The Witchlight Misfits explore the Feywild, collecting birdcages and keys, making friends and creating enemies. And one of us dies.
When last we left our heroes, we finally made it into the Feywild. So as not to incriminate myself, we will not discuss how we got into the Feywild. Snitches get Stitches! Once in the Fey, we were overwhelmed by the dramatic vibrancy of the land, designed to inundate and assault the senses. And then we were almost overwhelmed by the dramatic nature of the land, designed to confuse, harass, and annoy one’s sensibilities. We were nearly drowned by capriciously rising swamp water, waylaid by bunny bandits who wanted to steal our most precious memories, and plagued by nightmares that left us exhausted in the morning.
After our first dismal day, a new day dawns (or not, it’s kinda always twilight here in the Fey), but not all of us are here to enjoy it. Daithi, the dimwitted eladrin barbarian, is missing! I reality, his player couldn’t make it to the table this week, so we are playing without him. This in and of itself feels weird. I know that this happens all the time, but in my primary campaign, we don’t play unless we are all there. It’s a Musketeer thing; all for one, and one for all. But here in the Adventurer’s League it’s the world waits for no man; keep up or we’ll leave you behind. Fortunately for our characters, we are not concerned. It’s the Feywild; he’ll turn up somewhere.
We are on the hunt for a hot air balloon that may have crashed somewhere “over there”. I am not leading the party, as is my paladin right, because I will purposefully lead them astray since part of my Feywild punishment is that I have no sense of direction. But this is not a secret within the group and they wisely keep me in the middle of the pack.
When we arrive at where the balloon should be, we come across an old, ruined, and slanty tower. This tower, like its sister in Pisa, leans at a seemingly impossible angle. Dangling from the top is the remnants of a mangled balloon and a wicket basket. A voice from the basket pleads for help.
Scores of sharp sticks surround the structure, and several somnambulistic snakes are set to strike at the slightest sound. I’m about to breech the brambles and liberate the botched balloonist, when the blasted brownies blurt out, “We fly up and rescue him!” I vow that in any campaign I run, I will never allow a flying playable race; they just break the game.
So, while all us dirtsuckers who are shackled to ground stand around with our thumbs up our posteriors, the three fairies, and their pet owl who is “helping”, haul a birdcage out of the balloon (don’t even get me started again on the carrying capacities of tiny creatures), and place it firmly on terra firma. Inside the birdcage is the most dapper, most dashing, most debonair, most esteemed, most mustachioed fairie dragon in all the realms and beyond. May I present Sir Talavar, Most Noble Knight of the Seelie Court and Personal Champion of the Summer Queen, Titania.
Sir Talavar is in a bit of a bind. For starters, he is trapped inside this birdcage. Second, he doesn’t have the key. And lastly, he is on the run from the hag that rules this land, Bavlorna Blightstraw, not Bwlorna as I had written down. Bavlorna lives in the middle of the bullywug (frog) kingdom of DownFall. He was captured by Bavlorna and was only able to escape with the help of two noble bullywugs from the Soggy Court. One bullywug is named Wigglewag or Wagglewog or whatever. Names is for tombstones, and this guy lies dead as a doornail at the bottom of the basket. The other bullywug conspirator was captured back in DownFall and doesn’t have a name. Of course, it has a name, but I’m betting that it’s only mentioned in the DownFall section of the book and not here, where it should be, when the players will first ask about it.
Sir Talavar was on a mission for his archfey mistress, Titania, to discover what became of Zybilna, the rightful ruler of this land. A lot of the unconnected dots were now connected thanks to this guy. The Hourglass Coven is three hags, Bavlorna, Endolin, and Skabatha, and each one rules a separate part of the land. They are all sisters who hate and distrust each other. (We’ll see if we can play into their hate and get them to attack each other.) I had pieced most of this together, but there is one new name that we received. The Coven used Iggwilv’s Cauldron to freeze time and trap Zybilna. And that is a name I’ve heard before.
