Episode 5: A Test of Worth
Our adventurers continue their journey to the ruins of Qoniira in search of answers to the mysterious runes and rift in the fire plane above Emon. After the jovial festivities in Byroden, the party bond over their antics, spending the next few weeks opening up about their families and lives before this adventure. Opal is still very concerned about Ted, struggling to put together the strange pieces she’s collected so far. Dorian and Dariax commiserate over their brothers, while Fy’ra Rai shares a heartbreaking story of her own twin, Fy’ra Kai, who recently died.
Dariax has a nightmare vision in his sleep. The Spider Queen speaks to him as he runs through a ruined landscape. Eerie lightning crashes into the ground nearby, two hands crack through the ground grasping at Dariax. He can’t find his friends anywhere, and the Spider Queen tries to break him by playing into his insecurities and loneliness. She tells him that he is their weakest link and is worthless on his own. Dariax doesn’t want to listen to her anymore, he wants to wake up. He feels the Spider Queen’s exasperation, knowing trying to entice him is a lost cause. He wakes up in their familiar camp, surrounded by his sleeping friends. He feels strangely stronger and more powerful.
Still feeling unsettled, Dariax wakes Dorian up to talk about what he saw. Dorian listens patiently and does his best to comfort his friend. They lay down back to back as Dariax explains how the Spider Queen talked to him and Dorian feels a sickly shock numb his body as the bag with the circlet touches him. A bit freaked out now, Dorian wakes everyone up and the party tries to decide what to do with this circlet. Dorian continues to feel worse and worse as they speak, his nose bleeding and ears ringing. The party begin to see spiders crawling over their bodies, Fearne’s fingers turn black as she touches the circlet. Things are getting really weird. Orym laments that they kept the circlet at all.
Before a more intense fight over the circlet breaks out, the party agree they all need to try and finish their rest. Dariax makes sure to keep the circlet as far away from Dorian as he can while they sleep. Just as Dorian is drifting off into sleep, he can feel the Spider Queen take over his dream. He sits up and sees Fy’ra staring at him with strange, pleading eyes. She doesn’t respond when he calls out to her. As Dorian begins to walk to her, shadowy tendrils wrap around her and begin pulling her into the darkness. He begs for the Spider Queen to stop messing with his friends and asks what she wants from him. He knows that the Spider Queen is toying with the party out of boredom and annoyance, she wants her circlet to be used. She asks Dorian if he will give the circlet to Poska, the leader of the Nameless Ones. If it will get the Spider Queen to leave his friends alone, Dorian would give the vestige to Poska. Dorian couldn’t care less about the fate of Emon over the well being of his friends.
Extremely pleased, the Spider Queen agrees to the deal. She’ll leave his friends alone if he takes the circlet to Poska. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Dorian understands what he’s just promised. Something shifts inside of him and he feels the unsettling sick feeling begin to lessen and he’s now able to touch the circlet without consequence. As a parting gift, the Spider Queen restores Dorian’s missing memories. He remembers Fy’ra traveling with them before Emon. He remembers the day that Fy’ra sacrificed herself so that the rest of the party could escape from the Fey Wild. He knows that Fy’ra also remembers this day, though she hasn’t admitted it to the party yet.
The rest of the night passes without issue and the party continues on the road once more. The jungle soon becomes too thick to continue by cart so the group sets out on foot. The days blur together as the party presses on. Orym and Fy’ra can sense a shift in the air and they sense they might be getting close to their destination. Fy’ra points out a smooth stone obelisk covered in strange runes. Excitedly, the party think this may be a clue and begin to approach.
Orym notices the flora in this area may be more dangerous than it seems. As he speaks up about his observation, Dorian accidentally backs up into a plant and a spray of pollen shoots out. Dorian manages to escape any effects of the pollen cloud and the party regroup to think of a way to sneak closer to the obelisk. After a confusing scuffle of invisibility spells and vague directions, an uncertain Dariax is sent to go get a rubbing of the obelisk runes. Even though Dariax feels he’s being sneaky , he keeps setting off the pollen traps. Things are not going well.
As Dariax tries to get back on track, he hears a voice in his head once again, asking him “what do you want?” For a moment, he worries it’s the Spider Queen again, but the voice quickly placates him, this voice stems from the jungle itself. He stumbles his way through a confusing explanation of why they’re here and what they want with the obelisk. The voice is… a bit confused, maybe one of his other companions can help. Fearne suddenly hears a voice in her head asking the same question. The voice tells Fearne that this obelisk isn’t going to help them, they need to keep going deeper into the ruins, But the voice needs to know if the party is worthy of the journey.
The voice moves on to Opal. Opal thinks the voice may be Ted, but instead is told to call her the Wildmother. Opal asks the Wildmother if she knows where Ted is. The Wildmother mentions that Ted is in the necklace gem Opal wears. Opal’s opal. Opal refuses to acknowledge this information, insisting that Ted must be traveling on her own somewhere. The Wildmother asks why Opal is denying Ted’s presence. Things will get dangerous and Opal will need her sister’s help. The voice shifts to Orym now. He welcomes the warming presence as the Wildmother blesses his journey. He’ll always keep going, “for him… for them.” The voice leaves him just as Dariax finishes his rubbing. He holds up the paper covered in runes and shouts back to his party…just as they all see an enormous crocodile crawling up behind him, jaws snapping.
