We are in for the fight of our lives as we try to take on a hideous hag. And a T-Rex. And King Kong. It gets weird.
When last we left our heroes, we had just rescued all of the children that were being held captive in a twisted tree house that belongs to a hideous hag, Skabatha Nightshade. We may have also inadvertently trashed her bedroom and set fire to parts of the house. Now would probably be a good time to beat a hasty retreat. We tried to escape via the fallen log bridge that connects her house and grounds to the verdant safety of the mystical forest of Thither. This bridge spans a ravine that is over 100’ feet to the bottom. But if we can reach the tree line, we’re home free.
Unfortunately, there is a slight obstacle between us and freedom. The hag in question is in the middle of the bridge, riding her magical rocking horse. Skabatha is like the clockwork toys she forces the kids to make. She has a wind-up key in her back that reflects her mood. The slower it spins the angrier she is. She is floating about 10’ above the bridge, with a flaming hatred in her eyes and a sneer on her face. They wind-up key is completely still. We may be in trouble here.
The one thing we wanted to avoid is happening right now. We expected to run afoul of this hag, but we had a mission. We wanted to get these rescued kids out and to the safety of the woods, before they could get caught in the crossfire. But here we are with four innocent non-combatants in tow and combat is inevitable. Shammer tried to weasel our way out of it, claiming that we had merely taken the children out of the house to save them from the fire. A fire that Shammer set by the way. Unsurprisingly, Shammer failed her deception check. Skabatha claims that she will need a third-party witness to verify our claim. That is when the green dragon, Cradlefall, flew out of the house and hovered by the hag’s side. Oh, this just keeps getting better and better. The dragon disputes our lie and says that we were the ones who came down from her bedroom and released the kid and dwarf before the fire even started. Immediately, Skabatha hexed the group and compelled Shammer, Serena, and Herbert to go wait inside the house; the house that is currently on fire. The jig was up. With no other options, “Pop”, the flightless kenku, grabbed two kids and jumped off the bridge!
While it is true that kenku do not fly, this particular kenku is the Witchlight Monarch, an honor he received what seems like ages ago at the Witchlight Carnival. One of the benefits of this charm is the ability to fly up to three times total. He has thus far refused to use this ability, having come to terms with his useless vestigial wings and possessing no desire to leave terra firma. But here the need is too great. As he leaped into the abyss, he activated his charm and a pair of enormous butterfly wings sprouted from his back. He sailed under the bridge, avoiding the hag and her hexes, up the other side of the ravine and into the forest, where he deposited his two wards with the pixies standing by to protect them.
Roll initiative. Mara targets the hag while Daithi attacks the Rocking Horse. Faux is ordered to attack the Horse as well, but he suspects something is amiss and refuses, aiming for the hag instead. This still left two kids behind with me. But I have a plan. I grabbed both kids and ran straight for the hag. I ran for 50 feet, the max my stubby dwarven legs would take me, until I was right under the hag. Then I dropped the kids and told them to RUN! That was my plan. They’re not all winners, folks.
The hag had other plans. She jumped off the horse and disappeared. In her place was an enormous tyrannosaurus rex. I was not expecting that. This turned the fight into a pure brawl as we hammered away at this most terrible of terrible lizards. And we still had the dragon to deal with. It tried to bite Daithi but missed. At least, the kids had run to the other side safely, which is smart thing by the DM. Any DM can thwart any party and all their plans just by adding complication after complication. This is fun and dramatic up to a point, but then let the player achieve their goal and get on to the good stuff; in this case, our fight with the hag, er rather, the T-Rex. And a dragon.
This was the first time that we’ve actually used minis, which was great for me since I’ve brought mine since Session 1, but everyone else was unprepared. Fortunately, Lee had their box of random minis and everyone got to pick their closest match, some successfully, some not so much. This is how we ended up with Tabaxi monks playing Fairy Fauxes, banjo-strumming frogs for Rabbit bards, and a vulture playing a familiar owl. Honestly, figuring out the minis was more chaotic than the combat. Fortunately, the three hexed heroes inside the burning house had made their saves and rejoined the melee.
