How a Kenku child made us all war criminals

Five sessions into a new campaign, one player sets off a chain reaction that obliterates a village and killed roughly 1000 people.

71 points

We were starting my friend Ewan’s first campaign, placed in the setting of the campaign of our other friend. Both DMs had worked together to fit the story into the world, and we were all eager to begin.

The party consists of Teris (male Firbolg barbarian), Jericho (male Aasimar paladin), Feron (male Half-Elf druid), Jean (female Half-Elf warlock)… and Ken (male Kenku monk). Ken is a six year old Kenku, sent off from his monastery for backstory reasons we never got to because we were only on session 5.

Quickly recaping earlier sessions, the party had been sent to investigate a mining town that had stopped sending it’s mined mana crystals. When they arrived, they found that the town had been attacked by a race of mole-like goblinoids called Skinners and were asked to check out the mine for the lost miners and to deal with the Skinner threat.

After dealing with some intial resistance with mindless, grunt workers and fighters, they were invited to speak to the Skinner Queen, where it was explained that the Skinners were being attacked by Duergar (grey dwarves), and that they had corrupted one of their champions with red mana crystals. The party was asked to drive out the Duergar, where the Skinners would then retreat back into their tunnels and leave the mining town alone. But they had to prove our abilities by taking out the corrupted champion. After a short rest to regain strength and health, the group pushed on.

Onto the session itself.

Carrying on from the short rest, the party found themselves in a tunnel filled with old corpses of Skinners, all burned to a crisp from the front. Stealthing, Jean took the lead and peeked around a tunnel wall into a larger cave area. There was a regular champion that was effortlessly taken out by the corrupted champion.

It had red crystals embedded into its right arm, twisting it into something large and grotesque, while the left was shriveled and stunted. When it attacked, the crystals would dim for a moment before the skin on the arm would melt off before reforming and flames burst from its hand.

Seeing what they were up against, Jean waved everyone back, not wanting to start combat before they were ready. At this point, both Feron and Jericho failed their stealth checks. Jean immediately threw out a hand to tell them to stop, terrified that they’d just given away the group’s position.

The champion turned towards them, but hadn’t quite caught where they were. As it began to walk forwards, a hole in the cave floor emmited a burst of steam before pitifully spitting out a small amount of molten rock. The champion flinched away before mindlessly attacking the area for a moment.

Taking the opportunity, Teris threw a stone towards a stack of boxes to distract the champion, which worked. But, after a quick investigation and finding nothing, it turned around and spotted Jericho in all his shiny, Paladin glory.

Roll initiative.

Teris pushed his way to the front of the group, the hasty retreat having pushed him to the back, and ran towards the champion, shouting to keep it distracted. Jericho followed his lead and ran forward and stuck the champion with his greatsword, but barely left a dent.

The champion turned to Teris, who was making far more noise, and lashed out. Once again, the red crystals in its arm dimmed before letting loose a a plume of fire, with Teris luckily managing to dodge most of the blast.

Ken, having been knocked out by Skinners before, losing an eye in the process, and being told by Teris and Jericho to stay away from the centre of combat, bolted around the champion and ducked behind the crates. Meanwhile, Feron cast faerie fire so the champion’s movements could be seen better in the dim light, only for the spell’s lights to be absorbed into the crystals. 

Jean finally slipped out of the shadows and ran past the champion to quickly investigate a second, much larger hole behind the champion. Looking down, she saw that the hole led to a pool of molten rock, likely the same pool the first hole was connected to. At which point, she had an idea and looked to her two combating allies.

“You two, push him into hole!” she yelled.

“That’s going to be a little difficult!” Teris shouted back, glancing up the incline towards Jean.

Regardless, he glanced to Jericho with the intent to follow Jean’s plan. Taking his greataxe, Teris made a swing towards the champion only for the crystals to glow and halt the axe before it hit. With few options availible, Jericho followed suit, landing a critical hit on the distracted champion and blasting it with a wrathful smite.

The champion, having taken enough damage from the paladin, turned to Jericho and unleashed a balls of pure magic at him from three crystals, each one turning dark after use. With no warning and having never encountered that sort of attack before, Jericho was unable to defend himself and took the hits.

It was at this point in the battle that everything went wrong.

Ken, having hidden from sight behind the nearby crates, noticed a thumb-sized red crystal near him. Without any other thought, he grabbed it and threw it at the champion’s feet.

