3. Spring Festival

3. Spring Festival

It has been six months since your acceptance into the “College of the Shining Blade,” and autumn has given way to winter, then to spring. Together, with over a hundred other students, you’ve learned the basic skills that keep adventurers alive: tying ropes, scaling obstacles, setting up camps, blocking and parrying attacks, and using basic weaponry.

Soon it will be time for your more advanced training, where you learn the skills specific to your career: honed battle maneuvers for the fighters, communing with the divine for the clerics, the intricacies of magic for the casters. But before these studies commence, pupils are set free to enjoy a rare four-day weekend excursion to greater Lyrabar. There they might partake in a little sight-seeing, sample the local cuisine, or even take their chances at the seedy bars or brothels.

Each of the three dormitories must ensure one assigned campus building has been cleaned and arranged before they’ll be allowed out on pass. Amber House (your dormitory) is responsible for the kitchen; and you and your friends have spent the last few days mopping, scrubbing, and dusting to ensure your holiday freedom.

All seems well; the campus is immaculate, and dreams of saltwater taffy and stout on tap grace your sleep.

That is, until a small hand shakes you awake some time after midnight (and well past the strict curfew). It’s Vadrey, a young halfling classmate.

Before she can explain, however, you hear a distinct crashing noise from outside. A crashing noise that definitely came from inside the nearby cafeteria.

“Please,” she hisses between tense lips, “you have to help. I think someone’s sabotaging the kitchen!”

Mission: Find out who’s sabotaging your dormitory’s weekend passes. Then make sure everything is in order in the kitchen for tomorrow’s inspection. And don’t get caught out past curfew!
Character Level: 3
Equipment: 520 gp worth of any gear, but: cannot include magical items; additionally, weapons are for training purpose only and deal non-lethal damage

A rough campus map. You live in Amber House (top right).

Session Date: November 25th, 2019

A. A Nocturnal Commotion

i. Scoping the Premises

Grigori (the dwarf abjuration wizard) was the first to awaken to Vadrey’s summons, living in the second-floor bedroom closest to the cafeteria. However, the loud whispers soon roused three more of his companions: Nobu (the catkind arcane trickster), Rock-in-Water (the catkind moon druid), and Asura (the human life cleric). Together they listened to Vadrey’s frantic request.

Nobu unlatched the nearby window and sent forth a friend he has made recently–an owl that now served as his familiar. The cafeteria’s east wall was close enough that Nobu could examine it through the owl’s eyes. While he couldn’t see exactly what was causing the ruckus, there was definitely something within; even as he watched, a stack of crates toppled over with a crash.

It was well after curfew, and being caught outside meant a write-up (and potential loss of privileges, such as the weekend pass). After ensuring that there were no guards in the immediate vicinity (and that the headmaster was still asleep), the four helpful students carefully dropped out of the second-story window and sprinted to the nearest trees.

The windows on the north side of the cafeteria were only latched, and it was easy work for Nobu to flip one open with a thin blade. Again relying on his familiar’s senses, he sent his owl to scout the kitchen area before committing.

Wow, wish I’d been invited to THIS party.

The area was a disaster. Crates and bowls were scattered everywhere, and pantry items littered the floor. The commons that they’d spent so long cleaning and polishing now appeared as if a magical whirlwind had been cast in its center.

While flitting through the actual dining area, Nobu’s discerning owl eyes caught fleeting movement. There, a small, purplish, goblin-like creature was running from table to table, pushing over chairs as it went.

“There’s something inside the cafeteria,” Nobu confirmed as he pulled himself through the window. What he was not expected was the oil-like slick that awaited him beneath the window sill. Uncharacteristically, the catkind rogue lost his footing, landing with a loud crash.

Another quick check of the dining area confirmed his fears; the creature had heard him and already disappeared.

Rock-in-Water was the next to enter, using Nobu’s advice to avoid the puddle on the floor. As she did so, however, the mischievous creature suddenly reappeared on top of a nearby table. It chucked a loaf of bread, chattering in laughter as it made contact with the rogue’s head.

What an uncivilized, uncouth little creature!

Taking advantage of her quickened shapeshifting abilities, Rock-in-Water transformed into a giant spider and sprayed the creature (and the surrounding area) with webbing. It was enough to trap the creature, but not to keep it.

Yanking itself free from the hazard, the fiend skipped towards the nearby charcoal pit. As it traced a square in the air with its finger, a shimmering line likewise traced the perimeter of the pit. As soon as the shape was complete, the imp dived directly into it…and immediately disappeared.