The battle was a straight up slugfest. The front-line fighters, Daithi and Durwyn, pounded away at the dinosaur, the archers, Faux and Pop, peppered it with stupidly deadly arrows, while the rest pelted it with spells. The T-Rex did some damage, but nothing that our ridiculously over-powered party couldn’t withstand. Yet another reason why eight players grossly unbalanced this adventure. I’m sorry, seven players. It was at this point that Shammer was compelled to fly away again. Not by some hex, but because the player felt that now was the perfect time to abandon the party and loot the hag’s house. Whatever.
Fortunately, we didn’t need her. The dragon never landed a single attack, got bored and flew off, out of the adventure, forever. I was bummed that we didn’t get to kill or domesticate the dragon, but I was ecstatic when I delivered the killing blow to the T-Rex. That was way too easy. However…
I had forgotten that the Polymorph spell completely alters the target into its new form, with its own hit points. When the altered form is killed, it reverts back to its original form and its original hit points. The T-Rex disappeared, only to be replaced by the hag, who is now at full health. We gotta kill this thing again? What a nuisance! Even worse, Skabatha has animated several of the vines and roots and vines that overrun this log bridge. They spent the rest of the fight smacking us around, trying to grab us and hold us down.
We slapped the hag around for a little bit, dodging a few hexes, and hacking away at a few vines, when suddenly, the hag vanished. Again. This time, I thought that the she had turned invisible. As I searched my character sheet looking for the ability that counteracts illusions and wondered if that would include invisibility, I pondered the one thing that has always bothered me about this hag. We never learned her weakness.
All three hags are immensely powerful, but they all have one fatal flaw. A quirk or condition that will render them ineffective or inert. We already learned that Bavlorna’s weakness is widdershins, which means that if a person runs counterclockwise around her, then she will go into some sort of fit, unable to perform actions during combat. Sadly, we never had need to do this, so we have yet to witness this firsthand. We even know that the next hag, Endolyn, has a phobic fear of eclipses; she is convinced that she will die at the sight of an eclipse. So, we got her number. But we never learned what Skabatha’s weakness was. I don’t know how we missed it or who we were supposed to learn it from, but it sure would have been handy right now.
Lucky for us, Daithi, the suddenly brilliant barbarian, solved all our problems, finding the hag and discovering a new weakness, if not the official one. Turns out that Skabatha was not invisible, but had shrunk herself down in size instead. This is the same ability she uses to fit inside her dollhouse bedroom, that Faux had inadvertently thrown out the window last week.
Daithi found the miniature Skabatha, grabbed her, grappled her after she reverted to full size, and chucked her over the side of the bridge. Now in the book, this bridge merely crosses a shallow gully with a muddy stream at the bottom. But the DM had decreed that the bridge now spans a deep canyon, with a 100-foot drop into the rocky gorge below. He did this to make it more dangerous for the players, but it proved to be his undoing. Skabatha, as it turns out, cannot fly, and has no last-minute saving spells like feather fall at her disposal. Apparently, Gravity is Skabatha’s weakness!
Skabatha fell the full 100 feet into the gorge, landing flat on her back and taking 10d6 damage. It didn’t kill her, but it hurt. Of course, we were now out of melee range, but the hag had a solution for that. She polymorphed yet again; this time into the form of a giant gorilla. The Skabatha-Gorilla began to climb back up the cliffside and we threw every range weapon we had at her. So yes, in this battle, we squared off against a hag, a dragon, Godzilla, & King Kong. Prove me wrong.
While this was going on, I focused my attention on the Rocking Horse. Since the start of the battle, it had remained hovering ten feet off the ground and played no part in the fighting. Uncharacteristically, I, the player, needed my character to get on that horse more than anything else in the world. I even totally forgot about my character’s fear of heights in the moment. Ostensibly, I intended to use it to carry me down to Skabatha. But secretly, I wanted to claim the horse as my personal mount. I am a paladin after all, and I have yet to find my noble steed. And a flying rocking horse is freaking awesome!
