Dungeon Fantasy Nordlond #20: “Maybe we should have done more prep work…”

by mshrm

In which our heroes get to the bottom of things – or, at least, the bottom of the castle. Some remarks on how an evil mastermind must occasionally put the cart before the horse. Echoes of Timmy, long gone but never forgotten. A battle years in the making. “You’ve got to expect that kind of thing from a bard.”

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. A lot of the pieces have been moved around, but there’s still plenty of spoilers. Beware!

Who’s Who

PCs

  • Dara Zivri, Demon-blooded Druid. Scary when she uses her “Mom” voice
  • Esen, Human Mentalist. Playing the long game
  • Ilmarë “Ray” Kem, Elf Cleric. On a mission from Sune
  • Orvynth the Clanless, Dragon-Blooded Knight/Holy Warrior. Serves a higher power
  • Slingshot, Human Scout. AFK
  • The Kid, Nymph Bard. Living the dream, baby!

What Happened

Last session, the party kicked the metaphorical hornets’ nest good and hard. By destroying the stone guardians under the castle and vandalizing the doors to the hall of acid, they had demonstrated that hostile forces were at work inside the camp. It was clear that the army’s leadership had taken note, with orders coming down for re-doubled patrols of the surrounding forest.

The constant training began to pay off. [… as everyone spent all their available experience in anticipation of at least one big boss fight. –GM] Ray learned new prayers. Esen turned up with new disturbing tattoos, expanded psychic powers, and a story about how he had been hanging out with one of those amphibious intelligent octopi after running into it around camp. After a seemingly-endless dream of learning wisdom from the imprisoned dvergr – wisdom that somehow required giving his teacher a large number of piggyback rides through muddy terrain – Orvynth unlocked holy powers based on his faith in the God of Law. Dara and The Kid both expanded their professional skills and picked up new magical knowledge.

Slingshot, on the other hand, disappeared into the forest on a tracking expedition.

The next morning, Esen was showing off his expanded abilities a bit, by levitating higher than he previously could, when he noticed an unusual commotion in the irzhajotunn camp. They appeared to be assembling as if for a presentation. He remarked on this to the others. They wondered what might be happening. Inquiries around camp quickly determined that there was going to be some kind of announcement. The irzhajotunn and dragonkin had been notified in advance, while the bandit camp had been ignored.

While The Kid and Orvynth investigated, Dara went to report for morning kitchen duty, only to be stopped at the drawbridge. A wuyaren sentinel insisted that there was no kitchen duty today – no lunch – no admission for mammal scum. Dara insisted that she needed to return to the kitchen to recover some spices she had left behind. When she started to raise her voice, she managed to get the sentry nervous enough to allow her through. Inside the castle walls, she made a quick detour to check on the animated crops (still hostile) and attempt to purify the earth they were planted in, in hopes of clearing the necromantic influences that were disturbing them. Sadly, she was unable to purify the area, as the necromantic pollution was simply too great.

At this point, a cloud began to form over the castle. It quickly came together into the image of a human wizard, complete with flowing white beard and an impressive staff, towering over the entire camp.

“Maaaaaaendraaaaaaaaath….” the dragon-kin hissed as one, in almost religious awe.

In a voice that could be heard throughout the camp, the image of Maendrath delivered a brief speech of encouragement, ending with an announcement. “Gather your weapons,” he said, “for we march at dawn!”

Our heroes passed around a meaningful glance. The clock was ticking.

As the image began to dissipate, The Kid leapt atop the earthen wall around Eldgrimur’s camp. With a dramatic flourish, he pulled out a horn and blasted out a stirring fanfare. This started a chain reaction, with the dragonkin howling and stomping their feet, and the irzhajotunn banging on their shields and shouting out their “Ah-OOO!” war cry. Even the bandit rabble were caught up in the spirit of things, at least enough to give a half-hearted cheer. Maendrath’s image paused and re-coalesced for a moment to aim a surprised eye at this unexpected development.

