DM’s Notes: Episode 1 – The Haunted Manor

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.

The point of this session was to reveal Trollskull Manor to the party in a way that makes it feel like they are exploring someplace new. You could always just give the party the map of the place and let them look it over and start deciding who gets which room, but after watching DM Adam Koebel take his party through the manor in exploration mode on Roll20 Presents: Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, I really liked the way that it helped connect the party with the place by allowing them to discover it piece by piece. I augmented the mansion with many ideas from Adam’s stream.

I also used this writeup that was posted to the Reddit to help give more depth to the room descriptions. A lot of people have had the idea of incorporating the Manor’s past as a hag den and orphanage into its haunting, I’m sure that there are many other iterations of this idea that I haven’t linked to. I liked the idea that the souls of the orphans were still bound to the dolls and are waiting to take their revenge on any mortal who enters. Then while searching online for images for a final boss I found this which I just fell in love with. So I went back and placed the head and torsos of the dolls throughout the rooms.

The idea in this session was to use The Trajectory of Fear to create unease, dread, terror and horror in the party. I was only partially satisfied with the result. One of the problems with running a game as opposed to writing a novel or directing a show is that you have surprisingly little control over the pace of the narrative. Since the party were free to move from room to room, I sometimes had party members breezing through sections before I had a chance to describe the previous room. Descriptions of the terrible things they saw were interrupted as the party searched fireplaces and other things. One thing I definitely messed up is that I should have a had a table of random spooky things like a butcher’s knife stuck in the wall or the Mommy Dearest book. Every time they searched something I should have rolled on that table rather than just winging it and having them find random non-scary things.

I also think that in order to keep the party from wandering room to room ahead of the narrative, I should have revealed each room manually rather than using dynamic lighting. This could have given me more ability to control the narrative, unfolding the story at my own pace. However, there is a danger to trying to control the narrative too tightly. Your players can disengage. They came to play D&D not to listen to the DM tell ghost stories.

The High Road Herald articles for this session. I created a landing page to start the session with each week. In virtual table tops like Roll20 a landing page is a good idea for a lot of reasons. My landing page looks like the front page of a local broadsheet, The High Road Herald. I came up with the idea before I had read about The Waterdeep Wazoo or I would have used that instead. The landing page provides some basic information like the date and weather for the start of the session. It also provides articles that reflect on the party’s adventures or previews events to come. Despite the Day of Wonders being prominently featured for a few sessions, the party hasn’t showed any interest in attending the parade. You can lead your party to a parade, but you can’t make them stay and watch. The following are the articles on the landing page for this session.

Wererat Menace!

Rumors are coming to our attention of an uptick in assaults and vandalism attributed to a gang of halfling wererats in the North Ward. Several locations have been tagged with graffiti containing messages such as “Cheese Life” and “Shard Shunners”.

One shopkeeper who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation said, “It’s a shame really. One day they’re playing kick the pig on the corner and you turn around and they’re caught up in gangs and huffing Gouda.

Anyone with any information on the whereabouts of these miniature menaces should come forward to the City Watch.

The other article is basically the description of the Day of Wonders parade from the book. I won’t bother reproducing that since it is already available elsewhere.

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