Dungeon Fantasy Nordlond #4: “Distractions”

by mshrm

We took a break for the holidays and associated upheavals, but with the new year, the campaign is back in action!

Spoiler Warning: In this session, the party really got going on Hall of Judgement, the first adventure set in Nordlond, Gaming Ballistic‘s Norse-themed campaign setting.

The players reacted positively to the idea of playing a prepared adventure. As one of them observed, published adventures tend to give out more treasure than I do, though I tend to give out stranger…

We had one player missing, due to Real Life. We declared that every scene started with Slingshot’s stunt double walking off into the distance, looking for a bush of convenience, so he missed all the fun.

Esen improved his levitation to the point of effortlessness: just a moment of concentration and he’s floating in the air for as long as he maintains consciousness. In short, he bought off the Fatigue cost on his power. Technically, this probably violates the rules, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ the player really wanted it, and at the end of the day, it’s just levitation.

Blaadao invested in an Ally, a clerical Initiate and fellow follower of the Dream, a religious concept from Blaadao’s homeland that flirts with heresy. Flavio grew up in Nordlond, but his parents moved there from far away and raised him in the old homeland’s religion. He’s a bit of an amiable doofus, but he’s likable and knows how to handle horses. The long-term plan is for Flavio to be the middle management for the cult of the Dream that Blaadao’s going to set up.

Thanks to an advance copy of Nordlondr Folk, Senderbloke has been retconned as a dvergr, rather than a dwarf. He always was a dvergr. He never had a beard. The original actor was replaced and the character rewritten after the pilot. With the redistribution of points, Sender is no longer a greedy, grasping miser. Now, he’s a bit of a boy scout: honest, truthful, loyal, clean, and ready to lay down his life for the cause.

Who’s Who

PCs

  • Blixa, Half-elf Barbarian. Mute blender of doom, one-man wall.
  • Esen, Human Mentalist. Seeker of forbidden knowledge, psychic kite.
  • The Great and Mysterious Blaadao Bla’Dae, (Really) High Elf Wizard. Suspicious wizard, budding cult leader.
  • Ilmarë “Ray” Kem, Elf Cleric. Cleanser of curses, seer of signs.
  • The Kid, Nymph Bard. Creature of glamour, diplomat with death.
  • Senderbloke Qwerthunderchugg the Naescott, Dvergr Holy Warrior. Pledged to the God of Law, swears he will never take you for granite
  • Slingshot, Human Scout. Scruffy bushwhacker, AFK with real life stuff.

Hirelings and Henchmen

  • Flavio, Human Clerical Initiate. Comes with his own pipe and pouch.

What Happened

All quests start with a shopping trip. This one was no exception. The party gathered their supplies and loaded their wagon. The plan was to hitch their four ponies to the wagon and use it mainly to carry goods, with Flavio driving. Sender would walk, leading his donkey, which he named Fjord. (With side comments about the donkey being “built Fjord tough” and the like.) Blaadao and Esen, being untethered from the mundane earth, would tie themselves to the wagon and float along like sentient kites, as they contemplated the mystic nature of the oneness of the what. The others would ride or walk by turns.

While The Kid handled the purchase of supplies, including a fine full-length mink coat for himself, the others immersed themselves in research and sharing what they know. They learned that in the old days, folks would routinely go quest to gain wisdom at the Hall of Judgement. The usual practice was to start off from the fortified village of Logiheimli, a site dedicated to the worship of the God of Law, where they would be given holy relics to show them the way to the Hall. In the mountains, on the journey and at the Hall itself, pilgrims would face certain unnamed and unnumbered challenges before being allowed to enter.

Of course, that was hundreds of years ago. Long ago, the Hall was lost, and communication with Logiheimli ended. The relic that Tyrthegn gave them was the last known tiwstakn, one of the holy artifacts used by those who quested for the Hall. It was a metal-capped rod of ash wood, carved with runes dedicating it to the Law God. The party murmured over it, realizing that the World Tree is an ash; with the tiwstakn coming from the hands of the gods, it was entirely possible that this was a branch of the tree that held the Nine Worlds together!

The morning of their planned departure was warm, but not uncomfortably so. The party gathered at their tavern of choice for breakfast and a final drink, having sunk nearly the entire party fund and much of their own personal wealth into the venture. Tyrthegn showed up and, counting out one thin penny at a time from his slack purse, bought them all a round. Blixa, still something of a local hero from his bull-wrestling success, took his slate to the barkeep and arranged for a round of shots – fruit juice for Blixa and the young Esen, but “something special” for the others. It turned out, it was “special” enough to knock Ray completely out. They had to carry her out and dump her into the wagon, snoring, when it was time to go.

