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 …

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.

Dragon Heist — Campaign Diary #5

Our heroes continued their extensive Home Ec class this week, knocking about several more of the necessary repairs, met the rest of their neighbors, got some clues about a rather shady secret one of their neighbors might be hiding, and took on a few more quests in the interest of putting a bit more coin in their pockets. Also, some of them are turning into rats. So that’s fun.

 

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 started with some more shenanigans from Lif and with our party finally meeting with the man, the myth, the legend — Emmek Frewn. Once again, the module really doesn’t give you a whole lot of description for him, so I settled on making him about as disgusting as I possibly could. I gave him a sort of “season one Michael Scott” vibe, with the awful combover and a wispy, poorly-grown beard to boot. He was in the process of lighting a malodorous pipe with a couple of denouncement notices from a few guilds and was incredibly condescending to Wobbles, who did most of the talking, about all the hoops they’d had to jump through to get guild support for their establishment. He, evidently, was spending a fraction of what they had to by just hiring a few halflings to do the brunt of his heavy lifting. They hated him, which was perfect.

They went to meet the last two neighbors they’d not spoken to yet, who are honestly two of my favorite in the Alley: Vincent Trench and Rishaal. Trench is just a fantastic character, a rakshasa in disguise as a human who works as a private investigator. I gave him a sort of Solid Snake-style voice and described him as smoking an enchanted pipe that didn’t put off unpleasant tobacco smells but rather that of lavender (essentially a fantasy vape), and they hit it off with him instantly. Wobbles was also very keen on Rishaal, the squat, dragonborn proprietor of Book Wyrm’s Treasure, and both Jo and Gardenia found books they were interested in. Wobbles managed to pawn off the spell book he’d found in the Xanathar Guild hideout for a good bit of coin, and worked out an arrangement whereby he’d still be able to copy the last couple spells he didn’t have out of it.

They paid a brief visit to Fala, since Vincent informed Wobbles that there might be someone else living there who would interest him (Ziraj, a Zhent member of the Doom Raiders, a group that Wobbles has some history with), but they were unable to discern anything other than some footsteps without pissing off their neighbor. They got a few more visits from some guild members to do further repairs, and it became clear that they were going to need more money. Copper sold some of the silver bars he’d found and set to work for about a day and a half making the replacement railings (since he’s technically sanctioned by a guild of metalforgers, it was all above board). Meantime, Celniana had some success selling his daggers, and they got a visit from Flapignon “Flaps” Vitosian from the other Leverage module who was there to fix the pipes. I decided that he didn’t have a sense of smell, which was why he was uniquely qualified for the job.

He quoted them at a hefty sum and said that about 100gp of it was just getting the sewage out of there (I was hoping they’d think to use their dust of dryness for this, but they didn’t). They asked if there was anything he needed help with to reduce the cost, which of course he did. He gave them the mission to rescue his nephew from the Master Baker’s Hall, which they promptly passed off to Vincent (quite smartly, if I may say so). They sent a message off to Mirt asking for a meeting, and after a short bit he teleported into their establishment and lent them their requested gold — 200 to start. They finished a good deal of the repairs by now, with new windows and light fixtures, Copper’s railings, Cole’s work on the chimneys near completion, Flaps setting to work on the plumbing, and Tally nearly finished with the roof. It’s starting to come together!

The last part of the session was dedicated to them starting Rats of Waterdeep (finally!). Bogarte Locks is a hilarious NPC in that module. I decided that he thinks he’s in a classic, film noir detective movie, and I have him say out loud all the little diary entries that pepper the module in an edgy voice. We got a kick out of his awful metaphors, as well, with my personal favorite of the bunch being one I came up with on the spot: “this plot is getting thicker than a bowl of oatmeal.” Wobbles and Jo are slowly starting to turn into rats, but they made good progress on the puzzles (solving most of them through brute force since their investigation checks were almost all abysmal), and we ended with them heading into the sewers to confront the Rat King.

We should have no problem wrapping up the Rats mission next session, and with Vincent’s information I suspect they’ll be able to save Flaps’s nephew easy enough as well. With the rewards they’ll get from those and maybe a bit more borrowed from Mirt, they should be able to finally finish up the repairs of Trollskull Manor and get on to the real meat of chapter 2 … faction missions. Looking forward to seeing how those play out!

Dragon Heist — Campaign Diary #4

The slow burn continues! We had a bit of a more eventful session this week, albeit still one full of home-making and investigating. Our heroes dealt with a fence’s warehouse in the Dock Ward before handling a creepy talking doll and meeting some more of their neighbors, ending with the possible acceptance of another quest.

