Dungeon Fantasy Nordlond #14: “… Where Draugr Fear To Tread”

by mshrm

We had nearly a full house, this session, with just one player missing. A few of us were feeling a little under the weather, so it was a short-ish session, but we were able to finish the fight from last time and get a good sense of direction for the next quest.

Spoiler Warning: The campaign (beginning here) is set in Nordlond, Gaming Ballistic‘s Norse-themed campaign setting. This session, as well as last, began as an encounter from Forest’s End pulled from its original context.

Who’s Who

PCs

  • Blixa, Half-elf Barbarian. He swears, it’s only a flesh wound.
  • Esen, Human Mentalist. AFK, driven as a combat zombie by the GM.
  • Ilmarë “Ray” Kem, Elf Cleric. Carrying the wrath of the gods into the lair of the undead.
  • The Kid, Nymph Bard. Displaying perfect comedic (and tactical) timing.
  • Orvynth the Clanless, Dragon-Blooded Knight. Bearer of the Law Giver.
  • Slingshot, Human Scout. Mobile, agile, hostile.

Henchmen

  • Ganthas Half-Man, Halfling Slinger. Would-be player.
  • Ragna Bjarndottir, Human Brute. Berserker and heavy sleeper.

What Happened

We left our heroes on a cliffhanger. Blixa had just stepped up to hold the door against a quartet of angry draugr, as Orvynth fell back reeling from the front line. Ray had just dropped her active undead turning so she could sprint forward to close the distance between herself and the center of battle that had opened up when the others had moved forward faster than she could while concentrating. The others were scattered around the first cavern with varying degrees of visibility, all poor, into the second.

As for the bad guys, they were deployed in three groups. First, as mentioned, a squad of draugr – undead barbarians – held the door after springing an ambush on Orvynth, when he first entered the inner chamber. Due to the relatively narrow entrance, they were arrayed in two ranks of two. Unbeknownst to our heroes, while they were able to fill the entrance, they weren’t able to move even one step beyond it, since they could come no closer to Ray until her turning wore off.

Second, a few skeleton archers were scattered around the edges of the inner chamber, having fled from Ray’s holy might. They were just getting themselves turned around and reorganized after that rout.

Finally, the big bad, the evil spirit that the party had dubbed “the g-g-g-ghost“, was lurking off to one side, a few yards behind the draugr, in the second chamber. It had just sorely wounded both Orvynth and Blixa with the life-sucking power of its gaze. It wouldn’t stop laughing.

As Blixa stepped up, the draugr counter-attacked. One landed a might blow, badly wounding the barbarian, but he was able to disarm the second with a cunning parry and a timely critical success roll. The Kid delivered a dirge that threw all four draugr off their game for the remainder of the battle. Ray laid a Major Healing on Orvynth, which was enough to put them back into action; the dragon-blooded knight returned to the front line to support Blixa. Slingshot tried to slip through the enemy lines to gain access to the inner chamber, but wasn’t able to make it through the tight-packed draugr.

The ghost took advantage of the close quarters to walk directly through Blixa, Slingshot, and Orvynth, chilling all three with its evil essence. It moved out to the first chamber, behind our heroes’ front line, aiming to destroy Ray. Without her turning ability holding the evil undead at bay, it reasoned, the tide of the battle would turn strongly against our heroes. It fastened its life-draining gaze upon the cleric, asking her where her gods were now…

“Right here!” she answered, presenting her holy symbol. Ray was a tower of iron will and stood unharmed against the ghost’s most feared power!

Seeing this, Orvynth fell back to pursue the ghost. With a heroic charge and a series of powerful blows from the Law Giver, they tore the ghost to shreds! With a wail (“What a world, what a world!”) it dissipated, leaving no trace behind.

Meanwhile, the others pressed the attack at the door. Ragna, still berserk from earlier in the fight, ran up to fill the gap left by the dragon-blooded’s retreat and wildly attacked. Slingshot and Ganthas sniped at what targets they could see. Esen levitated over everyone’s heads and slipped into the inner chamber, where he harassed the draugr and the skeletons with his psychokinetic blast.

The Kid managed to finally break the draugr’s momentum. He stunned the disarmed draug with a quip, then caught the other front-line draug with a song of fascination. This left the enemy front line with badly-depleted defenses, while also leaving them in a position to hamper the enemy’s second rank. Our heroes made quick use of this advantage, delivering several damaging hits. The disarmed draug was knocked prone.

The draugr were never able to regain the initiative after this. Their best attempt: one took a swing at Esen and landed the blow, but Esen’s fine new robes were able to take the worst of it. When Ray stepped up, they were forced to retreat in disarray, turning their backs on our heroes and fleeing the power of the gods. The one on the ground was forced to abandon its dropped sword and do its best to crawl away.