“Did you just inspire the enemy army?” Orvynth asked, as The Kid lightly jumped down.

“It fit the moment, I had to go with it,” The Kid calmed replied. Always the showman.

Taking advantage of the sudden burst of activity in the wake of Maendrath’s announcement, our heroes rapidly made their way to the castle. The Kid tried to brush off the sentinel at the drawbridge with a furrowed brow and a brisk nod, but the wuyaren was having none of it. It blocked their way, calling for them to halt and state their business.

“We’re at war, man!” The Kid growled. He pulled a sheaf of papers from his pouch and shook them at the guard. “Do you want to be the one responsible for delaying vital messages?!” [The players joked that The Kid was actually holding the sheet music for “The Humpty Dance”. –GM]

The wuyaren wasn’t trained to deal with The Kid’s combination of advanced bardic training in emotion manipulation and supernatural charisma. Dismayed, it allowed the party to pass.

Inside the courtyard, they paused briefly, unsure of how to proceed. “Psst!” came from the kitchen door, where Dara had sought refuge. She had discovered the demonic kitchen staff off-duty and lazing about. Taking advantage of their sloth, she had kept herself busy by using some of the available ingredients to brew up a few doses of poison; perhaps some of her more warlike comrades would be interested in coating their weapons?

After a brief pause for conversation in the dining area, our heroes decided on their next course of action. Moving quickly, trying to give an air of being on urgent, official business, they crossed the courtyard to the main building. Inside, they were confronted by the gangaedla guard, who jumped down from his stool to hiss at them and make shooing gestures. Orvynth handled this annoyance simply by grabbing him by the neck and ramming his head against the wall, rendering him unconscious.

The party moved to release the prisoners, only to find the cells empty, doors hanging ajar. Unexpected and worrisome. Next, they returned to the gangaedla’s cell, pulling the oversized mattress aside to reveal the trapdoor they had previously discovered. Down the stairs, down the hall, back to the area where they had destroyed a pair of magically animated stone guardians. The rubble from that fight was still scattered around, but someone had made hasty, slapdash repairs to the tarred doors. Even so, eye-watering wisps of corrosive vapor leaked through.

Praying for the blessings of her goddess, Ray enchanted them all with acid resistance. They pulled the doors open, releasing a cloud of vapor. Inside, they found the pool of acid much as they had last seen it. One by one, they stepped into the pool, held their breath, and swam through the submerged side-passage.

First, Orvynth, who demonstrated unexpected aquatic skill. “Is he part alligator?” the others wondered.

The Kid insisted that he could only swim if dressed appropriately, and so stripped to the waist before entering the acid. The Kid also showed unexpected skill and grace with his breaststoke.

The others managed the task with less flair but no particular trouble… aside from Esen. Being the pasty and pencil-necked type, he just wasn’t as prepared for the athletic challenge as the others, and began to flounder halfway through the submerged passage. The Kid had to backtrack to rescue him. (On the bright side, this gave The Kid the chance to emerge from the water with Esen in his arms with his hair flowing like an 80’s romance novel cover…)

Our heroes found themselves in a short hallway that led to a fine set of doors, and beyond them, a comfortable study. The walls were lined with books. Papers and open books lay on an oversized desk. Several overstuffed chairs stood around the room.

Overstuffed chairs? “Wait! No one touch anything!” The Kid hissed.

“Already not touching anything,” Esen replied, pointing to the three inch gap between his feet and the floor.

Raising a hand for silence, The Kid circled one of the chairs. “As I thought,” he said, pointing out the tiny “Inspected by Timmy” sticker. These were trapped chairs, like they had seen during their foray into the dokkalf workshops. If touched, they would revert to their carnivorous, gooey form and attack!

Wary, our heroes glanced around the room. A curtained alcove drew their attention. Keeping his distance and using telekinesis, Esen pulled back the curtain. On the other side, they found a dark, smallish room dominated by a silver pentagram on the floor. A pentagram containing a horned, hooved demon. “Isn’t this interesting?” it rumbled.