I pulled out my rope (I am the party pack rat, so yes, I carry the rope) and fashioned a lasso. I got it around the horse’s neck (with a nat 20) and was able to pull it down, close enough for me to mount it. I expected to have to tame it like a bronco using my superior and thus far unused animal handling skills. Nope. It allowed me to ride it, but I could not control it. It just began drifting down to where Skabatha was in the chasm. It was here that I noticed that this wooden horse had a circular divot right in the middle of its forehead, and I realized that I will never be able to keep this thing as my personal steed. More on that later.
Meanwhile, Skabatha-Gorilla had climbed about halfway up the canyon when something unexpected happened. Polymorph is a concentration spell. Each time the caster, in this case Skabatha, takes damage she has to roll a constitution save or the spell ends. So far, she has made all her saves… unit now. Serena hit the ape with a twinned, tide of chaos, chaos bolt for some ridiculous damage, and the monkey disappeared, replaced by a shocked Skabatha. Without any climbing skill, she hovers in mid-air like a cartoon coyote and falls another 60 feet to the canyon floor, landing exactly where she did the first time. Yet somehow, still, she did not die.
Now kids, I cannot stress highly enough that what happens next is bad and should never be replicated or even contemplated in real life. But it does answer the age-old parenting question, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” In D&D, the answer is apparently, “Hell, yes!”
Refusing to wait for Skabatha to get back up and come at us again, Mara jumped off the bridge. Fortunately, she is a fairy and could fly down to the hag. Unfortunately, one of the vines hit her hard, knocking her unconscious and she fell over 50 feet into the stream. Faux immediately jumped off the bridge and flew (also a fairy) down to Mara to stabilize her. Then with no regard for his safety, and forgetting or uncaring that he is not a fairy and cannot fly, Herbert the Bard jumped off the bridge to save Mara. Fortunately, Serena cast feather fall on the rabbit so that he would not suffer the same fate as Mara. Serena was then promptly grappled and restrained by one of the vines. But the floating Herbert was able to heal Mara and put her back into the fight.
Never one to miss an opportunity to do something foolish, Daithi also jumped off the bridge. And fell. One hundred feet onto Skabatha’s back. While swinging his halberd upon impact. D&D has an obscure falling rule that if you land on another creature, the damage taken is divided between both the falling and the landed upon. Each took half of another 10d6. This was nothing to Daithi, but it was nearly lethal to Skabatha. Still not dead. Then the newly revived Mara hit the hag with another eldritch blast. Still not dead.
I was on the back of the Rocking Horse about twenty feet and directly above Skabatha, slowly, uncontrollably floating toward her. As they say, when in Rome… So, I jumped off the horse. And fell. Only twenty feet, landing on Skabatha’s back. While hitting her with my sword and a Divine Smite. And still, she would not die! In a final act of defiance, Skabatha pulled out a metal tuning fork and vanished yet again. For good. For now. I thought it was a cheap trick that these hags have an unbeatable Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card in the form of the 7th level spell, Plane Shift, but it’s written in the book, so we’re stuck with it. There isn’t even a corpse to loot. Oh, well, let’s ransack the house!
Of course, Shammer had already looted most of the important stuff. She made her way into the kitchen and had a conversation with the fire elemental living inside the enormous oven. I suspect that we were somehow supposed to shove Skabatha inside this thing, for a proper Grimm’s fairy tales ending. Shammer asked if he liked his work, but the fire had mostly put itself out and the tree was now merely blackened and smoky. The fire elemental was not impressed.
Moving on to Skabatha’s bedroom, Shammer found nothing of value and then remembered that the dollhouse that Skabatha actually slept in had been shoved out the window. It had landed lopsided in the mud next to a creek below the window. Casting knock on the dollhouse’s attic opened it to reveal its treasures. There was a Wand of Secrets, a Cloak of Many Fashions, a Collapsing Pole, and a Bagpipes of Scribing. These are the magic items that hold the curses for Serena, Shammer, Faux, and Pop respectively.
