Episode 4: On the Trail of a Killer
Imogen awakes from a vivid nightmare. In her dream she watched as the familiar form of Bertrand was swallowed by a terrifying storm. She wakes Laudna in a panic, worried that her dream may have carried a premonition with it. Laudna suggests that they visit the nearby inn where Bertrand and the others are staying so she can check in with everyone and make sure they’re ok.
The two don’t have much luck finding their friends at 3 or 4 in the morning and waste a bit of time knocking on some grumpy stranger’s doors. Finally, halfway down the hall, Imogen is able to locate Orym in his room and he leads them to Bertrand’s door. It’s locked and no one answers their knocking. A quick peek inside the room shows it’s empty and the bed hasn’t been touched. Maybe Bertrand is still out on his midnight stroll. Orym gathers Dorian and Fearne and the gang begin a street by street search for Bertrand.
They run through all the possible scenarios in their minds. He drunkenly got himself lost in the city and they’ll find him asleep in the next alley, or maybe he found his way to their morning meeting place and got too tired to return to the inn. Maybe he went back to Lord Eshteross. Orym’s gut begins to sink as he catches a glimmer of familiar boots poking out of an alley. He quietly breaks off from the group to investigate. The closer he gets, the worse he feels. It’s definitely Bertrand, unmoving, with a large pool of blood beneath him. Imogen and the rest of the group make their way over and begin to investigate the scene. Fearne can’t find anything useful in his pockets, but will save his little treasures to go through another time. Orym realizes that the wounds in Bertrand were made by the same weapons the creepy dwarf wielded in their battle earlier that evening. The gang quickly decide to bring Bertrand’s body back to Eshteross and come up with a plan.
Eshteross is surprised to see the group back so soon, and once he notices Bertrand he quickly ushers them inside. He offers to house the group safely in his rooms for the night while they come up with a plan. They’ll go meet with Ashton and FCG in the morning to decide what to do next.
Early the next morning, Ashton and FCG make their way to the gardens with a delicious breakfast for everyone. Ashton is feeling quite excited for the new mission and all the money he’ll soon be making thanks to Bertrand’s job opportunity. The mood dampens fast once Laudna and Orym spill the bleak news to Ashton and FCG. As much as it sucks that Bertrand took the fall for them, Ashton’s more worried about the targets on all their backs. They don’t want to be next on the dwarf’s list. The gang agree to go back to the Weary Way Inn to do some digging around.
Ashton is able to bribe the bookkeeper at the Weary Way to give up the dwarf’s name, Dugger. With this information they may be able to see if Dugger frequented any other inns and follow the breadcrumbs. Before leaving, they make one last stop to the room they fought Dugger in yesterday. Orym, and a wild shape python Fearne, squeeze their way into the Shade Creeper tunnel. The tunnel is barely big enough for Orym to shimmy down, though it suddenly opens up into a larger cavern with claw marks along the walls. Reaching the end of his 50 foot rope, Orym still can’t see the bottom of the cavern. He decided to drop a coin of delving, so helpfully borrowed from FCG earlier. The coin drops, seemingly endlessly. Orym almost gives up listening for the coin to hit bottom before….there! over 1,200 feet down, the coin has finally landed on the bottom. There’s no way this tunnel is going to lead anywhere helpful. Time to explore other options.
The next nearest tavern is Spire by Fire, where Dorian takes the lead this time. He manages to catch the attention of a tiefling by casually dropping Dugger’s name in the air. The tiefling, Jenaya, takes a bit of magical seduction to open up to Dorian. Dorian’s suave nature and charismatic charm have Jenaya spilling everything he knows about Dugger and his known associates. Dorian is able to learn that Dugger had been working with the Hubbatt Corsairs thieves’ guild, though he’s seemed a bit changed recently. More creepy, gaunt, you know…weird.
The gang slip away from the Spire by Fire and Ashton brings his friend’s over to his place for a bit of planning. Ashton asks their roommate Milo for some advice on where to find the Corsairs, and Milo suggests Ashton look up their old contact Advik in the Elder Post market place at the edge of town.
Advik isn’t the easiest to locate in the thrum of a busy market. They don’t have a stationary shop or cart, though a few hints and questions get them pointed in the right direction. Before too long, Ashton recognizes the familiar face of Advik, a handsome elven man with cropped hair and a large cloak. Advik throws on a mischievous smile as he sees Ashton and begins to introduce himself to the party. He sweeps his large cloak wide, and reveals all manner of delicious looking pastries in various pockets and pouches. Wildly delighted, the group select a few to try, as the Shadow Baker continues his alluring introduction. Some coin is exchanged, exquisite pastries consumed, and important information is divulged. Advik, the Shadow Baker tells the gang to head to the Root Trader Alcove, speak to the feathered eisfuura named Heron, and tell them “You’ve come for the laughter.” Advik then turns, disappearing back into the shadows.
As weird as that whole interaction was, the gang follow Advik’s instruction and before too long, they locate the Root Trader Alcove, and find Heron inside. Imogen speaks the code phrase, earning a surprised look from Heron before he beckons them to follow into a hidden portion of the shop. A narrow stairwell leads upstairs to a dark, musty smelling room. Dorian draws his moon-touches scimitar to light the room, and the gang find themselves suddenly surrounded by 30 figures lining the entire room, all grinning at the fresh meat that just walked in the lion’s den. Laughter begins to spread through the guild, as a figure steps forward, twirling a sword. He says, “This friends, is certainly not your luckiest of days.”
And that’s where we’ll pick up next time!
