One thing that I will always regret about my campaign is the timing of it. We started in early Autumn, either September or very early October, I forget when exactly. The problem with this was that, by the time my players all got to level three, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything had not yet come out and I didn’t know enough about it to know what we were missing. If we’d started maybe a couple weeks later, then maybe when we got to here my party could’ve been full of Horizon Walkers, Drunken Masters, Cavaliers, and all those other subclasses that I find myself wanting to play all simultaneously. However, level 3 came just a few short weeks before Xanathar’s was released, and so my players just had the Player’s Handbook to choose from. Don’t get me wrong, the player’s handbook has some perfectly serviceable subclasses, but I still felt kinda bad for Eogred and (and to a lesser degree Elessana) while we were picking, as the Ranger only has 2 subclasses to choose from in the PHB, and only one of them is any good. Thus, Eogred chose the Hunter subclass. And while Elessana had 3 choices at least, one of them is Champion which is such a vanilla-ass subclass that it might as well not exist, so if you wanna play a Fighter and you don’t want to cast spells, you go Battlemaster. Beleg and Magnys by that point had already picked theirs since Druids pick at level 2 (Swamp for him, I may have mentioned), and Warlocks get theirs at level 1. Rhai picked the Way of the Four Elements for her monk subclass, and Maghana ended up going with Assassin. An interesting development, I thought, as my guess had been she would be more of the thieving type. Though she still is, let me tell you it gets gnarly as she begins to embrace the Assassin lifestyle… Ah, foreknowledge…
Back to the campaign though, the party had just successfully cleared out a goblin slaver camp by detonating a Tomlain-bomb in the middle of it and then taking out the bosses as a combined effort, and then returned to town to claim their rewards and get in some R&R.
The scene opens with our party having gone their separate ways for the moment to conduct their own business. Rhai peruses the market stalls with interest after her acquisition of the exotic banana-fruit from afar, her gaze eventually resting on a stall full of new cutlery equipment.
“What’s the strongest thing here?” She asks, met with confused looks from the shopkeep. In fairness, durability is not often a concern among most of his customers. Ever the salesperson however, he bounces back.
“Well, our pots and pans are made from the finest cast-iron of course, if you’d care to see…?” Rhai shakes her head, already having her trusty frying pan.
“What about that?” She asks, pointing to a ladel hanging on a rack behind him.
“Ahh, yes, this is one of our best serving utensils. 100% pewter, can stand any temperature, and guaranteed Adric craftsmanship.” He flashes her a winning smile.
“I’d like to see it.” Rhai asks, extending a hand. He complies, again, confused, even more so when she begins going through several monkish combat forms with it. The dense, pewter instrument seems actually to be ideal for the halfling’s small stature as she wields it like a hammer, the curved head of the ladle flashing through the air with finesse. She tests it’s balance with a mock-throw, and apparently satisfied, turns to the bewildered shop-keep.
“I’ll take it!” She says, forking over several silver.
Rhai then makes her way back to the inn as the day wears on into evening, where the rest of the party has agreed to meet. Maghana shows up a few minutes late mysteriously sporting a sick-looking hooded cloak, and when they’re all seated around the common area in the upper suite of the inn, an easy camaraderie seems to fall between them after their fight with the goblins. Eogred doesn’t object any further to Tomlain’s presence, at least not out loud, but Magnys is still sure not to sit too close to the prince, still convinced he could go off again at any moment. But still, drinks are had, laughter is done, food is eaten. It’s a kind of normalcy that surprises each and every one of them when they think about how long it’s been since they’ve had some form of this. Could it really only have been a few days ago that they’d taken a job in Northspire?
