Dungeon Delving Part 4: Bear With Me…

Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Sorry I didn’t have a post up last week, but I do in fact have a life. Yep, you heard it here first. Cape Cod is nice this time of year if you were wondering, and now I’m back to give you the scoop on the continuing adventures of my merry band of the violent, disenfranchised, and somewhat insane adventurers.

For the first two parts of the adventure itself I stuck to a purely narrative style just to ease in the campaign, but as that would require either remembering dialogue we had almost a year ago on the regular, I’m going to try doing more of a balance between narrative and commentary. Unless you like the narrative, definitely let me know– it’s not that I didn’t like it, it just seems somewhat dishonest fabricating some dialogue based off the gist of what I remember being said. If you lovely readers don’t mind though, I did have fun with it. Either way, I’m sure it’ll fluctuate depending on the level of serious plot stuff vs general goofing around in the story.

Speaking of story, when last we left our heroes, I’m sure you all remember how they were so rudely exiled from Adrium on the mother-of-all escort missions– the escort of the King’s youngest son, Tomlain, who to the public was thought to be confined to his quarters with a mysterious illness. Now they find themselves in the wilderness beyond Adrium, banished with him, with the task of delivering him to a facility on the edge of the World’s End Desert.

fantasy road

When I say ‘wilderness,’ the area surrounding Northspire is actually kind of nice in the early Autumn. As the rough and mountainous regions of the north give way in the south to green forests so far untouched by the changing of the leaves, sore-footed and awkward-silenced-out, it’s here where the party decides to stop and make camp after what they all can agree was a weird night.

Not much conversation was had the night before, and most directed at Tomlain lay on sullen teenage ears. The most he said in answer to any question as they distanced themselves from the castle was “I don’t want to talk about it right now,” which was at least honest. In fact, some of the party seemed happier that way, particularly Eogred, who seemed of the opinion that this whole thing would be a lot easier if they kept a professional distance from their young charge and just get this quest over with. Really though, it kinda makes you wonder if there’s any other reasons he doesn’t want to risk getting close to someone he has to protect…

Instead, Eogred busies himself with something practical. You don’t get to be a member of Adrium’s Ranger Corps for as long as he had been without learning how to pitch one hell of a tent. While he took the time to find the perfect spot– not too close to the road, plenty of underbrush to cover them from any but the most observant travelers– he then set out casting a spell of alarm around the perimeter.

Off his feet for the first time in what seems like hours, Beleg decides that this is the perfect time to take a peak at the book he stole from Lord Smythwick’s crate. Unwrapping it from his pack, it feels heavy and cold in his hands, and maybe it’s his imagination or maybe he feels the slightest thrumming in it– thud–thud— either a heartbeat or the echo into a howling void. The cover is relatively unadorned, the only marking in black ink on a black cover is the shape of a crudely drawn eye. Here goes nothing, Beleg thinks, before cracking open the book and taking a peak.

The tranquility of their little forest clearing is interrupted by the sound of Beleg’s instant regret. Feeling as if fingertips themselves are reaching through his eyes and into his brain, Rhai finds Beleg alternately cackling madly and shrieking in terror/pain as he clutches the book, his eyes glued to its pages. Using her keen monk senses to determine that this is probably bad, she forces the book shut, releasing Beleg from its clutches. Beleg takes a moment to let the echoes of the titanic thoughts of the ancient alien godlike being that had briefly touched his tiny mortal brain to subside.

“So, what was that?” Rhai asks him after he finishes retching into the bushes.

“I…I don’t know…” He mumbles gratefully. “It wasn’t… wasn’t pleasant.” He can still feel the eye-embossed cover of the book glaring at him, demanding, impatient. He covers it.

“Should we really be carrying that around with us?” Rhai asks, eyeing Beleg’s pack cautiously.

“No– I mean yes. Yes. This is something that well, that I’m meant to have.” Beleg swallows, trying to recall the impressions the book left on him without recalling the experience itself. “This book needs to be with me. I need to read it. I’m just not ready for it yet.”

While this scene is playing out, Elessana and Eogred try to rustle up some grub. It doesn’t take long for them to find traces of game among the fallen leaves. They can’t tell immediately what kind of tracks they’ve come across, but the decide between them that it’s probably deer. Probably. They follow the tracks nimbly enough, Elessana’s natural halfling lightfootedness and Eogred’s years of sulking in forests working in their favor. However, upon reaching their quarry, they find that someone else has beaten them to the punch. Or rather…claw.

