The Witchlight Misfits wander around the Soggy Court, shop at the creepiest shop in the Fey, and storm a hag’s hut.
When last we left our heroes, we had channeled our inner Elmer Fudd and killed a wascally wabbit who was also a highway bandit. Then we became entwined in the political chicanery of the Royal Soggy Court which is ruled by the probably inept King Gullop XIX (who is a frog, by the way). Due to some impetuous promises made by a few of our less discreet members, we were conscripted to deliver a stolen book back to the hag who rules this domain, Bavlorna Blightstraw. Now, we’ll probably be the ones who get blamed for stealing this book, but we’ll cross that bridge later. And never mind that Bavlorna and her sisters have stolen this land from a different witch and we are on a vague quest to restore the land back to its rightful owner, whoever that is. (It’s Tasha. They keep using different names to hide it, but it’s gonna be Tasha.)
There is also a plot to overthrow the current King Gullop, led by a mysterious Duke of Muckstump (who is also a frog; they’re all frogs!). Before this adventure is over, I’m certain we will inevitably be smack in the middle of a coup. The Duke of Muckstump is hiding somewhere in the village. We just have to find him and give the secret password. While we debate getting killed in the revolution or getting murdered by some hag, we explore a bit more of this lovely, wretched, stinking swamp town. The first building we come to turns out to be a prison of sorts. It is oddly unguarded and there is just one prisoner inside.
This is Morgort, the Knight of Warts. She is the other accomplice that helped Sir Talavar escape back in Session 5, but was captured and is being held on the charge of treason. She is to be killed by gladiatorial combat, presumably at our hands if things go poorly. But lucky for her (and us), she is also an excellent balloon pilot. She would gladly take us to the land of Thither, if only we could free her from this predicament and obtain the services of a navigator to guide us there. Hey! We just met a navigator last week.
Okay, so all we need to do is trick a hag into giving up one of her cherished possessions and give it back the scarecrow she stole it from; convince the king (or overthrow him) to release a treasonous criminal who betrayed the Soggy Court; and then somehow obtain the services of a hot air balloon. All while not getting maimed, killed, banished, or worse, making a promise to any one of these insane fey creatures. This’ll be a piece of cake.
Okay, now that we got that out of the way, we can head over to Bavlorna’s… Ooh, what’s that over there?
That turned out to be yet another balloon. Instead of the usual hot-air filled balloon, this one managed to harness an enormous storm cloud complete with perpetual dark skies and occasional lightning strikes. The basket is really a small shack that has been converted into a mobile store called Trinket, Bauble, and Charm and it is packed with many items of dubious lineage. The whole place has a very distinct Needful Things atmosphere.
The deal with the devil vibe of the shop is enhanced by its downright sketchy proprietors. One is Trinket and the other Bauble, but both are suspicious and untrustworthy. They have flat grey skin, with solid black eyes, and they might be elven, or goblin, or some cross in-between. But the most sinister feature is their smile; an evil, toothy grin a mile wide like a Cheshire Cat that cries out, “Don’t trust me!” I wanted nothing to do with this store.
But several of my more compulsive consumer companions began browsing. This was one of those cases where I wish there was a handout that had some examples of things for sale. There is nothing that my character particularly needs, so I didn’t even know what to ask for. A handout could have helped stir my creative juices. Not that I would have bought anything from this shop either way, since these hags-in-training don’t trade in coin, they barter with your soul. Or at least a part of it.
Shammer agreed to permanently forget the ability to cast one of her limited Warlock spells for info about her convoluted backstory. This didn’t affect her terribly since she only uses 3 or 4 spells anyway (Eldritch Blast, anyone?). In return, she learned that the Laughing Owl she seeks will only come out when the fog is thickest and was last seen over 8 years ago in the land of Yon. Herbert traded his ability to play one of his multitude of instruments for a magical pan flute that was guaranteed to “attract a crowd”. This turned out to be Pipes of the Sewers and can be used to summon rodents. This could be quite interesting here in the Fey (Rodents of Unusual Size, anyone?). Lastly, Serena traded for something and it only cost her the color of her eyes. The color was transferred to a pair of marbles kept in a sack with the colored marbles of hundreds of other victims of bad deals. Her eyes are now a lifeless grey and I don’t even remember what Serena got in return.
