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Tag: level_up

Against the Giants - Hall of the Fire Giant King, Parts 7 & 8
The group crept forward as quietly as they could to the vast cavern Ambrie had scouted. They were not quiet enough. A voice, deep and terrible, echoed from a ledge at the far side of the chamber. The ancient red dragon introduced itself as Imvaerharhro - Inferno for short - and Soren recognized the name. He was one of the mightiest dragons of the North, and a terror for more than a thousand years. The dragon offered them their lives if they left their weapons and treasures behind. Though Hornbeast was willing, the rest were not, and the dragon took wing from his hidden ledge.

The battle was fierce and unpredictable. Orosius was crippled by dragon-fear, and despite his speed, Krush could not close with the mighty dragon. Even as Inferno blasted the group with his fiery breath, a quartet of salamanders rose from the pools of magma dotting the chamber. Blasts of scalding, poisonous gasses rose from fumaroles scattered across the cavern floor, and the dragon called up gouts of magma from the stone. A mighty spell-caster as well as a ship-sized killing machine, the dragon unleashed blasts and walls of flame, and evoked a fiery claw that grabbed at his foes. Soren, Ella, and Rurik initially stayed back to offer spell-casting support (along with Sindri, firing his magical bow), while Krush, Orosius, Hornbeast, and Ambrie ran forward to engage the beast. The battle-lines quickly shifted however, and Hornbeast and Ambrie engaged the dragon on the cavern floor while Krush, Rurik, and Orosius struggled down from the ledge where the dragon's hoard lay.

"I'll take all your treasure! And a side order of fries! And make it snappy!!!"

The monk was a cagey foe, dodging claws, bite, and tail as best he could, while launching well-placed blows and joints and vulnerable spots, both with his magical rod and his mighty fists and feet. It was enough to keep the dragon off-balance, unable to take wing or react to opportunities in combat. Wounded by his blows, the halfling's sword of light, and the spells and arrows of the elf wizard and the gnome ranger, Inferno sought to flee with part of its hoard, which was loaded on a sturdy old rowboat in the upper cave. Despite his speed and power, Ella was able to interpose herself and stun the dragon with a word of power. Reeling and unable to move, the dragon fell prey to Orosius and the trident Wave, slain even as its escape was in sight!

The heroes rested, counting the dragon's loot quickly and with a practiced eye, mostly thanks to Ambrie. After the halfling thief had appraised most of the precious stones, jewels, and objects of art, she took off to explore the ledges on the far side of the cave. She found a series of winding tunnels filled with stalactites and stalagmites, and felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. Ambrie saw three squid-headed, mauve-skinned humanoids in dark, shiny leather clothes. She tried to sneak back to the group, but was caught in the psychic blast they unleashed as they crept forward, invisibly.

"Um, this barbarian has diet brains. I specifically ordered regular brains. Can I talk to the chef?"

The wave of psychic energy dazed and stunned a few of the heroes, but Krush and Orosius charged the ledge and were on them. One fell quickly, despite grabbing the momentarily-stunned barbarian with his facial tentacles as their saw-like bone spurs sawed into his head and attempted to reach his brain! Ambrie darted back and forth between them, and Ella reached the ledge, blasting them with arcane energy. The leader of the trio surrounded Krush and Orosius with an unbreakable bubble of psychic force, only to fall to the warlock's eldritch blasts. The remaining mind flayer grabbed his fallen leader and shifted to the astral plane, escaping.

Meanwhile, the invisible, tentacled horror they called up had appeared amidst the rest of the heroes in the cave, and Soren, Rurik, Sindri, and Hornbeast were hard-pressed to fight the abomination. It grabbed at them with ropy tentacles and tore at them with dagger-like teeth even as it blasted the quartet with lightning and other energies. But the monk's enchanted rod and powerful fists, along with the wizard's spells and the ranger's blade, proved to be its downfall. What was left appeared briefly, its indescribable form quickly dissolving into fetid corruption.

[I]I'm pretty sure they identified the invisible stalking horror as a "nope" usually found in "we're never gonna go there."[/I]

With that horror defeated, the heroes followed a passage north from the dragon's cave on the ground level, and it led into another large cave. Ledges on the far side stood 40 feet high and looked down onto the floor, where large rock pillars stood opposite a massive, orange crystal formation, which resembled nothing so much as a column of fire. A curtain of flame shimmered and roared on the far side, blocking any exit. As the heroes made their way in, a group of drow rose from the ledge on the far side in ambush, but the trident Wave warned Orosius and his companions. Even as they laid down walls of fire, blade barriers, and fireballs on the group, a trio of fire giants - one a priest of some sort -emerged from the curtain of flame.

The battle was brief but intense, and Orosius and Krush engaged the giants. The priest used some magic to draw both into the fiery crystal, where they could not moved and were scoured by flame, but both managed to escape. Hornbeast, Soren, Ella, Ambrie, and Sindri dealt with the drow, while Rurik advanced on the giants, Whelm singing its death-song for them.

With these enemies defeated, Ambrie scouted the cliff above and found web-filled tunnels leading back to a sleeping area for the drow. The group made their way through, but realized they had set off an eldritch alarm of some kind. Making their way back, Orosius peered through the curtain of flame and saw a vast cavern, one bisected by a river of magma spanned by a basalt bridge. Soren dispelled the wall of fire, and the group raced ahead. A group of drow waited there, along with three more fire giants, a human wizard (no doubt the turncoat they had learned of) and an armored orog who was doubtless his bodyguard.

