Christmas at Keep on the Borderlands
We just had a momentous DW session with my daughter and niece. New Sanctuary (the titular Keep on the Borderlands) is now under new management after a visit from a certain Bavarian Christmas spirit.
Image credit: http://www.bromart.com/
While another group is delving through the Caves of Chaos, and another is on Death Mountain fleeing the curse they unleashed in Death Frost Doom, this session focused on a war party from the north: centaurs led by Krampus—the Krampus that appeared here—with a fearsome ettin. Sent by the Eldking, they have marched from the invisible elf kingdom beyond the northern lights, because the Eldking saw a grim portent warning him that the curse on Death Mountain would soon be unleashed.
Junior created Gwen using Adrian’s Fae playbook, a prisoner of Krampus, and Niece played Alice (her Druid) again, which she amended to be an elf. They created some interesting bonds between the characters, which established a cool artifact, the Ring of the Eldking’s Herald. Up to now, the campaign was human-only, with one dwarf raised by humans; also no Hogwarts or overt magical society, making magic and monsters truly weird and monstrous. My Keep on the Borderlands is basically part of 17th century Earth, more or less. This session gave us the first glimpse into an alien society, with some upsetting results for the humans.
At the beginning of the game, a senior centaur rode into camp to report to Krampus. Their scouts spotted a fort that would make a good base of operations. With their artillery and a three-headed living siege engine, it should be easy to capture. Gwen, locked in a wicker cage bound to Krampus’s sack, overheard the plan.
Alice fluttered in with the falling snow. While scaling Death Mountain in a previous session, she missed a shapeshift roll and the spirits turned her into a dandelion seed (it was the end of our game, and she couldn’t make it to our next game). Lighting on Gwen’s cage, they observed each other briefly, but Alice blew off as the war party marched downhill toward the Keep, resuming her elfin form.
Gwen managed to free herself from the cage, but her bone dagger got jammed in the lock. She didn’t want to risk the noise of breaking it free or the complications of openly flying off with so many potential onlookers, even with the snowstorm offering cover.
Alice tried following at a distance, but seeing the giant again she thought better of it and turned into an eagle. From on high, her keen eyes spied the fairy, and she swooped down to pluck Gwen from the back of Krampus, landing in a tree before shifting back into her elfin form. Krampus cracked his whip at them in a rage as they escaped, but Alice didn’t fare as well against the sharp-eyed centaurs who loosed a volley of arrows that struck her in her perch. Five arrows pierced her robes, even as she called upon the spirits to turn her into something small enough for Gwen to carry away.
Gwen took her insectified rescuer to the keep, to warn the folk there of the attack.
Landing in the inner bailey, outside the governor’s house, she immediately used her glamour to take on the visage of a seasoned human traveler, and persuaded the guards to take her to their master. Saying she spied out an enemy camp, and leaving out the fantastic details, the governor heard her out, and began preparing the keep for a siege at once.
That’s when the real hijinx began. I don’t have time to recount it all, but the keep residents were already hunkered down because of the blizzard, and now there was a military curfew with the garrison preoccupied. What would you do?
Finally, they took to the battlements at dusk, as the enemy force mounted the sole rode ascending the plateau. Gwen used her glamour to take the shape of the Corporal, who was the first person she bumped into up there. Having rolled a 10+, the real Corporal fell into a dead faint. Alice grabbed his helmet and sword for disguise, and Gwen surveyed the situation and began to shout orders.
The centaurs and the giant marched right up to the crevasse where the upright drawbridge barred their entry; there was no sign of Krampus. The musketeers on the battlements let off their first shots, but many were killed by the rain of enemy arrows while they reloaded. They heard a ruckus and shouts of terror in the entry yard, and Gwen sent Alice with a few soldiers to investigate.
There was a whiff of brimstone and Alice saw Krampus reveling in the terror of a dozen soldiers surrounding him, as smoke still billowed off his shaggy body. He was already stuffing a full-grown soldier into his sack, and he grabbed another by the neck with his whip, and with a yank… well, it was ugly. Alice advanced into the fray while everyone else was falling all over themselves trying to escape.
Krampus swung his whip back toward her, and Alice seized the chance to slash it in half, but it looped around her sword arm, surprising them both when he jerked it forward again and found her entangled. She tried to take the sword in her other hand, but fumbled when he jerked the whip again, cackling.
Gwen was still on the battlements trying to repel the attack outside with the soldiers under her command. One of the giant’s heads, the bearded one, began chanting, and the sky above the keep turned into a whirling maelstrom of blackened cloud flashing with lightning. “Take cover!” Gwen commanded, then daggers of ice began to rain down. A ballista fired from one of the towers, hitting the ettin. Soldiers on the battlements ducked under their shields, but many fell. Gwen dove under the shield of a crouching survivor, but her disguise melted away just as she made eye contact with him as a six-inch sprite.
Alice turned into a massive mountain bear and began mauling Krampus. The goat-man dug his horns deep into the bear’s belly, disappearing in a flash of fire while she reeled backward. Fiery hoofprints pointed to the gatehouse, where they heard a peal of merry laughter, as the drawbridge began to go down.
The soldier reeled back from Gwen as the hail of razors ended, “What are… what are you?” Another ballista fired, hitting the ettin again.
“I’m helping you,” she said, raising her glamour to pose as the Corporal again. Just then the portcullis groaned and the battlements shook with overwhelming force as the giant smashed into the heavy gate below. Gwen called upon some of the remaining soldiers and charged down into the entry yard. Another boom shook the portcullis as they stormed down the steps.
It was then that the governor rode into the courtyard on horseback with some reinforcements on foot, all wearing full plate armor. Seeing the disarray, with a wild bear in the center of a full panic among the garrison, he ordered his men to fire on Alice. Gwen’s men had arrows trained on Alice too, but Gwen commanded them down, telling the governor that they needed to focus their fire on the giant.
Alice returned to her elfin form, nearly collapsing from her injuries. All the archers fired on the giant as he charged the gate a third time, but he narrowly survived the onsloaght, barreling through the portcullis, and smashing the gatehouse. While the governor sat stunned on his horse, centaurs surged in over the rubble, firing perfect bullseyes into the remaining garrison, except the heavily-armored foot soldiers who had come with the governor.
The giant then plucked the governor from his saddle hurling him over his back, over the wall, into the night, and the armored men surrendered while Alice turned into a wolf and Gwen mounted her, fleeing the scene. Gwen put on her ring and commanded the Eldking’s servants to let her pass.
They heard a voice on the battlements singing, “Deck the Halls”, and at the song’s conclusion, ere they fled from the site, Krampus said “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
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