Coronations, grand larceny, extortions, incantations, teleportation; it’s not as easy as it looks to get into the Feywild.
When last we left our heroes, we started off just enjoying the carnival, but now are convinced that something more sinister is afoot. A sense of malice and loss hides behind the smiles and merriment. A rather erudite bugbear named Burly informed us that the owners of the carnival, Mr. Witch and Mr. Light, know what is going on but are unable to stop it on their own. But the only way to get them to confide in us is to steal one of their most valuable possessions and blackmail them. Because nothing builds trust like a little larceny. We’ve been gathering allies among the carnival workers to help us with the heist. Or stage a coup.
The items in question are a pocket watch worn by Mr. Witch, at all times, that magically keeps the carnival running on time, and the Witchlight weathervane that is held by Mr. Light, at all times, and somehow affects the “mood” of the carnival. I mentioned last week how much I dislike that this is the only option that allows us to progress to the next part of the story. But I also dislike how this whole thing is built up like it’s a heist but it isn’t. It’s just a brutish mugging.
A heist implies an information gathering phase; scoping out the target, learning his weaknesses, determining the perfect moment to strike and absconding with the item before the mark even knows it’s gone. Yeah, that doesn’t happen. The best you can hope for is to discover that, at the end of the night, Mr. Witch will be standing with either Candlefoot, the ex-mime or Dirlagraun, your friendly neighborhood displacer beast, and they might distract Mr. Witch long enough to allow you to pick his pocket! C’mon, picking a guy’s pocket is one of the baby steps to get a key or an ID that leads up to the real “heist”. It isn’t the heist! Even worse, there is no way to get the weathervane away from Mr. Light except knock him down and take it from him. Which is basically what we did.
The finale of the festival is centered on the Crowning of the Witchlight Monarch. This huge celebration begins in the Big Top Circus tent, where one lucky guest is inducted into the ranks of festival royalty (and maybe fey royalty as well, the exact tenets of this title are obscure.) This is followed by a parade that snakes its way around the carnival, and this is the best (and only) time to conduct our “heist”.
But who is to be crowned the Witchlight Monarch? With much pomp and circumstance, Mr. Light announces that the Witchlight Monarch is bestowed upon the person who has brought the most joy to the carnival. Surprise, surprise, that honor falls upon our merry band of misfits. I mean, we did find a lost kid, saved a dwarf from losing his life, rescued a Halfling from getting abducted and saved his marriage, and we reunited the forlorn lost loves of Palasha and Candlefoot. That’s a lot of loss here at this allegedly joyful place. But there are eight of us, and there can be only one Witchlight Monarch. Who’s it going to be?
The DM leaves it up to us to decide who should be crowned. I am in a quandary. Personally, I really want to win something here at the carnival and have been unsuccessful so far at all the games of skill. But my character is still such a dour stick-in-the-mud, that he would never propose himself to be the winner of this silly carnival contest, so Durwyn stoically, and with a heavy heart, says nothing. No one else seems to have any burning desire for this honor either. Only Daithi argues vehemently that “Pop” the kenku should be the winner. This stems from his unicorn ride back in Session 2 that told him that being crowned the Witchlight Monarch would restore the kenku’s ability to fly. The fact that the kenku’s “wings” are vestigial and he never had the gift of flight is irrelevant in Daithi’s eyes.
So, by default, “Pop” is hailed as the Witchlight Monarch. A crown of butterflies is magically produced and placed upon the head of our feathered friend. This coronation also carries a charm that allows “Pop” to fly, as per the spell, three times during our adventures. I guess Daithi and his unicorn were right. Trumpets blare and mermaids sing as the newly anointed king is paraded around the circus tent. Meanwhile, Mr. Witch is standing in a corner with Candlefoot and Dirlagraun, two of our co-conspirators. This is it! The “heist” is on.
Finally, our fairy thief, Faux, can do what he does best, Thieve. With Candlefoot and Dirlagraun distracting Mr. Witch, it should be an easy matter for Faux to roll with advantage, obtain the watch, allowing us to blackmail these guys, and finally move on to the Fey… “I failed,” Faux sheepishly tells us. What? How is that possible? This uncorked a wave of I-Wanna-Try-Itis, as most everyone took a stab at stealing this watch. Durwyn abstained; I am no thief. Apparently, Mr. Witch was oblivious to the 5 or 6 players lurking behind him, waiting in line to take their turn to rob him.
But the DM allowed it; and ultimately it was Daithi, the Dimwitted Barbarian, who managed to purloin the precious pocket watch. Great! Let’s go and talk to Mr. Witch and trade him his watch for the way into the Fey. Oh, you all want to finish this parade charade? Okay, I’ll wait.
