Episode 29: The Stalking Nightmare
The action picks up seconds after Nila escapes with her mate and child. Still in extreme danger, the Nein must find their missing companions and plan their own escape. Caleb knows they have to keep a sharp eye out for more enemies coming their way. He feels the scroll of invisibility sitting heavy in his pocket and knows what he must do. Desperation wins out over his desires to transcribe the scroll for his own purposes, and he uses the scroll to turn himself invisible. He tells the group he will go ahead and watch for any Iron Shepherds heading there way. The group, especially Nott, is impressed but concerned about their lightweight companion taking the lead.
Caleb shakily shuffles ahead into an unexplored room and sees Ruzza and Protto waiting to strike. He stealthily warns Nott that the two might be headed their way. As the Nein prepare to strike, a strange, tiny blur begins to flit around the room. Caleb recognizes the tiny blur as a hummingbird named Duchess Anastasia and follows her flight path over to a caged figure. The Duchess hands over a tiny wire lock pick and Caleb watches as the caged figure manages to break free of chains and gag and the familiar face of Shakaste is revealed.
Surprised to see their one-time companion here in chains, the Nein assist in freeing Shakaste and fighting their way through the room. Just as the group is feeling confident in their fight, a sourceless voice booms into their ears. Somewhere, Lorenzo is watching them, taunting them. They press on and the fight continues deeper into the Sour Nest as Ruzza and Protto make a run for it.
Invisible Caleb and spider Frumpkin continue to lead the party stealthily from room to room as they chase Ruzza and Protto through the dungeon. Frumpkin emerges from underneath a doorway and comes face to face with a crossbow bolt, killing the poor familiar. Caleb vows revenge for Frumpkin and calls the group forward. Keg literally chops the door down, The Shining-style. Again, Lorenzo’s voice taunts Keg and the others, enticing them to do their worst.
For the first time, Keg feels emboldened and conquers her fears to aid her companions. She uses her brute strength to break the rest of the way into the room. The Nein rush ahead and find a trapped door leading further down below, and more cages with prisoners. Nott helps free the prisoners, who hint that their captured companions may be down in the torture dungeon, Beau and Keg investigate the door. They accidentally trigger a trap and get hit with a cone of flame. They manage to get the door open but have no way of crossing without triggering the trap again. Before Caleb or Caduceus can react, Beau and Keg decide to make a run for it and take the brunt of the flame attack. Calmly, Caduceus casts Dispel Magic and the trap disarms itself, leaving the doorway free to pass through safely. The rest of the group pass through without harm and find themselves in a dark, quiet dungeon.
Keg and Beau are about to charge in when Nott suggests maybe they come up with a plan. Nott uses a magical illusion to create the image of Keg coming down the stairs into the dungeon, while Caduceus uses Thaumaturgy to provide the sound effects. The trick works and the group notices Pratto hiding under a table with a crossbow and Ruzza hiding behind the next wall. Beau creates a distraction and the Nein attack!
An intense fight to the death begins between the remaining members of the Iron Shepherds and The Mighty Nein. Suddenly, a dark figure peels away from the shadows. A horrible, demon-like horned creature floats menacingly in the air before them. They just barely recognize the creature as Lorenzo, now in his true Oni form. Caduceus and Ruzza exchange spells back and forth in a battle of wits and willpower. Nott and Pratto are locked in a crossbow duel. Keg and Beau try desperately to hit Lorenzo, who infuriatingly floats just out of reach.
Beau manages to land a killing blow on a distracted Pratto. Caleb unleashes a furious Scorching Ray that leaves Lorenzo blistered and burnt. Nott snipes Ruzza from across the room, sending a fatal crossbow bolt through her neck. Caleb takes a heavy hit and has to retreat to safety, desperately hoping his companions can come help him before he bleeds out. Lorenzo’s wounds seem to be slowly healing and the Nein begin to worry they have met their match. Lorenzo unleashes his deadly Cone of Cold attack on Beau, Shakaste, Caduceus, and Keg. Beau and Shakaste take the brunt of the damage and both fall unconscious.
