Dungeon Fantasy Nordlond #21: “Watch Where You Step”

by mshrm

The strangest pet anyone’s seen in living memory. Administrative arrangements. Old friends. A side trip with results both foul and explosive. Demons. Rusty knives and dirty clothes. No rest for the weary.

Spoiler Warning: The campaign (which started here; the whole saga can be found here) is set in NordlondGaming Ballistic‘s Norse-themed campaign setting. Today’s session came from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 4: Two-Page Dungeons, from Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS 2021 PDF Challenge Kickstarter. Be warned!

Who’s Who

PCs

  • Dara Zivri, Demon-blooded Druid. Knows her poison.
  • Esen, Octopus Mentalist. Semi-famous and living in a fishbowl.
  • Ilmarë “Ray” Kem, Elf Cleric. Just appalled.
  • Orvynth the Clanless, Dragon-Blooded Knight/Holy Warrior. Smite!
  • Slingshot, Human Scout. Had to stop and re-assess.
  • The Kid, Nymph Bard. Dragons, maybe, but there are something you just can’t sweet-talk.

What Happened

Last session, our heroes returned to the big city of Nordvorn from a long quest, victorious. Orm, one of the jarls of Nordvorn, had suggested that they return to Castle Rosgarth and take it for their own, see if they can make a go of it.

While the rest of the party was enjoying their reception, Esen went to visit Iona, his friend and fellow Elder Thing enthusiast. She was duly impressed by his death and reincarnation as a psychic octopus. She brokered a deal where she took Esen’s old human-shaped robes and pyramid hat, to put on display for other enthusiasts. In exchange, she provided him with more spice, a new and improved pyramid hat, and a protective amulet to make up for the lack of octopus armor.

The next day, Orm called the party to his home, where they met with him and Ingeltore, the city’s high priestess of the Queen of the World. He once again praised them for their bravery in the wilderness, and lamented the sad death of young Esen. Weird, young Esen. (As far as Orm and the rest of the folk in town are concerned, Octopus Esen is just one of those strange pets that adventurers pick up sometimes. They know he can talk, but assume he’s just parroting. Esen just shrugged and went with it, bought himself a fishbowl, and demanded that someone carrying him around in it while they were in town.)

The rescue effort for the refugees left stranded at Castle Rosgarth was being organized, Orm explained. The plan was to gather enough manpower and resources to mount an expedition to the castle, with the party acting as guides and leaders of the expedition. This was not something that could be put together quickly. It would take a few days.

In the meantime, he hoped they could take care of a situation for him. The night before, an injured and weary traveller had made it to town, begging for assistance. He had walked through the night, coming from a holy place several miles outside of town. It had been attacked and overwhelmed by demons, he said.

Of course, our heroes have heard about the recent activities of the demon cult. Likely this was more of the same mischief. The party immediately agreed to go to this temple and cleanse it.

To gather intelligence about the situation, they went to speak to the messenger. To everyone’s great surprise, it turned out to be Halfdan! When he figured out that the meeting had become a reunion, Orm called for drinking horns and toasts all around, then Halfdan told his tale.

When they had parted ways, Halfdan had drifted into Logiheimli, where he found a new devotion to the God of Law. He wandered from temple to temple, helping out where he could. In time, he came to the temple outside Nordvorn, where he had made a life for himself. Until the other night, that is.

Halfdan wasn’t sure how it all started. He woke at midnight to screams and sounds of fighting. He snatched up his axe and felt the holy power of the Law God giving his arm strength, but there were too many attackers. He described seeing maniacal, grinning demons wielding rusty knives, chasing the clerics through the temple. He saw flying creatures – indistinct, covered in black fur, with burning red eyes. Overwhelmed, he ran, and as he ran, something hit him in the back. Whatever it was, it had burned through his jerkin and into his shoulder. Desperate and badly wounded, he had run through the night to get help.

Orvynth and Halfdan bonded over their shared faith and common calling to become holy warriors. The dragonblooded took on Halfdan as a squire and swore to pass on their knowledge.

As for the others, they were keen to exorcise this temple. They spent the day in preparation and got a good night’s sleep. They left town the next morning after a big breakfast, as is their habit.

Mounted and in daylight, the trip only took a few hours. They arrived in the early afternoon. As they looked over the outside of the site, Halfdan described the interior and pointed out items of interest.

The temple was ancient and of unknown origin, predating the presence of humans in the area. Nevertheless, it was a powerful holy site, dedicated to the gods. The temple stood on a small island in a sacred lake, and was shaped from polished stone blocks, made of some rock that was not native to the area. It towered more than a hundred feet high, with no windows and few doors. A graceful bridge curved over the thirty yard span to the large front entrance.

Inside, Halfdan explained, one would find themselves in a good-sized antechamber. The main door had been kept barred at night, but he had escaped through a smaller side door, which he pointed out. On the far side of the antechamber, another set of doors led to a courtyard, where the holy fountains were. In ordinary times, visitors would perform a ritual cleansing at this fountains before moving on to the inner sanctum.

Our heroes left their mounts (and Esen’s bowl) with Halfdan and proceeded on foot, cautiously. They crossed the bridge, noticing how pure and clear the water of the lake was. Ray and Slingshot noticed that this wasn’t true everywhere, though; around the side of the temple, they spotted signs of some kind of seeping pollution making the sacred water murky.