Okay, now that the soul-sucking shopping spree is over, we can check out the rest of the town before we tackle Bavlorna. Or,… we can leave Serena in charge and head directly to the end of the chapter. We had run out of connected islands to explore in this half of the village. We boarded a small skiff and I assumed we would all go to the other side of town. But Serena, who was inexplicably steering the boat, headed straight to the middle of the swamp where the fog was thick and obscured all vision. As a player, I really wanted to visit the rest of Downfall, (before we tackle the BBEG who is obviously in the center of this swamp) but as a character who has no sense of direction (thanks to my Feywild curse) I just go wherever the adventure takes me. Besides, Serena really seems to know where she’s going.
After what seemed like an eternity floating in soup, the skiff bumped into a tiny dock in the middle of the swamp. A rickety staircase spirals up from the dock and disappears into the mist like a creaky, wooden beanstalk. Without hesitation, Serena sprints up the stairs, the rest of us dutifully following along.
After climbing for forever, (really just 100’ but this is important later), the staircase ends at a trapdoor that leads up into a large floating hut. How the weight of the hut is supported by this flimsy set of stairs is impossible to know. Maybe the hut is suspended by the clotheslines we’ve seen all over town, but either way, it definitely ignores all laws of physics.
We debated a long time about how to enter the hut. Should we burst in unannounced, pick the lock and sneak in, knock on the door, have the fairies fly around and find another way in? There is no way to know the right course of action. I actually find this to be one of the biggest flaws of the adventure. There is never a way to gather good intelligence on any of the bad guys.
In the adventure, the few NPCs who want to help you, don’t know anything. The NPCs who know something will you only tell you if you trade them a part of your soul or get locked into a some stupid binding Feywild pact. And because it’s the Fey (Wonderland) nobody speaks plainly. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good riddle or enigmatic clue, but here in the Fey it’s always all or nothing and it is exhausting. Our situation is compounded by having 8 players. It is impossible for one player to have a conversation without several players interrupting and at least one player getting bored and disruptive.
On top of this, the hags seem to just sit in their huts, waiting for some uppity players to come along and haggle with them. I wish that they moved around, had some sort of daily routine that could be learned, or at least popped up to harass the players at little bit. Even the Wicked Witch of the West got out of her castle several times to antagonize Dorothy before she liquidated her.
But here we got nothing. We are still crowded underneath this hut arguing about how to get inside. My stance? Knocking on the front door of an evil hag is an recipe for disaster. Which is exactly what Serena does. Whether she was bored, or irritated, or knew something we didn’t, she knocked and now we are committed. No one answered but the hatch just sprung open. Everyone took this as an open invitation to come on in, so they obediently climbed inside. And this is the group that my character has sworn to protect? Sigh. Have none of them even read any fairy tales? This is how you end up in an oven.
There was no oven here, but there was so much other stuff, that I really wish the DM had made a battle map of this one room if nothing else in the entire campaign. I was thoroughly confused by the layout. We were in a flooded room with a well in the middle (where the well was connected was never explained, but it seemingly was feed by the swamp below). There was an elevated walkway (that I envisioned as a catwalk but was really much larger) around it the whole room. Now if the room was flooded, I couldn’t figure out why the water didn’t pour out of the open hatch we just came through until I was told (much later) that the hatch deposited us on the elevated walkway.