The parade meanders its way around the fairgrounds with Mr. Light leading the way, triumphantly holding his weathervane high. Wait! What are those fairies doing now? Get away from that thing. Leave him alone! We already got the watch. Overcome with enthusiasms, the fairies decide to steal the weathervane too. Now I don’t know the rules for the carrying capacities of fairy creatures and apparently WotC doesn’t either. These guys are super strong. Imagine Tinkerbell. Now imagine Tinkerbell lifting a broadsword, you get the idea.
As improbable as it sounds, Faux the fairy (and maybe a few others, I lost track of how many other fairies and owls were “helping”) rips the magical weathervane out of the hands of Mr. Light. It just hovered there above his head and the parade came to a screeching halt. We all just sat there for several long moments of uncomfortable silence, until Faux decided to move forward. The parade proceeded again until we reached the big top, to have our conversation with the carnival owners.
I must really hate these two NPCs, because I didn’t write down any of our “dialog” here. But the two agree to let us enter the Feywild, so yea. They take us to the Hall of Illusions (I knew it was here!) and with some magic words that I probably should have written down but didn’t, one of the mirrors start to shimmer and a portal opens up to another dimension, a dimensioning time and space (do, do, do, do; do, do, do, do). Waiting for some last words of wisdom, we get nothing. The two bozos just stand there silently waiting for us to step through the gateway. No advice, no words of vague foreshadowing; not even a good luck or a goodbye.
Only when the last player is about to enter the portal, do the two carnival owners bother to say anything. Of course, they speak in riddles, I was not the last player through, and I only caught half of it. Something about the rule of three, past, present, and future; and we need to find the alicorn to set the dormant queen free. Why these two would wait for the last player to reveal the only new clues they possess is just another aggravating aspect of these already annoying NPCs. God, I hate them!
As we step through the looking glass, we find ourselves in a strange land. The land is disconcerting melding of the familiar and the alien. We are on a wide stone walkway, that feels normal, but the avenue is hundreds of feet in the air (because it’s a highway, get it?) and it stretches on for miles in a perfectly straight line until it disappears into the horizon. Unfortunately, this is the road less traveled since huge chunks of it have crumbled away making it impassable. Even more unfortunately, looking back we can no longer see the portal we entered by, so unsurprisingly, we’ll have to find a new way home.
Looking out over the vast expanse below us, an enormous swamp spreads out for as far as the eye can see. Mangrove trees blanket the land, soaring to the sky, and we can’t see the ground for we are above it all. The rolling sea of green leaves is so vibrant and saturated with color that it appears to glow and undulate like monstrous neon ocean. To our left, the view is blocked by thick wall of impenetrable fog; a soup so thick you could eat it with a fork. The mist seems to surround and encapsulate the entire land, while pockets of it drift up from among the trees. Also drifting up from the swamp is the stench of decay and rot, and the discordant sounds of thousands of frog, birds and worse. Welcome to the Hither.
I’d like to say that time is muddled in the Feywild and that events don’t necessarily occur in a linear fashion. But the fact is I took really bad notes this week, and I can’t remember what order things happened in. I know that we climbed down off the elevated highway. The swamp was filled with rotting plants and mushrooms, and we stood in about 6 inches of brackish water. At some point, the swamp water began to rise without provocation to about 5 feet in height, forcing us to climb back up into the trees. The we hopped around the swamp via giant lily pads. Daithi tasted the water and his tongue became covered in warts. We saw a giant crane; the bird, not the construction equipment. And we saw a giant balloon floating in the sky; the hot air kind, not the child’s toy.
The hot air balloon was less floating, and more plummeting out of the sky. It seemed to be crashing somewhere “over there” several miles (or maybe a few yards) “that-a-way”. From our viewpoint at the top of the trees… When I say our view point, I mean everyone else’s viewpoint, I am afraid of heights and won’t climb an inch above the waterline. But from their viewpoint, they see the balloon is drifting near an old tower “over yonder.” Having no place better to go, we decided to check out the balloon. I immediately headed off in the wrong direction, until someone stopped me, turned me around, and we headed off in the right direction. The cause of all this directional nonsense is detailed in my very convoluted Durwyn the Bastard Paladin Backstory.
At some point, the water receded enough that we could walk on land again; wet, soggy, muddy land, but land nonetheless. Visibility in this misty, muggy marsh is limited to 20 feet, but we can hear singing coming from the fog. Six haregons (bipedal bunnies) dressed like pirates come hopping down the bunny trail, wagging their little bunny tails, and singing a song about bashing our brains in if we don’t surrender and give them what they want.
