Episode 2: The Oh No Plateau
The group have successfully killed all the assassins at the warehouse and use the lull in the action to try and escape from the docks. Orym suggests that the group should head to the fire ashari camp out of the city for aid. Fearne notices that they still have eyes on them at the docks, they need to run.
The adventurers make a mad dash for the city gates as unknown assailants track them through the city streets. Dariax asks Orym what the plan is after they find the fire ashari. Orym…isn’t sure, he hasn’t thought ahead that far. Dariax loves this plan. Dorian worries about the consequences of ghosting Poska and the Nameless Ones but, it’s a little late to salvage that relationship what with all the murder, stealing, and broken contracts.
The group manage to make it all the way to the southern gate of the city before being blocked by two cloaked figures. Dorian and Opal can handle this. They confidently step into view of the two figures, who brandish daggers at the friends. Opal and Dorian try to slyly deceive their way through the gates. It’s not very effective. Then they try to charm their way through. Opal manages to seduce one of the faction members, but Dorian’s spell fails and the second cloaked figure begins to engage with him. The rest of the crew watches Dorian awkwardly grapple with one enemy as Opal continues to sweet talk and slowly walk away with the other antagonist.
Orym darts in to try and help Dorian handle his fight as its obviously not going in the air genasi’s favor. Dariax is still watching in confusion as Opal begins to pull out a silken rope and gently hog ties the other weirdly willing guild member. Fearne sends grasping vines out around the fight, trying to entangle the enemy, but only succeeds in catching Orym who had snuck behind the guild member. Dariax finally gets an opening as Dorian escapes the guild members grapple. The guild member falls under Dariax’s spear attack.
Meanwhile, Opal is still talking to the other guild member, Arthur. He’s still playing along under Opal’s charm spell, though there is some apprehension at being in such a compromising position. Opal promises she’ll be right back for him, she’s just going to get her friends real quick. As she’s skipping away towards her friends she sends an eldritch blast back at the hog tied Arthur and the blast knocks him out. The group are now able to escape Emon and they set off into the outskirts to make a safe camp for the night.
A ways off the road, the group find a quiet shelter to wait out the night. The friends use the long rest to talk through their plans a little more and inspect the black circlet. Opal makes a connection with the circlet and receives a vision of skittering shadows and massive spider legs crawling towards her. The rest of the group realize this must be connected to Lolth the Spider Queen. It must be a powerful vestige from this betrayer god. Orym says he’s only ever seen one vestige before. His leader Keyleth of the air ashari, Voice of the Tempest, has one. Definitely not something they should touch or try to use. Although, Dorian is still hesitant about just handing it over to the fire ashari without a plan. Orym agrees, he just doesn’t have any better ideas. No body else does either. They’ll sleep on it.
During the night’s watches, Dariax and Fearne can hear horses riding up and down the road from Emon. It seems like Poska is still looking for them. Opal has an unsettling dream. She sees the shadows and spider legs again, and then Ted’s voice asks her “what are you doing?” They argue about Opal’s lack of caution and the fight ends with Opal yelling at Ted to leave her alone. Ted is more than happy to acquiesce. Luckily the rest of the night passes without incident and the group are able to set off early the next morning for the fire ashari encampment.
After a few hours of travel the group arrive at the Flamereach Outpost and are greeted by Lorkathar, a half-orc ashari. She listens with mild confusion as Orym relays the events of their day yesterday and is sorry that she can’t be of more help to them. She’s not sure what to do about the pissed off thieves guild…or the residuum. Maybe she can send a message to the air ashari about that but she’s not sure that will do any good. The group stop Orym from talking about the circlet. They feel Lorkathar is being wholly unhelpful and this doesn’t feel like the right time. Lorkathar apologizes for not being more forthcoming, they’ve just been dealing with the spike in activity from Thordak’s crater.
The group recall their latest trip to the crater and the strange interaction they had their. Apparently the fire ashari had recently lost a group of scouts in an attack there. Orym asks to speak to the two survivors of the attack. Jhessho and Reyan are surprised to hear that this ragtag group managed to easily survive an encounter at the crater, but is curious to hear what they learned. Fearne reveals that she touched the power emanating from the crater and pulled out an elemental that became her monkey Little Mister. The crater’s power seems to be leaking through cracks in the fire ashari’s defenses. Something is trying to break through. Orym volunteers the group’s help in any way they see fit. The fire ashari thank him and begin to say their goodbyes when an earthquake strikes the outpost.
Everyone rushes outside and are shocked to see a massive new landform has appeared on the horizon. A rocky mesa, shrouded by dark clouds. Ash has begun to fall from the sky. Orym asks Lorkathar what he and his friends can do to help. She asks if they are willing to find out where the plateau came from and how to stop it. Dorian is rather concerned that they’ve only just volunteered to help and the sky is already on fire. He doesn’t want to go to the ‘oh no’ plateau, but he’ll follow Orym’s lead. Dariax doesn’t want to leave the black circlet here, but he wants to make it more portable. He readies a pouch and begins to dig the circlet out of the box. He forgets he’s not supposed to touch it as he reaches to toss it into the bag. His friends panic, but he feels totally fine, why are they acting all weird. Orym, Dorian, Opal and Fearne all watch as Dariax grabs the circlet and his eyes go completely black. Dariax promises them he doesn’t feel weird at all and he can see just fine, why are they asking that? They opt to maybe bring up his black eyes later…they’ve got a bigger problem first.