Confounding this room further, there were stairs (really just steps, but described as stairs) lending into the pool, a spiral stair leading upward in one corner, mannequins in another corner, a lily pad and a mirror in opposite corners (but opposite corners of the pool as I realized much, much later), and five different doors, not to mention the room is filled with dilapidated tables, crates and boxes cluttered with dirty dishes, scraps of food, and other detritus. It seemed to be too much stuff for one room. Of course, I assumed the room to be about 20 maybe 25 feet square when in fact, it is 55 feet square. This room is huge and really needs a battle mat. Besides, combat occurs here eventually, so just draw one now. Your players will thank you.
Frankly, I was a little freaked out that there was no one here to greet us. Fine, we get to do a little snooping, but I’m pretty sure the hag’s gonna be pissed to find us rummaging through her stuff. And we have no idea where to go. A few of us tried listening at the doors to get a clue. Nothing. Daithi checked out the mirror. Nothing (just his reflection), but the pool water feels “tingly, like carbonated soda” when he wades through it. This is actually cool foreshadowing for what happens later in this room (next week). Then before anyone can check out the mannequins or the lily pad, Serena knew exactly where she wants to go and sprinted up the spiral staircase, forcing us to follow or leave her unprotected.
We end up in an “L” shaped hallway and once again my orientation is totally screwed up. I think that Durwyn’s Loss of his Sense of Direction is starting to affect me in real life. I had the rotation of the “L” wrong, the stairs at the wrong end and the doors in the wrong spot. But at least I got the location of the mirror right. Ah yes, the suspicious mirror, there was a suspicious mirror in the room, don’t you know. But it wasn’t suspicious because it was unusual (which it was), it was suspicious because of how one character (guess who) interacted with it.
We were in a hallway filled with portraits of gloomy, sad, and depressing people. Each of them grey and miserable and no one was happy, but they were set in beautiful gilded frames. And this nondescript oval mirror is smack in the middle of the hallway between them all. Mara happens to be the one standing in front of it and the reflection of Mara’s face has no emotion on it. Hunh, that’s weird, moving on… But then without a word, Jameela, Serena’s player, not the character, and not the one standing in front of the mirror, starts making all these weird faces at the table to no one in particular; frowny face, grumpy face, angry face, she sticks her tongue out, crosses her eyes. I had been getting more aware and more annoyed at the railroad that she has been running us on these past few sessions, and now I was thinking, “What the f*ck is she doing?”
Suddenly Jameela smiled, and in the game, the reflection in the mirror smiled back at Serena. With a click, the mirror, which was now a door, swung inward revealing a new hallway that turned to the right. Without missing a beat, Serena trotted down this new hallway. She was joined by Mara and Herbert the Bard.
I was conflicted. I was irritated. I was convinced now that Jameela knew all the details of the adventure. Of course, I had no proof, but her “discovery” of this secret door felt so unnatural and with every perfect decision she made that led up to here, it felt dishonest. But is it?
No there is nothing wrong with playing an adventure more than once. In fact, it can be quite interesting to discover new things that you missed on the first playthrough or learn what things are now missing because they were homebrewed by the first DM. But there should be a few rules. First, you have to let the DM know. The other players should be told too, but the DM is a must. Second, obviously, don’t use your prior knowledge to get ahead in the game. If the villain has a secret, don’t miraculously “discover” it and ruin the surprise. The same goes for secret doors or shortcuts or other exploits. Third, the easiest way to do Rule 2 is to never run point or make decisions that affect the party. Let the new and unaware players play the game! Frankly, this issue is worthy of a full post. Maybe someday; but what do you think? How should you best deal with replaying an adventure? Or playing with pre-existing knowledge. I’d love to hear your comments.
But for now, I wanted to give Jameela the benefit of the doubt. And since all of the squishy characters are the ones now walking down the hall, and I am still playing their defender, I joined them. And I instantly regretted it. When we got to about the halfway point, we realized that the hallway has doubled in size. I cried out, “Aw, dammit! We’re shrinking!”