Digging into the carcass of a poor fallen deer are two large grizzly bears who (purely for labeling purposes in Roll20) I dubbed Rhonda and Yolanda. Just as Eogred and Elessana make the careful eye contact universally recognized as the “we should go now” look, Eogred’s first bout of the Curse of the Ridiculously Terrible Rolls strikes. I have the two of them roll an additional stealth check to tip-toe away, and wouldn’t you know it? There’s a dry, thin, snappable twig beneath Eogred’s unwitting boot. *SNAP*. Rhonda and Yolanda look up from their meal, straight up at the would-be hunters.

Now, as I mentioned before, this was almost a year ago, and some of the details of this fight are lost to time, but even so, it was a memorable first encounter for several reasons. Firstly, one of the things I love about the group story-telling aspect of tabletop RPG’s is how things can take on a life of their own once set in front of the players. On Roll20, as I mentioned, I labelled the two bear figures as Rhonda and Yolanda purely to call them something. One of the players asked if one was a momma bear and if one was a cub, which I think was something approaching my original intention, when another player pointed out that they didn’t think grizzly cubs stayed with their moms that old, and they couldn’t be mom and cub this late in the season, or something like that. Regardless, to move things along smoothly I made an executive order as the DM that these bears were lesbian lovers because nature is beautiful and inclusive. This one decision unfolds into its own narrative through the fight as it progresses. Roll initiative.

Elessana’s first bold move is to try and escape the bears by climbing a nearby tree. To this day I do not know why she thought this would be a good idea, as bears are famed for their climbing prowess in OUR world, so the bears of a magical imagined fantasy world of limitless possibility are at LEAST equally good at it. Honestly.

Her plan though is oddly successful based off one other fundamental principal of bear-avoidance: Namely that you don’t necessarily have to outrun the bear, as long as you outrun your friend. In that, to Eogred’s chagrin, she was successful. Both Rhonda and Yolanda make a bee-line for the poor ranger. Rhonda misses both her attacks and in doing so, the group decides that she’s clearly the smaller, less confrontational bear. She’s the listener of the relationship, less prone to outbursts. Really as she swipes at Eogred she’s going through the motions, much like she has been throughout her relationship. Yolanda, we’d decided, was a bear who had yet to really find herself.

Then there’s Yolanda. Stereotypes are bad and you should never judge bears based on their appearance and sexual preference, but that said, our Yolanda proved herself to be butch AF as she picks up Rhonda’s slack all over Eogred, gouging him once with her claws and once with a bite to the shoulder. Eogred however, does get a good lick in with his spear before calling for help.

This next part is something I don’t totally remember. By that I mean I remember what happened, I just DO not remember who did it or for the love of Pelor why either Eogred or Elessana decided that their best chance at escape was to try and set the forest around them on fire. I’m thinking it must have been Elessana as Eogred was otherwise occupied in something of a lover’s quarrel and she was relatively safe in her tree. Luckily, for mother nature and, ultimately, all the party members, Elessana didn’t have access to any exceptional means of conflagration at the time. Some tinder and a torch from her explorer’s pack was the best she could do as she, I assume, was trying to road flare jurassic parkthe bears away from Eogred a la Dr. Grant and a less successful Dr. Malcolm.

Hurling the torch as far as she could for maximum effect, the torch kind of fizzled and the fire failed to spread very expediently (I remember actually rolling for this and boy did they luck out). However, as a secondary effect, I decided that Magnys, as he meditated on nature and all things crunchy and granola felt his nature senses tingle as the open flame hit the forest floor. Feeling that all the furry woodland critters under his charge would be in danger should the forest go up (I assume, but who can really tell how Magnys thinks? That guy’s mind is a bag of cats), he leaps into action, bringing the rest of the party in tow.

They arrive to find both Eogred and Elessana on the ground trying to pull America’s Favorite Bear Couple off of Eogred, spear and rapier in hand respectively. Maghana melts away into the trees and surprises Yolanda with a sneak attack while Beleg lets loose an eldritch blast in Rhonda’s direction. Rhai does some awesome flips and shit before whacking one of them with her frying pan (I can’t remember if I mentioned this– we decided all of Rhai’s monk weapons would be cooking implements. I just re-skinned a quarterstaff as a frying pan as her main weapon so it can be wielded with either one or two hands). Then the turn order falls on Magnys and this is where the Rhonda/Yolanda dynamic really gets interesting.