The party leap into action to save an oblivious Dariax. Opal yells out that she’s heard they should try and flip the croc on its back to incapacitate it. No one has a better plan, so they surround the beast, landing a few punches and swipes on it to maneuver it into position. Fearne begins to wrap vines around its body as Opal leaps on top of its head. The croc snaps out at Fy’ra and Dariax, landing a painful bite on the druid. Opal wraps her whip around the croc’s mouth and head and pulls with all her might. The croc begins to stumble. Opal kicks out one of its legs as she pulls on the whip again. The beast topples over, legs waving in the air as the party begin to tie the croc up as it slowly falls asleep on its back. The friends look up at Opal, standing victorious over the croc and for a brief second, they all see a vision of a woman identical to Opal but with dark hair in the shadows behind her.
The party spends the rest of the day traveling deeper into the jungle, high off their successful encounter. They attempt to come up with a catchy party name… “The Odd Lot?” “The Irregulars?”, “Gods’ Folly?” “Dorian and his Blades of Fury!” no… “Dariax and his backup dancers!” Hmm… they need some more time to think.
As they make a camp for the night, Dorian asks Dariax if he can carry the circlet for a while. He feels bad that Dariax has had to carry the burden for so long. Dariax shrugs and tosses the circlet to Dorian much to the rest of the party’s dismay. The friends are shocked as Dorian grabs the circlet and is not immediately sickened by it. Orym in particular is very unhappy with this development and tells Dorian to give it back to Dariax. There’s no reason for him to expose himself more than necessary. Things between Dorian and Orym almost comes to violence before Dorian finally cracks… he cares more about his friends than the circlet right now. Orym notices a thread of spider silk across Dorian’s face as he tosses the circlet back to Dariax.
The party split up to their respective bedrolls for the night. Dariax offers to sleep back to back with Dorian again… you know, for safety. Fy’ra offers a prayer into the night, protect Dorian from whatever plagues him. Opal reaches out for Ted and Ted answers. “Ted, are you dead?” Confused, Ted responds, “No, I’m inside.” Opal doesn’t want to think about what that means. Opal wonders about where Ted’s body is… Ted isn’t sure. She can’t remember how she came to this place, where her body is, why this is happening. Ted asks if Opal can see “Her” too. Opal doesn’t know who Ted is talking about but she promises to protect her sister from the figure in the dark. Fearne has a strange dream about the dark, evil Fearne from the forest. Faux Fearne tries to entice her into putting on the circlet again, embrace the power, find her family. Fearne uneasily shrugs off the dream. Not tonight. She settles into a dreamless sleep and another night slowly passes by.
The camera shifts back to the forest near the Fey Wild gate. The Synghorn elf, Myr’atta, takes another shaky step forward. She is battered, bloody, but determined. So many lives have been lost in this task, she is prepared to give her own too. She pulls another Residuum spike out and the surrounding forest, Melora’s sacred place, shudders.
The action picks back up in this week’s episode! Leaving the fun and frivolity of Byroden behind, the gang find themselves in some hot water deep in the jungle ruins of Qoniira. We’ve got more circlet shenanigans, more hilariously incompetent hijinks, and a creative croc combat. Let’s dive right in!
This session was rife with dreams, nightmares, visions, and voices plaguing our players. Dariax leads the episode with his encounter with Lolth. We finally get to see Matt play through a dream sequence after torturing the cast with them for 5 + years. To no one’s surprise, he kept his cool, stayed brilliantly in character and somehow managed to “stupid” his way out of a deal with an evil god. I’m sure I’ve said this in every episode, but seeing Mercer lean into chaotic stupid Dariax every week is an absolute treat. Every interaction is a joy.
The circlet is proving to be a continuous thorn in the party’s side. Lolth just won’t leave them alone. Dariax isn’t alone in his visions, Dorian also falls prey to the Spider Queen’s wiles. Unfortunately, or fortunately if you thrive on chaos, Dorian doesn’t have any qualms making shady deals with even shadier gods. He almost immediately offers to give up the incredibly powerful and tempting vestige of divergence to the most fearsome leader of the criminal underground. Solid, Dorian, solid. This move also earned Dorian an alignment shift from Neutral Good into Chaotic Neutral. The details of his deal with Lolth have yet to be fully revealed, but if the alignment shift is anything to go on, our boy Dorian may be in a bit deeper than he realizes.
Fearne also gets a visit from her circlet powered evil twin again. We all saw evil Fearne get sliced in episode 3. So, it appears the Spider Queen is still using evil Fearne to try and tempt Fearne from beyond the grave. I still don’t see how our sweet, gentle Fearne would ever give in to Lolth’s temptation. Though, there is still the mystery of her missing family that could be driving her more than we realize.