Drow - bringing sexy back to evil.

The drow high priestess they had fought before was there - Eclavdra, she introduced herself as - and she swore they would not interfere with the Elder Eye's plans! With that, battle was joined. A pair of salamanders rose from the magma along with something else - a rune-scarred fire giant of gargantuan size, one with skin like iron. This rune giant proved to be a fearsome foe, his giant blade scything through the heroes even as magical symbols and spells blasted from his enchanted hide!

The battle was fierce and the heroes nearly fell, but in the end, the giants were slain, the drow routed, and the high priestess lay dead. The group recovered the magical dagger Flame from the rune giant's care, and it was presented to Ambrie. They opted to leave, their objectives of defeating King Snurre's forces, routing the drow, and recovering the magical blade fulfilled. They returned to Phandaliin, got their rewards from the elf king Melandrach and the storm giant lord Krommbolt. As to what would come next...only the gods knew. But Sigryn Stormborn was still a threat, and would have to be dealt with someday soon...
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Against the Giants - Hall of the Fire Giant King, Part 3
Ambrie scouted the long corridor ahead of the group, quietly peering around the corner more than 100 feet ahead. Two more dusky-skinned armored ettins stood there, along with a half dozen fire giants and a strange, one-eyed, hunched humanoid on a chain. Apparently, the frost giants had warned them as well on their way out. The tiny halfling thief sneaked back to the group, who decided simply to charge and barrel through the obstruction.

Forget cave trolls. They had a hynotoad.

Their tactics were surprisingly successful. Rurik conjured a wall of spinning blades, seemingly pulled from Moradin's forge, cutting a swath through the giants and quite literally cutting down their mobility. Orosius, Krush and Hornbeast took the lead, engaging the giants and ettins as the rest of the group stayed back and peppered the enemy with missiles and spells. The monstrous black-skinned, one-eyed nothic was dominated by Ella, and she turned the power of its gaze back on the giants. In short order, the enemy was dispatched.

The heroes made their way down the long hall, past a ramp leading up and a pair of sealed iron doors. To their left, more than 100 feet ahead, a short flight of steps led up to a cavern-like smithy on the edge of a pool of molten rock. The fire giant smith was there, and he wore a cunningly-crafted golden helm. He was obviously blind, but seemed to sense the heroes' presence better than a sighted giant would. Despite Hornbeast's attempts at parley, the giant smith would have none of it. A series of ringing blows on his anvil summoned more giants from a nearby barracks, along with another pair of massive hell hounds. A construct of stone and iron, set with dozens of whirling blades, stood near the giant smith's forge.

Yup, he threw red hot anvils at the party. Freaking fire giants are METAL!

The battle was bloody and swift. Krush charged the fire giant smith, and despite being hammered by him and slashed by his construct, the dragonborn barbarian cut him down with Blackrazor, causing his body to tumble into the magma pool. Ella turned the nothic's gaze against the giants and hell hounds, and sent the monstrous beasts running off while the giants reeled under its hypnotic gaze. The heroes ended up cutting down the giants and smashing the construct, and took a moment to rest as they looted their barracks.

Backtracking to the sealed iron doors, Soren opened them using a knock spell. There were a few azer guards and a pair of fire giant guards waiting in a long hall lined with cell doors. The dungeon! As the heroes charged in, Sindri and Orosius were nearly crushed as the steam-driven doors slammed shut again. Ambrie and Krush had run in, and all four were nearly cut off. Apparently, someone had activated a mechanism to shut the massive doors. Ambrie quickly began unlocking cell doors, freeing a doughty dwarf warrior who gladly took her magic dagger when offered it and ran into the fray. She also freed an elf warrior, who conjured his own blade before moving in to fight. The halfling thief found a lever in a third room, and opened the doors once more before running forward.

Meanwhile Krush and Orosius engaged the giants and Rurik and Ella ran in. The doors slammed once again, but Ambrie found a second lever, dispatched the azer who had pulled it, and opened the doors one more time. The heroes discovered that the intersection ahead where the giants stood led to a torture chamber. A pair of fire giants - the torturer and an executioner by the look of them - stood ready, along with another member of Luskan's Arcane Brotherhood and his two barbarian bodyguards.

The fire giant executioner - chopping necks and cashing checks!

The battle spilled into the torture chamber, and Orosius found himself slammed into a giant iron maiden. Only his half-orc constitution kept him upright, despite half a dozen piercing wounds. Though it was a difficult battle, the heroes prevailed as Ella briefly banished the executioner to the para-elemental plane of frost with a powerful spell and the torturer was cut down.

After catching their breath, the heroes searched the remaining cells. They found a group of elvish warriors and the very elf princess they had been looking for - Moonshadow, daughter of King Melandrach of the Misty Forest. She was...well, a handful. Powerful and charismatic, no doubt, and a born leader. She was also kind of critical and demanding, and warned the heroes that other, darker forces were involved with the giants and the emissaries of Luskan's new war-leader; the drow. Specifically, it was a group of dark elves serving the cult of the Elder Elemental Eye, a power of darkness and corruption. The heroes had seen those same marks on the tools used by Sigryn's followers. There was a great conspiracy here, and it made them uneasy. All save Ella, perhaps. Despite her drive to continue on, Orosius and Ambrie convinced her to return home to her father and safety. Soren provided the princess and her retinue with a scroll containing the spell teleportation circle, and they departed. But the elf eldritch knight, Fonkin Hoddypeak, and the dwarf knight, Dram Blighthammer, agreed to stay with the group and fight the evil beneath the halls of the fire giant king.

