Dungeon Fantasy Nordlond #22: “Strategic Advance To The Rear”

by mshrm

Octopus dreams. The need for haste. A desperate stand. Dirty fighting in the dark. Some notes on holding a door against a hostile force, and the tactical impact of a second door. A display of archery skills from an unexpected source. Rifling pockets and mocking laughter. A rare opportunity for strategic thinking. Not the total party…

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 continues with a scenario taken from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 4: Two-Page Dungeons, from Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS 2021 PDF Challenge Kickstarter. Beware spoilers!

Who’s Who

PCs

  • Dara Zivri, Demon-blooded Druid. AFK
  • Esen, Octopus Mentalist. AFK
  • Ilmarë “Ray” Kem, Elf Cleric. Closest she’s ever come to moving in with her deity
  • Orvynth the Clanless, Dragon-Blooded Knight/Holy Warrior. Closest they’ve ever come to being a cleric
  • Slingshot, Human Scout. Closest he’s ever come to moving in with Ray’s deity
  • The Kid, Nymph Bard. Closest The Kid has ever been to being a front-line fighter

What Happened

We left our heroes facing a decision: press on, or fall back to rest? They had come to rid a temple of a demon outbreak and fought their way to the threshold of the sanctum, where they expected to find the source of the problem. All the smiting had taken a toll on Orvynth, especially, so they needed a breather, but they dared not stop in the slime-infested courtyard. They also knew that any delay would risk the arrival of more demon reinforcements, so whatever they were going to do, it needed to be quick.

They fell back to the shelter of the already-cleared antechamber, barred the door, and had a light snack while Ray restored Orvynth’s energy with holy magic and meditated to restore her own. In six minutes, they were back on their feet and in formation… for the most part. While the others rested, Octopus Esen floated around the ceiling restlessly for a few minutes, before announcing “I must commune with the moon!” and leaving. (Doubly surprising, in that it was mid-day.) Ever the mother hen, Dara chased after him to make sure he didn’t hurt himself in whatever octopoid hallucination he was having. The remaining four would need to carry on by themselves.

The plan was to cross the courtyard as quickly as possible, to limit their chances of any distracting slime encounters. They burst from the door and sprinted across the courtyard, moving in a slight curve to avoid one of the filthy fountains. Orvynth, in the lead, met no resistance, but when Ray, in the second rank, stepped through the door, she felt the chilling sensation of cold slime dribbling down her collar – one of the slimes had climbed above the door and set an ambush!

… or, rather, that’s what she would have felt, if it weren’t for her blessing. The Bless spell saved her from mortal peril and evaporated.

Without further excitement and, specifically, with their collective heads on a swivel, our heroes crossed the courtyard to the nearest door, which was one of the smaller side doors. Swearing an oath to return and restore the damage after the emergency had passed, Orvynth sacrificed respect for the temple in favor of haste and kicked in the door.

Inside, they found a vast, dark room with only a couple of dim light sources on the far side. The bright sunlight streaming through the open doorway revealed a single squinting demonic child carrying a large rusty knife. The sound of infernal giggling came from all around. More doomchildren!

Our heroes used a tactic that has served them well in the past. Orvynth roared a challenge to the room, hopefully drawing all hostile eyes and attacks, while Slingshot slipped stealthily inside the room to flank the enemy. Unfortunately, this time, the plan went awry. First, uncharacteristically, Slingshot was a lot less stealthy than usual. Second, he wasn’t able to see the doomchildren in the darkness and, through pure bad luck, he took up a position with his back to a couple of demons lurking behind a column. They stepped up and tried to knife him in the kidneys. If it weren’t for his blessing, he would have suffered a mortal wound, but it evaporated and saved him.

The last time our heroes faced doomchildren had been on a more tightly constrained battlefield, in the temple’s antechamber. The doomchildren had been bunched up in a couple of tight groups, making it a simple thing to kill one, causing it to explode, which would kill another, who would likewise explode, until the chain reaction took out the entire crowd. Somewhat risky if done in melee with lightly-armored heroes nearby, but effectively risk-free if done at a distance.

This time was different. The sanctum was remarkably larger, with plenty of columns to hold up the roof and offer lurking positions. It would turn out that the doomchildren were scattered around the room, individually or in twos and threes. They used the darkness to their advantage, moving from one place of concealment to another until they could set themselves up for either a sneak attack or a suicidal frontal attack. And there were a lot of them. Our heroes couldn’t get an accurate count, but the maddening giggles were coming from all over.

A voice greeted them: “Welcome, and prepare to die!” Through the rest of the fight, the voice continued to taunt them, encourage its minions, and congratulate itself on the power and invincibility of its owner. The owner of the voice never showed itself, but seemed to be moving from place to place inside the sanctum.

At one point, it referred to itself by the name “Nilbog”, reminding The Kid of the kind of epic poetry that one learns in Bard School and then never uses again. The Kid quickly chanted through the relevant lines, outlining how a demon by that name invaded the mortal realm and faced the God of Thunder. Despite such powerful opposition, the demon proved both unkillable and resistant to banishment, until finally the Thunderer dragged it by the neck into a “holy circle” and held it there while it was finally exorcised.

One of the doomchildren slipped past heavily-armored Orvynth in hopes of getting to the softer targets in the back of the party, one way or the other. The dragon-blooded knight grabbed the demon by the neck and spun around, using it as a living (?) shield. With a spiteful chuckle, the doomchild tried to stab itself in the throat, in hopes of injuring someone in the blast, but Orvynth was able to get their shield in the way in time!