The only person around the table who’s uneasy is Beleg, because well, he’s Beleg. But he’s being more Beleg than usual. Something’s eating at him. Something he’s only just remembered to be afraid of. He feels the black book in his pack, staring at him through the material, accusing. Finally he can take no more of it and, mumbling his excuses, he leaves the table. For good measure, he leaves the inn, circling around the building and taking a seat in some bushes. He pulls the book out of his pack, looking at the embossed cover. Is it just his imagination, or do those two symbols that make up the cover look something like an eye that seems to follow him? No, of course not, it’s just text. Just a trick of the light. Then he remembers what happened last time he opened it. He lets out a shaky exhale. He opens the book.
The text of the book is dizzying to look at, always seeming to recombine in new and unsettling ways the longer the reader looks at it, as is often a quirk of Deep Speech. As an archaeologist, Beleg was more used to Deep Speech as the dead language of ruins in which he made it his business to study. He’d never seen a specimen this…alive. Unable to decipher the dervish of text on the page, he closes his eyes to calm himself. Unsure that it will work, he lifts the book to his lips and whispers to the open page:
“What do you want with me?”
The words change imperceptibly, but gradually Beleg is able to make out passages here and there as if they’re revealing themselves to him of their own volition.
You will…be my agent… on this plane... He reads, his eyes widening as the ancient text refers directly to him.
“W-who are you?” He asks, his voice rising from a whisper as his heart thuds in his chest.
Tul…. Oreshka… The words reveal themselves to him and he hears the words echo in the void of darkness his mind had since become, a call across the wilds, piercing the small, safe place he had made for himself within his head.
“What do you want with me?” He asks, desperately, feeling his brow begin to sweat. This time, instead of words, the pages of the book begin to turn themselves as if blown by a great wind. He holds it back away from his face in alarm until the pages settle on a new page. It appears blank at first, but then a point of light ignites on the strange, black paper. The light draws itself in a circle, then that circle is populated with over a dozen others around its edge, then more circles are drawn within and without until at the very center of this strange diagram there is a circle labeled as the Prime Material Plane, and Beleg realizes this to be a model of the planar system. Before he has time to study the intricate labels now appearing across the rest of the model denoting the other realms of the cosmos, something happens, like a crack appearing in a great clock face, originating at the center. The rest of the diagram seems to press in on itself like a structure on a damaged central support, until finally the lines begin to break. Boundaries begin to melt. The light from the page dances across Beleg’s face as he watches the whole great wheel collapse.
Taking a moment to find his words again, he says to the book, “And– and you want me to do that? You want me to destroy the world??” Almost immediately, the text flashes at him; No… You… Must… Stop… It… “Wait… you want me to st-stop it?” Beleg asks, equally surprised, and then terrified at the implication. “How? What do I do? How do I know you’re telling me the truth!?” He raises his voice to the book, however the text is dormant once more, the book is quiet.
“Umm, Beleg… What was that?” Comes a voice from the other side of the bush. He parts the shrubs in front of him and sees a face level with his, as Rhai stands over him, glancing down at the book with some trepidation. As it happens, Rhai had thought to follow Beleg, and had witnessed the whole event, and while she didn’t know what the book had said, Beleg’s responses were enough to concern her.
“Oh that? Ha Ha, that was noth– ” He begins to lie, but loses heart halfway through. “Ok, wait. I’ll tell you everything.” He starts at the beginning, waking up alone in a ruin his team had been excavating, the relic they’d uncovered gone, and everyone dead but him, suddenly with these strange new abilities. He told her about when he found the book, it felt like it’d called to him. He told her what he saw when he tried to read it the first time at their camp, and then, just now, he told her everything.
“Listen to me,” Rhai says to him, steadying Beleg as he looks faint, “this is some pretty heavy stuff. I don’t know what it all means, but if this is something we’re meant to handle, well then, just tell me if anything like this happens again.” He nods at her, and they turn back to go back into the inn. “Oh and Beleg?” She stops him before going inside, “I’m not sure we should tell the others about this. Not yet. Let’s keep it between us for now.” She pats him on the arm reassuringly, and they rejoin the others to forget about potentially the weight of the world being placed upon them.