Simultaneously, the others heard a soft thud landing on the roof overhead. There was a mischievous cackle, then a pitter-patter of tiny feet towards the west.

ii. Mind-Boggling Mischief

Though he was still outside, Grigori had been paying keen attention through the window. As soon as he heard the creature hit the roof, he kept pace with its movement. From the corner of the cafeteria, he watched as it flitted from tree to tree towards the classrooms, diving through triangles or trapezoids formed by the intersections of branches.

The creature was difficult to see, much less hit, but Grigori had an ace up his sleeve. Chanting quickly, he released three Magic Missiles, which all found their target. The imp gave a loud, surprised squeak as it fell to earth, crashing into a bush. Then, after a few moments of silence, the bush shook once and was still, signalling the creature’s departure.

The thing had (for now) departed, and the four students surveyed the mess of their cafeteria. As long as it remained in this state, there would be no weekend passes, for them or their entire house. However, it was still night, and they were as yet undiscovered. The crew spent the next half hour putting things restoring the area to its proper order…slowed, as they were, by working quietly in the dark.

As they tidied, they quietly discussed what they’d seen. Thinking back to his days in Introduction to Magical Creatures, Nobu recalled just such an unusual little fey, known for both its teleportation and its ability to produce slippery or sticky oil at will.

“It’s a ‘boggle,'” he informed the others. “It stuck in my mind specifically because they’re already natural rogues.”

Using her own knowledge of the Feywild, Rock-in-Water recalled that fey, particularly small ones, were capricious and had short attention spans. Whereas some (such as eladrin) might live centuries and hold grudges for the same period, this one was probably only there for whatever sweets and random practical tricks it could pull.

The work is slow and thankless. But at least it’s done!

Once all had been set back in its proper place, the four discussed how best to prevent the boggle from trashing their kitchen again. After all, they knew that honey and sugar attracted most small fey (and salt likewise repelled them), so it was only a matter of time before it returned.

The last place they’d seen the boggle had been in the bushes next to the classrooms. Again scouting via his owl, Nobu was unable to find the fey itself. What he did catch was a glimpse of a shadow moving through the darkened study halls on the second floor–a shadow much too large for a boggle, and too surreptitious for a guard.

Rather than chase their quarry across new grounds, the group turned to a different tactic instead.

iii. Setting the Trap

The four were aware that two campus guards made hourly rounds each night. The College was hardly a maximum-security prison or a bank vault, and the guards were fairly lax in their schedules and habits. Mostly, they were there to deal with the occasional drunk rabble-rouser or magical practical joker.

The watchmen were easily identifiable by the four Dancing Lights that constantly encircled them during their rounds. In fact, the two guards were visible just south of the classrooms now, having intersected each other in their separate routes.

“Oh hi, Larry. Funny seeing you here.”
“Hi, Stan. You know, we have to stop meeting each other like this. People will talk. How’s the wife?”
“Oh, you know, same old, same old. Still dead.”

The four blinked at each other. Apparently, it took a special type to be a night guardsman.

Having secured a number of useful ingredients from the kitchen (namely, sugar, honey, and salt), they decided to set a trap on the roof of the cafeteria itself. With luck, the bait would be visible from the classroom, where the boggle was theorized to still be.

The nearby guards didn’t seem particularly interested in continuing their routes (or particularly alert, for that matter). Asura began climbing the tree at the corner of cafeteria, lifting himself up from branch to branch.

Unfortunately, he missed his grip on one of the smoother branches. The nearby guards immediately perked up at the distant thud.

“You hear that?”
“Yeah. Definitely no raccoon. Probably some idiot out on a dare or something.”
*long sigh* “Well, let’s go have a look then.”

Shh! Shh! They’re coming!

They had only moments to act. Grigori quickly cast Rope Trick at the corner of the cafeteria, near Asura’s bruised form. Luckily, the rope extending down was easier to climb, and the four quickly clambered up into the haven (withdrawing their rope after them). There, from inside their small extra-dimensional pocket, they watched the guards below.

“You see anything?”
“Nah, mate. At least nothing’s broken, though. No vandalism or anything that I can see.”
“That’s honestly the most important thing. Well, keep your eye out. If you see anyone stumbling around drunk, gently guide them over to the office for a write-up.”

Fortunately for them, neither of the guards had felt wary enough for a Detect Magic, or they might have seen the entrance to the Rope Trick. In any case, the guards eventually found their way back to their regular routes. The four students breathed easily again.

