This week we rob a hag blind, fight a giant can of cranberry sauce, and get caught up in a salientian coup. Or is it caecilian soup?
When last we left our heroes, we wandered around a bullywug village, where we traded little bits of our soul for trivial magic items. Then we got impatient and made a beeline for the hag at the center of this swamp. Skulking around inside her hut, we stumbled in on our batrachian host right in the middle of her afternoon tea. How rude!
But the hag, the odiously named Bavlorna Blightstraw, seemed neither perturbed, surprised, or even interested in seeing us. With all the mandatory hospitality of the Fey, she welcomed us to her home and politely asked why we were bothering her. Her luncheon companion, an even more sinister looking witch named Charm, took this as her time to bid her adieus and left. At the start of our encounter, Charm’s phsyical form did not cast any shadow despite the brightness of the room, but as she took her leave, the shadow had reappeared in all its billowy darkness. Note to self: combat with this witch will be twice as hard.
Anywho, back to the hag at hand. Bavlorna won’t even talk to us until we complete three tasks. The number is always three; three lands, three hags, three chores, three rules of the Fey, three French hens, three Oz-inspired guides, three count for the holy hand grenade, you get the idea. Task one we already inadvertently completed, returning a lost book. Task two is to channel our inner Mario Bros. and fix the plumbing in Bavlorna’s private bath. Task three is to fetch a “package from a bullywug hunter” somewhere in the village below and deliver it to her.
Before we trotted off to do her bidding, I thought it would be funny to exploit my character’s flaw and do a little snooping. Each one of us has “lost” something prior to this adventure, stolen by one of the hags, and we are kinda, sorta trying to recover them. I have lost my sense of direction and am constantly getting lost. Most of the time this plays out with me declaring that we should head off in the deliberately wrong direction, only to have all the other players yell at me and steer me in the correct direction. I apologize in advance for my part in all the shenanigans that are about to occur.
Of course, I, Rich Stangle player extrodinaire, knew that Bavlorna’s bath is located downstairs. But there is a flight of stairs in this room heading up into what I suspect is Bavlorna’s private area. In my paladin voice, Durwyn cries out, “Let’s go fix that bath. Follow me!” and he runs up the stairs into the unknown. Several players tried to correct me, but I was having none of it, and Durwyn sallied forth up the stairs in search of adventure. Most of the players didn’t follow, but two brave and/or foolish players did, Michael’s barbarian Daithi and Jameela’s sorcerer Serena.
My only intent here was to get a quick scan of the room, learn where the doors, windows and other noteworthy items were. In case all our negotiations with this hag fail, maybe we can sneak back and steal what we need. As I suspected, we are in Bavlorna’s bedroom; there are two doors, a tiny window, and for furniture there is a bed filled with hay, a dresser bureau, and a chest in the corner. I fully expected the hag to call us back down any second now or at least send someone to get us. But Bavlorna did nothing, and the players with me had other plans.
Before I could say anything else, Jameela’s Serena ignored everything in this room (including the enticing and probably dangerous chest) and ran straight to the eastern door. Not the southern door, mind you, because although I didn’t know it, that door just leads to the balcony. Nope, it’s the eastern door and nothing else for us. Of course, this door was locked and that should have been the end of it. But then I remembered that I got a small, black iron key from Jingle Jangle back is Session 5. Swept up in the moment, Durwyn loaned the key to Serena, and I wholly regret it. With a disheartening click, the door opened onto a storeroom filled to the brim with oddments and curiosities.
Instantly, I knew that we had discovered Bavlorna’s secret treasure horde. Just from the DM flavor text, I could tell this was the most important room in the house. The problem is we had not yet earned the right to be here. As a DM, I don’t mind when the players stumble their way to the end of dungeon early. But this just felt wrong. We hadn’t even attempted to do the hag’s quests. We’ve barely roleplayed with her and it did not feel natural that we should be allowed to stay up here. Why the hell is she not calling us downstairs yet? The real problem is that I realized that we did not stumble onto this place, but rather I felt led and manipulated.
I, the player, didn’t want to be here anymore, but as a character, I had no reason to leave. So, I was stuck here while Serena (but I really mean Jameela) meticulously tore the room apart and got everything we needed and wanted, while miraculously avoiding everything that was irrelevant or dangerous.
The first item of note is a stag’s skull hanging on the wall. Obviously, this is Clapperclaw’s coveted and missing head, and one of the items we need to give to Clapperclaw to get him to guide us to the next land we need to travel to. Mission accomplished! Serena grabs it and leaves a jar of baby teeth she obtained somewhere to act as a trade, to adhere to the arbitrary Rules of Possession here in the Fey. Does it count as a fair trade if the other party is not even part of the negotiations? Irrelevant! It’s ours now.
