Enemies become allies, and suspects become victims as we race toward the climax of the Witchlight Carnival.
When last we left our heroes, we have been stumbling around the Witchlight Carnival, riding rides and eating pies, trying to find out just what the heck is going on. On the Carousel, we received a ton of cryptic clues that is basically a shopping list of places to see and people to kill. In the Hall of Illusions, we witnessed a tragic marriage proposal when the bride-to-be was subjected to an ill-timed Tasha’s Hideous Laughter spell and the mortified suitor ran off crying. After accidentally blinding (temporarily) the fiancé, we ran off after the potential groom. We saved the day, saved his life, and saved his marriage, the wedding’s back on! Hurray.
Between the sessions, I became convinced that most everyone here at the carnival, including the carnival workers, is under a curse similar to ours. Everyone seems to have lost something. In addition to the various things that we players have lost, Dirlagraun the displacer beast has lost her cub, the Calliope monkey has lost his buttons, and Diana Cloppington has probably lost something but is unable to talk about it. We know that being cursed is linked to being caught in the carnival without a ticket. Maybe all these carny folk once snuck in as we did, and they are working off their debt.
On a hunch, I talk with the melancholy mime outside the Hall of Illusions. I ask him his name, and he mimes the answer, “Candlefoot.” I ask him if he has lost something, and he nods his head, “Yes.” I ask him what he has lost, and he mimes that he has lost his voice. I ask him if he wants to get his voice back, and he nods, “Yes.” I ask him who has taken his voice, and he mimes flapping wings and points to my new squire, “Pop” the kenku ranger. I knew it! This confirms my belief that the other kenku that we have been hunting throughout this carnival is responsible for all these “missing” items and is working for the mysterious Three that is sowing discord here at the carnival. I also believe that Mr. Witch and Mr. Light (the guys on the cover of the book) are two of these Three.
Before we move on, I tell Candlefoot that we will try and find his lost voice. He seems grateful, if a little dubious of our odds for success. Now, where do we go? I had spent all session last week complaining that I wanted to go to the Mystery Mines. But now I am indifferent to the Mines; we’ve been told to avoid them and my gut tells me that there is nothing to be gained going there. I want to go to the Strength Skill game, Goblin Wrestling. So, guess where everyone wants to go? That’s right the Mystery Mines!
During the session break, I was studying the player map handout (I know, I got problems), and I noticed that the entrance to the Mystery Mine is identical to the entrance of the roller coaster in the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon from the early ‘80s. Having grown up in that greatest of all decades, this was a pretty cool bit of nostalgia. And is just the first of many to come.
The Mystery Mine is the first ride/attraction that everyone participated in. As we were punching our tickets to ride, the DM handed us a piece of paper and asked us each to write down our character’s greatest fear. Forget it; I don’t wanna ride no more! But ride we did, and this was another tour-de-force of DM improv as he has to turn all of our fears into a creative narrative thread. And we didn’t make it easy for him. I’m sure he wanted nice simple fears, like heights, and spiders, or the number 13. What he got was a bunch of NSFW tales of bloody horror and thoughts of existential dread.
In addition to all this extra DM work, there is another reason why this adventure works best with 4 players and not 8, like our unwieldy group. All 8 of us pile into a single car and for every fear, we have to roll a Wisdom save (at disadvantage if it is our personal fear) or else suffer one level of fright. There is absolutely no upside to this encounter, and with eight saves in a row, the law of averages almost guarantees that we will fail half of them. Everyone rolled abysmally, except me in a rare moment of luck, and everyone but me was stricken with terror. We’ll have to wait to see how this affects us. My money is on nightmares that cancel the benefits of a long rest.
It’s almost time for the Big Top Extravaganza, but the DM allows us to squeeze in a quick trip to the Goblin Wrestling, which I have been clamoring to go to since Strength is my highest attribute and I am oddly yearning to win one of these stupid carny prizes. This one is a contested strength test against two goblins and they must be cheating, because they rolled a Nat 20 to my 6. This carnival sucks! To pour salt in the wound, all the other far wimpier players dominated their goblins and won cool things that I didn’t write down because I was pouting.
It was time for the main event, the highlight of the carnival, the big show under the main tent, the Big Top Extravaganza! Okay, it’s just a circus… but with everything EXTRA! Strongmen bugbears wearing pumpkin helmets, gensai firebreathers and smoke mephitis, bullywug acrobats and fairie dragons, mermaids and mimes, manic clowns and magical creatures. And at the heart of it all is a whirling dervish of energy, excitement, merriment and joy, the harlequin jester of ceremonies, Mr. Light.
But Durwyn is barely watching any of it. Durwyn, “Pop” the kenku, and now, Shammer the fairy wizard are just watching the crowd, waiting. We are convinced that the conniving, evil kenku will strike with more shenanigans and we want to be prepared. But we were not prepared when Mr. Light asked for some volunteers and of course, the whole gang jumped up and dragged me and the other lookouts on stage with them. Compelled to entertain the crowd, our talentless act consisted of bird calls, tumbling routines (my contribution), barbarian katas, and lots of prestidigitation all set to the melody of the only song our cover bard knows: Wonderwall by Oasis. Incredibly, enough of us passed our entertainment (Charisma) checks and the crowd loved us. Truly, there is no accounting for taste.