Asura and Grigori now baited their trap by leaving an open bottle of honey on the nearby cafeteria roof. Then they hid inside their extra-dimensional space. Rock-in-Water and Nobu, on the other hand, stood by a bush where boggle blood was still faintly visible. Aloud they remarked how unusual it was for such a delicious bottle of honey to be out, alone, in the open, and relatively unguarded.

Whether from their conversation or the smell of honey itself, the trap worked. Soon the boggle reappeared with an impish giggle. Seeing the open jar of honey, it teleported from branch to branch, eventually landing on top of the cafeteria roof itself.

And that was when Grigori cast Sleep on it. Still hurting from its earlier injuries, the fey was unable to resist the magic, instantly falling into a deep slumber.

The trap: set, and sprung.

Being careful not to wake the fey, Nobu cut some strips from his hemp rope and hogtied the boggle, making sure to create no loop large enough to pass its body through (and create a rift to escape). Then, the four withdrew with the fey into their Rope Trick, where the fey would have no place to teleport even if it did get free.

Time for some good ol’ fashioned interrogation.

The students then gently woke the fey. (Nobu held a knife to its throat to prevent any attempt at escape, and this seemed to calm the creature down somewhat.) Using her knowledge of the Sylvan language, Rock-in-Water communicated with the boggle directly, asking it where it had come from and why it was there.

The boggle was not very intelligent (perhaps no smarter than a very clever monkey), and it had difficulty describing its experiences in the material plane, often referring to houses as “tree caves” and books as “piles of dead leaves.” Still, the group gleaned some useful information from the fey.

If they understood the creature correctly, someone had inscribed a summoning circle in the library, using pure honey. This would be like a beacon to all sorts of small fey, and by chance alone this boggle was the first to fall through into their world.

After extracting as much of a promise to leave as one could from a boggle, the party released it. It immediately sprung to the honey, stuffed as much as possible in its cheeks, and then drew a circle with the rest. Hopping through, it disappeared back to the Feywild.

Of course, as long as that summoning circle remained in the library, tiny fey would continue to stumble through…and continue to end up at the kitchen, eager for more sweets. Unfortunately, the library was also at the other corner of the campus, opposite brightly-lit pathways and roving guards.

The group hurried back to their dormitory to inform Vadrey and plan their next move.

Session Date: December 9th, 2019

B. Oh Come All Ye Fey-full

i) A Discussion of Ethics

As the group huddled at the north wall of their dormitory, they overheard a conversation between the two night guards and visiting messenger from somewhere else in the larger Order complex. Low-level magic spells, it seemed, had been detected being cast somewhere on the university campus. After confirming that it was neither of their doings, the night guards reassured they’d perform more thorough sweeps of the campus. Then, the three returned to their duties.

The human of the campus guards (“Stan”) meandered in their direction, using his Dancing Lights to check beneath bushes and in trees. The group quickly flung pebbles at the last window on the north wall of their dormitory. They knew Shudder (the half-elf aberrant sorceress) and Gorodash (the orc paladin of truth) slept there. Sure enough, the window opened, and their friends regarded them with sleepy and confused expressions. After they were helped up into the room, they hid quietly until the guard moved off elsewhere.

The group explained to Gorodash and Shudder what was going on, and they discussed what action (if any) still needed to be taken that night. After all, it was only the cafeteria that they were responsible for. However, as long as the fey summoning circle remained, more fey would likely cross over and beeline towards the food.

The night took an unexpected turn when Vadrey entered the room, learned of the situation, and gulped a confession.

“Oh geez, oh no, oh geez…I’m afraid this all might actually all be my fault.

“See, I wanted to do something extra to help out with cleaning the kitchen and cafeteria…and Unseen Servant is nice, but it only lasts an hour, at a 60 foot range. I remember talking with some of our housemates about ways to extend the spell so it could clean and tidy the kitchen overnight, while we slept.

“Well, when I was researching at the library, I found a leaf of paper stuck in the chapter about Unseen Servant. It promised a ‘bigger, better, longer’ version of the spell, with a separate glyph laid out. So I thought to myself, what could it hurt? If I do the ritual on the paper in the library…worst case scenario, it doesn’t work, and any cleanup is someone else’s problem.”

“Where is the paper with the glyph on it now?” asked Grigori. On learning that Vadrey had left it on top of the book at the library, to prevent anyone connecting it to her or Amber House, he just shook his head to himself. “You should not be trying shortcuts with magic. You will need to turn yourself in to the headmaster and confess.”

