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This wiki contains spoilers for all stories of Critical Role. This includes the story for unaired episodes of The Legend of Vox Machina, as it's based on the first campaign of Critical Role from 2015-2017.

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"The Trail and the Toll" (3x03) is the third episode of the third campaign of Critical Role. While investigating a series of thefts at the behest of their potential patron, the group stumbles onto something much more dangerous than they anticipated, with lasting consequences...

Synopsis

Announcements

  • First sponsor tonight is Hit Point Press's new campaign setting Fool's Gold: Into the Bellowing Wilds, where you can explore the world's deadliest wilderness and get the world's largest (and scariest) "mini" terrasque. Sam fondly remembers his Broadway musical ad for it two episodes ago... although his memories are slightly different than the rest of the top table's.
  • Second sponsor is Ravensburger's Echoes, an immersive audio series where players use illustrated cards and audio cues to solve a mystery, either as a group or solo.
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Previously on Critical Role

So, last we left off: This group of individuals, disparate lives and goals all brought together here in the city of Jrusar, managed to cross paths by a brief scuffle on the open streets outside the Spire by Fire tavern, caught the eye of Sir Bertrand Bell, and as such, offered to gain their trust and a possibility for paying work under Lord Eshteross.

Fan art of Lord Eshteross, by @thetaterart.[art 1]

After an invitation by Bertrand Bell, you agreed to see it through and met with this elderly orc noble-like figure within his estate. There, he seemed interested but wanted to test you, and by that, he attacked you. You all did battle with him in the middle of his fire-lit study, and seemed to prove yourselves well against this orcish figure with a history of combat and mercenary work, and a heart dedicated to bringing justice and a modicum of good to a city that he sees fraying at the edges.

After proving yourselves capable in combat, Lord Ariks Eshteross wanted to see if you had aligned interests, and so he sent you on a brief mission to begin to seal this pact between you. He let you know that there had been some strange elements of thievery going on in one of the warehouses under Prudaj Textiles, one of the portions of the business that he oversees. And looking into this, you met some of the interesting figures that watch this warehouse during the day, inspected some of the contents of these crates where some of these thefts had happened, and acquired some strange clues. After waiting outside to see who might leave looking a bit dubious, and a bit of questioning and mind probing and getting a read on a few of the members within, you waited to see who was exiting.

After sending Orym in, invisible, sneaking in as Danas, the managerial gnome (who seemed to be the most shifty of the group from your curious probing) began to dart off in a huff just as the sun was setting and the warehouse was closed, locking you behind in a lightless space with a lot of the group in the alleyway behind it, Dorian left keeping watch on the front, as Bertrand Bell and Imogen both rush off to chase after Danas.

Part I

Team Back Door is growing impatient waiting, and Laudna persuades Dorian (the only remaining member of Team Full Frontal) to join them in back. Although Ashton wants to go inside, when Laudna Messages Orym he convinces them to continue waiting outside for now.

Meanwhile, Imogen and Sir Bertrand continue to pursue Danas through the darkening streets, but she notices Imogen and nervously confronts her. Although Imogen soothes her paranoia, she now has to follow from a distance. Bertrand follows Danas to the Weary Way Tavern where she vanishes into the crowd, but he eventually spots her in a booth. When Danas notices Imogen in the bar, though, she disappears again, and Imogen and Bertrand go back to the warehouse.

There, the outside team has decided to go inside, but Orym is unable to unlock either the front or back door for them in the darkness inside. Laudna manages to pick the front door lock and she and Dorian join Orym inside, joined a few minutes later by everyone else except Bertrand who offers to stay outside and caw like a raven if someone comes.

The inside group investigates the offices and finds letters and a ledger: evidence that Danas was covering up the ongoing pilferage from the warehouse stock. They decide to head back to the Weary Way and see if Danas is still there, "disguising" themselves with clothing from the warehouse. Their appearance outside startles Bertrand who raven-caws as their pre-arranged signal for the appearance of strangers.

The entire group arrives at the tavern. One of the musicians, for a silver, tells Dorian a gnomish woman matching Danas's appearance just went upstairs, and they all head there. They find hallways filled with closed doors, but FCG is able to sense the thoughts of those behind the doors and eventually they find a room filled with many presences along with Danas herself. Orym is able to hear her voice through the door, nervously explaining that people have been asking questions at the warehouse and she thinks they have been found out.

