BIG TIME SPOILERS AHEAD
Episode 26: Found and Lost
Nott, Beau, Molly and Caleb awaken to a chilly morning sunrise. Nott calls out to Jester, asking for some breakfast but is met with only silence. Molly and Caleb glance around to see that Fjord, Jester and Yasha have not returned from their night’s watch. At first, they think nothing of it, wondering if the three have just briefly wandered off together. Caleb begins to worry and sends Frumpkin (now in Falcon form) up to get a bird’s eye view of the situation. Caleb sees signs of a possible struggle and calls the group over for an investigation. They follow the blood and mud tracks back to the main road where the tracks disappear into the worn pathway. Panic begins to set in when Molly notices a figure walking down the road towards them. He rushes forward, weapons drawn to confront the stranger.
He is met with a gruff looking dwarf woman in worn rusted full plate armor, smoking a cigarette with a battleax in one hand and a Warhammer in the other. A tense stand-off happens, with both Molly and the dwarf yelling at each other in confusion. Caleb manages to diffuse the situation and Beau tries to make small talk with the stranger. The dwarf introduces herself as Keg from Shady Creek Run. Once Keg realizes that she may know who kidnapped their companions, the tone of their conversation changes drastically.
Keg admits she knows the group that may have their friends, and names them The Iron Shepherds. Known scourge of Shady Creek Run. They are dangerous and they are powerful. The Nein immediately start to plan their attack to rescue their friends. Keg, though extremely hesitant agrees to go along, making sure that the group knows that she wants to kill Lorenzo and the rest of his crew.
The group sets off on horseback after the Iron Shepherds, pushing hard to catch up. After a long day of riding, the group finds a place to make camp for the night. Just before settling in, they hear the horses getting restless. Beau goes to investigates and feels the ground rumbling beneath her. She calls for her companions just as three huge cockroach like Ankhegs burst through the ground. They send the horses scattering, managing to kill one horse with a spray of acid. With Keg’s help, the group manage to quickly kill the Ankhegs before they do much more damage. The group shakily settles in for the night when Caleb notices another campfire not too far from them.
Caleb sends Frumkin (now in Owl form) to investigate the nearby campsite. Frumpkin sees an older woman, hunched over a boiling cauldron, and a small young boy sitting nearby, hugging his knees to his chest. Caleb’s mind immediately goes to all the old child’s tales of babayaga and the dark things that come at night to steal children. He wakes the others and the group investigate the scene.
Beau and Molly approach the campsite to find a frightened, on edge Firbolg woman warning them to stay away. After a brief, tense conversation, they realize everyone is friendly and no one is going to be hurt or kidnapped by anyone else. The rest of the group approaches and introduce themselves to the Firbolg woman named Jambna and the young firbolg named Ombo. Jambna tells the Nein of her clan, the Guiatao Clan, and the Iron Shepherd’s attack. Jambna escaped and managed to heal the grievously injured Ombo back from the brink. She tells the group of her clan mate named Neela, who is also tracking down the Iron Shepherds to try and save her kidnapped son. The group thanks Jambna for her hospitality and rest in her camp for the evening.
The next morning, The Nein bid Jambna and Ombo goodbye and wish them safe travels. Setting off for another long day’s ride, the adventurers make great time. Just before dusk, Molly notices a caravan ahead. It matches the description given by Keg, and further Frumpkin investigation confirms that this is the Iron Shepherds’ caravan. The group carefully follow the Shepherds until they make camp for the evening. The Nein then begin furiously planning an ambush attack. They set up a crafty trap between two hills along the road and settle in for the evening.
Early the next morning, the group awakens and waits for the Shepherds to pass through their trap. Before too long, they spot the caravan heading their way and, just as the first cart begins to pass through, they trigger the trap. The Nein leap into action. Caleb casts Slow onto Lorenzo and his lackeys. Beau leaps in and begins trying to stun the magic users with her fists of fury. Molly rushes in and Nott sneaks aboard one of the carts to attempt to free some of the prisoners. Lorenzo seems unfazed, if not annoyed by the attack. He recognizes Keg hiding in the hills and calls out to her, “Do I need to make an example of you?” Beau quickly takes down one of the lackeys, and looks up just in time to see Lorenzo unleash a powerful icy blast across her and her companions. Nott, notices that most of the prisoners in this cart have frozen solid as a result of the blast and abandons the idea of freeing prisoners. Keg tries to rush forward to attack her previous companions, but fear make her clumsy and vulnerable and she fails to land a blow. Beau, wounded and near freezing from the cone of cold also fails to land any hits on Lorenzo. Molly bravely and foolishly rushes in to save his companions. Though he is severely wounded from the previous icy attack, he raises his glowing blades and lands a solid hit on Lorenzo. Lorenzo grins down at Molly and raises his wicked glaive to attack. Molly, out of desperation, invokes his final blood maledict which exhausts him to unconsciousness. Lorenzo’s glaive cuts Molly through the chest. Lorenzo calls out to Keg, “An example it is.” His glaive cuts completely through Molly and his body falls limp and lifeless to the ground.