Meanwhile, Eogred decides that tonight is a good time to begin gathering information about the state of the countryside they’ll have to travel through. After a few strategic losses at a game of dice with one of the off-duty guardsmen and several drinks, that all is not well in town. Tidings of war and uncertainty are nothing new, and even all these rumors of people being carted off as spies have become less shocking over time. The newest, hottest gossip, is all about the murder of a respected craftsman and pillar of the community. Apparently he was discovered alone in his workshop which had been locked from the inside, with his head stoved in. Something about the MO of the killer, or apparent lack of either, catches in Eogred’s head. Somewhere in his disenfranchised soul must be some remainder of the dedicated public servant he once was. He may have had his past failures and betrayals, but the people of this town deserve some peace from all the slavers and murderers that beset them. That night he informed the group of his intention to investigate. As they had with the slavers, the party agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to ingratiate themselves with the communities they pass through. They might be more willing to cover for them as they pass, dissuading any hostile third parties from picking up their trail. With that, they agreed to split up in the morning.
Garrick, Rhai, and Magnys would head up to the guard-house and examine the body, see if they could learn anything new about the cause of death that the local examiner might have missed. The rest would try to get into the crime scene and look for clues, and maybe ask around the neighborhood looking for witnesses.
Eogred and his team run into a guard posted outside the workshop the victim’s workshop.
“Sorry, nobody gets in until it’s cleared by the Captain.” He says at the approaching travelers. Hoping this will work, Eogred takes his old military insignia, palming it to obscure some of the major details, Trusting the young officer’s natural fear of authority to protect his ruse from scrutiny.
“The Crown thought your Captain could use a little help on this one.” Eogred says, holding up the insignia.
“The Crown? What interest is it of–?” He begins to ask.
“It’s not of interest to the Crown to explain its motives to every country guard, now let us in to do our jobs.” Eogred says severely.
“Uh–um, of course sir! Yessir!” The guard salutes and unlocks the workshop for them.
“And this is exactly how it was found?” Elessana asks as they all begin to look around the workshop, finding the floors mostly covered in sawdust and other woodworking chips and fragments. Around several workbenches and tables is a wide array of tools hanging on a pegboard on the wall, saws, awls, hammers, etc. Also in the room are various pieces of furniture, some broken, some whole. It looks like a lot of the victim’s income came from repairing furniture.
“Yes ma’am. Exactly.” The guard answers. But that doesn’t entirely ring true…
“Really? It looks here like something’s been moved.” Eogred says, pointing out a large rectangle on the ground of clean floor where the sawdust had clearly fallen around something. “Recently too. Looks like it’s been dragged out.” He points out, bending down to examine the sawdust pattern. The markings on the floor lead to the larger side door to the workshop, where it looks like deliveries and pickups of larger pieces were done, as the door seems big enough to get a cart up to.
“T-that can’t be right.” The guard says nervously.
“So you’re saying the guard didn’t move anything while they searched the place?” Beleg asked as he examines all the potential instruments of death hanging among the tools, anxiously.
“Wasn’t much to move. We didn’t find no weapon anywhere, but no, nobody took nothing but the body.” Eogred looked sidelong at the guard, thinking clearly this guy is hiding something.
“There’s something else here too.” Maghana calls over before Eogred can confront him further. She points out a stain on the floor just next to where the mysterious missing object had stood, dark and drying into the wood floor.
“Blood?” Tomlain asked.
“It doesn’t look it.” Maghana says, apparently knowing well the exact shade of brown of dried blood. “Smells funny too.” Beleg stooped down beside her to get a closer look and, closing his eyes, he re-opened them and then some, allowing the otherworldly abilities he still didn’t completely understand to reach out and probe the world around him.
“It definitely looks magical.” He said as he saw it emitting a faint glow amidst his augmented sight. “I can’t tell what, it’s too far gone. But it looks like some kind of potion.”