But even more important than all of that, we learned what it means to run “with your shins”. This was a clue we got back in the carnival and somehow it is a particular weakness of Bavlorna’s. We have a list of topics that we ask everyone we meet if they know anything about. I’ll discuss this list later, but one item on it is the phrase “to run with your shins.” When queried, Sir Talavar replied, “Do you mean run widdershins?” This is an olde-timey, archaic word that means counter-clockwise. I happen to know what it means because I am old-timey and archaic. I could not conceal my glee at knowing this obscure bit of trivia and immediately explained it to the rest. But I really wish that I had kept it a secret and only revealed it when the time was right.
Sir Talavar also tells us that the key to open his birdcage is owned by a friendly goblin named Jingle-Jangle who just so happens to live on a hill a short distance “that-a-way” So, off we trot to the next station. Technically, the adventure is not a railroad, since we could have conceivably crushed this birdcage with a rock and then ignored the next encounter, but there is clearly a proper path to keep this adventure on track, and all roads lead to Bavlorna. Next stop, The Keymaster.
This was perhaps the quickest, easiest encounter in the entire campaign. Unless you attack the goblin on sight, it is impossible to screw this up. There are some talking trees, and unless you threaten to burn them to the ground, they will take you to the goblin. Mr. Jangle is exceedingly friendly, but he has a tale of woe about a nasty band of bunny brigands who stole his bag of truffles. Being an ever-so-helpful band of good-deed-doers, we promise to look out for the precious sack of ‘shrooms. Jingles is happy and we ended up trading some rations for the silver key to unlock Sir Talavar’s gilded prison. Done.
When we unlock the birdcage it dissolves into nothingness. I was rather disappointed by this, because I wanted to take it to trade later. Clearly everything in the Fey is based on a barter system and I need to collect some useless trinkets to use as currency. Sir Talavar thanks us for his freedom, and assures us that we will have the appreciation of his queen, so we got that going for us. He fortuitously informs us that if we want to travel to the next land of Thither then we will need a guide and there just so happens to be one in the kingdom of Downfall, where we are conveniently heading. He’s a scarecrow named named Clapperclaw and we should check him out. Thank you, Sir Exposition, we’ll put his name on the list.
Sir Talavar exits before we can entice him to fight all our battles for us, and after we bid our adieus to Jingle Jangle, the trees from earlier have another present for us. Because we were able to make the Keymaster happy, they present us with a little black key. You would think that if the trees really wanted to make the key-obsessed goblin happy, then they would return the key to him. But whatever, we’ll take it. The trees hand the key specifically to me; probably because I am the official chronicler and this thing is important and needs to be written down.
Journeying on, we come upon a strange sight. It’s a well, but instead of having water in it at the bottom, it has a geyser of water erupting out of it, like Old Faithful. This must be how the swamp keeps flooding periodically; as silly as the Fey world is, there is still an underlying reason and logic behind it. At the top of the fountain, we can just see that there are a number of small boxes and trinkets bobbing at the top. Naturally, all the fairies (and the owl) go flying up to investigate at the exclusion of everyone else.
I just learned that Anna who plays Mara the fairy Warlock is new to the game (I was convinced she was an experienced player) and is still learning the rules. As such, she is mostly quiet, but her character does have an uncontrollable urge to touch things. Just a little “boop”, no harm intended. Needless to say, she pokes one of the items bobbing in the waterspout. Immediately, 4 will-o-wisps come out of nowhere and yell, “Thief!” Then one of them jolts Mara for some minor damage, nothing crazy, just a little warning about obeying the rules of property here in the Feywild.
Heedless of this warning, Shammer has his owl grab all four items and stuff them in a sack. Despite a few “Are you sure you want to do that?”s from the DM, and a number of us fellow players pleading with him not to do it, Shammer still has this most dexterous owl perform this most foolish, and brazen violation of Feywild law. Four very angry magical balls of pure energy cry out, “Thief,” and proceed to blast Shammer with multiple electrical shocks. Shocked and dismayed, Shammer’s player, Thane protests, “But it was my owl that touched them, not me!”