Keg, now broken and guilt-ridden, begs Lorenzo to stop. She begs him to make an example of her and let the others go free. Lorenzo smiles as he accepts her plea and leans down over her, whispering in her ear, “I want you to live with the memory of what you did today.” Lorenzo kicks Keg hard in the back, sending her face first in the dirt. He glances around at the broken group and calls his companions to continue on their way. Beau gets off one final “fuck you Lorenzo” as he walks off into the distance leaving The Mighty Nein defeated and broken spirited on the side of the road.
art by @jesttothenines
This is by far one of the most intense episodes of this campaign, possibly of the whole show. I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to watch the Vox Machina campaign months after the episodes aired, so character deaths and story arcs were spoiled for me already. This episodes death is the first I’ve watched live, and also the first that feels so….final. The Mighty Nein are in really dire straits with their only healer captured and no monetary or magical means of resurrecting their fallen companion. They are literally in the middle of nowhere, no cleric or paladin in sight. It will be interesting to see where the story goes on from here. I saw a lot of talk on the stream chat of overpowered dispel magic, misused uncanny dodge, parapets of healing and the like, but I believe in DM’s house, DM’s rules. Mercer has admitted that none of them are perfect and they all make mistakes, but they will stay true to what plays out at the table. I fully support this and feel that no one mistake would completely change the outcome of a battle. Before we go deeper into this though, let’s talk about the new studio and the more upbeat first half of the episode!
The new studio set up looks the same (no big surprise there) but the video quality is amazing. I normally watch the stream on my phone, because I’m a barbarian, so I get very little detail from the battlemap camera. With the new set up though, I could see SO much better. Once the episodes drop on VOD and on YouTube and I can watch them on an actual screen, I immediately noticed the upgrade in video quality. You can see every detail. I also love the Battlemap close up camera and the slow-pan arcing camera. It took me a bit to notice the ‘mood lighting’ but Matt Mercer’s excitement over having thematic lighting was too precious.
Ashly Burch was a fantastic guest star. Her characters are so immediately lovable and endearing that it’s hard not to love everything she does. Keg’s introduction to the Nein was maybe my favorite character introduction besides Jon Heder’s introduction as Lionel Gayheart, or Chode as he was lovingly known. Ashly fits in with the rest of the cast so well and I would be beyond thrilled to see her join the cast for an extended stay. I personally loved her roleplaying choices, especially during the final battle. She stayed so true to her character and imposing disadvantage on herself was a fantastic choice. It may seem unusual for a character to ask for disadvantage, but when you think about it, Matt often imposes or grants dis/advantage to NPC’s as he sees fit narratively.
On that note, let’s dive into that fateful final battle. I didn’t think much of it when they spent a full hour just planning this surprise attack on Lorenzo and the Iron Shepherds. They’ve planned for much more difficult and dangerous battles before. I was also very curious to see how combat would go without their powerhouse warriors and their healer. I was lulled by how effortless the fight was with the cockroach-like Ankheg bugs. I got more nervous when the battle went from 5v5 to 7v5, and then Keg’s descriptions of the Iron Shepherd ‘breaking people’ and their seeming cocky self-assuredness were a couple of glaring red flags. Things seemed to start off well, with Caleb’s slow spell dominating the battlefield and Nott able to sneak onto the cart pretty easily. Things went bad so fast though. I’ve rewatched the end scene several times now and it really doesn’t last more than 10 minutes to go from “Winning!” to “Holy shit, what just happened.” It was all down to the dice. Nott’s TERRBILE rolls to get the cages unlocked, Beau unable to land many hits, and Molly taking mega damage from cone of cold and unfortunately from his own blood maledict. In the end, he took a risk. Amplified his blood maledict with only 4 HP left, and just happened to roll enough to knock himself out and leave himself completely open to a brutal and merciless attack. This was one of the harder deaths to watch. It happened so suddenly and felt so…senseless. With previous deaths, they at least felt epic, or story driven. Percy fell while fighting his arch nemesis Ripley. Vax fell against dragons or death gods. Keyleth died as a goldfish. But we know almost nothing about Lorenzo or the Iron Shepherds. Which makes him that much more powerful as a villain now. He holds all the cards. Narratively, I LOVE this new villain and story arc. As a player though, it was so hard to watch the Nein fail due to horrible die rolls. Critical Role has their own Negan now.
Next week is going to be a very interesting episode indeed. I hope that Ashly can return to see out more of Keg’s ‘vague past’. I am also excited for new guest star Sumalee Montano to join the cast next week! I have a feeling that the Firbolg side story from this episode was a sly introduction to Sumalee’s new character. If not, then I am way too deeply invested in the lives of these poor persecuted firbolgs. There have been a lot of whispers and speculations on what will happen to Taliesin’s future on the show and who exactly the new villain is. I know that Taliesin has a love of playing Matt’s homebrewed classes, and many have speculated that he may pick up Matt’s newest class called The Lingering Soul, which could be interesting narratively for a while. I personally hope he surprises us with something out of left field. I also secretly hope that we come across an NCP further along in the campaign that so strongly resembles our Mollymauk Tealeaf, but has no memories of The Nein that we have to wonder if he is truly immortal. For now I’ll just have to hope for spoilers from tomorrow’s episode of Talks Machina. Only 3 more days until the new episode! Is it Thursday yet?