Dungeon Fantasy Nordlond #15: “Darkness Falls”
In which our heroes journey deep into the Dragongrounds on a quest directed by a goddess. On the merits of using both carrot and stick when dealing with bandits. Seeing the sights, and the dangers of seeing too much of some sites. Deadly encounters, both large and small. Loyalty and courage, both put to the test; some pass, some fail.
Spoiler Warning: The campaign (beginning here) is set in Nordlond, Gaming Ballistic‘s Norse-themed campaign setting. This session has the party starting on the previously-forshadowed events of The Dragons of Rosgarth.
- Blixa, Half-elf Barbarian. Into the darkness, then into the light.
- Esen, Human Mentalist. Had second thoughts about his second thoughts.
- Ilmarë “Ray” Kem, Elf Cleric. On a mission from her goddess.
- Orvynth the Clanless, Dragon-Blooded Knight. In the market for an upgraded mount.
- Slingshot, Human Scout. Chief assistant to the Grim Reaper.
- The Kid, Nymph Bard. Charmer, I’m sure.
- Ganthas Half-Man, Halfling Slinger. Never seems to get a clear shot.
- Ragna Bjarndottir, Human Brute. Loose cannon.
- Hlidar, guide. Knows the path, but seems suspicious.
At the end of last session, the party had resolved to travel cross-country to the ruins of Castle Rosgarth, guided by local expert Hlidar, to follow up on various hints and clues that they have accumulated over the past weeks, in pursuit of two goals. First, they hope to track down their long-standing nemesis, Elunad, a fae noble and mistress of illusion. Second, they hope to recover the secret of repairing shattered ley line junctions, keeping that secret from falling into the wrong hands.
As previously planned, the party gathered supplies for the trek and rendezvoused with their guide. Ray, The Kid, and Orvynth all obtained horses, leaving Blixa, Slingshot, and the henchmen on foot, with Hlidar leading his heavily-burdened donkey. Esen, of course, tied a cord around his waist, with the other end tied to someone’s saddle, so that he bobbed along like a human balloon as he psionically levitated.
It’s worth noting the striking appearance of the party as they assembled for the start of their new quest. They’ve come a long way since they first banded together a few months ago, too poor to afford even a room at the inn. Floating ten feet in the air, Esen wore his new enchanted robes – expertly dyed a disturbing shade of purple – and a golden pyramid helmet with a single, stylized, staring eye covering his face. Ray was the very model of an elven cleric of Sune, dressed head-to-toe in shining elven mail, while Slingshot was dressed in the traditional Lincoln green of the professional scout. Orvynth’s epic plate gave him a baroque and warlike appearance. Of course, with the supernatural poise and charisma of a nymph, The Kid would have looked sharp in nothing but rags and dirt, but was absolutely resplendent in new silks and furs. (Purple, obviously, but a totally different kind of purple than the squirmy kind of Esen’s robe.)
In contrast, Blixa hadn’t changed much from the days when our heroes were questing for the Hall of Judgment. He had upgraded to a warhammer, of course, but his armor was largely the same: a scale shirt and rustic leather leggings, leaving his impressive abs on display.
The party left Nordvorn, passing through the great wall, and made their way east, into the forest. The first day was uneventful, as they passed through relatively well-travelled lands. They passed fields of stumps and other signs of logging. They made excellent time, and camped at a site that Hlidar knew.
Through the second day, they saw the surrounding terrain change. Signs of logging became more rare. The forest seemed to grow up around them as they travelled. They began to enter the older growth of the forest, where redwoods towered hundreds of feet in the air. Blixa realized that they were no longer following a human road, but instead a natural game trail that just happened to be over twelve feet wide. “What kind of animal needs a trail like this?” our heroes wondered.
About halfway through the day, Ray pointed out movement up ahead, where a small group of ragged men were trying to conceal themselves in some bushes. Clearly, they intended ambush. Slingshot faded stealthily off to the side and circled around, while the rest of the party continued on, acting as if they had noticed nothing.
As they approached, The Kid advanced and called out “Hello, there, boys!” The foremost bandit stepped out of his hiding place, blushing and trying to hide his axe behind his back, clearly smitten. Simultaneously, the rearmost bandit gasped and dropped his axe, as he felt the cold steel of Slingshot’s arrowhead gentle nestle into his ear.