With The Kid taking the lead, they questioned the demon. It introduced itself and seemed surprisingly forthcoming. It explained that it was a follower of the same diabolical dragon that had provided the scalekin to Maendrath, sent to serve him as part of the same gift, along with several other demons. While Maendrath had welcomed the scalekin, who remained more dragonkin than demon, he had balked at utilizing the entirely infernal servants. He had ordered the doomchildren and peshkali to serve in the kitchens – a grave insult, the demon remarked – and imprisoned the demon itself in this pentagram, for occasional consultation, trapped and bored. It would like nothing better than to escape the pentagram and return to its master, it explained. Perhaps setting a few fires on the way out, as one does.

The party was initially skeptical, but eventually came to accept the demon at its word. [A turning point in the conversation was when Orvynth realized that they’re more the kind of Holy Warrior who hates fae than the kind of Holy Warrior who hates demons. –GM] When asked what it could offer in exchange for its freedom, it claimed to understand the inner workings of Maendrath’s ritual… and how to stop it. First, one might kill Maendrath himself. Second, one might damage “the obelisk”, an artifact that was the focus of the ritual and key to its success. Third, one might deny Maendrath his supplemental power source, necessary to overcome the resistance of the necromantic energies rising from the earth: the torcs…

Hearing this, most of the party quickly divested themselves of the torcs, and just in time: as Orvynth struggled with their torc, it lit up with a brief lightshow. Orvynth felt their very soul being pulled away, and fell to a knee.

“Ah,” the demon remarked. “Perhaps only two ways, now.”

While Ray prayed to restore Orvynth, the demon explained that the torcs were a conduit for extracting life force, as a counter to the necromantic energies rising against the ritual. If Maendrath was extracting that energy, it meant that the ritual was in progress. Time was short.

In the end, the party struck a deal. In exchange for the information it had provided, they would set the demon free, so long as it swore to leave them in peace. Feel free to set those fires, though. They took out the removable section of the pentagram, which turned out to be a hefty bar of silver, and pointed the demon towards the door.

At the threshold, the demon turned with a grin. “The ironic thing is, Maendrath wouldn’t need all that extra energy, if it weren’t for the other dragon. The ghost dragon. She’s making it more difficult than it need be.”

After the demon’s exit, the party continued deeper into the subterranean complex. The next chamber was a bit of a surprise, as it appeared to be a foggy outdoor landscape, dimly lit. After a moment of confusion, our heroes realized they were actually in a large room made up to appear like a small moonlit graveyard.

From the fog, Elunad’s voice: “Will you dog my steps forever?!” A glowing green bear shuffled out of the fog. “Kill them all!”

Breaking into a sprint, Orvynth impaled the fae bear on the point of the Law Giver. With a final look of surprise, the bear popped like a bubble: an illusion.

No further attacks appeared to be forthcoming. The party explored deeper into the fog. They discovered Vrin, their friend from the Hall of Judgement and long-time captive of Elunad, lying unconscious with a handprint bruise across her face. They revived her with healing potions and paut, but she was still rather shaky.

Our heroes finally found their way through the fog to find an exit, which led them through a short hallway into a huge, brilliantly-lit chamber with a raised dais at the far end. Several strongboxes lay near the dais. The floor sparkled and shimmered like it was made from rainbows. There was the sound of rushing water. After a moment, they realized that the floor was a single sheet of fine glass over a rapidly-flowing underground river.

Suspicious of this, they sent Esen to investigate the strongboxes. In the first, he found several magic items, including a couple of amulets, which Orvynth and Esen immediately donned. In the second, he found a bizarre crown sized for a dragon’s head, crusted with gems and precious metals. In the third, he found cash, in the form of the oversized silver coins that the irzhajotunn were paid in.

That was enough to lure The Kid over for a closer look. With The Kid’s estimate of how much money was there, along with Orvynth’s observations of how many soldiers for how much pay, they realized that there was only maybe another ten days’ worth of pay for the irzhajotunn force. One way or another, this thing had been about to come to a head.

