Episode 122: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
The Nein batten down for another freezing night out on the Eiselcross tundra. Towerless and without a hot meal, it will not be a pleasant night. Lucien offers a sort of grog-ish stew, mildly alcoholic and weirdly…chewy. It’s an experience. Not one the Nein will try again anytime soon.
Lucien wants to get to know the Nein a bit more intimately. What kind of goals are the Nein hoping to achieve. Caduceus wishes to change a heart and a mind and save a soul, even if it’s just one. But mostly he is just along for the ride. Jester wants to domesticate unicorns… weird flex Jester, but ok, respect. Yasha admits she too is rather goal-less at the moment. Fjord is enjoying toying with Uk’atoa, feeling like he still has the upper hand in this relationship. Beau is fully invested in where this Aeor/ Somnovum mystery will lead. Veth manages to turn the question back around to Lucien and manages to pry loose a few more facts about the Somnovum. Lucien admits the Somnovum are absolutely crazy mad, geniuses, but batty. They speak to Lucien mostly through dreams.
The Nein retire to the dome for the night and share their new conspiracy theories. Veth shares her particularly wild theory that Lucien wants to use the Nein, like their physical bodies, as new bodies for the Somnovum when Lucien ressurects them. It piques Beau’s interest but the math doesn’t quite add up yet. Fjord tries to wrap his mind around whether Lucien, Mollymauk, or Nonagon existed first or simultaneously or…ugh his brain hurts. Maybe his outer name is Lucien but his inner name is Nonagon? Caduceus then shares a strange vignette about an adorable squirrel with rabies, which somehow relates to the Somnovum being Lucien’s rabies. Too much dead people tea, not enough sleep.
Beau asks Jester to message Yudala Fon from the Cobalt Soul to see if they’ve dug up any new information on Aeor. Yudala answers quickly that they have found some interesting info but unfortunately, it’s too much to share line by line over message spell. They ask Beau to come by and visit so they can share. Stonewalled and frustrated, the Nein decide to get some sleep and continue their journey with Lucien the next morning.
Lucien begins the day by offering to let Caleb read a part of his precious tome. He’s wondering how much Caleb will be able to decipher on his own. Caleb casts comprehend language to de-code the Undercommon text. Beau glances over Caleb’s shoulder and notices she can also read the text, and bonus, it’s written in a cipher.
Together, they learn about how the calamity affected Aeor, the first explorers into the ruins of Aeor, cryptic messages about cursed dreamers and philosophers. They find a note about the Cognouza ward, run by a cabal of Nine mages who believe in manifestation through dream and imaginations with the conduit of arcana. They seek to be able to forge matter from sheer will and idea alone, obsessed with the Astral plane, and planned a secession from the city. The author will perhaps search the Astral sea for possible survivors. Suddenly the text and sketches become utter nonsense. Nightmarish scrawl that give the vague sense of a madman trying to capture a dream in writing. The images make Caleb’s mind spin, his spell unable to concentrate through the bizarre fractals. The number nine ricochets around his mind, seeking a pattern in the scribbles.
The Nein watch as Beau and Caleb quietly flip through pages, then both freeze for several long moments on one particular page. They appear completely zoned out or in some kind of trance. Suddenly, Lucien slams the book closed, saying they’ve had enough reading for now. This seems to snap Caleb and Beau back to reality and they being discussing what the mad scratches might have been about. A little spooky, but they seem fine, right? This is fine.
Lucien asks for proof that the Nein still have the threshold crest, so Fjord pulls out the amber vault. Lucien looks visibly relieved, toys with the idea of holding onto the stone for safe keeping but let’s the Nein continue to store it for him. As a sign of trust.
The parties spend another frustrating day lost in the fog. It is brutal, everyone is feeling the effects of the hostility of Eiselcross. Lucien begrudgingly asks to spend the night together in the tower. Caleb acquiesces and the next couple hours are spent watching the Tomb Taker’s explore the magnificent mansion and eating a hot meal together. Jester quietly checks in with Dagen to make sure he’s still with them. He seems mostly fine, maybe missing the tower a bit after the frigid storm.
Caleb takes the Nein on a more private tour, exploring the final two levels of the tower previously unseen. He lets his friends peek into a few new doors that lead to exact recreations of Caleb’s memories. Astrid bedroom from the Soltryce academy. The Nestled Nook in where the companions all met. Finally, his childhood home, simple and worn but well loved. The Nein try to help Caleb understand that this memory is not torture like Caleb thinks, but a way to heal and keep his family’s memory alive.
The Nein and the Tomb Takers share a meal together, share more stories, mostly about how many cults the Nein have been able to destroy, then head to their rooms for the evening. The Nein use their quiet time to try and plan escape routes, ask their gods for guidance and message Essek again. Jester tries to succinctly convey just how dire their situation is. Life or death Essek, life or death! But mostly she ends up confusing him with too many alien names and not enough “danger, danger, oh gods please help us”. He gets the feeling that the Nein are extremely concerned and asks them to come see him as quickly as possible.
