DM’s Notes: Episode 2 – Pipeweed

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.

We started off this episode with the fight against the Doll Monster that was introduced last session. As I said in the notes for episode 1, I searched for creepy doll images and found this one and I decided to build the “Boss Fight” for Trollskull Manor around it. Advice from me to you, I already Googled “Centipede Doll” so you don’t have to. Trust me on this one. There is not supposed to be a “Boss Fight” in this part according to the book, or any combat really. But I decided to add it because I was already running the exploration of Trollskull Manor according to The Trajectory of Fear outline and without a final conflict, there is no real “horror” element to complete the final pillar of the trajectory. So, I just added a new monster to complete the trajectory and add a moment of catharsis. You’ll notice that I added one last message from Lif as they left the manor to inject the feeling of unease once again which is just exactly what the Trajectory of Fear suggests you should do.

If anybody’s confused about where the doll monster came from, let me clarify. The doll monster is not in the book, but it is comprised of the souls of dozens of orphans left behind by a loathsome Hag who ran an orphanage out of Trollskull Manor before Lif owned it. This story is from the book as part of the description of Ulkoria Stonemarrow in the “Open for Business?” section. Now that the party has killed the doll monster, those children’s souls are released. Lif, however still remains as a spectre haunting the manor that will have to be dealt with.

Now, you may be wondering how I invented a new monster, gave it a bunch of attacks, defenses, etc. all in a way that I could be sure was balanced for my party. That’s easy! I simply reskinned a Black Dragon Wyrmling as a Doll Monster. It is CR 2 which makes it an easy to medium encounter for 5 level 2 characters. As a side note, if you have trouble balancing encounters for your party, I suggest you check out the excellent tool Kobold Fight Club. You’ll notice that the Black Dragon Wyrmling even has an acid based breath weapon which worked out perfectly for a gross baby doll monster. Reskinning is an excellent way for beginning DMs to add flavor and variety to their encounters without risking creating a homebrew that is completely overwhelming for your party.

Following their adventures with Trollskull Manor, the party headed off to Dalia’s Aunt’s Bakery with a short stop at a magic shop. I was caught a little bit flat footed by the request to visit a magic shop, so I rolled on a random table for it. Unfortunately between some mic problems and other distractions I wound up with a magic shop that only sold scrolls from Pathfinder. I didn’t realize this until I started reading items off the list for the party and encountered scrolls that I was pretty sure weren’t 5e. So, that part was a bit uneven. Hopefully I’ve learned from that and I have a nice link prepared for the next time they decide to duck into a magic item shop really quick. That link still defaults to a random shop, but you can change that to general magic items by selecting “Trader” from the drop down menu. My advice to anyone running this module is to have some good generators handy for generating treasure, magic items, shops, inns, taverns, NPCs and NPC names and just about anything else. Because your players will ask for them. But also, try and direct the party back to the shops on Trollskull Alley as much as possible. It builds a sense of community as they visit these shops multiple times rather than a different shop each time they want to buy something.

The Upper Crust bakery is a piece from Dalia’s backstory as well as an insertion from a PC of mine from another game. Ozzie, was a bard I played in a game a couple of years ago, Belladonna and Django Lightheart are his parents. When I found out that Dalia wanted to have two halfling moms as part of her backstory I made her related to Ozzie by having one of her adoptive moms, Yesla Alderleaf, be the youngest sister of Belladonna Lightheart (nee Alderleaf). Ozzie was originally related to the middle sister, Qelline Alderleaf because (you guessed it) Lost Mines of Phandelver. I’m not sure if that part ofDalia’s backstory will have any in game consequences, but Pip and Kip are likely to be able to pass on information about The Shard Shunners being halflings in a rival gang. Another big part of my motivation is that I don’t want everything from everybody’s backstory to be tragic and depressing. I hope that the party gets the feeling that Waterdeep is a rich and varied city where they have good friends and family and not just powerful enemies.

Taking inspiration from the Alexandrian Remix, I am incorporating the Cassalanters into Kyva’s backstory even though they are not necessarily the main villain. She wanted her character to be recently out of college dealing with crippling student loans (this may be a case of a player bringing aspects of their own life into their character design :-). So it seemed perfect to make the Cassalanters the ones who loaned her the money and to make good old boy, Willifort Crowelle her student loan collection officer. The Cassalanters are pursuing the Horde of Dragons just like the Xanathar, the Zhents and Jarlaxle. But I don’t plan to make them the main villain.

Speaking of tragic and depressing, we got some insight into Icky’s backstory. I’ll let the full story be a mystery for now, but suffice it to say that the creature after Icky (or rather after that thing in Icky’s head) is literally a nightmare come to life. So if they seemed creepy and over the top, then I’m glad because they were supposed to be.

The episode ends with the party receiving a quest from Vajra Safahr, the Blackstaff and leader of the Grey Hands. This is pretty straightforward out of the book. These factions missions do a lot to get the party out and let them explore the different parts of the city. I recommend doing your best to get your party to join 2 or 3 factions so that they can go on a few faction missions at each level.

The High Road Herald:

The High Road Herald for this episode features a new article for the “Sea Maiden’s Faire“.

The Sea Maiden’s Faire has been traveling up and down the Sword Coast, delivering quality entertainment to Ladies, Gentlemen and Children of all ages. Come and see the Faire, today.

The Faire is located on the beach in the Southeast most corner of the city. All manner of diverse entertainments await you at the Faire!

This year, the Faire parade will combine with the Day of Wonders parade from the priests of Gond. This parade will Feature exotic creatures, skilled acrobats and floats depicting the most amazing scenes in Faerun.

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