Dragon Heist Campaign Diary #7; “Middletown Dreams”

We had a bit of a truncated session last Wednesday wherein we finished up what I’d consider to be act one of our campaign. At long last, our heroes finally set up their shop, made a bit of money through some connections, mediated some trouble at home, and got a call to action that will spur them down a path … to destiny. And, most likely, a lot of cash.

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!

The PCs (level two):

Wobbles Offund: Rock Gnome Abjuration Wizard

Gardenia Stone: Moon Elf Circle of Plagues Druid

Copernicus “Copper” Cannith: Juggernaut Warforged Craftsman

Jo Raethran: High Elf Life Domain Cleric

We began where we left off previously with our heroes coming down from bed the next morning, and seeing Frewn and his hired halflings shoveling a load of shit out into the streets. Seeing them watching through the window, Frewn opted to shovel some of it onto their stoop, which of course they weren’t thrilled about. They decided to split up that day, with Jo heading off to meet with the Dungsweeper’s Guild to see if anything could be done about the river of shit separating their bar from Frewn’s, and then the Fellowship of Innkeepers to arrange a meeting with Broxley Fairkettle, their Fellowship liaison.

Gardenia decided to stay in Trollskull Alley and go around to meet with a few of the neighbors and get their takes on what was going on with Frewn, since it seemed that he’d be causing trouble for them in the future. She met with Tally, who was mostly amused by the circumstances but advised them against causing any further actionable trouble, and with Avi and Embric who had mostly similar things to say (though this was her first time actually meeting them). She also offered both her help in the future if there was anything they thought they might need from her, a goodwill gesture and somewhat transparent (though not unwelcome) attempt to get in their good graces.

Copper went to briefly speak to Frewn, who stated his suspicion that Fala across the street was responsible for his … fecal problems. Copper, knowing that Wobbles was most likely responsible, headed immediately across the street to head that off and was met not by Fala, but by Ziraj, the enormous half-orc assassin for the Doom Raiders that sometimes stays in Fala’s upper room. Ziraj, not one for many words, simply stated that he’d ‘take care of it’. Copper then went to meet with Captain Staget to inquire about perhaps working on the armored carriages used to collect taxes (an occurrence which came from a random encounter I rolled during the first session) and was directed to his own guild hall.

There, Copper met with Eldon Ironhide, an NPC from my random tables, a meticulous gnome who sounds vaguely like Patrick Stewart. Eldon offered to give him one of the old carriages to see what he could cook up. Wobbles stayed home and worked on getting better at using the brewer’s tools there with some help from Lif. That night the party reconvened and met with Broxley, who offered them all guild membership depending on how many of them wanted their names on the contract (they settled on Wobbles and Gardenia). He put them in contact with their respective liaisons in the Butchers’ and Brewers’ Guilds, and they were finally ready to get started.

Their first two weeks running the business weren’t especially lucrative (I’ve since decided to use the alternate options from the Valeur RPG guide to chapter two), but I had some fun coming up with the various hirelings they’ve got at their place (included a pair of gnomish siblings in the kitchen with an adopted, silent goliath teenager as their dishwasher, a quiet dwarven bouncer with a pet mouse named Cupcake, and a clumsy but well-meaning human waiter). I threw Threestrings in there as their bard on retainer because I like his character and it seems a waste to keep him in the Yawning Portal. I figure he’s keeping an eye on them for Mirt.

Over the course of the next two tendays, their various friends stopped by to visit, including all their neighbors (apart from Frewn), Captain Staget, Celniana from the Market, Catarina Brisby and Maladie Song from Rats of Waterdeep (who opted to stay and use their guest room in exchange for working as janitors), Mirt, Renaer, Floon, Volo, and, finally, Davil Starsong, who had an amiable meeting with Wobbles and told him that Ziraj was a friend of his. They went to speak briefly with Fala, who politely asked that they not do anything like that again, and also asked that they not tell anyone else about Ziraj staying there. They obliged.