Serena ignored several other things in this room, including the porcelain jar with chicken feet, a fancy helmet on a faceless wooden mannequin, and the DEAD BODY lying on the middle of the floor. Mostly to divest myself away from Jameela’s shenanigans, I focused my time on this mystery. The body was one of Bavlorna’s little toady minions called a lornling. It was alive when we entered the room, but made one final croak before it, well, croaked. I tried to use my Lay on Hands ability to save it to no avail, and I don’t have any good life spells like Revivify or Speak with the Dead to do anything useful.
I was really keen to investigate this classic Case of the Locked Room Murder, but no one else showed the slightest desire to solve it, and I made for a terrible Sherlock Holmes. I couldn’t determine the cause of death and I couldn’t tell if anything was missing among this pile of junk. With absolutely zero evidence and unearned conviction, I surmise that the witch, Charm, or at least her shadow, is the guilty party. Charm was clearly stalling for time during her conversation with Bavlorna. I propose that in the meanwhile, her shadow separated itself (I’m gonna call this Pulling a Peter Pan) and snuck up here to the bedroom. It slid under the locked door, killed the lornling, probably took something from the horde and snuck back out. I am also convinced that no one cares and I’m even more convinced that we will get blamed for the murder anyway.
But back to Jameela. Like I said, she ignored everything in the room except for the skull and one other thing; a five-foot statue of a giant frog, squatting with its mouth wide open, filled with an unnatural and impenetrable darkness. It reminded me of the infamous gaping demon trap from The Tomb of Horrors, basically an Anura of Annihilation. As any self-respecting adventurer knows, gaping black holes are dangerous. You need to inspect them, probe them, deliberate upon them… Or you could just shove your hand in it like Jameela, er Serena, did.
First off, Serena is not immediately killed, nor does she get her arm disintegrated, how disappointing. After she isn’t annihilated or maimed, Jameela just starts naming random objects and lo and behold they start appearing in her hand jammed down this frog’s gullet. Emboldened further, she inexplicably asks for “the thing that Daithi has lost”, and a magic wand with a star on it appears in her hand. Without even bothering to pretend that she doesn’t already know what this is, Serena taps the wand to Daithi and he is instantly cured of his curse. Honestly, I don’t even remember was his curse was and frankly I don’t give a damn.
I am furious! I have long suspected that Jameela had already read this adventure, and now I am certain of it. She knew exactly where to go, perfectly stopping at all the cool, quirky locations and ignoring all the ones that she had no interest in. She knew just what to say, which items to touch and which to avoid, and she knew exactly how to manipulate this inscrutable bronze frog to complete our main objectives, bypassing all the steps in between. And she didn’t even bother to pretend that she was roleplaying. Awesome! She did a perfect speed run of the entire chapter and callously denied every other player the chance to explore, enjoy, or even play the game. And I was an unwitting accomplice to this unforgivable betrayal. I was so angry, that I almost left the table and abandoned the whole campaign. A part of me still wishes that I had.
I don’t want to keep harping on this, or make this incident sour the whole campaign, or even needlessly embarrass the offending player (in fact, I considered never writing about this incident at all), but sadly, this is sometimes a part of the game and should not be ignored. An event like this can destroy an entire campaign and ruin friendships. Don’t do it.
If you get caught cheating at a simple boardgame, your friends will probably forgive you but they won’t play with you anymore. If you get caught cheating at cards with money on the table, you’re definitely getting kicked out and probably beat up as well. But I would argue that cheating like this at D&D is even worse. So much time and effort is spent by all the players at the table, to have a single player cheat and know all the answers and worse, use that knowledge to make themselves the star of the show who “beats” the adventure single-handedly; that is the 2nd worse unforgivable D&D sin. The only worse sin is the purposeful player who goes out of their way to ruin another player’s game because they’re a jerk.
The bottom line is, if you have knowledge of the game (because you’ve played it, or heard about it, or even read about it on this website), don’t use it. Wait your turn, roll your dice, take your actions, but do not lead the party, do not decide which way they go, do not “find” the weak spot of the monsters, or the solution to all the traps and puzzles. Do not ruin the surprise and fun for the other players. And as a DM, you must talk privately with the guilty player, and in no uncertain terms tell the player that they will be asked to leave the game if this continues to occur. But what do you think? Am I being too harsh? Too soft? Am I blowing this out of proportion?
Now as a player, it is not your job to fix this. I my case, I was doubly unsure because the rest of the group all knew each other. They have played multiple campaigns with each other. I was the new guy and I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. So as a player, I informed our DM about my concerns, and he acknowledged it. I don’t know exactly what he did, if anything, but I will say that I have not seen any more of this behavior in the sessions following this one. Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox and continue the adventure.
Before Durwyn could storm out of the room in disgust, The DM switched focus back onto the group that wasn’t ruining the chapter. The rest of the party was still in Bavlorna’s parlor. They decided to go down to the bathroom and fix Bavlorna’s swimming pool. Back in the room where we initially entered in this hut, the floor is still covered in about 3’ of scummy water that is still tingly to the touch when you wade through it. Herbert discovers that the source of the problem is coming from the well in the middle of the room. Swimming down into the well, Mara is suddenly blocked by an invisible, spongy mass that starts oozing its way toward her. I felt that she should have been engulfed, but whatever, cue your battle mat and roll initiative.