 

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

 

They began with a brief meeting with Cole Clambertop, the fire genasi steeplejack from the masons’ guild who gave them the rundown on what he needed them to do — steal back a necklace from a warehouse in the Dock Ward that was operated by a fence named Cybil. They had a few ways they could go about doing this, but given that our group is unfortunately not especially gifted when it comes to stealth, they ended up basically having to bust down the door. Luckily, they proved themselves much more formidable at level 2, with a fight against 5 thugs going really smoothly thanks to Copper’s ridiculous armor class, Wobbles’s new abilities from the School of Abjuration, and some really lucky death saves (both natural 20s). The Leverage module didn’t provide much detail about the interior of the warehouse, but it ended up involving another fight with two thugs (with Copper dealing with one and the other three members of the party dealing with the other) and culminated in a nasty fight with a mimic disguised as a bookshelf that nearly ate Wobbles thanks to a weird Fantasy Grounds glitch that made Copper target his own (nigh impenetrable) armor class. Luckily we sorted it out and they ended up also beating the crap out of Cybil to steal her money. They made off with the stolen goods, a nice bit of cash, and some heavy crossbows worth a surprising amount of money tot he right buyer.

They got back to Trollskull Manor and returned the jewelry to Cole, who was grateful for their work and continued to do the rather lengthy repairs required on the chimneys of the manor. In the warehouse, they’d also found a strange packet of dust (dust of dryness) which Wobbles thought to bring over to Merric in the Market for some identification. Gardenia also offered up the creepy talking doll that she’d found and asked for an identify on that as well. This is a fun little bit that I found on Reddit that ties in nicely to Trollskull Manor’s history as an orphanage run by hags. Merric identified the two things for them and advised that they meet with Ulkoria Stonemarrow, a previous owner of the property and member of the Watchful Order. Meanwhile, Copper asked Celniana if she might try selling some of his ornate silver daggers at her stall, which she agreed to try.

They headed to the Tower of the Order where they got a brief meeting with Ulkoria and her Shield Guardian (which I hastily decided was named Carl) and got the details from her — Trollskull Manor was sold to group of women running an orphanage who ended up being a coven of hags eating the children. The reason the creepy talking doll was sticking around was because one of the souls of the children killed there hadn’t moved on. Depressing stuff. They headed back to the manor and after some investigation found the bones of the child in a stewpot in the kitchen; they were able to give it a proper burial thanks to Jo’s Ceremony spell which solved their problem. I used the opportunity to have Mirt and Renaer drop by on a visit and witness the unsettling ceremony, with Mirt once again offering his services.

They also had some great interactions with their neighbors; Gardenia talked a bit more to Fala about a potential partnership (I had her roll a perception check to see if she could hear Ziraj walking about on the second floor, but she failed spectacularly), Wobbles sold the weapons they’d found to Avi and Embric, bringing the crossbows over to the Bent Nail to sell to Tally. He was able to sort out a misunderstanding between the proprietors of the two shops and, thanks to the hefty price tag on heavy crossbows, work out a deal with Tally to make some new furniture for the manor as well as repair the floors and the roofing. The shopowners told them about Emmek Frewn, who had apparently moved in right across the street from them Ray Kroc style in an effort to run them out of business. Last, they had a visit from Broxley Fairkettle from the Fellowship of Innkeepers who also told them about Emmek and suggested Wobbles might talk to him. Most of the people they talked to did not have a good first impression of Emmek, and the party is really looking forward to meeting him.

I had a guild representative come to repair the sewage before leaving in disgust, saying that “Flaps” should be the one to take care of it (from another Leverage sidequest), and ended the session with a visit from Captain Hystus Staget, who sheepishly requested their aid in what will eventually set off the Rats of Waterdeep mission. They continue to make progress on repairing the place and getting it running, and most of the neighbors seem to like them thus far. I look forward to seeing what happens with Emmek, as I plan to make him a real nuisance. Should be a fun time!

Dragon Heist — Campaign Diary #3

Starting this adventure up in my last semester of college proved to mean that I could take a different approach to it than any other adventure I’d run before. Namely, I wouldn’t be in a time crunch to finish things up around particular periods of time (the end of a semester or school year, primarily), since I’m playing it online with an already geographically separated group. With that being the case, I was determined to make this adventure as close to a Breaking Bad-style slow burn as I could, since the players and I all enjoy the roleplaying and storytelling aspect of the game as much as, if not more than, the tactical combat and strategy portions.

