Dungeon Fantasy Nordlond #6: “Just Bearly”

by mshrm

The group was quite a bit smaller this time around. We’re down three players from last time, with one long-term player withdrawing for personal reasons, one temporary sit-in who is no longer sitting in, and one player concentrating on homework.

Spoiler Warning: We’re working through the last bit of the second act of Hall of Judgement, the first adventure set in Nordlond, Gaming Ballistic‘s Norse-themed campaign setting. Here be spoilers! (And also stuff I’ve tweaked for my game, as well as several outright mistakes.)

This session found our heroes finishing up the last leg of the journey into the mountains and finally coming into the vicinity of the Hall, while finally coming face-to-face with a legendary adversary.

Who’s Who

PCs

  • Blixa, Half-elf Barbarian. Impromptu lumberjack.
  • Esen, Human Mentalist. AFK with the skull-fungus.
  • The Great and Mysterious Blaadao Bla’Dae, High Elf Wizard. Cult leader.
  • Ilmarë “Ray” Kem, Elf Cleric. Finder of the way.
  • The Kid, Nymph Bard. Lover, not a fighter.
  • Slingshot, Human Scout. One shot, one kill.

Hirelings and Henchmen

  • Flavio, Human Clerical Initiate. Keeper of the ponies.
  • Halfdan, Human Cultist. Loud and proud believer in the Dream since yesterday.

What Happened

The party officially lost its holy warrior, as Sender returned to Logiheimli to help rebuild the outpost. Esen came down with a scorching case of the skull-fungus, so he declared he would follow the ways of his people and retire to a nearby cave to practice solitary mediation until he overcame the infection. Bob the outlaw just wandered off. After all these losses, the party also added a member, as Blaadao picked up a new follower and convert to the Dream: Halfdan the Gullible, a strapping young lad with a powerful singing voice.

Knowing that the path ahead would be treacherous, the party loaded up the ponies while leaving the wagon behind with their bandit friends. Halfdan, being the only party member with hands-on experience in the Frostharrow, gave advice; in particular, he advised Blaadao to abandon his nice, private, one-person tent, because those who sleep alone in the Frostharrow tend to freeze to death in the night.

Their first day hiking into the mountains was cool and wet, with persistent rain that slowed their progress. Up until now, they had been able to supplement their rations by foraging, but in these mountains, the pickings were slim. Blixa was able to catch some fish as they traveled, but nothing else edible was found.

In the afternoon, Slingshot noticed a flock of birds fleeing a disturbance from up ahead, as well as several smaller clues, and deduced that someone, or something, might be laying an ambush up ahead. He quietly mentioned this to the group. They feigned ignorance of the threat ahead, while slowing their steps and preparing for battle. The spellcasters buffed the others and readied missile spells. Then Blaadao instructed his followers to hang back with the pack animals while the main strength of the party went ahead to spring the trap. Flavio responded with a curt nod, realizing the need for stealth, but Halfdan only has an outdoor voice. “Yes, sir!” he responded. “We’ll keep a good hold on them ponies!”

For a moment, everyone froze, then a voice came from in front of them. “Halfdan?” it asked, “is that you?”

A couple of bandits came out of concealment from ahead on the path. The Kid recognized the crude signs that marked them as members of the band of outlaws that the party had only just left, the band of outlaws that Halfdan had been recruited from. He introduced the rest of the party and The Kid smoothed things over with innate charm. Since everybody was friends now, they all retired to the bandit’s crude shelter nearby. The Kid played some songs, and everyone shared dinner and mead. With the sun going down, everyone agreed to spend the night there.

The rain stopped during the night, but the next day was quite cold. Our heroes finally put on the heavy clothes and fur coats they had been hauling all this way and trudged on. Around mid-morning, though, bad weather moved in. The temperature plummeted to around twenty below zero, and a heavy snow started to fall. While none of the main heroes had any particular knowledge of mountain survival, several of them are experienced in wilderness lore, and it was remarked that this was unusual. Halfdan confirmed that the weather in the Frostharrow isn’t entirely natural.