The party chose to go to the door that Halfdan had pointed out. Esen squished himself under the door enough to get a peek inside, reporting a large room, mostly dim, with a few lit torches. He also announced that he had seen one of the demons, trying to conceal itself in the gloom behind a column. It was a twisted little guy, carrying an oversized butcher knife, wearing only a loincloth and an evil grin.

Expecting resistance, the party got organized and entered the room. The Kid burst in, loud and flamboyant, followed closely by Dara and Ray, while the others tried to slip into the shadows quietly behind them. A series of disquieting giggles came from all around the room, and suddenly the shadows belched forth a horde of screaming doomchildren!

They came in two waves. Afterwards, the party was able to understand that there had been two groups of demons loitering around the two side doors in ambush, but all they knew to start was that they were being rushed by a bloodthirsty crowd. The demons wildly struck at The Kid, Ray, and Dara, pressing them closely but drawing no blood.

Meanwhile, Esen had levitated into the higher areas of the room, hoping for the advantage of the high ground, as is his way. There, he noticed a demonic flaming skull lurking near the ceiling. He called this out, and he and Slingshot made short work of it, striking before it could even realize it was under attack.

Near the door, Orvynth leapt into the middle of the crowd of doomchildren, striking wildly in all directions. The plan was to disable several of them in a single turn. This worked somewhat better than Orvynth had intended; Orvynth’s player had forgotten that doomchildren explode when they die. The first one hit immediately blew up in a burst of fire and bone shards, which tore apart the next one in line, who then exploded, killing the next one… The chain reaction destroyed all ten in the group, leaving our heroes battered but mostly unhurt, with the exception of Dara, who had taken a bone splinter to the shoulder. A bad wound, if not mortal, which Ray immediately healed with her holy powers.

The shining light of Orvynth’s sword exposed the second gang of oncoming doomchildren, rushing at them across the length of the room. Slingshot dropped back a step and put an arrow through one… who exploded, killing the next one in line, who exploded… In the end, a chain of explosions ripped from one side of the room to the other, too far to pose any risk to the party.

The entire fight had only taken a couple of seconds, but the violence involved had been breathtaking. The party paused for a moment to catch their breath and get their bearings before pressing on.

The doors on the far side of the antechamber were locked, so our heroes deployed their lockpicking solution in place of a dedicated thief: Esen, with a set of quality lockpicks, the power of telekinesis, and no training whatsoever. Luckily, these weren’t difficult locks, and he was able to unlock one door.

Ordinarily, Orvynth would follow this maneuver with a boot to the door, but since this was a holy place, they chose to show more respect. They opened the door and stepped out into the bright light of day in the courtyard.

Once, it might have been a place of beauty. There were three fountains. The yard was paved with cobbles. The doors across the yard and the architecture of the place were works of yard. Sadly, that art had been defiled. Someone with a low sense of humor had spread filth and foulness through the entire place. Every inch of the ground was covered in muck. The stench was appalling.

Our heroes remarked upon the wrongness of this. Clearly, the demons had defiled the temple to destroy its sanctity. “It’s worse than that,” Ray said, pointing out the filth demons lurking in the fountains. “They’re still here!”

Their ambush spoiled by Ray’s keen elf eyes, the demons burped from their places of concealment and attacked, spitting balls of green slime and rushing towards the party. For the most part, our heroes were able to dodge these attacks, but The Kid took a slime directly to the chest. Remembering what happened to Halfdan, The Kid began struggling to remove his shirt.

The others tried to fight back, but found that their attacks didn’t seem all that effective. The demons were nothing but animated foulness and evil intent; they had no vital organs to pierce or bones to break. Arrows sunk into them without a trace. (This caused Slingshot so much upset that he had to fall back and rethink his approach. He came back swinging his bow like a staff.) They paid no heed to sword blows, even when enhanced with fiery magic and holy power. Even magic didn’t seem to have much effect, as the demons absorbed lightning bolts and sunbolts without flinching.

Eventually, Orvynth figured out the solution. These filth demons were made of undifferentiated nastiness, so cutting them or piercing them did little. Instead, the dragonblooded paladin summoned up the power of the Law God to imbue their sword with holy energy and smote one of the demons with an explosive blow. This sent bits of the thing flying in all directions. Messy, but effective. Orvynth ran around one of the fountains, smiting demons in passing, while the others helped herd the demons into position.

Ray and Dara moved to assist The Kid. Ray summoned several gallons of water to douse him, which didn’t seem to cleanse the gunk. Getting a closer look at the goo, Dara realized that she understood something of how it worked. She cast a spell to neutralize the poison, with only a second to spare before it would have made it to The Kid’s skin.

Shortly, our heroes stood victorious, but quite tired. Panting, Orvynth took a knee and began to pray. The others stood down and started looking for places to sit down.

The peace didn’t last long, though. Only seconds later, Orvynth noticed something on their leg. It was one of the slimes that the demons had spat at them! Apparently the things were still animate… and now they were lurking under the surface of the filth.

Uneasy glances all around. Clearly, this wasn’t a good place to rest. Dara neutralized the slime on Orvynth’s leg, and the party faced a decision: retreat for rest, or press on?

EXPERIENCE

The standard award for each member of the group was 4 points.

Cool Point: Orvynth, for destroying 10 doomchildren in one blow. It didn’t work out as intended, but it worked out!

Boobie Point: The Kid, for spending an entire combat disrobing. You would think The Kid would have points in a technique for that…

GM Award: Dara, for diagnosing and treating the slime that would have quite likely eaten The Kid, with only a single second left on the clock.