Dungeon Fantasy Nordlond #1: “Bait and Switch”

by mshrm

Not dead yet!

… though you couldn’t tell it from the lack of new content around here. For the entire summer, my family has been moving from our long-time home to a new place on the far side of town. This has taken up just about every waking moment and all the spare energy, leaving next to none for gaming.

But now all that’s changed! (Great timing, too; I think one more weekend of unpacking boxes and moving furniture would have killed me…) We’re all moved, nearly all unpacked, and able to have folks over. Of course, the first time we entertain has to be a game day!

When last we spoke, the genre was Steampunk Monster Hunters. That had been working out quite well, but we had lost our dramatic momentum over the long break. We kicked around the idea of putting some kind of closure on the game, but in the end, we decided not to bother. As it happened, one passing mention of maybe running Dungeon Fantasy again led to such a grassroots surge of enthusiasm that we decided just to jump ship and return to the dungeon.

Furthermore, just to add to the excitement, we’ve added a new player. One of the kids has a fierce interest in role-playing games and is finally old enough to join the big kids’ table, so he’s come to play with the grown-ups. The group dubbed him “the Young Lion” and welcomed him in.

Spoiler Warning: Last time we played Dungeon Fantasy, inspired by others, I sent them into a mega-dungeon. That was fun, but I feel it’s good to change things up and keep them fresh. This time, I’m aiming for something with more wilderness adventure, with maybe some adventures in towns-that-aren’t-Town. My plan is to leverage The Citadel at Norðvorn and Dungeon Fantasy: Hall of Judgment later on, but for the first session, I’m running I Smell A Rat, the sample adventure that came with the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. So, if you don’t want to accidentally run into any spoilers for any of those, you should probably skip this synopsis.

Technical Notes

In hopes of keeping things simple, I started off trying to stick to the rules from the big DFRPG boxed set. That didn’t last long. I couldn’t herd those cats. At least I managed to keep them restricted to races that won’t get kicked out of town for being monsters.

That’s how we ended up playing a mash-up of the boxed set rules with (mostly) templates from the Dungeon Fantasy PDFs.

I did manage to make one change that I had hoped to make for a long time: we’re using the weapons and armor from GURPS Low-Tech. My understanding is that DFRPG basically does the same. On average, this seems to have increased the price of armor across the board, and made leather armor heavier. This made a noticeable difference to the players. I suspect it might take longer for folks to upgrade to magic armor in this campaign, compared to the last, because first they’ll go through a couple of rounds of upgrading from leather to mail to expensive hand-tailored armor suits.

Who’s Who

  • A skinny Half-elf with an aggressive hairstyle, Blixa lost both his parents to violence at a young age, and has been mute ever since. Raised by wandering merchants, his core of smoldering rage and experience travelling the wilds make him a Barbarian. He has been travelling with a dwarf for some time, and now they’ve both joined a larger party.
  • Esen is a young, skinny Human Mentalist; as such, no one knows what to make of him. He wears a silver crown and shaves his head completely bald, but the really striking thing about his appearance is the tattoo of a third eye he has, directly in the middle of his forehead. If you hang around with him long enough, you start to get the impression that it moves…
  • The Great and Mysterious Blaadao Bla’Dae is an Elf Wizard who doesn’t follow any of the usual pantheon of gods, instead worshipping some sort of free-floating cloud of magical energy in outer space. He maintains Levitation at all times, only allowing his feet to touch the earth when he gets out of bed in the morning. He has presumably travelled from the elf-lands with…
  • The party’s healer is Ilmarë “Ray” Kem, an Elf Cleric of the love goddess. She treats her patron goddess more as a close personal friend than as a cosmic being to be worshipped and cowered at.
  • The Kid looks like an amazingly attractive elf, but is actually a Nymph Bard. The rumor is that he’s the black sheep of a noble family from a far-off land, travelling the world. The Kid has hair that looks like smoke. The Kid wears only the finest clothes, all in shades of purple. The Kid always speaks of The Kid in the third person.
  • As is no surprise from the name, Senderbloke Qwerthunderchugg the Naescott is a Dwarf. Perhaps less obvious, he is a Holy Warrior. He gets along well enough with non-dwarves, but he has a bit of trouble telling the different taller races apart. As he remarked, “You all look like a bunch of belly buttons to me…” He often partners with Blixa, having worked together before joining the party.
  • The man known only as Slingshot is a Human Scout. Despite his nickname, he is an archer. His background is a mystery, but from his coarse appearance and unwillingness to ever turn his back on anyone, including friends, he has clearly seen some stuff.

What Happened

All our heroes met on the boat to Ice Mountain, a thriving trade town in the far north of the Nordlonds, themselves far too the north of the more civilized lands. All having their own reasons for making the trip, they arrived in the summer, when seasonal traders and travelling merchants greatly increase the population of the town. Thanks to this seasonal trade, there was no room at the inn. Or the other inn. Or the next several inns.