What they want is for us to surrender one of our happiest memories. These are to be stored in a magical gourd with a golden stopper. Because my notes suck, I don’t recall how combat ensued, but ensued it did, much to the chagrin of the haregins. (I know it’s haregon, but that didn’t rhyme.) I went after the head bunny. I assumed he was the head bunny because he was the one riding a giant snail and told us, “This is a robbery!” I tried to subdue him, but I don’t know my own strength, and hit him for double his maximum hit points. Yep, I thumped that thumper real good; thumped him dead.
Despite this adventure being touted as a non-violent, role-playing excursion, we are a pretty lethal group. Thanks to multiple eldritch blasts, barbarian rages, and one bunny dying from mocking shame, the band of brigands lay dead. Except one, who tried to hop away but was immediately sniped dead by the ranger. Now we got no one to interrogate. With nothing else to do, we released the snail from his bondage and since no one else claimed it, I took the golden stoppered gourd. My gut tells me that these items should all have a perfect particular moment to utilize them, if only I can just figure out the proper path. Or I may be overthinking this whole thing, as I usually tend to do.
I fear that I am going to have a hard time with this adventure. I just wanted to play a character and not worry about running a game. When I signed up, Wild Beyond the Witchlight was the only adventure with an open call sheet. I was okay with the weirdness of it, and the lack of combat, but now that I’m playing it, I find myself agonizing over every little detail. I take copious notes, partly for the blog recap, but mostly to track all the details, scraps of info, riddled clues, and misheard cues. But I don’t want take notes, I just wanna smack monsters around without consequence. But somebody has to keep track of everything, or else the world devolves into chaos!
It doesn’t help matters that two members of the party have completely embraced the chaos, and go out of their way to make everything as crazy and ridiculous as possible. I get what they’re doing, they’re just having fun, and chaos is fun. But that chaos comes at the expense of every other player. It is nigh impossible to get anything done when others are constantly trying to blow it all up. And frankly, it is easy and slightly lazy roleplaying to just “do” whatever random idea pops into your head, and then justify it all with “That’s what my character would do.”
The protagonists in the genre of literary nonsense (which we very much are in this adventure) should, to some degree, remain grounded in the “real”. Alice Liddell, Dorothy Gale, Wendy Darling, Charlie Bucket, Arthur Dent and even Neo may come to understand, appreciate, and even master the “rules” of the chaos around them, but they still acknowledge that there are rules. One could argue that you could have a story where the hero of the story is just as crazy as the world around her, but it wouldn’t be a good story and I guarantee that the true protagonist still needs to be a character that is considered “normal”. Or at least not Chaotic Neutral.
Moving on, I forgot to mention that while we are a deadly bunch, we didn’t all make it out unscathed. Shammer’s unnamed, but monumentally important, familiar owl perished in the battle. Shammer absolutely refused to travel without it and insisted that he could conduct the hour-long ritual summoning spell while we walked toward the crashed balloon. The DM rightfully denied this and a tedious debate erupted about the merits of this decision. Nobody wanted to stop and rest while still stuck in this swamp and we all agreed to let Shammer take as long as he needs once we reach any sort of haven. But Shammer rebuked all these concessions; it had to be now!
I knew that Shammer, or more importantly Shammer’s player, Thane, was obsessed with his owl, but I didn’t know of just how badly. To be fair, Thane is one of the teenage players of the group, and my own teenage sons get just as obsessed about seemingly unimportant particulars in the game as well, so there’s nothing necessarily wrong there. But it does disrupt the pacing somewhat.
Just to end this issue, we decided to rest for the night, here in the swamp, up in the trees, just in case the water rose again. This completely violates my character’s fear of heights, but whatever, let’s just get this over with. Shammer stayed in a different tree, just in case the summoning went south, while I slept on the ground and prayed for a quick watery death.
The only good news to come out of this is that we discovered what our terrifying failures in the Mystery Mines back at the carnival meant, and it’s worse than I imagined. I thought that it would give us nightmares and deny us the benefits of a long rest. We had the nightmares, but unless we passed a Wisdom save (and with zero clerics in the group, our collective wisdom sucks), then we suffer a level of exhaustion as well, and maybe even two.
My Durwyn was the only one who was unaffected in the Mystery Mines and I didn’t have any nightmares. Everyone else did, and about half passed and half failed their terror rolls. The half that passed overcame their fears and no longer have to roll. But those that failed all suffered a level of exhaustion and have to roll again the next time they rest. Even worse, the kenku suffered two (he failed really badly). This dropped his Speed to only 15 and forced me to carry my squire around on my shoulders just to keep up with the group, all while he led me in the right direction by pulling on my hair like Ratatouille. But that’s next week.
Next week, we rescue the world’s most esteemed fairie dragon, befriend the Keymaster, and run afoul of the fastest brigand in all the Feywild.
Sometimes, you can’t always get the adventure you want, but if you try, sometimes, you get what you need, and Game On!
(If it doesn’t matter where you want to go) Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go – Cheshire Cat, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland