Dungeon Fantasy Nordlond #12: “Faeries Wear Boots. Delvers Loot Them.”

by mshrm

This session, we almost had a full house. Esen wasn’t able to attend, but we did get the triumphant return of Slingshot!

We’re still playing remotely. We had our share of the usual difficulties: bad connections, folks on mute without realizing it, all the usual. We persevered, but I’m really looking forward to leaving all the gee-whiz technology and getting back to five half-painted minis and a Lego minifig versus three pieces of folded cardboard and a handful of pennies.

Spoiler Warning: The campaign (starting here) is set in Nordlond, Gaming Ballistic‘s Norse-themed campaign setting. We started off with the Hall of Judgment and the campaign has included material from several other Nordlond books. Expect spoilers, but also expect deviations from the source material – I’m changing stuff as I go. In fact, this session was based around an encounter taken entirely out of context and repurposed from Forest’s End.

Who’s Who

PCs

  • Blixa, Half-elf Barbarian. Mighty, but surly.
  • Esen, Human Mentalist. AFK.
  • Ilmarë “Ray” Kem, Elf Cleric. Holy, but hot-blooded.
  • The Kid, Nymph Bard. Smooth jazz, but metal.
  • Orvynth the Clanless, Dragon-Blooded Knight. Paladin, but not yet.
  • Slingshot, Human Scout. Bushwhacker, but bushwhacked.

What Happened

We flash back to weeks before, when the bulk of the party left on the way to Northwatch, leaving Slingshot behind. He set out travelling cross-country, expecting to catch up to them within a week. Instead, the trip turned into something of an ordeal. At first, he thought he was just having a run of bad luck, but as troubles and delays started mounting up, he realized… he was being hunted!

What should have been a simple trip turned into an extended game of cat-and-mouse. Slingshot was never able to get a clear look at his stalker, but did have to avoid several traps and more than one long-distance arrow. In the end, he was only able to shake his pursuer by spending three days lying low, camouflaged as dire bear dung. Finally, on a cold fall day, the morning after last session, he walked into Northwatch and joined the others.

Esen was off somewhere by himself, no doubt reading about things man was not meant to know, but Slingshot was able to catch up with the rest of the party, still proud from their successful quest. Everyone traded stories.

The next day was a holy day. Ingeltore invited Ray to an audience after services. The diviners had consulted the runes, as Ingeltore had promised. The message that they had received: Ray’s war-band would meet Elunad when they “followed the flame-hair to the house of the red hat”. Puzzled, Ray took her leave and brought this information back to the others.

The next morning, our heroes woke to a hubbub outside the inn. People were running back and forth, and down the street, in front of Orm’s residence, groups of riders were mounting up and riding out. Orvynth observed that they seemed to be scouting parties, heading out in different directions. Questioning a passing stable hand revealed what was going on: Orm’s daughter, Ylsa, was missing!

Yes, the same Ylsa that the party had assisted in recovering her dead beloved’s bones, last session. A mission that had been undertaken against the wishes of Orn. Uh-oh. Furthermore, the same Ylsa who was sometimes known as “Fire-Hair”. More uh-oh.

Orvynth brought this intelligence back to the others. They wondered, had Ylsa done anything unusual over the past couple of days, since their return? As it happened, yes: the more socially-adept members of the party had heard that she had attended services at the template of the Goddess of the Dead, the day before. This wasn’t unheard of, but was unusual.

Our heroes went around to visit that temple. There, Ray was allowed to meet with the head of the temple. She was shown into a darkened room, where she spoke with a shadowy, veiled figure. “What would you ask of Death?”

Ray questioned the figure: Had Ylsa visited, and had she been acting oddly? Yes, Ylsa had visited. She had asked for the boon of resurrection for her lost love, Asbjorn. Then she had left, disappointed at the answer.

Remembering the message from the runes, Ray asked if they knew anything about any “red hats”. The head of the temple couldn’t offer much, but did mention that there had been reports, years ago, of a “redcap” faerie living some miles out of town, preying on lumberjacks. But that was years ago; these days, that area had a bad reputation and few went there.

Thanking the head of the temple, Ray returned to the others. They pondered. If Ylsa couldn’t get what she sought from the temple… she wouldn’t be foolish enough to seek it… elsewhere… would she?