"Are you really going to wear THAT into battle? And you should sharpen your axe. And..." Yeah. It was probably best they sent her back home. Adventurers never listen to authority figures! Don't they know a little guidance is necessary for success?

Perhaps more importantly, they also rescued a captive fire giant named Boldo, one of the former king's lieutenants. He vowed to unite the fire giants remaining and convince them to cease their attacks and sue for peace. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, the heroes turned over Snurre's iron crown to him and sent him on ahead. Meanwhile, they sneaked back to the king's treasure chamber to rest up in the still-extant extra-dimensional Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion spell. They were hurt and tired, and would let events progress as they would. After all, they had killed plenty of giants so far. What were a few dozen more?
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Against the Giants - Hall of the Fire Giant King, Part 1
Two full tendays passed as the companions rested in Phandalin, attending to more mundane concerns as they went over the map recovered months ago from the steading of the hill giant chieftain, Nosnra. Reports of attacks by giants, ogres, and orcs around Nevewinter Wood and both the High Road and the Long Road near the vast forest continued to come in. Trade with Neverwinter was near a halt, and more communities had been sacked and burned. The heroes decided it was time to act. Using the formula for the teleport circle found on the scroll in the treasure of the frost giant jarl, the heroes traveled by magic to a ring of broken standing stones on the slopes of Mount Hotenow, deep within Neverwinter Wood.

The slopes of Mount Hotenow.

They followed a broken trail up the mountain, past streams of lava and past burned forest up to a road of basalt that ended at great, obsidian doors leading into the mountain. This had to be a way into the lost dwarf city of Gauntlgrym, perhaps the lower levels, now taken over by the fire giant king and his kin. Soren could detect complex enchantments on the handle-less doors of unshatterable volcanic glass, and with Ambrie's cunning suggestions, unwove the enchantments and opened the doors.

Not the most friendly neighborhood.

The opening led into a vast hall lined with pillars of basalt and gas-powered brass torches reflecting off polished walls of black-and-red veined stone. Ambrie sneaked past a pair of dusky-skinned, armored ettins and a small alcove covered by one of many tapestries of woven metal strands hanging in the hall. A fire giant sentry was there. She came back and warned the group, who decided to approach in force as she remained in the shadows. Hornbeast took point, demanding to see the fire giants' king. The bemused giant and the ettins escorted the heroes down the hall to a massive throne on a dais lit from behind by a pool of magma. A few fire giant warriors and their azer slaves - brass-skinned, fire-haired dwarves in scale armor - stood ready, along with a pair of coal-black hell hounds the size of horses. A massive fire giant with a crown of iron wearing the hide of a white dragon as a cloak sat on the throne - King Snurre, ruler of the fire giants! A human woman in a blue gown and furs stood next to him. She was introduced as an emissary - from Luskan. No doubt Sigryn Stormborn's hand was involved in giants' attacks here as well. But word had reached the heroes of other, darker powers...but they were not evident yet.

King Snurre Ironbelly. I assure you, it did not move like a bowlful of jelly when he laughed.

After hearing Hornbeast's terms, he laughed without mirth. "You think to dictate terms to me in my own hall? Think again! Kill them, and take their skins for my trophy hall!" With that, the battle was on! One of the azers threw a lever beside the throne and hidden gas jets in the pillars ignited, shooting flames out over the hall. Krush and Hornbeast surged forward, cutting down giants and hellhounds in an attempt to reach the king as Orosius, Rurik, and Ella held the middle, fighting off the ettins and more giants. Soren held back, blasting with spells as Ambrie and Sindri darted about with their bows, evading both ettins and giants as best they could. The winter witch from Luskan blasted ice and snow in the hall, but Ella helped to counter her magic as Rurik used healing prayers to keep the group fighting. Hornbeast countered the fire giant king as best he could, keeping him busy long enough for Krush to deliver the killing blow with his terrible black blade. Blackrazor drank deeply of the king's soul, filling Krush with stolen vitality. The rest of the giants fell, and the azers threw down their hammers.

Yeah, it was that freaking epic.

After checking the giant king, taking his bejeweled crown, and prying some of the gems from his obsidian throne, the heroes tried one of the iron levers next to the throne - the one that did not activate the gas-jets (which had been shut off). A secret door to the left of the throne opened in the back wall, leading to a rough, cave-like passage. Ambrie scouted ahead, finding that the tunnel went left and right. Scouting to her left, the halfling thief found rough stairs going down to a cave filled with five enormous iron treasure chests! Hornbeast made his way down the right passage, but held up as the rest went to investigate the chests.

Unfortunately as soon as Ambrie tried to pick the lock on one of the chests, the illusory wall at the back of the cave wavered as a huge iron golem strode forth, with a massive, eight-headed fire-breathing hydra slithering behind it! The heroes were soon embroiled in a terrifying battle. They severed head after head on the hydra, only for two more to sprout instants afterwards. It bit and breathed gouts of flame even as the iron golem delivered blows with its fists capable of pulping a man. Only the heroes' quick reflexes saved them, though a couple of glancing blows nearly stove in Orosius's ribs. Worse yet, the fiery breath of the hydra was melting and re-forming the iron golem, sealing up the damage done to it by the heroes' enchanted weapons as if it had been freshly-forged!