Knowing that I’d be taking my sweet time with this one, and that the players were fine with that, I made a concerted effort to familiarize myself with Waterdeep as much as I possibly could, and make sure that the city seemed alive and actually populated with real people. After all, we’re going to be spending a lot of time here, so it seemed appropriate that they actually care about at least some of the sprawling city. I also sought out as much additional content as I could find, given that, if we’re going to be spending a lot of time here, we might as well have some fun doing it. There’s a huge wealth of content that creators have put out for Waterdeep; lots of little side adventures and jaunts through the town as well as expansions on the somewhat lacking faction missions present in chapter two. So I’m throwing as much stuff in here as I reasonably can.

Suffice to say, my attempts at making Dragon Heist a slow burn are paying off so far, as we spent the entirety of session 3, for lack of a better description, playing The Sims.

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 picked up right where we left off last week with the party arriving at Trollskull Manor with Volo, who promptly warned them about Lif, the poltergeist living in its taproom. I had written up descriptions of all the various decay to be found in the various rooms of the massive manor, and combined those with some handy descriptions I found on Reddit of the various repairs that needed to be made to each room. I boosted the repair cost up from 1000 gp to 1500, given that the party makeup allows for some pretty substantial income already and I wanted them to borrow at least some from Mirt so they could owe him a favor and I’d have an excuse to pull out the spectacular Blue Alley mission.

They gave the place a thorough investigation, which in itself took quite some time, while Copper headed back with Volo to the market in order to meet with Celniana, his new teacher of jewelry-making. I came up with some modifications to the “training” downtime activity from XGtE given that, as a Craftsman, Copper already has proficiency with all artisan’s tools. I still ruled that knowing the tools didn’t necessarily mean he could make intricate things with them just yet, so we figured 3 workweeks at 25 gp a week would get him up to snuff. Meanwhile Volo set up a meeting with a magistrate and sent a paper bird off to Mirt to have him come inspect the place for them the following day.

Ultimately, they liked the place despite it being a huge fixer-upper. Lif was a right nuisance, throwing glasses around and hanging up a vulgar painting of an elven woman in the taproom whenever no one was looking. I decided to throw some frogs in one of the bathtubs (which Wobbles immediately latched onto) and a cat in the spare room. Additionally, I introduced the party to neighbor Tally Fellbranch early on by having him call up to them while they broke into the upper floor (every outside door has rusted out locks holding it closed). Then, when Copper returned from his lesson, came the time for some bureaucracy.

When they set down for the night in Wobbles’s shop, Wobbles started taking some notes of what guilds he’d need to contact and in what order, aware of the fact that unsanctioned repairs would be a no-go. This turned out to be a lot more fun than anticipated, as I had already drawn up some NPCs to have as guild representatives (one of whom Jo had some fun interaction with, he sounded like Foghorn Leghorn). They got back to Trollskull Manor the next day to see Mirt playing with the resident cat before noting that repairs would most likely cost upwards of 1000 gp, but that he’d be willing to lend them whatever they needed in return for partial ownership. They talked him down to 2.5% ownership for every 100 gp he lent them, with the promise of being able to buy some of his shares back when it became profitable. Copper also asked him for a small loan of 100 gp to do some experimentation with his armor, which Mirt gave him on the condition that he be allowed to put Copper’s name down on some people’s lists (which gives him a connection to the Gray Hands and possibly the Harpers for later on in the chapter).

Wobbles wrote a bunch of letters to guild halls and sent them through the Zephyr Post, a great optional neighbor I can’t believe they left out of the final copy of the book, and then headed to the Market to buy some spell components. I rolled on my random NPC table and came up with Merric Fastfoot, a former soldier who now operates a small business spelling wizarding supplies (fine inks and paper, components for first level spells, and a couple spell scrolls) who sounds like the Engineer from TF2. Jo met with the Streetworkers’ Guild to organize a trash pickup for all the crap they hauled out, Gardenia went across the street and met Fala, getting a few potted plants out of the deal so she could do some more herablism, and Copper headed to Steam and Steel and met Avi and Embric, arranging a partnership wherein he could use their forge some nights in return for eventually allowing them access to the forge he plans to build into Trollskull Manor’s basement. All fun interactions; I’m also using some of the sidequests from the Valeur RPG guide to flesh out the neighbors further. They also noticed some moving crews setting up further down the alley where Frewn is eventually going to move in.

They finished up with a visit from Cole Clambertop, a steeplejack from the Masons’ Guild and side character from one of the great Leverage side missions I found on DM’s Guild. He offered to lower the price on the considerable repairs needed if they helped him and his wife out with a little something … the party accepted and headed off to bed for the night, agreeing to meet with him the next morning and discuss.

Overall it was a grand time and helped me set up a lot of further interactions and encounters without having any actual combat to speak of. I don’t think I even rolled any dice apart from determining the weather and a few random encounters along the streets that never ended up amounting to much. Next time I plan on running that Leverage mission to its end, introducing the next one, and possibly starting them on the Rats of Waterdeep mission as well. We’ll see what happens, though, we might end up just moving a bunch of furniture around.

