Dungeon Fantasy Nordlond #19: “Adventures In Architecture”

by mshrm

Guard duty. Making friends, breaking friends. Contradictions in architecture, explained. Some notes concerning the wide spectrum of endurance among clerics. An army within an army. A demonstration of how, sometimes, one really can be too pretty.

Spoiler Warning: The campaign (which started here) is set in NordlondGaming Ballistic‘s Norse-themed campaign setting. This session’s events came mostly from The Dragons of Rosgarth. All manner of spoilers lurk ahead, with a few local additions.

Who’s Who

PCs

  • Dara Zivri, Demon-blooded Druid. Hates the army because she’s pulling KP and guard duty
  • Esen, Human Mentalist. AFK
  • Ilmarë “Ray” Kem, Elf Cleric. Hates the army because they’re keeping her from doing her goddess’ will
  • Orvynth the Clanless, Dragon-Blooded Knight. Hates the army because he doesn’t fit in with either camp
  • Slingshot, Human Scout. Hates the army because they walked all over these interesting tracks…
  • The Kid, Nymph Bard. Doesn’t hate the army, is really just more disappointed

What Happened

Our heroes learned a lot last session, but they still had plenty of mysteries to unravel. Over the next few days, as the weather got colder, the party fell into the patterns of life in Maendrath’s army.

For most of the group, this meant days of boring forest patrol. For the most part, this was uneventful. On more than one occasion, Slingshot noticed the faintest traces of tracks where no tracks should be. Eventually, he decided that someone had been stalking him for a change. This put an extra edge on his already-keen sense of paranoia, but never amounted to more than a feeling of being watched.

To her surprise, Dara was released from mandatory training and reassigned to kitchen duty. Apparently the scalekin appreciated her skill with spices. Buck, her stothtroll friend, was assigned to escort her and keep her from harm, a duty that was not at all ceremonial in nature; more than once, he had to hold off a hungry gangaedla, and one time he kicked away a possessed pumpkin from the castle courtyard crops that was trying to sneak a taste of her ankle.

Dara’s relationship with the other kitchen staff was peaceful enough, but strained. The demonic children who cleared the tables were quick to take offense, and their favorite means of communication was by knife. One day, one of them took an unreasoning dislike to Dara. After blowing off some steam slashing viciously at Buck’s forearm while the bored troll held it back from her, it decided to go for a less bloody revenge, by shoving off its chores on her. It gave her a platter bearing two covered bowls and a charred turkey leg, then grumpily gestured for her to carry it over to the main building inside the walls.

Taking care to stand clear of the hostile crops, Dara carried the platter across the courtyard and into the door, where she had previously sighted Elunad. Inside, she met a skinny gangaedla sitting on a stool, whittling. Upon seeing her, it initially hissed, but seeing her burden, it scampered over to grab the turkey leg. Tearing into its meal, it gestured for her to pass.

Further inside, Dara discovered a series of small rooms that had been converted into cells through the addition of riveted straps of iron and padlocked doors. The first cell stood open next to the gangaedla’s chair, and contained little more than an oversized mattress with a ragged blanket on the floor. Beyond that, she found two occupied cells, where she delivered the two bowls. In one cell, she met a human woman who introduced herself as Reyla. In the other, she found a dvergr missing his right hand who had clearly been badly beaten recently. She tried to introduce herself, but the dvergr was unresponsive.

“He don’t talk much, for sure,” came a voice from further down the hall. Curious, Dara stepped a few yards further down the hall, finding another cell, occupied by a grinning man wearing rags. He seemed friendly and said his name was Aron. She apologized for not having a third bowl for him, and spent several minutes chatting. He was quite charming, claiming that he had been imprisoned without reason by elements of Maendrath’s army. Concerned that her absence might draw comment, Dara returned to work after a short conversation.

With her elvish sensitivity to magic, Ray began noticing fluctuations in the local mana field. It was similar to the feeling of crossing into a no-mana zone, but coming in waves, emanating from Rosgarth Castle itself. They would start in the morning, last for some varying amount of time, and then abruptly cut off.

