Where we mislead an amphibious revolt, I channel Lewis Carroll, and we make the worst deal in the history of the Fey.
When last we left our heroes, we were running around doing chores for the hag that rules this land, even though we had already stolen everything we needed from this witch and she literally has nothing to offer us. But we had one more chore, and a nasty moral conundrum to wrestle with. We need to find a box and deliver it to Bavlorna, the aforementioned hag. We found it, but it is in the possession of a bullywug duke who will only give it to us if we participate in his assassination of the current bullywug king. But I don’t wanna kill a king today.
So, these are our objectives: 1. Get that box. 2. Murder a monarch, or maybe save him. 3. Obtain the services of a pilot to transport us to the next land, Thither. We know of one such pilot, but she is currently locked up in the froggy prison on charges of treason. 4. Get a hot air balloon, for the pilot to use to transport us to the next land, Thither. Again, we know where a balloon is, but we don’t know how to get it without outright stealing it, as the book seems to suggest. 5. Find a navigator to guide the pilot in the hot air balloon to transport us to the next land, Thither. Actually, we already have this one, a scarecrow named Clapperclaw, who is just sorta following us around. 6. Don’t die. 7. Avoid the hag, Bavlorna, before she realizes we stole from her and blames us for the death of her minion (that one we didn’t do). 8. Get the hell out of Dodge, er, Downfall.
As if all that wasn’t enough, I got a few objectives of my own. I really want to do this in the manner that the book intends for us. The book prides itself on the fact that you can conceivably run the entire adventure without ever entering combat. Therefore, there must be a way to roleplay your way around these scenarios without rolling dice. The problem we have had is that almost every roleplay encounter devolves into a scene where one character does something foolish, silly, or chaotic. Or all three; depends upon how bored they are. Either way, the result is the same. Roll initiative.
In addition, I am longing to play this game in the style from which the entire adventure is inspired: Nonsense Literature. The adventure is filled with references, both overt and obscure, to some of the world’s most beloved books, fantasies of fiction, opuses of the odd, and novels of the unknown. The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the queen of the ball, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to name but a few.
I am a huge fan of Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, the author of Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (its full title). Everyone knows the unforgettable characters; The White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts, and the ridiculous situations; falling down rabbit holes, shrinking potions, never-ending tea-time, and playing croquet with flamingoes. Beyond this, the books are brilliant for their imagination and imagery (beautifully brought to life by artist John Tenniel). But for me, the true beauty is in the word play; puns, alliterations, double entendres, palindromes, spoonerisms, portmanteaus, even straight-up gibberish. Amore, Roma. What does any of this have to do with anything? I’m getting to it. Eventually.
Last week, we were presented with the rebellious frog duke’s plan to usurp the crown, for which he provided diagrams, drawn on the dirt floor to illustrate his overly simple plan to “accidentally” slip and stab the current king in the eye with a dagger. He verbally told us this plan himself, which will be an important detail later. We’ve been given until next session to come up with a better plan.
So first, I have a fortnight to figure out which froggy faction I want to facilitate. Then, I have to propose a perfect plan to perpetrate our perfidy. Plus, I cannot perjure myself, because I am playing a prim and proper, prig of a paladin. Third, I need to tend to all the other tasks I talked about antecedently. Lastly, I’d like to pretend to be as literate and witty as Lewis Carroll in my vain attempt to hijack the campaign for maybe an hour or so. So, I wrote a speech.
I decided to support the current regime (and thus betray the frog in front of us). Of course, a few players misunderstood my intentions anyway, but I’ll get to that. In making my decision, I was annoyed that there is no way to know which, if either, frog group is actually “good”. They both tolerate the evil hag amongst them; bad. They both believe in the succession of kings through violence; bad. They are both stupid, smell like a swamp, and probably eat gross, nasty bugs; bad, Bad, BAD! I am disappointed that the spell Detect Good and Evil no longer functions like the name says it should, and I’m annoyed that the spell Know Alignment doesn’t even exist anymore. In the end, I chose the current king because he was the only one who did not ask me to murder someone the moment I met him. Therefore, he is more “good” than this traitorous slime before me right now.
Now on to my speech. I was inspired by the legends of old political speeches that preyed on the ignorance of rural voters with deliberately misleading rhetoric that made true and innocent claims of a political rival but made them seem sinister and repugnant. My favorite examples are, “My opponent has a sister who is an unrepentant thespian!” An inflammatory remark which confuses a term for actor with lesbian, which was an outright scandal back in the 1950’s. Or, “Before his marriage, my opponent blatantly practiced celibacy!”, which makes it sound like he was worshipping the devil. Politicians suck but they can sure rile up the crowd. Just look a certain orange-haired charlatan that also tried to stage an inane and inept coup.