Our heroes flooded into the second chamber and gave the fleeing undead hell. The only remarkable moment came when Orvynth discovered just how resilient a draug can be: they attempted to cut off the crawling draug’s head, a move that has historically ended fights immediately, and failed. Not just once, not just twice, but three times, Orvynth chopped at the draug’s neck, landing heavy blows, but couldn’t finish the job. Wondering if perhaps these undead had some sort of weakness, they even tried stabbing the draug in the heart with their blessed dagger, also to no avail. Eventually, Ragna turned her berserk attention to the same target, and Orvynth moved on to other draugr, leaving her to work out her anger issues by chopping it to small pieces.

With the boss down and Ray putting the literal fear of the gods into the evil troops, the outcome was certain: our heroes stood, tired but victorious.

Rest, first aid, and looting commenced. Despite being reeling from his wounds, Blixa brushed off any offer of healing, claiming to be strong enough to carry on as-is. The others insisted, provoking Blixa into a fit of barbaric pride, in which he strongly objected to any person laying hands on him for any purpose. The others were finally able to talk him into a compromise, arguing that they would need all of his legendary strength to drag all the loot home. Still, Ray had to poke him with her staff to deliver healing spells to satisfy his need for space.

The chest that our heroes had seen earlier in the inner chamber drew their attention. Slingshot checked it over for traps, finding it untrapped, unlocked, and barely even latched. Even so, everyone else stood back while Orvynth flipped back the lid at sword’s length. Inside, they found what appeared to be a mix of trophies from the ghost’s previous kills. Sifting through the litter, our heroes discovered several pieces of valuable loot, but the most interesting was a heavy, expensive, well-bound book, bearing the image of Ynfalchiawn on its cover. It was written in Old Elvish, which Ray luckily speaks fluently. It’s title: “My Struggle, by Ynfalchiawn”.

On the way out of the cave, the party paused to rake through the trash in the piles in the central chamber of the cave system. There, they recovered several more pieces of loot.

Returning to Nordvorn, our heroes rested, researched, and disposed of the accumulated loot. Most of it was sold, of course, but several odds and ends made it into the party chest. One of the items from the ghost’s treasure turned out to be an extremely valuable power item booster. The party decided not to sell it, instead awarding it to Ray. She had recently upgraded her power item, anyway, so this addition vastly increased her already-improved available energy. Now she can throw around second-level Bless spells without having a lie-down afterward.

Having been paid for the week, and enjoying the work, both henchmen elected to hang around and help out for the rest of the week. Carrying sacks of loot and standing lookout while moving pouches of coin is light duty and quite agreeable, compared to most delving jobs.

The Kid found a message waiting on their return, saying his special order magic item had arrived. Earlier in the week, when the bulk of the party had upgraded their armor, the enchanted armor had come from the stores of elvish and dwarven merchants. Those merchants were in the process of packing up and leaving Nordvorn for warmer climes, but the last-minute windfall had prompted them to make a change in plans. They had left the two youngest and lowest-ranking members of each camp to spend the winter in Nordvorn. Sten and Dagfinn’s “Bazaar of the Bizarre” would act as a sort of consignment shop for magic items while taking special orders to send back to the homelands. (An idea which I totally ripped off from here.)

The party took their time dealing with the book. As the only one who could read it, Ray read it aloud over the course of the week, translating as she went. The Kid listened, recording its contents in the form of verse with his highly-trained bardic memory.

The book turned out to be a sort of autobiography-slash-manifesto. It explained how Ynfalchiawn had been one of the alfar who had engineered the Shattering, the event thousands of years ago that broke all of the ley line junctions, bringing both the reign of the dragons and the easy creation of magic items to an end. It detailed his centuries-long efforts to engineer a replacement for one of the gods, a plot that had come down to his machinations involving Ylsa, Orm, and the party, and ended with his death. Ynfalchiawn had been pulling Orm’s strings due to a deal going back several generations in his family.

Towards the end, the book made mention of other plots Ynfalchiawn was involved in. Particularly, it mentioned plans to move on to a project that Elunad had brought to his attention, at the place called Rosgarth, to restore one of the broken ley line junctions. The plan had been to complete the time-sensitive bits of his intrigue with Ylsa, then move on to that work, where his experience thousands of years before with the Shattering would prove useful.

Finally, it ended with a self-congratulatory, multi-page rant anticipating his coming victory against our heroes… a rant which ended rather abruptly. Several hundred blank pages followed.

High fives all around.