Caught both coming and going, the bandits wisely chose to surrender. Our heroes debated what to do with them. The Kid gave them a stern talking-to: “No banditing!” Ray took their clothes as punishment. Slingshot and Blixa suggested the idea of just executing the bandits outright, discussing the idea right in front of the now-naked captives, who became ever more wide-eyed and frightened. Finally, Blixa hefted his warhammer and made as if to charge at them. This was too much; they broke and ran, scattering in all directions like a flock of birds when a cat pounces in their midst. In his panic, one even tried for a few seconds to climb a tree to escape before giving up and fleeing.
Aside from this entertaining diversion, the second day of travel was uneventful. Again, Hlidar knew of a good place to camp, and our heroes had a quiet night.
On the third day, the party began to enter even wilder terrain. In the morning, they found themselves facing a stream that was shallow but quite fast-moving. This gave them pause, as they weighed their options. Hlidar explained that they could take the risk of crossing here, or they could head upstream for a way to find a safer crossing point, at the price of extra travel time. Meanwhile, Esen floated back and forth, ten feet over the choppy surface, mocking the others and asking what was taking them so long.
In the end, they came up with a plan. Orvynth’s warhorse was deemed to be the strongest and most sure-footed mount to make the crossing. With Slingshot behind Orvynth, they managed to successfully cross the torrent, dragging a rope behind. Slingshot tied off the rope securely on the far side, and the others used the rope to assist their own crossings, with Esen “encouraging” them from overhead. It took a bit of time and effort, but they were all able to cross safely, if not drily. After a short rest, they continued on.
Later on, in the evening, Hlidar began to chuckle quietly to himself. This did not sit well with our heroes, who demanded to know what was so funny. Hlidar explained that they were soon going to see something unusual, and he was looking forward to seeing the looks on their faces.
Eventually, the party crossed over a ridgeline, coming within sight of a wide stretch of flat, thickly forested land. Ahead of them, they could see a circle of standing stones, similar to Stonehenge… but ten times larger! The stone blocks towered hundreds of feet into the air! “Jotunn,” Hlidar explained, “from long ago, before the dragons defeated them.”
In awe, our heroes insisted on a closer look. As they approached, Blixa noted that the extraordinarily-wide game trails all bent away from the huge circle. Whatever great beasts lived in this forest, they didn’t seem to care for that area. Our heroes cautiously examined the circle once they reached its edge, before attempting to cross inside. Ray sensed no evil forces or lack of sanctity, and the horses seemed willing to enter, so they proceeded.
In the center of the henge, they found a huge stone altar, covered with the unsettling runes of the Elder Tongue. Esen read the unholy inscription, announcing that the jotunns used this place to make sacrifice to unknowable forces. Ray pointed out that whatever unholy forces might once have been here, they had clearly faded with time. The crumbling of the stones bore witness to the vast ages that had passed since the altar had seen use.
Charmed by the ancient, picturesque ruins, and seeing the advantages of a campsite that was avoided by the local megafauna, the party decided to spend the night inside the henge. Esen wondered aloud about the possibility of making a sacrifice on the altar, just to see what would happen. Hearing this, Blixa impulsively declared that he would be right back with something warm blooded to sacrifice, and left the circle to go hunt.
Time dragged on, and eventually, one by one, our heroes drifted off to their bedrolls. Eventually, late in the night, Blixa returned to greet the person on watch. He had clearly had a bad time of it, being covered in briar scratches and muddy to the waist. “You know,” he said wonderingly, “I don’t believe there is any game anywhere around this place. Not even so much as a rabbit.”
As he spoke, there was a distant sound of thunder, and a cold wind blew through the camp. The temperature plummeted, and snow began to fall, first in thick, wet clumps, and then mixed with stinging, icy sleet. The rest of the party woke, one by one, and huddled around the fire as the storm moved in and got worse. Lightning lit the distance in sheets. Blixa began seeing humanoid silhouettes in the distance, like men wearing horned helms brawling… but these men towered over the trees, and when one landed a blow, it sounded like thunder. To say the least, our heroes were concerned. Then, as the night became deathly cold, from all around, they could hear the howling of wolves.
Disconcerted and looking to assert dominance, Blixa threw back his head and howled back.
A dark figure heaved itself into the sky, looming above the henge, staring down at them with eyes filled with fire. A wolf, but mind-breakingly huge. A wolf that could eat the sun, then turn to chase down the moon.
… and then everyone woke up.