Of course, being stuck in the center ring meant that when we spotted the bird we’ve been looking for, we were unable to catch up with it. Fortunately, Shammer sent his owl familiar after it, since the owl can fly. Then, Shammer remembered that he is a fairy and can also fly, so he joined the chase. The rest of us got sidetracked when the bugbear with the pumpkin hat, whose name is Burly, came up to us and invited us out back for a chat with the eponymous carnival owners, Mr. Witch and Mr. Light. Sorry, Shammer, you’re on your own. Finally, we’re going to get some answers around here.
But first, we meet another NPC that seems to serve no real purpose. It’s your standard clown smoking a pipe, except his pipe blows bubbles, and his name is Thaco. “Thaco” stands for To Hit Armor Class Zero and is the old-school way us grognards used to run combat in D&D, even though, looking back, that system was wonky and complicated. But it is another cool reference to the past that is sadly wasted on this useless, boring NPC. I wish the cool name had gone to the pumpkin-helmed bugbear; at least we talked to him.
After the non-meeting with Thaco, we are introduced to Mr. Witch and Mr. Light. And I immediately don’t like these two. In fact, I am at a loss about how to even talk about them because there is nothing to talk about. The whole roleplaying “conversation” was a bust. Expecting some answers, we got nothing but vague evasions and muttered denials. We had a list of names to ask about (Scabatha, Bwalorna, Endolin, Granny Nightshade, the Toymaker, the Puppetmaster, etc.), but they pretended not to know anything about anyone.
We asked about Prismeer, knowing we had to find the way to get there. Nothing. We asked about the rogue kenku running around causing problems. Nothing. I even accused them directly of being the cause of all the sadness and “loss” permeating the carnival, or covering up for “The Three” who are. Nothing. Giving them the benefit of doubt, we offered to help them with their problem. Nothing! Seriously, I couldn’t get away from this useless encounter fast enough.
Moving on, as a “reward” for elevating the mood at the carnival, Thaco offers to make a balloon animal of our choice. Irritated, I tried to think of the stupidest monster I could. I picked an ankheg, but I wasn’t happy with my choice. Next, Burly the Bugbear has an offer for us. Apparently, he’s a pretty shrewd judge of character, and he can tell that we want to help. But Mr. Witch and Mr. Light won’t give us any information unless we blackmail them. The only way to do this is to steal the pocket watch that Mr. Witch uses to keep the carnival running on time. I have an issue with this, the one and only plan. My character has a specific instance in his backstory when he was accused of stealing, so I will never purposely steal. (Of course, I know that “thief” characters will steal if they can, but they probably shouldn’t do it in full view of my character.) I ask if there is any other way to coerce the carnival owners to confide in us. Nope, it’s either steal the watch or steal the staff that Mr. Light carries at all times, which is even harder. That is our choice, which is no choice at all.
An even bigger problem is the bad precedent that this event sets. A big deal is made about the rules of property and possession in this adventure. Stealing from another person is a severe offense as we will learn with deadly consequences in Session 5. So, what’s the first real thing that the adventure has us do? Steal from two people who clearly follow Feywild rules. You could argue that we are not yet in the Feywild, but regardless, you should never have just one path to victory. Bad, D&D writers, bad!
Naively, I still believe that I can coerce these two bozos to let us help them without resorting to thievery. My new mission for the next 3 hours (in game) is to convince as many carnival workers as I can to join our side. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Meanwhile on the other side of the park, Shammer is the only one who is doing anything useful. He and his owl had gone off, chasing after the mischievous kenku. Frankly, I wasn’t paying full attention, since I was not involved and was trying to craft my plan of a carny mutiny. But I do know that the DM tried to do everything he could to let the kenku escape, but Shammer was unstoppable. She (I just found out that this character is a female) crushed every single ability check thrown at her; Perception, Athletics, Dexterity, contested Strength checks, Intimidation, you name it. In the end, Shammer, a 10-inch-tall fairy, was able to tackle and restrain a 5-foot-tall, 100+ pound bird and then convinced it to follow her back to the rest of us.
Once we were reunited, it turns out that the kenku, whose name is Kettlesteam, is not working for the bad guys after all. She is a warlock but she has been unable to contact her patron, and she is convinced that Mr. Witch and Mr. Light know something about it. She has been disrupting the fun at the carnival to force them to undo whatever they have done. The fact that Kettlesteam’s idea of mischief involves mayhem and attempted murder is a little suspect, but I’m sure she’s a good person at heart. Also, her patron’s name is Zubilnya; yet another NPC name I gotta keep track of.