Meanwhile, while Eogred’s team investigated the crime scene, Garrick, Rhai, and Magnys examine the body before them on a slab. A few days old, it isn’t a pleasant sight for any of them, and Magnys literally lives in a swamp so that’s saying something. Their quick autopsy reveals no poison in the victim as Garrick tests for traces of any lethal reagents in his system while Magnys assisted. Rhai takes a look at the wound and concurs with the guard’s original assessment, looks like he took a blunt weapon to the back of the head. Whatever it was though, it had to be large, powerful. It looks like he’d been caught by surprise, but how would the killer have snuck up on him with something so ungainly? Learning all they could from it, they decided it would be best to meet up with the others at the workshop and compare notes.
Back at the workshop, things were not adding up.
“So let me get this straight,” Eogred was saying to the guard, “the body was found next to this object, whatever object it was that stood here, he must have been working on it when he died. He turns around to fetch another tool when the killer sneaks up and knocks him dead, then vanishes into thin air, we’ll figure that out when we get to it. My question; why is the thing he was working on not in this workshop? If you didn’t move it, I can only conclude that someone’s been in tampering with this crime scene. How does that sound?” He says, rounding on the guard, who is beginning to look nervous, his face slick. “Do you know what that makes you look like, that you lied to us about it just now? Are you in on this!?”
“Ok, please, I didn’t kill nobody! I just didn’t wanna tell anyone that… that…” The guard stumbles.
“Yes?” Maghana prompts him, a hand on her rapier.
“I was on guard duty a few nights ago. It was raining, I’d been up all night, I was keepin’ an eye out but then… I guess… I fell asleep. I didn’t know what to do! I didn’t notice anything different when I woke up, and I didn’t want to get into trouble with the Captain! I just started out, and it’s a good job! My ma’s real proud of me and… So I didn’t say anything.” His face is white as he sees the furious expression on Eogred’s face.
“You know what? You’re lucky.” Elessana says in her best good-cop voice. “You’re lucky because now we know how to find the killer. All we have to do is find what became of whatever was taken from here and we find whatever evidence must’ve been inside it. It’ll point us right to our killer. If we find out thought that you’ve lied to us again, that anything you just said is anything less than 100% factual. Well let’s just say you aren’t so lucky anymore.”
As they file out of the workshop, they begin to see if there’s a trail in the dirt around the side door showing where the mystery object was dragged off to. The best they can tell is that somebody wheeled a cart up just beyond the dirt road, leaving it in the tall grass. They then dragged the object to the cart while the guard was asleep and managed to ride off, leaving no trail behind them in the grass.
The workshop itself was on the edge of town, with only a few other dwellings in sight of it. The victim’s own home was a short walk from the workshop, while two others were nearby, as well as a small shed. Beleg decided that as the physical trail might have gone cold, there might be some record of what the object was in the victim’s office, and goes off to convince his wife to let him take a look through his records.
While the widow is still shaken from her husband’s death, she’s appreciative to hear that the “Crown” is taking a personal interest in the case, and shows Beleg up to her husband’s office to find what he needs. After all, what is an archaeologist but another kind of investigator, trying to piece together the events of the past through scraps of clues? After a short search he find’s what he’s been looking for– hand-draw receipts for all his active commissions. Going off his recent memory of the pieces still in the workshop, he’s able to determine that the only current repair the victim was working on that was missing from the workshop was a chest of drawers for one Veren Aldis. Beleg tore the note out of the notebook and asks the widow if she knows who Veren Aldis is?
“Of course,” She answers, “He was another woodworker. Not as successful as my husband really, but he wasn’t too prideful about it. He’d still send the odd bit of business our way if it was too complicated for him. He even sent some of his own furniture.” Beleg thanks the old widow before returning the group and telling them everything.