A sinister voice responds, suggesting that it was because Danas couldn't keep her mouth shut or handle herself, putting him in danger himself. They will need to adjust their supply lines, and he will no longer require her services. There is a gasp and a gurgling sound, and Orym kicks the door frantically, joined by Ashton. They eventually manage to batter it down.

Seeing no one, Ashton rushes in and smashes the wardrobe. From the splinters he sees movement and hears skittering throughout the chamber, and the creepy voice, from behind him, says: "Oh, interesting. I wasn't expecting more visitors." It comes from a black-cloak-wrapped, sallow and pale dwarvish figure in the dark shadows of the corner.

Break

Part II

Roll initiative!

Dorian, Laudna, Fearne each run in and attack the dark figure, doing minimal damage. Orym succeeds in making him drop his rapier but he immediately picks it back up and counterattacks, wounding Orym severely. As the fight continues, the figure calls out, "Children?" They hear tiny feet and scraping claws as from underneath all the furniture seven small cloaked grey creatures, called shade creepers, emerge and attack. They are easily hit and have low hit points, but there are a lot of them each doing piercing and necrotic damage. Under their attack, Orym is knocked unconscious, but FCG immediately uses his last spell to cast Healing Word on him.

Fan art of Fearne in snake form, by ArtByMikuTee.[art 2]

The party for the most part concentrates on taking out the shade creepers, learning that as they die they explode in slightly damaging flames. Laudna succeeds in significantly wounding the dwarf with an Eldritch Blast and he becomes afraid of her thanks to her Form of Dread. Fearne wild shapes into a constrictor snake with hair and blindsight. Bertrand, freshly arrived from downstairs, manages to kill another of the shade creepers, but the dwarf casts Darkness around himself that no one (except Fearne's snake shape) can see within. Striking blindly and recklessly, Ashton nevertheless manages to hit him for significant damage but is seriously wounded as he retreats. Imogen takes a bad hit from one of the shade creepers which FCG halves, and Laudna takes a hit from another.

The party are almost all significantly wounded at this point. FCG hits one of the shade creepers with his grappling arm and dumps the damage he took from Imogen into it as well, killing it. Dorian heals Laudna a bit with Cure Wounds while the rest of the party kills all the shade creepers outside the zone of magical darkness hiding the dwarf. Bertrand runs into the darkness blindly, running into Dorian and wounding him, then backs out. Inside the darkness, Orym is hit again and brought within an inch of unconsciousness, but Dorian heals him and Fearne in snake form eats the last of the shade creepers.

The darkness remains, but there is no sign of the dwarf creature anywhere. Imogen finds Danas's body under a table inside the darkness-- her throat has been slit. They also find a foot-wide hole in the wall under the desk. There is a knock at the door: two bouncers from downstairs investigating the noise. Imogen answers giggling, she and Dorian apologize for their exuberance and promise to keep it down, and the guards believe them and leave. The party leaves via the window, dropping Danas's body out first, and they make their way to Lord Eshteross's estate where they are admitted.

They show him Danas's body, the ledger, and the papers they found in the warehouse office, describe the pale dwarf she was working for, and tell him about the brumestone residue. Lord Eshteross is impressed. He asks them how they feel about what has transpired, and when the response is that they wish they had been able to save Danas and still want to find the dwarf, he offers them a contract to be signed in the morning. As such, he will notify them of interesting work that comes in. Evelyn pays them and they celebrate with a carrot cake he has baked himself. He asks about the party's name, and tells them to think about it when they can't come up with one quickly.

Dorian asks about Lord Eshteross's past, and they learn he was once a mercenary. One of his employers was Mistress Prudaj, who taught him true values and showed him the existence of evil among both the power structure and the criminals of the city. When she died, she left him everything, and he is continuing her work.

The party heads out to the Spire by Fire tavern where they drink and talk a bit, agreeing to meet in the morning. Ashton and FCG head home. Bertrand buys the drinks and pays for rooms for the Tal'Dorei members of the party, and gradually everyone goes either home or to their rooms as Bertrand continues to celebrate with multiple drinks. Dorian stays with him to take care of him.