Despite the power of the beast and the iron juggernaut, the unstoppable tide of blades, tridents, and arrows cut down the hydra's heads as blasts of cold sealed the stumps. The golem was downed as well, and the heroes stood triumphant despite their wounds. Orosius, as it turned out, had grabbed a ring of keys from the fire giant king. Ambrie went around, making sure to disarm any traps that might be set off by using the wrong key, and the heroes looted the king's treasury. Orosius found a suit of mail forged by the efreeti of the City of Brass that rendered him immune to fire and Soren a staff of the magi crafted by the archmages of Anuaria - a mighty weapon indeed!

Figuring that their wounds would quickly get the better of them, and that the rest of the giants would be on alert, the heroes opted to lay low. Soren conjured an extra-dimensional portal using the spell Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion, and the heroes rested unseen for a time. Let the giants rage...the heroes would strike when they were ready, unseen, in the very heart of their stronghold...
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Against the Giants - Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, Part 4
The heroes were not able to rest long, as a band of frost giants led by a pair of winter wolves entered the dragons' lair no more than a quarter hour after the heroes had stopped to catch their breath. From their vantage point atop the ledge on the far side of the huge cave, the heroes were able to trade missile fire and spells with the giants and their pets as they advanced. Ella Twiceborn, Soren, and Rurik took a toll with blasts of fire and thunder as Krush, Orosius, and Ambrie rushed down the icy steps on either side to meet them. Sindri put his new bow to good effect as Hornbeast leaped down and engaged the giants halfway across the chamber, slowing their advance.

Despite their numbers, the giants fell quickly to the enchanted weapons and spells of the heroes. Realizing they had been found and that more giants might be on their way, the heroes bound what scrapes and bruises they had, and pressed on. They made their way across the great rift in the long cave beyond, and with magic, Soren opened the massive double doors of ice. Crossing another large antechamber, the heroes came to a huge portcullis of wooden logs bound together with iron bands and pegs. Even Orosius and Krush, using their Belts of Giant strength, were unable to budge the locked barrier. Ambrie and Sindri managed to wiggle between the bars, the gnome ranger almost becoming stuck and losing a bit of skin in the bargain.

They found another large chamber beyond, with five passage leading off of it, two to their left and three to their right, two of which were on a ledge overlooking the icy cave from its far end. A pair of statues carved from ice stood on the ledge, mute sentries that did not react to the stealthy pair. Ambrie went right as Sindri went left, and she found a passage leading to a large bedchamber of some sort, though the smell was ghastly. She ducked under a niche in the icy wall and hid as a massive ettin in hide armor with a battle-axe and morning star stomped down the hall.

Sindri found a wheel on the floor of the next chamber, one connected to a chain that went into the wall. No doubt it was to raise the portcullis, but the thing was sized for giant! A pair of frost giants in light armor strode past, overlooking the hidden gnome as they went into the center chamber to speak with the ettin. One head barked orders to them in the giant-tongue as the other looked over to the portcullis and sniffed, but the heroes outside had ducked out of sight and did not smell nearly as bad as the ettin. Sindri distracted them by using a gnomish trick to create the illusion of sounds - men in armor shouting, to be precise - down the passage where Ambrie hid! He took advantage to dash across and throw himself at the wheel, throwing his might into it. With unbelievable effort, he ratcheted the thing up once - twice - three times - and it held. Unfortunately, one of the ettin's heads was looking straight at him!

"Ha! I told you it smelled like gnome!"
"Yeah, and smells like he crapped his pants!"

The ettin bellowed in alarm, and two more giants came from the far passage to the left as the heroes began spilling in under the portcullis, which had gone up all of four or so feet. The two ice statues cracked, creaked, and started to move - elemental myrmidons! The battle was joined, and for a moment, the heroes looked to be in control. Then another figure floated down from the far passage on the right, on the ledge overlooking the cave. It was a beholder, one rimed with ice. The Eye of Frost began blasting rays at Hornbeast, Krush, Orosius, and any who came in range. Soren tried unleashing a terrible finger of death spell on it, only to have it rebound from the beholder and strike Orosius, felling (and nearly killing) the half-orc pirate. Despite the numbers against them, the heroes dropped the ettin, the giants, the myrmidons, and the icy beholder. Exploring the nearby rooms, the heroes found a captive of the Jarl's - a female storm giant named Elektra, the daughter of a mighty storm giant lord. They freed her, and she agreed to join them in tracking down Grugnur, ready to take her revenge alongside them! They took a chance, and caught their breath (so to speak) in the ettin's chamber before pushing on.

They found another portcullis down the passage to the far left. Beyond, an older frost giant in a horned helm and fur-lined robes carrying an icy staff stood along with a handful of armored ogres and a dozen dwarf slaves. Hornbeast attempted to negotiate with the giant - again - and this time was met with a degree of success! This was Vaald, the self-same giant who had sent a message to the rulers of Mirabar. He agreed to let the heroes pass, and to free all the dwarf slaves, as long as the heroes slew Jarl Grugnur and his new adviser (a fire giant named (Haaskarth), turned leadership of his people over to him, and did no harm to the remaining women-folk, young, or warriors who were not ready to die for Grugnur. He also warned them of a ghost down the south passage from the cavern with the great rift, one of the previous jarl's supporters who had not passed on entirely.

