This week, the cast of Critical Role began a new adventure, one that they hoped would win them the favor of the Kryn Dynasty. Even though they proved themselves to the Bright Queen, there are many who need proof of their loyalty.
Previously on Critical Role, the Mighty Nein saved Nott's husband Yeza from a terrible fate. Now, they seek a way to gain power within the Kryn Dynasty and leverage their clout to destroy their enemies within the Empire... and hopefully bring this senseless war to a swift and just end. This week, the Mighty Nein began their day by splitting up and going shopping. Caduceus was keen on window-shopping, Jester searched for diamonds for her resurrection spells, Nott looked for new clothes for Yeza, and Caleb and Beau went looking for books and other assorted academic tools.
Caduceus looked for a blacksmith to identify his broken magical sword. The blacksmith, a hulking half-orc notes that the blade is of Uthodurnian make, similar information to what he learned in Nicodranas. Wursh, the blacksmith, stopped Fjord before he left and looked him up and down. Wursh looked Fjord in the eye and told him that he didn’t have to prove himself to anyone, and that he should be proud that the fury which suffused his orcish blood wasn’t something he allowed to rule him.
Meanwhile, Beau and Caleb traveled to the Marble Tomes Conservatory, a library under the close observation of the Aura Watch, the exalted city guards. They presented the medallions that the Bright Queen granted them, and grudgingly won an audience with Professor Tuss Waccoh, a middle-aged female orc. The professor was somewhat rotund, with a mane of frizzy hair, and instantly began examining the two humans upon meeting them. She revealed that she was one of the chief architects of the Kryn Dynasty’s war machines, and was interested in getting Caleb and Beau proving their allegiance to the Dynasty by helping out a group of her war machines that were trapped by giants in the wastes. She offered them a significant reward for the service, and the “Empire kids,” as she called them, took the job.
That afternoon, the party reconvened and agreed to go hunt the giants. They gathered provisions for the journey from Ghor Dranas to the Deep River Mining Camp out in the Xhorhasian wasteland. Nott wished her husband goodbye, and Jester left Nugget and Sprinkle with Yeza. Caleb shaved his scraggly beard and removed the bandages wrapped tightly around his arms—and discarded these remnants of his traumatic past in the Empire.
The Mighty Nein mounted up, and their moor bounders dashed out of Ghor Dranas and galloped through the eerie Ghostlands at the outskirts of the city. They passed several unsettling sights in the Ghostlands, but sped through the eerie wastes without incident. The next day, they traveled near to the Vermaloch, a great lake out in the badlands, and found that the trees of a nearby forest had beautiful purple bark.
Within the forest, they found a cave entrance—possibly the mine they sought. Fjord approached the foreman, and thorough dressed him down. With his intimidating demeanor turned up to eleven, Fjord made the cowardly, haughty foreman quake in his boots—and made him agree to offer them even more money for saving his mine. Nott was worried when she heard the number of giants that had come down from the mountains: seven of their warriors rampaged down from the mountains. The party paid a miner named Durmin to guide them to the giants’ lair, and once there, they made a plan to infiltrate their lair.
“Remember Lorenzo’s lair?” Beau said to the party. “It’s just like that, but with giants.” She proposed that they lure the giants out one-by-one and pick them off individually.
However, as they tried to sneak into the giant’s lair, Yasha stepped on a mangy animal hiding in the foliage. The beast yelped and screeched, and the noise drew the attention of the two giants on patrol. One failed to notice anything, but the other spotted Yasha and hurled a boulder at her. Yasha recovered from the blow, but the giants were alerted. The Mighty Nein were in for a brutal fight.
Spotlight: Reputation and Renown
Games like the original Baldur’s Gate, World of Warcraft, and countless other computer roleplaying games use a sort of reputation system to track how well the characters are liked—either by fellow party members or by the various factions of the game world. While you don’t have to use them, Dungeons & Dragons has two attributes that help numerically minded Dungeon Masters keep track of their characters’ prestige. The first of these statistics is Renown, and is fairly well-known due to its use in the first seven season of the D&D Adventurers League and in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. It is used to track a character’s standing within in-game factions. The second is Loyalty, and is used to track far an NPC party member would go to protect or assist a character.
First of all, it’s fairly transparent that Matthew isn’t using either of these systems in his game. He and his group are talented improvisers, and he has a good mind for the complicated web of relationships that he spins within his game, and has no trouble remembering the depth of loyalty an NPC or faction has for the Mighty Nein. Also, Matthew tends to base his faction rewards and loyalty benefits on instinct, and he doesn’t need to design a point-based system to mete out specific rewards. However, if you want to spin a complicated political or faction-driven narrative and you’re worried that you won’t be able to keep track of what each faction or NPC thinks of the characters, using these point-based systems can help.
Does your rogue curry favor with the Harpers as a virtuous spy, or do you betray their trust and side with the Zhentarim as a greedy double agent? Performing quests or otherwise finding favor in the eyes of one of your world’s Factions can earn you Renown with that faction. The benefits of gaining renown are up to the DM, but generally characters earn renown when they join a faction, and higher renown earns them greater seniority and sway within that faction’s ranks.
Renown is a useful tool for DMs that include specific rewards at certain tiers of faction membership. The factions Waterdeep: Dragon Heist all have rewards and services that a character’s faction can perform for them at certain ranks, and also includes discrete prompts that help DMs create faction mission sidequests that help characters earn their much-needed renown. If Matthew were to use this system in the story of Critical Role, the Mighty Nein have performed missions for several factions already: the Myriad, the Dwendalian Empire, and the Kryn Dynasty, and have earned some renown in each faction. However, word of their exploits have not yet become knowledge to any of the other faction (save perhaps the unscrupulous Myriad), and they are free to continue playing all sides until their renown becomes great enough to become common knowledge. As a DM, you could pick a certain level of renown needed before that point is met: perhaps 5 points of renown.
They may be reaching that point very soon.
Loyalty rules are less commonly used than Renown rules—I can’t think of an official adventure offhand that has used them. These rules are useful when the characters have NPC allies traveling with them, and the Dungeon Master isn’t comfortable determining how far that NPC would go to help their allies. Would they risk their life? Would they give everything they had to resurrect a fallen friend? Or would they give a token effort and then give up?
If you or your players feel like making that decision ad hoc is somehow cheating, or you want a more rigorous system for determining NPC determination, loyalty can help. You could also use an NPC’s Loyalty score as the DC for a check. Whenever you want to see if the NPC is willing to perform a task that requires significant effort, one character must make a Charisma (Persuasion) check; the DC of the check is equal to 20 – the NPC’s Loyalty score. If the NPC had a loyalty score of 8, then the DC would be 12. If you wanted to make this check harder, you could modify the DC by adding 5 for a difficult task, adding 10 for a heroic task, or 15 for a nearly impossible task. Even if this check fails, the NPC may not refuse outright. They might simply ask for additional reward or payment.
The Mighty Nein haven’t had any NPC followers lately, but don’t forget about Kiri when they were adventuring in the Empire. Saving Kiri from certain death instantly ingratiated her to them, and she would have started with a very high Loyalty score, if Matthew were to use these rules.
What will the Mighty Nein do next week? There’s only one way to find out… is it Thursday yet?
Unless otherwise credited, photographs in this article are courtesy of Chris Lockey and Critical Role.
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, 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.