Mara swims a hasty retreat upward and is just able to clear the well before an enormous 10-foot Gelatinous Cube plops out of the well and into the room. Well, not exactly a cube. Because this thing has been living in Bavlorna’s well for some time, we are actually fighting a Gelatinous Cylinder, glistening and slimy, ringed with ridge marks formed by the masonry of the well. We all have the same image of battling a giant can of cranberry sauce. Except there is no turkey around, and we are the main course.
Unfortunately for this group, the top three damage-dealing players are all upstairs doing the stupid nonsense in Bavlorna’s bedroom. It is all this group can do to keep from being swallowed by this Carnivorous Slime. At one point, even Shammer’s dive-bombing super owl had to make a DEX save to avoid being consumed. Several rounds of combat occurred with neither side gaining any ground. Nobody was sucked into the suffocating mass, but it wasn’t taking any damage either. Finally, the DM felt that enough “time” had elapsed so that both groups were caught up and this second group could call out for help. I wish this could have occurred before we even opened the locked door.
Back in Bavlorna’s attic, before we can ruin the game any further, we hear cries for help coming from below. Anxious to get into the action (this is the epitome of having your cake and eating it), Serena and Daithi sprint downstairs. I was still fuming. I have always played this character as the group’s protector and defender, but right now I didn’t want to be either. Since everyone ran off without me, I considered roleplaying my “gets lost all the time” curse and not find the basement, while secretly praying for a TPK. But this wouldn’t be fair to the five other players whom had done nothing wrong (so far, today), so I found the bathroom and joined the combat.
With the party at full strength, it was pretty easy to smash that jelly into a puddle of goo. Between Eldritch Blasts, rage actions, Chaos Bolts, holy smite, and plummeting owls, the Cube/Cylinder stood no chance. It tried run/slither away into another room, where it obliterated the contents of a tiny closet, but it died with a gurgle all the same. The flood in the room had subsided and as soon as the mucous monster lay dead, Bavlorna called out from above, “That’s great darlings. Now go get my box, I need to take a bath.”
Traumatized by the thought of seeing a naked Bavlorna, we made a quick escape out of the trap door that leads to a dock below this hut. One player forgot that this dock is 100’ below this trapdoor. That player is Michael, who thought it was 10’. In a fit thoughtless euphoria, Daithi threw himself out of the trap door, only to plummet to his death. All the fairies, jumped after him and attempted to grapple him (catch him) and fly him to safety. They failed, but unfortunately Serena was on hand to cast Featherfall. Durwyn did nothing and vows to no longer protect those whose own actions provide the need for said protection.
Back on not-so-dry land, we explore the rest of the bullywug village looking for a box. Oh, and Clapperclaw get his head back, so yeah, we have a guide to Thither. Now we just need a balloon and a pilot, whatever. We pass by watchtowers and pumpkin patches and creepy gnarled trees and giant, people-swallowing frogs in a stable, but I don’t even care. I just want to go home.
Then we come upon two regular residential huts. These are the first, and probably only, actual homes in this entire village. I always hate world design like this. There are at least dozens, if not hundreds of bullywugs in the “Kingdom” of Downfall and yet they all live in these two houses? Regardless, the first house is empty and the second house is locked tight. Knocking at the front door, we hear someone on the other side ask, “What’s the password?” I snap out of my funk to remember that we got a secret note last session when we met the current King Gullop. I reply, “The revolution lives.” The door unlocks and opens and we head inside.
And with that simple act we were locked on a predestined course to overthrow the government. Here’s how. We are immediately surrounded by several bullywugs and one introduces himself as Illigg, Duke of Muckstump. But we also notice a large box in the room, and just so there is no uncertainty, the box is labeled “Bavlorna’s Stuff”. Apparently the Duke is also the “Hunter” we seek. We need that box. But these traitorous toads will only give it to us after we help them with their coup. And when they say coup, they really mean straight up murder. The plan, which Duke Illigg tells us (and Pop the Kenku, this is important), involves Illigg walking up to the current king and then “accidentally” tripping and stabbing the king in the eye. He even has a lovely drawing of a stick figure frog wearing a crown with a dagger in his eye.
Of course, now we know too much, so if we don’t go along with the revolution then we will be killed to ensure our silence. But if we are on board, then we are doing the “Slip and Stab” plan right now, unless one of us can come up with a better plan. Any ideas?
Next week, we resolve the bullywug revolution, I make a speech that would make Lewis Carroll proud, and we escape to the Land of Thither, but not before making the worst deal in the history of the Fey.
As always, excess Gelatinous Cube makes a tart and tasty sauce for syrups, glazes, and smoothies, and Game On!
Once she remembered trying to box her own ears for having cheated herself in a game of croquet she was playing against herself, for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people – Lewis Carroll