The group rush to the bottom of the plateau and split up to climb to the top. Dorian, Dariax and Orym easily reach the top of the plateau and begin calling out for Fearne and Opal. The ash here is incredibly thick. They can’t see, sound is muffled and warbled, it’s hard to breathe. Fearne and Opal finally struggle their way to the top and blindly crawl towards shadowy shapes and muffled shouts, hoping it’s their friends and not monsters.
The group reunite after a tense moment almost ending with the friends attacking each other, but no one is injured. Although this ash is really wearing them out. Dorian and Dariax are both exhausted by it. The group cover up their faces and Dorian remembers he doesn’t actually have to breathe because he’s a windy boy from the air genasi. They more easily make their way to the center of the plateau to look for answers.
It’s eerily quiet up here. They spot another group of fire ashari up ahead and notice a strange, glowing ball of light coming from the ground. They’ll send the fire ashari in one direction and circle around back to the other side of the ball of light. As they approach the light, they realize its a glowing purpleish-red sigil burned into the ground. Should they touch it? They feel like they should touch it. Opal and Fearne approach it, but chicken out before they get too close. It looks scary. Opal tries to cast shield on herself, but the magic fizzles at her fingertips. She hears Ted’s voice again. Ted cut off her magic after their fight. She wants an apology from Opal to get her magic back. Opal absolutely refuses. As this strange interaction occurs, Dariax gets impatient and throws a rock at the sigil. It melts as soon as it touches the sigil. Okay, it’s very hot, maybe don’t touch it.
Fearne still wants to touch it. There’s something about this sigil that feels incomplete. She glances over at little Mister, who seems transfixed by the sigil. He suddenly releases his monkey form, returning to his fiery humanoid body shape. The group encourage Fearne to touch the sigil, now dubbed the Ash-hole. Fearne reaches out a tentative finger to gently probe the Ash-hole. She knows it should feel bone-melting hot but the fire doesn’t affect her. She pulls her hand free of the Ash-hole and the group now encourages her to send little Mister to the sigil. The little fire elemental hesitates near Fearne but at her encouragement it steps into the sigil and suddenly swells with immense power. Oops…bad idea.
The group spring into action as the form of little Mister twists into an ashy tornado elemental. Opal still can’t access her magic and resorts to throwing her daggers at the elemental. It sends the dagger flying back towards Dorian. Maybe throwing knives at a tornado is a bad idea. The ground opens up and two elemental tentacles lash out at Orym and Dorian. Opal and Ted continue to bicker over who owes who an apology as she stabs one tentacle into oblivion. Fearne wild shapes into a direwolf, snapping at the other tentacle.
Dorian notices the elemental seems bound to the sigil, he wonders if breaking it free will help. He casts dissonant whispers on the elemental, forcing it away from him and off the sigil. As the elemental steps off the sigil, it slowly shrinks back into the form of little Mister. Mister begins to run to Fearne for protection as Dariax rushes towards him with a spear. Time seems to slow down as Dariax trips over his feet flying head first towards the Ash-hole. Fearne grabs Mister out of the way of the spear but is unable to stop Dariax from skidding towards the sigil. Orym panics and stabs his sword into Dariax’s leg to pin him to the ground inches away from being burned to a crisp. Dariax screams in pain after being stabbed but stops yelling once he sees the burned end of his spear that unluckily touched the ash-hole. Whew that was close.
The group have seen enough. Time to go back to the fire ashari. They head down the plateau and relay everything they saw to Lorkathar. The sigil seems to be at the heart of the corruption. They need to rally the ashari for more aid and bring in some heavy duty magic users. Lorkathar asks Orym for his help in locating a mage known as the Rune Child. He also goes by the moniker Shaun Gilmore. There’s only one problem, he’s back in Emon. You know, the city their group managed to piss off and just barely escaped from. But Orym’s not one to back down from a challenge. The party thinks this is nuts, but they’re up to the task. Time to visit Gilmore’s Glorious Goods.
Boy this little mini series is such a joy. I’m really loving the way this series feels like such a throwback to home game chaos. Robbie and Aimee are bringing such a fun new dynamic to the table as well! The story is fast paced and engaging without feeling too much like a one-shot railroad. I’m loving all the campaign 1 references as well! It’s safe to say I’m hooked.
Aabria is doing a fantastic job at keeping the story pace moving quickly without exhausting players. We ain’t got time for entire session length panic planning sessions. There’s not too much room for deviation off the main story path either. As amazing as it would be to let these characters live and breath in Aabria’s world for longer than 8 episodes, we are in fact on quite a time crunch. It’s good to know that the GM knows when to push players towards the next story point and when to let them unleash their chaos.
