Dragon Heist — Campaign Diary #1

Greetings, friends! In the interest of getting myself into the habit of writing a bit more, I’ve elected to (try to) do a campaign diary for one of the D&D 5E campaigns I’m currently running, the newest entry in WotC’s published modules: Waterdeep — Dragon Heist. In these (hopefully) short pieces, I’ll go over some of the prep work I did in the week(s) prior to the session, what actually happened in the session, any changes I made to the published material for those following along at home, and anything I learned and would do differently. The first session was a bit rough, so there will most likely be a lot of stuff in that last category. Without any further banter, let’s get into it.

At this point I humbly request that Wobbles, Gardenia, Jo, and Copper look away, if for some reason you’ve found yourselves on this page, as well as anyone who might play this adventure sometime in the future. Don’t spoil it for yourself!

I’m going to be playing with the format of these things, so bear with me while I feel out how exactly how I want to go about these things. For this time I’ll just stream-of-consciousness write out whatever comes to mind as being worth mentioning.

This was the first session I’d run of Dragon Heist, but it was also the first session I’d run using the Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop. On the technical side, things went off effectively without a hitch; getting everybody connected and making sure all the right material was downloaded took a bit of time, but other than that there weren’t too many problems apart from a connection hiccup here or a sound issue there. Speaking of sound, coming from Roll20 I was a little disappointed by the fact that there was no built-in background music/ambiance function in Fantasy Grounds, but I was able to work around this by piping music and SFX as the input to my Discord voice chat. It gets a bit technical so I won’t explain too much, but ultimately it worked out fine.

As far as my prep work goes, a large portion of it was spent just learning Fantasy Grounds. YouTube tutorials were somewhat helpful, but those kinds of things can only get you so far. Luckily, I stumbled upon Fantasy Grounds College, an online community designed around helping new GMs get used to working with Fantasy Grounds, and the users on their Discord server were incredibly helpful in getting me situated.

The rest of my preparation was based, largely, on building a basic framework of the order of events to take place. I wrote up about a 1-page GDoc with the salient points I needed to hit on, as well as the player characters and the important bits about their backstories that I could use to tie in to later plot hooks. Almost all of this involved giving them relationships to factions, since if your players aren’t tied in some way to a faction or two, chapter two of Dragon Heist is pretty much pointless. Luckily, my players were very cooperative with me on this front so it was easy to give each of them a few relationships to various faction members, with the notable exception of Bregan D’aerthe, whose leader Jarlaxle is my chosen villain for this run of Dragon Heist. Bregan D’aerthe is a tough one considering they only allow male drow among their ranks; I wasn’t too concerned with tying them in to the players’ backstories (but managed to anyway).

I also came up with a table of random NPC names and mannerisms to hopefully populate the city (since it is supposed to be huge and dense), and decided to also run some of the expanded encounters from the Valeur RPG guide to Dragon Heist as well as the City Encounters from the DM’s Guild Adepts, in order to further flesh out the town and make travel between point A and point B hopefully a bit more interesting. The last bit of prep was to ensure that I dropped some hints about a quarantine zone in the Dock Ward, as I’m planning on running Will Doyle’s Rats of Waterdeep before the players hit level 2, and set up the Yawning Portal map with some random commoner tokens I made as well as those provided in the FG module for Dragon Heist. Worth noting — the adventure doesn’t actually come with a map of the Yawning Portal, which is somewhat odd as it’s where the adventure starts. Luckily there are plenty to find online.

 

Now, how did everything play out?

The PCs (level one):

Wobbles Offund: Rock Gnome Wizard

Gardenia Stone: Moon Elf Druid

Copernicus “Copper” Cannith: Juggernaut Warforged Craftsman

Jo Raethran: High Elf Life Domain Cleric

 

For a brief bit of backstory, Wobbles is an elderly cobbler who’s just finished working off an enormous debt placed on him and his late father by the Zhentarim, whom they’d hired decades prior to protect them and who killed Wobbles’s mother when they faulted on their debt. Wobbles made a promise to his father before he passed to make something of himself when the debt was paid, and since tonight was to be his last payment, he decided to sign up with the Watchful Order or Magists and Protectors, as well as the Lord’s Alliance, with his newly-gained magical prowess and headed to the Yawning Portal to meet his current Zhent contact, Davil Starsong. Wobbles also has made some enemies in the Xanathar Guild due to accidentally supplying one of their members with a faulty shoe some years ago.

