Dungeon Nights: Rumble with the Grumble

Morgan spencer stanhope.jpg
By JR Spencer Stanhope - http://www.squidoo.com/john-roddam-spencer-stanhope, Public Domain, Link

Tonight we only had Andrew and Genesa at the table, but they managed to cover a lot of ground (literally and figuratively).

Some Elvish Lore, via Genesa: Long ago all elves could travel freely between the mortal world and Faerieland. There were two queens in Faerieland, sisters, fair Rochelle and dark Selene. They were very envious of each other’s power and each wanted to rule Faerieland by herself. Eventually their ambitions led to war, with thousands of casualties on both sides, but ultimately Rochelle was victorious. Selene was believed slain, and all her surviving followers were banished from Faerieland forever, stuck in the mortal world. The elves still tell each other these tales at holidays.

After the owlbear attack, the party set watch and rested. The next morning they were keeping an eye out for further attempts at ambush, watching any dark patches of shadow especially. So when the hooded figure did indeed turn up, before he could do anything, both Tsafnur and Agadar rushed him. As the shadows closed around him, they all vanished.

Genesa and Andrew aren’t sure they’re up for tackling Grunblesticks on their own, but they decide to push on. Hilvy, the scout, has heard of Grumblesticks and warns them that at the first sign of trouble, she’s out of there.

They come across an old trail crossing the trail they’re on, with traces of slime from the Grumblehut. Genesa gets out to explore, and though she doesn’t find anything, she has the unmistakable feeling of being watched. Andrew has a bit more luck, he notices that the hut has likely passed this way more than once, and the trail is not as old as it first looked. They could be close. The wagon won’t be able to follow the new trail though, so they take the (remaining) horses and head north. As they mount up, they hear a child cry out in the distance and be suddenly silenced. As they progress they can hear huge stomping and crashing sounds to their left. They dismount and leave the horses with Hilvy, sneaking (or attempting to) through the woods towards the sound, which goes completely silent as they approach. They try to hold still, to be quiet, but then hear the child’s cry again from the north. They try to sneak that way, then hear the horses make panicked sounds and gallop off back the way they came. There is the huge crashing sound, but from where the horses were, so they run through the underbrush towards the sound of the crying child (which they are pretty sure is a trap).

Leaping over a fallen log, Genesa disturbs a nest of fire beetles, screams, then crushes a few of them, getting singed in the process, then gives up and starts running again. They come to a clearing and there is the Grumblehut with a trail of slime leading away from it.

The Grumblehut turns slowly, tracking them as they walk around the clearing. Genesa throws a couple of rocks at it, and it squelches towards them menacingly. She notices a wagon wheel that could be from the missing dwarves’ wagon. She and Andrew investigate and do find several dead dwarves and the crushed remains of the wagon. There is crashing off to the west, much closer now. They hide in the wagon, but first Andrew takes a tarnished hand axe from the belt of one of the dead dwarves. Inside they look for weapons, but only find bags of foodstuffs, flour, salt, rice, etc. The crashing, stomping sounds are right outside the wagon and pace deliberately in a circle all around the wagon, then go completely silent. They decide that Genesa will take the sack of salt (about 5 kg left) and run for the hut, to see if it reacts to the salt like a snail would. Andrew will try to distract and engage Grumblesticks with the hand axe, which he is pretty sure is made of silver.

As Genesa runs back to the clearing, Grumblesticks jumps out from behind a tree and swings her huge spiked club, but only manages to graze Genesa’s back, ripping her armour. Andrew begins telling Grumblesticks about the Good Word of Kurt the Clean. Grumblesticks is amused by this, shoulders her club, and saunters towards Andrew. As she gets closer, with surprising speed, she lifts and swings the club, clobbering Andrew, but not taking him down. He draws out the silver axe and she hesitates, then pulls a glass flask from her belt, throws it to the ground, and vanishes in a yellow, sulferous cloud. Andrew charges at through the cloud towards the hut, a few meters behind Grumblesticks, although she is racing away much faster than he can run.

While Andrew was distracting Grumblesticks, Genesa was throwing salt onto the Grumblehut, finding it did the most damage when thrown at the base near where the slime trail emanates. As she threw handfuls of salt, the hut shook and moaned, the windows flew open and closed, and eventually she feared for the safety of the child inside, so she went into the hut. Books, skulls, and unidentifiable alchemical ingredients fell off shelves on her wherever she want in the hut, which was still shuddering. There was indeed a dwarf child, in one of three small cages of some kind of hideously strong bronze. Genesa couldn’t find a key to the cage, but passed some blankets to the child and told her to wrap up in them, in case the hut did explode, then went to the door to throw more salt on the hut’s base.

She saw Grumblesticks hurtling towards her, spiked club raised to strike. She drew the sword of her ancestors and stood strong to defend the doorway and the child inside. She turned aside the worst of the blow and slowed Grumblesticks enough for Andrew to catch up and strike the silver axe into Grumblesticks back. The effects were rapid, Grumblesticks’ flesh began to boil, her insides curdled and jetted out of the hole the axe made (and all over poor Andrew), and her empty flesh fell limp and lifeless to the ground. Genesa found the cage keys on Grumblesticks belt and took them.

Genesa threw some more salt at the base of the hut and they went inside to clean off and free the caged child. Her name is Helga and she clings on to Genesa for dear life. Having been a prisoner before, Genesa feels a bond with the traumatized child. The Grumblehut gave one last shudder, then slumped askew a bit. The light coming into the hut dimmed and the hut died. Looking out, they were no longer in the clearing, but surrounded by towering stones, topped with lights glowing like eyes. The ground was covered in a low fog. Far off, something not-quite-like-a-dog howled. Genesa recognized it as the Place of Judgement, from old stories about her people being banished, it happened right here. They close the door and seal the windows as best they can, and use up most of the rest of the salt tracing a circle around the hut, resting up before they deal with having been unwillingly transported to Faerieland. They also wash up with some water from the hut, which Andrew tries to purify, but the spell goes beyond that, creating obviously holy water, faintly glowing.