This was truly a sad and tragic moment in the campaign. Thane appeared quite upset and couldn’t understand why he was the target and not “my owl”. The very fact that he kept referring to it as “my owl” was lost on him. We tried to explain that the owl is an extension of his character and thus Shammer is responsible and liable for his owl’s actions. This owl (as it is played) has no free will and these fey creatures would know that. But he was convinced the whole thing was unjust and unfair.
This owl familiar has been a point of concern since the start of the campaign, and I’ve just realized why. I thought that Thane, the player, was just a “rules lawyer” who insists that the game be played “as written”. But, in fact, he is a power-gamer, a min/maxer, a munchkin who looks at the rules as a system to be exploited, abused, and broken. Inherently, this is not a bad thing. It’s good to stretch the rules occasionally to create clever solutions to problems. And clearly, Thane cares about the game. He thinks about it when not in session, and he is always paying attention; that’s good. But the constant, unending attempts to beat the system are exhausting. This defeats the spirit of the game, and they distract the DM from running the game and attending to the other players; that’s bad.
In my opinion, this also robs the player of the fun of exploring and playing his character, instead of just manipulating the stats on his character sheet and maximizing his interpretations of the rules. A familiar is a special bond between the wizard and the creature. Their lives are intertwined and it costs a part of the wizard’s soul just to make one. But here, the owl is not an integral entity, not an extension of the player character, it’s not even an NPC with any identity. It doesn’t even have a name. It is just a means to an end.
This owl seems to exist for two reasons. One, it exists to “help” Shammer in whatever activity he is trying to do, giving him a permanent advantage on every single dice roll, regardless of its feasibility, appropriateness, or capability. Every combat, every round; my owl “helps” me. I’m lifting this impossibly heavy thing; my owl helps me. I roll an arcana check; my owl helps me. I’m trying to trick and deceive this guy; my owl helps me. I get to roll with advantage now, right? Of course, there is never a description of “how” the owl helps, he just magically does. And this has the added “I’m beating the game benefit” of giving him 2 actions every round, instead of everyone else’s measly one.
Two, the owl does all of Shammer’s dirty work. If there is something that is dangerous, or illegal, or even slightly suspicious, then make the owl do it. That way the owl takes the blame, takes the fall, and if he gets killed, who cares, I’ll just make another one. This completely violates the intent of the spell, which is a wizard’s roleplaying aid, not a game mechanic to be manipulated. 1st Edition D&D solved this problem in a number of ways, which I would absolutely enforce here. Back then, the spell costs 100 gold (not 10) each time it is cast, the familiar would only fight in life-or-death situations (the familiar is very self-aware and not stupid, and won’t risk its life needlessly) and if it died then the wizard lost 2-8 hit points permanently. Given these circumstances, you might want to take better care of your “special bonded creature”.
You might suspect that I just don’t like min/max players, but that is not the case. I like Thane as a player and a person, and I love how passionate he is about the game. My eldest son is a munchkin player, and he loves it when all his rule-bending plans work out and he feels like a bad-ass. So, it is imperative that you give in to the power gamer once in a while and let all his narrowly specific interpretations of the rules work and thus feel awesome. But like all things, it must be done in moderation, and it should have a justified reason for occurring. And you have to be willing to accept the consequences when all your schemes fail. Okay, enough of my rant, back to the Fall of Shammer.
Shammer has just been jolted by four electrical blasts. One of them hit for a critical, and the damage done was ridiculous. Shammer is killed outright with no death saves and plummets to the ground. I had hoped that he would survive the assault, so that I could heal him and we could move on. But his death hung in the air like a dark cloud, tainting the entire table with its shadow. Everyone felt bad for the kid. Sure, he’d been aggressively abusing (some would say creatively applying) the game mechanics, but nobody wanted to see his character die.