Natural or not, the situation became dire. While their furs had been sufficient for the merely cold weather, they weren’t enough for these bone-chilling conditions. Most of the party began to suffer from the cold. The snow reduced visibility and slowed them to a crawl. Soon they were wading through knee-deep snow. Shortly thereafter, drifts came up to their hips.

Clearly, this course of action was leading to new careers as adventurer-cicles. They needed shelter and fire. Unfortunately, no obvious shelter offered itself. Reasoning that any large animals native to the area must seek shelter in such conditions, Slingshot cast about for a trail. Finding the trail of some large beast, he led the party a short distance higher into the mountains, following it. As they went, they gathered clues as to what they were following: first, a huge, clawed, three-toed footprint, then a tuft of coarse hair caught on a sharp outcropping of rock at above head height.

Whatever they were following, it was big. Our heroes pondered. Using his slate, Blixa pointed out that these mountains were known for their many forms of giant. Ray agreed, saying she thought the hair looked like that of a thurs, a sort of low fae troll, which she described: huge, tough, rock-throwing, man-eating. The party paused. This didn’t sound like such a good idea anymore. Evicting a bear from its cave was one thing, hunting large, intelligent humanoids on their home turf was another.

In desperation, Blaadao unrolled the old map of the area that Tyrthegn had given them back in Isfjall at the beginning of the quest. Locating a nearby valley that seemed to offer some shelter from the wind, he led them down from the heights. As quickly as possible, they found a spot near some large pines where they could pitch their tents with some protection from the wind and snow, gathered firewood, and built a large bonfire.

Just as the first light was coming into the sky the next morning, the party awoke, hearing the sound of huge legs pushing through deep snow. They peeked from their tents. The first thing they realized was that the snow was piled five feet high around them. The second was that they were under attack: three thurs were wading through the hip-deep (for them) snow, rapidly coming towards the campsite with rocks in their hands and giant clubs hanging from their belts!

IMG_1583

Incoming!

Our heroes would have liked to charge from the tent and engage the thurs at closer range. Blixa is a melee-only barbarian, and the spellcasters couldn’t absorb the range penalties involved. Sadly, though, they were badly hampered by the neck-deep snow. (In Ray’s case, more like forehead-deep.) Instead, they followed a two-pronged strategy.

First, Slingshot set up a withering hail of arrows, first peeking from the tent, then later stepping into the relatively clear area around the bonfire. Second, the casters buffed Blixa; in particular, the silent barbarian was given protection against missiles. Blixa then stepped to the edge of the campsite, offering rude gestures and making himself an irresistible target.

The ploy worked, with the giant monsters throwing their rocks uselessly at Blixa, leaving Slingshot free to deliver damage. (By pure chance, one miss nearly took off Blaadao’s head, but he was nimble enough to get out of its way.) He crippled two of the thurs’ legs, bringing them loudly to the ground. The last turned to flee, only for the pragmatic scout to shoot it in the back. All three thurs were quickly put down.

With a start like that, the rest of the day was comparatively relaxing. The storm had passed in the night, and temperatures were once again bracing rather than lethal. The snow hindered them quite a lot in the morning, but melted through the day. As a result, they crossed many streams and saw several waterfalls. They found a comfortable campsite in the shelter of some scraggly pines.

The next day, Ray awoke to the sound of chirping birds. She sat up, stretched, and saw that were Blixa had been sprawled the night before, there was now a brown bear. Oddly, the sides of its head were shaved, the same way Blixa wears his hair.

“Blixa’s been turned into a bear!” she screamed, awakening the rest of the party (including Blixa himself) as she scrambled from the tent.

Comedic hijinks ensued. Once mute, Blixa had finally found his voice… but could only make bear sounds. He was confused and distraught. The others weren’t sure what was happening; was the transformed barbarian a threat, or a tragic victim? Blixa found the party’s keg of mead and upended it, chugging as fast as he could, until he ended up with it stuck on his head. Staggering around trying to get free, he ran into the trunk of a nearby tree.

“Could I be of some assistance?” a voice came from above, in the tree. The party looked up to see a figure in an improbable blue dress, wielding a thin wand topped with a star, perched casually on a branch. Obviously, a fairy godmother. The fairy godmother, in fact: Elunad, the fae lady whose affairs they had been encountering ever since they entered this wilderness. As they watched, she stepped from the branch and floated lightly to the ground.

