DM’s Notes: Episode 19 – I Told You So

WARNING: SPOILERS for both Waterdeep: Dragon Heist the module in general and the story arc for this campaign in particular. If you just want to follow along the campaign but don’t want to have the plot spoiled for you, read no further.

Link to this episode’s podcast.

I think the wild and rollicking combat in this episode provided a welcome respite from the dark and foreboding role play of the past couple of episodes. Dungeons and Dragons is good like that. When you get sick and tired of complex emotions and talking things out, you can always just let loose and beat up a few flying devils.

The anti-magic zone of the tower provided a nice challenge for the party but they managed to turn the tables once they got outside. Icky, especially tanked a lot of damage which was exemplary behavior for an abjuration wizard.

Once again, you’ll notice some key changes from the way the encounter chain was supposed to play out in the book. First of all, it wasn’t gunslingers they encountered at the tower why would Jarlaxle send his people to steal the stone when he believes the party is working for him. Instead it is devils sent by the Cassalanters. They have already established their interest in the stone and could have easily obtained the information as to its whereabouts via Willifort Crowelle.

Second, Icky was smart and sent Morrigan up into the tower to inspect it. At that point, I had to give some kind of benefit for this smart thinking. The benefit I gave was that instead of the devils starting out with the stone, they would start the encounter just having climbed into the tower themselves. Thus giving the party a chance to get the stone by rolling well on initiative. So this changed the encounter chain a bit but that’s fine. At this point the party had a hard fought battle to secure the stone and are ready to move on to the next phase, finding the keys!

I made some modifications to the Stone of Golorr as well. No longer simply a lone Aboleth the Stone is a member of the Abolethic Sovereignty. The Abolethic Sovereignty were written about in a series of Forgotten Realms Novels. I haven’t read those and have instead imagined them as a connected network of alien minds that span time and space and consciousness. I wanted to make the Stone and Hal’s Warlock Patron more neutral and like the Great Old Ones rather than simply making them evil. They sit quietly in the background (much of the time) patiently pulling the strings of time and space. The music that Hal hears when he enters his fugue states (terminator mode) is an echo of the Symphony of Madness generated by the Sovereignty.

No new article appeared in the High Road Herald this episode.

DM’s Notes: Episode 18 – The Gang Gives Jarlaxle the Finger

WARNING: SPOILERS for both Waterdeep: Dragon Heist the module in general and the story arc for this campaign in particular. If you just want to follow along the campaign but don’t want to have the plot spoiled for you, read no further.

Link to this episode’s podcast.

Remember, I said 2 episodes ago that jarlaxle was going to get a lot more dark? Well this is part of that. Icky said it best towards the beginning of the episode when he suggested that he didn’t really care if Jarlaxle wins. Well, I suspect that has changed.

In some ways this was a tough episode for the players. It helps that we have been playing together for a while now and trust each other in these situations. But even still it is a good idea to take a little bit of time out in a tough situation and check in with everybody to make sure that they are still having fun. It doesn’t take much. Just a short check in to make sure that you aren’t pushing things too far. This is important

Incidentally, cutting off their own fingers is not the only way that the party could have dealt with this situation. I am being completely honest when I have Jarlaxle tell them that he will return the twins once they get the stone. In fact, he’s not even going to demand the stone, just that they promise to pursue the dragon hoard for him. We’ll see how they feel about their options after they retreive the Stone of Golorr.

This new article appeared in the High Road Herald this episode, a painful reminder of their last encounter:

Brawl in the Seven Masks Theatre!!!

  Dress rehearsals for the bawdy new pirate adventure musical comedy Sapphiria’s Booty were interrupted yesterday by an outright brawl of epic proportions. Witnesses report that a brave band of compatriots engaged in a knockdown drag out fight against a dastardly drove of dashing drow. 

  “But in the end, the Drow were victorious  and quickly left the internecine interlopers behind, taking the  director Rongquan Mystere and two young extras.” Said the famed lead actress Westra Moltimmur. “Don’t forget that tickets for Sapphiria’s Booty are already on sale.”