As they prepared to set off, a young page ran up to Blixa, carrying a full stein, saying that they couldn’t see him leave without offering him a stirrup cup. Blixa accepted graciously, silently toasting the small crowd that had poured from the tavern to see them off.

The high of a hero’s send-off didn’t last long, though. Shortly after they got out on the road, the rain started, and continued throughout the day. Flavio’s faith kept himself and the wagon mostly dry, but everyone on foot became sodden. There was a certain amount of jockeying for a seat on the wagon.

Despite the rain, they made excellent time, thanks to the party’s collective hiking skills and good navigation. After a long, tiring day, they were starting to keep an eye out for a good camping spot, when Ray noticed a pair of ravens giving her the eye from a nearby tree branch. The ravens gave her a meaningful look, indicated a direction, then flew away.

“Wow, that sure looked like an omen,” she said, telling the party what she had seen. They agreed, this was a message worth heeding. The abandoned the easy path to follow the much rougher route indicated by the birds. After pushing through rough brush and struggling with rough terrain, they came over a crest and found themselves looking down on an old, obviously abandoned, but apparently sound, sod house built in to the side of a hill.

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Bigger than this, but not nearly so nice

Happy for the chance at a solid roof over their head, they investigated. The place appeared to be an abandoned farm. In the overgrown garden, Flavio found onions and potatoes. The hut’s door lacked an effective latch, but inside they found a clean hearth, a few pieces of furniture, and a stable area for their animals. They drew the wagon around the side of the hut, out of sight, and settled in for the night. After a dinner of wild vegetable stew and the obligatory round of wrangling over who would take which watch, the party hit the hay.

It was, inevitably, the mute Blixa’s shift when something came up. In the distance, he saw a small war-band coming over the hill and heading in their direction. Seeking to sound the alarm, he turned to his nearest comrade, who turned out to be The Kid, snoozing in a rocking chair next to the small fire. Blixa smacked him hard across the face, hard enough to do damage, but The Kid kept his cool and didn’t make a sound. Blixa responded to his glare by holding up his slate: “Someone coming”.

The Kid’s keen elf eyes made out more details as the band approached. They were skeletal, dressed in rags, clearly undead. In parody of life, one flew a pennant with the Law God’s symbol on the end of its spear. Blixa and The Kid quietly woke the others. Everyone armed themselves and watched through the window and the slightly-open door.

The undead war band proceeded down the hill for some way until the leader raised a fist to call a halt. (“They know Gestures!” the players exclaimed.) The leader scanned the horizon, then circled his hand in the air. The band turned and started back up the hill, heading away from the hut.

Confused and intrigued, the party decided to follow. Blaadao enchanted Blixa with invisibility and the silent barbarian moved out, using stealth and his tracking skills to keep close on the tail of the undead war band. He would blaze a trail that the others would follow, keeping their distance to reduce the chances of being discovered.

Leaving Flavio to guard the hut and the majority of their heavy gear, the party set out on foot. The rain from the previous day continued, but the temperature had gone up steeply. It was going to be blisteringly hot day. In fact, it was so hot and humid that Blaadao and Esen began to wilt in the sauna-like atmosphere.

After nearly an hour of walking, they came within sight of an old, ruined village, surrounded with a wide ditch and an earthen wall. The undead warriors appeared to be making for one of the gates in the ruined wall.

As they watched, the party began to realize that their war band wasn’t the only one moving across the pre-dawn landscape. One after another, they came to see small groups in all directions… and one large group, coming from off to the right. All were making for the ruined village. Several had ragged tabards or other heraldry proclaiming their allegiance, in life, to the Law God.

The party fell back to a place of concealment, watching the horde of undead and quietly discussing their next move.

Esen wondered if these undead might have a connection to his dagger and the demon-worshiping cult from their last adventure, but could see no signs of the telltale dagger wounds those creatures had displayed.

Ray and Sender, motivated by religion, argued that they couldn’t pass this place by.

Blaadao pointed out that they were vastly outnumbered, two of their number were nearing heatstroke and unable to use their powers to their full effectiveness, and ultimately, this place was not the Hall of Judgement, and therefore it was just a “side quest” that would distract them from their main mission and steal away precious time.

Sender responded by speculating that this ruined village might well be the long-lost Logiheimli, where quests like theirs were traditionally supposed to begin, and declaring that there was no elfàrd argument that could dissuade him from marching down into that village and trying to cleanse it. The others weren’t quite as adamant about it, but broadly agreed with the sentiment.