"Perhaps we can come to an...arrangement.

Taking Vaald at his word, the heroes went down a long passage into a massive feast-hall, one dominated by a massive throne made from frozen skulls in a great, stone niche. Two giants stood atop ledges overlooking the hall, each manning a ballista, as four others and a sub-chief stood among the tables taking orders from a massive fire giant with a mail robe and a burning mace who stood next to the icy throne. The heroes drew close, exchanging words with Haaskarth, all the while moving closer to strike. Orosius took the initiative and hurled his trident, Wave, as the others took up position. A frost giant berserker riding a mammoth charged out from a hidden hall behind the throne, and nearly tramped the half-orc and the human monk, before being brought low.

The battle was fierce, and Elektra proved herself a mighty ally. Krush slew the fire giant and the frost giant sub-chief, while the rest felled the other giants. Shattering the frozen chest beside the throne, the heroes gathered up the Jarl's tribute and, as they rested for a brief moment, Soren used the enchanted ring they had found in the Remorhaz's lair to wish them all back to good health and full strength. Thus refreshed, the heroes pushed on, ready to confront the frost giants' evil ruler...

And let's not forget the gnome riding into battle on the goat of terror! The giants sure won't!
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Against the Giants - Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, Parts 2 & 3
After taking a moment to regroup in the ice dome that was the lair of the remorhaz, the heroes set about waking their frost giant captive. With Krush holding the ebon blade of Blackrazor at his throat, the giant seemed a bit more willing to talk. Hornbeast asked him where they could find the Jarl, and he promised to show them a cave entrance at the bottom of the rift. Ella decided she would keep a close eye on the giant as they made their way past the jagged ice and mounds of snow and a rough ice stair ascending the far side. The group approached a cave entrance and the frost giant called out. What answered was not the Jarl they were expecting.

"Uh...wrong cave?"

A frost giant that was no more than a skeletal corpse in full armor accompanied by a massive winter wolf with frozen fur lurched out of the cave, bellowing in the giant-tongue that all entering its domain faced death. It seemed disinclined to negotiate. Krush engaged the great wolf as the black blade howled for souls, while Orosius and Hornbeast faced the undead giant. Soren and Rurik offered support, while Ella hurled spells and Ambrie and Sindri used their bows. The frost giant attempted to flee, only to be cut down. The battle was fierce, but the heroes proved triumphant. They found a frozen, iron chest in the cave, and after chipping away the ice they found a small fortune in coins and diamonds, and a shortbow made of dark wood. Known as Autumn's Flame, it had been crafted by gnomes in the hills of the north and was a bane to trolls. It was decided that it would do best in Sindri's hands. A fine, gray cloak that protected against both heat and cold found a new home with Ella.

Opting to head up the icy stair they had found, the heroes scouted a ledge along the far side of the glacial rift. As Ambrie scouted ahead into a frozen cave slick with ice and filled with thick mist, the heroes were nearly caught by surprise as a band of huge, white-furred, ape-like creatures moved up the ledge behind them. Yeti, a whole band of them, led by a massive Alpha female wielding a sword! Following a fierce battle, one that saw both Orosius and the yeti alpha plunge off the cliff to the floor of the rift 200 feet below (and survive!), the wounded heroes recovered the blade, which turned out to be no less than the Sword of Croodle! The icy blade had a will of its own, and none took it to wield, instead planning on returning it to the noble family out of Neverwinter to whom it rightly belonged.

There was a whole lot of hairy, angry, and ape-like after the party.

After a moment of rest, the heroes found more cave entrances along the ledge...a lot more. And a lot of frost giants. There was a fierce battle along the ledge and the cave entrances, with Rurik placing a blade barrier spell smack dab in the middle of the giants while Ella cut off their retreat with a wall of fire spell from her magical helm. One by one, the giants fell. Sorely wounded, the heroes holed up to rest for a short time.

After tending to their wounds, they pressed on along the ledge and into another set of cave tunnels leading off. They were ambushed from behind by a group of ogre mercenaries, the same Ambrie had seen on the far side of the rift! Apparently, they had been tracking the heroes and finally caught up to them. Despite their numbers, the heroes overcame the ogres and pressed forward. Ambrie and Sindri scouted a few caves ahead, and found several other giants - a small group of hill giants, a pair of fire giants, and a trio of stone giants, to be precise! No doubt emissaries from the various giant leaders, the fire giants' pet hell hounds heard the group approach. A potentially tense negotiation got underway, with Hornbeast (!) convincing the fire giants to let them pass and see the Jarl. The hill giants would have none of it though, and engaged the heroes in battle as a pair of frost giant guards came on the scene. The stone giants held up, intimidated the heroes' ferocity, and opted to let them pass as well. Both groups of giants agreed to let them give their "tribute" to the Jarl, though the fire giants warned that if the heroes came to their king's halls, the only tribute he would take would be to flay them alive.

Thus warned, the heroes found a tunnel descending steeply, below the floor of the rift, into a system of caves that were more rock than ice. Making their way through a cavern with icy stalagmites and columns lined with ledges and smaller caves, the heroes found themselves under attack by giant blue-white toads, all radiating terrible cold. Some were the size of men and some the size of horses, and they leaped down to attack, biting with sharp teeth as they tried to grab the heroes with their long tongues. Sindri was swallowed - twice - and Krush found himself inside one of the massive ice toads as well. They managed to carve through the beasts, which seemed to communicate with each other. Krush was carried into a nearby cave, only to carve his way out of the huge ice toad that had swallowed him.