DM’s Notes: Episode 17 – The Gang Visits the Theater: Mistakes Were Made

WARNING: SPOILERS for both Waterdeep: Dragon Heist the module in general and the story arc for this campaign in particular. If you just want to follow along the campaign but don’t want to have the plot spoiled for you, read no further.

Link to this episode’s podcast.

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that… It just goes to show that you can’t always plan on your party doing what is expected of them or even what is smart. Going in to the theater with no backup was a big mistake. If they had brought Meloon and Renaer and Mirt, this would have been more of an even fight, but as it was it was a bloodbath. They are lucky that Icky finally made a good roll on the City Watch response as it saved them from even more unpleasantness. As it was, that roll saved them from being interrogated by Jarlaxle at his leisure which would not have been pretty.

But this episode also illustrates several important lessons about the module specifically and DMing in general.

You don’t have to have one set path that the party has to travel. They confronted Jarlaxle, it went terribly. He never even had a chance to learn the location of Fenerus Stormcastle. That one was an easy change to keep the story on course. Having them brought in to the Courthouse for questioning was a natural next step and wouldn’t you know it, that just happens to be where Fenerus was at the time!

It’s good to have an idea of what you will do if things go horribly wrong. The Xanathar would have just killed the party outright. But in the book what happened to them (winding up unconscious and missing all of their magic items) is exactly what the book says Jarlaxle would do. He is a master manipulator. What would be the fun of killing them?

It was sad to see that Vince decided to retire Drex. I thought it was an interesting conflict within the party but obviously not something that Vince was prepared to keep playing out. He and I haven’t talked about it too much but I suspect when he made the decision to sacrifice Drex to save the party he was already rolling up a new character in his mind (if not even before that). By the time he found out that Drex wasn’t dead he’d already made up his mind. This happens. Sometimes players just wander away from a great character because they come up with another that they like better. This is one of the reasons why you should never tie the entire plot of an adventure to one character. You just never know.

This new article appeared in the High Road Herald this episode, offering a preview of events to come:

Last Sheaf Party!

      Announcing what is destined to be the social event of the season, the Cassalanters today divulged details of a Last Sheaf  party they will be hosting on Uktar 20th. Invitations to the party are in scant supply as it is rumoured that the list is molto esclusivo. 

    However, in a gesture of utmost generosity, the Cassalanters have announced that they will be sharing the year’s bounty by hosting 100  of Waterdeep’s most needy urchins and homeless. Bravissimo, Cassalanters. Noblesse oblige, Indeed!

DM’s Notes: Episode 16 – The Wolf Bites!

WARNING: SPOILERS for both Waterdeep: Dragon Heist the module in general and the story arc for this campaign in particular. If you just want to follow along the campaign but don’t want to have the plot spoiled for you, read no further.

Link to this episode’s podcast.

Spoilers for The Walking Dead, I guess. So, I have this vision for Jarlaxle in this portion of the adventure. He’s a little bit like Neegan from The Walking Dead. He’s still a little bit charming but he gets a lot darker. The point is that if you don’t absolutely hate him by the end of the adventure, then I haven’t done my job right. He’s a rogue. He’s a loveable rogue. But he has a tendency to take things too far. That’s the path he’s started down in this episode. Taking things too far. He’s kidnapped the twins, Kip and Pip. It doesn’t matter who Kip and Pip are. They are innocents who are linked to the party. They don’t deserve this and they should be protected at all costs. Pip and Kip were abducted using a Rod of Rulership (Jarlaxle loves magic items) to charm them into playing along. They believe that they are playing important parts in the play that Jarlaxle is producing. And they won’t know that they were in danger until the danger is passed. But still this is a horrible thing to do and it is probably the point where Jarlaxle goes from somebody the party could possibly work with to somebody they must defeat at all costs.

As much as I wanted the players to like Jarlaxle earlier (something that didn’t really happen) I want them to hate him going forward. If your players really hate the Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) then you don’t have to create drama. They will create their own drama and rejoice when the BBEG is dead, or defeated.