While Beleg is looking in the house, Manys is able to locate, of all things, a rabbit warren not far off the dirt driveway, and decides to see if he can’t drum up a witness of his own. Reaching in to see if anyone’s home, he’s able to grasp one of the occupants after a few brief wriggly moments. He pulls the rabbit out of the hole and hands it to Eogred to hold while he casts a ritual spell (with much awkward thrusting and waving of his phallic druidic focus) which will allow him to question the rabbit.
“Good afternoon sir or madam.” Magnys chitters to the rodent. “Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?” The rabbit lays still as Eogred puts it down, looking confused at being addressed by such a big and lumbering creature.
“Sure. Ask. Whatever.” He chitters back in quick bursts of rabbit-speak.
“A few nights ago, did you happen to see someone dragging a large object this way in the rain?” Magnys asks the witness, sitting cross-legged in front of it.
“Hm. Letmethink.” The rabbit used his back legs to scratch behind his ears. “Didsee. There was a bigguy pulling bigthing. He put it in a biggerthing, and then the biggerthing was rolled off all loud and creakylike.” The rabbit said.
“Ah. Hmm.” Mangys responded, contemplatively. “Did you happen to see where the cart got rolled off to?”
“Notfar. Thenit stopped again. Pulled the bigthing out, put it overthere.” The rabbit indicated with it’s twitching noise over in the direction of the lone shed in the field.
“Excellent.” Magnys said, scratching behind the witness’s ears, picking him back up in his arms. “I’m going to keep you here for the moment, we may have further questions.” The rabbit seemed to enjoy the scratches, and didn’t protest. Beleg returned to the group and told of his findings, while Mangys shared his. They decided then that they should go fetch this Varen Aldis for questioning, bringing him to the shed, and confronting him with whatever new evidence was found there.
When confronted by the double-threat of Beleg and Elessana at his house a little deeper into town, Varen was coaxed into accompanying them to the shed, which he mysteriously had the key for. He unlocked it.
“Please, this is just my shed, I didn’t do anything, you can’t do anything to me!” He protested. Eogred flashes his insignia at him like a badge.
“Be careful who you lie to, Varen.” He threatened.
“Yeah!” Magnys says holding out the rabbit, mimicking Eogred holding out the badge.
“O-Ok, fine, you got me. I couldn’t compete with him, my livelihood was on the line, I didn’t know what to do, so I killed him. You happy? All the evidence you need is inside.” Varen says, hanging his head as he was restrained by the guard that they’d brought with them.
Beleg opened the door to the shed and found a simple looking wooden chest of drawers whose dimensions matched the spot on the workshop floor. Other than that, the room was anything.
“I don’t see anything.” Beleg called back to Varen.
“It’s… It’s in the top drawer.” He called back. Beleg approached the dresser and, taking a breath, grabbed the handles and pulled. Nothing moved. They seemed to be stuck. Trying to lift his hands to try another drawer, Beleg soon realized the top drawer wasn’t the only thing that was stuck. His hands were sticking to the wood of the dresser and, as he tried to pull them away, he could see sticky trails of… something, coming off of it and reeling him back in.
“Um.” He said. Then the dresser opened its eyes. “Um!” He called a little more desperately. There were six of them, small, yellow, and beady. As they opened, the dresser began to lose its form as if it were melting like sugar on a hot day, the wood texture warping and warbled. The middle drawer gave away, opening up to reveal a gaping mouth lined with dangerous looking teeth and a long, coiling tongue.
A tentacle came out of the side of the strange dresser-creature and, the end developing into a hardened club-like appendage, it took a swing at Beleg as he was still stuck to it.
“Beleg!!” Elessana called after him, seeing the monstrosity strike Beleg. She ran in and grabbed him around the waist, pulling him with all her might until he jerked free from the thing’s now goupy, sticky surface. Maghana and Eogred each sent an arrow into the thing’s hide as she retreated and Magnys dropped his rabbit to cast a spell, causing darkness to spread throughout the shed. Rhai attempted to use her newfound elemental abilities to cause a bucket of water to freeze into a spike to impale the creature, however it was able to manipulate its shape around the improvised hazard. Beleg shut the door and locked it as he left, trapping the creature inside the shed.