Losing patience with this situation, The Kid turned to the nearest person in the common room of the latest inn and asked them if they were interested in some company. They agreed that they were, and the two headed upstairs. Sadly, that’s where it turned out that they had both been assuming that the other had a room, when actually, neither one did. The Kid turned without a word and left the random person standing on the first landing of the stairs.

At the foot of the stairs, The Kid was approached by a well-dressed businesswoman, who introduced herself as Lee. She claimed to be one of the younger generation of a wealthy family who operated a series of inns, who might be able to provide shelter to a group of adventurers, if that group were to be willing to perform a small job for her.

Intrigued, The Kid brought the offer back to the rest of the party, who agreed that this sounded like the best chance of sleeping indoors tonight. As a group, they returned to Lee, who agreed to tell them more as they walked up the street to one of her family’s establishments.

This establishment, she explained, had been managed for some time by her uncle Merle, until a short time ago, when he ceased communications. Lee had been dispatched to check on the business, finding it empty. In the cellar, she found a barred door, where she was able to hear disturbing scratching noises that put her in the mind of giant rats. Clearly, the inn cannot operate with a cellar full of giant rats, so she had come looking for some brave, strong adventurers to clear them all out. In exchange, she offered a weeks’ free room and board, plus a bounty. She named a price that she would pay for each rat head. The Kid immediately talked her into increasing that price.

The rewards seemed to suit the risks, so the party agreed to Lee’s terms. At her suggestion, they agreed to leave their extra gear in the kitchens with her while she let them through the cellar door and barred it behind them. Knock shave-and-a-haircut, she said, and she would lift the bar to let them back out. This, too, was agreeable, though they didn’t have much gear to leave.

Before starting on their adventure, they made preparations. Expecting subterranean darkness, Ray cast a spell on an arrow to make it glow with bright light, while Blaadao filled his hand with a ball of lightning. The Kid played a tune to raise their morale for battle, enchanting them all with foolhardy bravery.

When Lee raised the bar and threw open the door, the party stepped through to find themselves on a narrow wooden staircase in a huge, dark room. Esen used his telekinetic powers to fly the glowing arrow around the room like a swimming fish.

“Is that movement?” Ray asked, peering down into the cellar.

“It is,” Slingshot agreed, drawing an arrow.

With their ambush spoiled, giant spiders rushed out of the shadows and charged the stair! Luckily, the party was well-equipped with ranged weapons. Slingshot, with his longbow, and The Kid, with a bow-harp, cut down several of the spiders before they could even approach the stairs, but there were too many to stop them all.

Blixa and Sender hustled down to the foot of the stairs. Sender leapt over the rickety rail to the cellar floor to engage two spiders with his great axe. It was then that he made a terrible discovery. “My feet are stuck!” he called to the others. “Beware webs!”

Despite the warning, the headstrong Blixa charged off the stairs to aid his dwarven friend. Amazingly, he was able to tear his feet free from the sticky webs with his wiry strength and make it several yards across the cellar floor… but in the end, he, too, stood rooted in place.

Meanwhile, one of the spiders managed to scramble to the top of the stairs, where it tried to bite Slingshot. Esen had been sniping at distant spiders with his psychokinetic lash without coming to anyone’s particular notice, but it couldn’t be overlooked when he glared at the spider and knocked it off the scout with the power of his mind. That gave Slingshot the space he needed, and finished the beast off.

On the cellar floor, the entangled warriors defended themselves against the last of the spiders. In the end, unable to take a step to assist his partner, Sender was forced to throw his great axe in a desperate gamble that paid off. Shortly, our heroes held the cellar.

Blaadao levitated over to the stuck heroes and used magical flame to burn the webs off their feet. Luckily, everybody remembered their boots, so this didn’t require burning them. Once free, Sender lit a torch, and the two started working their way around the cellar, clearing webs. It didn’t take long before they started finding the dried, dessicated corpses of giant rats. As the two cleared webs, the others gathered the dead rats and dead spiders into two piles. Despite searching, nothing else of interest was found.

Nothing, that is, aside from a large pile of broken barrels, loose dirt, and debris in the far corner of the cellar. When the others remarked on this, Sender snorted. “Just like you talls, don’t know nothin’ about mining. That’s not a pile of dirt, that’s a blocked passage.”

Curious, the party set to work. Blixa and Sender, grumbling at the lack of decent tools, went to work clearing the pile of dirt, while the others rested and had a light snack. Work was well underway when sharp-eyed Slingshot noticed dirt falling from above the workers. He shouted a warning and grabbed his bow, as two huge spiders jumped from concealment!

The two warriors feverishly defended themselves, dodging bites while the others scrambled to their feet. Blaadao unleashed the full-power lightning bolt that he had been carrying all this time, destroying one of the spiders. The other went down under a combination of arrows and psychokinetic force. Big jump-scare, short battle.