The cave beyond was massive, fully 60 feet high, more than 200 feet long, and nearly 100 feet across. To one side, cave entrances led off, and to the other, massive double doors carved from ice were flanked by stone platforms. A frost giant guard stood atop each, and they were alerted as more ice toads perched along ledges nearby began to croak in alarm. The heroes began to move in, ready to tackle the frost giants, when two other forms emerged from a large cave entrance to the east - a pair of huge white dragons!

"Do I have something in my teeth? Oh, not yet!"

The heroes withstood multiple blasts of the dragons' breath weapons and shrugged off thrown rocks from the giants. The ice toads wisely retreated. Despite the odds, the heroes managed to prevail, though one of the frost giants fled down a stair leading from his stone platform back further into the caves. No doubt, the giants would be alerted and a counter-attack could be expected. The heroes fell back into the dragons' cave, finding some treasure, including a fine suit of mail that Orosius took for his own. As they tended their wounds as best they could, they could swear they heard voices in the giant-tongue approaching....
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Against the Giants - Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, Part 1
A few weeks had passed since the Heroes of Phandalin had returned home from Secomber, where they had brought an end to the giant attacks on the Delimbiyr River valley. They had slain Thane Arnak, mad ruler of the stone giants of Howling Crag, opening up the Trade Way south and east. As late summer gave way to early autumn, cold winds and rain threatened an early snow in the hills. With the threat of an early winter came word of attacks by bands of orcs, ogres, and frost giants along the High Road. Caravans and small settlements as far south as Longsaddle and as far east as Mithral Hall had been attacked, and trade out of Mirabar had ground to a near halt.

Learning that the Marchioness of Mirabar and the ruling Council of Sparkling Stones had promised rewards to those who could put an end to the attacks, the heroes journeyed north. Fending off a few attacks by bands of orcs and ogres, the heroes reached the northern city. It was atop a knoll overlooking the River Mirar, and its thick walls were sloped and its squat, stone buildings reminiscent of a fortress. After securing lodgings at a local inn, the heroes were summoned to meet with the city council.

Mirabar by night.

Descending into the lower levels of the city, which was home to nearly as many dwarves as humans, the heroes were escorted to the Council of Sparkling Stones. After a productive meeting with the Marchioness and the councilors, the heroes agreed to help. They had learned about the frost giants' stronghold, a series of caves in a glacial rift high in the Spine of the World Mountains, several days northeast of Mirabar. They also learned that one of Jarl Grugnur's lieutenants, a frost giant named Vaald, had offered a cessation of hostilities should the jarl be slain. Despite the offer of a guide, the heroes opted to use the magical chain found in Thane Arnak's possession, and teleported to a spot a couple of miles west of the rift.

The heroes had prepared, and thanks to their winter gear, managed to hike there without incident. Sindri even found a small cave nearby, one fairly well hidden and dry, and at the back of a cleft small enough that no giant could squeeze through it. Wending their way down a crudely carved stair at the mouth of the rift, they heroes found themselves on an icy ledge on one side of the small canyon. Ice and snow were prevalent, mists cloaked the bottom of the rift, and heavy winds made any prospects of flying or climbing nigh impossible.

With Ambrie scouting ahead, the group entered the first cave they found, only to encounter a small group of frost giant guards and their winter wolf watchdogs. The battle that followed was fairly brief, but fairly messy, though it was hard to tell how much noise carried over the sound of the wind outside. Once the heroes had dispatched the guards and their pets, they made their way down a cave tunnel and into another series of passages.

"Fee Fie Fo Faffling! I smell a sly little halfling!"

Ambrie and Hornbeast found a couple of linked caves with several armored ogres carousing, sleeping, and maintaining their weapons. There was also a pit with several very cold, very hungry looking dwarf slaves. Quietly promising to free them later, Ambrie and Hornbeast crept back to the group. Hornbeast wanted to find the frost giants' jarl, and eliminate him as quickly as possible.

Finding a set of steps carved into the side of the rift, the heroes descended to its floor. Making their way through large mounds of snow, the heroes were caught off-guard when huge, blob-like mounds of the stuff started attacking them! These oozes seemed to be made of living snow, and their touch burned when it struck. Despite their immunity to slashing blades, the heroes nevertheless managed to burn them down.

Beyond, they saw an icy dome at the bottom of the rift. Picking their way through jagged ice, the heroes were nearly surprised as a massive figure broke through the ice and snow. It was a remorhaz, and it roared with an inhuman shriek as it charged the party. Despite slamming its burning back-plates into the heroes and swallowing Orosius, the half-orc pirate put Wave to good use and killed the beast from within!

The worst part? It's breath! Okay, maybe second worst after the whole "eat you and burn you to death" thing.

