Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Saturday Morning D&D – Episode 2 – The Eye of the Beholder

Today we take another trip down memory lane as we review episode 2 of Dungeons & Dragons and see if we can mine it for anything we can use in our own games. Before we jump headlong into this, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who gave me positive feedback last episode. I really did not know what to expect with this series, and I did not think anyone would gravitate towards it. I was happily surprised, and have been looking forward to writing this one all week. So strap on your armor, pack your ten foot pole, and let’s head into the dungeon!

The Episode
                We open with the party traveling across a barren dessert with everyone complaining about the heat. Diana mentions, “What do you expect with 4 suns?” which is a cool little detail about the world. Apparently Dungeon Master told them two days before to follow the setting sun, and they have not found anything yet. Uni is lagging slightly behind and is getting hit in the face with clumps of sand, so she decides to go check it out. While the team bickers at each other Uni comes barreling into Eric as she is being chased by an extremely giant scorpion. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, the party boldly flees.
At this point we are introduced to this week’s main NPC, Sir John. Sir John is a portly looking knight that has a slight British accent. He immediately hears the party mention the scorpion, and flees into a cave, this will become a theme with the knight. Sir John accidently stumbled into a blue dragon cave, and he is lucky the dragon did not go Zeus on his ass. John bravely runs away also, and by happenstance lures the dragon and scorpion together. Now we have a Ray Harryhausen film in the making. The party, being gullible and obviously blind, decides that Sir John is a great hero who saved them. John never corrects them in this assumption and begins to brag about himself. John says he is a real knight of the city of Pendrake and he is a slayer of monsters and demons. Then he throws up a peace sign and runs back to Pendrake.

Ray would be proud.

We know we cannot go more than five minutes into the show without a plot hook, so, like clockwork, cue Dungeon Master. He appears again from nowhere and tells the party that he has found a way home for them. Hopefully this time it is real, and not one of his schemes to burn Helix to the ground. They hear Dungeon Master out, but the whole time I am like, “OK, what’s the “but” though?” Oh nothing much, it is just in the Valley of the Beholder. No biggie. We’ve had two episodes thus far and all they’ve run into is Tiamat, a dragon army, a giant scorpion, a blue dragon, and Venger a sorcerer-demon thing. Now freaking Beholder?!? Has this DM ever seen an Orc? Or Goblin. Maybe even an Ogre? I know I praised the show for throwing harder enemies at the party, but cut them a break every now and again.
DM informs the party that they must defeat the Beholder, not just get past him, to find the passage home. He then lays a double dose of DM goodness, not one, but two riddles. First, “Sometimes by looking back, you can see a clearer path that lies ahead,” and “Beware only beauty can defeat the eye of the beholder.” Hank instantly figures out the first riddle. This has to irk DM, because as a DM myself, I like players solving my mysteries, but at least pretend to ponder it for five minutes. Hank figures Sir John is someone in their past, and he can help their future. Sir John is a brave knight and slew many monsters, a Beholder will be nothing for this guy. The party then heads off to Pendrake off in the distance.

Our hero?

We now center on a village square and it looks like Sir John is on trial with his son beside him. The town mayor states that the town is going to look for a new knight, because of Sir John’s exceptional cowardice. To lay it on even more thick, his son mentions that this “can’t happen again” and “we have no more towns to go”, showing that this is not John’s first time being ousted. Sir John is kind of a piece of shit. Pleading with the mayor, John asked what he can do to stay and the mayor says he has to do something extremely brave. The citizens laugh at him and he goes off to ponder his fate with the mayor yelling at him that this is “the last time”.
Back to our party, they are travelling through an incredibly awesome location, a giant mushroom forest. The mushroom are all the size of large trees, and I can see this being the setting for many adventures with interesting encounters all over the place. They must have rolled a one on the random encounter die, because they get a good one. Red eyes peer from the darkness as the party conjures light in several methods only to reveal giant snailmen. The snailmen are sensitive to light, but eventually launch strands of goo from their heads and wrap up the various party members. A great exchange of lines by Eric and Sheila. Eric says, “I can’t believe we are fighting snails.” Sheila then adds, “And losing.” There is something very D&D about that exchange. With the party captured, Uni is the only one to escape, and the party tells her to go find Sir John.

Watch were you are aiming that Carl, I know where you were last night.