The two went back to work and eventually cleared the tunnel enough to allow passage. It was a narrow, rough piece of construction, with splintered wood holding up damp earth walls. With Esen telekinetically flying the enchanted light arrow in front of them, they walked single-file through the narrow passage.

They found themselves standing in a hole in the wall of the city sewers. The sewers themselves ran in a straight line, left to right, carrying a knee-deep stream of sewage, but across the foul passage, they could see a few steps leading up out of the stream to a door, where a passage sloped down. They noticed a strange, greenish glow coming from further up that passage. The Kid had everyone hold their breath and be quiet while he listened, and would swear he detected the sound of giant scales on dry stone coming from further up the passage.

Curious, the party crossed the sewer, one by one, without anyone getting wet. Blaadao and Esen levitated, while the others took running leaps with varying degrees of grace.

It turned out that the green glow was from the Evil Runes carved on all the walls of the passage. Blaadao examined the runes from a distance, declaring that they would curse anyone crossing the passage or touching the runes, aside from those who had sold their souls to The Devil, but the curse could be resisted by those of strong constitution.

That was enough for Sender: he took off running down the passage at top speed, arriving at the far side unscathed (after making a HT roll). There, he found a door, but he turned to see how the others did.

Esen tried to take an analytical approach, poking one of the runes with his staff, held at arm’s length. This wasn’t enough distance to avoid the runes’ curse, so he was forced to make a HT roll, but succeeded. In hopes that this would give him some period of immunity, he tore off at a run to join the dwarf. It didn’t; he made another HT roll and again survived.

Blixa and The Kid also took the risk and made their HT rolls successfully, but the Slingshot wasn’t so lucky. When he failed his roll, he was struck by hellish heat and demonic thirst, taking fearsome injury.

At that, Blaadao and Ray hesitated, but by then, Sender had stopped paying close attention to events in the rear. Thinking that everyone had finally joined him, he threw open the door!

Inside, a six-armed demon with a snake tail lifted six deadly scimitars in challenge.

Immediately, the two warriors charged, Sender with a battle cry and Blixa in uncanny silence. The demon engaged them on the way, splitting its supernaturally-fast attacks between the two. Both fell away badly bloodied, but having little choice, pressed the attack. The demon parried both their attacks, but had two swords break in the process.

Slingshot fired his bow, putting arrows into both the demon’s eyes. Then, from the far side of the passage and through the open door, Blaadao and Ray unleashed their held attacks, another full-power lightning bolt and a similarly full-power sunbolt of holy light.

This huge amount of damage was enough to give the demon pause and shift the tide of battle. Quickly, everyone piled on and reduced the monster to hamburger. When the deed was done, the two lagging elves ran (or in Blaadao’s case, floated) through the runed tunnel, both resisting the evil runes’ curse.

Once they had a moment to look around, the party saw that the main piece of furniture in the room was an altar, obviously evil. A tapestry of hellish scenes dominated one wall, while the other held a doorway covered with a curtain. Finally, they found a hole blasted in the wall behind the altar.

Evil altars demand cleansing, so that’s what the group did. Ray led the ceremony with backup from Sender, while The Kid played religious music on his bow-harp. At the climax of the ceremony, after three hours (!) of prayers and chanting, Ray gave Blixa the signal. The half-elf barbarian struck the altar a mighty blow with his oversized maul, shattering it and breaking its infernal influence.

Esen spotted something in the debris and dove to grab it, finding that it was a large, wicked-looking dagger, clearly of ceremonial importance. “Whoa,” Blaadao said, remembering his training in disposing of dangerous magical wastes, “we better wrap that up for safety.” He pulled the tapestry off the wall…

… revealing a nook lined with a dozen zombies!

With a groan, the zombie horde stepped forward as one, raising their hands threateningly.

Sender stepped up into the entrance to the nook and turned undead.

With the exit blocked, the zombies were held at bay. While they moaned and threatened, the party pondered what to do with them, while Sender held his ground and his faith. In the end, Ray called upon her own faith, using a prayer to injure the zombies and force them to flee in fear. Still trapped, they did even more damage to each other in their frenzy to escape. After several applications of the spell, the last ragged zombie fell.

It was at this point, roughly eight hours into the delve, when it occurred to The Kid to ask, “Wait a minute, we’re on a mission to clear a cellar of rats. We’ve got a big pile of dead rats back in a cleared cellar. What are we doing way out here on the far side of the sewers, fighting demons and zombies and stuff?”

No one had a really good answer, but having come so far, they figured they might as well make camp and take a rest before their next move.

Experience

The standard award for each member of the group was 6 points.

Cool Point: The Great and Mysterious Blaadao Bla’Dae, for resoundingly appropriate theme music, played on a phone at a climactic moment

Booby Point: Senderbloke Qwerthunderchugg, the Naescott, for charging a full three feet into battle before being brought to a humiliating stop by unnoticed spider webs.

 

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