Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What You Missed: Gilded Lion Summer Festival II/ Echoes of Ragnarok: Himmelberget by Ryan "Orion" Welch


After Action Report
Events of 25 June 1016 (B.M.R.)
Defense of the World Tree of Norlund

On the fifth day of this summer, we gathered in Rhiassa where the Vanfrost was built a year ago to meet Ulirc of the Jomsvikings. He met us as promised, and expounded on what he had begun to explain in his earlier message to us. Hiemdall (the Normen’s god of the watch) had been badly hurt while fighting Bedlam and was not in a position to protect the passages of the world tree that connects all of the worlds of Norlund. Based on the unusual presence of fire giants in the world of the dwarves, Ulric suspects that dark forces are taking advantages of Hiemdall’s weakness and forging their own paths through the world tree. At Ulric’s request, we heroes and adventurers of the Realms were once again to cross the Vanfrost, this time into world tree itself so that we could build defenses for Hiemdall and deflect the bulk of an enemy host that was attempting to take over the world tree.

When we entered the world tree, we found ourselves in a small plane of energy that seemed to exist for the sole purpose of allowing us to physically interact with the otherwise-abstract presence of the world tree. The plane seemed to be centered around the network of paths that had been created in the world tree by the enemy. The power of this energy plane was very weak and did not allow us to exist as fully as we do in the prime material plane. However, we were given instructions on how we could strengthen the energy plane in ways that would allow us to use more of our own power. Four kinds of nodes were described to us for this purpose: Viking nodes, which projected a red aura (which seemed to be a bit wider than two pike-lengths) onto the paths, in which we were able to fight with stronger weapons; Hunter nodes, which projected a green aura onto the path (again, somewhat wider than two pike-lengths), which made arrows real enough to kill and injure creatures inside the aura; Mage nodes, which were very similar to the Hunter nodes, but in the blue aura it projected, our own magic was able to manifest more fully; and Engineer nodes, which created a yellow aura on the path into which we could summon boulders. In addition to all of this, we could also roam the paths on our own, but the power of the energy plane cut off our access to personal magic and the stronger fighters among us found that they were without their armor and were not able to wield more than a single blade.

The defenses were less than sparse and we had every indication that the enemy (which was reportedly attacking the world tree in waves) would grow stronger as time went on. Reekes and I quickly took charge of planning the defense as practiced strategists of the Azure Guard. We mapped the paths, which basically took the form of three lanes leading from front lines of the enemy to our camp near the heart of the world tree. Side-paths connected all three lanes, forming six intersections, which we dubbed “front left/center/right” and “back left/center/right”. Hiemdall had gathered enough of his strength to build a Hunter node that projected an aura on to front-center, and enough power to allow us to build two more of our own nodes. After a great deal of deliberation, we decided to build a Viking node that would cover front left and a Mage node that would cover back center. Our thinking was that the fighters at the Viking node would redirect the enemy forces down the center lane where they would be subject to volleys of arrows and then magic missiles. This did of course leave the defense of the third lane entirely up to the roamers, but we suspected that the very first wave of enemies would be little more than a weak skirmish force. We also knew that casting particular spells that were drawn from the regional magics while in a Mage node would strengthen the energy plane and give us more power with which we could reinforce our defenses. (Personal note: I don’t understand how drawing on the regional magics of a weak plane of energy empowers it, but it definitely worked. I should talk to Sir Rosetta about this later.)

First contact with the enemy went poorly. Instead of being deterred by the Viking node, the enemy skirmishers that came down the left lane engaged us fully and refused to turn down the side path that would take them to front center. Some skirmishers did start down the middle lane on their own and were easily dispatched by the archers at the Hunter node, but this meant that nothing was getting through to back center, which rendered the blue aura that we placed on that intersection pointless. The fighting in the right lane was bloody and we only managed to cut down most of the attackers on that side because we outnumbered them, although it is worth noting that things got a bit better in the right lane when Sir Oliver and Sir Wil started punching through the enemy in one lane so that they could flank another group in a different lane. We were also helped by pulses of energy that washed over the plane every few minutes; roamers that had died on the path drifted back to our camp and instantly regenerated after each pulse, and those of our number than were manning the nodes were also fully healed.

After several pulses (nine or ten by my count), the first wave of the enemy seemed to relent, which gave us time to reevaluate our strategy. We had found that the attackers dropped little crystals when they died, and when we collected them in a particular chest, the energy plane was able to convert the crystals into more power that we could utilize. In addition to that, there were three very large chests that were covered in locks that appeared when we first arrived in the energy plane. We called these “Loki Boxes”. Two of the boxes were secured by several locks, but one of the boxes had a single lock, and we obtained its combination by piecing together colored tiles. When that box was unlocked, we collected a little bit more power, but more importantly, found more, smaller boxes inside that had more locks. For the rest of the day, several of our number solved puzzle after puzzle, unlocking boxes to find more boxes with more locks and more keys for different locks. I was not directly involved with any of that, but Sir Kovaks, Sir Iawen, and a few others did a very good job with the puzzles throughout the day.

