Critical Role Recap: Episode 25
Previously on Critical Role, the Mighty Nein caroused and partied all night long in the gnomish city of Hupperdook. The next morning, they all awoke with splitting headaches to realize that their coinpurses had been stolen while they slept! (All save for Jester, who had remained sober the night before.) In tracking down the thieves, they met Mastermaker Clef Tinkertop, a gnomish inventor who accidentally created a death machine, now locked in the lowest depths of Gearhold Prison. It was his greatest shame, and he would reward them handsomely if they could clear his sullied name.
The Nein managed to track down their missing gold, only to find that it had been stolen by four young gnomish siblings, who had been stealing to stay alive on the streets after their parents had been arrested for worshipping banned gods. The Mighty Nein decided to solve two problems with one action: they would enter Gearhold Prison, destroy the automaton, and demand the release of Gilda and Wallace Schuster, the gnomes’ parents. They left Kiri with the Schuster gnomes for her own protection, and made their way towards Gearhold.
This episode was a strange and special episode. Neither Travis Willingham nor Laura Bailey were here because their baby arrived early! They were at the hospital throughout the entire episode. Congratulations, Laura and Travis! Also, Liam O’Brien Skyped in from a cabin in the woods while he was on vacation. Finally, Sam Riegal spent the entire episode wearing his “Burt Reynolds” costume from last campaign, because it’s the same outfit he wore on episode 25 of Campaign 1. This is truly impressive commitment to the gag.
(I’m looking forward to episode 72 of this campaign. Look it up.)
The Mighty Nein hurried to Gearhold Prison with Clef and Rissa Tinkertop in tow. They presented the disgraced Mastermaker to Gearhold’s warden and requested to destroy his mechanical monstrosity in exchange for the release of Gilda and Wallace Schuster. The warden agreed to provide part of their bail if they destroyed the automaton. They descended into the deepest level of the prison and were locked into the machine’s heavily warded cell, and fought a brutal battle against the spherical, many-armed construct. They emerged victorious, and used a little of their own money to secure the Schusters’ release. That night, they reunited the imprisoned parents with their children and left Kiri in their care to keep her safe from the dangers they would face on the road.
Our heroes left Hupperdook the next day, and journeyed towards their next destination: Shady Creek Run. Along the way, however, Jester, Fjord, and Yasha were attacked in the middle of the night. A zone of silence surrounded them and their assailants, so none of their comrades knew of the attack. They were bound, gagged, and magically restrained, then were dragged far away. A mysterious man in a midnight-black cloak threw all three in cages and carted them off to gods-know-where.
It was midmorning and the Mighty Nein decided to infiltrate the Gearhold Prison. They chose to walk around Hupperdook for a while so that they could come up with a plan. Ever the gracious host, Rissa showed them around the city a bit, highlighting important military structures in and around Hupperdook—including the Underbellows, which utilized geothermal power from the mountain, the Firemark Facility, a cheap-looking building where they develop explosives and black powder-based weaponry, and finally the Gearhold Prison.
“Can we please just go kill your damn death robot?”
The Nein decided that the best course of action would be to resolve their quests to destroy the Tinkertop death machine and free the Schuster parents in one fell swoop. They acquired a meat pie from a salesgnome as a gift for Rissa’s father and made their way to Tinkertop Inventions. They announced to Mastermaker Clef Tinkertop that they would take care of his automaton, and asked him for help getting into the prison, and for any aid he could give them before they fought his creation. He obliged to the best of his ability, and handed them his notes and schematics, but it was hard to make heads or tails of them. Even Caleb’s keen mind couldn’t penetrate the gnomish shorthand. What they could make out was that its articulated armor protected it from magical assault. It seemed to have a multi-stage defense system, including multiple scything arms that lurked within its armored shell. It had a single crystalline lens through which it was able to see.
With little insight gained from Tinkertop’s schematics, the Nein revised their plan and took Tinkertop with them to Gearhold Prison with the hope that he could vouch for them and get them an audience with the warden. On the way there, Nott and the party searched the Ironworks district for tar, which they might be able to use to gum up the clockwork innards of the military automaton. Nott and Beau found some, but the workers were unwilling to part with their tar and told them to piss off. Caleb summoned Schmidt, his unseen servant, as a ritual. Molly and Yasha engaged in a grand performance to distract the workers while Schmidt slowly dragged the bucket of tar towards them.
With the bucket against the fence, Nott snagged the bucket with a masterful Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check. They then hurried to the prison and somehow managed to get in, thanks to Tinkertop’s word. The prison guards took them before Warden Poppendruch, a surly gnome who instantly expressed his displeasure that “the riff-raff” Tinkertop was in his presence. Mollymauk convinced him to allow them to go into the subterranean chamber where the automaton was being held. No official contract was made, but they assured him that they could defeat the machine.
They descended deep down into fourth basement level of the prison—where all of its worst prisoners were held. The guards opened the massive, reinforced gates to the automaton’s cell, and Caleb used his fire magic to heat the tar into a liquid state.
