Wind whips through the towering, snow-laden mountains, howling as it spirals their distant peaks. The adventurers trudge through the snow, perhaps in search of treasure buried beneath the snow, or perhaps simply trying to survive in their icy homeland. A ringing sound cuts through the storm, the ghostly echo of metal on metal.
This week’s encounter is called Fight to the Death, in which characters have the chance to release two embittered spirits from their ghastly existence.
This encounter works best in a mountainous, wintery locale, of which there are many in the Forgotten Realms. Take a look at the Faerûn’s northern reaches on this massive map of the Sword Coast, originally presented in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. Places like Icewind Dale or the frosty hills north of Mirabar would be an ideal location for a frigid adventure such as this.
Fight to the Death is designed for characters of 3rd to 5th level.
Two warriors, Korja and Dagmar, battle one another in the crumbling ruins of a training arena. The arena once belonged to a group of warriors called the Stormbringers, a faction that protected local villages from monsters, trolls, and other threats. But even the collective might of the Stormbringers was not enough to fend off an ambush by frost giants. The Strombringers perished, but Korja and Dagmar lingered as revenants, their frostbitten flesh and wrathful spirits trapped in the mortal world by their failure to fulfill their mission. Now, they continue to clash over the past, unable to break free of the bitterness that binds them to undeath.
To begin the encounter, read or paraphrase the following:
Ice clings to the rocky terrain; rays of weak sunlight filter through the whiteness. Stoic trees like snow-coated statues silently watch all who pass between them. A break in the tree line leads to a small cleft in the summit, through which the wind whistles and shrieks, and bites at any exposed skin.
Few living things thrive in the frigid mountains, save for the hardiest of creatures and people. The faintest hint of an ancient road can be found buried beneath the layers of snow, which a character can detect with a successful DC 12 Wisdom (Survival) check, promises a way out of the mountains. However, other creatures are also aware of this path, and watch it for prey. Roll a d4 to determine what the characters encounter on the road.
Random Encounters in the Mountains
After the encounter, any character with a passive Wisdom (Perception) score of 12 or higher hears the distant sound of steel clashing against steel, and sees the silhouette of a rune stone. This obelisk is one of eight standing stones that form a 15-foot-wide circle in the middle of a snowy clearing. These stones are marked on both sides with a sigil: two crossed swords superimposed over the silhouette of a wolf’s head.
Beyond the circle of stones is a wooden structure, a longhouse where the Stormbringers once resided. The dark gable roof has collapsed under decades’ worth of snowfall, combat, and neglect.
The longhouse was once a grand building where the Stormbringers lived. A large, expertly carved wooden wolf’s head is mounted to the façade above the door, hovering like a gargoyle, its mouth open in a silent howl stolen by the storm. The door is broken and dangles on its hinges. Stepping through it leads to a main hall. Part of the structure was destroyed by the giants during the ambush, and the interior is open to the elements.
Off of the main hall are six smaller chambers filled with beds and cots. Snow piles on the broken shields, swords, and axes that once adorned the walls. A character that succeeds on a DC 13 Intelligence (Investigation) check unearths several rusted swords and battleaxes among the rubble. A large stone hearth remains intact, although the fire within has long gone cold. A silver shield remains mounted above it, with a sentence inscribed in Dwarven, which reads: “Our armor of ice shields the fire within.”
Three of the chambers are filled with splintered wood and fallen trees, and are too ruined to investigate further. The other three each contain shelves filled with furs and winter garb. Characters who search the chambers and make a successful DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check to find two spell scrolls: one of ice knife, and one of sleet storm.
Two winter wolves prowl in the longhouse; the wolves were the companions of the warring revenants. While the revenants remain bound to the mortal plane, the wolves remain bound to them. The wolves growl at the characters but don’t attack unless provoked.
The Last of the Stormbringers
In the center of the arena are two revenants bedecked in armor. Emblazoned upon their cuirasses is the symbol of the Stormbringers, the same crossed-swords design carved into the standing stones. The two warriors fight one another, each wielding a greatsword and wearing the same armor. One of the revenants is a half-orc named Dagmar; she gets in a solid blow on her opponent, a human revenant named Korja. Korja falls prone, and Dagmar impales Korja with her sword. The party witnesses this last part of the fight and a successful DC 14 Wisdom (Perception) check perceives the impalement to be a killing blow. However, Korja remains down only for a few moments before getting to her feet, lifting her sword, and getting back in the fight.
Before the next round begins, the warriors notice the characters outside of the perimeter of the circle and turn their attention—and swords—to the characters.
“Who are you and why have you come here?” they demand in unison.
Breaking the Bonds
The revenants believe that they can only be free from their undead form if they defeat the other. Weeks before the frost giants attacked the Stormbringer’s settlement, Dagmar had suggested a preemptive attack; Korja had urged the others to lure the giants to them and defeat them on their own ground. But the giants ambushed the settlement, and neither plan worked. Still, Dagmar and Korja blame the other for the defeat.
“Our duty is to protect, and we failed,” says Dagmar. “Now, others will be vulnerable because we were too cowardly to do what was right!”
“Bringing them to us would have given us the upper hand,” says Korja. “We could have outsmarted them, if only they hadn’t learned of your plan!”
What keeps Dagmar and Korja as revenants is the dispute itself. The Stormbringers are first and foremost protectors; upon joining the faction, they commit to a lifetime of training and partake in a ritual that binds them to one another. Each warrior is tasked to defend others, including their fellow fighters. When the giants attacked, Dagmar and Korja died blaming the other and this keeps their souls in a sort of purgatory, doomed to clash with one another until their feud is ended.
There are three ways the characters can help resolve the conflict:
- Negotiate a Truce. Dagmar and Korja are not much for talking, but the characters can broker a truce. Stopping them from fighting long enough to have a conversation requires a character to make a successful DC 16 Charisma (Persuasion) check, else the warriors resume their fight. Upon negotiation, each warrior must admit to their wrongdoings and apologize to the other. Award creativity as you see fit. Both fighters are gruff and tend to use their weapons as their voice, so using words instead of swords is no easy task. The more patient the characters are, the more Dagmar and Korja respond to this approach.
- Attacking one of the Revenants. Engaging one of the warriors in combat pulls the other one in to protect their comrade. They each fight with savage abandon, per their training and former lives. They are initially motivated by lingering regret but as the fight wages, their combat decisions are motivated by a desire to protect one another, whether or not they realize it. If the character strikes a killing blow on one of the revenants, the revenant throws down their weapon and turns to the other, who follows suit. “In our anger, we forgot our oath,” says Dagmar. “It’s not our defeat over one another that will let us rest. Protecting each other, which we failed to do in life, is our redemption.” The defeat and the realization both succeed in releasing the revenant spirits from their bonds.
- Luring a Frost Giant to the Arena. Both Dagmar and Korja feel keenly that they let their comrades down by not defeating the giants. The characters can lure a frost giant to the arena and fight alongside the Stormbringers. The warriors share that frost giants live about a mile away from the Stormbringer’s settlement. Approaching the giants is dangerous, but convincing them that some of the Stormbringers are still “alive” draws one’s interest to the arena. Dagmar and Korja request the party’s help defeating the frost giant so they don’t fail again. Fighting a frost giant is a difficult encounter for 3rd to 5th level characters, so having Dagmar and Korja as allies helps balance the combat.
If the characters succeed in releasing Dagmar or Korja’s spirits, their eternal battle ends, and they can be laid to rest. They gift the party a pair of boots of the winterlands. As the feuding warriors die, the two winter wolves flee the longhouse and disappear into the storm.
Did you like this encounter? If you want to read more adventures, take a look at the other encounters in the Encounter of the Week series!
Ashley Warren is a contributing writer for D&D Beyond, Wizards of the Coast, Adventurers League, Kobold Press, Onyx Path Publishing, and more. She is the director of the RPG Writer Workshop, the producer of the Uncaged anthology, and the creator of numerous bestselling titles on DMs Guild. Ashley is a member of the Guild Adepts and a cast member on Tales from the Mists, the gothic horror show on the official Dungeons & Dragons Twitch channel. Learn more at www.ashleywarrenwrites.com or connect with her on Twitter, @ashleynhwarren.