Dragon Heist — Campaign Diary #2

Hey, I’m back (after an untimely computer crash deleted this post as I was just about finished with it). Time to go over the events of session two and some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that went 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!

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

 

We started with everyone who wasn’t rendered unconscious by the events of the last session poking around the Zhentarim warehouse. Gardenia decided to give a look at the offices upstairs and came across a paper bird rolled up in one of the desk drawers while Copper followed the wire tied to the alarm bells above the office doors and found the secret door downstairs they were attached to. He immediately absconded with the silver bars in the room hidden beyond, but elected not to take the paintings (which makes sense, given the nature of his character).

Shortly thereafter, Renaer came to and informed them that he was not, in fact, Floon, the man they were looking for, but that it was most likely the Xanathar Guild who’d taken him based on the various corpses around the warehouse. They didn’t have much time to process this information before Captain Staget barged in with his army of watchmen and demanded to know what had happened here. The party (or at least the two who were conscious) played it cool with him and were very apologetic for the events that had happened and Staget took a liking to them. This I kind of needed to happen so that Staget could later ask them to partake in the Rats of Waterdeep mission. Staget asked Copper if he was truly immune to disease as he’d heard warforged were, and seemed to file that information away before sending them off with a couple potions of healing for their comrades.

After an inspired speech from Wobbles about the promise he’d made to his father to make something of himself, the party headed off to the shoe shop with Renaer in tow (at least part of the way, he stopped at the Yawning Portal for a much-needed drink) and took a rest. Renaer had mentioned that he might know of a person who could help them find the Xanathar Guild hideout (given that they were unable to interrogate the Kenku in the last session). Gardenia took a stroll in the City of the Dead to gather some ingredients to supply her herbalism kit and Copper took the forge to make some ornate daggers from the silver he’d found.

They got up early the next morning (given that they started their long rest the previous day at around 4pm) and decide to hit the Market to sell off some of the daggers Copper had made. I got in some good description of the streets of Waterdeep and some of the different options they had for traveling from point A to point B. I like the information the book has in Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion about this stuff, it’s great flavor. I pulled some random NPCs from my table to flesh out some of the shopkeeps in the Market and they stayed til about 2pm to sell the daggers off. Meanwhile. Gardenia made friends with a dwarven shopkeep named Veit Fireforge who had some herbal supplements and other flowers for sale (at a discounted price under the condition that she promise to be a returning customer) and Copper met Celniana Queyore, a gnome jeweler who offered to try and teach him some finer crafting methods. All in all some fun interactions (Veit told Gardenia that he was merely a front for the actual herbalist responsible for the goods at his stall who didn’t want to tell anybody where he got his stuff from. In actuality, Veit is the herbalist himself and is merely pretending. I think everyone bought it easily given that he was described as obese and had a voice like Ray Romano).

They then headed back to the Yawning Portal to meet up with Renaer, who told them he’d set up a meeting with Mirt. He hired a carriage to bring them to Mirt’s mansion (which I incorrectly described as being in the North Ward) and they had some really fun interactions with Mirt while he contacted his Harper friends to figure out where the Xanathar Guild hideout was. This meeting was inspired by the Valeur RPG guide to chapter one, and was a good opportunity to flesh out some more character background (as they still don’t really know each other) and have some fun with voices (I decided he sounds like the Demoman from TF2) before heading off to the sewers.

Renaer opted to hang back in the Yawning Portal as they made their way down. The gazer encounter went off well, and they soon found themselves in the Xanathar Guild hideout. They made fairly short work of the place, taking care of the goblin fairly easily, dealing with Krentz and Zemk equally quickly (they left Zemk unconscious in the corner and let Krentz run away after being beaten). While they interrogated him, Krentz informed them about the gray ooze in the latrine so they made the smart call of leaving that area be. Then they headed up to fight the boss with is Intellect Devourer, which should’ve been a much more difficult encounter but the person at the front didn’t have a brain (damned Warforged physiology) and I forgot about the half-orc’s ability to come back after hitting 0 hit points (oops). That said, they successfully saved Floon, and Wobbles had a new spellbook to mooch off of. They made their way out the way they came (not discovering any of the secret passages to other shops) and reunited Floon and Renaer.

Volo was at the Yawning Portal when they arrived, and offered to give them a ride to the estate he gifted them — Trollskull Manor. I leveled them up to level two as they set eyes on their new home, and I’m really excited for the next session. I’ve got a lot of stuff planned for Trollskull Alley (a lot of it taken from various side missions on DM’s Guild), so stay tuned!

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!