Anywho, for my speech, I just have to tell this frog that I fully intend to betray him, while making him think that I am fully on board with his inane and inept plan. And while I’m at it, I’ll throw in a bunch of double talk and as much word play as I can muster into it. Before I gave my speech, I asked if anyone else had come up with any plan to get out of our situation. The DM in me wanted to make sure that no one would be excluded from proposing a plan. But no one else had one and they all wanted to hear my speech. I told them that if this speech works, then we’ll be able to get the box, the pilot, the balloon, the navigator, and escape this loony land with our lives, reputation, sanity, and conscience mostly intact. Without further ado (too late!) here is my Froggysburg Address.
All hail, Lord Muckstump, King of the snollygosters! You are a pillock of society for all like-minded bullywugs to rally behind. Your plan is as brilliant as it is feasible. It is both obtuse and inscrutable. And like this plan drawn in the dirt, are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era? You would be king. This king. (pointing to the drawing) Drab as a fool, aloof as a bard. But a sovereign such as you should not sully his self with such subordinate situations. Such things are beneath him. And nothing is beneath you. Allow me to be your perfidious servant. I shall be the harbinger of doom for all those who are undeserving of the throne, as you profess King Gullop to be. Lend me your dagger. I shall proffer the king with your dagger; won’t he be surprised when I bequeath him with it! I shall present this present presently. This dagger will be the last thing he sees before you, Lord
Muckstump, the Mooncalf King, are proclaimed the true usurper of the throne.
If you would care to read the fully translated and explained version of this speech, I have included it here: Froggysburg Address. I also let the DM read the full version of this speech so he would know the difference between what I said and what I really said.
Back to the scene. Duke Muckstump stood for an uncomfortable moment in awkward silence (well played, DM Aidan), then burst out in a throaty, croaky laugh and beamed, “This is an excellent plan! I especially like the part where you do all the work and I get all the credit. Bravo!” Duke Muckstump handed me his dagger to “proffer” the king with it. Frankly, this duke probably would have agreed to give me his dagger if I’d just lied and said, “Give me the dagger. I’ll stab the king with it.” But this was way more satisfying. More work, but worth it. I think.
In fact, the speech worked so well that some of my fellow companions still thought that I was actually siding with the traitors, and some thought that the plan would just not work. In typical Misfit fashion, we split the party again. Herbert the bunny bard, Serena the sorcerer, and Faux the fairy filcher decided to stay behind to deliver the box to Bavlorna as a back-up to my plan; while Shammer the wizard/warlock/owl wrangler decided to break the bullywug pilot out of prison for the moment we would need to make a hasty escape from this land in case my coup-de-tadpole turned into a coup-di-saster.
This was okay. In fact, if my plan didn’t work, I’d be glad that other party members would be able to keep calm and carry on. There was only one companion I needed to accompany me, who is vital to my plan, “Pop” the kenku ranger and my unofficial squire, who readily agreed to come with us. Daithi the barbarian, who has sworn to protect “Pop”, and Mara the warlock also came along for the show.
After my rallying speech, we marched on to the Soggy Palace to enact our plan to Make Downfall Great Again! (so many uncomfortable parallels, make it stop!) Along the way, we got to meet our fellow insurrectionists / frog supremacists. In addition to the Duke, there was Gallig, Glorig, Gilliback, and Voolp, which is a brilliant naming convention going all the way back to Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde. I’d have found it more humorous if they weren’t carrying such sharp spears to keep us in line.
Before long, we arrived at the Soggy Palace (really, just a gazebo). Our entourage was announced and we were given audience with the oblivious King Gullop. This was the moment of truth. I was actually quite tense. Had I backed the right frog? Would my plan be undone? Am I a hack writer with more hubris than talent? As I approached the glistening king, I announced, “Your majesty, I am Durwyn the Duressed and I bring a gift from Duke Muckstump the Ignominious.” As I drew nearer to the bulbous monarch, I continued, “May I present…” As I got down on one knee, “The dagger with which Duke Muckstump intended to betray and murder you, King Gullop, here in this hallowed hall. Seize Them!” (I’ve always wanted to say that.)
Dozens of froggy guards appeared out of nowhere to capture the surprised duke and his cadre of sycophants. Thus, as quickly as it began, the coup was crushed beneath the heel of righteousness and obfuscation. If only stopping a coup was this easy in real life. Duke Muckstump and his men were bound, but he wasn’t finished yet. The Duke protested, “There is no proof of any of this. These are all lies. He (meaning me) is the one with the knife. It was he who was going to kill you and we wanted to stop him!” But I had a coup de grace to counter this coup d’ etat.
Pointing to my companion “Pop”, may I present Exhibit A. “Pop, please repeat everything Duke Muckstump said to us in his home this very day.” Like a perfect tape recorder, a kenku, which “Pop” is, can repeat everything he hears in the exact voice of the person saying it. Pop recounted Duke Muckstump’s entire plan to murder the king and overthrow the government, but I’ll wager the more damning testimony was Duke Muckstump’s mocking and ridiculing of the current king. Pop’s re-enactment rang out like a bombshell confession to the entire congregation. With this irrefutable evidence, the case was open and shut, and the true and proper conspirators were brought to justice. Again, if only exposing a traitor was this easy in real life.