Shaken, our heroes compared notes and realized that they had shared the same horrible nightmare. Sore and groggy, they broke camp. “I guess maybe we should have made that sacrifice after all,” Esen observed.
The fourth day’s progress was slower, both due to the party’s poor night’s sleep, and the increasingly rugged terrain. Hlidar tried to encourage them by announcing that if they had been impressed by the old jotunn henge, they might be interested in the old bridge that he was leading them towards. “Not jotunn,” he explained, “not nearly so old. Dragon-built. Well, built by dragons’ slaves, you know. Dragon directed.”
This perked up our heroes a bit. They found themselves descending into a rocky valley with a rushing stream in its center. On their left side, they saw a majestic waterfall, which fell into a wide pool below. The pool emptied into the stream, where an old stone bridge spanned the gap. The path led across the bridge to a twisting, crumbling set of stone stairs leading up the far side of the valley.
As they descended into the valley, though, the horses began to get skittish. The more keen-eyed members of the group looked around to see what could be causing the upset, and spotted a strange and inexplicable thing. Coming swiftly down the stairs on the far side of the stream were two globes of swirling darkness, eight or nine feet across. What they were was not clear, but it was clear that they were making their way in uncanny silence directly towards our heroes.
Anticipating the worst, and being generally untrained for mounted combat, our heroes dismounted, leaving the frightened horses with Hlidar. Drawing their weapons, they hurried to meet the mysterious balls of darkness at the bridge.
Slingshot sprinted out ahead of the rest of the group, firing at the center of the lead globe and hearing the familiar sound of arrows striking flesh. Whatever the creature was, though, it made no sound even as the missiles struck home. Blixa and Orvynth rushed to met one globe at the far end of the bridge, while the others struggled to keep up.
From the sounds, the creature in the first globe carried live steel. It landed a powerful cut to Blixa’s unarmored abdomen, badly wounding the barbarian. Orvynth, and later Ragna, struck into the darkness in an attempt to help, but landed at least as many blows on Blixa as they did their unseen foe. When Ragna accidentally hit Blixa in the face with her axe, Blixa dropped his warhammer and fell prone, stunned and at negative hit points. No one could see through the darkness, but they could hear some clues as to what was going on: one of Orvynth’s successful attacks provoked the clatter of a sword being dropped on stone, and thereafter, they could hear a disturbing sucking sound.
Meanwhile, Slingshot had rushed ahead, crossing the bridge entirely. He put several more arrows into the other globe of darkness as it rushed him. As it enveloped him, it struck his foot with a cutting blow, dropping him to the ground. More irritated than inconvenienced by his crippled foot, Slingshot continued to fire from his prone position. The unseen creature fell to the ground, where it grappled with him. He distinctly felt something gnawing at his leg, but it wasn’t able to penetrate his new, high-quality armor.
The beast struggled to reach his upper body, aiming to pin him, but at point-blank range, there was no way Slingshot could miss. He put two arrows into its torso. He felt the weight atop him slip away, as the globe of darkness dissipated and the humanoid figure thus revealed turned into a cloud of dust. Slingshot’s arrows fell from the creature’s body into his lap.
By that time, Ray finally arrived at the far end of the bridge. Thinking that the darkness might be a magical buff, she tried dispelling magic, but to no effect. Seeing the death of Slingshot’s opponent, she put the pieces together. Blood-sucking, darkness-loving fiends that turn to dust when they die? She has something for that… Presenting her holy symbol, she unleashed the holy power of her goddess to rebuke the undead.
The vampire fled, but by this time, it was deep into feeding on Blixa and had the barbarian in a firm grip. It dragged him away as it ran!
With the vampire’s speed, our heroes’ only hope was ranged attack. Orvynth unleashed their fiery breath as the globe of darkness mounted the first stretch of stairs, scorching both the vampire and Blixa. Bleeding from multiple wounds and badly disoriented, Blixa recovered from being stunned and made a heroic effort, struggling free of the vampire’s grip. He fell heavily to the stone stairs, spent.
The vampire might have escaped, but it was overcome by anger and the thirst for blood. It knelt and viciously sank its fang into the barbarian’s side, killing Blixa immediately.
In the next moment, Slingshot hit the vampire with two arrows. Its protective ball of darkness evaporated and it fell into a cloud of dust.