Everyone was very polite and nobody made any sudden moves. The Kid and Blaadao each tried to outdo the other in offering the most respectful and complimentary greetings. After the initial small talk and introductions, Elunad offered to cure Blixa of his terrible affliction. There would be a price, of course, but only a small one. She claimed that she was a fervent follower of the God of Law and wanted nothing more in this world than to see the legendary Hall of Judgement. She said that through her mystic arts, she had become aware of our heroes and their noble quest, and so knew that they, too, were looking for the Hall. All she asked, she said, was for them to invite her inside when they found the place. What possible harm could come from such a reasonable request?

When asked what had happened to turn Blixa into a bear, Elunad waved off the question. Who could say? These mountains were full of old curses and forgotten spells. Clearly, they had stumbled into something of that sort.

They were thinking over the offer, when The Kid – having an excellent memory for these sorts of details, from the bardic training – remembered the words of the ghosts from Logiheimli: “Never make a deal with a faerie.”

While the others engaged the faerie lady in conversation to stall her, Blaadao cast some spells to try to figure out what had happened to Blixa, discovering that the bear curse was actually an illusion. He mentioned this to Elunad and the others. The party politely turned down Elunad’s offer. She shrugged, telling them to enjoy their new pet, and began drifting away.

… when Slingshot shot her in the back.

The arrow went plink and bounced off. Elunad turned, appearing infuriated by this disrespect. She gestured, and the appearance of a fairy godmother fell away, replaced by that of a figure encased entirely in improbably-baroque plate armor. Her amusing wand became a glaive. All pretense of floating and drifting went away, as she suddenly started moving inhumanly fast and plummeted to the ground behind Slingshot, where she chose to start his punishment with a good, old-fashioned kick inna fork.

Everyone scattered and began to rain their particular flavors of trouble onto Elunad, who took it all unscathed. She resisted multiple mystic attacks from The Kid, deflected one arrow from Slingshot, and took another on her armor. Ray and Blaadao charged missile spells. Elunad cast a spell of darkness, plunging them all into inky black, then took a swing at Blaadao’s leg. He avoided it by mystically blinking from one place to another, outside the darkness.

While all this was going on, Blixa was still drunkenly trying to get the keg off his head. He had been staggering to and fro, hoping to burst the container against a tree trunk. Instead, he found himself returned to his normal form. He pulled the keg off and stared, dumbfounded, at a twenty-foot wide zone of darkness. Ray, who had kept her distance, wondered if she dared fire blindly into the dark, with so many friendly targets in the way.

Blaadao’s exit from the darkness started a general exodus. When Slingshot came into the light, he turned and listened for the faerie lady’s footsteps, firing two arrows at the sound. There was an audible “pop”, then silence.

Meanwhile, Blixa felt an overwhelming need to serve Elunad grow within him. A quiet voice whispered in his mind, suggesting that he start by killing his former comrades. He stepped up behind Ray. Striking from surprise, he put her in a headlock.

Blaadao was standing nearby and turned to see this unexpected development. Thinking quickly, he used his magic to fascinate Blixa, who dropped the cleric. The party warily watched the darkness, awaiting attack, until it dissipated seconds later. The faerie lady was nowhere to be seen.

The spellcasters conferred, agreeing that the barbarian had been affected by a spell of loyalty. (They also noted that Elunad seemed to have a thing for bears.) It might wear off in an hour, or Elunad might be able to maintain it indefinitely. They bound Blixa and settled down to wait.

The good news was, Blixa had finally found his voice. The bad news was, he used it muttering bitterly to himself. After an hour or so, Blaadao mystically examined the barbarian and declared him free of magical influence, so they untied him and pressed on.

The day was cold, but not direly so; their furs were more than enough for conditions. They made good progress for the rest of the day, considering the steep terrain, but tragedy struck, as Flavio lost control of one of their long-suffering ponies at a delicate moment. The beast went over the edge into a deep ravine, taking all their rations with it. From now on, they would be forced to rely on what little they could scavenge and what food they could magically create.