After hearing the rumors of a “holy man” being sought by Maendrath’s minions, our heroes decided it might be a good idea to keep a lower profile. The Kid helped Ray dye her distinctive white hair to a darker, more mundane shade, and she took to wearing a headband to keep her hair over her elvish ears. Realizing the impression he leaves on all who see him, The KId attempted to disguise himself, but failed badly. The Kid’s beauty shines through any attempt to conceal it. He’s just too pretty.

Our heroes discussed returning to the dokkalf skunkworks, bluffing their way inside again, and following the trap door passage the rest of the way. They decided against it, though, guessing that the dokkalfs might have re-armed their razor-wire traps. The only reason they had been able to disarm them last time was that Esen could levitate slowly and carefully down the slide, and Esen was down with the brain worms again. That route was troublesome, at least for the time being.

There was some discussion of the party’s goals. Most of the party were mainly hoping to avert the invasion and help the bandits escape. Ray reminded them that her primary goal her was to complete the quest that her goddess had given her, to recover the ritual to restore ley lines.

Deciding that it was best to clarify loyalties, our heroes started a conscious effort to win the hearts and minds of the bandit camp leaders. This snowballed quickly, triggering a get-together where The Kid delivered a stirring speech. This convinced the bandit leaders to make common cause with one another and cooperate in whatever came next.

What would that be? Good question, but immediate flight en masse was immediately rejected on the grounds that two thirds of the army would just chase down the fleeing third and kill them all. They would bide their time.

Speaking of, for an invading force, weren’t they doing an awful lot of hanging around not doing any invading? Our heroes thought this peculiar, but the only explanation they could think of was that Maendrath must be gathering his forces.

Finally, the party’s patience and diligent work paid off, when the luck of the draw saw them taken off routine patrol and assigned to night guard duty inside the castle itself.

They reported for duty at midnight. First, they took a trip around the building, following their assigned beat. The ground floor was cells. The other end of the hall had a stairway going up to the second story of the building, where they found a hall of five doors, each marked by a banner. Examination of the distinct heraldry on each banner identified these as the rooms of the supreme commanders of each segment of the army: the irzhajotunn, the scalekin, the dokkalfs, the gangaedla, and the wuyaren.

Seeing that the gangaedla attendant was sleeping on its oversized mattress, inside its unlocked cell, the party went for a quiet conversation with the prisoners.

Reyla shared more of her story. As it turned out, she was a cleric of the Lady of Life. Maendrath hired her some months back to act as his personal healer, then imprisoned her. She was forced to heal the wizard daily, leaving her exhausted. Comparing notes, our heroes realized that Maendrath was visiting her every day shortly after the mana fluctuations stopped. Apparently, he was up to something that would backfire badly, inflicting wounds tainted with necromancy and more than a trace of fae magic. Ray prayed to share energy with the cleric, helping to offset her exhaustion somewhat.

Under gentle questioning by The Kid, Reyla shared her suspicion that Maendrath was not only a wizard, but a dragon in disguise. The Lady of Life had appeared to her in a dream, warning that there were two dragons to be stopped, and she suspected that Maendrath was the first.

The dvergr proved to be a dwarf of few words. He explained that he was a follower of the God of Law, the same as Orvynth. Maendrath wanted the dvergr to heal. The dvergr would not heal. Therefore, the dvergr was tortured. He refused an offer to heal his wounds, noting that it would draw comment if he recovered so quickly. Instead, Ray healed him a bit, enough to stabilize him and stop the bleeding, but leave him with obvious wounds.

Aron’s talkative charm was no match for The Kid. It became clear that he was being evasive, trying to hide something, which drew our heroes suspicion. Ray enchanted Aron to speak the truth. Under questioning, he finally snapped. Aron confessed that he had died in this forest years ago, before being brought back as a vampire by the rising necromantic energy in the area. In the end, in a shriek, he spoke the name “Reiðvængr”, calling her an “ancient wyrm” and saying that she drew close to the land of the living, before crumbling to dust.

