Episode 21: Stalker in the Swamp
The Mighty Nein wake bright and early for their adventure into the Labenda Swamp. The excitement begins before they even leave the tavern though, when a waif-like half elven woman shyly approaches the Nein and asks for their help. The woman, a lithe figure, with half her body hidden by a heavy cloak and her dark black hair, introduces herself as Callianna. She overheard the group talking about adventuring into the swamp and asks to tag along in hopes of finding a magical item she has tracked into the swamp. After a bit of questioning, Calli reveals she is actually part ancient black dragon, and has been hunting down this artifact that a shady cult uses to harm her kind. The Nein are instantly charmed by her and agree to have her come along.
Febron Keys, the Nein’s eccentric guide into the swamp, cautiously leads the way toward the Gentleman’s safehouse. The group bonds with Calli and Kiri (the Kenku girl they rescued the day before). Staying clear of dangerous bogs and crocodiles, the Nein traverse the swamp with little incident. Fjord, who is leading the way, gets slightly careless in watching where he is walking and accidentally treads on a sporous plant that sprays him in the face. He manages to shake off the effects of the poisonous spores and moves out of the way of the carnivorous plant. Suddenly, the group realize they are quite surrounded by these plants. They traverse the swamps like a minefield, trying to be more careful.
A shadow that has been plaguing the edges of Fjord’s vision sets him on edge. He sends Jester up ahead to investigate and she finds a stinking sneaky swamp troll stalking their group. They decide to continue on, hoping the troll finds something more interesting to follow.
Febron finally points out the hidden entrance to the Gentleman’s safehouse. He shudders at the sight of the two hanging bodies hung up in the trees, partially decomposed, partially eaten. Jester pulls out a fancy new trick she learned from the Traveler and casts a spell to speak with one of the dead. A few tense, macabre moments pass before Jester regains her wits and asks her questions. She discovers that swamp fish men from under the lake have attacked the safehouse and killed the occupants inside. Right in the middle of Jester’s questions, Nott notices that Febron has been edging himself further away from the group. She calls out to Febron warning him not to go too far when a huge arm reaches around the tree, grabs Febron and begins to run off with him. Suddenly thrown into action, the Nein excitedly sends a volley of attacks at the swamp troll. A sickly green spray of liquid and pus bursts from the wounded troll, burning Febron’s skin like acid and knocking him out. Beau rushes in to try and save Febron, but accidentally gets too close and is thrown off guard by another acid spray, giving the troll the chance to grab her as well. The troll quickly begins to run off again with both Beau and Febron (who is looking disgustingly dead at this point). Beau is knocked unconscious by more acidic spray and is on the edge of death while her companions watch helplessly, unable to attack for fear of killing her. Callianna saves the day with a lucky levitate spell and manages to slip Beau out of the grasp of the troll. The group continue to lob attacks at the wounded troll but it manages to escape before the Nein can do enough damage to incapacitate it.
The Mighty Nein continue their investigation of the safehouse, discovering a hidden entrance not too far from the hanging bodies. Nott tries to wiggle her way down into the tunnel but slips about halfway down. Alone, in the dark, she hears gurgling, tearing noises just around the corner. Sneaking forward, she finds the room infested with fish-men devouring the corpse of a crocodile. Once the rest of the group has carefully made their way into the underground safehouse, they sneakily attack the fish-men. Fjord casts a powerful spell, Hunger of Hadar, sending a sphere of darkness full of eerie milky white tentacles whipping around the fish-men. Both sides take heavy hits, with Fjord nearly falling to their spears. He manages to barely hold on just long enough to slaughter the final standing fish-man.
While the group rests and recovers, Nott sneakily searches for the magical bowl Callianna is after. She finds the bowl among the detritus and quietly takes it to Caleb without alerting the others. Caleb decides to use the bowl as leverage and figure out exactly where Callianna’s alliances lie. He is still uneasy and distrusting of the sweet half-dragon woman and is curious to know why she seeks out such an evil artifact. Callianna once again tells the tale of how she was used by an evil dragon worshiping cult and is using her freedom to end the suffering of others like her. Beau interrupt their conversation, snatching the bowl from Caleb’s hands, and holding it over her head. She berates Caleb for always being so distrusting of everyone and trying to control everyone around him.