Luckily, with Slingshot, they had a world-class tracker. Our heroes quickly geared up and went to snoop around Orm’s residence. It didn’t take long for Slingshot to find traces. Someone of Ylsa’s size, carrying a sack over her left shoulder, had slipped away from the house, using back ways to stay out of sight. The kind of back ways that only a long-time resident of a place really knows.

The trail led them along these ways, to an out-of-the-way sally port through Audreyn’s Wall. Finding it unguarded, our heroes slipped out of town, where Slingshot again picked up the trail. With the softer ground of the forest, he was able to follow it at an even greater rate of speed.

Our heroes hurried into the forest. They passed stumps of trees, through areas being harvested, into a part of the forest that hadn’t seen ax nor saw for decades. The trail came to a small brook and turned to follow it. Eventually, they came to the stream’s source, where water gushed from a narrow crack in a rocky hillside. There, the tracks vanished.

After some casting about, our heroes noticed the gleam of light on metal from deeper in the cave entrance. Finding this unusual, they decided to investigate. Ray cast a spell of light on one of Slingshot’s arrows, which he fired into the crack.

This literally cast more light on the subject. The crack was actually the narrow opening to a larger, domed cave. A hole in the ceiling allowed the tiniest ray of sunlight into the cave, and where that sunlight fell, there were a few low ferns growing, on a mound of organic matter. The gleam of metal came from the hilt of a sword, standing vertical where it was shoved into the earth. Between the entrance and the sword, they noticed a skull. Then they noticed the moss-covered bones scattered about. Then, they noticed the corpse lying beyond the sword, at the edge of the pool of water that was the stream’s source.

Perhaps Ylsa had waded through the stream and into the cave? That would explain the sudden end of the trail. The party decided to investigate further. One by one, they climbed through the waist-deep water and squeezed through the narrow opening, gathering several minor scrapes along the way. The Kid doused himself in lamp oil to ease his passage.

As soon as Blixa and Orvynth stepped out of the water, they were attacked from hiding by a group of giant centipedes! Despite the advantage of surprise, though, they were no match for the warriors’ armor and the hail of arrows from Slingshot’s bow, and were dispatched without any particular trouble.

Our heroes looked around, realizing that the mound of matter supporting the plant growth seemed to mostly be old, moldering bones. It seemed like someone, years ago, had spent years dumping bodies here. There were bones, and even mostly-complete skeletons, but only the one corpse seemed to be from recent years.

Orvynth stepped over to the sword and pulled it from the earth, discovering that it had been broken and only half the blade remained. Upon close examination, it turned out to be forged from meteoric iron, the rare sky-metal that was immune to magic! Intrigued, Orvynth scuffed around their boots until they eventually turned up the broken-off point of the sword. They packed up the point and stuck the hilt end into their belt.

Meanwhile, Ray had gone to check the corpse, finding it to be a dvergr with his throat cut. From the attitude of the body, she realized that the dvergr had been looking, and pointing, at something under the pool of water, when someone had come up behind him and viciously cut his throat. She looked, and could just make out a passage under the water’s surface.

On the other side of the chamber, Slingshot had found an exit deeper into the hillside. There, he found tracks of many pairs of big, bare feet. Our heroes pondered on this, remembering stories of wild men of the forest. A few of the stories mentioned “cannibalistic wild men of the forest”, but nobody believed those stories anymore, right?

Our heroes respectfully gathered the dvergr corpse and as many of the other bones as they could find, placing them under the hole in the cave ceiling to use it as a makeshift chimney. Ray performed the proper rituals, then they doused the remains with oil and set them alight.

Having performed the appropriate rites, our heroes considered their path forward. The underwater passage was interesting, but the party didn’t think it likely that Ylsa went that way. Ray spread around more light spells, casting one on Orvynth’s shield and another on Blixa’s warhammer. The party formed up in a marching order and proceeded cautiously, following the dry exit.

The passage opened out into a wider and much taller chamber. The floor of the cave and the walls up to far overhead were covered with overlapping handprints, apparently made in blood. Big hand print, little hand prints, right hand, left hand, the occasional missing finger… clearly not the work of a single individual. Some exceptional efforts were as high as fifteen feet above the cave floor. It was clear that some were relatively fresh, but most were old-to-ancient.