With the power we collected from the crystals, the puzzles, and from the magics from the mage tower, we strengthened our existing nodes and built new ones. Rekees and I realized that leaving the right lane unsupported would be our downfall, so we covered front right with a second Viking node. We also tore down the Mage node and rebuilt it closer to front center, then focused its aura in the same position as the aura from the Hunter node to increase the number of missiles that would be available to pelt the attackers in that part of the path. We also quickly decided increasing the power of the roamers was much too expensive to be worthwhile despite arguments from several people serving in that role. I believe that this was a strategically sound decision because we able to instead use the available power to enlarge the auras of the Viking nodes and increase their power so that the fighters there could wear armor and wield longer and heavier weapons. At the same time, we upgraded the Hunter node, which allowed our archers to move about the energy plane freely and cast lesser spells such as Heal Limb. This basically turned the Hunter node into a make-shift Healer node; the node’s power could support four people, so we had one or two archers stationed at the node itself to shoot the attackers in front center, and all of the other people assigned to the Hunter node supported the left and right Viking nodes by healing limbs.

Things started to operate more smoothly as our strength increased. The Viking nodes stood their ground against the waves of attackers, and when they fell, the reserve of roamers would rush in to try to patch the breach and cut down enemy before they reached the other side of the path. This second part was not always successful because as we built more nodes, we had fewer people available to be roamers, and those that served were mostly equipped with daggers and shortswords. Whenever an attacker reached our side of the path, they fizzled as they injected their own dark energy into the world tree. We had a large dial that allowed us to monitor the state of the world tree, and every time an attacker fizzled, the needle on the dial would tick down. Reekes and I kept a very close eye on this count, but the occasional breaches of the front line were usually contained by the second line of roamers, so only a few made it to the end of the path. I found that in general, a breach would usually let through a group of four to six attackers and roamers would be able to kill at least half of them before they reached the end. I was occasionally forced to abandon my position in the backfield to add my blade to the second line.

As we expected, the waves of enemies grew more powerful with each push. They were unremarkable mooks, sometimes wielding large weapons or bows, sometimes armored or enchanted. One wave was made up of fire imps and giants, which given what we found in the world of the dwarves is worth noting. We actually knew that waves was coming right before it happened thanks to some divination, so we built an Engineer node in anticipation. Its aura overlapped those of the Hunter and Mage nodes to reinforce the missile defense strategy of the front-center intersection. This was particularly effective in the wave after the fire giants, which was made up entirely of kobolds. I believe the phrase “kobold bowling” was uttered several times.

Right when we sensed that the last wave was headed our way, the last part of the Loki Boxes was opened, revealing materials to build a wall across one of the paths. We used these block off the front part of the back center intersection, so that any attacker dumb enough to go through front center (which we were now calling “missile city”) and strong enough to survive would find their advance blocked off and would be forced to backtrack through missile city again before advancing. I have a vivid memory of standing behind that wall and watching a mook of some kind celebrate its survival as it stepped out of the overlapping auras of projectile-based death, only to freeze in place when it saw the wall and slowly turn around, visibly defeated, and grudgingly march back into missile city where it was promptly pelted with arrows, magic missiles, boulders, and laughter.

Finally, Mister Skullcrusher (he had a first name, but I don’t remember it, nor was it consequential), the apparently commander of the enemy, rallied his so-called “elite guards” for a final push through our defenses. Clearly he had not been watching any of the attacks he had launched previously because he led his troops right down the middle into missile city. They quickly met their obvious demise. The small flanking groups that he sent down the left and right paths engaged our fully-realized Viking nodes and were no more successful than their pincushion comrades. Skullcrusher attempted to demoralize us with pithy insults as he drummed up his last reserves of attackers, but when all of his troops had been vanquished, he too was finally dispatched with a volley of boulders.

With the enemy turned away, Heimdall had regained enough strength to claim the defenses we had built for him and sent us back to Rhiassa. Lady Areni had spent the day preparing custom hamburgers per the cards we had submitted during the lunch break (the enemy very conveniently held off their attack for an hour in the middle of the day). The food was delicious, especially when seasoned with the taste of sweet victory.

Conclusions:

Much unlike our other enemy (the Risen Kingdom), the dark forces that are conspiring in Norlund have so far shown themselves to be weak and disorganized, but I would caution against dismissing them as a threat (see: Jonas Cooke). Skullcrusher’s last words indicated that he was serving some greater master, and the appearance of fire giants in their ranks indicates that this attack and the attack on the dwarves are related. And while the failure of this world to start Ragnorok may not directly affect our own world, it is fallout from the Bedlam War, and it would be irresponsible of the heroes and adventurers of the Realms to turn away from another world that has suffered so much at the hands of the Darkness.

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Captain Orion Mars, Chimeron Militia
Squire to the Knight Protectors of Faerie
Sworn Member of the Azure Guard
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