Kettlesteam wants us to steal the stick that Mr. Light carries with him at all times. Apparently, it is really a weathervane and somehow controls the carnival by, I don’t know, fairy magic or something. In my attempt to sway as many allies as possible to our side, I offer that if she helps us with Mr. Light and Mr. Witch then I will help her get her patron back. Kettlesteam extends a wing (in the form of the DMs hand) which I, in real life, shook without thinking and instantly regretted it. I had just sealed a deal with a fey creature and these always come with problems and strings attached. I’m sure this will bite me in the ass someday.
During our conversation with Kettlesteam, we learn that she is the one who stole Candlefoot’s voice. She claimed, “I feel kinda bad about it, but it was terribly funny, and the timing was perfect.” BTW, she talks in full sentences; very unusual for a kenku. We convince her to give back the mime’s voice and I’m sure this will count as her “helping” me, holding up her end of the bargain. She gives us a voodoo doll with a thorn stuck in its throat. (Okay, that is a nice detail.) I have some more questions for this bird, but some players got excited and immediately took the thorn out of the doll’s throat, and Kettlesteam instantly went back to speaking in squawks, caws, and annoying noises. “sigh”
We all race back to the Hall of Illusions to see if it worked. Candlefoot is there and unaware that he can now speak. Prompted, he is overjoyed that he can quit being a stupid mime. (Because mimes are stupid.) He thanks us profusely and says he has to go somewhere right now! I won’t let him leave until he promises to help us with Mr. Witch and Mr. Light. He promises to help us with the heist, (No, hold up, we don’t want to heist anything…), and he runs off toward Silversong Lake, which we ignored earlier.
We all race off after the ex-mime. Once we arrive at the Lake, the mime goes up to the mermaid singing in a fishbowl, gets down on one knee and in a beautiful, dulcet, baritone voice proposes to his aquatic fiancé. I guess he did have someplace to go in a hurry. Everybody is all excited that there is another successful proposal here at the Witchlight Carnival. I am only concerned that I have another ally to add to my coup. The Mermaid Palasha will follow along with anything Candlefoot does. Excellent.
I convinced the group to go back to Dirlagraun the Displacer Beast. She now has a third halfling child that she is watching. What is up with all these irresponsible halfling parents? Ignoring this development, I explain to Dirla that the carnival is in trouble and that we want to help. But we need the carnival workers to help us convince Mr. Witch and Mr. Light to let us help. I tell her that Burly, Candlefoot, and Palasha are already on board. I also tell her that I suspect that her cub, Star, is probably trapped in the Feywild and that I will look for her if we can get there. Dirlagraun is happy that we will look for her child and agrees to help us with the heist. (No, no, no. I don’t want to rob anyone. Who said anything about a heist? We just need to convince the owners to trust us. Why is everyone obsessed with stealing stuff?… You know what, fine, whatever. Heist away.)
Feeling pretty satisfied that we’d done everything we could to get the carnival on our side, even if we are still locked into this heist path, I have no plans on what to do next. Everyone decides to go do the Snail Racing. This turns out to be a long event and will take up the rest of the carnival but everyone is excited to do it, even me. This is my last chance to finally win some sort of prize and I’m still desperate to win something, anything.
Of course, the snails are giant-sized behemoths and go zipping around the track at about 100 miles per hour with us as the jockeys. They all have jolly racing names like Quickling or Nimblefast and are adorned in snazzy racing colors. I get the yellow one named Flowerflash. Each round is based upon our animal handling skill with a bunch of random events thrown in, like a snail stopping to eat some vegetables thrown out onto the track, or some such nonsense.
And they’re off! Flowerflash and Nimblefast are off to an early lead, while Quickling refuses to leave the gate. As they round the first turn, it’s a four-way race for third. Nimblefast takes the lead in turn two and Flowerflash and Whizzy are neck and neck for second. As they enter the crossover, they nearly collide with Quickling who has finally decided to enter the race. Nimblefast is fading fast as they enter the third turn and oh my god, Shelly Moo has stopped dead in her tracks to eat some lettuce that a fan threw onto the field. That’s gonna cause an accident. As they exit the final turn, it’s Whizzy and Flowerflash, Flowerflash and Whizzy. As they come down the home stretch, Flowerflash is going to win. But, No! In a final burst of surprising speed, it’s Whizzy and his jockey Mara who win by an antenna hair. What an incredible race!
Dammit, I lost again. Granted, the First Place prize was only a Potion of Advantage which is the closest thing this adventure has to an Inspiration token, but still, Dammit! I didn’t even win the consolation prize, a one-use Dancing Lights Wand, for coming in last. Wait, there’s still time! There’s still more games of chance. Where’s the Dexterity game, or Charisma, or what else is there? What d’ya mean the carnival’s over? No! I’m not done. Dammit!
Next week, the carnival comes to a close, someone is crowned the Witchlight Monarch, and we are transported into a parallel universe. Can you guess which one?
As always, every carnival game is rigged, and Game On!
Where the lost get found, in the crown of the circus king. – The Greatest Show