Dragon Heist Session Three: Knowing Me, Knowing Kenku
Motioning to the others to hang back, Alan raised a fist and knocked loudly on the old wooden door. The Thug must have gone inside, he thought. There was a muffled shuffling from the other side. A frail, voice called out, “Hello? Christopher? Is that you?” As the door swung open an old lady standing in her nightgown, robe, and fluffy unicorn slippers squinted into the darkness. Alan sheepishly entered the house. She clamped her arms around him tightly in a mother’s embrace and tears dripped into his matted hair. “It IS you!”
Last night was the third session in our online Dragon Heist Dungeons & Dragons game and it began with a case of mistaken identity and ended with a fracas with a band of avian thugs posing as a well-known Swedish pop group.
The set up
We are playing WOTC’s latest campaign online via Skype, and using D&D Beyond and Trello to keep track of characters and quests. I am the DM for our group and over the last two weeks I have had some technical issues with my laptop which now seemed to have been sorted. However, our Drow Sorcerer obviously hasn’t signed their infernal blood contract with British Telecoms, so was using a mobile phone to connect to the game. This added a touch of the Blair Witch Project to proceedings, which given the mundane nature of the start of the session—tea and cookies with an old lady—was quite incongruous.
Dugg, Earth Genasi Fighter – estranged son from a noble family.
Alan Crabpopper, Human Ranger – a private investigator and low-level thug.
Arvene Galanodel, Half-Elf Cleric – priestess of Tymora, ex-city guard, ex-nun.
Little Joe, Drow Sorcerer – channeling the spirit of John Wayne.
Previously in Waterdeep
Having recently met and formed a small investigations company in the fabled city of Waterdeep, our band of heroes found themselves hired by Volothamp Geddarm, famous writer and fabricator of stories, to find his missing friend Floon.
Last session they searched the seedy Dock Ward for Volo’s erstwhile companion and followed a Zhentarim trail to the Skwered Dragon. Here Little Joe convinced an oily, burly, violent dwarf to divulge some information, and they continued on the trail until arriving at the doorstep of a frail, elderly widower called Alma Moyes.
Cocoa and Cookies
Somehow the group of adventurers found themselves in the dusty, cramped living room of Alma Moyes. She was convinced Alan was her long-lost son Christopher, and he was too stunned to put her right. But, if nothing else, this band of heroes knows an opportunity for cocoa and cookies when they smell it. And so, for the moment at least, they all went along with the charade.
Once the session began I had each player roll a deception check to see if Alma realized something was amiss. I gave Alan advantage, as the lady clearly believed he was her son. They all rolled above the DC of 12 and she was not in the slightest bit suspicious. As long as they didn’t do anything stupid, that wouldn’t change.
Cats and Clues
Alma Moyes was quite chatty, offered them all biscuits, and soon introduced them to her three cats: Dagult Neverember, named after her favorite Waterdeep Open Lord; Catrick Swayze, named after her favorite dirty dancer; and Fuzz Aldrin, named after her second favorite astral explorer.
As the conversation went on they were able to discover three things that Alma knew: The streets had become more dangerous lately due to fights between the Zhentarim and Xanathar gangs; there is a warehouse on Candle Street that had recently been heavily graffiti-ed; and Fuzz Aldrin and Catrick Swayze didn’t like Dagult Neverember, because he was embezzling all the catnip.
The first two clues were things that would directly help them in their current quest and hopefully get them out of the old lady’s house. To be frank, I was struggling to find a way to end this encounter; Little Joe kept trying to buy the building from her, and Alan seemed like he might want to pretend to be her long-lost son forever. However, the final clue gently hinted towards some of the wider narrative of the campaign. I’m sure it went completely over their heads, but it gave me a self-satisfied smile.
Of course they weren’t taking any of the hints. So when Arvene rolled a perception check to look around the room “for clues” she conveniently noticed some commotion outside and saw three hooded figures dashing past the window. This got their attention and they all quickly bundled out of the house after the three thugs. Leaving Alma Moyes bereft and alone once more. At least she had her cats.
The party tried to follow the thugs, but they had a headstart. They all rolled athletics checks to catch up, but the thugs got away. Dugg rolled highest and he nearly caught one as they rounded a corner at the end of the road and onto Candle Street. But as he followed around the bend his hooded target seemed to disappear into darkness.
I read from the text box describing Candle Lane—thus my players knew something was happening and I was no longer just winging it:
“Gloom envelopes a narrow alley as dark as a dungeon—and as odorous as one, too. Nearly all the street lamps have been smashed. The only light that pierces is a faint flickering from down the lane, like a distant candle.”
Alan took the lead as they investigated the lane and saw two large wooden doors that lead to a courtyard beyond. Painted on the wooden doors, scrawled above lots of other graffiti and illuminated by the single remaining street lamp, was a black winged snake. The sign of the Zhentarim.
They stealthily passed the doors and entered a courtyard before breaking into the warehouse. It was dark and at first it seemed deserted. One by one they climbed through an open window, but once three of them were inside they realized it wasn’t deserted after all.