Once we were reunited, and after a tiresome, tedious, trivial, and wholly unnecessary “roleplay” event, Shammer was sufficiently convinced to relinquish the items to the proper players and thus end their curses. Faux grew 3 inches back to his normal height of still ludicrously short, Pop regained the ability to write legibly, and Shammer regained his fashion sense; curses which never impacted the game in any way. More importantly, Serena regained the ability to keep a secret. Finally. This curse was such an overwrought and over-zealously played burden that I am just so grateful that it’s gone. Hopefully, the player realizes that it’s gone, and stops undermining the group’s plans. Please, please stop, thank you.
Technically, the session ended here. But the next session was very short and merely acted as the coda to the Land of Thither as moved on to the Land of Yon. But some important developments occurred, so I’ll briefly describe them. First up, we finally opened one of the Jack-in-the-Boxes that we now knew to be where the dragon, Cradlefall, slept. Inside we found nothing but a green dragon sock puppet. No one else wanted it, so naturally Durwyn took it. This item may seem innocuous and useless but it re-enters the campaign twice, so I’ll mention it here.
Serena runs to the pantry and is specifically, suspiciously searching the storeroom cupboards. Not finding what she expected there, she ran to the kitchen, searched more cupboards and found some cookbooks, which were later given to Herbert to help him with his new hobby. She also found an odd stick being used as a bookmark. Serena spent the rest off her time in the garden, where the stick turned out to be the missing piece of the wounded Shambling Mound who was currently tearing apart the pumpkin patch. Giving the root to the Mound, Serena made a friend who shuffled off into the woods and out of the adventure, forever. She also fed some snakes some candy, but then things got silly like most of her solitary sojourns do, so let’s move on.
The rest of the party was gathered in the sitting room where several portraits lined the walls like a sort of hag family tree. There was a picture of all three evil hags; the toad-like Bavlorna, the wind-up toy that is Skabatha, and a skeletal witch with a black curtained dress that must be Endolyn. There is also an ancient, hideous hag that we all knew to be Baba Yaga, the mother of all witches (because we are all metagaming nerds). The last portrait was a beautiful, if intense, raven-haired woman with a crow’s foot tattoo under the right eye. We all knew this to be the infamous Tasha, but it was our first proof that she was the sister that these hags had stolen this land from and twisted it to serve their own demented desires. It also meant that Iggwilv, Zybilna, and Tasha were all one in the same person.
We had been sent on a mission by the hag Bavolna to steal the portrait of her sister Skabatha. But we had managed to remove the fey pact that compelled us to complete this task. I still felt that it couldn’t hurt to have this painting in our possession just in case we needed it to bargain with. The paintings were surrounded by these very suspicious vines. I tried to avoid them as I pried the canvas away from the frame. But I failed and got pricked by the thorns.
Expecting the worst, I was surprised when the DM asked who the four most important people in my family were. Well, if you had read my Backstory Durwyn the Bastard Paladin Backstory, you would know that I only know the identity of my mother. My father is a mystery and is the main reason I travelled to the Witchlight Carnival to begin with. You could add the prior king and queen of Mithral Hall, as they are distant relatives. So now, after pricking my finger, the five portraits no longer show the Hag family. Instead, I see myself, my mother, the old king and queen, and a mysterious man with his back to the audience but with a head of green hair. I had accidentally stumbled into the first clue of my backstory.
Suddenly everyone wanted to prick their fingers on the thorns. Shammer saw the innkeeper from the Last Inn on The Left and three shadowy figures. Faux had some fairies and a couple of unicorns; that explains a lot. Pop had a bunch of identical looking crows. Daithi saw 4 elves, 2 men and 2 women, 2 young and 2 old. He refused to explain who they were, but it made Daithi sad. Whatever dude, keep your secrets. I don’t remember who else saw what, but we ended on Daithi’s mystery elves.