Finally, Copper met with Eldon who was impressed by his work on the carriage and gave him a bit more spending money to continue. Near the end, Copper received a mental message via sending from Vajra Safahr, the Blackstaff, asking him and his friends to come see her …

The Promise of Adventure — An Evening with the Neal Morse Band

I was an enormous fan of the Neal Morse Band’s 2016 album The Similitude of a Dream, and have been studiously following Morse’s career for several years. His collaborations with Dream Theater alum Mike Portnoy have never disappointed, whether it’s the contemplative prog wanderings of Transatlantic, the poppier, more accessible tunes of Flying Colors, or Neal’s religious, epic, and at times deeply personal solo albums, the Morse/Portnoy pairing is a fountain of amazing music. Their most recent collaboration is in the Neal Morse Band, alongside bassist Randy George, keyboardist Bill Hubauer, and guitarist Eric Gillette, and their three albums under this banner have been some of the absolute best music released in the past decade. This band has a certain synchronicity that’s missing from most of today’s prog, with everyone getting ample time in the spotlight. This Saturday marked my third year in a row seeing Neal Morse (2017’s The Road Called Home tour and last year’s tour in support of Life and Times being the others), and once again I’m left with little to complain about.

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Like their 2017 tour, the band played through the entirety of their latest album, The Great Adventure, which is a sequel to 2016’s The Similitude of a Dream. The Great Adventure continues the story of Similitude, once again loosely based on Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. This time around we follow the story of Joseph, Christian’s eldest son, whose story follows many similar story beats to his father’s. Characters from the book and from the previous album show up in different capacities, as do some of the more pervasive musical themes from Similitude, but The Great Adventure is by no means a rehashing of the same musical material. The Great Adventure is every bit as diverse and brilliant as its predecessor, and the band’s performance of the work was masterful and nearly flawless.

The show opened with Morse in the same outfit he wore at the end of the previous tour, which makes sense as the album opens as the previous one closed. It was a great touch and showed just how much love and care these guys put into making their performances entertaining and cohesive. The sweeping overture was played perfectly, as expected, and the performance of Welcome to the World was electric. The crowd was singing along almost instantly, and you could tell it was a group of fans who already knew the relatively new album front to back. The performances of the next several songs were similarly emotionally charged, with Dark Melody including some amazing vocal work from Morse and Hubauer, the latter of whose vocal work is distinctive and piercing. Hubauer’s position at the back of the stage sometimes made it difficult to see him, but you could always tell when he was singing.

Gillette’s guitar and voice work got a chance to shine in I Got to Run, a more straightforward rocker that let him show off his impressive chops at both, and To the River served as a light breather with more nods to the previous album and some impressive acoustic guitar work from Morse. They took their first pause before the title track to joke around a bit with the audience about how it sounds a bit like a country track, with Gillette providing a hilarious vocal example and Portnoy insisting that they sing it that way for the second chorus given that it was to be the last night on the US leg of the tour. They obliged, and it was every bit as funny as it sounds. The rest of the song was pretty awesome, too.

Venture in Black featured Portnoy on vocals for the first part of the song, which remains impressive, and a great call-and-response vocal part between Hubauer and the rest of the band in the back half. The first half of the show was closed with Hey Ho Let’s Go and To the River, both of which once again featured tremendous voice work from Gillette as well as an angelic keyboard solo from Morse.

After an intermission they came right back with the second overture, which has some great organ work from Morse and Hubauer on keyboards and a great, floor-tom driven beat from Portnoy. Fighting with Destiny is another track that’s just pulsing with energy, mostly thanks to the fantastic rhythms of Portnoy and George driving at a very fast pace. Vanity Fair, probably my favorite track on the album, didn’t disappoint either, with Morse wearing an over-the-top costume and the whole band just belting the chorus and dancing about. You could tell they really had a blast with this tune, especially with George stepping up to the mic with an affected, pompous British accent.