The next day remained cold, but not so much as to cause problems. Mid-day, as they hiked, the stumbled across a moss-covered skull under the trees. Interested, they stopped to investigate, eventually finding half a dozen old skeletons. Their rotting rags and rusted weapons made them appear to be thegns of a bygone era. One had clearly suffered from a broken leg. Slingshot found a couple of old runes carved into a tree trunk. “Lost”, they read.

This seemed to sober the group, who wondered if they really knew where they should be going. They reviewed their clues, bringing out the old map and the two holy relics. They realized that they could use the relics to improve their chances of using divination spells, but none of the spellcasters had learned such spells. Ray prayed to her goddess, promising future offerings, and was granted the gift of a new spell of seeking. She cast the spell, using the relics and the map to try to locate the other tiwstakn, which they expect to be in or near the Hall.

They were close! Only perhaps a day’s hike away. She saw a vision of the place: a rushing river, then a wide, forested valley, leading up to a lone mountain. Halfway up the mountain, a squat, hidden tower.

Heartened by this news, the party hiked on. The next morning, they came within sight of the river from Ray’s vision. A badly dilapidated rope bridge crossed a wide ravine, with the river flowing rapidly a hundred feet below. Clearly, this was no place for their ponies. They set up a camp for Flavio, Halfdan, and the surviving ponies. Flavio knows how to create food and drink through magic, and Halfdan knows the mountains, so they should be best off staying on this side of the river.

The remaining heroes investigated the bridge. It is, of course, Blaadao’s custom to cast a spell of levitation upon himself first thing every morning, and then never touch the earth for the rest of the day. He was able to cross the bridge weightlessly, carrying the end of a long rope, spliced together from the party’s supplies, to reinforce the span. One by one, our heroes crossed, until only Blixa remained.

It was then that the lurking thurs struck!

They emerged from the nearby underbrush and charged, roaring, with rocks ready to fling. Startled, our heroes turned to face their charge, noticing a lone hob standing in the distance, behind the attacking thurs; some kind of officer to the thurs’ infantry? No matter.

Blixa charged recklessly across the bridge, sprinting to join his comrades in their time of need. Boards fell loose behind him, but he was moving fast enough to stay ahead of the bridge’s disintegration. The others readied their weapons, bracing for the thurs charge… and then Slingshot mowed them down with deadly accuracy, putting arrows into the eyes of two of the thurs. Seeing this, the lurking hob quickly threw down a bag of magical dust and disappeared in a cloud of pink sparkles.

One of the thurs survived to close range, where Blaadao fascinated it, suggesting that they interrogate it. He asked a couple of questions, learning that there were nests of fae in the forests, including both more thurs and hobs.

By this time, though, Blixa finally crossed the entire bridge. Roaring a challenge, he charged in, killing the defenseless thurs with a blow to its head from his warhammer that would have made the God of Thunder proud! So much for interrogation…

With a shrug, they continued on. Even without questioning the thurs, they assumed that these were all minions of Elunad. Clearly, she was still interested in them.

Regrouping on the far side of the ravine, they found themselves walking through a thick forest of evergreens. After some distance, they again began noticing moss-covered bones, this time scattered thick around the path. The party paused, wondering at the sight, when Slingshot happened to look up. He sounded the alarm; they were under attack… by trees!

Several of the trees had come to life, and now charged the group, branches swinging. Ray took a crippling blow and staggered away, but not before casting a spell of might on Blixa, who moved to engage the trees. The fight was short but brutal. Blixa took several hits from tree branches, but was able to keep his feet and give worse than he got. He broke several of the trees, happily shouting “Timber!” as they fell. Blaadao turned one tree to charcoal with a lightning bolt. Flummoxed by the homogeneous trees – “What’s an arrow going to do to a tree?” – Slingshot vanished into the underbrush, appearing behind one of the trees to perform a textbook sneak attack with his knife. This was not noticeably effective, but Blixa came along right after and finished that tree off as well.

Victorious but bloodied, the party decided to make a concealed camp in the forest and recuperate before pressing on in the morning.

Experience

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

Cool Point: Slingshot, for being a veritable angel of death, raining unstoppable damage on all he surveys

Booby Point: Blixa, for being stuck on the wrong side of the bridge when the big fight broke out

 

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