Of course, this prompted a long discussion with the rest of the troupe. They could rely on Zone of Truth being automatically cast if Vadrey went to make amends, and it would only be a matter of time before their names were brought into the mix as well.

As Gorodash was to succinctly phrase it, they ultimately had three options open to them:

  • Go directly to the guards now, implicating themselves and losing their weekend passes, but ultimately gaining the help they needed in closing the rift.
  • Attempt to sneak to the library and deal with the glyph on their own, hoping to not get caught in the meantime.
  • Do nothing and go to bed. However, this would likely lead to another fey trashing the kitchen, causing them to lose their weekend passes anyway.

Gorodash expressed his deeply-held conviction that, were he to assist the group in breaching the rules of their college, he would need to confess his trespasses to those in authority. (His friends could readily see why he had earned himself the nickname of “the Forthright.”)

While Asura suggested the option of waiting till after the four-day weekend to do any confessing, Gorodash stated he would only agree as far as assisting the infiltration. Whether he would confess (and when) would be dealt with after that point.

ii) Infiltrating the Library

The party now consisted of six: Grigori, Rock-in-Water, Asura, Gorodash, Shudder, and the reluctant Vadrey. (Nobu stayed behind in Gorodash and Shudder’s room, to help them climb back up when they were finished.)

Making their way unseen to the library proved to be a lot more difficult than simply sneaking into the cafeteria. For one, it was on the other side of campus, across sparsely-wooded terrain. For another, Gorodash insisted on wearing his training armor for the “mission,” and it made an audible clanking sound as he moved.

The dwarf of the two campus guards (“Larry”) heard the noise and called out toward them, though he was still 100 feet away. Thinking quickly, Asura used Thaumaturgy to copy the clanking noise, making it seem as if it came instead from nearby Onyx House.

“Are you Onyx students partying in here again?” Larry roared. “Just wait till I write up the lot of ya!”

Those dang Onyx students sure know how to party.

Undetected (for now), the group then considered how best to enter the library. While other buildings on campus were simply sealed with mechanical locks, it was well-known that the librarian was a fastidious sort, who cast Alarm on each window and door before leaving at night. A few solutions were proposed among the group: using an animal to trigger one of the alarms, or even breaking in through the side of the wall and using Mending to replace each brick when they were finished.

In the end, they simply decided to scale the side of the wall and squeeze their way down through one of the two fireplace chimneys. (Luckily, they were just wide enough for Gorodash, as long as he removed his armor.) Cleaning the soot from their armor later would be no trouble, thanks to Grigori’s Prestidigitation.

The yellow square represents the fireplace they just crawled in through.

Shudder was able to Detect Thoughts from unseen creatures lurking nearby…though the quality of their thoughts suggested they were simple, flighty souls.

Asura stepped into the center of the library, looking for anything out of place. As he did, a sprinkle of glowing dust landed on his shoulder. Above him, a tiny pixie frowned in the rafters, upset that her spell had had no effect. Then she disappeared.

The group spent a couple minutes unsuccessfully trying to coax out the hidden faeries. Rock-in-Water called a greeting in Sylvan, and Gorodash recalled that many fey were fond of music. However, a quick serenade from the six students convinced them not to take their act on the road.

Finally turning to magic solutions, Gorodash cast Detect Evil and Good, allowing him to pinpoint the fey’s general location. The reclusive pixies were both sitting on top of rafters, twenty feet up in the air.

In response, the second pixie showered her own dust on the orc’s head, expressing verbal discontent when he resisted magically turning into a frog. Hearing this affront, the orc unslung his war whip and forced the fey into a Compelled Duel. Gorodash would not be insulted in such a manner!

Of course, Gorodash’s 5-foot war whip won’t REACH the pixie, but don’t tell HIM that.

Incensed by the orc’s magic, the pixie again shook her fist, showering him with dust–and frogs crawled out from beneath his armor! He swatted at them, but they began covering him…dangling from his weapon, perching atop his head, and even climbing across his face! (In reality, the pixie had simply cast a successful Phantasmal Force, but it was little difference to him.)

Though they caused no actual injury, the pixies were just as infuriating. The other of the pair forced Vadrey into a deep Sleep as she ran towards the summoning glyph, and it successfully trapped both Asura and Gorodash with Entangling vines. Its innate familiarity with magic also helped it avoid a Mind Sliver from Shudder. On top of all this, the fey were so small that they easily sidestepped crossbow bolts and javelins cast at them.

Even when not dangerous, fey can be very very annoying.