Magnys casts Speak With Animals.speak with animals

Now, I posted this to draw your attention to the last line: “…at the GM’s discretion.” As it happens, and you veteran GM’s may be shaking your heads at this as I type it, I am an extremely permissive GM sometimes if the resulting story is awesome enough.

“We come in peace!” Magnys intones in fluent bear, getting their attention. “We mean you no harm, and ask you allow us to leave your forest unharmed… or not more harmed.” Now the plot really thickens with these two. I had Magnys make separate persuasion rolls for each bear and while the timid Rhonda is susceptible to Magnys’s words, Yolanda has gotten good and ready for a fight and is not swayed by the strange smelling two-legged thing before her. The fight continues, and when Yolanda is attacked once more, she barks at Rhonda something to the effect of “Don’t be useless!” at her mate, and a timid Rhonda re-enters the fray, missing both of her attacks again–clearly this bear’s heart is not in this. Or maybe it’s something else? Could maybe their relationship not be as perfect as Rhonda pretends? The group decides, and I allow, that maybe Rhonda started this fight with a few scrapes, maybe there were some bruises beneath that thick brown grizzly fur. Now, Bears are not people, and their relationship dynamics aren’t 100% equitable to ours but in light of this new evidence of domestic struggle, we decide that that is bad and needs to be stopped. This fight is no longer about survival, it is now a fight for the heart of this bear relationship, and for brutal Yolanda’s very bear soul.

Magnys decides, once his turn comes again, that instead of joining the fight in earnest, he would get his money’s worth out of the 10 minute duration on speak with animals. He decides that Rhonda is his best angle to work with, and at first, pushing the boundaries of what can be considered a Free Action, asks her what’s keeping her in this relationship? Why is she listening to Rhonda, always doing what she wants to do, attacking travelers when she wants to?? Rhonda is a strong and beautiful bear in her own right, and she can’t let Yolanda constantly take that away from her! Rhonda needs to speak up for herself, and if she wants to stay in this relationship, it needs to be on her terms! She needs to answer, deep down, why she’s even still with Yolanda!

The rest of the group gets the gist of Magnys’s tactic when Rhonda steps back from the fight to do some thinking. Yolanda roars at her to try and rouse her from her introspection, but Rhonda barks something back in bear that only Magnys catches. The important thing though is that progress is being made. Rhonda isn’t the punching bag, just doing whatever Yolanda roars at her, Rhonda is learning to be her own bear again, talking back. The party, seeing where Magnys is going with his All Bear Jerry Springer

jerry springer bear

Ok, more bears

session (which I would pay good money to see!), actually all start to hold their actions, laying down their arms as Magnys mediates between the couple. The bears go back and forth at each other– I forget the specifics so I’ll insert a few stock lines that were probably in the argument: “You don’t appreciate any of the foraging I do!” “Why are you always coming back to the den drunk on fermented apples!?” “I’m the one who does all the work bringing home actual meat!” “Earth to Rhonda, we can’t live on honey and blackberries!” You get the picture, this is what bears argue about when we’re not around and it’s heartbreaking. It’s here when Magnys really drills down to the deeper insecurities, moving on from Rhonda and setting his woodland shrink cross-hairs on Yolanda. With one final persuasion roll, Magnys begins to cement his reputation as Adrium’s Most Charismatic Weird Old Druid, convincing Yolanda to wake up to the fact that she’s lashing out at Rhonda because she’s afraid deep down of losing her, but she needs to realize that Rhonda is her own bear with feelings of her own, and she shouldn’t have to suffer for Yolanda’s insecurities.

Yolanda stops chewing on Eogred’s arm for a moment as she sniffs, the bear equivalent of wiping a tear from her eye. Now I remember using these exact words when describing to them all what happens next:

“You’re all familiar with the term ‘bear hug,’ but it isn’t until you see Yolanda approach Rhonda and wrap her arms around her with such affection that you fully understand why it is the best kind of hug.”

With that, the gang’s new ursine buddies retreat back into the forest to work on their relationship issues. We honestly hope those two bears managed to work things out. We really do.

The gang eventually does manage to forage some food off the land (narrowly avoiding a dinner of poison berries thanks to Rhai’s cooking savvy), and make good on their word to YoRhonda to leave their forest in peace. They come to an area of large grassy meadows and plains, dotted with the odd tree or rock, with the town of Meredin ahead of them.

