Indomitable fire giants. A giant, man-shaped demon with eyes like burning coals, a fiery mane, and a many-thronged whip of fire. Balrogs are shrouded in fire and menace.
- Think of a Balrog as an environmental threat rather than a foe to be directly confronted. Heroes should fear even the rumour of one.
- If your players are strong or crazy enough to fight one, you should position this encounter as the climax (room 4 in the 5 room dungeon framework).
- The Balrog will use its whip to pull players towards it, engulfing them in flame. It does not fear casters.
- The archmage was asked to aid a remote kingdom with a mysterious threat. He never returned from the journey.
- There is a powerful magical artifact lost in a sprawling underground kingdom. Explorers have always failed to find it. A renowned dwarven explorer claims he has found an entrance to a lower level.
- A well-known mountain, its scenic views an attraction for many travellers, is suddenly threatening. It is behaving like an active volcano.
"You cannot pass!"
The grey wizard (who would later become the white wizard) screamed defiance. Standing over a bottomless chasm on a narrow bridge, he held his arms wide and placed himself between his retreating allies and a "Demon of Might". Darkness shrouded the man-shaped giant. Its eyes were burning coals, its nostrils breathed sulfurous flames, and a mane of fire tumbled down its muscular back. The very presence of the demon bent the world around it. The ancient mountain floor quaked beneath its feet.
The giant lashed out with its many-thronged whip of fire but still the wizard held his ground. None had ever faced the Balrog and lived. And so it went for the wizard. He made the ultimate sacrifice and, in doing so, saved the lives of his companions.
Battle on the Rainbow Bridge
The epic battle between Gandalf the Grey and the Balrog is an echo of an older conflict between Surtr, the lord of Muspelheim, and Freyr, a god of the sun and rain. Both battles begin with the blast of a horn – the horns of Boromir and Heimdall respectively. Gandalf's battle takes place on the bridge of Khazad-dûm while Freyr's takes place on the Bifrost which was the rainbow bridge connecting Asgard to Middle-Earth. Both battles end with the bridge collapsing and the combatants falling into an abyss. In the end, Gandalf dies but is born again. In the older tale, the flames of Surtr's sword engulf the earth. A new world is born from the ashes, setting the stage for the surviving gods to meet again.
It is usually assumed that the Balrogs who inhabit Middle-Earth were born in the fires of its original dark enemy Morgoth. But when we hear the tale of Gandalf, and learn of the intimidating power of the Balrogs, we must consider the possibility that they are direct descendents of the ancient fire giants who destroyed the world at Ragnarök.
Written by Giles Ravensong.