Well…that was an unexpected ride! For such an emotional start to the episode, we sure ended in a much different place than expected. Or maybe that’s just the theme of this whole campaign, “you’ll never know what to expect.” I for sure thought Dorian would take Bertrand’s death a bit harder. Robbie isn’t afraid to tackle some big emotions and anxieties with Dorian. And we did get a scene where he dropped some guilty feelings on the table, then quickly pivoted to, I tried my best to stop him but the old man wanted a walk and nothing I could say would have stopped him. Maybe Robbie got the sense that Bertrand’s “exit” was firmly set in place and didn’t want to give his character any lasting heartache over the inevitable. Imogen seemed the most freaked out and concerned over Bertrand’s demise, which is fitting since she had the creepy vision about it. Overall, each member of the group said their goodbyes in their own special way and then quickly moved on to more pressing matters at hand. I think Liam mentioned, maybe in character or out of character, that this episode had quite a bit of emotional whiplash.
I certainly felt the shifts in tone pretty quickly. Ashton and his breakfast sandwiches lightened up the somber mood real fast, then Fearne going through Bertrand’s pockets and finding all sorts of obnoxious items (thank you off screen Travis). I’d say that besides Keyleth’s infamous goldfish accidental death leap, Bertrand’s death lands way more on the “aww that kind of sucks, oh well.” side of the spectrum than Molly’s permadeath in campaign 2. Which….isn’t too terribly surprising. Bertrand was only around for 4 episodes. And Travis leaned real hard into the ‘comedic relief’ role for Bertrand rather than a long haul hero type.
The story peetered out a bit after the gang’s goodbye’s. The breadcrumbs were a bit sparse and hard to follow, but the gang made some headway. Through a sheer bit of luck, some great rolls, and hilarious role play, they managed to keep the ball rolling right to the door of a notorious thieves’ guild. They also landed some juicy tidbits about the creepy dwarf murderer named Duggar that should keep the story rolling for a couple more episodes. Overall, not too bad for a session this early on! I mean, they only took one wrong turn that ended up with Orym literally dangling over a 1,200 foot cavernous dead end. That’s one of the more obvious DM clues for “not this way, go back to the main scene I spent hours preparing for.” Although, we all remember how last campaign’s dead end in a giant worm tunnel actually ended with the Mighty Nein literally walking to a new country and completely derailing the campaign’s story line. Maybe Orym should have gone bungee jumping down into the Abyss for more clues.
We’re getting so many golden character interaction already. The new table dynamics are meshing so well. I think it helps that this bunch’s backstories are a bit less angst ridden than last campaign. Well, at least so far. Jury’s still out on how tragic Sam will go with FCG. Laudna is still a big, mysterious undead question mark. Orym looks like a guy hiding some sad, dark, little secrets. Imogen seems like she’s got some spooky recurring stress dreams. Dorian’s secrets have secrets and he’s not letting a single one of them go. And Fearne’s the resident wild card. There’s no guessing what she’s got percolating in the backstory soup pot.
Sam really tried to lean heavily into FCG’s ‘therapist’ role this episode. Which might have worked beautifully, had the group not been so quick to move on after Berty’s death. I think FCG was as surprised as the audience was that no one really needed a shoulder to cry on. Orym and Imogen had probably the most somber farewell’s with Bertrand, while the others either kept their tough persona’s up, like Ashton, or leaned into the dark humor, like Laudna and Fearne. Laudna’s running gag with Paté DeRolo is still landing some great laughs, and Fearne finally got to introduce her familiar Mister into the campaign. I’m personally still a bit ‘eh’ about Mister. His character got a bit too silly on occasion for me during ExU, but that was a different campaign and a different story teller, so I’m going to try and keep my opinions open while Mister acclimates to this campaign.
I did love the running bit between Orym and FCG over the coin of delving that Orym ‘lost.’ Sam’s humor is sometimes a bit much for me, but these teasing interactions that kept Orym wondering if FCG was really about to hold a grudge were really great. I love that everyone is kind of waiting for the ‘happy, shiny’ personality to crack and some genuine emotion to show through everyone’s favorite sunshiny automaton. Another amazing roleplay star that stuck out to me this episode was, of course, Robbie’s scene with Matt’s tavern NPC Jenaya. It’s still hard to believe that Robbie is so new to DnD with how quickly he picks up role playing at the Critical Role table. Leaning into Dorian’s innate nervousness certainly helps throw off any ‘newbie nerves’ on top of his ability to toss out witty one liners that leave the group in stitches. Jenaya didn’t stand a chance against Dorian’s charming personality. I’m hopeful that we get to see lots more of Dorian and Robbie at the table for this campaign.
The final third of the episode led the gang to an edge of town market place in search of some seedier contacts and an introduction to a certain thieves’ guild The Hubbatt Corsairs. We got to meet a surprising new NPC, Advik the Shadow Baker. Advik lands somewhere between Pumat and Henry Crabgrass on the scale of baffling but immediately lovable NPC. I need to get me an enchanted cloak that can house dozens of delicious baked goods inside.
Our crew is in a bit of hot water going into next episode. Staring down about 30 thieves in the middle of their very own den. Not the most relaxing of cliffhangers we’ve been left on. It still remains to see if the Shadow Baker set the gang up, or if this is some kind of weird intimidation ritual before the guild reveals any useful information. Next episode should be a fun one! The story should pick up a bit, and Travis is still hovering in the wings waiting to reveal his next character! Just a reminder that Critical Role will take a one week hiatus after episode 5 and will return with a new episode December 2nd.