XXII: Gygaxian Frost Giants ~ Fiends in the Frost (1978)

Art on this web page was created by Bob Greyvenstein.
Artwork © Grim Press, used with permission. All rights reserved.

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My family and I greatly appreciate your generosity. And now, on to our frost giant lore!

And so in the end, it all comes down to this. To capstone our Gygaxian Frost Giant series, we take a look at the deepest secrets: the storm giantess, the white dragons, the overlooked victory carvings, a vague link between Nosnra and the Temple of Elemental Evil, the trophies of the Jarl, the secret origin of brown mold, and more. Come, adventurers, let us put an end to this evil of the boreal lands …

Now that we have explored the mythic and weird fiction influences upon the background, setting, giants, and foremost fiends we have discovered throughout Gary Gygax’s 1978 dungeon module G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, we can go deeper into the ice caves in search of other resonant pieces which bring the worlds of fiction under the united banner of classic Dungeons & Dragons.

We have already looked briefly at the yetis, which seem to have been partially inspired by the primitive snow folk found in the Conan tale The Lair of the Ice Worm, written by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. We know that the Ice Worm was nodded to by Gary’s inclusion of the Remorhaz, so it seems obvious that the yetis were also included to resonate with that story.

The yeti encountered in G2 are clearly more advanced than the baseline primitive creatures featured in the Monster Manual. The archetypal MM yetis do not use weapons or armor. In fact, the Sutherland illustration shows the MM yeti not only weaponless, but also breaking an adversary’s spear while simultaneously destroying a shield.

The G2 yetis serve as scouts to the frost giants, and they have a leader who wields a magic sword. They even tame snow leopards as pets and hunting beasts.

Beyond the yetis we also find some surviving hill giants from Nosnra’s Steading, seeking audience. We learn indirectly that the heraldic symbol of Chief Nosnra is a golden skull (shades of the Temple of Elemental Evil), while the sigil of Jarl Grugnur is a silver or amber bear (perhaps depending upon the station of the treasure bearer). King Snurre’s device, by the way, is a flaming skull.

There are stone giants in the rift as well, and it is hinted that they are more impressed with the frost giants than they are with the hill giants. However, the description of the Steading dungeon does indicate that several stone giants have already been bought off with gold to serve the hill giants as miners.

(If you want to go into some of my campaign lore where I explain how the neutral stone giants commonly find themselves as allies with their evil kindred, you can check out my Oldskull Steading Companion tome, available from Wonderland Imprints.)

In our prior blog post, we also took a look at one of the more enigmatic monsters found in the rift: the ice toads. Today, we are looking at the most exotic and mysterious monster found there, which is brown mold. This “monster” is confusing to many readers, unless they happen to be familiar with The Sign of the Labrys, by Margaret St. Clair.

D&D brown mold is not identical to St. Clair’s creation, but the inspirational origins are clear. Since that book is a bit rare and hard to track down, I will share some of the relevant passages concerning the “cryogenic fungus” here:

A chilling air rushed in. Kyra, bent over, ran out past me. I saw a dazzle of light and then something floating serenely on the drifting surface of the layer of fog, like a flower. … “Do you smell anything?” she asked, looking up at me. I inhaled. “I think so. A summery sort of smell, like grass and privet hedges?” She nodded.

“It’s very volatile, and there’ll be a lot of it. When this little cryogen really gets started, it spreads fast. The CO2 is just what it needs for rapid growth.”

It was very cold, and burned and stung my hands. Afterwards I found frost-bitten patches on them. The fungus itself was beautiful, glittering delicate stuff, icy-white, and shaped like the frost flowers on a window pane.

I put my arm around her waist and held her, while the fungus, always more swiftly, grew down the corridor toward the armored men.

The fungus leaped at them almost joyously. The concentration of cold around the hoses was a delicacy for them. And greedily, the crystalline growth clustered and clung. In no time at all the mouths of the hoses bore great choking pendant blobs of the stuff.

The fungus was climbing cheerfully from the hoses up along their armor and toward the face plates of their cold-proof suits. I caught a great gush of the summer perfume — white syringa and fresh-mown grass — that the cold-loving growth gave out …

Deeper below these icy perils, we find the subterranean jarldom halls of the frost giant nobles. Due to the uncertainty of using illuminating flame here, we find that caged fire beetles (alive whenever possible) are used for illumination.