With the clue of the crown, the party understood the purpose of the chamber: it was a throne room. Clearly, Maendrath had a high opinion of himself.

Aware of the shortness of time, our heroes left the treasure where they found it and pressed on, reasoning that they would pick it up on the way out, if they lived.

The exit from the throne room, behind the dais, opened into an absolutely immense domed chamber. Across hundreds of feet of level, featureless stone floor, an ominous dark stone obelisk covered in glowing runes stood at least 45 feet high. Next to the obelisk, a green dragon stood, making mystical passes with his claws.

Maendrath.

Being deeply involved in his work, the dragon didn’t immediately notice their presence. After a whispered consultation as to tactics, the party started walking across the distance with The Kid in the lead, closely followed by Orvynth. The others trailed them at a distance of a few yards. They moved neither fast nor slow, neither announcing their presence nor moving with stealth.

They made it maybe a third of the distance before Maendrath took note of them. He challenged them, telling them to leave immediately, before they were destroyed.

The Kid delivered a bold, eloquent speech, full of poetry. It began at “All hail the great and powerful Maendrath”, claiming that our heroes were actually a delegation of pilgrims come to bow down to his magnificence. By the time the dragon crossed the intervening distance, though, it had changed into a direct attempt at seduction.

[“I can’t believe I’m actually watching the bard try to seduce the dragon,” Esen’s player remarked. –GM]

Maendrath bent down and reached for The Kid, picking him up in one huge, scaled hand. The two gazed into each other’s eyes. Then Orvynth went to stab the dragon in the eye.

Maendrath jerked back from the sudden attack, parrying it, and lifting The Kid off the ground. Maintaining an aura of seduction, The Kid cast a spell of silence on the dragon. “No, don’t say anything. Your eyes say all that needs to be said.”

Ray, Dara, and Esen threw supernatural attacks and tried to close the distance between themselves and the main fight, to no great effect. Dara’s sandstorm spell was stymied by the dragon’s nictitating membranes, and Maendrath was able to dodge Ray’s sunbolt. Esen took a dose of spice and tried to take down the dragon with mental stabs, but was challenged by range and Maendrath’s powerful will.

Over the next couple of turns, while trading blows with Orvynth and tossing sporadic ranged attacks at the others, Maendrath retreated back to the obelisk, where he deposited The Kid. He then turned back towards the oncoming party members, and… disappeared. Invisible.

By this time, however, Orvynth had also gotten within arm’s reach of the obelisk, and sprang the trap. They slapped a siege stone against the obelisk, shouted “Esen!”, and stepped back to give the psychic a clear shot. Esen glared at the stone, striking out at it with his psychokinetic lash. The combined force of the telekinetic blast and the siege stone’s explosion was enough to send hairline cracks across the surface of the obelisk.

With a silent scream of rage, Maendrath re-appeared, slamming both his hands together with Esen’s thin body impaled on his claws!

The psychic never had a chance. Esen coughed once and died. His tattoos, which had always seemed to have a disturbing tendency to move on their own, pulled themselves off his corpse and evaporated into the air. “Noooo!” the party screamed as one, then redoubled the assault.

While Ray and Dara flung sunbolts and lightning bolts, and The Kid continually distracted the dragon with wit and bardic magic, Orvynth imbued the Law Giver with holy might and smote the obelisk, deepening the cracks. Nearly mad with rage, Maendrath concentrated all his attention on the dragon-blooded warrior.

Meanwhile, across the vast room, a door opened. One of the amphibious octopi entered, covered in tattoos just like Esen’s. “Hey, guys!” it called out, in Esen’s voice. “I’ll be right there!” In his final moment of consciousness, Esen had been able to transfer his mind into the nearest suitable body: an Elder Thing worshipping octopus. Struggling to keep his squishy new limbs organized, he started the long sprint back to the center of the room.