It was so great to see the party work out their differences from a few sessions ago. Drex stood up for himself and his beliefs, and the party acquiesced somewhat. This is part of the role playing process and they are working through it. As a DM one of the best things you can do is put your mic on mute and just let them talk for tens of minutes at a time. That’s when you know that you are doing something special.

No new articles appeared in the High Road Herald this episode, since the last episode ended in the middle of the night.

DM’s Notes: Episode 15 – Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

WARNING: SPOILERS for both Waterdeep: Dragon Heist the module in general and the story arc for this campaign in particular. If you just want to follow along the campaign but don’t want to have the plot spoiled for you, read no further.

Link to this episode’s podcast.

Jarlaxle is a very deceptive person and he rolled pretty good during his encounter with the party. But then he didn’t. One nat 1 for a total of 15 was all it took. But really I’m not disappointed at all. The party matched wits with the mighty JB and came out of it relatively OK. We’ll see where it goes from here. I did drop hints pretty hard, which is why it was so funny to me that when he was finally revealed several of the players seemed genuinely surprised and wondered how Icky had figured it out. It just goes to show, even when you think you are being super obvious, you probably aren’t being obvious enough. Mysteries are hard to unravel and require multiple clues.

The Alexandrian has some guidance on this in this article and probably many others. This is why you can’t go into an investigation scenario with a simple script and just read from it. You have to react to the players’ questions to help guide them to the clues that you want them to find. In addition to the Laeral Silverhand deception, the players also needed to investigate a mystery here to find out what happened in Fenerus Stormcastle’s house. When they walked in and saw the Drow poison on the door and the Xanathar’s Guild symbol they immediately jumped to the conclusion that the Drow had done the whole thing and were trying to frame the Xanathar’s Guild. So they needed more clues and I threw in the marks of the Duergar weapons to drive home the idea that the Xanathar’s Guild really had been there.

Following the exposure of Jarlaxle the party seems to not want to have anything to do with him. Here is where the adventure takes a fork in the road. If the party really does reject Jarlaxle’s advances then they are going to have to get critical information from The Blackstaff or Mirt or another trusted ally and they will wind up facing off against the Bregan D’aerthe at the Old Tower (assuming they find the Stone of Golorr). If they work with Jarlaxle or at least pretend to, then they will face off against spined devils from the Cassalanters at the Old Tower.

I just threw in the bit With Martem Trec’s mother blackmailing them, because they did tamper with evidence and I’m a firm believer that actions should have consequences. It may not come across in the recording because everybody sounds so calm cool and collected while speaking to her, but Dalia was freaking out in Discord chat over the fact that tampering with evidence is a crime and they were in trouble! So, I feel like Mrs. Trec did her job. Seeing the players squirm every now and then warms my cold, cold DM heart.

In the category of, I wish I had prepared that before the episode started, I totally did not know that Thorvin Twinbeard was so weak. He’s the shield dwarf that Hal one shotted at the start of combat. Despite being a named character, a high ranking member of the Xanathar’s Guild and a Harper spy, poor old Thorvin is just a commoner. I should have had him run sooner (even though that doesn’t really make a lot of sense because the party did effectively sneak up on them). I had the kobolds shuffle him off quickly just in case I do want to bring him back. We’ll see if they chase after the Kobolds next time or let them go but in either case, the Harpers may need a new spy within the Xanathar’s Guild.

The following articles appeared in the High Road Herald this episode.

Last Sheaf Party!

Announcing what is destined to be the social event of the season, the Cassalanters today divulged details of a Last Sheaf party they will be hosting on Uktar 20th. Invitations to the party are in scant supply as it is rumoured that the list is molto esclusivo.

However, in a gesture of utmost generosity, the Cassalanters have announced that they will be sharing the year’s bounty by hosting 100 of Waterdeep’s most needy urchins and homeless. Bravissimo, Cassalanters. Noblesse oblige, Indeed!