Four hooded figures were arranging piles of large, unclear objects in the darkness. They hadn’t spotted the three party members until Little Joe, failing his stealth and acrobatics check, coughed loudly and stubbed his toe on a wooden crate.
Startled, the four hooded creatures all turned to see Alan, Joe, and Dugg barely hiding behind a pile of wooden crates. The creatures seemed to be oversized birds. Black feathers and long beaks stood out from their dull, grey hoods. In contrast, the front of their robes all had golden fabric sewn along the edges, and they wore bright blue flared trousers that hid glittery boots under their cloaks. “Squawk! Mamma Mia! Squawk! Here we go again!”
The bird creatures were Kenku, humanoid ravens that can only speak in mimicry (or in this case ABBA songs), and they were guarding the warehouse for the Zhentarim. As soon as the Kenku saw the adventurers they attacked, two with shortbows and two with swords.
The two with swords rushed at Alan and Little Joe. As they got close, the heroes could see the Kenku were female and wearing long, elaborate wigs; one red haired and one blonde. Both Kenku hit their targets and dealt six points of damage each. The adventurers were still only first level, so this was substantial. Meanwhile the two Kenku with shortbows kept their distance and shot at them from range, their long mustaches and beards just peeping out from under their hoods.
The Winner Takes it All
With every successful attack, the Kenku all screeched and sang in unison. “My, my! At Waterdeep Napoleon did surrender!” After the first round, the two females threw off their hooded cloaks to reveal blue sparkly jumpsuits, their black avian feathers just poking out from the low-cut fronts of their robes.
On the second round none of the Kenku hit with their attacks, but Alan, Dugg, and Little Joe all did. The red-haired Kenku (Agnetha) was the first to fall. Her companions screeched mournfully and doubled their efforts to attack as Joe sent Firebolts in their direction.
Kenk-you for the Music
While Alan, Dugg, and Little Joe were facing the Kenku, Arvene was still outside the warehouse, standing on a box, looking in through the window and humming “Fernando” to herself. On her turns she was peeping through the sash window and calling down Sacred Flames on the Kenku, before ducking back down out of sight. I was impressed; this almost seemed like a tactic. Something our group usually avoids in combat situations.
During the next round of combat, the blonde Kenku (Anna-Frid) was killed and so the two male Kenku decided to cut their losses and flee. A critical hit from Alan meant Benny didn’t get very far, which left Bjorn the last man standing. He immediately surrendered and Joe and Alan began interrogating him. Meanwhile Dugg searched the warehouse and Arvene climbed in through the sash window.
I Was Defeated You Won the War
The interrogation was quick. Both Alan and Joe passed the DC 12 Charisma check and as soon as they began their good cop/bad cop routine, the Kenku gave in and told everything he could. But, being a Kenku he did so mimicking the phrases and voices of other NPCs:
“Xanathar sends his regards.” It said in a deep orcish accent. In a thin, nasally voice it said, “Follow the yellow signs in the sewers.” And in a scratchy voice: “No time to loot the place, just get him to the boss.” These were all useful clues that the adventurers will almost certainly forget.
The frightened Kenku gave up all he knew. Alan and Joe’s good cop/bad cop routine clearly worked and their prisoner shook so hard his false mustache fell from his over-sized beak. They were satisfied they’d got as much from him as they could, so decided to let him go. After all they were the good guys. Right? “Tie up the pretty boy in the back room!” It had said. That must be where Floon was being held. END
For once this session went pretty much as I expected, although for a minute I was fearful they might never leave Alma Moyes’ house and we would spend the entire session roleplaying a scene from a Samuel Becket play.
Indeed Alma Moyes’ cats weren’t the only felines to play a role in the session either. Steve, who plays our Genasi Fighter Dugg, has two cats called Star and Coin (and a Mario Bros. obsessed little boy). Halfway through the session he had to ask for online assistance as one of the cats was sitting on his character sheets and the other had hidden his dice. Luckily his character sheet is uploaded onto D&D Beyond, so we were able to play on.
As well as the official Dragon Heist campaign book, I am using a dungeon master’s guide from Valeur RPG available via the DM’s Guild to help plan my sessions. This is a great tool as it fills in some of the blanks and helps time-strapped DMs, like myself, get straight into playing, without too much preparation needed. It is especially useful for combat as it has all the stat blocks for the monsters and NPCs you’re likely to meet in each chapter.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Lists, Lists, Lists. As a Dungeon Master you can never have enough lists. Lists of names; lists of taverns; lists of things you might find in people’s pockets; lists of ABBA songs; lists of events; lists of lists of lists of lists. My preparation for this session was solely devoted to searching for ABBA song lyrics and funny cat names and compiling lists.
Next week our adventurers continue their search for Floon. Will they be able to unravel the mystery of the Zhentarim, or will the get sidetracked by another nice lady with cookies and cocoa? Who can tell.