Almost immediately, The Kid heard something. The sound of singing! And not just any singing, but drunken singing! Signalling for the other to move quietly, The Kid began to sing, gently harmonizing with the singer in the darkness. The party stepped quietly into the chamber of bloody handprints.

Just around the bend, they found one of the wild men of the forest, sort of half-Sasquatch, half-Alley Oop. This particular example was drunk as a skunk and in a mood to celebrate. Its left hand held a flask. Its right hand was red with blood.

The Kid approached, keeping up the soothing singing, in hopes of interrogating the drunken wildman, but Orvynth startled it before the parlay could really get started. It leapt up with a cry and was clearly about to run off sounding the alarm, so Orvynth laid it out with a shield bash.

Pausing only to pocket the coins from the wildman’s pouch and the chain from around its neck, our heroes pressed on. Orvynth picked up the wildman’s flask, finding it to contain the foulest of rotgut gin, and went to pack it away for future use as an incendiary, only for The Kid to filch it to avoid such a waste of perfectly good sippin’ booze.

At the far end of the chamber of handprints, our heroes found a wooden wall and a crude door. Ray and The Kid listened at the door, hearing sounds of raucous celebration within. Our heroes debated various approaches, but finally, The Kid announced, “I have a plan.”

The first step of the plan was for The Kid to climb up on Orvynth’s shoulders, using The Kid’s cloak to improvise a disguise as… well, some sort of oversized humanoid. With flask of gin in hand, the two burst through the door, with The Kid again harmonizing with the wildmen’s song.

Inside was a scene of foul celebration. Over a dozen wildmen were drinking and feasting around a hole in the ground. The bottom of the hole was awash with filth and corruption, and crawling with noxious vermin. On the far side of the pit, a fae gremlin tended a cauldron full of highly questionable soup. The air was thick with corruption. Struggling to keep their stomachs under control, The Kid and Orvynth advanced while the rest of the party observed through the cracked door.

To the surprise of all concerned, the wildmen bought it! (These particular wild men of the forest were not known for their keen intellect and piercing social perceptiveness, even when not drunk on sated bloodlust and bathtub gin. Furthermore, as has been mentioned many times, The Kid has a set of overlapping Reaction Modifiers that range from “ludicrous” to “supernatural”. That’s enough to swallow a lot of penalties. In this case, on top of all that, I also rolled a 17. Our heroes are lucky they escaped without an impromptu wedding.)

The tribe didn’t know who this tall stranger was, but it knew The Song and it was drinking with them, and this was far from the weirdest thing that had happened to them this month. They joined in on the chorus, toasted their new friend, and pressed gobbets of meat into The Kid’s hands. The Kid pantomimed taking a bite and enjoying it, without actually touching the foul thing to The Kid’s lips.

“Hey, new friends,” The Kid said, “has anybody seen a human lady come through here recently?”

Half the group happily pointed towards one door, while the other half pointed towards another.

“One with red hair?”

Half the group switched doors. Clearly, more than one captive was involved.

(“What now?” Orvynth whispered.)

(“I don’t know, I didn’t expect to get this far!” The Kid replied.)

Nodding and grinning, singing in the most friendly way possible, The Kid spurred Orvynth and sent them across the room through the crowd towards and through the door in the far wall. Ducking through the door, they slammed it behind themselves, then looked around. The Kid and Orvynth found themselves in a large room full of mounds of trash, with paths kicked through the muck. Positively identifying the mystery meat as likely of human origin, confirming their suspicions, The Kid dropped it.

Meanwhile, back at the first door, the rest of the party didn’t know what to make of this. They had lost sight of The Kid and Orvynth almost immediately. It didn’t sound like anybody was fighting, but their friends also weren’t coming back. Maybe something had gone wrong?

Finally, Blixa’s impatience got the better of him. As the others scrambled for cover, he burst through the door. “What have you done with my friends?” he shouting, brandishing his warhammer at an astonished wildman.

Hearing this, and the alarmed shouts of the wildmen, Orvynth turned back through the door, rejoining the party and leaving The Kid alone in the midden. As violence erupted on the far side of the door, The Kid looked around, wondering if there were anything worth picking up from all the trash, but noticing signs of rats of an unusual size. Disconcerted, The Kid quickly picked his way back to the door and through.