This of course is setting up the Cassalanters’ final party from the Summer timeline, the party where they sacrifice 100 poor people to Asmodeus. One of the keys will be located in the Cassalanters’ Villa so the party will have an opportunity to circle back to them.

Black Viper Ransacks Local Broadsheet

In a sign that The High Road Herald, is obviously getting a little bit too close for comfort, the Black Viper was caught last night in flagrante delicto ransacking the offices of said establishment.

The crime occurred during the fabulous Moonsphere which once again came off without a hitch.

Only a single journal containing the notes of the chief reporter were pilfered, thanks to the quick actions of The Backdoor Bandits of Trollskull Alley. But the question remains: What are you up to Black Viper? Enquiring minds demand to know!

DM’s Notes: Episode 14 – Inspired Hands

WARNING: SPOILERS for both Waterdeep: Dragon Heist the module in general and the story arc for this campaign in particular. If you just want to follow along the campaign but don’t want to have the plot spoiled for you, read no further.

Link to this episode’s podcast.

This episode, we expected Jack (Hal) to be absent and then he showed up part way through. If there are some inconsistencies in the narrative it might be due to that. The scene with Elzerina and Terenzio Cassalanter is actually two scenes spliced together. The first time when I thought Jack wouldn’t be there and the second time with his input. I put that scene in there just to remind the party about the Cassalanter kids and how cute they are, so that later on, they will hopefully be more invested in saving them. We shall see.

I have read very negative reviews of the “Nim’s Secret” chapter of the module, so it was very gratifying indeed for me when the entire party reacted so positively to Nim and the whole experience. There is a story about a woman who took her young son to Rome. They saw the Vatican, the Parthenon, ancient works of art and architecture. When she asked her son what his favorite thing was on their trip to Rome, he went on and on about a three legged dog they had seen in a plaza. Sometimes that’s how D&D is. You hope that they will see the beauty and wonder that you create for them, but sometimes your party is just captivated by the three legged dog in the corner.

At the end of this episode the party runs into Jarlaxle in disguise as Laeral Silverhand. You may notice that I don’t do a great job of convincing them that it is really Laeral. They immediately suspect that something is up. That’s fine by me. I feel that it is more interesting for them to have their suspicions then to go half the game having no idea that something might be up. As the DM, you don’t have to prove that you are so much more clever than all of your players. You hold all of the cards. It is not hard to beat them. Instead try to give them enough clues that they can figure out your deception and when they do they will feel a sense of accomplishment in doing so.

We were supposed to play a different campaign this week and I did not expect to run this session so soon. Because of the sudden change, I didn’t have any time to write any articles for the High Road Herald.

DM’s Notes: Episode 13 – Bump in the Night

WARNING: SPOILERS for both Waterdeep: Dragon Heist the module in general and the story arc for this campaign in particular. If you just want to follow along the campaign but don’t want to have the plot spoiled for you, read no further.

Link to this episode’s podcast.

If you have read the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist module, you will know that I make many small modifications and some big ones. One small modification is the addition of the Everlasting Unguent which is basically one free revivify for the party. I think they earned it with the way they went above and beyond to help Meloon, also it’s hard to be level 4. Another of the dormant artifacts they carry was Awakened this session, The Spectacular Spectacles. The stats for the Awakened Spectacular Spectacles are:

Effects

Eye for Riches

As an action the person attuned to the Spectacular Spectacles can determine how much wealth a person is carrying on them. The type of wealth detected includes precious metals and jewels but not magic items.

Eyes on the Prize

Due to your ability to see the minute workings of locks and traps you have advantage on rolls to pick locks and disarm traps.

Eye for Opportunity

The spectacles grant you the innate ability to see opportunities to weave effortlessly into the flow of battle. After initiative is rolled but before combat has begun you may choose to change your initiative such that you go immediately after one of your allies.

Ability (once per long rest)

Eyes on the Past

Once per long rest you can choose to see something from the past. You automatically succeed on a history check to know something that it is possible for you to know.

Eyes on the Future

Once per long rest you can choose to see a very short distance into the future before you decide to do something. You can see the result of a single die roll before committing to an action.

