This week will be the final installment of Critical Role Spotlight. From here on out, if you’re looking to catch up on Critical Role, check out Critical Role’s very own recap series: Critical Recap! In that video series, Critical Role’s Production Coordinator Dani Carr summarizes, analyzes, and speculates on the latest episode, complete with video clips and visual aids. It’s a fantastic recap, and I hope that you’ll check in there every week to get your fill of Critical Role recaps.
Never fear, though, this isn’t the last of our Critical Role coverage. It seems like Critical Role is making D&D history more and more these days. Whenever a huge new announcement regarding Critical Role becomes public, you can count on D&D Beyond to break the news!
Previously on Critical Role, the Mighty Nein purged the demonic forces inhabiting a stone giant fortress, and reclaimed it for the stone giant Landspeaker Soorna. That evening, Yasha had a grim vision of death, and responded by receiving advice from her friends, and then ventured out into the storm outside. She roared at Kord the Stormlord, and the god goaded her to push past her metaphysical bonds and reclaim her true strength.
This week, Beau pulled Jester aside in the morning. She took the swatch of blue fabric found in the Abyssal anchor and asked Jester for help by casting a scrying spell in order to find the owner of the fabric. Jester went off to speak with the Traveler and prepare the spell, and then spent ten minutes casting the scrying ritual. Jester’s vision swam as the spell took effect, and she felt the Traveler’s hands take hers. His voice whispered in her ears, “Well then, let’s take a trip, shall we?”
She roared through space at unspeakable speed, and then the mists parted. She saw an opulent den, and saw a tall figure in opulent robes of blue-dyed wool. He was tall, with long, blonde hair and a clean-shaven face—a human man—and he spoke into a speaking stone. “Yes, I have the emblem. Let’s plan for next Grisson… in six days, no the week after that. Thirteen days. I cannot dally for long. Angel’s eye, friend.” And then he cut off communication. Notably, the man had a Zemnian accent… perhaps he was one of the Cerberus Assembly?
Jester looked closely at the book he was holding; and on its cover was inscribed The King that Crawls. One of the Betrayer Gods, a god of tunnels, torturers, and slavers, was known as the Crawling King and goes by the name of Torog. The party put the matter out of their minds for a time, and talked about their own gods. The Traveler, for Jester. Ioun, for Beau. Kord, the Stormlord, for Yasha. They spoke for a time about Yasha’s past, her forbidden love, the loss of her wife Zuala, and the memories Yasha was missing between the time that she lost.
Jester then returned to man she scried upon, and used magic to take his shape. Caleb thoughtfully produced a sending stone that he acquired in Zadash. He had never spoken into it, and had no idea who it connected to.
With their quest completed, the party gathered their moor bounders and dashed back through the Vermaloc Wildwood, to the giant-occupied mining camp, then to the steelworks—to thoroughly disgrace the foreman by revealing the bawdy letter they discovered several days ago—and then returned to Ghor Dranas. The night they returned to the city, Fjord had a terrible dream, where Uk’otoa threatened to punish his disobedience. He awoke and tried to use his Mask of Many Faces invocation to cast disguise self… and found that the slumbering leviathan had rescinded all the magical power he had once granted to him.
That next morning—or what passed as morning in the eternal darkness of Ghor Dranas—the Mighty Nein returned to Professor Waccoh at the Marble Tomes Conservatory. Ultimately, they decided to accept several magic items, including a broken blade very similar to one that Caduceus possessed. Following that, they decided to wander about town… until they found the Overcrow Apothecary. This establishment is the location that the blue-robed gentleman that Jester scried upon said that he would meet his contact in two weeks’ time. They decided to investigate inside and case the joint, and wound up having a cheery, awkward conversation with a very forthcoming goblin. They decided to come back later.
Meanwhile, Yasha visited Wursh the blacksmith and requested some magic items that might improve her defenses. However, she discovered that Wursh only had armor, no magical implements. Fjord came along, and he made conversation with Wursh. He asked about Wursh’s upbringing among orcs and half-orcs, and spoke about the fury that runs in their blood. He’s seen a lot of orcs do terrible, violent things, “but hell,” he said. “Hell if I haven’t seen humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings do the exact same things.”
Once the party regrouped, Shadowhand Essik Theylas visited them and secured a home for them within the Firmament, one of the highest tiers of the city. All of their accommodations would be provided for free of charge. They went there immediately, and examined their new home: a two-story mansion paneled with gorgeous hardwood, and coasting a tower and a balcony on the second floor. Two stained glass windows glittered on the upper floor. It was provided with the good graces of Den Theylas.
They entered their new home, and already began to chatter about which bedroom would go to who.