And Genesa levels up!

Genesa warns the others not to eat or drink anything from Faerieland. She has 5 rations and they’ve shared three of them already, so they have to find a way back to the mortal world soon.

In the “morning” there are several huge white dogs, larger than wolfhounds, with human faces and lolling tongues 2 1/2 feet long, with more arriving until there are a dozen of them. When they open the door they do not attack, but they do call out “come out and play pretty birds” in singsong voices (and in Elvish). They make no move to cross the circle of salt. Genesa takes Helga on her back, where she buries her face in Genesa’s neck and clings on for dear life. Genesa and Andrew, armed with a torch, the silver axe, and one of Grumblesticks’ iron-spiked clubs, they walk out to face the dogs-things, which Genesa recognizes as legendary creatures known as Snatchers, that the queens of faerieland sometimes turn their favoured servants into. They test the holy water against the Snatchers and it does indeed burn them quite badly. The Snatchers don’t show any particular aversion to the torch or silver axe, but they obviously fear the club. After breaking the back of one with the club, and knocking another into the circle, which only allowed it’s bones to pass through, the others fell back, taunting the harrowed party with their singsong voices, but not before hurting the team pretty badly. Andrew could not understand their words, but he understood their tones well enough, and their razor-sharp teeth and horrible, twitching, dripping tongues.

Followed closely, and surrounded by, the remaining Snatchers, they choose one of the paths leading out of the clearing, going “east” if the hut’s door is facing “north”, after Andrew prayed for guidance and a huge glowing symbol of Kurt appeared and moved in that direction. The path crunches suspiciously and they can see it is paved with fragments of bone. After leaving the clearing, not far down the path, it forks to the right and left. In between the forks is a huge block of ice and inside the ice is a beautiful and terrible elf woman, possibly the losing queen, Selene. Within the block of ice there appear to be icicles impaling her from several angles. She looks like she was in great pain when she was frozen.

The dogs begin to chant, in their singsong Elvish, “she comes, she comes.”

Fearing the remaining queen, and on the suspicion that Selene is not actually dead, but just frozen, they return to the Grumblehut, break up some furniture for kindling and fuel, and return to the ice block, building a fire to melt the ice. While the small amount of fuel they were able to bring from the Grumblehut should not be enough to melt such a huge block, it appears to be working and Genesa wards off the Snatchers which Andrew uses divine healing on both of them. Again, the prayers to Kurt appear to be answered much more powerfully here, and the healing magic proves more effective than expected. They hear footsteps crunching on the bone path and see a party of elves, very tall and noble, glittering with jewels, crystals, and glamour, approaching them. In the lead is obviously the queen, Rochelle. As they approach the ice melts enough to free the trapped elf, who would fall, but is caught and held up by Genesa and Andrew. Her hand grips Andrew’s shoulder with painful tightness, like an iron vise. The Snatchers go to join Rochelle’s troop.

Rochelle begins to lay out the litany of crimes they have committed against her:

  1. Genesa returning to faerieland after her people were banished forever
  2. Bringing a human to faerieland
  3. Bringing iron to faerieland
  4. Killing Rochelle’s favoured servant Grumblesticks
  5. Killing or maiming some of the Snatchers

While this is happening, Selene’s grip on Andrew continues and he can feel tremendous power flowing from Kurt through him and into Selene. She is still barely able to stand, and mumbling nonsense words in Elvish or flat-out babbling meaningless syllables. As Rochelle concludes her list of the crimes, Genesa attempts to explain that they did not violate the banishment on purpose, but were brought here unwillingly by the Grumblehut, and all they want to do is return to their world. The haughty queen is unconvinced and about to pass lethal judgement, when Selene straightens up, a fire comes into her eyes, she shouts something like, “Fishheads cotton murder bunkstone balustrade fourscore umber!” and a circle of fire appears around her and the companions supporting her. Most of Selene’s party are visibly startled by this and take a step back, but the queen throws her head back and laughs.

She tells them that her sister has made it so she couldn’t send them back to their world if she wanted to, and wishes them luck. To her sister she says something like, “I can’t believe even you would be so stupid” in extremely archaic Elvish, and then she and her entourage turn and go back down the path, disappearing into the distance after only a few steps. The queen maintains the circle of fire around them and continues to give them orders in gibberish. They lead her back to the Grumblehut, and break the circle of salt so she can cross.

As they enter the remains of the Grumblehut, Selene shouts once more and the inside is transformed into a small keep, with a throne, a fountain off to one side, stone walls with narrow stained glass windows, a table set with a small feast, tapestries and suits of armour decorating the small room. From one side, a butler-looking elf approaches them and introduces himself as Serveruth. He offers them food and drink and a place to rest, and suggests that they communicate with the queen through him. He also implies that they are now servants of Selene, who wishes to build her power and pool of servants so that she can conquer their world, as a prelude to invading and conquering faerieland.

I think part of the key for this session going so well is that we were all on the edge of our seats. Andrew and Genesa knew they were out of their depth, and both were convinced that they were going to die horribly at any moment (and as the DM, that was actually pretty likely), but they couldn’t turn back either. So they waded in, figured out a plan, and triumphed over an ancient evil. Truly epic.

Written on July 4, 2017