Portnoy once again took vocal duty on Welcome to the World 2, not only singing and drumming but also gesticulating and pantomiming with his drumsticks to accentuate the lines he was singing. The Element of Fear opened with a dramatic, growling solo from Gillette’s seventh string, and was another impressive instrumental showing from the whole band that seemed to give everyone a chance to shine. Indeed, Morse constantly moved around the stage for most of the show, trying to draw attention to the various band members when they played particularly impressive parts. You can tell he really enjoys playing with these guys.

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Child of Wonder and The Great Despair were the two best vocal showcases from Morse and Gillette, respectively, and Freedom Calling is an absolute tour de instrumental force, complete with a monster of a drum solo from Portnoy halfway through. Finally we came to A Love that Never Dies, which operates on much the same frequency as Broken Sky/Long Day (Repirse) from Similitude, reprising the musical themes of the album and giving Eric Gillette a chance to flex his vocal chords with a gorgeous closing melody.

But of course, they weren’t done there. The show closed with a career retrospective medley for Morse, starting with The Land of Beginning Again from Testimony, and fluidly playing through parts of some of his best work, namely Temple of the Living God from ?, The Conflict from Sola Scriptura, and parts from One, Lifeline, and Testimony 2, ending with a fist-pumping rendition of Momentum that seamlessly led into The Call from their first album as the Neal Morse Band, which I’m inclined to say is the greatest song released in the past decade. No one was in their seats by the time they segued into Broken Sky/Long Day from Similitude, bringing down the house with Bill Hubauer’s sweeping keyboard and Gillette’s soaring vocals. In a stroke of musical genius, Morse ended the show with the last few lines of Similitude, which are also the first lines of The Great Adventure, smiling to himself as he played the last few piano bars.

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Simply put, the Neal Morse Band put on a damn good show. They’re entertainers, first and foremost, and the lights, pyrotechnics, and graphics backing them up always accentuated the best musical moments without distracting from the sheer amount of talent and musicianship on display from all five members of the band. Morse has written an impressive catalog and assembled an absolute powerhouse of a band, and it’s truly a joy to watch them play. I look forward to what’s next for the Neal Morse Band, and you can be sure I’ll be getting a ticket the next time he’s in town.

Dragon Heist — Campaign Diary #6

We hit a lot of milestones this week, finishing up the Rats of Waterdeep arc in a fairly satisfying way (at least I thought so) and also the last of the necessary repairs on Trollskull Manor. Other hijinks included rescuing a plumber from the Baker’s Guild, making a few new friends, and … oh, right. Filling Emmek Frewn’s taproom with shit.

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!

The PCs (level two):

Wobbles Offund: Rock Gnome Abjuration Wizard

Gardenia Stone: Moon Elf Circle of Plagues Druid

Copernicus “Copper” Cannith: Juggernaut Warforged Craftsman

Jo Raethran: High Elf Life Domain Cleric

 

We began with the party entering the sewers of the Dock Ward yet again, this time in search of the “Rat King” Catarina Brisby (a name which I realized was a reference to the Rats of NIMH as I began the session). They expertly evaded the mousetrap along the way and had a nice conversation with the despondent Catarina. Meantime, Copper caught the cranium rat spying on them for Xanathar and started to unravel some of the crime lord’s plot. They decided to send Jo (with the cure disease potion Fala made for them) and Bogarte back home, a mostly utilitarian decision since Bogarte is basically useless and Jo’s player couldn’t make the session this week. That left us with a core group of Wobbles, Copper, and Gardenia to finish the investigation.

They headed to Doc Ward’s Apothecary at Catarina’s request and swiftly enough discovered the secret lab beneath it. A well-placed cantrip from Gardenia dealt with nearly all the cultists in there in one fell swoop, and they were clued in a bit more by one they interrogated as to what was going on. Copper and Wobbles elected to find the group who would be participating in the march to take place later that day, a bunch of worshipers of Ilmater heading through the quarantine zone to hand out blankets and baskets of other supplies. Meantime, Gardenia investigated the area a bit further in an attempt to figure out where the Lady of Plagues would be making her grand entrance, successfully narrowing it down to one of two buildings.