The old man with themGarrick (you remember him, right?), whose name turns out to be Garrick, accompanies Elessana into town to get supplies and suss out the general mood of the place– no need to waltz in with the entire party on their secret mission, they reason. Unbeknownst to them, Maghana slinks on after them to keep tabs. In town, Elessana buys some provisions for the road as well as whip that she saw in a weapons shop and decided that she needed to have. She tries to haggle but ultimately the seller holds firm at what is probably double the whip’s value. Oh well. You win some, lose some.

They spend some more time in town, and while visiting the tavern they learn from the owner/bartender of a small gang of goblin slavers that have been terrorizing the plains, even absconding with the tavern-keeper’s brother. He offers her a reward for their intervention, if they know anyone who’s up to taking them down. I don’t need to spell it out for you, you’ve all seen a side quest before. They will need cash if they’re going to get Tomlain across the whole kingdom. But really though, why are they doing that? Well…

Back at the camp on the edge of the forest, as the rest of the gang settles in and focuses on recovering from their recent domestic dispute, Tomlain seems visibly distressed by something. He hasn’t said much so far, and something about the awkwardness of the groups situation hasn’t quite engendered conversation among them, but suddenly he seems to be struggling. His eyes are shut tight and he begins to rub his temples, his face turning red. Without warning he collapses to the ground. He struggles to his feet muttering “No, no, not now, not here…” before the sound goes from his still moving lips. Then his jaw slackens and his eyes fly open. In place of his naturally brown eyes is a brilliant purplish light, shining over the whites of his eyes, bathing his entire face in the eerie light. He almost gracefully levitates inches from the ground, and as the party looks on with emotions ranging from outright fear to curiosity, the intensity of the light from his eyes reaches a crest and a flash of pure white light explodes out into a 30 foot radius around him. When the light fades, half the party is blinded for the next few minutes. Greeting them as their vision clears is the sight of Tomlain now collapsed on the ground before them, looking drained by the sudden and seemingly random release of magical energy.

“What was that?” Eogred asks him. Tomlain looks up from the ground guiltily.

“It…it started about a year ago, just after I turned 14.” Tomlain said. “I’d be minding my own business and then, strange things began to happen. I couldn’t explain them, nobody could. They were harmless usually. Back then they were weaker, if I felt a surge coming on, I could stop it if I concentrated. They’ve been getting worse though. It’s me, it’s got to be something wrong with me. My father said I’d been tainted by magic, even accused me of studying it behind his back. But the more I tried to stop it lately, the harder it gets to control and the more powerful it comes out of me. Then, a few weeks ago…there was an accident. I lost control and one of my tutors died. That’s when my father locked me away and I guess made plans to have me sent away.” He looks up pleadingly at Eogred, desperate for someone to believe him, or maybe just to be on his side. “I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m scared. Please help me.”

“Are you kidding?” Comes Beleg’s voice from over Eogred’s shoulder. “This is fantastic! Is that always what happens? The big white flash, or does it manifest in other ways? Do you know what this is??” He says excitedly to Tomlain.

“I don’t–” He says, never having encountered this level (or any level) of enthusiasm towards his abilities.

“This is Wild Magic! It’s incredibly rare for this to manifest in mortals, it’s one of the least understood, most primal forces of magic in the multiverse. Can you do it again?”

“I don’t think that’s such a great–” Eogred says, but Beleg is already pulling him back to a safe distance from whatever might come from the prince next.

“Umm, ok?” Tomlain replies, unsure. He shuts his eyes tight, grits his teeth, and doubles over. When he rights himself, he arches back and lifts off his feet once more, purplish light spilling from his eyes once more. This time there’s no explosion of white light however. Instead, in a flash, as if solidifying from the light in Tomlain’s eyes, is the strangest creature any being to pass through that particular meadow has ever seen. FlumphIt’s semi-translucent yellow body has the bell of a jellyfish, and it floats through the air by seeming to swim through it with dozens of bluish tentacles. It has comically large eyes at the end of two stalks on what could only be vaguely described as its head. Beleg looks up at the strange beast and tries to extend out a hand to touch it. The beast looks down at him and in a high-pitched, helium-like voice lets out a yelp of alarm before floating up to the treetops, circling them in alarm. The creature then vanishes in a puff of purple light again a minute later. Beleg looks down at Tomlain and beams at him, ruffling the Prince’s hair.

“This is fantastic, don’t you know?” He asks. “Completely fantastic.”

“It isn’t always. If I can’t control it…” Tomlain’s voice trails off.

“I’ll help you. Any way I can, I’ll try to help you learn to control it.” Beleg tells him, and Tomlain, having little opportunity to over the past few months, actually smiles.

 

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