Defense against the Dark Arts

I spent Friday evening with good friends Ryan, Zubin, and Max as we prepared ourselves for a new role-playing campaign that Ryan’s going to be running for us.  New dice were handed out; character ideas were kicked around, revised, and scrapped; gaping holes in the party’s capabilities were discovered and papered over — who’s going to shoot arrows at us, anyway?

It’s been quite a while since we played in a serious, sustained fashion, although it was the way we spent most of our home-from-college summers.  Our two DMs could be pretty unforgiving, and while for the most part, we tried to avoid having our characters be standard hack’n’slash sociopaths, we would be presented with a real dilemma when we captured an enemy spellcaster.

I — usually playing a paladin or something — generally objected to killing prisoners, and we recognized the value of getting information out of them to make the rest of the adventure easier.  But we also knew that they could probably cast spells while tied up, maybe just with a word or a flick of the wrist.  So it became SOP to smash fingers and yank tongues out by the root.  Not a pleasant business, but we didn’t feel like we had a choice.

We did, of course, and as usual, the sagas teach us exactly what it was.  In this particular instance, we’re considering the Saga of the People of Vatnsdal.  It’s a multi-generational family story about some good people who move to Iceland to settle.  A lot of the early chapters (I’m not done with it yet, so maybe all of it’s this way) deal with unsavory elements moving into the neighborhood and the appropriate way to deal with them (frequently violence, but as a last resort). Many of these bad seeds have magic at their disposal; it’s something of a running theme.

This particular badfellow, Thorgrim Skin-hood, is a shepherd who convinced his boss, Mar, to encroach upon some prime grazing land belonging to the protagonists Thorstein and Jokul.  They find out literally a sentence later.  They slow-play their hand, passing on the opportunity to wreck Thorgrim’s house, waiting to act until they have an airtight case.  Thorstein’s very level-headed and good at these sorts of things; Jokul’s much more impetuous.  Eventually, like a year later, they decide to confront Thorgrim and Mar.  Both have a number of followers, so it’s going to be a proper skirmish.  Thorgrim hides near the edge of the battle, promising to be useful; once the battle starts, Jokul finds his sword Aettartangi is just turning folks black and blue, but won’t cut anyone.

Suspicious, they start looking around:

Jokul said, “I see where the monster shows his face above ground.”

Thorstein said, “There lies the fox in his lair,” and Thorgrim eyed them from where he lay — this was near the river.

Jokul and both brothers rushed towards him; Thorgrim raced towards the river.  Jokul got near enough for his sword to catch him, and it cut off whatever it made contact with, that is both his buttocks right to the backbone.  The place where he ran into the water has since been known as Hufuhyl ([Skin-]hood’s pool).

Jokul said, “Now Aettartangi has bitten.”

Thorstein said, “I fancy that it will do so from now on.”

The battle goes mostly their way from here on out.  I rather assumed that Thorgrim had died in the river.  Certainly if my butt were a gaping wound and I jumped into the water, I wouldn’t really expect to come out again, but that’s why I’m not an Icelander.  He’s not all that much better off though, as the settlement states:

“Thorgrim Skin-hood will receive no compensation for his injury, and he deserves something worse.”

Men then went home and were reconciled in this affair.  Thorgrim Skin-hood left the region and settled in the north at Melrakkasletta, and remained there until he died.

So it works!  Thorgrim learns, surely to his chagrin, that his ass is well and truly worthless, and our heroes can breathe easy for half a chapter until some other jerk down the river starts human sacrifices in his little compound.



  1. mordicai said,

    December 13, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Oh man, if you make sure that there are at least three orc civilians for every warrior– a VERY conservative estimate I think you’ll agree– you miss with the players so much. Those genocidal freaks.

    • December 13, 2010 at 10:01 am

      All shoving an orcish banker down a well, all torching an orcish preschool…

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