Where we execute Will’s half-baked rescue plan; but first, an in-between session when half the party doesn’t show up to play.
When last we left our heroes, we finally found the infamous Will of the Fey, a notorious criminal, currently wanted by the law of the land. That law being the evil hag, Skabatha Nightshade. Expecting Will to be a roguish rapscillion akin to Robin Hood and his Merry Men, he is instead a twelve-year-old boy and his Getaway Gang. It’s Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. And what has Will done to invoke the ire of the local witch? Well, he had the audacity to rescue several enslaved children, saving them from a lifetime of misery, toiling in Skabatha’s toy making sweatshop. And he’s got a brilliant plan to rescue the rest of them. If only he could find some foolhardy heroes to help. Okay, we’ll bite. What’s the plan?…
But first, half of us get hijacked out of the story. Only four of us showed up to play this week; Andy, Thane, Lee, and myself. Even the regular DM, Aidan, was a no-show. Fortunately, the co-DM, Brianna, was on hand, so she ran us through a Feywild One-Shot called “A Magical Journey into the Feywild” by Midnight Tower. It’s a cute, 3-scene excursion into the Fey, that’s available on the Dungeon Masters Guild for only $1. A little girl has been accidentally transported to the Fey and your heroes need to get her back. Simple, right?… Of course, nothing is a simple as it seems.
In the mini-adventure, it is a wizard that sends the party on their mission, but by swapping out this one random NPC, for one we’ve already met, it makes the hook more personal. So, while we are prepping for our assault on the hag’s home, Sir Talavar, the fairie dragon knight we rescued back in Hither, magically appears before our eyes. “Where’s the rest of your group, there’s only you four here? Nevermind, there’s no time, you must go to the Green Court and find a little girl named Elsie and send her back where she belongs. It’ll all make sense when you get there. Good Luck.” And with that, the lush forest we’ve been standing in fades away and we are standing in pleasant meadow filled with wildflowers, butterflies, and maybe a few pixies.
I don’t want to give away too much, but what followed was a lovely excursion involving a proper, uncorrupted, Fey court, followed by a not-so-lovely sojourn into the nearby tainted forest, where the ubiquitous hag lives. There we got into a combat with some corrupted satyrs, where I finally got to use my Turn the Faithless ability, which is like Turn Undead except for fey creatures. Then we got to actually fight a hag. We didn’t want to fight the hag; we tried to be sneaky, while I stood by as the look out. But they failed miserably, which resulted in me running toward said hag, pretending that I was running away from something worse, to distract her. Taking a cue from the Marx Brothers, I came running down the path, yelling, “The satyrs are revolting! And they smell bad too.”
Fortunately, she was just a Green Hag, and not too bright. Also fortunately, I passed my save roll and avoided getting charmed by the witch when she wasn’t fooled by my nonsense. The fight was fast, fun and exciting. We brought her down with a lethal combination of ensnaring smite, sneak attacks, eldritch blast, and a devastating cloud of daggers. We saved the day, rescued the girl, vanquished evil, and got a few gems for reward. Then we were whisked away again, right back where we started at the Getaway Gang’s Hideout in Thither.
This journey taught me two things: 1. I love playing with only 4 people, it is an absolute joy, and we all actually get to play. Our usual party of 8 is just an unmanageable mess. And 2. These hags are totally killable. We had gotten so wrapped up in the non-combat aspect of the adventure, that the hags come off as invincible, and that we must uncover their secret weakness to even hope to survive. Nope. They are mortal, and we can kick the crap out of them if we need to. As a bonus, I was the only one engaged in melee with the beast, so I got to loot the corpse and picked up a sweet Wand of Hexing that allows me to cast Charm Person, Command, or Hex once per day. This’ll come in handy some day, into the Bag it goes.
Back to the main story. One week later, we were all reunited at the table, and got to hear Will’s brilliant and highly anticipated plan to rescue the trapped children. Frankly, the plan was less than spectacular. The Getaway Gang will hide near Granny Nightshade’s Garden, Will sneaks through a window, while we distract Skabatha (still the same hag, remember everyone has at least two names here) by meeting with her in her parlor. The Gang will start a ruckus (can you describe the ruckus?), that will lure out the guards and the hag. Will of the Feywild rescues the kids in the mill, while we grab the kids in the workshop. Then we run back to the Hideout for apple juice and cake. Easy Peasy.
Except we also need to squeeze some demonic creature for its oil, steal a painting, find Skabatha’s treasure room and steal a bunch of lost items. And not die. Or get cursed. Plus, we have to contend with our easily distractable companions who don’t really follow plans or group consensus. But lacking any way of scoping out the place and making our own plan, we decided to go with Will’s better-than-nothing plan. Of course, our fairy warlock, Shammer, has a completely different plan which she intends to follow. To be fair, her plan is completely valid, and would probably work. If you are a completely insane and chaotic character that doesn’t care about consequences, repercussions, or morality.