The jarl’s great entry hall is extensively carved with scenes of giant hunts and victories, telling us that Grugnur’s ancestors have been situated here for quite some time.

We also learn that Grugnur has made alliance with white dragons. The dragons featured herein are pets of the Jarl and his wife, and are placated with guardianship over a significant amount of treasure.

The dragons may have been forcefully subdued, or they might be tamed young of previously subdued dragons. Consider David C. Sutherland III’s main illustration for this module, which – despite its confusing perspective – does not show numerous adventurers fighting a dragon. Instead, it shows two human adventurers looking at a pair of great carvings on a wall. The right-hand carving portrays giants battling against a dragon, and one of them is strangling the dragon while another giant grasps its horn.

As we have previously explored in the Castle Oldskull blog series, D&D white dragons were inspired by Tolkien’s cold drakes, which Gary depicted as the “Arctic Dragon” in his early contribution to the Tolkien fanzine Thangorodrim (1969).

From Grayte Wourmes:

“This large white worm inhabits only the coldest regions of the far north and has no internal fire. Draco Arcticus seeks glaciers in which to dwell and if the temperature remains cold enough, they will sleep therein for very long period of time, only awakening to feed when stimulated by warmth.”

(A hint that perhaps these creatures hibernate extensively, even by the terms of dragon kind, and therefore might not need much food to survive.)

You can see some more concerning Gary’s obsession with the dragons of Middle Earth over here.

Further down in the halls, we can also find a group of visiting ogre magi. These ogre magi as emissaries from the Lord of their realm, which – from referring to the Monster Manual likely indicates that they have come from Nippon (mythic Japan). When we consider the Himalayan allusions represented by the yeti and the snow leopards, this is actually not too surprising.

In one of the more interesting encounters, we discover a beautiful storm giantess has been imprisoned and manipulated by the jarl. We find a hint at the kinship that exists in classic D&D between all giants, concerning politics, traditions, and disputes which lie far outside of the mortal realm of “little folk” concerns.

Gary politely notes that Grugnur is hoping to “tantalize her into submitting to the Jarl’s will and becoming his leman,” which means that he’s locking her away — the quaint chivalric term “durance vile” means an extended prison sentence — until she agrees to become his mistress. One wonders what the Jarl’s lady might have to say about that!

Which brings up another interesting question – why aren’t there hybrid half-giants, such as hill-stone (rock?) giants or storm-frost (ice?) giants, in the Monster Manuals? That would be a nice project for the intrepid DM, or perhaps a writer of old school gaming supplements. Hmm …

As another nice part of art that is sometimes overlookined in this module, we find David A. Trampier’s meticulously faithful illustration of the jarl’s trophy hall. The illustrated monster trophies match Gary’s writing exactly. The trophies featured tell us that Grugnur and his near ancestors must have fought not only in the Crystalmists, but also in a desert, along an icy sea, and even in the underworld.

Beyond the trophy hall, we find another secret of giant leadership: just like in the treasure hall beneath Nosnra’s domain, there is a similar magical teleporter for the Jarl here. This one leads into Muspelheim, just outside the Hall of the Fire Giant King.

Concerning this bit of echo in theme, it is curious that – unlike in modules G1 and G3 – the Elder Elemental God is not mentioned in this module (does Grugnur yet know that his superiors are worshipping it?), and the giants themselves (outside of weak shamanism see DMG) cannot use magic, so the hint is that this too is the magic of the drow (or at least, ancient magic uncovered by them and re-utilized to assist the giants). How long has the alliance between the giants been planned and prepared for? No one knows, but it must have been at least several years.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts exploring the G2 module. At 8 meager pages, it can certainly stand to be further strengthened with additional muscle upon the bone, as Gary recommends. But the original is a classic, that we can all agree on. It can be made better with deeper understanding, but it inspired this writing because of its original greatness. I hope you enjoy this one as much I have.

And someday soon, we will need to look at the sequel, lying somewhere in the sooty and lava-ravaged domain of the mighty fire giants …

“Art thou that villain who killed my kinsmen? Then I will tear thee with my teeth, suck thy blood, and grind thy bones to powder.”

— Jack the Giant Killer, as told in English Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs (1890)


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