At that, everything stopped and we begged Ken’s player not to do it. From the other campaign, we all knew that the red crystals were unstable and extremely volatile, being used by a military group as bombs that were capable of leveling a town. However, that fact was meta-game knowledge and couldn’t be used to convince Ken’s player not to throw the crystal. At that point, we listed all the reasons we had from the last session as to why Ken would know that tossing the crystal was a BAD idea; we’d seen one of these things blow up, almost splitting the party if not for some awesome rolls from everyone; how we’d seen Skinner workers hold red crystals in a panic when the Queen had roared out, trying to ensure that they didn’t vibrate, how Jean herself had grabbed three of the blue crystals -each the length of a finger- and everyone in character had agreed that they would examine them/test their use as a projectile when they were not surrounded by a mine where these things were in the walls.

Our DM, Ewan, even pulled the dreaded “are you sure you want to do this?” card, reserved for only the dumbest of decisions.

Yes, yes he did.

Okay then…

Jean and Teris were the only pair able to watch the crystal hit the ground and crack before a bright red light began to envelope the area surrounding the champion, Teris, Jericho and Feron. The crystal shattered. The crystals in the champion shattered. The crystals in the walls and ceiling began to vibrate, a warning that they too were going to shatter.

Jean and Ken immediately turned and ran from the area, going down an unknown tunnel but away from the catastrophe that had been unleashed.

Within the area illuminated by the light, Teris felt his left leg go numb. Looking down, he watched in horror as his leg slowly disintegrated. Not wanting to watch the injury get worse or discover what would happen if he stayed still, Teris also ran, following the younger party members. After a few steps, his leg was so ruined that it couldn’t support his weight and he fell to the floor prone.

But our barbarian wasn’t going out like that.

Entering rage, Teris swung his greataxe and used it to pull himself along the ground. Adrenaline, tenacity and a great Con save saved his speed from dropping below 25ft.

At the same time, Jericho, partially protected from the light by the champion, watched his greatsword being eaten away. He also ran, pausing only to pick up Teris and help him flee.

Feron, having been knocked prone during the initial blast, laid on the ground unmoving and waited for everything to kill him, accepting that this seemed to be his end. But after a couple of seconds, he noticed that he wasn’t feeling pain but a strange itching. He raised a hand and watched as thick fur began to sprout and cover his skin. Confused but understanding that he wasn’t dying, Feron jumped to his feet and hurriedly followed everyone else.

Lucky for him because, a moment later, everything began to explode.

The party ran down the tunnel and away from the steadily growing light. As they fled, the crystals in the wall were vibrating violently, all warning that the explosion was following us and slowly catching up. It only made the group run harder.

Jean and Ken were the first to run into the next problem: an underground ravine over 50ft wide and 130ft deep, with the connecting bridge in pieces at the bottom. The others quickly caught up and panic began to truly set in.

Teris made the decision to throw Ken across in an attempt to save some of the party, the Kenku being the smallest and lightest. But, even with Teris’ great strength and Ken’s acrobatic nature, the little bird didn’t quite make it across and had to use a javelin previously embedded in the wall to propel him up to the opening on the other side.

If Ken couldn’t make it across safely like that, no one else would. They needed another way.

As luck would have it, the answer came in the form of a mechanical platform that was walking itself along the bottom of the ravine. It was still too low for anyone to safely drop to it, however, and Teris and Jericho began arguing about how they should proceed.

Jean, however, wasted no time and took her rope out and tied it together with the one Teris owned. Once the rope was secured, she wrapped one end around her waist and instructed Teris to hold the other and not let her drop. Realising her plan, the Firbolg quickly took the rope and supported the Half-Elf as she absailed down.

When she was low enough, she pushed off the wall and landed on the platform. There, she saw a podium in the centre, holding a red crystal, and several levers at one end of the platform, none of which Jean understood. So, she continued with her original plan and tied her end of the rope to the podium, waving for the others to join her.

Feron, with his new hairier form, found the rope hard to keep hold of and lost his grip. As he fell, he Wild Shaped into a giant wolf spider and grabbed onto the ravine wall, saving himself. From there, he climbed down the wall and jumped safely to the platform.

At Teris’ order, Jericho went next. In order to save time, the paladin attempted to fast-rappel down. Once close enough, he allowed himself to drop, but stumbled on the landing and felt the impact badly on both his ankles. But, he waved at Teris to join them before worrying about himself.