Meanwhile, a wild brawl had broken out in the room full of wildmen. One group of wildmen found themselves caught between the hammer of Orvynth and the anvil of Blixa, and were quickly decimated. Slingshot and Ray took advantage of Blixa’s distraction to slip quietly inside the room. There, Slingshot quickly assassinated the gremlin, then began sniping at wildmen left and right.

After only a couple of seconds, the wildmen were in a complete rout. A couple slipped over the edge of the pit and were rapidly attacked and consumed by the vermin within, while a couple more broke and ran; all the others fell to the party’s attacks. While The Kid held the door shut, lest they be rushed by giant rats, the rest of the party searched the bodies and pitched them into the pit in a workmanlike fashion.

Remembering how the wildmen had pointed at two doors to begin with, Orvynth went to peek through the one without a red-haired lady behind it. Inside, they saw a crude torture chamber, where three gremlins and a wildman were strapping a semi-conscious person down to a table, clearly with foul intent.

Obviously, this injustice could not stand! Orvynth kicked in the door and demanded surrender. After a quick tussle, all the torturers lay dead, and our heroes discovered a barred cell full of weak, pitiful captives. These were freed, and Ray set up shop casting healing spells for a time.

While investigating, Ray and Blixa noticed a cool, moist draft from the cracks between the planks in the wooden floor of the cell. Blixa tore up several planks, revealing a low space under the cell’s floor. There, our heroes discovered a wooden chest, which they brought up into the cell for examination. Slingshot checked the chest for traps, realizing it was rigged to release a presumably-hostile potion when opened. He was able to disable the trap, and our heroes found a bag of coin and gems, as well as the unidentified potion.

Having stabilized the captives, our heroes instructed them to barricade themselves in the torture chamber until the party returned.

Mindful of The Kid’s warnings of oversized rodents, our heroes returned to the room of trash. There were three doors, as well as one passage that had been walled off, with a big red “X” painted on the wall. The party chose to open the left-hand door.

Inside, they found a room full of vargr – dire wolves. One of the vargr turned and to the surprise of our heroes, spoke to the others, saying, “Brothers, it seems that second breakfast is served.”

A short but fierce battle broke out. The pack tried to double- and triple-team Blixa and Orvynth, but quickly fell before our heroes. After only a few seconds, just one remained, and seeing which way the wind was blowing, it surrendered and called for mercy, showing its throat.

That was enough for Blixa, who had always wanted to rub a dire wolf on its belly. As the barbarian indulged, they questioned the beast.

Thoroughly cowed, the vargr gave all the information it was aware of. Our heroes asked if it had seen a human woman with red hair; it replied that it was colorblind and wouldn’t know… but “the boss” and “the boss’ boss” were meeting with a human woman. The party asked where “the boss” could be found; it replied, the door directly across from this room. The other door? Barracks for the wildmen. The walled-off area? That was where “the evil spirit” lived. The vargr explained that the warren had been abandoned years before, due to the presence of “the evil spirit”, but had recently been put back into service.

Unwilling to kill such a cooperative captive, the party wondered what to do with the vargr. It suggested that they leave it to keep an eye on the former captives, but they wisely weren’t willing to trust it that far. In the end, they left it in the kennel room, latching the door behind them. Wanting a pet, Blixa told it to wait, he would be back for it.

Our heroes moved to the door leading to the room of “the boss”. They spent a few minutes in whispered consultation, and Ray spread around buffing spells. The meat of the plan was that everyone would rush Elunad, overwhelm her defenses, and then Slingshot would turn her into a pincushion with arrows from her own armor-piercing bow, captured during their previous encounter. After preparing as much as they could, they kicked open the door.

Inside, they found a mockery of a throne room. A handful of wildmen and gremlins were trying, and failing, to conceal themselves around the room. On the far side of the room, surrounding by a shimmering dome of force, Elunad and Ylsa stood next to a throne carved out of the living stone. Elunad was making gestures as if casting a spell, while Ylsa stood to the side, looking ashamed, bag of bones in hand. And, in the center of the room, outside the force dome, stood a grinning fae male.

“Greetings!” Ynfalchiawn said cheerfully. “We’ve been waiting for you!” The faerie noble appeared to be wearing fine but casual clothes, including one remarkable codpiece, but was armed; he wore a two-handed sword sheathed on his back.