I only intended to take the Skabatha picture, which now looks like Daithi, but the group wanted me to take them all. So, I cut out all five paintings and rolled them up into my very useful Bag of Holding. But I am no thief and I play by the Rules of the Fey (when it’s convenient. Or funny.) If I take something, I leave something. In this case, I left one of the many Wanted posters that Skabatha had spread around offering a dubious reward for the capture of Will of the Fey. A different wanted poster in each of the empty frames. I think that’s a fair trade, I steal her family portraits and leave behind five pictures of the guy who annoys her the most. She’ll appreciate that. I also take a cutting of the vine, in case I need to change the paintings later.
Re-re-searching Skabatha’s bedroom we find a closet that has a bunch of letters all written by the hags. I took terrible notes, but the letters argue about who lost Elidon’s horn, mention that the horn can remove the curse that allowed the hags to take over, and it is only useful if you know the victim’s “true names”. BTW, Elidon is a missing unicorn that we’ve been looking for and I suspect we may have recently found. There is also a mention of a thing called Bloody Beak that the Jabberwok is afraid of. We have no idea what Bloody Beak is, but we do know about the Jabberwok, and that thing sucks.
We also find some clockwork birds that are used to carry these letters to the other hags. I love the idea of sowing seeds of mistrust between these hags and Michael (Daithi) had a devious idea. We wrote a letter to Bavlorna but then “accidentally” sent it to Endolyn. The letter read, “Dear Mistress Bavlorna, the assassination of your sister Skabatha has failed. She knows it was you who sent us. Beware, they may come for you. Your truly, The League of Malevolence.” We’ve only met one member of this League and we killed him, but we know they are an evil group running around being a nuisance, so let pin this on them. We sent off the letter, and hopefully the hags will just kill each other and save us the bother. Of course, I took a clockwork bird (named Zwee) plus some paper and ink in case we have to forge some more letters.
Finally, before leaving the smoldering ruin of Loomlurch, we checked in on the goblin candy stalls outside. They were all boarded up with a sign that read, “Left for greener pastures.” Now we’ll never know the fate of poor Chucklehead, who presumably lived a happy, short life until the worm living in his toffee apple head eats into his brain. But we’ll never know, because this is yet another dropped storyline with no solution or resolution. Having exhausted this location, we met up with the pixies and the rescued children and escorted them to the Getaway Gang hideout.
Will was excited and overjoyed to see us. We were still suspicious of Will’s motivations, but we had nothing to act on and let it go. So, all these kids just live here now, I guess. With no means of support or survival and no options for a viable future? This seems like a responsible plan. But I finally got to use my paladin’s Lay On Hands ability on the poisoned child. In this adventure, nobody gets poisoned or diseased. Everybody gets cursed, which is pointless for me. The resident oilcan and tinman wannabe, Squirt, joined our party to guide us into the next land of Yon. And the dwarf we rescued, Elkhorn, who has also joined himself into our party, gave us the rundown (again) on his purpose here in the Fey. But I’m tired and it’s a long info dump. I’ll give it to you later when it’s actually relevant to the story.
We just had one final stop. The hidden unicorn home at the Wayward Pool. We brought with us Skabatha’s floating, wooden Rocking Horse that we still had tethered to my rope. If you recall, this Rocking Horse had a large, circular hole right in its forehead. Exactly where a horn would go if it had one. We presented the horse to the resident unicorn, Lamorna, who confirmed that this was her lost love, Elidon, cursed into this ignoble state. And yeah, we know, the only thing that will change him back is the missing unicorn horn. We’re working on it. Lamorna promised he would be safe here until we found it.
Next week, we leave the Wode of Thither behind on a treacherous rocky journey into the mountains of Yon.
As always, gravity is everyone’s weakness, and Game On!
Off we go into the wild blue yonder – Captain Robert Crawford, Army Air Corps