A pair of frost giants had been alerted however, and threw frozen handaxes (each about the size of a greataxe) from above. Despite Hornbeast's entreaties to talk after literally running up the cliff face, Orosius managed to pitch his magical handaxe high enough to strike one's helm, causing it to fall from the 100-foot ledge. Meanwhile, Ella transported herself and Krush up to the ledge with the other. She paralyzed the giant long enough for Krush to cut it down, and with magic, they rejoined the others on the floor of the rift. With one giant surviving and reinforcements on the way, they drug their new captive off in hopes of learning something. Meanwhile, Ambrie had found a dagger of red-black obsidian in the icy dome, apparently indigestible by the remorhaz, along with a gold ring. Soren identified the dagger as enchanted and unbreakable, while the ring held a couple of wishes. Certainly this was a stroke of luck, one that might sorely be needed....
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Against the Giants - Warrens of the Stone Giant Thane
After a week or so of recovery, the heroes of Phandalin were off to investigate giant attacks to the east of Waterdeep. Traveling south to Daggerford and up the Delimbiyr River to Secomber, the heroes learned that a group of stone giants in the east reach of the Sword Mountains, just south of the High Forest, had begun attacking caravans and settlements alike. The leader of these giants, Thane Arnak, had been a peaceful neighbor for the most part, trading with the men of Secomber, the elves of the High Forest, and the dwarves and gnomes of the local hills. But things had changed in recent months, and more than a few villages had been wiped out, their populations apparently taken captive. Following directions given them by the garrison at Secomber, the heroes made their way into the hills.

The warrens were located beneath a high, broken-topped hill known as the Howling Crag. The broken hilltop had been turned into a ring-fort of sorts by the giants, and as the heroes approached they saw what appeared to be a large hawk circling overhead. Two stone giants stood atop towers at the gate and challenged them in the giant tongue. Which apparently, none of them had bothered to learn. With a cry of alarm, the giants began hurling rocks and the "hawk" dived from far above, proving to be a roc being ridden by another stone giant!

The Howling Crag.

After this battle (and several long falls) the heroes made their way over the gates and into the courtyard beyond. They fought a band of stone giants, a frost giant wizard or emissary of some sort, and his pet owlbear and giant hawk. Finding a passage to the tunnels beneath in the emissary's quarters, the heroes also rescued a female dwarf knight named Danica Stonesong. She told them she had escorted more than a dozen of her fellow dwarves, stonemasons, to work for Thane Arnak. She had been taken prisoner instead, and they were being held somewhere below. The Thane had gone mad, and his sister - the castellan - had encouraged his attacks against the "small folk" as the giants called everyone else. She agreed to accompany them, to find her folk and free them, and the heroes agreed.

They made their way below, encountering a cavern full of lightning-charged crystals and elementals made of stone, wind, and thunder. Defeating them, the group made their way into a stepped cavern spotted with fungi. Atop the highest shelf was a six-legged dragon-like creature - a dracolisk! Averting their gazes, and nearly getting petrified despite it, the heroes managed to slay the beast and recover its treasure, but only after battling some stone giants drawn by the sound of battle. The heroes had to slay many more giants - including some of their young - before withdrawing to the crag above. Unfortunately for them, they ran into the thane's sister, her guards, a stone giant seer who also had gone mad, and the galeb duhr (elementals of stone and earth) under his thrall. He spoke of a great, purple stone - a Stone of Madness - drawn up from the depths of the earth, and how it would lead his people to their destiny. That is, up until the point where Krush killed him.

A dragon whose gaze could turn a person to stone. How absolutely freaking horrible.

With a rest under their belts, the heroes headed below again. They found a huge cavern leading off the warrens where the bulk of the stone giants lived, a literal forest of stalagmites and stalactites, some of which tried to drop down and kill them - piercers! A quartet of stone giant guards met them, and a pair of ropers - progenitors of the piercers - tried to ambush them as well. After dealing with this mess, the heroes made their way around to a large cavern with a cistern, one guarded by a band of gargoyles. Dispatching the guards, the heroes discovered another cave with several passages leading off of it, a cave dominated by a trio of huge crystal formations.

As it turned out, the room was not empty. The heroes could see visions forming within the crystals, seemingly guided by the leader of a group of northmen in the room. These were not simple barbarians, but rather a noble, a wizard, and a pair of plate-armored guards all bearing the livery of Luskan on their furs, leathers, and robes. The group had split, and Orosius tried to keep them talking as Ambrie, Sindri, and Ella made their way behind the strangers. Negotiations broke down quickly, and the heroes discovered there was a pair of assassins with them - they had been smart enough to hide when they heard the commotion in the cistern. Despite the sudden appearance of a couple extra foes, the heroes dealt with the servants of Sigryn Stormborn, and kept the noble alive as a captive. Danica, Soren, and Ella escorted him to safety as the rest explored on.

Making their way along a passage they found a ledge overlooking a huge throneroom, one with a massive throne carved from smoky quartz. A stone giant in gold armor sat on it, berating a pair of other giants, while a woman in robes stood next to him. A great, iron-scaled bull-like creature - a gorgon - paced behind the throne. This must be Thane Arnak! The heroes came up with a quick plan. Using some magical dust of disappearance found in the Luskanite noble's possession, they turned invisible and crept into the hall. Hornbeast, Sindri, and Ambrie quickly and quietly crept down the wall from the ledge (despite a slip by the otherwise nimble gnome) and got into position as Rurik, Orosius, and Krush crept down behind, quiet as they could in their armor. The giants did not seem to notice, and the trap was sprung!

He couldn't be all bad. He was a pet owner.