This explained much, especially about Orm’s recent behavior. The party now saw why Orm had been so happy with their news of Ynfalchiawn’s death, and why he had been so gloatingly eager to buy the dead alfar’s armor, even though it would never fit him. Thinking to capitalize on these feelings again, they took the book to Orm. He was quite happy to pay top dollar for the unique artifact, even inviting The Kid and Orvynth into his personal library to see the volume placed in a position of honor. This library, he explained, was likely the finest collection of information on the alfar in the land. The book was a valuable addition, and Orm declared he would remember all they had done for him.

Having taken care of business, the party pondered their next move. They felt that they didn’t have any solid leads (!!) and were unsure of their next direction.

(I just want to highlight this, because it really demonstrates how difficult it can be to have any kind of “solve the mystery” stuff in a game. We had a twenty minute conversation, after the name “Rosgarth” came up during the reading, about how this was not the first time the party had encountered that word. They knew that it was a place. The first time they had heard it was when it came up in a note written in the Elder Tongue, taken from the bodies of a couple of intelligent, and malicious, octopi. The second time was when Elunad outright stated that it was her destination. Finally, the book again mentioned it as the alfar’s next stop. Long conversation, full review. Then the very next topic of conversation was how they didn’t have any solid leads…)

That night, Ray was visited in a dream by the Queen of the World, who she worships in her guise as Sune, goddess of love. The goddess also brought several dozen cats with her to the dream. Her message was simple. Ray had heard of the idea of repairing ley line junctions recently, correct? Ray acknowledged that she had. The Queen of the World observed that one of her responsibilities included being the goddess of magic, and as such, she would want that secret to fall into the right hands.

Ray awoke in the middle of the night and roused most of the others. (Ragna snored loudly through the entire conversation.) One does not ignore the messages of the gods. The party agreed, sure, let’s go quest after this ley line business; but, how?

Ray went to research back at the temple, aiming to learn more about ley lines. Her first question: where was the nearest known ley line junction? Only about a hundred miles to the east, the histories said. Once, long ago, a wizard had thought to restore the shattered junction and built a castle over it while he worked. In time, the wizard’s enemies had fallen on him and brought down his castle in a seige. The wizard had given his name to the castle: the Castle Rosgarth.

(Cue facepalms.)

Upon hearing this news, the party decided to mount a routine expedition into the wilds of the Endalaus Forest to reach the ruins of Rosgarth.

When this was mentioned, Ganthas perked up and offered to introduce them all to a guide. “Nobody goes into the Forest without a guide,” he explained, “and I know a guy. Best guide in the business. When he’s sober.”

The party agreed to meet this guide. Ganthas set up a rendezvous at a tavern and introduced them all. The guide, Hlidar, was playing up the whole ranger vibe when our heroes arrived: dark hood pulled low over his eyes, table in a dark corner with his back to the wall, the whole business. He bought them a round and spend some time telling them horror stories of things he had seen in the Endalaus Forest, about warriors torn apart by the beasts of the forest, of entire logging parties wiped out. Without a guide, he explained, any extended trip into the forest was pure suicide. Then, he stated his price: 2.5 gold per week, in advance, plus 10% of any loot taken.

At this point, half the party looked at Slingshot, who has some powerful Strider energy, himself. Why pay a ranger when they had their own Scout? Ray and Slingshot both pointed out the reason. Yes, Slingshot knew forests… but he didn’t know this forest.

The Kid bedazzled Hlidar and bargained him down to just his weekly fee, no cut of the profits, and only half in advance. Such is the fate of those who try to gouge The Kid. But they would need to provide their own gear, Hlidar added, unless they were willing to pay extra. The weather at this time of year shouldn’t be too bad, but it could still be treacherous.

How many weeks did they expect to need? About a week there, probably a week back, so the question became, how long did they expect to need once they arrived at their destination? “Twenty minutes,” was the first suggestion, but they quickly agreed on an estimate of one week. Good enough, Hlidar agreed. They set a time and place, some days hence to allow the gathering of supplies, to begin their journey.

Our heroes’ plan is to travel through the wilds of the Endalaus Forest to Rosgarth, and investigate what’s going on there. They know that someone is gathering followers, so they expect to encounter an army. There was some speculation that they might need to lay siege to a castle. They hope to find Elunad and finally put an end to that threat. Their intention is to gear up for any contingency, especially with anti-wizard measures like magebane, and equipment for breaking and entering, like good lockpicks and siege stones.

Experience

The standard award for each member of the group was 5 points. They fought a hard fight and were victorious, putting down a named boss and completing the exploration the Caverns of Blood.

Cool Point: Ray, for being the MVP and making the victory possible through her divine gifts and level-headed tactics

Booby Point: Orvynth, for having an uncharacteristic lack of success at lopping off that draug’s head