“Ylsa!” Blixa cried, disappointed. “You should know better!”

“He says he can bring him back,” Ylsa replied, in tears, indicating Asbjorn’s recently-recovered bones.

At the same time, Orvynth roared defiance at Ynfalchiawn, claiming that they were there in the service of Orm. He laughed, claiming that he wanted them to return to town to tell Orm exactly what had happened and to tell him, “She came with me of her own free will, and so our bargain still stands.”

Well, some of them could return to Orm, at least. The survivors.

Ynfalchiawn danced forward and punched Blixa directly in the nose, not quite bringing the barbarian to his knees. “That’s for disrespecting my cousin’s image!” he said, referring to the time that Blixa thought he was attacking Elunad, but was actually after an illusion-disguised stand-in.

Everyone unloaded on Ynfalchiawn. He batted a couple of arrows out of the air with his bare hands, dodged a couple of melee attacks, blinked out of the way of a charge, drew his sword to parry Orvynth’s penultimate strike, but then took Orvynth’s final attack full in the chest. It passed through without resistance! (Steelwraith spell, it would turn out. At the time, though, seeing that the enemy was untouchable took a lot of wind out of the PCs’ sails.)

Orvynth and Blixa advanced into the throne room. The Kid struck up a dirge, inflicting penalties on nearly all the enemy forces. The wildmen advanced, attacking with no regard for their own safety. The gremlins attacked with spells, inflicting terrible agony on Orvynth, but the dragon-blooded knight gritted their fangs and powered through it.

Suddenly, the redcap made his presence known. Striking from invisibility, he leapt on Blixa’s back and tried to cut the barbarian’s throat with a razor-sharp sickle. Blixa defended himself, then Ray shouted a magical command forcing the redcap to drop its weapon.

Hard pressed, Orvynth and Blixa called for support from Slingshot – a plan made for one faerie noble should surely work on another.

Before Slingshot could respond, Ynfalchiawn threw up one hand, casting a wall of force across the door, cutting off Blixa and Orvynth from the rest of the group. Slingshot tried to shoot him (rolling a crit success!), only to find his arrows blocked by the wall of force; you can’t tell unless you try. Ynfalchiawn struck at both our heroes with his sword; Orvynth managed to parry, but Blixa was sorely wounded.

Realizing that Ynfalchiawn was magically defended against weapons, Orvynth dropped the Law Giver and desperately drew the broken meteoric iron sword. Orvynth attacked with a flurry of blows at Ynfalchiawn’s throat with the edge of the magic-immune blade. (And rolled two crits, with some really fortuitous timing.) The surprised faerie noble fell before the furious assault.

The shock of this turn of events caused a lull in the fighting. The disarmed and dismayed redcap turned invisible and apparently retreated. The surviving wildmen and gremlins went through a visible loss of morale and fighting spirit.

With a snort of annoyance, Elunad pushed Ylsa away and turned her gaze towards our heroes. “So much for my cousin’s grand plans,” she said, “but this means nothing when it comes to my work. I already have everything I need. When next we meet, I will put an end to your meddling, once and for all!” She locked eyes with Orvynth, coldly adding: “And I still have your halfling friend.”

Then Elunad made a last few mystic gestures, and vanished into the shadow world of Svartalfheim. The redcap’s throne must have been one of the touchstones that the fae use to travel between worlds.

Abandoned by their leaders, the few surviving minions dropped their weapons and surrendered. Orvynth knelt to check Ynfalchiawn’s body, and was both surprised and unsurprised to find that, even after taking so much damage from the coldest of cold iron, the fae was only unconscious. A correctable problem: the dragon-blooded took the broken blade and sawed Ynfalchiawn’s head completely off.

Shortly, Ynfalchiawn’s spells expired, and the two walls of shimmering magical force fell, letting the rest of the party in and releasing the weeping Ylsa from her prison. Blixa confronted her, with an sense of “more in disappointment than in anger”, saying that sometimes one has to move on after the loss of loved ones and that’s just the natural order of things… but getting tongue-tied, in the barbarian fashion, throwing his hands in the air, and stalking off to help with the looting. Ray took his place, doing her best to comfort Ylsa.

