Allowing a peaceful resolution by curing the giants’ various diseases is a great inclusion.
I like that the challenge scaling advice relies on tweaking the giants’ diseases rather than the typical approach of adding/removing creatures from the encounter.
I’m not a fan of the giants having plundered the region for years, because it seems too contrived that the giants just happen to have been diseased/cursed/etc. shortly before a group of adventurers showed up who the townspeople could try talking into dealing with them. While it might be plausible that the townspeople noticed the degradation in the giants and decided that might be an opportunity to go on the offensive (using other people, of course), I think it’s better if the giants are new to the region (fleeing the sources of their troubles) or if the townspeople don’t know they’re in rough shape.
The details on why the giants are in the shape they’re in don’t add to this encounter itself, but they do lay some interesting seeds for other adventures, so it’d be worth planning some extra details here that could point to those.
Having the giant with the highest HP (80% more than either of the others!) also be the blinded one seems like a recipe for finishing a fight with one or two rounds of whittling it down while it flails ineffectively. If it comes to that, it’d be worth having a forced morale check.
Suggesting that the giants consider weaponizing their diseases in the “Tactics” section seems out-of-place for creatures with 6 Intelligence (i.e. less than about 95% of typical humans). Consider that if the players force melee, sure, but there’s no clear reason why the giants choose to grapple rather than using their clubs and rocks.
The intro assumes the players will think that three hill giants are too much for their PCs, not because giants should be scary in a narrative sense, but because they should know that three hill giants is an “unfair” encounter at the given EL. That sort of metagame thinking built on an assumption of “fair” and “balanced” encounters gets PCs killed.
Telling me to use another encounter’s map or just make something up if I need a lair for the giants is worse than having said nothing at all.
The “Treasure” section is all sorts of half-assed, giving only trifling currency and leaving the GM on their own for stocking treasure in the giants’ lair.
As a fan of taking iconic folklore monsters and featuring them in levels where actual play happens, I was predisposed to liking this from the start. It also includes opportunities for parley, which I always like, and having diseases play a part is a nice bit of variety that gets overlooked often. Being able to add links to either the tomb the giants had tried plundering and/or the hag tormenting one of the giants is icing on the cake. Even the boxed text is decent!
All in all, this is a pretty straightforward encounter, but sometimes, that’s exactly what’s needed. It knows what it is, and it’s great for that.