After a few tense moments, everyone calms down as Calli begs for the group to help her destroy the bowl. Yasha steps forward and offers to try and destroy the bowl here and now. Eager to have the artifact destroyed, Calli agrees to let Yasha try. Pulling out her impressive sword, the Magician’s Judge, Yasha uses the blades ability to absorb magic to break its uncanny strength and shatter the bowl.
More than pleased with the outcome, Callianna thanks the Nein for their help in her quest. She asks them to look her up in the Menagerie Coast if they ever travel that way. They heartily agree and send her off on her way. With a slight word of warning to Yasha alluding to the fact that the Scaled Tyrant cult will be angry their artifact was destroyed and may seek revenge, Calli returns to the surface and makes her way back to town. The rest of the Nein stay behind to further explore the overrun safehouse.
Overall this was another fantastic episode. The action and story moved quickly through the whole episode and always had me excited and engaged. The fight scenes were intense, but funny at the same time. My favorite edge-of-your-seat moment was when the swamp troll kidnapped an unconscious Beau and Beau nearly died from her companions attempts to rescue her.
Mark Hulmes was one of the best guest stars I’ve seen on Critical Role (although I haven’t written about Jon Heder or Joe Manganiello from Campaign 1 yet). He is super knowledgeable in D&D, which is understandable seeing as he is the fantastic GM of Twitch’s High Rollers RPG, and he has this amazing character fleshed out from head to toe. You instantly know what kind of person Callianna is within the first few moments of her interactions with the Nein. I would absolutely love to see more of Hulmes and the darling Calli return to Critical Role at some point.
The only moment that had me…uncomfortable… was Beau/Marisha’s slight meltdown at the end of the episode. Both Caleb and Beau are pretty hard headed characters, and they are both very mistrusting of everyone around them. Caleb played this one way, by concealing the bowl from Calli, and only revealing it in a way where he controlled the situation. While Beau, used brute force and some kind of intense lawful alignment that ended with her loudly accusing everyone of being trashpeople, childishly holding the bowl above her head, and rebuffing everyone who defended both Caleb and Callianna. Thankfully, and rather skillfully, Callianna diffused the situation quickly and the episode could end on a lighter note. I have been getting used to Marisha’s strongwilled, heady playing in this recent campaign, but this last outburst had me right back in the ‘awkward Keyleth is painfully awkward’ mindset. The moment only lasted a few minutes, and wasn’t nearly as contentious as it seems people thought, but it still left a weird vibe in the air for a few minutes.
At nearly 5 hours long, this episode is definitely not for the casual audience. It feels like three episodes rolled into one. I did like that the action had several distinct and memorable moments, with my favorite being the troll fight. It honestly didn’t feel like a 5 hour episode like some of the older Critical Role episodes.
Next week promises some more fish-man/swamp monster action. We’ll see how long the Nein decide to stick it out in the Labenda Swamp!
Have you seen the new DnD Beyond ad featuring the amazing talents of Sam Riegel?? I haven’t stopped watching it. I love that DnD Beyond has the sense of humor and self awareness to turn Sam Riegel’s one of a kind ads into this beautiful masterpiece. Gag me with a spoon Mrs. Henderson, I need more!
Any Critters out there tune into the Stream of Many Eyes broadcast on Twitch this weekend? I know I did. And i wasn’t disappointed by the incredibly talented, super Critical Role guest star, GM of Twitch’s High Rollers Mark Hulmes. His one-shot, Adventure Impractical, was one of the best one-shot’s I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Featuring the outstanding cast : Ashley Johnson, Sam Riegel, Taliesin Jaffe, Matthew Lillard, and Clint McElroy. So much D&D talent and love. Sam Riegel dusted off an old character named Obby the Rat (my personal favorite character of his), while Clint McElroy (of The Adventure Zone fame) played his iconic Cleric character Merle Highchurch. Matt Lillard, Ashley Johnson, and Taliesin Jaffe all debuted new characters: a muscle-bard named Bobo, a Yuan-ti assassin monk named Rabbit, and a charismatic tiefling named Archibald. The one-shot is only 1 1/2 hours long and I would absolutely recommend checking it out!