The Damn Death Robot
Hundreds upon hundreds of grooves had been scored into the walls of the prison—carved by the automaton’s vicious blades. No one knew where the mechanical terror was, so Caleb sent Frumpkin to perform reconnaissance in the darkened chambers. Deep in the back of the chamber, Frumpkin found a large, spherical metallic object, almost 8 feet in diameter. It was scraped and dented, but when the cat approached, one of its many tiny metal plates popped open and a lens clicked out. Six long, bladed appendages emerged from its chassis, and the sphere rolled forward and slammed into the wall across from it. Caleb managed to desummon Frumpkin in the nick of time, but his comrades felt the impact even from their position at the other end of the cell.
The Nein leapt into action, but the spherical automaton shrugged off blow after blow with its thick, magic-resistant armor, and used its round body to roll over its enemies and rapidly traverse the battlefield. Beyond its weaponized body, the construct had even more weapons at its disposal, including its blade-like arms, a spear launcher, and a conical blast of red-hot shrapnel.
Nott hurled tar at the automaton’s lens in an attempt to blind it—but it had little effect on Tinkertop’s invention. The fight was desperate and the Mighty Nein were feeling the hurt. The fight itself only lasted two intense rounds, Beau tanked a lot of blows, and went unconscious in the middle of the fight before Molly dealt the finishing blow. The automaton seized up and collapsed, its machinery slowly whirring to a halt.
Art by Tess Fowler (@TessFowler)
A Reunion and a Parting
After the battle, the Nein scoured the destroyed cell, but found little of interest. Caleb cast detect magic, but found no magic in the room save for the everburning torches lining the walls. (“You’re the only magic here,” he said to Molly.) Finding nothing, they called for the guards, who tentatively let them out and confirmed the kill. Beau collapsed in Yasha’s arms, and the barbarian “fireman carried” the monk out of the chamber and up to the warden’s chamber, where both he and the Tinkertops were waiting.
Jester paid the addition 150 gold needed to bail out Gilda and Wallace Schuster, and the entire party took them to the butcher’s shop where the gnomes and Kiri were laying low. The eldest children, Austin and Gail, opened the door for them and their eyes went wide with joy and surprise. Their mother and father wrapped their arms around the children, and little Leila and Jude ran out to meet them and jumped into the hug. Kiri shuffled out and joined the hug, turned to Nein and said, “Yes, I am a good girl.”
This beautiful reunion was set to the glowing colors of fireworks exploding in the sky above Hupperdook. Caleb looked on at the children; this time, the flames reflected in his eyes were not the flames of his own destruction, but technicolor starbursts of bittersweet joy. He saw how happy Kiri was with her new gnomish family, and he knew how dangerous the lives of his misfit family were. He turned to Kiri and asked if she wanted to stay with the gnomes. In response, Kiri opened her music box and let a yearning, nostalgic tune play from within. Beau turned to the Schuster parents and beseeched them to keep Kiri safe, and she even offered a small sum of 50 gold to help.
“Don’t eat humans, okay?” Kiri said, hugging Beau. She laughed, and did her best to choke back teras.
Jester was overcome with emotion, and asked her friends “We’re coming back, right?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned to Kiri, knelt down beside her and said, “Kiri, you are going to be so beautiful as you grow up! The Traveler is always looking over you, and we are always, always, always thinking of you with love.”
Fjord said to Kiri, “Now you always remember, maybe someday you’ll come back and learn to use that dagger for somethin’ that’s alive.”
And they parted. As the Mighty Nein left their bird daughter behind, Kiri looked back at them she said one last thing. “I am Kiri!”
Departure and Terror
They returned to the Blushing Tankard and slept. The next morning, they met with Clef Tinkertop, and he thanked them again for their help. He seemed excited; he had been given a new contract to create new machines for the imperial army. They received his magic crossbow as payment—and later that day, Nott swiped a pistol from one of the city guards on her way out of town.
The Nein left Hupperdook behind them and got on the road to Shady Creek Run. They set their watch for the night, and gazed onward into the night sky. Fjord spoke with Yasha, and then he and Jester began to speak. Yasha sat at the edge of camp, staring into the night, when all went silent. She whirled around, panic in her eyes, and drew her blade, the magician’s judge. Fjord had drawn his falchion, too, but he stood motionless.
Jester looked around in confusion—both Fjord and Yasha had frozen in place, blades drawn. She screamed, but no sound came from her mouth. She fled towards camp, but slammed into the chest of a figure in night-black clothes. All three were tied and gagged, grabbed and kidnapped, and finally dragged away.
Time passed. No one knew how long. They had all three been dragged across the ground, getting nicked and scraped by stones and branches. Jester looked up and saw her captor. He was a tall, brutish human. His head was bald, but it bore a large tattoo on one side. His eyes were cold and uncaring, and his mouth was filled with glimmering gold teeth. Any more of his muscular form was concealed by his black cloak and leather armor. He nodded in approval to see the three warriors. “Lorenzo, your instincts are sharp,” he said. “We’ve found ourselves a fine bounty. Two of divine blood and a half-beast!”
All three were jammed into cages in a cart filled with countless other cages—each filled with other captives.
Who are these cruel men? Bounty hunters? Slavers? And who do they sell to, the empire? Or Xhorhas? Critical Role won’t return until July 12th, so savor this dreadful cliffhanger while you can. Is it (next) Thursday yet?
Unless otherwise credited, all images in this article are courtesy of Geek & Sundry. Most illustrations can be found in this week's Critical Role Fan Art Gallery.
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He loves watching Critical Role and wants everyone he knows to get into it, too. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and his very own Frumpkins, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.