But then the will-o-wisps come down and encased Shammer’s body in a cocoon of shimmering bubbles, essentially casting Gentle Repose on the body. This seldom used spell halts the decomposition process and gives the other players (us) more time to save our dead friend, once we can find someone who can cast a Resurrect or Revivify spell. Did the DM show mercy on the player and gave him this Deus-ex-machina to save him? Of course, but I love it. Now we get to play out The Princess Bride where we drag around our “mostly-dead” friend looking for a Miracle Max to revive him. Except here in the fey, the cost will be steep. Probably a promise and a contract with one of the hags, which always have awesome complications and would be a great role-playing opportunity.
But then what would Thane play while he waited for us to resurrect her? I would have had him play her owl, flying around “helping” the rest of us while we pondered the mystery of why the thing didn’t just disappear when its master died. But I don’t think the DM or Thane would have liked that idea. In the end, the DM used another Deus-ex-machina to bring her back to life, but at least we earned this from one of our prior actions.
We hear calliope music coming from the fog. Out strolls Ernest, the monkey we met back in Session 1 at the Witchlight Carnival. When he approaches, he speaks, “Since you were so kind to give me your buttons earlier, I will repay the debt with a boon that will bring back your companion. But I can only do this once. Our debt is now paid.” The cocoon surrounding Shammer turned translucent and vanishes. Like a butterfly, the fairy emerges and is back amongst the living.
Truth be told, I’m disappointed that we wasted our buttons on this. I was really looking forward to the quest to save Shammer’s life. I suspected that the button-monkey would have something to do with us later in the story. A huge theme of literary nonsense is that every action has an equal, and often illogical, reaction. I didn’t expect a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card, and I wish that we could have used this on something that the group did to screw up, not just one player.
Two last bits, then we’ll move on. Apparently, the warlock, Starshine, has the same idea as me regarding trinkets since she managed to trade with one of the will-o-wisps. She traded a stool (I have no idea where she got this from) for the box which held a jar of baby teeth. Frankly, I think she traded down on that one. How she communicated with the wisp, I have no clue. I was busy using my Outlander background to forage around and obtained some mushrooms that increase your age as you eat them. Finally, I got something useless I can barter with.
We want to get to the Kingdom of Downfall, but we have to travel through the Brigands’ Tollway to get there, so Choo choo, all aboard the Tollway Express, first stop Ambush Junction, where it doesn’t matter which way you go, these guys are gonna getcha. The Tollway is a jumbled series of elevated docks and walkways that radiate out from and encompass an enormous tree stump in the center. We tried to avoid confrontation by walking around the outer rim, but it didn’t matter, the bunnies snuck up on us regardless.
We are skulking along the wooden planks, (while those other planks of wood, the fairies, are shamelessly flying above) when we hear the now-familiar refrains of bunnies threatening to beat us senseless. Out of the murky depths we can see two skiffs floating toward us, rowed by around eight rabbit ruffians. These guys again.
Suddenly, in a flash of blue, there is a bunny standing in the midst of us, as if he materialized out of the ether. He is a rakish, rapscallion, rogue of a rabbit. He is handsome, suave, mysterious, and wearing the most exquisite garment of neck attire ever crafted. An azure scarf of inconceivable length flows from his collar like blazing blue banner. In a jovial voice, he proclaims, “I am the Brigand Prince of Prismeer. Ha, ha! You are trespassers attempting to cross my land without paying the toll. Turn out your pockets. Ha, ha!” This is the Errol Flynn of fur, the Robin Hood of rabbits, this is Agdon Longscarf, the fastest thief in all the land.
“Pop” the kenku immediately fires an arrow at him.
Dammit! I wanted to parlay with this guy. Fine! Bring it on. I put my fickle, feathered friend down (I’ve still been carrying him around this whole time) and prepare for battle. With a laugh, Agdon is off again. Quicker than lightning, he dodges the arrow and now he’s standing over 100 feet away, his scarf trailing in the wind. Not only that, Longscarf is holding “Pop’s” quiver and all his arrows. He really is the fastest thief.
