I love Beowulf…I don’t know why, other than that I’m weird. I’ve read several different translations of the story and seen most films about him and arch-nemesis Grendel including that crazy-ass version with Christopher Lambert.
Actually, about the only film version I have NOT seen is the latest animated one with Angelina Jolie…I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually (though my loyalty is to the Beowulf mythos, not any particular desire to see AJ).
While the epic poem Beowulf is of English origin, the protagonist is a Swede (a Geat) adventuring in Denmark. This means he falls into to my Viking fetish and is thus excellent fodder for my B/X Norse campaign.
Except, of course, I’m not going to bother writing up Beowulf. I mean, what is he after all…a fighter with an 18 strength. Easy enough…probably has a high Constitution (he can hold his breath a looong while) and Wisdom as well. Not that great a Charisma (his henchmen all run away when he’s facing down that last dragon…not much of morale bonus, 'Wulfie).
Anyway, Big B is relatively simple to “stat up;” so much so that he’s easily replaced in any Norse campaign by any other PC fighter with muscle, compassion, and balls the size of grapefruit. No, what’s more interesting (to me) is bringing in the Beowulf legend as an example Single Encounter Adventure scenario.
Previously, I noted that the Norse troll is more akin to the B/X bugbear…specifically, they are large, hairy, and sneaky, though not giant…they don’t regenerate but some are intelligent enough to communicate (in the Common tongue) or learn skills. They also turn to stone when exposed to sunlight.
Depending on which translation/version of Beowulf you’re reading/watching, Grendel appears to be a simple (if especially tough) Norse troll. Which would be a big Bugbear basically. Which is perfectly fine. In other versions, the guy is more like a dragon-kin…scaly armored, clawed, and ravenous. Which is certainly nastier. Grendel’s mother is just a bigger, meaner version of Grendel…or something even more horrific and supernatural.
Each DM will need to decide which version of Grendel and his Dam to use depending on the level of the characters. Here’s how I'd run it:
START: Hrothgar was once a great Lord of Daneland, but of late his dominion has fallen upon hard times. The once merry hall of his stronghold Heorot (Hay-oh-roht) is now a dark and dismal place; its gilded arches are now dingy and a pall hangs over the people he rules. Rumor has it that a great evil stalks his land, and Hrothgar has made it known that he will shower gold on any heroes that can take the scourge from his land.
WHAT IS HAPPENING: Hrothgar is being stalked and taunted by an abominable creature called Grendel. Grendel nightly stalks Heorot with impunity, killing Hrothgar’s guardsmen from stealth and causing great lamentation amongst the surviving wives, mothers, and children. Hrothgar’s people are dying by inches, and the old lord and his favored henchman Unferth have been unable to stop Grendel.
Hrothgar (AC 5, F10, HPS 30, MV 90, #AT 1 weapon (-2 to hit), D 1D8, Save F10 (-1) , ML 9, AL N). Once hale and hearty, Hrothgar has not aged well (Str & Con both 8) and the additional stress and strain of Grendel’s attacks causes him to suffer a -1 penalty on all to hit, damage, and save rolls, as well as his AC. He wields a +3 sword named Naegling (“Nailer”) which is as much a symbol of his lordship as his pride. If the adventurers defeat both Grendel and his mother, Hrothgar will bestow Naegling on the party as well as two chests of gold. However, until such time as the creatures are defeated he retains the sword to defend his people..it appears to be one of the few things Grendel fears.
Unferth (AC 4, F5, HPS 22, MV 90, #AT 1 weapon (+1 to hit), D 1D8+1, Save F5, ML 7, AL N). Unferth is Hrothgar’s guard captain, but he has been completely un-manned by Grendel and his inability to stop the creature’s rampage. He wields a sword +1 named Hrunting (“Thrusting”). He doesn’t trust the adventurers competence to defeat Grendel and will deride them privately, possibly publicly depending on his morale and Reaction to them. If the party defeats Grendel, he will present them with Hrunting and retire his post in shame.
Grendel, version 1 (AC 4, HD 4+2**, HPS 26, MV 120, #AT 1, D 1D8+2, Save F4 (special), ML 10, AL C). Grendel is both large and stealthy and attacks with surprise 1-3 on a D6. In general, he will attempt to kill one or two lone guardsmen every night (Hrothgar only has a dozen or so fighting men left, each equal to a 1st or 2nd level fighter). Grendel’s special hide makes him immune to weapons of less than +2 enchantment, reduces spell damage by half, and makes him immune to sleep, charm, and hold spells. Grendel takes normal damage from both unarmed attacks and fire (normal or magical).
Grendel’s Mother, version 1 (AC 3, HD 5+2**, HPS 32, MV 120, #AT 2, D1D8+2, Save F5 (special), ML 11, AL C). Grendel’s mother is simply a larger, fiercer version of Grendel, with the same surprise chance and immunities. She will only be encountered if Grendel is tracked back to his lair in the fens, or if Grendel is slain (in which case she will stalk Hrothgar’s halls for vengeance on those that destroyed her child). In her lair (an underwater grotto) lies the ruins of several adventurers that went searching for Grendel and an ancient two-handed sword +2 that is capable of piercing her hide or that of Grendel.
This version of Grendel and his mother are based on the bugbear (i.e. Norse troll) statistics for a sub-chief and chief; it is suitable for an adventuring party of levels 1-3. It is suggested that Grendel and his mother represent the last of a matriarchal troll clan, hunted to near-extinction by Hrothgar and his men; this is the reason Grendel seeks revenge against the warriors of Heorot Hall. How the creatures gained their special immunities is left up to the DM to decide (perhaps the ability is inherent in the ruling line of the clan, perhaps Grendel made a pact with a Northen witch). The DM can also remove the special ability if deemed too tough for the party.
Grendel, version 2 (AC 3, HD 11****, HPS 66, MV 120, #AT 2 Claws, 1 Bite, D 1D10+2/1D10+2/2D6, Save D10, ML 10, AL C). Grendel bears an enchantment that makes him invulnerable to all weapons made by man (including magical weapons) as well as sleep, charm, and hold spells. He takes half damage from other spells or normal fire, but takes normal damage from unarmed attacks. He always gains surprise on a 1-5 on a D6…he is practically invisible until he strikes. He is large, scaly, and has savage claws and teeth…if he kills a warrior is 80% likely to simply abscond with the body to devour at his leisure.
Gendel’s Mother, version 2 (AC 0, HD 14*****, HPS 84, MV 120, # AT 2 Claws or special, D 1D10+3/1D10+3, Save D12, ML 11, AL C). Grendel’s mother is a material demon that is immune to mortal-manufactured weapons (including magical weapons), as well as fire (normal or magical), sleep, charm, and hold spells. She takes only half damage from other spells, and has the ability to polymorph self, turn invisible, charm person, or dispel magic each 1/day. In her underwater lair there is a huge two-handed sword (twice normal encumbrance), forged for the titans by some long-forgotten god; it requires a Strength of 18, gauntlets of ogre power, or girdle of giant strength to wield but is the equivalent of a +3 weapon and has the ability to harm both Grendel and his mother.
In this version of Grendel is the illegitimate child of Hrothgar himself, who was seduced by the demoness. The monster inflicts suffering on Hrothgar for failure to acknowledge him as his child and heir (something that would cause the Lord's people to rise up and cast him down). Grendel stalks Heorot Hall at the behest of his mother, a wicked creature that delights in causing mischief and misery and whom plots to cause the insanity of Hrothgar and the fall of his dominion for pure spite. PCs should be at least Name level and bring their “A game” to face-off against this version of the scourge.