Caduceus manages to shake off most of the frostbite from the attack and rushes to his companions’ side. He manages to stabilize the dying Shakaste and heals Beau back to consciousness. In a fury, Beau leaps and Lorenzo and lands a fury of blows on him that stun and paralyze his muscles. This leaves him vulnerable to a vicious attack from Keg and a fiery bolt from Caleb before he manages to shake it off. Looking severely wounded, Lorenzo looks for an escape route just as Keg and Caleb wind up for another attack. Keg tries to land a hit with her axe and Warhammer but Lorenzo is ready for her. He parries her attacks and begins to fly out of range. This distraction leaves just enough time for a delusional Caleb to send a fire bolt into the back of Lorenzo’s skull. The bolt sizzles through Lorenzo’s skin, burning its way through his face and jaw before bursting out the front of his face. His charred body falls into ash on the ground, and the Nein are victorious.
In the several tense moments afterwards, Beau and Nott begin to search the few remaining cages for familiar faces. Beau recognizes a figure chained to the wall. Yasha hangs battered and unconscious. Nott manages to unlock the last cage and finds a blue-haired tiefling and a rugged half-orc warlock chained on the floor. Nott rushes over to their unconscious bodies and holds Jester close. “Case closed,” she whispers.
The Nein quickly remove their friends’ chains and help the other prisoners escape. Shakaste takes the other prisoners away to freedom, bidding the Nein farewell and safe travels. The Nein take their companions to safety and rest in the shelter of an inn, thankful to finally be free of danger.
I absolutely loved the energy in this episode. I usually struggle with the live shows. The crowd is usually incredibly distracting and drowns out the cast at times. I find that the cast often roleplays differently in front of a live crowd. They are more apt to risky or uncharacteristic actions that play up to a live audience, but may not have made the cut in the home game. For the most part, this was pretty tame during this episode. I felt like the cast stayed fairly true to their established characters.
There was one exception for me, though—Khary Payton was their surprise guest star this episode! I was excited and surprised to see him introduced to the story for this episode. Initially, I loved the idea of him returning and was hoping for a rather dramatic escape-and-revenge story for Shakaste. Unfortunately the fate of the dice and the green, newbie roleplaying didn’t see this arc pan out. I was left feeling a bit baffled by Shakaste’s arc this episode. It was a fun idea, and a great introduction, but ultimately I think the story would have been quite the same with or without him. I could see the frustration in Khary’s face with every terrible die roll he made, and most of his turns ended up as wasted spell slots and actions. Perhaps he was in fact cursed by the Wil Wheaton die he so valiantly tried to destroy.
On the other hand, I was so thrilled to see Keg’s story arc play out. Ashly roleplayed like a beast and Keg was a vital member of the Nein throughout the episode. Her character progression was fantastic, and I loved how she went from canonically cowardly to facing Lorenzo head-on and nearly getting that killing blow. Ashly has been a joy to have on the show and I really do hope we get to see more of Keg later down the road.
The big boss battle with Lorenzo was INTENSE. I was unsure how the Nein would handle facing off against Lorenzo again. The audience and live chat were definitely on edge, waiting for a TPK, or at least Keg or Beau to go down. Once Lorenzo, now in his more powerful Oni form, busted out that wicked Cone of Cold, the fight really felt like it was down to one move. With both Caleb and Beau seriously injured or unconscious, you could really see the fear in their faces. At least for half a second, until the magnificent Caduceus showed off those clutch Grave Cleric abilities and stabilized one companion while healing the other 21 hit points in one turn. In the wise words of Sam Riegel, “why weren’t you always playing this character?”
I was seriously surprised when Matt revealed that Lorenzo was supposed to get away. Usually, Matt keeps these things pretty close to the chest to help the cast maintain their role playing without fear of metagaming. However, his real disappointment at losing what he thought could be a harrowing campaign villain made the Mighty Nein’s victory that much more incredible. Beau definitely wins MVP for this battle with his timely Stunning Strike that left Lorenzo vulnerable for a full turn. It will be interesting to see the fallout from Lorenzo’s death and the Iron Shepherds’ fall.
The ending of this episode was a real gut puncher. I was half expecting for the Nein to find a bunch of empty cells and no sign of their friends. But when Beau recognizes the battered form of Yasha chained to the wall, you could feel the emotion in the room. And Sam Riegel’s quiet “case closed” while holding an unconscious Jester… my heart can only handle so much, you bastard.
Thursday’s episode will be full of surprises to say the least. Will Fjord, Jester, and Yasha regain consciousness, or will they need more serious medical attention? How will the warring families retaliate, now that the Nein have efficiently murder-hoboed their way through the Iron Shepherds? When will Travis and Laura return? Thursday is almost here!
Don’t the cast all look amazing all dressed up for their live show? I have no answers for why Sam is dressed as my darkest nightmare, and I am already anticipating Sam’s retaliation for Mercer’s shirt.