Agdon charges in for another round with me and “Pop” while the remaining team takes aim at the boatloads of bunnies arriving to join the brawl. Agdon wields a wicked looking branding iron, which gives him the award for Most Uniquely Armed Enemy I’ve ever faced. He immediately brands “Pop”, leaving him with a permanent tattoo of three rabbits chasing their tails. Even worse, thanks to the magic of the brand, “Pop” can no longer perceive Agdon’s presence. He can’t see, hear, or even smell him, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been around bunnies, but they stink to high heaven! But regardless, all of “Pop’s” attacks now suffer disadvantage. Maybe Shammer’s owl can help him out and even the odds. Oh, no? That’s just for Shammer?
Unsurprisingly, “Pop” misses both of his attacks. But now it’s my turn. Not taking any chances, I unleash all of my available smite actions (I got a lot of smite), and hit the jumping jackrabbit for 22 points. In my best Matrix voice I say, “Dodge this…” He dodged it. With his uncanny dodge skill, he only took 11 points of damage. Uh, oh. This fight is going to be very dangerous and already I fear that we may have to surrender or be overwhelmed. And then…
The DM asks me for my character sheet. Well, this can’t be good. Fortunately, he only wants to see my equipment list and tells me that Agdon has stolen my holy symbol (no more smite) which he is spinning on his finger like a toy. Inspired and hoping to initiate a parlay, I cry out, “Thief!” hoping that the same rules of property apply to this cunning cottontail as they did to us back with the wisps. But Agdon retorts, “I own everything in this land, and one cannot steal what one owns.” Touché, Rabbit, touché.
Meanwhile the rest of the band is bandying blows with the bunny brigands bearing upon on us. The bunny brigand bowmen buffeted us with many blows and bounced away into the brush, blending into the background, biding time to blindside us again. But the bunny brigand brutes brandishing billyclubs are bounding before us about to bash our brains in and bludgeon us black and blue. A bitter, bleak debacle was brewing.
But then, Shammer casts Eldritch Blast. But instead of at Agdon, he casts it at the wood planks beneath Agdon’s feet in an attempt to immobilize the hard-to-hold hare. I’ve poked a lot of fun at Shammer today but this was a pretty brilliant idea. We need to slow this speed demon down somehow. The plan performed perfectly. A gaping black hole opens beneath Agdon’s fleet-footed feet. Like a classic cartoon character, Agdon hovers in mid-air, and blinks a few times, before plummeting five feet into the sucking muck below the tollway, his stunning sapphire scarf standing straight up out of the fissure, before spiraling down into the sticky swamp.
Without a second’s hesitation, “Pop” jumps into the newly-formed rabbit hole, swinging. And missing. Everyone casts Eldritch Blast, because of course they can. I swear, Eldritch Blast is the Spinal Tap of spells, “…But this one goes to 1d10.” Some miss, some hit, but when Serena casts it, it triggers her Tides of Chaos “skill”. I normally try to dismiss this “special ability”, but this time it was pretty freaking cool.
The wild magic surge causes Serena to instantly become 9 years younger, making her just 7 years old! I had no idea how this would affect her in combat. Can she still cast spells? Swing a sword? Do anything? I was prepared to use my aging mushrooms to bring her back to normal. While I waited to see how the DM would adjudicate this, I watched him get a wicked smile on his face, as he vaguely remembered something and began flipping through the adventure book trying to find it. The DM smiled again, and said, “Serena disappears. She is no longer here.” What? Where is she? What the heck in happening?
Will we survive our aggressive conversation with Agdon? Will we ever find Daithi again? Will the owl get his own spin-off adventure? What has become of Serena? Find out next session, same bunny time, same bunny website.
Next week, we wrap up our negotiations with Agdon Longscarf, maybe find Serena, seek shelter in the Inn At The End Of The Road, and we become embroiled in the political intrigue of the Royal Soggy Court.
As always, never go in against a Sicilian (or a will-o-wisp) when death is on the line, and Game On!
Well, that’s no ordinary rabbit. – Tim the Enchanter, Monty Python and the Holy Grail