As they watched, the various groups of undead entered the wall, just as the first light of dawn came over the horizon. The dawn also brought the light of understanding: perhaps the undead roamed at night and sought shelter from the clean light of day! That settled it; they had the advantage of daylight and the whole day to work with, so now was their time to investigate.

With the vote going against him, Blaadao bent to the inevitable and threw in with the party’s plan. He used his magic to create a floating eye and sent it down into the ruins. Staring into the middle distance, he described what he saw: “Stone columns, maybe an old barn, with scattered bones… longhouses, collapsed and in ruin… an old temple, dedicated to the God of Law, still standing but badly damaged… an outbuilding, maybe a smithy? with a stone well just inside…”

Thinking that perhaps they might find relief from the heat in the well, the party marched through the north gate into the ruined town and turned to the right, towards the suspected smithy. When they passed through the gate, Ray and Blaadao felt similar uncanny sensations. Inside the town, both mana and sanctity were low. This was cursed ground.

As they walked, they came to realize that they were being watched. A gang of at least a dozen, probably more, skeletons were standing under the roof of a partially-collapsed longhouse, just inside the shade, away from the sun’s light.

The party happily noticed this proof that the undead were sun-fearing, confirming their advantage. As they did, though, a rain cloud crossed the sun, and the skeletons surged forward! Sender hurriedly presented his holy symbol and held the undead at bay for a moment, until the cloud passed and the sun came out again. Somewhat subdued, but still feeling they had the upper hand, the party continued on to their destination.

As suspected, it was a smithy. The well was nearly dried up, with only ankle-deep water in the bottom, but it was cooler thirty feet below the surface. Blaadao climbed down and magically created more water, then relaxed in the cool. Esen joined him shortly after.

The others searched the smithy, quickly discovering a dvergr skeleton with a bashed-in skull and a hammer fallen near its hand. Sender respectfully performed the appropriate rituals to put the smith’s spirit at rest… and the spirit manifested in front of him to thank him in person!

The party asked for the dvergr’s story, and he was happy to oblige. He explained how the demon cultists had come in disguise, hundreds of years before, pretending to be questing for the Hall, only to rise in the night and kill their hosts in defiance of all rules of hospitality. The warden of the fort and the high priestess had retreated into the barrows on the other side of the village. The people of Logiheimli, including the smith himself, died at the hands of the demon worshipers, who then cursed the village with three evil runes. Since that time, most of the dead had been forced to rise and walk the earth as the unquiet dead.

The party thanked the dvergr ghost and sent him on his way. Once the two down the well had recovered sufficiently, and everyone had their fill (and then some) of cool water, they pondered what to do next. Discussion brought up the subject of the temple of the Law God in the middle of town. Those of the party with insight into the ways of demons and demon worshipers speculated that one of the evil runes would likely be there, as the cultists would have been eager to desecrate a holy place.

Accordingly, the group moved to the temple, with Sender in the lead, presenting his holy symbol. They made it to the ruined temple without incident. There, they found that the building was badly damaged, but they could still make out the mural depicting the Law God with his hand in the mouth of the wolf. They didn’t see any runes, but they did see a stone stairway leading down into a basement.

In the basement, they hit the jackpot. While there were several items on exhibit, one object dominated the small space: a rune stone bearing an Evil Rune, glowing with the distinctive sick green glow of evil magic.

Ray and Sender set out to work together to perform an exorcism on the rune stone. As they prayed and chanted, the others started hearing the sound of footsteps from above, and formed up in a defensive posture.

And not a moment too soon: a gang of a dozen rotting ghouls burst in, scrambling down the stairs two abreast in a mad dash! They were met by Blixa, who wielded his maul with vigor and aggressiveness, caving in ghouls’ rib cages two at a swing. The Kid sniped with his bow-harp and used bard magic to sow dissension in the ghouls’ ranks, Esen squinted mightily and caused a ghoul or two to explode, while Blaadao tossed buffs, but in the end, Blixa held the line. The holier members of the party completed their ritual, destroying the rune. In its destruction, it released a wave of evil energy that finished off the last hopeless stragglers of the ghoul gang.

Taking a closer look around the room, now that the excitement of the moment was over, they discovered a large map of the area etched into stone. It revealed a secret shortcut through the mountains into the area of the Hall of Judgement, bearing west from Logiheimli, rather than north, as they had intended. It looked like this pass would cut quite a distance off their journey.