King Gullop was most appreciative of our patriotic actions. He stripped the disgraced Duke of his title and bequeathed it to all of us, or at least the four of us that were in the room. So, we can add Dukes of Muckstump to our list of accolades, bringing our grand total of official titles to one.
When it became clear that we weren’t going to die, I continued, “Your eminence, I have given you a gift of these traitors. According to the Rule of Reciprocity, I am entitled to something in return. Give me the frog Morgort who now languishes in your prison. We have need of her skills.”
The King would not give up his captive so easily., “She is a traitor to the kingdom. I cannot release her.”
“But I have given you five traitors and she is only one. Clearly, you are getting the better end of this deal, for five is more than one.”
“If I were to give her to you, she would be exiled forever.”
“Better to be exiled from one’s land, than exiled from one’s head.”
“That is true. You may have her. The deal is done.”
Excellent, now to push my luck. “There is one more thing your excellency. I have also gifted you with the very knife that the soon to be ex-duke would have used against you. In return, I ask that you give me use of your wonderous hot-air balloon that we might spread word of your majesty’s magnanimousness.”
Here the king deflated my ego a bit when he replied, “I assumed the balloon would be part of the deal with the pilot, but I thank you for the dagger.” Damn, I wish I could have kept that thing, I bet it’s magical. Can I start over? But there are no do-overs in D&D as King Gullop continued, “But let us speak no more of this sordid scheme. Go with my men to place these traitors in our jail, and secure the release of your pilot. Goodbye, Dukes of Muckstump, and good luck.”
This was one of my proudest moments as a player. So often when playing, I’m lucky if I get off one, maybe two, good quips or witticisms. Usually, I’m driving away from a session and thinking to myself, “Ooh, I should have said this cool line here, or I wish I’d done that awesome action then.” But to have a whole plan enacted and see it succeed in such a cool narrative (and thematic) way felt awesome.
The rest of the session was a blur. Shammer and his owl played through a bit where he was attempting to break Morgort out of prison. He was still convinced that I might be betraying the party. There was some confusion when he saw the four of us being escorted to the prison by the bullywug guards and he feared that we had been captured and Shammer prepared to rescue us. He used the spell Sending to Durwyn for some clarification. I replied rather tersely and cryptically to “Stand down. All is well.” Because I had mistakenly thought the message limit on the spell was 5 words when it’s really 25. But we avoided any friendly fire, picked up our now-freed pilot, and went off to collect our other companions.
The last three companions had stayed behind to take Bavlorna’s box back to the hag. Again, another back-up, in case my plan imploded. These three characters called themselves BavEx (instead of FedEx) and anticipated a rather easy fetch quest. We had all envisioned the box to be a crate, but now the DM described it more like a 300-pound dumpster. So here we have our three least physical characters, a teenage girl, a bunny, and a cursed fairy tasked with hauling this behemoth of a box, out of the house, onto the dock, into a boat, and then failing miserably at rowing it across the harbor. It took forever. Mercifully, the beefy characters (that is, the rest of us) showed up, took the oars, and then muscled the box up the stairs to Bavlorna’s hut. The box was so big, the trapdoor entrance had to magically enlarge itself for us to gain entry.
We had decided to bring the box back to Bavlorna just in case there was any plot detail or conversation we’d missed with this hag. I thought this was a terrible idea, because we had stolen from her, hidden the corpse of one of her minions, and I was certain we would get blamed for it. But I had played more than my fair share of this session, so I let my friends take the lead.
Bavlorna was enjoying her bath in all her bloated, pasty-white, cracked-skin glory (an image I’ll never be able to purge from my memory. Thanks, Aidan!) and she was surprisingly pleased to see us. Apparently, she has not been to her bedroom lately, nor had she discovered all our crimes. She thanked us for completing her chores and answered a few questions regarding bejeweled apples, alicorns, and other backstory shenanigans.
Suddenly Bavlorna asked if we’d be willing to do one more thing for her. Without a single follow-up question, or any mention of risk or reward, and before anyone could stop him, Daithi the dim-witted barbarian yelled, “Deal!” and shook Bavlorna’s hand sealing the pact.
Seven other players all cried out in unison, “No!” But it was too late.
Next week, we learn just how screwed we are with this new deal, and we travel to the magic forest of Thither; filled with pixies, lost boys, mushrooms, and an even uglier hag.
As always, a coup in D&D may be fun, but one in real life is not, and Game On!
“Mine is a long and sad tale. / It is a long tail certainly, but why do you call it sad?” – Lewis Carroll, the master.