Against the Lord of the Pit, Part 3: The Tomb of the Frost Giant King

Our group has a penchant for super-immersive role playing (see my earlier post on our Call of Cthulhu game) and I was looking for a break, so my original intent was to run a "light" game of Dungeons & Dragons. A little old school D&D seemed like just the thing. My plan was to run a Keep on the Borderlands campaign, and that was well on track as the player characters departed the Keep, en route to the Caves of Chaos for a little murder-hobo carnage.

To this day, I can't tell you why the party got sidetracked by the mound. Nor why I opted to make said geographical feature the man-made tomb of Lugh Mannsbane, 31st Jarl of Hrulanheim, Strider of the Barrens, last of the Frost Giant Kings. And the resting place of his sword, Griefbringer, said to have been crafted by the Forst Giant gods themselves.  And the secret repository of the remains of Red Ghala, last High Queen of the Plains of the Pale, slayer of Lugh Mannsbane and, unbeknownst to the players, a direct relative of them both!

This squarely tied the new story and characters into a campaign setting I've been constructing since the early 1990s - and that tied in player characters from my very first D&D games a decade earlier. I have pages upon pages of notes, world maps, histories, family trees, and mythical tales/characters to support this campaign. My "simple" game of D&D had suddenly become an epic tale of malign gods and scheming demons and the heroes who would rise to oppose them.

So, yeah... I guess, intentions be damned, I'm going to take any chance I can to tell an immersive story - and my players will be my enablers every dramatic step of the way!

The PCs entered the tomb, fought lots of nasty undead and intimidated a young dragon into fleeing. They found the items mentioned above, as well as documents kept by the builders of the tomb: human allies of the giants in War of the Giants, and event fifteen or so years earlier, in which humans and giants allied to overthrow the humans that controlled the Plains of the Pale, once the demesne of the Frost Giants but long-since lost to the humans of the north. The documents implied that the humans supporting/driving the giants' cause were influenced by drow, who were themselves allied with the Lord of the Pit, a demon of immense power that had been corrupting the mortal realms - directly and indirectly - for countless ages.

The scribes that compiled the documents told of the battle for the lands of the Pale, and how the giants had been winning the war until a hero rose to power: the warrior-queen who would come to be known as Red Ghala. The Red Queen adopted a scorched earth strategy, and razed the cities and fields of her kingdom ahead of the giants' advance, finally marshaling her forces in the ancient, giant-constructed fortress-city of Hrulanheim.

The books and scrolls they found told of the year-long siege of the great city and the challenge to single combat issued by the giant king, Lugh Mannsbane, which was accepted by the Red Queen. She rode out to face him, and ultimately defeated him in single combat with Sogtamander (Griefbringer), sword of woes, a weapon of myth and legend that was said to have been created by the giants' gods. A weapon that one of Ghala's ancestors had taken from the dead hand of Lugh's father centuries earlier when the humans of the Pale first drove the giants into the mountains. (Yeah, to add insult to injury, the giant king was slain with his father's own sword!)

So great was the grief of Lugh's wife, Grulaxia, at his slaying that she broke the compact of the challenge, rushed in and slew Red Ghala, and took the sword from her. Ghala's personal retinue returned the betrayal in kind, and before the giants' forces could descend upon them, slew the giant queen. They then held the giants' forces at bay as the Red Queen's priests laid her body in a stone coffin and warded it from harm and corruption. The giants slew the defenders, though, and fled the field with their rulers' remains and the coffin carrying the remains of the Red Queen (and the Fallen Crown, an artifact belonging to the people of the Plains and signifying the right to rule the realm as High King or Queen).

The death of Mannsbane and his queen effectively ended the giants' war, but the loss of the Red Queen and the Fallen Crown, and the decimation of their cities, left the people of the Plains broken and ruled by two queens: in the north, the keeper of the faith, Black Claudia; and, in the south, Terkani, the keeper of the flame. A decade-long stalemate ensued, the Pale divided between the northern Theocracy and the military in the southern city of Hrulanheim. Whoever could bring the realm together under the Fallen Crown risked igniting a war, if not a civil war in the Pale, a war with the aggressive Great Kingdom to the south. (Aelfryd, the semi-paranoid ruler of those lands, would likely see a untied Plains of the Pale as a potential threat to his domain's northern borders, especially with the Lord of the Pit's agents feeding him misinformation and fear.)

So, the PCs entered the tomb as standard, dungeon-crawling murder hobos, but walked out in possession of remains that had the potential to bring war to the entire eastern half of Greyhawk, as well as an artifact that will ultimately play a pivotal role in the struggle against the demon lord whose machinations have shaped their world for many hundreds of years. They walked out of the tomb well on their way to becoming influencers and rulers of the greatest lands of Greyhawk, a potential reality that would soon become apparent to them....