Now, where would the other two runes be? Consultations and calculations by the mystically inclined of the party pointed towards a location on the far side of town, likely the barrows that they had already heard about. After a short rest, the part formed up and headed out of town through the far gate, with Sender on guard to cow any attacking force of undead.

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Outside of town, they found a good-sized burial mound. There was a stone-framed doorway that had once held stout wooden doors, but now those doors lay inside the hall, torn from their hinges by some titanic force. The Kid fired an arrow, enchanted to glow, into the darkness, and they were able to see that the passage into the mound came to a crossroads, with passages leading left, right, and further into the mound. While the far end was sealed by a pair of heavy, unbroken doors, the two side passages seemed to show a hint of that same evil green glow.

On guard for anything, the party proceeded down the hall and took one of the side passages. They came to an area with a standing stone, clearly a sort of tombstone that belonged to the tomb, that had been desecrated. Its original runic inscription saying “Servants of Law” was obscured by harsh Evil Runes.

A more pressing matter, though, was the horde of skeletons wandering around in the chamber beyond the stone! Sender stepped up to plug the door with the strength of his faith, while Ray went to work on a solo exorcism, and the others kept watch behind. Shortly, Ray chanted the final words and wiped the runes away. Immediately, Blaadao felt the return of normal mana levels; they speculated that the town might have also been desecrated from a druidic standpoint, and the removal of the first rune might have lifted that particular curse.

As the undead villagers seemed to be content to stay in their chamber during the daylight hours, the party backed off without seeing any signs of pursuit. They proceeded down the other side hall, coming to a similar standing stone in front of a burial chamber. This stone read “Valiant”, and again bore an Evil Rune.

The party began to think they understood the organization of the place. The first wing had been villagers who lived in the fortified village, while this area was for those who died on the quest for the Hall. Clearly, those on the quest must have had stronger faith to protect them, for their corpses didn’t appear to be as restless as those of the villagers.

Nevertheless, there was no need to take a needless risk; Sender took up position, ready to turn undead, while Ray exorcised and the others guarded their rear. Again, Ray was able to overcome the powers of darkness and erase the Evil Runes. This time, she felt the return of normal sanctity levels. The gods were welcome in Logiheimli once more!

At this, there came three sharp raps from the far side of the heavy doors in the depths of the tomb. Startled, the party formed up and approached, expecting to open the doors to find some fearsome opponent.

Instead, when The Kid picked the lock and they opened the door, they found themselves facing six ghosts, all wearing the warlike garb of holy warriors dedicated to the God of Law, raising their swords in salute and lining a short corridor. At the end of the corridor, in the burial chamber itself, sat two more ghosts. These two were seated, and clearly the ghosts of the warden and the high priestess.

The party entered and bowed with great respect. There, they discussed matters with the two ghosts, who explained that when the demon worshipers came one that night hundreds of years ago, they had barricaded themselves in the tomb and prayed for help from the gods. They had died, but the gods had allowed their spirits to linger and pass on wisdom to those who cleansed the holy site of Logiheimli.

They explained that whatever had happened at the Hall of Judgement, it had closed the place off from scrying. Clearly, the demon worshipers’ plot had many layers. Furthermore, the high priestess warned, there were other threats to the Hall than just the cultists; the faerie would no doubt be interested in taking the power of the Hall for themselves.

The party agreed that they were questing to re-open the Hall, and asked if there were any further help that the ghosts might be able to offer?

The warden agreed, they could give some further assistance. First, the high priestess gave them the meistaratakn, a holy relic that can be used to locate tiwstakn. The one that they help was not the last. The was another. It lay far to the north. No doubt, they would be able to use its location to lead them to the Hall.

Second, the warden declared that each member of the party would be allowed to take one object from the burial chamber. The six ghosts of his honor guard didn’t seem to much care for this idea, but didn’t protest aloud. When asked which objects they would like to take, Blaadao asked if he could have the warden’s sword… which turned out to be Law Giver, the legendary blade that Tyrthegn had mentioned! As a fellow follower of the God of Law, Sender chose one of the warrior’s holy symbols. The others took the hauberks from the honor guards’ bodies, calculating that they would not only be good protective gear, but they would also fetch an excellent price at the end of the quest.

No longer concerned about being caught by undead patrols, the party returned to the abandoned farm where Flavio greeted them with soup… while quietly slipping Blaadao some locally harvested herbs that he had located while they were gone.

Experience

The standard award for each member of the group was 7 points.

Cool Point: Blixa, for holding the line in the temple basement

Booby Point: Blaadao, for firmly declaring the entire thing was a side quest and a distraction

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