The dragon sprayed Orvynth with his concentrated acid breath weapon. Until this point, our heroes had dodged the dragon’s breath, but this time, being unwilling to give ground, Orvynth blocked with their shield. The shield saved them from the acid, but itself began to corrode.

As it happened, Maendrath brought about his own end. He rained blows on Orvynth, taking the dragon-blooded to a knee, but Orvynth was able to redirect the final attack with their battered shield. [Crit failure. Sigh. –GM] The claw that was intended for Orvynth instead landed full-force on the cracked surface of the obelisk. That surface finally shattered, raining down massive chunks of rock. Orvynth rolled to safety with rubble falling all around. The Kid’s precarious perch came down, leaving him bruised but unbroken on the floor.

Maendrath didn’t have such a good time of it. The damage to the obelisk seemed to trigger some kind of magical backlash. Energy built up inside the dragon, glowing from his eyes and mouth before it finally burst through. Maendrath was reduced to a pile of ash, burned bone, and charred flesh.

Just as the party started to relax, a gang of outraged gangaedla burst in and charged towards our heroes. “Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” squid-Esen said, and flew off to harass them from thirty feet above their exploding heads. Apparently the effects of the spice had carried over from body to body. He was able to levitate out of their reach and destroy one after another with the power of his mind. It didn’t take long before they broke and ran.

Ray patched up The Kid, who was badly bruised but in good spirits, and Orvynth, who was barely able to keep their feet. Slowly, the party retraced their steps, collecting loot as they went.

Back on the surface, the camp was a scene of devastation. Dead and wounded were all around. Tents and structures were torn down. From place to place, fires burned with no effort to contain them. The supposedly-domesticated dinosaurs had, apparently, mostly broken free and fled. So had the bulk of the troops who were able to flee.

Eventually, our heroes found Eldgrimur, injured but on his feet, attempting to organize merely-wounded bandits to help those in worse shape. They compared stories. When Maendrath had triggered the magic of the torcs, they had drained the army in the same way as Orvynth had been drained. Aside from disabling nearly the entire force, this also panicked the dinosaurs. Many stampeded. Violence broke out among the terrified survivors. Those who could lay hands on healing potions or the like did so, and escaped, leaving their dead and wounded behind.

Our heroes found themselves with several dozen ragged refugees and an empty castle, in winter, several days hike away from civilization. After considering the difficulties of moving that many people, in poor health, on foot, in poor weather, through dinosaur-infested forest, our heroes decided to leave the bandit survivors in possession of the castle with Eldgrimur in charge. He felt confident in being able to pull up the drawbridge and hold the place for several weeks, if need be. Especially after Dara sat down to have a long heart-to-heart conversation with the possessed crops and negotiated a treaty. In light of the reduced necromantic energy, the plants agreed to return to their natural behavior, if the castle’s new inhabitants took proper care of watering, weeding, and so forth.

After bringing the henchmen and mounts in from their concealed camp, the party prepared for the journey back to Nordvorn. They were able to supplement their horses with a few of the smaller, more manageable dino-mounts that still lingered nearby. Heavily laden with loot, they returned to civilization.

Our heroes brought the news of the fall of Maendrath to Nordvorn, as well as word of the plight of the refugees. Word of their deeds got around, as it will when The Kid is penning popular songs about them. (The party also gained a certain amount of notoriety as “the delving band with the octopus in”, which didn’t hurt their growing fame.) The jarl called them to dinner to discuss their deeds and the refugees rescue.

“I know you’re all aware of the King’s efforts to settle the lands beyond the wall,” the jarl said, after a fine meal and more than a few drinks. “What would you say if I proposed that you return to Rosgarth Castle, and fortify it, and hold it in the name of the King? Perhaps becomes jarls yourselves?”

EXPERIENCE

The standard award for each member of the group was an astounding 15 points, for finishing a long quest, saving the day, and finally facing a dragon after more than 5 years.

Cool Point: Esen, for not only giving his life for the cause, but then returning to the fight!