Wobbles takes care of Copper, a warforged from a faraway place who found himself in Waterdeep a few years ago with no memory of his previous life (given his inevitable ties to Eberron, I’m planning on having his backstory involve the Astral Sea and gith pirates, which will hopefully tie into Dungeon of the Mad Mage). As constructs don’t have rights in Waterdeep, he had a difficult time finding a place, and luckily met up with Wobbles and found work at a forge. The forge pays Wobbles for Copper’s work, for which he is uniquely qualified as a giant robot man. Copper in turn designs his own ideas for shields and armor after hours at the forge and gets to keep a portion of the profits made from their sale, and has a few friends in the Gray Hands who like his work.

Jo is a fledgling cleric who has lived with a small encampment of priests in the forests outside Neverwinter since childhood. Before then, her parents were Underdark travelers who had their children in the captivity of a Bregan D’aerthe prison. She has little memory of them or her siblings (I’ll most likely tie them in in some way to Jarlaxle’s plot). She was raised by the head priest of this encampment alongside his son Tye, with whom she’s smitten. Tye has since left for Waterdeep and joined Force Grey, and in the interest of pursuing her love, Jo headed off for Waterdeep and joined up with the Order of the Gauntlet, hoping their resources would give her the ability to follow her heart. She was sworn in by Savra Bellabranta.

Gardenia was raised in her youth by a militant offshoot of the Emerald Enclave whose methods bordered on bio-terrorism in the interest of destroying Waterdeep. She was separated from them at a young age during a raid, and taken into the orphanage at Helm’s Hall in Waterdeep. Since then she’s attempted to gain work in various guilds (including a brief stint as Wobbles’s apprentice) but failed miserably; most recently she’s worked with the Guild of Vintners and Brewers to little success. She has something of a connection to Melannor Fellbranch, who expressed an interest in her activities when she was at the orphanage.

Most of this came from the “This is your Life” tables in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything alongside my efforts to tie everyone to some factions in some way or another, as well as giving everyone a reason to be in the Yawning Portal at the start of the adventure. To keep track, Wobbles is in the Lord’s Alliance, hates the Zhents for killing his mother, and is hated by the Xanathar Guild for accidentally foiling one of their plots. Copper is friends with members of Force Grey (who are tentatively interested in bringing him into the Gray Hands). Jo is a member of the Order of the Gauntlet, is in love with a member of Force Grey, and spent some of her childhood as a captive of Bregan D’aerthe, and Gardenia used to be with the Emerald Enclave and is still somewhat tied to them. Phew.

All of that said, the start of the adventure was relatively problem-free. Had some good interaction with Wobbles and Davil collecting his final payment, and the party mostly stayed out of the bar fight between the Xanathar Guild and Yagra, which turned out to be a wise decision as they seem to lack DPS. Copper can take a lot of hits, and Jo and Gardenia can heal, but no one really has much damage output. Hopefully Wobbles can get beyond that as he learns new spells but his rolls on Firebolt were abysmal.

The troll fight went off without a hitch (though Durnan was the primary damage dealer, for expected reasons), and their interactions with Volo were hilarious (when Copper and Gardenia’s players were able to hear the rest of us). The loose ties between the party members thus having been created, they headed out into the early autumn evening to track down Floon Blagmaar.

I embellished the “Blood in the Streets” encounter using the parts from the Valeur guide, as I wanted to establish Captain Staget early on. I made sure he showed interest in Copper in particular — Staget is going to be the one asking them to get started on Rats of Waterdeep and his knowledge of Copper’s immunity to disease will work as a great reason for him to ask them. On their way through the Dock Ward there was some good inter-character conversation, and I ran a small vignette from the City Encounters involving some smugglers. I had no idea what I would have these characters actually be doing, so luckily the PCs walked on by as I expected them to. Still, I think it worked to give some flavor to the seedier aspects of Waterdeep.