As I explained in the DM’s Notes for Episode 6. the strength level of each of the artifacts the characters have was set to be balanced to the same level of power as an Instrument of the Bard. I also added a mechanic for them to level up with the characters.

Another change I made to the module was adding the Black Viper to the encounter with Gaxley Rudderbust. Note that in my mind I imagined the characters seeing, her and chasing her into the Moonsphere where they would fly around and have a grand old time until they escaped the guards. I was inspired to add the Moonsphere to the adventure by the Broadsword’s episode of Podcasts of Waterdeep. But of sourse the party magicked the Black Viper up before she could make the leap into the dancing court. This is the life of a Dungeon Master. Never get too attached to your plans and let the dice tell the tale.

We did wind up with an interesting bit of RP with the Black Viper and especially the rather chaotic, selectively moral party versus their very Lawful Good Paladin.

One point to clear up, although I didn’t remember it at the time, there is a list of ranks for the various organizations published under section Factions in Waterdeep (p. 14 of the book). They are:

Emerald Enclave Ranks: (Springwarden, 1), (Summerstrider, 3), (Autumnreaver, 10), (Winterstalker, 25), (Master of the Wild, 50)

Harpers Ranks: (Watcher, 1), (Harpshadow, 3), (Brightcandle, 10), (Wise Owl, 25), (High Harper, 50)

Lords’ Alliance Ranks: (Cloak, 1), (Redknife, 3), (Stingblade, 10), (Warduke, 25), (Lioncrown, 50)

Order of the Gauntlet Ranks: (Chevall, 1), (Marcheon, 3), (Whitehawk, 10), (Vindicator, 25), (Righteous Hand, 50)

Platinum Cadre Ranks: (Hatchling, 1), (Whelp, 3), (Dragon, 10), (Scourge, 25), (Wyrm, 50)

Zhentarim Ranks: (Fang, 1), (Wolf, 3), (Viper, 10), (Ardragon, 25), (Dread Lord, 50)

Bregan D’aerthe Ranks: Orbb (private, 1), Kyorlinorbb (corporal, 3), Khal’abbil (sergeant, 10), Mallasargtlin (lieutenant, 25), Ilareth (captain, 50)

Force Grey Ranks: Gray Hand Initiate (1), Junior Gray Hand (3), Senior Gray Hand (10), Force Grey Initiate (25), Defender of Waterdeep (50)

Xanathar Guild Ranks: Eyestalker (1), Agent of the Eye (3), Eye Ray (10), Guild Boss (25), Hand of the Eye (50)

I decided to give the characters a little nudge from Mirt on hiring someone to run the day to day operations of the Backdoor Bar. I think that running the business is important to the story because it gives the characters real roots in the city that are hard to cultivate better in other ways. Plus, let’s face it, it’s what Mirt would do. He’s not about to see his investment go down the tubes.

The following articles appeared in the High Road Herald for this session

Gralhund Villa Bloodbath!!!

You’ve got to hand it to those plucky Gralhund’s. Last night, a pack of villains from the Black Network stormed Gralhund Villa in the stately North Ward. “They didn’t get too far though, thanks to our crack troop of mercenaries, who are all available for hire, incidentally.” Lady Yalah Gralhund crowed triumphantly. 

“No doubt they were looking to settle some scores where their mercenaries were shown up by ours. But luckily we drove them back with only minor loss of troops and nothing stolen.” 

The watch has set out on a city wide manhunt to capture any and all Zhents who might have been involved in the disastrous raid.

Black Viper Terrorizes Local Nobles

The Black Viper was a notorious burglar, pickpocket, mugger and assassin who was thought to have died nearly a century ago. However, if recent sightings by some of Waterdeep’s finest noble families are any indication, news of their death has been greatly exaggerated.

The last several tendays the highest social circles have been abuzz with rumors of missing jewelry, late night stick ups and other skullduggery committed by a black cloaked and masked figure known as The Black Viper. The rumors are too numerous and scandalous to print!