I was really very upset with this development. I did not want to come down this hallway. I’m pissed about how we found it. I’m pissed that I felt obligated to come down here. I’m pissed that there was no indication or foreshadowing of this event. I’m pissed that I expect this to be some permanent effect until we can find the random thing that we need to eat or drink to cure this. I tried to walk back down the hallway to reverse the effect. No good. Fine. Screw it. Let’s see where this rabbit hole leads.
Actually, it was a mouse hole, and it led right into the hag’s parlor. Opening a tiny little door, we are standing under an enormous curiosity cabinet. Of course, the cabinet is normal sized, we are only 3 inches tall (the fairies are less than an inch). Here , we get our first glimpse of our first hag. Bavlorna Blightstraw is pretty disgusting, but I gotta say, she kinda reminds me of a gray-skinned Kermit the Frog in drag.
I’m actually more disturbed by Bavlorna’s current house guest. There is a straight up witch sitting with Bavlorna having a charming little chat. But which witch is this witch? And for that matter, which witch is which? This witch is the void of utter blackness personified. Grey cadaver skin, robes of midnight, and the soulless black eyes of a shark. The only black this necrotic enchanter lacked was her shadow. Her body cast no shadow, as if her body sucked the very light from the room.
Luckily (or not) this is not another of the hag sisters, but rather the diametrically named Charm, who is the owner of the creepy storm cloud pawn shop that we visited earlier today. As we listen in, we realize that Charm is not really talking. She is just barely listening, and pretending to drink tea out of a filthy cup, while Bavlorna drones on and on complaining about her sisters. Occasionally, Charm interjects with an unenthusiastic “Unh-Hunh”, or “Go on”, but she is clearly uninterested and is just stalling for time. We didn’t want to get caught eavesdropping, so we beat a hasty retreat through the mouse door and back to out companions in the portrait hall.
Now we’re standing outside the door proper into Bavlorna’s parlor having the same debate about how to approach the situation. This time, Diathi took the reins and just knocked on the door. Granted it moved us along but it just feels so wrong. Stop knocking on the bad guy’s doors! But we are greeted with a surprisingly cordial “Come in”, so in we went. Apparently, these hags do obey the Rules of Hospitality. Lucky us.
As we enter the parlor, the darkling witch, Charm, gets up to leave. When she exits the room, we notice that she now has her shadow once more. But it clearly wasn’t there a moment ago. Apparently, Charm has the same wayward shadow as Peter Pan. But I’ll bet that it wasn’t trapped in Wendy Darling’s dresser and it was probably up to no good.
But there’s no time to think about that now, we got some hag’s style negotiations to deal with. On second thought, no we don’t, for Bavlorna sends us away almost as soon as we arrive. But there were a few interesting bits before we were kicked out. During our cursory introductions, those of us who went down the shrinking hallway suddenly spring back to full size (yet another wacky event that has no permanent repercussions). Good thing we didn’t stick around earlier, or we’d be stuck under that curiouser and curiouser cabinet. Bavlorna gives us a curious look and says, “Looks like some of you have been doing a little snooping too,” or something to that effect, but doesn’t push the issue further. (To avoid any uncomfortable conversations or ramifications, as usual.)
She continued. “If you want to have an audience with me, there are a number of things I need and that number is three. One, my pool downstairs needs a plumber, you’ll have to do, I can’t find anyone dumber. Two, my Book of Bad Blood has been taken, it’s down in Downfall if I’m not mistaken. Three, find the hunter below and retrieve my box, he’s easy to find, third house from the docks.”
We already had the Book of Bad Blood which Lady Serena and Sir Owl (whom were knighted last week) gladly returned. Bavlorna congratulates us. “That’s one down, two to go. Now run along, I’m very busy you know.” She then proceeds to ignore us and resumes her afternoon tea.
Next week, we “accidentally” steal everything we need from this hag, fight a giant can of cranberry sauce, and then are forced to choose a side in the coup de frog.
As always, never trust a saleclerk who smiles too wide or player who smiles for no reason at all, and Game On!
How nice it would be if we could only get through into the Looking-Glass house. – Alice