What is Shammer’s plan? Well we have seen evidence that if a child is threatened with physical damage, then that child is teleported to some sort of “safe house” out of harm’s way. So, violence is bad, but psychological torture is okay? That’s pretty messed up WotC. Anyway, Shammer’s plan is to place the children in mortal peril and hope that they get magically whisked away before they get brutally murdered. The easiest way to do that? Set the whole freaking house on fire! That’s not a plan, that’s a scene from Goodfellas. Got too many problems you don’t feel like dealing with? Light a match.
Besides, evidence is not proof and there were a ton of holes in this theory and numerous moral implications that Shammer refused to address. First off, we only saw this teleporting-kid-thing happen once when Serena, our 16-year-old Sorcerer, was accidentally turned into a 7-year-old during a combat. She disappeared to the “safe space”, but was just as quickly reverted to her proper age and placed right back into the combat. Not saved at all.
What if that happens to the kids? Whisked away from the fire, only to be teleported back into an inferno? What’s the age limit for this Save the Children super spell? We know that many of these kids have been here for years, decades even, but maintain a child-like appearance. Are they still considered children? What if the spell is only triggered with active intent such as swinging a sword at a kid’s head, and not by passive “accidents” such as falling or arson? Not to mention the fact that we still need to get all the other things out of the house that are all very flammable.
Do I believe that Shammer’s plan would work? Yes. The kids would probably disappear before they burnt to death in a raging inferno. But I also believe that they would be returned to the exact spot once the fire was out (and the danger removed) and still be enslaved by Skabatha. It does not end their captivity, which is the goal. But besides all that, this is a decidedly evil act. (Shammer will claim it is merely Chaotic Neutral, the lazy excuse for countless despicable acts.) Most everyone else in the group is playing a “good” character and this plan was morally reprehensible. We attempted in vain to turn Shammer away from the dark side. Failing that, we threatened to kill Shammer if she did this. “Fine! Fire will be Plan B,” said a miffed Shammer. No, it’s Plan Z, our very last resort. “We’ll see about that,” muttered Shammer under her breath, but no one at the table heard her.
At long last, after over an hour talking Shammer away from her path of destruction, (I swear, we could be done with this entire adventure by now if we didn’t have to spend over half of every session convincing someone not to do something foolish) we finally make it to the home of Skabatha Nightshade, the most twisted tree house yet, Loomlurch.
Loomlurch rises out of the ground like a deformed copse clawing out of its own grave. An enormous hollow log lies across two muddy ravines. A cacophony of twisted roots and branches form two wooden bridges across the nearest ravine. Three gnarled trees have grown out of the husk of this dead elm, creating three misshapen towers of sorts. The hollow base of the fallen tree forms a natural doorway into the hag’s arboreal abode. But off to the right is clearing with three merchant’s tents and that is our destination.
I hoped to have an actual marketplace here. The lack of any stores in this adventure is really irritating. I am fully on board with the fact that gold is meaningless and everything is done on a barter system. “I got something you want? Then give me something I need.” Cool. But nobody actually trades in anything useful. Everybody has weapons and armor and stuff, but nobody is making them or selling them. Instead, everything for sale is silly, trivial, or symbolic. And the cost is equally metaphorical. All this crap I’ve been collecting in this sack for weeks? Nobody wants that. Everybody wants a piece of my soul. This is brilliant in small doses, but aggravating if done every time. So, do these stores offer anything meaningful? Nope. All three stores all giving away candy, run by an overly friendly goblin named Chucklehead. “Hey, little girl, do you want some candy? Get in the van!”
Ugh, this guy is the absolute worst for all wrong reasons. First off, this guy works for the hag, presumably luring children in with the candy and trapping them into working for the hag. Why would any intelligent party deal with him without suspicion? Any candy he has is either cursed or creates some sort of nuisance effect. Even if you beat the overwhelming odds and get the “good” candy, its effect will be negligible and not worth the risk. Of course, we did deal with him because my party is not intelligent and interacts with every encounter with total naivety.
Second, in an interesting twist, Chucklehead is actually a good person and that’s a problem. His shtick is that he is wearing a giant toffee apple on his head. This apple has a worm in it that has burrowed into his brain and talks to him. This worm has taught Chucklehead the error of his evil ways and turned him into a good person. Except that the worm is a parasite and will eventually kill Chucklehead. But if you cure Chucklehead by any means, he will revert back to his old evil self and attack the party! Why is this even like this? Here is yet another cursed person that we must not help under any circumstances. Which is totally stupid.