As it would turn out, cats and catkind were apparently very good at killing small flying targets. Completely captivated by the erratic flitting motions, Rock-in-Water dashed up one bookshelf, knocked one out of the air with her paw, and then leaped towards the other and batted it onto the ground. As they died, their forms dispersed–as did all their magical effects.

At this point, the only thing left to do was dispose of the summoning glyph, readily visible on a book pedestal in the northwestern corner of the library.

iii) A Hidden Message

“See, here it is, right here!” Vadrey said, handing the honey-laden paper to Grigori, the closest to her. “‘How to Cast a Bigger, Better, Longer Unseen Servant.’ But who would play such a mean prank on a library goer?”

Grigori looked at the paper. The title definitely did NOT read “Bigger, Better, Longer Unseen Servant.” Instead, it clearly stated “Prank Your Friends and Classmates with This Hilarious Fey-Summoning Circle!”

“Gorodash, hold her,” he commanded.

“What?!” Vadrey exlaimed in an astounded panic, as the orc placed a firm but gentle hand on her shoulder. “You can see for yourself, right there! I-I’m not lying!”

Grigori passed the paper around to the others, verifying that no one else could vouch for her story. As he did so, however, a sheen on the paper caught his attention–a sheen that was only visible out of the corner of his eye.

“Hold on,” he declared, pausing the conversation. “There’s something unusual about this paper. I have my suspicions, but I’ll need ten minutes to verify them.”

After receiving permission, he carefully cast Identify on the paper, using the library’s book pedestal to perform his ritual. As suspected, the paper had been enchanted with an Illusory Script–one of many Illusion spells the students had been trained to identify in their classes. The inelegance of the enchantment, however, suggested that it had been cast by a novice…most likely another student.

“Typically, Illusory Script is used to disguise a secret message, visible to only one or two people, and masked under a false text that everyone else sees,” Grigori explained to the others, “but in this case, the prankster reversed the intent. Only his or her mark would be able to read the bait about the ‘new and improved’ spell…and all others would ignore it for the trap it was.”

“But that means,” gulped Vadrey, “that someone specifically targeted ME! Who would do such a thing?”

“Someone who knew you’d fall for it,” Grigori noted. “We’ll need to show this to the headmaster as well. But first…” And here he smeared the honey of the summoning circle, ensuring that it could cause no more mischief.

(Before they left, the group made sure to clean up any evidence of their presence…including retrieving their javelin and crossbow bolt and collecting what pixie dust remained in an empty ink bottle.)

Intent on exiting the library without setting off any alarms, the six students wiggled their way back up the chimney. They needn’t have bothered. Trudging across the campus in the early morning light, their forms were far too easy to make out by the alerted guards.

Stan, the human guard that caught them, wasn’t interested in either hearing their excuses or in examining the enchanted glyph paper. All he knew was that these students had made extra work for him, right before he was to get off shift, and he trudged them over to the guard office to await their headmaster.

Headmaster Leon was only marginally more interested in their explanations. “You do realize I’ll have to cancel your weekend passes. Rules are rules, and are not meant to be broken, regardless of your intentions. We do not need troupes of vigilantes scouring our campus, simply because they believe they’re doing the right thing.” He fingered the enchanted paper they’d found. “We’ll have some of our mages look at this and see if they can’t pinpoint the student responsible. But that ultimately has no bearing on your situation.”

In response to Gorodash’s request that he alone take the punishment for his friends’ actions, Leon again shook his head. “This college exists to train each of you how to properly conduct yourselves. Were I to follow your suggestion, the only lesson that would teach is that breaking the law is permissible, as long as there’s someone to shoulder the blame for you.”

“What would have happened, then, had we simply stayed in our bedrooms the entire night?” noted Rock-in-Water.

The headmaster steepled his fingers. “Then your entire dormitory would have lost their privileges, until the mess had been sorted. Which would undoubtedly have been after the weekend. I see your point; but at the same time, I cannot simply let you off with just a warning.” He sighed. “Return to your rooms. I shall have a final decision for you later in the day.”

In the end, the headmaster declared a compromise. The group (minus Vadrey) would spend the first two days of the weekend on campus, running errands, tidying anything that had not already been tidied, and generally staying out of trouble. The last two days were theirs to do with as they pleased.

Which is precisely what they did. Each of the group of friends spent some much-needed time away from their studies, taking in all the sights, sounds, and spectacles that downtown Lyrabar could afford (whether it be the shops, bookstores, pubs, or even brothels).

It would be time again for studies (and new mysteries) much too soon.