We saw tensions rising and tempers heating up between party members again this week. This time, we had two showdowns between Orym and Dorian over the circlet’s influence. Orym is now the only party member that is unable to be near the circlet due to his alignment. It seemed to stress Orym greatly that Dorian seems to be getting pulled further towards a dark influence. Dorian, for his part, seems to be doing shady things for a heartfelt reason, even if he doesn’t fully understand how bad things might get for him. He keeps putting his friends’ safety above his own. Hopefully he doesn’t pay too steep a cost.
Part of Dorian’s deal, meant that he got his memories restored! He saw the moment that Fy’ra sacrificed herself for the team and he knows that she remembers, but still refuses to remind the group of the painful memory. Though it was unclear in what way Fy’ra sacrificed herself, it was heavily implied that she did it in honor of her twin Fy’ra Kai. More interesting little puzzle pieces for us to try and decipher!
After another speedy travel montage (over a month has passed in game!), we finally made it to the outskirts of Qoniira. A surprising NPC popped up during the Obelisk scene. The Wildmother made a quirky impression on every party member as they traversed her jungle. In a wildly different characterization of Melora than we saw in the Mighty Nein, the Wildmother interrogated each party member to deem them worthy enough to enter the ruins. Each cast member had a sweet little moment to show off their character role play and dive into their psyche in the moment. Dariax is still a lovable, clueless bean. Dorian isn’t a whole lot more aware, just going with the flow, would do anything for his friends. Fearne, Orym and Fy’ra embrace the nature goddess readily. Opal makes her conversation about herself and Ted, no surprise there.
Speaking of Opal and Ted, we got more crumbs of whatever is cooking behind the scenes between the twins. Opal is getting more and more obsessed about her missing sister and their weird new connection. The sisters are both confused about how they ended up in this mess. Ted made another mention of the creepy shadow figure that haunts her. Three more episodes to wrap up this juicy little side story.
How about that mini combat this session! I wonder if “flipping the croc” is going to be this party’s polymorph spam spell. Aabria graciously rewarded the players’ ingenuity, creativity and lucky dice rolls by ending the encounter after two rather pitiful rounds. Speaking of Aabria’s DM style, we got to see quite a bit of her flashy style in all the dream sequences and disembodied voices plaguing the players. Many of Aabria’s NPC’s carry her sassy attitude. For example, the players had a hard time differentiating between Spider Queen, WIldmother, and Ted during their encounters. Which isn’t surprising, they’re all strong-willed female characters, so…. it’s not all on Aabria.
It’s been fun to get to see a new DM style on the Critical Role channel and see a new dynamic at the table. The original cast is, of course, something magical, and it’s good to keep things feeling new and fresh at the same time. The blend of new players and DnD vets breeds an improv heavy role play that keeps everyone on their gaming toes. Watching Aabria, Matt, Ashely and Liam dance with Robbie, Anjali, and especially Aimee’s wild ideas is a treat. Robbie once again proves he’s a natural at the table, even if little things like spell concentration and turn economy are still a little fuzzy. Anjali brings another fully formed character with strong role play instincts, though once again those new player common question and mistakes pop up every once in a while. Aimee is still the table’s wild card when it comes to role play and DnD rules. She is a veritable force to be reckoned with and surprises even herself with her choices.
In what is perhaps the biggest contrast in GM style at the table, Aabria hold her players accountable for their own spell rules, RP roll justifications, and backstory info. This may be largely because this is a short run campaign in a world built by Mercer and there’s just no time for Aabria to fully flesh out every characterization and remember every spell rule. Also, once you’ve spent decades playing in and around DnD it can be hard to remember what it’s like to dive in as a newbie. What may seem common sense or basic knowledge to a veteran player is a total mystery to many new players (and even some vets if Hunter’s Mark and Hexblade’s curse are any clue). Aabria is a generous GM in other ways though, especially when it comes to the players absolutely horrible dice rolls (looking at you Matt and Ashley). For as many low rolls as those two bring to the table, they are still allowed plenty of story information and action abilities that may not have cut it at a different table. It’s Aabria’s way of saying “It’s just a game and we’re all just here to play and have fun.”
I’m still puzzling over what the little “end credit” stinger scene was all about. What happened to Myr’atta’s companions? Why was she so injured? What is the Wildmother’s ‘sacred place’? Are the residuum shards helping or hurting? What does it all mean?!
Only three episodes remain to wrap up this intriguing little series. I think it’ll still come as a shock when the final episode ends. As soon as we fall in love with these new characters, we’ll have to say goodbye. The last three episodes are going to be jam-packed with story, character arcs, stronger friendship ties, and hopefully by the end- a teams name for our lovable idiots. My heart is still a bit raw from the campaign 2 finale and the end of this season of Exandria Unlimited is looming far to soon for my comfort. It’s also a little worrisome that ExU might end with no announcement of a campaign 3 of Critical Role. Facing the end of ExU and a drought of Critical Role content hurts my little heart. Let it be a testament to how much we love Critical Role that these thoughts are even on our minds at this moment. Not to worry though, we still have three weeks and at least 12 hours of new content to absorb! Don’t worry Critters, it’s almost Thursday!