Copper and Wobbles encountered Ugarth, a half-orc paladin of Ilmater from my random NPC table who sounds like Matthew McConaughey. He was great fun and they got along swimmingly, especially after his curing of Wobbles’s rat symptoms. They then met with a group of ne’er-do-wells from the Xanathar Guild who were planning on using the parade as a front to transport slaves. They couldn’t figure out what they were up to but they smartly asked their new friend to keep an eye on them.

The parade came around, with Wobbles situated on one rooftop, Gardenia on the other, and Copper in the streets between. Catarina joined Wobbles on his rooftop and they spotted the Lady of Plagues, Maladie Song, coming up Gardenia’s building. Gardenia was able to subdue Maladie easily enough, and Catarina headed over to speak with her with the knowledge that their strife had been caused by Xanathar. Simultaneously, Wobbles spotted the previous group of ruffians corralling a group of bound and gagged peasants into a sewer entrance. A fight quickly ensued, and they made short work of the slavers with a little help from Ugarth.

That wrapped up Rats of Waterdeep in a nice little bow, with Maladie offering to teach Gardenia some of what she knows (I decided that Gardenia’s old tribe, of which she remembers very little, were also Plague Druids and so extended that as a possible subclass for Gardenia to take, which she did) and the party collecting their reward from Arvene Morrow. With samples they took from the lab and Maladie’s help they were assured that the plague would be dealt with swiftly.

Next was the matter of rescuing Flaps’s nephew Putty from Master Baker’s Hall, which was made a very easy mission indeed thanks to Vincent Trench’s excellent investigative work. He supplied them with a map of the joint, as well as information about suspicious people coming and going. With that information in hand it was an easy matter to sneak in and confront the warlock modifying Putty’s memory. They knocked him out and took him back to Trollskull Manor, and he revealed (after some great interrogating) that he had been hired by the Cassalanters to cause trouble between the Plumbers’ and Bakers’ guilds. He didn’t know why, but they had paid him quite handsomely so he hadn’t asked. This put the Cassalanters on the party’s radar, as I’d hoped, since with them not being our planned central villain they basically have nothing to do in this campaign without sufficient purpose.

With Putty rescued, Flaps was willing to fix their sewage problem for a nominal fee, and that only because he had to remove the sewage by hand. I reminded them of their dust of dryness, which they quickly decided to use to remove the sewage themselves. After a few more days, another 200 gold borrowed from Mirt (bringing his total stake in the manor to 10%), and some questioning of Frewn (Ichabod, Wobbles’s toad familiar, had spotted Frewn’s hirelings trying to break into the manor), the renovations of Trollskull Manor were complete.

They did some more crafting and selling of materials and asked Fatima al’Umari over at Zephyr Post about Frewn’s hirelings (a smart move, to be honest), learning that he had paid for them with money borrowed from Istrid Horn of the Zhentarim. Maladie came over to offer some more lessons to Gardenia, noting that she and Catarina would most likely be getting out of town soon. Gardenia offered them one of the spare rooms at Trollskull, which she may well take her up on, at least for a time. Lif finally began to cooperate as he saw Wobbles and Copper attempt to learn how to use brewing equipment, showing that he really wasn’t all that bad.

We capped our session with one of the best things I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness in a D&D session — dust of dryness essentially condenses up to 15 cubic feet of water into a small, round pellet, which, once broken, will expand back out into water. Fed up with Frewn’s continued rudeness and attempted espionage, Wobbles elected to have Ichabod toss one of the two pellets into Frewn’s chimney, thus filling his taproom with rancid sewage.

I can’t wait to see how Frewn responds to that.