Seeing that visibility would be an issue, Ray enchanted Orvynth’s armor to shed light equivalent to daylight. While most of the room was left in darkness, this created an area just inside the door where our heroes could see.

With at least two attackers behind him, Slingshot tried to improve his position, sprinting for a spot on the other side of the open door. On the way, though, he ran into a stinking, furry creature with wings, coming the other way! Halfdan’s story had prepared our heroes to expect some kind of giant demon bat, and it seemed that this was an example. Startled, Slingshot jumped back and lashed out, using his bow as a club, breaking the bat-thing’s bones and knocking it unconscious!

Several doomchildren crowded the door but weren’t able to push through. In defending himself and holding the line, Orvynth killed one, triggering a chain of explosions.

One of the doomchildren open the big main door, and some of the doomchildren and a couple of foul bats slipped out in an attempt to flank our heroes. The Kid shouted an alarm and turned to defend that front, but one of the doomchildren scampered ahead and slashed Ray’s throat, dropping her to the ground!

Seeing this, Orvynth gave ground for a moment, did a fast-draw/quick-sheath shuffle, poured a healing potion on Ray, then stepped back to hold the door.* Ray attempted to get back to her feet, but was hard pressed by attackers. The Kid held off a second wave of flanking demons with harsh language and arrows from his harp-bow.

Inside the room, Slingshot fell back to a position closer to the group, shooting down a couple of foul bats that made the mistake of leaving the protection of darkness.

Another wave of doomchildren rushed the door to engage Orvynth, while others circled through the big doors to come from behind. One hacked at Ray before she could regain her feet, driving her to unconsciousness. The Kid was forced to give ground to get some distance, but was able to trigger an explosive chain reaction that mostly cleared the courtyard – for the moment, at least.

Seeing that the doomchildren who had backstabbed him earlier had stepped up and been destroyed by the Orvynth-powered meatgrinder at the doorway, Slingshot stepped away to the left again, towards the corner of the room that he had originally attempted to cover. Sadly, he ran in to a pair of doomchildren who had come up from deeper in the room in the meantime. One got a knife through his defenses, and Slingshot fell, alive but unconscious.

Orvyth and The Kid bought themselves a space between waves of attackers by picking their targets with an eye towards triggering explosive chain reactions, but they knew it was just a matter of seconds before more chuckling explosive maniacs would come pouring out of the darkness. Orvynth dashed inside, finding two doomchildren pawing at Slingshot’s body. Grabbing the unconscious scout’s collar, Orvynth dragged him back into the courtyard.

With The Kid covering them with his bow-harp from a distance, the dragon-blooded knight grabbed Ray’s collar and began dragging the two unconscious heroes through the muck towards the exit. It was time to retreat.

The expected counterattack never came. Instead, as they fell back, our heroes heard the voice mocking them. “Yes,” it said, “go and tell the world of the might of Nilbog!” Then, after a short pause, a chuckle. “And thank you for the excellent bow!”

Surprised, The Kid and Orvynth realized they had left Slingshot’s fae bow where it had fallen from his hand. No help for it now. They staggered from the fallen temple to meet the waiting Halfdan, who helped carry the wounded back to the mounts. Swearing to return, better armed and equipped for the challenge, our heroes returned to Nordvorn.

FOOTNOTES

The party has pretty much figured out that their armor can, for the most part, stand up to exploding doomchildren. Only an unlucky roll might be any threat. Being a well-armored Knight, Orvynth, particularly, is just a rock for them to batter themselves on.

*

Orvynth took advantage of the Knight’s special privilege of being able to spend points on combat skills any time, to pick up (iirc) Quick-Sheath, Fast-Draw (Potion), and Throwing. In hindsight, I’m not entirely sure if Perks are allowed, but no big deal.

That fast-draw/quick-sheath dance, though… that starts to feel funny. As I recall, there was a sequence that went something like:

  • Quick-sheath the Law Giver, as a free action
  • Fast-draw a potion, as a free action
  • Take a Move maneuver, step 2 hexes back to share a hex with Ray, prone
  • Drop the potion, as a free action, spilling it over Ray, who is healed (I know; see below)
  • Continue Move maneuver, stepping 2 hexes back to original position
  • Fast-draw the Law Giver, as yet another free action

… all in one second. That is one vigorous and highly motivated dragon-person!

I’m not the only one to remark upon how startling that free action juggling act can get. I need to remind myself to keep a closer eye on that kind of thing going forward. Just because they’re “free” doesn’t mean they’re unlimited.

*

… and, yeah, I know, healing potions don’t work like that, they’re consumable, not topical. There’s a different alchemical preparation for that. But. We have a long-standing house rule that healing potions do work like that, because I’m a fan of the Guardians of the Flame books by Joel Rosenberg, and that’s how they work in those stories. Pour a potion into the wound, the wound heals, just like in the movies. Over the years, in-game, that’s mutated into “just pour it on them”. Or even “I kick the unconscious barbarian in the pouch where he keeps his healing potions and break the bottles”.

EXPERIENCE

The standard award for each member of the group was 5 points.

Cool Point: Orvynth, for being a one knight wrecking crew

Bonus Point: Slingshot, for getting beat down and having his bow stolen

Special GM Award: The Kid, for getting the “nilbog” reference