Our heroes collected themselves after the fight. Ray healed Slingshot’s crippled foot; it turned out the injury was not permanent. They gathered wood for a pyre and mourned Blixa. As they paid their respects, a rainbow was seen, giving positive proof that their comrade had entered Valhalla. Saddened, but knowing that their work still needed to be done, our heroes continued on their journey.
(Out of character, the players were curious if Blixa had any good loot on him. He didn’t. Blixa had a long history of questionable decisions regarding money, like the time he took a large amount of coin and buried it in the forest in a jar… and then forgot where. Not to mention the drinking and the wenching. The only valuable on him was the silver ring Aslief had given them all, which the party elected to send to the pyre’s flames with him.)
That same night, the party made camp under the vast branches of a giant redwood. They set up three tents, each with its own fire, thinking to reduce the visibility of a single, larger fire.
The first to realize that something was amiss was Slingshot, who felt jolting vibrations through the ground and realized something big was approaching, but it didn’t take long for the sound of crashing footsteps to wake everyone. Outside the tent, they could hear loud, snuffling breaths and general commotion of terrified horses.
Slingshot and Orvynth peeked out of their respective tents, and were astounded at what they found. It was a gigantic, bipedal reptile, with short forelegs and a remarkably large, toothy mouth. A tyrannosaurus, when you get right down to it. Except this one was happily burying its face in one of their campfires.
A furiously one-sided game of charades followed, as our heroes tried to figure out what to do. It turns out that Slingshot is a lot better at gestured communication, so the conversation amounted to Orvynth pointing at the dinosaur, and Slingshot telling the dragon-blooded his plan.
The planning didn’t get very far, though, before it was interrupted. On the far side of camp, Slingshot noticed Hlidar quietly making for where the horses were tied. Assuming that their guide was aiming to abandon and rob them, Slingshot fired an arrow past the dinosaur, hitting Hlidar in the arm! Hlidar fell to the ground, screaming that he’d been hit, he was done for, and the like.
This drew the attention of the fire-loving tyrannosaurus, who pulled its face out of the coals to see what was going on. Their hand forced, Orvynth charged from their tent. From the hirelings’ tent on the far side of camp, Ragna did the same, flanking the huge beast. Slingshot retreated quickly to get some space, putting one arrow into the dinosaur’s eye. Stepping out of his tent, The Kid used all his bardic training and knowledge of acoustics to roar back at the dinosaur, hoping to draw its attention.
Partially blinded and badly angered by the attack, the dinosaur spun to face this new threat, forcing Orvynth and Ragna to drop to the ground to avoid being smashed by hundreds of pounds of dinosaur tail. Expecting a rival tyrannosaur, it instead found a tiny purple mammal. It snapped at The Kid, who nimbly backflipped out of its reach. Then, it turned back to crush Orvynth in its mighty jaws. The knight survived, thanks to heavy armor, but was injured and grappled.
With the beast’s head thus brought down to ground level, Slingshot dashed up and put two arrows directly into the creature’s one remaining eye. It crashed to the ground, blinded and thrashing. Taking advantage of the opening, the rest of the party piled on and finished the beast off.
The party recovered Hlidar, who was still cradling his wounded arm and shouting about how he was kill’t, this was the end of Hlidar, and so forth. When questioned, he claimed that he had had no thought of betrayal. In fact, he had been making a heroic run to release and rescue the horses. Those fire-proof things were too much to fight, obviously only a fool would try to fight one, and so the thing to do was to sneak away and let the thing have the campfire!
Our heroes were suspicious of this, but even when magically compelled to tell the truth, Hlidar stuck to his story. Furthermore, Ganthas backed him, saying Hlidar had described the plan before slipped out the back of the hireling’s tent on his ill-fated expedition.
Well, the party agreed, mistakes had been made all around. Ray healed Hlidar, and they gave him $100 in coin from the party funds as recompense for his trouble. Slingshot skinned and dressed the dead dinosaur, thinking there might be some use for fire-proof lizard leather. Everyone returned to bed.
The next morning, Hlidar was gone, having fled in the night with his donkey.
The standard award for each member of the group was 5 points. They shut down one fight before it even began, won two hard battles, and sent a comrade off to Valhalla.
The loot was light: two standard greatswords, and whatever useful bits Slingshot took off the dinosaur corpse.
Cool Point: Slingshot, for playing the part of the angel of death – every foe that fell in this session, Slingshot delivered the final blow
Booby Point: Posthumously awarded to whatever character appears to take Blixa’s place