When they reach home, Ashton goes to see Milo Krook and throws a bag of money in their face. Ashton asks Milo to find out everything possible about Lord Eshteross, mentioning, "You know what happened last time." Milo asks if "she" has come around recently, and no, she hasn't. Ashton would like to cement this before anything weird happens.

Back at the bar, Bertrand is becoming drunker and more loquacious as the evening progresses. Eventually, he decides to go for a walk and sends Dorian to bed.

Asleep at home, Imogen dreams of walking through the green fields of her home village of Gelvaan. At the same time, Bertrand is wandering through the streets of the Core Spire and ducks into a side alley to relieve himself. He notices a shadowed figure standing there, which slowly approaches. Bertrand draws his rapier as the pale dwarf's voice tells him to move deeper into the alley. When he declines, in a flash of unnatural speed the dwarf moves, stabbing Bertrand twice. Bertrand lets out a "Caw!" and falls unconscious.

Fan art of Bertrand in the alley, by Monica M. Magaña.[art 3]

As he does, Imogen's dream changes and she sees the horizon entirely consumed in a red swirling lightning storm that rapidly swallows her. She stands frozen until a female voice urges her to run. She sprints toward her home, darkened by the storm following her. As she reaches and opens the door, she turns and sees the figure of an older refined man standing where she had been, walking proudly into the tempest before he disappears.

Lying bleeding in the alley, Bertrand's vision blurs as a coldness and peace settles over him, and the dwarf wishes him a good night.

Featured characters

Fan art of Imogen's dream, by CT Chen.[art 4]

Player Characters

Returning

New

Mentioned

Quotations

  • Imogen: You gonna made me cuss.
  • Ashton: Does no one crime?!
  • Orym: Has the plan changed? What are we doing?
    Laudna: You know, I'm not entirely sure what the plan was--
    Dorian: I don't think we ever knew what the plan was, no.
    Laudna: --from the beginning. So it just feels like we're making it up as we go.
  • FCG: The problem that I find with-- not the problem, I don't want to be insulting or anything-- but the issue that I find with some of you soul-touched creatures is that you always know what you want, you know? But you don't always see what you need.
  • Lord Eshteross: I thank you for your candor, for enjoying this cake with me, and hopefully this is the beginning of a wonderful relationship. And if you cross me and are lying, I will have you destroyed.
  • FCG: When you lie down with dogs, you wake up with puppy smooches.

Fan art of Bertrand's sunrise, by Cers @Cersonality.[art 5]

  • Orym: (to Dorian) Thanks for not letting me die on the floor there. That's one I owe you.
    Dorian: No debts between us.
  • Sir Bertrand: Every once in a while, you need to see the sunrise. It might be that night for me.
  • Sir Bertrand: This is wonderful. I have to tell you, I haven't always been this in demand, but in Jrusar, this is going to change things for me. It's been a while. A lot of travel, a lot of adventures. It's exciting. It feels like a new day.
  • Sir Bertrand: As my vision fades, I just say, (gasping) "Lieve'tel."

Inventory

Adjustment Count Item Source Destination Notes
Acquired 200 each gold Lord Eshteross The party 150 gold each plus a 50 gold expediency bonus.
Expended 4 silver Bertrand Spire by Fire Inn Paid for drinks.
Expended 2 gold Bertrand Spire by Fire Inn Paid for rooms.
3 Spire by Fire Inn Paid for more drinks for other patrons of the tavern.

Trivia

  • Both Laura and Taliesin rolled a 16 for initiative, then discovered they had identical dex scores of 15. They played "Rollies" to see who would go first, and both rolled natural ones. Finally on a second roll-off, Taliesin won with a 15 against Laura's 5.
  • The titular "toll" can be understood to refer to Bertrand Bell's apparent death in three different ways. It is the toll the group paid as the cost of their investigation, the resulting casualty is a death toll, and it is a pun on his name referencing a death knell as in the famous "never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee". Additionally, the death knell was historically the second of three bells rung at death.

References

Art:

  1. Fan art of Lord Eshteross, by @thetaterart (source). Used with permission.
  2. Fan art of Fearne in snake form, by ArtByMikuTee (source). Used with permission.
  3. Fan art of Bertrand in the alley, by Monica M. Magaña (source). Used with permission.
  4. Fan art of Imogen's dream, by CT Chen (source). Used with permission.
  5. Fan art of Bertrand's sunrise, by Cers @Cersonality (source). Used with permission.


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