A dull light from behind caught Teris’ attention for a moment. In the distance, moving very slowly towards him, was the unmistakable glow of molten lava that had clearly been released by the explosions.

With no time to think, our barbarian tied his end of the rope to his greataxe and buried it into the cave floor. With as much care as possible, he climbed down to the others and used his one foot to push off from the wall. His footing wasn’t quite right and he didn’t push off hard enough to make the distance but Jericho was there, waiting to grab him as soon as he got close.

Moments later, the lava flow pitifully trickled off the ledge and into the ravine. Its heat made short work of melting the greataxe and a singed end of the rope got pulled back. As it hit the bottom of the ravine, it had cooled enough that it didn’t advance any further, posing no more of a threat.

Now, technically, everyone was safe. But there was a new problem: Ken was stuck on the other side of the ravine, alone, and no one wanted to stay on the platform in case it wasn’t far enough from the blast.

At which point, Feron took charge. Having reverted back to his normal form to briefly tend to Jericho, he Wild Shaped into a giant wolf spider again, took the singed rope end into his mandibles and climbed up the other side of the ravine. He extracted the javelin from the wall and took both up to Ken, where the two of them secured the weapon into the cave floor and tied the rope to it.

With no time to loose as the the walking platform was steadily moving away, Jean untied the end attached to the podium and yelled for everyone to grab on as the platform was about to walk away.

Teris, however, knew that a mere javelin couldn’t support his weight, let alone all three of them, and instead drew out his two handaxes and made a jump for the wall. His handaxes caught and he began to slowly make his way up the wall to the cave where Feron and Ken where waiting.

Jericho and Jean took the rope and, after giving it time to stop swinging after leaving the platform, began to climb up. After only a few seconds, there was the sound of the javelin cracking and then the rope began to fall. Jericho was taken by surprise at the sudden drop, but Jean tried to stop her fall by burrying her dagger into the wall, but had no luck as the little blade bounced off uselessly.

The pair droped 30ft to the bottom of the ravine, but landed relatively uninjured. After a moment to shake off the surprise of suriving the fall, they began to look for another way up. From above, Teris dropped them Jericho’s longsword that he had been holding, shouting out a warning as he dropped it. The paladin didn’t want to damage his only other blade and stashed it on his back, breaking his other javlein in two to use similarly to Teris’ handaxes. He tied the rope to him and Jean, telling her that he would help her get up.

At this, Jean chewed her lip. She quietly mentioned that she might be able to get some help on the climb, but asked him if he would punish her for doing. Jericho had previously used a Divine Sense near Jean and he knew that she had a fiend’s presence with her, though he didn’t know how or why.

At that moment, he chose survival over judgement and told her that he would ask her about it later, and began to climb.

Jean reached out to her patron and asked for help climbing up the wall. It cryptically asked for limb and Jean refused, saying that she’d do it on her own. As she reached for the wall, she blacked out.

Jericho suddenly felt his longsword be taken from his back and turned to see Jean using it and her little dagger to climb, already on level with him despite clearly not being a strong climber. He noticed her right arm was a red discolouration and had suddenly bulked up with muscle, her eyes also suddenly red. She then reached over, pulled him off the wall and threw him over her shoulder effortlessly. She then continued to climb, faster than he had been, and easily brought them up to safety. As she put him down, a voice unlike hers spoke.

“You owe me.”

And then Jean collapsed to the floor, caught by Feron. She instantly recovered from her faint, but no one had a chance to talk before a great, deafening silence fell on the group.

Turning as one, they looked to the other side of the ravine, only to see no other side. The cave system was gone. Above them, rock ceiling gave way to open sky in the distance. The crator they had come from was now visible.

And the town? The town where they had stayed a few nights? Where they had spoken with and been on friendly terms with the locals?

There wasn’t a trace of it.

The only apparent survivor was the Skinner Queen, who the party heard roar in pain and fear before watching her burrow into the ground and disappear.

End of session.

Roughly 400 souls had lived in that town, 100 of which were already dead from the events that had brought the party here. The Skinner population was easily 200, the Duergar that the party had meant to drive off was reaching into 300, and approximately another 200 other goblinoids were apparently in area.

This gave Ken, a six year old Kenku, a body count of nearly 1000 individuals, all becuase he had decided to throw a thumb-sized crystal.


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