As heroes, we should be helping people to gain allies in our inevitable fight against the hags, but we are constantly prohibited from doing so. This could have been a perfect opportunity to convert one of the hag’s minions to our side. It would be an awesome side quest where we have to eat a candy to shrink down to ant-size. We enter Chucklehead’s brain to capture (not kill) the worm that is killing him. Then we have to race outside of Chucklehead’s body with the worm before time runs out and we enlarge, killing the goblin in the process. And of course, when we find the worm, it would be the size of a humungous Purple Worm in comparison. That would be an epic quest and worthy of the diversion.
But no, there’s nothing we can do except move on, which is the third problem. The whole scene is irrelevant. The main event of this location is the role play with the hag. At this juncture, anything that doesn’t lead toward that hag or advance the story in a meaningful way is pointless. (Gaining an ally would advance the story). The candy is just a distraction. And the poor goblin could have been something spectacular, but as is, he is just nothing. To waste such a cool character design on an encounter that cannot go anywhere is complete waste of time and is just terrible writing.
After what felt like an eternity, Chucklehead showed us into Skabatha’s parlor and instructed us to wait for our host. Entering the hollow log through the hole at the base of the trunk, we walk into a large sitting room that is sparsely furnished. Just four chairs surround a small table set for tea. I don’t remember who sat down, but that is exactly how James Bond always gets caught, sitting in enemy chairs. So, like the good defender I’m resigned to be, I stood; at ease, but alert to danger. There was also a large Jack-in-the-Box in one corner. Several players (guess who) were desperate to give it a crank, but we yelled at them and told them no. For the time being they behaved themselves. Before we got into trouble, our host “Granny” Nightshade creaked into the room.
I may complain about some of the minor characters, but WotC did a great job making these hags unique, interesting, and creepy as hell. Dressed in a shawl and apron, Skabatha looks like a decrepit version of a wooden old lady doll, complete with bark-like skin and a wind-up key protruding from her back. The key reflects her mood; the slower it turns, the angrier she is, and when it stops, you better run because someone is going to die. I really wished we’d been able to uncover this witch’s weakness before this meeting, but c’est la vie.
I don’t remember any of the particulars of the conversation with this hag. Frankly, I’m sick of having to compete with the disruptive players who only want to antagonize and aggravate every situation, while the rest of us are forced to dance around their aggressive posturing. A few players tried valiantly to engage, but the conversation was strained. The DM ignored most of the baiting tactics by those Players Who Shall Not Be Named, but it was only a matter of time. No new information was obtained and no progress was made toward reversing any of our curses held by this hag. Meanwhile, I waited for the inevitable and we’d start rolling dice.
Incredibly, Will’s plan was enacted before we imploded. Actually, once the DM got sick of ignoring the disruptors, he claimed that a huge ruckus (there’s that word again) was occurring in the garden. Alarms were ringing, kids were screaming, something was screeching. Skabatha apologized and asked/ordered us to stay here while she investigated. We waited a whole ten seconds after she left before we barged into the next room in this hollowed-out hell of a house.
The next room is the toy workshop, just like Will said, so far so good. There are three children here working on some demented toys that are definitely not safe for children. We tell the kids that we are here to rescue them. But they refuse to leave because the Boggles won’t let them. That’s when we notice three dark, twisted creatures lurking in the shadows. Having no idea about their combat abilities and no time to waste fighting these guys, I use my Turn the Faithless ability once more. It might affect my fairy companions, but I don’t care. Hopefully, just one of these Boggles will stick around, so we can get its oil.
All my party members made their saves; that’s good. Unfortunately, all the Boggles failed and ran for the door; that’s bad. At this point, Daithi cries out, “Daithi’s gonna help.” Hey, welcome to the party, pal! Daithi grabs one of the Boggles before it run out of the door. He grapples it and squeezes it to get its oil. But in typical Daithi fashion, he squeezed to hard and killed it; traumatizing the children and fellow party members alike. To add insult to injury, this boggle only spewed sticky oil, which is the wrong kind. Dumb Daithi strikes again. “Duh, my character don’t know no better.”
Fortunately, Herbert the Bunny Bard had a better plan. He raced after the Boggles and cornered one in the next room. He was unable to convince or intimidate the Boggle, so he cast command on it and got the oil we needed. After we convinced the kids at we wouldn’t let Daithi crush them to death, we grabbed the kids and fled Loomlurch. One of the kids was beside herself with grief because we left her support pig, Oink, behind. Rescue first, bacon second.
When we got back to Little Oak and the Getaway Gang, Will was already there with the kids that he had rescued. Good, now that all the kids are safe, we can take on the hag without worrying about collateral damage. But when Will saw us, he said, “Where are the other five kids?” Dammit, Will!
Next week, we attempt our second heist into the hag’s hideout looking for more kids, trinkets, pigs, and portraits. And with only a pack of pixies as backup.
As always, D&D should never be a no-win scenario, and Game On!
But that’s not what’s worrying me. It’s how to do it. These things must be done delicately – The Wicked Witch of the West