“What. The hells. IS that thing!?!?” He asked, panting as they listened to the creature thrashing around inside the shed.
“It’s called a mimic.” Varen said in a small, guilty voice. “I bought it from some adventurers and trained it to look like furniture, they usually look like chests, you see. I usually controlled it with sleep potions, but I don’t have any with me!”
Several loud bangs emitted from the shed as the mimic felt it’s way through Magnys’ darkness. Then there was another, louder thud, and one of the walls of the shed made a splintering sound.
“Uh-oh…” Tomlain said as the wall bowed out under the force of another strike. Finally, after another heavy thud, the wall splintered as the mimic broke out of the shed and renewed it’s attack. Maghana took advantage of the time it took for the mimic to break free to find a good spot to hide, striking stealthily the moment she had a shot on it, piercing an arrow through it’s tongue, eliciting an abhorrent screech from its great, yawning maw. Eogred charged it only to be caught by one of it’s club-like tentacles and knocked aside, while Beleg sent an blast of eldritch energy streaming just over its head. They both looked over then and heard Tomlain say, “Oh…shit!” as his eyes began to glow. He lifted several inches from the ground and hung there before emitting a burst of energy. Seemingly nothing happened as he landed back on his feet, looking around cautiously. He was met with Beleg and Eogred’s laughter, and upon further inspection he found his own face covered in a magnificent beard of pure, white, itchy feathers.
Taking advantage of this distraction, Rhai leaped up and brought her new ladle down on the beast’s head, following up with a good kick. This attack allowed Elessana the opening to strike from behind, slashing through the air with her whip before stepping forward and slicing sideways with her rapier, nearly cutting the thing in half as yellow oozing blood began to dribble slowly down it’s sides, pooling at its base. It’s tentacles jerked mindlessly, still registering that they were dead. Finally, the beast ceased movement, slumping over limply, only loosely holding a vaguely rectangular form.
Tomlain sneezed and the feathers detached from his face, drifting down to the ground, some falling on the mimic’s corpse.
“Can we pretend that didn’t happen?” He asked, embarrassed. He was met with more laughter.
Dragging the murderer and the corpse of the murder weapon to the guardhouse, the gang requested an audience with the Captian, who met them with bewilderment.
“What in all of the hells…?” He asked, looking at the scene before him.
“Well, Captain, I think you’ll find the following events fairly simple.” Garrick said, as he went into full exposition mode, telling, as their investigation uncovered, how the jealous Veren managed to acquire the mimic, train it to look like a piece of furniture which needed fixing, drop it off at his rival’s workshop under the effect of a sleeping potion, where it would stay well into the night while his rival began his work on it, locking his workshop as he did when he worked late into the night. The potion wore off and the mimic attacked, killing the victim, and Veren had to sneak back in to put it back to sleep before it attacked someone else, likely using some of his sleeping potion on the guard, splashing it on him from behind where he wouldn’t notice in the rain. He poured it on the mimic and spilled some on the floor which accounts for the stain, and then carted the mimic off to the shed to wait for the heat to subside before permanently disposing of the creature.
“In short,” Garrick said dramatically, “it was almost the perfect crime. Take him away!” Resenting slightly being told what to do by this weird old man, the Captain had no choice but to see that the story checked out. He had his guards lock up Veren, and was able to contribute a modest bounty for his capture to the party. In return for their quick departure from the town, he’d also forget the whole ‘posing as agents of the crown’ thing. Gathering the last of the supplies they needed from the inn and making the final preparations for their continued journey, Beleg turns to Rhai, looking at the ladle at her belt still slick with yellow mimic ichor.
“Hey, you’re going to wash that thing before you cook anything with it, right.” Rhai smiles and continues packing her belongings. “Right?” Beleg calls back after her as she re-joins the rest of the group.