Art by Caio Santos (@BlackSalander)
Beware: This Spotlight Contains Spoilers for this Episode of Critical Role
Read no further if you just came here for the spotlight, but nevertheless care about Critical Role spoilers.
All right, are you ready? Let’s go.
Spotlight: Warlock Patrons
Or, more accurately, losing them. A warlock pact is a deal between two entities: a patron and the warlock. It’s really something of a predatory bargain; the patron holds all the cards, while the warlock has to obey by their every whim. Or at least, that’s the way Fjord’s pact is working out. There are countless ways to roleplay a warlock patron in D&D. Just look at the relationship between Farideh and Lorcan in the Brimstone Angels series by Erin M. Evans; their relationship is much more personal, even romantic. Even Avantika’s relationship with Uk’otoa earlier in this campaign had a different tenor than Fjord’s, since she was thrilled to be the slumbering leviathan’s agent.
The idea of a class losing its powers has existed in D&D since time immemorial. Paladins have always been the ur-example of this trople; a paladin can “fall” by disobeying the tenets of their oath, and be stripped of all their magical powers. A paladin in this state is essentially a fighter, but without any of the things that make fighters special. In order to regain those powers, the paladin must go on a special quest to redeem themselves and take up the mantle of paladin once more. Story-wise, this has the potential to be a thrilling moment! What noble act, likely done for the greater good, would cause a paladin to violate their oath and be stripped of their divine power?
More often than not, however, a paladin falling is usually just frustrating for everyone involved. The DM likely set up a Kobayashi Maru-esque no-win scenario for the paladin, the paladin’s player often feels tricked by their DM, and the other players resent how the campaign must now refocus itself entirely around the fallen paladin so that they can go get their powers back and stop being dead weight on the party. That’s perhaps the most cynical take on this situation, but it’s also the one I’ve experienced the most.
Now, in fifth edition D&D, there are no rules for a paladin falling. Specific rules for having a paladin’s powers stripped (and potentially reinstated) were hard-coded into the class. Now, it’s much more ambiguous, and subject to the DM’s interpretation—save for the inclusion of the Oathbreaker paladin subclass, for the paladins who fell and fell hard. Broadly speaking, I think this is a good thing. It makes DMs less inclined to cause paladins to fall on a whim, or by tricking them. Fifth edition’s design decision to make a paladin’s oath less stringent also helped matters, as the threat of breaking the paladin’s oath to uphold the tenets of Law and Good in previous edition tended to make paladins a bit of a killjoy.
But we’re not talking about paladins, we’re talking about warlocks.
Art by Linda Lithén (@Darantha)
After all, what’s a warlock but a paladin who fell in with the wrong crowd? Especially when it comes to Hexblade warlocks like Fjord, they’re both charismatic, armored, sword-toting, smite-wielding warriors who receive magical power and cryptic guidance from a supernatural entity. I’m being glib, of course, the differences between a paladin and a warlock are many, but their similarities are significant. Especially the last bit… the part about receiving power directly from a supernatural entity. It makes you wonder why no one ever talks about a cleric falling from their god’s grace.
One big problem for Fjord is that his patron wants just one thing. Uk’otoa is not like an Archfey, who might just want to cause general mischief around the world, or like a Fiend who wants to vaguely weaken the forces of justice. Uk’otoa’s ambitions are highly specific. He wants to be free. He is imprisoned, and Fjord tacitly agreed to free him. Fjord tried to game the system; he gained Uk’otoa’s gifts by undoing the lock part of the way, and then scampered off to the other side of the continent when things got too hot.
The terms of Fjord’s “oath” to Uk’otoa weren’t clear to him. And so, when Uk’otoa capriciously decided that he broke those terms, the leviathan rescinded the power he granted to him. Just like a paladin falling. For a group like Critical Role, who are ardent storytellers and have the utmost confidence in their Dungeon Master to tell a good story and help them all have fun, this is a great moment. Even though Fjord lost his magical powers, I don’t think Travis is too upset. Not getting to play at full power is an irksome thing, but he knows it’ll work out. In fact, it even seems like Travis is willing to take fate into his own hands; at the end of that episode, Fjord showed a marked interest in other gods, like the Traveler and the Wildmother. This is just speculation, but I suspect he’s seeking a change of faith.
And the thing about Hexblade warlocks is that they also make great paladins. If Fjord had a change of heart and started gaining paladin levels, perhaps with the help of Caduceus or Jester, he would be a stunningly powerful Oath of the Ancients paladin. Especially if Matt allowed him to convert his warlock levels into paladin levels if he were to sever his pact with Uk’otoa.
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.