DM’s Notes: Episode 6 – All the Seamen in Waterdeep

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 sometimes listen to podcasts that have a warning “Adult language is used, because we’re all adults.” I feel like we should slap a warning on this podcast. “Warning, this podcast is full of adolescent humor, because we all talk and think like 13 year olds.” 🙂

Well, this episode was kind of a doozy! The adventurers finished the Sea Maiden’s Faire and found out that Drex’s Greatsword, Rhyrika had awakened as part of the fight against the Nimblewright. I had already set the condition for Rhyrika to awaken as Drex defeating a CR 3 or higher creature that had injured one of his friends. The mechanism for Vestiges (powerful magic items that can level up with the characters) are given in the Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting book by Matthew Mercer. Rhyrika was given to Drex after he completed the Worst Memory challenge in the Special Episode: Echoes of the Past. Basically, I really wanted to give an Instrument of the Bards to Dalia, but when I looked at even the most basic Instruments of the Bards, they were way too powerful for 2nd level characters. So, I made the Lute of Escayere using the Vestige mechanics. I then realized that I couldn’t give this super cool Vestige to Dalia and give Drex a crummy +1 Broadsword so I went about making Vestiges for each of them giving them similar powers to the Instrument of the Bards. It’s all probably terribly broken and overpowered, but the nice thing about this campaign is that many of the things they go up against are such that even if they are broken and overpowered it won’t make a big difference. No sword is going to save them if they go crazy and decide to attack The Xanathar before they are level 8 or so.

They also came across Madame Ursula Underhill, a friendly halfling fortune teller. Madame Ursula is (of course) actually a Hag and a pretty canny one at that. She has attached herself to the Sea Maidens Faire as a good cover for her general hijinks in fortune telling and trinket trading. I’m not sure if the party picked up on it, but even Jarlaxle seems a bit frightened by her, choosing not to chase her off for fear of raising her ire. If the leader of Bregan D’Aerthe is afraid of this little old hag, I wonder what the Backdoor Bandits have gotten themselves into, especially Kyva, trading a lock of her hair!

You can purchase the Taroka Deck out of The Curse of Strahd module on Roll20, but you’re probably going to want to just buy the whole module because of course you will get around to playing it someday. A lot of people think it is the best D&D module ever! Using the Taroka deck, doing a reading is pretty straightforward. The deck comes with an explanation of each card that you can read off when you deal it. I used a modified Celtic Cross layout explained here. You’ll notice that some of the wording was read verbatim from that site. I stopped with the 6th card as the future “That which lays before you.” Because, well the readings already take too long. It is tempting to cut out more cards, but honestly unless you stack the deck you need a good 6 cards. You could draw 2-3 cards that are completely irrelevant to the character’s backstory and then that’s a really bad reading. As it is, I dealt 6 cards randomly to myself and then chose the order in which to lay the cards down.

As, you might be able to tell, I’m a skeptic about Taroka card readings. But I do think they are fun for D&D games, especially when the DM knows more about the character’s past and possible future than they do!

Bringing the party and Jarlaxle together this early is definitely going way off script from the module. However, I think it is more fun to have the players aware of Jarlaxle and his machinations then to reveal him Scooby Doo style in the 4th or last chapter (if at all). “Jinkies kids, the ghost was old man Banrae the whole time!” The Nimblewrights, Jarlaxle, the Stone of Golorr. What we are doing right now is introducing the various players on the stage so that later when the party sees them again they will have some context.The last major piece of the puzzle for us to introduce is Dalakhar and maybe a little bit more background on the Cassalanters.

The argument between Jarlaxle and the party over Soluun certainly didn’t go the way I expected it to. Well, it did and it didn’t. I thought it ended on a strong point as Jarlaxle emphasized loyalty, which is really the whole point. I also had Jarlaxle try to talk about the rehabilitation angle. Although this might sound kind of silly at first for a stone cold killer like Jarlaxle, I think that it is a reasonable line of thinking for Drow. They are notorious slavers. So criminals would either be sacrificed to Lolth (a practice I think Jarlaxle and Bregan D’Aerthe would be decidedly against given their history as targets of sacrifice) or most of them would be enslaved. No reason not to put those criminals to good use and in the end allow them to become productive members of society. However I kind of guessed that an argument based on slavery would have been a non-starter.

The challenge here is to make an argument against capital punishment while still allowing our plucky Pirate King to sound like Jarlaxle Banrae and not Bernie Sanders. Obviously, that didn’t work. I should have seen this coming. Soluun as a serial killer is really hard to defend for the Bregan D’Aerthe. Good aligned parties just absolutely nope out of any interaction with Jarlaxle when they find out that he has a serial killer in his organization. I’m thinking in any future iterations of W:DH I DM I might just give Soluun a really good reason for killing the elves, like they were members of a pirate crew that killed his son or something like that. That would certainly make it easier.

However, the good news is that Dalia is considering joining the Bregan D’Aerthe and has a difficult decision to make. That’s really the best thing you can hope for as a DM is to force your players to make difficult decisions. That’s where the drama and the fun of this game comes from!

The following article appeared in The High Road Herald this session:

Fall of Tiamat Fetches Boffo Reviews

   Last night, the Fall of Tiamat a new Opera written by Blagothkus the Cloud Giant King of Skyreach Castle opened at Lightsinger Castle in the Castle Ward.

The opening scene featuring 5 illusory dragons laying waste to locations along the sword coast represents a new high point in special effects for the opera community.

The one sour note of the evening was the decision to cast Vasel Shon in greyface as the Goliath Hero, Ghagan Bravewanderer. There are so many excellent Goliath contrabasses that in this day in age there’s no excuse for whitewashing.

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