The first encounter of this episode is a perfect example of unleashing chaos. I’m sure Aabria was waiting for a cut and dry encounter against the two thieves guild members, but of course sending in the two newest players leads to a hilarious showdown. We got quite a snapshot of the Robbie’s and Aimee’s playing style in this encounter. Both came in with the good idea to charm their way past the enemies but ended up in very different places. Opal ran with her instincts and managed to completely distract one of the bad guys with her feminine wiles. Aimee honestly seemed like she had no idea where she was going with this role play, just making snap decisions as they popped in her head. Robbie’s dice were not on his side though as his spell and attack both missed and he ended up in an uncomfortable grapple for most of his fight. I absolutely loved that the three veteran players just sat back and watched all this chaos go down until Robbie cried uncle and asked for help.
Ashley had a wonderful mis-reading a spell moment. I’m sure Marisha felt the disturbance in the force as the entire twitch chat came for Ashley when she cast Entangle on the battlefield, making things difficult for her allies. It’s Fjord’s fog cloud and Keyleth’s Wind Walk all over again. While Ashley has been a Critical Role cast member since the beginning, she’s still quite a novice player just due to her long absences because of Blindspot. It’s refreshing to have her at the table with the rest of the cast, reminding us that you don’t have to play perfectly to still have fun. What Ashley may lack in extensive DnD knowledge, she more than makes up for in character building with Fearne. Within the first few words that Fearne spoke, we immediately knew who she was.
I cannot get enough of Dariax and Matt’s role playing. I may be projecting here, but having Matt play a character with a head so empty it’s amazing he remembers how to tie his own shoes is such a change from having to literally be the all knowing voice of God as DM. It’s like Matt said “oh, I don’t have to be in charge? Great, I’ll just completely shut my brain off and see what happens.” How can you not love this chaotic stupid little guy?!
With Matt off the table as a party leader, Ashley sticking firmly to a support character standpoint, and Robbie and Aimee being complete newbies, the job of party leader falls to Liam once again. Liam’s doing a great job of trying to keep the car on the road and follow Aabria’s lead while also letting all the other players breathe, grow, and influence the story in their own ways. It can be hard to balance being a party leader, but Liam is a pro at knowing when to step back and when to step in. He steps back when the party insists on not sharing Lolth’s circlet with Lorkathar, and also ‘yes and’s’ all of Aabria’s story line hints.
The second half of the episode was a very interesting interaction with the fire ashari. Orym has been treating the ashari as a solve to all their problems. Maybe it’s his naiveté, maybe misplaced trust but the ashari were quite unable to offer the aid the party sought. We did get a major story plot point with the ashari though, as Aabria literally dropped the next encounter on top of the outpost. We had a good combination of skill challenge and fight encounter in the second half. The players managed to solve the “ash-hole” puzzle without incinerating one of the party or accidentally summoning a fire demon.
There’s been a few references to events that have happened pre-stream that have me itching for a pre-game recap of some sort. I would love to know exactly how the party met, ended up at Thordak’s crater, lost a party member and their memories before waking up in a townhouse in Emon. I need to know! It took me a minute to figure out that the party did in fact have previous knowledge of the crater when they talked with Lorkathar, Jhessho and Reyen. Did Fearne get all her fire power from the crater too? Or did she already have a connection and just reached in for Mister?
Beyond just the pre-game missing information, there are a few character mysteries I’m intrigued by too. Fearne got a weird little memory hop in this episode where she finally recalled just how she got from the fey wild to Emon. She spoke of a grandmother that helped her pass through the gate. Is this a Critical Role easter egg of some kind or just some fascinating character backstory? Opal has this wild relationship with her “twin?” Ted. I am desperately hoping we get to uncover what the hell is going on between Opal and the source of her power. Orym has been laying down the Keyleth easter eggs all throughout the two episodes so far. It’s really fun to have such a strong connection to a Campaign 1 character, though we’ll see if we get much interaction with Kiki herself. Dorian’s backstory is still a complete mystery, though he did get a little weird when Poska sussed him out to be a secret rich boy. Dariax feels like an open book, could he hide any secrets from us even if he tried? I guess we’ll see.
The last few moments of the session dropped another huge campaign 1 easter egg. Everyone’s favorite purple robed wizard is back! I’m curious to see how Aabria will incorporate Gilmore into her world. She’s incredibly brave for taking such an established and well loved character onto her GM shoulders. It’s going to be so strange seeing a Gilmore that is not puppeted by Mercer. I’m going in with an open mind though! Next episode will be just as jam packed as the first two, I’m sure. Our adventurers have to sneak back into a hostile city, try not to get sidetracked or stir up new problems, find Gilmore, AND return to the ashari as quickly as possible. A tall order for our knuckleheads. I can’t wait to see what the players will do and what Aabria has up her sleeves. Don’t worry Critters! It’s almost Thursday.
Don’t Miss It!
Catch an all new episode of Critter Hug with Mica Burton and Matthew Mercer Tuesday, July 6th at 4 pm.
The third episode of Exandria Unlimited will air in its normal time slot Thursday at 7 pm.