Shocked at this development, our heroes were ready to get to the bottom of things, literally. They knew there were subterranean goings-on here, from their visit to the dokkalf compound. They suspected that Maendrath’s games with the fabric of magic were happening below ground. They felt certain that there must be a way to get underground from this building, but the stairs only went up. Ray pointed out that there might be a back stair from one of the commanders’ rooms, but they didn’t want to start kicking in doors upstairs. The party described that hallway as “five boss fights in a row” and didn’t want to tackle it without checking all their other options.

Thus, we find The Kid using a rarely-seen piece of magic to enchant himself with the power of far-feeling, and groping around beneath the ground floor to try to locate any open spaces. After some casting around, he was able to find a gap near the cells – just a bit of a ceiling and a curved bit of wall.

Our heroes took a closer look at the sleeping lizard on its huge mattress. The Kid noticed some damage to the stone of the cell floor, which drew suspicion. He cast a spell of sleep on the already-sleeping gangaedla, and they dragged its entire mattress to the side… revealing a hidden trap door.

Our heroes opened the trap door and, after a quick casting of continual light, descended the ladder thus revealed. This led to a spiral stair leading down. They passed an intersecting stair leading back up, but bypassed it for the moment.

At the bottom of the spiral stair, our heroes found a short hall with a corner at the end. Peeking around this corner, they spotted two oversized stone statues bearing swords, a short distance down the hall. Of course, any statue in a dungeon is assumed to be animated, and of course, these two were. The party rushed around the corner and quickly crippled both statues’ legs in a short, brutal scuffle.

The statues had been guarding a pair of double doors, coated thickly with tar, with a bell hanging next to them. When they rang the bell, a deep, angry voice came from the air nearby. After a short “who dares?!” speech, the voice advised them to shove off. Subsequent bell ringing had no further effect.

Opening the door allowed a cloud of green gas to escape, causing our heroes’ eyes to tear and throats to burn. Realizing they couldn’t stay there long, they took a quick look around.

They found a bubbling pool of acid. The hall ended with a ramp down into the corrosive stuff, with a side passage at the bottom of the ramp. Beyond that doorway, the floor sloped up again to continue the hall on the far side of the acid. At the very limits of visibility in the distance, the most keen-eyed of the group could make out a tiled hallway covered in runes… apparently the furthest point that they had explored under the dokkalf compound.

Fearing the effect that the acidic vapor was having on their lungs, the party again sealed the tar-covered doors. In a fit of irritation, Slingshot set fire to the doors, then they returned the way they had came.

On the return trip, they took the other stairway up. It led them to a large room containing a bedroll and the chalk scrawlings of a madman. When Orvynth stepped into the room, some of those chalk marks exploded into a blast of lightning – evil runes!

As the party’s expert on magic, Ray took charge. With great care, she slowly dusted away the marks between their entrance and the bedroll, the only part of the room not obviously trapped. They paused there to search the bedroll, finding nothing but a bag of caltrops and a rat-shaped throwing blade. Annoyed at how long the process was taking, Ray blew away the rest of the chalk runes in a single effort. (Rolling a 3!) They moved to the room’s other door, which led them… back to the hall of commanders’ rooms. It was the middle room’s door.

Our heroes returned the still-snoring gangaedla’s mattress to its original position and returned to guard duty. When relieved, they were questioned about Aron, but feigned ignorance. “Don’t know what to tell you. We were over there, guarding, when the prisoner became agitated, started shouting, and fell over into that pile of dust there. You really should warn somebody if you’re going to have them guard a vampire, that’s a safety and security violation. Later!”

That night, two members of the party had significant dreams.

Orvynth dreamed about a swamp, where they met the dvergr from the cells, sitting next to a small fire. With a nod, the dvergr stood. “Now the training begins.”

Ray dreamed of a woman surrounded by cats, the Queen of the World, who asked her how the quest was going. Ray gave her the latest news, explaining that the way forward seemed blocked. “Then let the way be opened,” the goddess said, and Ray awoke… now knowing the spell Resist Acid.

EXPERIENCE

The standard award for each member of the group was 8 points. They covered a lot of ground, uncovered a lot of information, and made definite progress towards resolving the situation… one way or another.

Cool Point: Ray, for holding down both cleric and wizard roles, rolling against defaults, and still achieving critical success