Not able to come up with any better plans than keep following Lucien to the end of this road, the Nein head off to sleep. Beau and Caleb, both dream -both unaware of each other- of an endless darkness, broken by a faint red glow. It grows brighter and brighter until it grows into a massive red eye that bores into their souls. “Welcome”, disembodied voices begin to call out to them. A roaring buzz…no screams, thousands of screams, then shapes, fractals, nightmarish images flood their minds. Caleb and Beau both suddenly awake, shaken. Beau immediately begins to try and sketch what she saw, when Caleb notices something odd. a single red eye has appeared on the back of her hand. Frightened, Caleb begins to frantically search his body for a matching eye. There it is, on his shoulder. The panicked movement has woken the others up from their sleep, Beau stares horrified at her notes and realizes she made identical nightmarish scrawling they saw in Lucien’s book.
Holy epic twist Batman! The Critter chatter exploded after this session’s massive reveal. We’ll dive into all the hidden layers, uncovered lore and more! Up first, let’s unpack all that lore!
This was a massively story driven episode. We’ve been traveling with Lucien and the Tomb Takers for the better part of three episodes now which have all leaned heavily into world building, character progression, and role play. It’s been interesting to have some slower sessions to really dive into Lucien’s character. We’ve literally been dying for it ever since Mollymauk bit the dust. And we have not been disappointed! This new arc is desperately amazing. High stakes save the world kind of story line with the DM keeping his cards so close to the chest we really don’t know what the Nein are actually up against. Hiding the BBEG behind the veil of insanity, tucked away in a tiefling with multiple personalities is god-tier story creation.
Side note, what is with that cursed dagger Veth is clinging on to? More hints and secret looks happen in this session but Sam is still holding this card very close to his chest. I love the chaotic energy Veth is dancing with.
Beyond the main story line lay threads and breadcrumbs that the Critters have been devouring. The fact that Mollymauk’s last words were “eyes never shut”, and Lucien literally never sleeps… or even blinks. We also got a closer peek into previously unexplored rooms in Caleb’s tower. More soul-crushingly sad memories Liam slowly unleashes over time. Yudala Fon saying they have some interesting information to share about Cognouza but would need to talk in person for more details…dangle that carrot Mercer! The cast assumes that they hold all the cards in that realm of knowledge, which they very well might. But it may also mean that there are more minds that could be corrupted by the Somnovum that could make it very difficult to completely end Lucien’s ultimate goal.
The second half of the episode contains more Tomb Taker character building and the introduction to the Nein’s ultimate predicament. Caleb is able to show off his amazing tower to Lucien and crew who adorably float around exploring, eating dinner, and getting to know the local cats. There’s even an entire conversation in cat featuring Cat Frumpkin, Cat Jester and Cat Lucien. I dunno, you had to be there. Essek even makes a brief appearance through message, but only to once again ask the Nein to come to him. He is not budging from his job posting! The Nein have a couple of tempting threads to follow but travelling with the Tomb Takers still proves to be the most tantalizing option. Finally, the most pivotal moment in this story arc so far. Lucien shares his diary.
Well…they had to go and read the cursed book. We all knew Caleb couldn’t resist. I thought it would take a bit more plotting and secret stealing of the tome for the Nein to be able to read it. Maybe a little more apprehension and forethought before diving right into Lucien’s prized possession. I mean, Jester did try to warn Caleb and Beau, but we know now it was too little too late. And the cast dares to give Travis grief over his unstoppable urge to push every red button Matt puts in front of him. Mercer knew there was no way in the nine hells that Caleb could resist peeking into a book. Especially one so secreted and coveted by the powerful. There is a tiny part of me that is sad Beau got caught up in the Somnovum’s mind control. Could you imagine the rest of the cast having to resist metagaming while Caleb hid his strange dreams and shiny new eye tattoo from his friends?
How creepy were those descriptions of the dream? And Beau’s creepy notes?! I am living for this twist. The immediate shame and regret of knowing they dove in without looking was amazing. After trying to plan for every possibility and being overly cautious in every other aspect of the campaign, this is possibly the worst instance of hitting the button without thinking. I can’t wait to see the cast’s reactions in character! The Nein are definitely in over their heads.
There was no time for the rest of the Nein to ask Caleb and Beau about their creepy new tattoos! I am so glad that we only have to wait one week before coming right back to this story line. Out of character the cast is freaking out that they let their two most brainy friends get [email protected]*d by the Somnovum. Liam was quite gleeful over the fact that his power hungry wizard now has some kind of access to reality warping crazy wizards that can possibly manifest their wishes just by thinking. Not dangerous at all.
So, where do we go from here?! It seems like Veth may have had some credibility in her theory that Lucien wanted the Nein themselves and not just the threshold crest. But for what purpose? Will Caduceus or Fjord be able to undo or restore Beau and Caleb to a Somnovum free state? How is Essek going to fit into this mess, and what is the Dynasty looking for in these exotic ruins?
Don’t Miss It!
As usual, we can expect a new, highly anticipated episode of Campaign 2. We were blessed with a new episode of both Narrative Telephone and Talks Machina last week, so no new episodes are expected just yet.