The group had passed up an entry to a fungal forest of some sort, and a cave with a ledge overlooking the stalagmite forest on the other side of the thane's hall, a ledge where a massive figure of stone and earth stood. At the stone giant thane's cry of alarm, that figure stomped into view on a ledge on the hall's far side. It was an earth titan. The heroes did well at first, dropping a pair of giants and wounding the thane and his pet gorgon, only to learn the woman was a medusa warlock, serving the Elder Elemental Eye, and that the thane had magical powers of his own as he summoned a quartet of earth elementals. The battle shifted as the titan entered, and the heroes nearly fell as its footsteps shook the cavern. But in the end, their blows were telling, and Hornbeast shattered its leg with a mighty blow, sending it to its doom in an earth fissure of its own creation.

Beyond, after all lay dead, the heroes found a larger cavern set with more cages dangling over pits of acid. One great cleft held the Stone of Madness, seemingly guarded by an enormous ooze. Realizing discreation was the better part of valor, the heroes pulled back after recovering the thane's treasure. Soren and Ella caught up with them, having burned down a pair of giants, a group of large, nasty beetles, and plenty of walking fungi and secured their riches. Leaving the Stone of Madness behind, the heroes rescued the prisoners and made their way to the surface. The stone giants were broken, no longer a threat. But a mysterious, seemingly frozen, chain found in the thane's treasure might form a teleport circle. As the frost giants were harassing Mirabar far to the north, this might be their next challenge...
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Against the Giants - Steading of the Hill Giant Chieftain
The heroes of Phandalin had seen much trouble and strife in the last two years, much of it centered around the small mining town in the northern foothills of the Sword Mountains. They had re-opened the lost Phandelver Mine, opened up trade routes east to Longsaddle and dealt with the mysterious Vanishing Tower of the Harpells and the orcish tribes being driven from Kryptgarden by the shadowy evils lurking beneath the dwarven citadel of Southkrypt Garden. They had learned about the new Warlord of Luskan's plans to unite the North under her rule, and her interest in the ancient Spellforge at the heart of the Phandelver Mine. Seeking to re-ignite the forge's magic powers, the heroes had even journeyed to the mysterious White Plume Mountain, a nearly dormant volcano just east of the Evermoors, and recovered the ancient weapons Wave, Whelm, and Blackrazor. The year after, they had learned of bands of marauding lizardfolk, bandits, and mercenaries uniting under a long-forgotten banner in the Mere of Dead Men. Seeking to clear the High Road between Waterdeep and Neverwinter, they managed to find and dispatch their leader, the vampiric lizard king Sakatha, in his tomb.

They gave Blackrazor to Krush. Things were gonna die ugly...

In short, they had earned a reputation as heroes. Their share in the profits of the Phandelver Mine were no small source of motivation, to be certain, but much good had been done. As a long summer rolled back into autumn, word began to reach them of further attacks on the High Road, the Long Road, and the Trade Way, strangling overland trade between Neverwinter and Waterdeep to the west, Triboar, Longsaddle, Red Larch, and Yartar to the east, and Daggerford, Secomber, and all points south. Roving bands of orcs and ogres led by hill giants coming from the foothills of the Sword Mountains west of Amphail had waylaid caravans, sacked small holds, and burned villages throughout the area. Someone had to put a stop to it and open up trade again. The heroes of Phandelver decided it would be them.

They journeyed up into the hills, following the trails left by the hill giants and their ogre and orc servants. It wasn't a hard trail to follow. They found a massive wooden fortress in a hidden mountain valley. This was the steading of the hill giant chief, Nosnra, and it was up to them to put a stop to his marauding giants. After finding a small, hidden cave at the back of a nearby cleft in the hills and setting a base camp, the heroes made their way into the giants' fort.

It was like a hill fort, only super-sized.

Their first foray into the steading proved to be significant. The heroes managed to slip in over the wall and take out the giants and ogres on the watch tower while the brutes were besotted with strong drink. Making their way inside, they found the giant chieftain's great hall. He was holding a feast, with most of his warriors, ogre guards, stone and cloud giant emissaries, and even his pet cave bear all in attendance. It was a battle almost too big to be believed. Soren and Ella unleashed mighty battle-magics and Rurik Battlehammer, wielder of Whelm, put the hammer's powers to good use. Hornbeast, Krush, and Orosius Chainreaver, half-orc pirate and wielder of the trident Wave engaged the giants in combat, while sneaky little Ambrie and the gnome ranger Sindri put their bows to use. It was a slaughter, and the heroes slew more than a score of giants.

"Hey! Who invited the little guys to dinner?"

Withdrawing to recover, their second expedition took them deeper into the fort, and they found more giants to kill. Even the young giants were nearly the size of ogres, and were just as fierce. After dispatching them and the chieftain's wife (apparently a nature priest of no small skill), the kitchen staff (including giantesses hurling barrels of flour, oil, and sticky honey), and the giants' hound keeper (a giant-sized werewolf) and his kennel of dire wolves, the heroes made their way into the dungeons beneath. They slew a giant headsman, the giants' orc and bugbear servants, some allied stone giant miners, and even the chief's greatest weapon - an iron dragon! Claiming the chief's treasure, the heroes made their way from the steading. Though they had been victorious, it turned out their work was far from done. They had found a map that showed giant settlements spread out around the North, all in key positions to cut off trade, isolate the cities and towns of the North, and leave them open to attack. Someone had stirred the giants up. The only place that could possibly benefit was Luskan. The High Captains and the Host Tower of the Arcane had sworn alliance to this new, barbarian warlord, Sigryn Stormborn. Had the giants of the North done so as well?
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