As expected, one of the fae spells that wore off was the illusion making it seem that Ynfalchiawn was wearing only casual clothes. He had actually been wearing a beautiful set of orichalcum epic plate. Having learned a thing or two about looting fae nobility, our heroes stripped this off and immediately had Ray don it. A bag full of expensive armor is just too easy for someone to steal, and Ray was a close enough match to the dead fae’s size to make it work. They also took his sword (magical), bow (magical), and arrows (also magical).

Searching the room, they found a chest with more loot, including some coin and gems, an exceptionally expensive (if non-magical) sword, and more magical armor: a pair of gauntlets and some plate armor. Everything went into the loot bag.

What next? Our heroes considered their options. If they wanted to “clear the dungeon”, there were a couple of doors to still kick in. One was supposed to lead to the barracks with the rest of the redcap’s cannibal wildman tribe, and the other was the boarded-up passage reputed to be haunted by an evil spirit. On the other hand, they weren’t here for that, they were on a mission to rescue Ylsa. Furthermore, they had weak and injured people who had only been half-rescued and still needed support to make it back to town. Our heroes decided to withdraw and call the day a win for the good guys.

They stealthily escorted Ylsa and the prisoners back to the torture chamber, adding the barricaded rescuees to their group, and leaving the prisoners tied behind them. They then left the cave the same way they entered, spreading around more oil to ease their passage through the tight entrance, and headed back to town.

On the way, Ylsa tearfully told her tale. She had gone to the temple of the Goddess of Death, and been turned down, as they had learned. Later that night, though, Ynfalchiawn had appeared to her and made an offer she couldn’t refuse: cooperate with his plans, and once he had gathered sufficient power, he would be able to bring Asbjorn’s shade back from the lands of the dead, no matter what the Goddess of Death had to say about it!

Some of our heroes wondered how this was possible? Being clearly fae, Ynfalchiawn should have been physically unable to cross over Audreyn’s Wall. They realized, though, that with Elunad’s support, he didn’t need to physically cross the Wall. With her mastery of illusion, she could project his image and it would seem as if he were actually there. (The characters won’t know it until they get back together with Esen and compare stories, but the players realized that Ynfalchiawn was one of the conspirators Esen had spied on. The other, of course, was Orm. Clearly, what Esen had seen was one of Elunad’s projections.)

Having accepted the deal, Ylsa explained, she had slipped out of town and joined the fae in the pre-dawn hours. In the time since, she had overheard much talk between the two fae. Once they had her, they seemed to largely lose interest and forget that she was there, and begun bickering among themselves. Elunad had been in favor of quickly moving on to the next stage of their combined plan, whatever it was, but Ynfalchiawn had been unwilling to abandon his own efforts when he was so close to victory after decades of maneuvering. He had insisted on staying in the vicinity of Northwatch until the end of the month, when Orm debt, whatever that was, would come due.

The fae hadn’t mentioned many details of exactly what their interlocking plans were, however. The one clue that Ylsa had picked up was that Elunad had urged that they move on to a place called Rosgarth. The name didn’t ring any bells, but our heroes took note of it.

Upon their return to town, Orvynth went to Orm and told him of their involvement in the entire affair. Though clearly of mixed feelings, Orm agreed that on the whole, they had been more of service to him than not. In recognition of their heroic efforts, Orm gifted Orvynth with a magical jade pendant.

Experience

The standard award for each member of the group was 10 points. Lots of successful fights, lots and lots of loot, and effectively completing more than one quest.

There was little question that most of the loot went to market. I believe they kept the gauntlets (Gauntlets of Might, as it turned out) but turned everything else into coin. Notably, no one was interested in the fae armor as armor; the decision to sell it was unanimous. In the end, each member of the party, plus the shared party fund, received just over $108K each.

So now they’re rich. There’s talk of buying a house in Northwatch (or Isfjall, a minority opinion adds) and putting down roots. Get away from eating inn food, day in and day out. House or no house, though, they’re going to stay on Elunad’s trail. They just might take a few days off for R&R first…

Cool Point: Shared, +1 point each to The Kid and Orvynth, for pretending to be some sort of super-Sasquatch in the manner of four racoons in a trenchcoat trying to buy a ticket to a rated R movie… and pulling it off

Booby Point: None. Everybody felt that they were all on top of their game. They even solved the mystery bit handily.