They asked for directions to the Skewered Dragon, and got some aid from a fisherwoman I pulled from my pre-gen’d NPCs list in the form of wrong directions that I later had to correct once I figured out where this stuff actually was. Oops. I set up the quarantine zone from Rats just north of all this stuff so they’d have to pass by and see the guards patrolling its alleys. They passed the Old Xoblob Shop and I was a bit worried they’d completely pass it by, but luckily Jo expressed some interest in it and my description of what she could see from outside was enough to get her inside.

The rest of the party didn’t particularly enjoy the venture, but it did end up providing some fun RP and more info about where they might find Floon. One thing I really like about the way FG handles quests is that you can expand the information they have at their disposal with tidbits they pick up from NPCs. It’s a handy way of reminding them of what they already know and where they heard it from without telling them directly.

I ran the Skewered Dragon as written in the Valeur guide and I’m really glad I did. Solomil turned out to be a blast and his fist fight with Copper was hilarious — I only got two attacks and rolled nat 1’s on both. We played it off as his fists literally being too weak to even dent Copper’s metal body and the fight was over before it even started. He gave them their info (which they rightfully were skeptical of) and sent them off. They elected to all stay the night at Wobbles’s shop before venturing into Candle Lane.

Jo took the spare room upstairs and Gardenia opted to sleep in a bedroll on the main floor — neither of them really have a place to stay in town — and the next day they were greeted to a hail storm courtesy of the great weather tables from the City Encounters module. Wobbles, Jo, and Gardenia decided to head back to the Yawning Portal since they knew by now that they were looking for Zhents and that Davil might know their whereabouts. Copper stayed behind to man the shop.

After a brief but great mishap with a failed pickpocket (again from City Encounters) wherein Jo wasn’t to be messed with, they were unable to find Davil in the Yawning Portal and decided to split up. Which was a mistake.

Wobbles headed back to the shop (Offund’s Wares Often Worn, which I just love) while the gals decided to scope out Candle Lane. One City Encounter later (with the amount of enemies halved!) and they were about dead. Still, Jo was able to fry a guy with an Inflict Wounds and the two got out of dodge before the guards showed up. They got to Candle Lane and decided to hide out and see if anyone walked in or out (and they both got nat 20s on their stealth checks! Unbelievable.) I think it did a good job of establishing the danger present in the Dock Ward but in retrospect one Thug would’ve been plenty. Ah well.

Wobbles and Copper arrived a bit later and the four of them headed to the Zhent warehouse where some stealth checks and perception revealed a relative lack of ways in. You really need a rogue for this encounter. They had Copper break down the door, which obviously alerted the Kenku and allowed them to hide. This is where my biggest screw-up happened.

I ruled that, based on the Kenkus’ stealth, the players would need a passive perception of 16 to spot them, which none of them have. Well, that’s not strictly true. Gardenia has a passive perception of 19 thanks to the Observant feat (I let all my players start with a feat), but I didn’t notice it thanks to not understanding how FG works. So the Kenku naturally destroyed them. After I realized my error I rewound to the start of the combat to negate the surprise round, but it still proved a fatal encounter for Wobbles, with the last Kenku running off. I ended the session with Copper finding a locked up Renaer in the closet.

After the session I talked to Wobbles’s player and decided that he wouldn’t be dead, just very much unconscious and badly wounded. It didn’t seem right to kill him for my mistake, for surely if they had known the Kenku were there (which they should’ve with Gardenia’s passive perception), that encounter would’ve gone a lot differently. Luckily, no one has any problem with my little retcon, so hopefully the next session will go a bit better as the party tries to find out where Floon is.

Since they weren’t able to interrogate the Kenku, I’m planning on having Renaer suggest a meeting with Mirt, who will give them the information they need. Introducing him will help me out a bit because they need to know he’s a moneylender so they can afford the eventual repairs to Trollskull Alley and he can give them the Blue Alley quest.

So … I think that’s about it! Next they’ll finish up searching the Zhent warehouse and meet up with Captain Staget again, who will try to find a way to see if Copper is truly immune to disease (most likely by just asking him straight up). It’ll be interesting to see if this party stays together.

Hopefully you found this somewhat informative or at least interesting. I’m flying by the seat of my pants with Waterdeep but I think so far it’s going well. I can’t wait to get into Trollskull Alley, I have a lot of good stuff planned for that part of the adventure. Until next week!

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