John is stumbling through the forest looking to be brave when he comes across Uni. Uni pleads with John for help in Uni-speak, but John makes excuses on why he cannot. He is only forced to come along when Uni steals his torch and he will be left in the dark. Uni leads John into the snailmen encampment and drops the torch. As John picks up the torch he flails it wildly most likely driving the snailmen away in fits of laughter, not fear, “No guys seriously, look at him”. The party again thinks John the hero, John takes credit again, and Diana rewards him with a purple flower and a kiss. They shower John with praise and he soaks that shit up, then they ask him to come fight the Beholder. At this point John pulls his stammering routine and says he has to leave to get his shield, not a sword though. Between him and Eric you have two knights, both with shields and no swords. Damn you 80s censors! Presto conjures him a “shield” (garbage can lid) and he agrees to join them, though with some reluctance.
On the way Hank confronts John and asks, “Shouldn’t we have a plan?” Hank being completely reasonable causes John to freaks out and tells them he will scout ahead while the party comes up with a plan. The party seems flustered, and Eric actually discusses how John is a bad knight, and most likely crazy. Once again, pragmatic Eric reads the room pretty well. As much hate as I see that Eric gets, in and out of the show, he has his moments.
Now who is missing from this episode? With seven minutes left, cue Venger. Venger talks with John and tells him to lead the party to the Beholder, and then abandon them. John, to his credit, does not want to do this, but Venger reveals to him an image of his son, Timothy, in a cage surrounded by wolves. Venger promises to release the boy once John has committed his heinous act of betrayal. Venger then twirls his villain moustache, rides his nightmare away to his lair, most likely to put James Bond in an overcomplicated trap.
Eric continues his anti- Sir John campaign, and the party gives Eric more grief, even though he is completely right at this point. John comes back and basically says, let’s just go over there and fight the Beholder sans plan. John gets them to right before the Beholder, and books it, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. They approach and I now see why this is THE Beholder, and not A Beholder. It has one too many eyestalks. I counted several times, 11 eyestalks and the central eye. Just how? How could they mess up something so simple and “eye”conic. I’m a horrible person, I know. Anyway, the Beholder comes out like a hard-on after prom and lasers the shit out of the team. The Beholder does not play, and seems overwhelmingly dangerous. While this is going on Venger shows up to gloat as only a great villain can. He gives John back Timothy and comments on how his son is brave “unlike his father”.

THE Beholder....with 11 stalks.

From over the horizon John and his son hear the cries of Bobby as the party has all been completely immobilized by the Beholder. The party sees John, but at this point doubts he will help. With the encouragement of his son, John leaps into battle…..only to immediately lose his shield…..and get knocked over…..and get captured, but he tried damn it! John is being pulled in to be eaten by the Beholder when Diana figures out DM second riddle, and the beautiful flower is the Beholder’s weakness. He merely shows the Beholder the flower, and it deflates like a whoopee cushion.

"My heart be still, I've never..." ::Faints:::

With the Beholder defeated a portal does actually open up back to Earth and the party starts to rush through. Bobby delays because he does not want to leave Uni, as the portal closes. Bobby just wants to bring him back to earth so scientist can vivisect Uni, I guess. Venger then shows back up to kill Sir John for his betrayal of the betrayal. The party decides to not go home and help save Sir John. Eric actually does a selfless act, against character, and rushes to put his shield between Venger and Sir John, the whole time stating, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” It is a good character moment for Eric. Venger is driven off, the greenery of the land is restored and the valley is saved.

My thoughts
                This was not my favorite episode by far, even though it has an awesome Beholder in it. Compared to last episode it had a weaker plot, and the twist was not as clever. I really did not like Sir John as a character, because he only really acted when he had some personal stakes. He never fully committed to a selfless act, and had be goaded into by his son. I did like a few things though. As always the set pieces were great, the idea of a four suns on the world, and a giant mushroom forest was great. I looked through my old D&D materials and could not find any snailmen, so they were a creation for the show. It appears that someone homebrewed them for 5e though, you can see that here. The Beholder was great, and did feel like a real menace. I wish they would have made Sir John shove the flower in the Boholder’s mouth, maybe it was a poison? Instead, the Beholder faints like a southern belle at the sight of flowers.
                What can we take away from this for our current D&D campaigns? As much as I did not like Sir John, a cowardly knight can be an interesting twist in a game, if done correctly. I would not have had Sir John appear on the surface as cowardly as he was, but have him break at just the right moment. This would add a bit of tension to a fight. We also, as mentioned above, have loads of setting, setting, and more setting. Paint a vibrant world, and one with a little bit of mystery and magic. Maybe you do not want you Forgotten Realms game to have a giant mushroom forest, because it is not in the books. No problem, the planes offer an abundance of opportunities for weird worlds like this. Have your party reach Sigil and go off on a mushroom laced adventure. Another option is to have a field of mushrooms, and have the party shrunk down so it now looms as a forest for the players to explore. Lastly, make players make hard, but interesting decisions. The decision at the end of the episode that Eric has to deal with, go back to his life of luxury or do what is right. Those decision make characters that people remember. There is a risk though, what if Eric picks to go home? He can and the game will have to then go on without them and pick up a new character somewhere down the line. Either way, that decision defines the character.
                I hope you liked this episode, thanks for reading it. If you can, please share this on your local social media, because I cannot be everywhere! Have a great rest of the week and talk to you all soon.

Miss an episode? Look here for the archive.

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