Dragon Heist Chapter Two: Lust for Lif
The stern tiefling woman sat behind the mahogany desk surveying the party, frowning. If they found the curly black wig or giant hammer amusing, they didn’t let it on. Somehow this lady exuded authority. For once they showed some respect. In a few minutes the transaction was all over; it had cost them 35 dragons, but that was a price they could pay. They were now officially on the housing ladder and they were ready to start climbing. Trollskull Manor awaits.
Last night was the 9th session in our latest online Dungeons & Dragons campaign and in it Dragon Heist chapter two got thoroughly underway. The campaign book is broken down (roughly) into five chapters, which follow the level progression of the characters. So as we begin chapter two the party has just leveled up to second level and they have a whole bunch of new abilities to explore.
The set up
We are playing via Skype and using Trello and D&D Beyond to keep track of characters and share campaign information. I have also been using a second laptop with its own Skype account so that I can stream battle maps for encounters; this has proven quite successful and came in handy once again last night as my players discovered their new mansion wasn’t quite as deserted as they thought. In all, there isn’t as much pre-defined combat in Dragon Heist chapter two as in the first chapter, but I’ll continue to use the second screen as a visual aid just in case.
Alan Crabpopper, Human Ranger – a private investigator and low level thug.
Dugg, Earth Genasi Fighter – estranged son from a noble family.
Little Joe, Drow Sorcerer – channeling the spirit of John Wayne.
Arvene Galanodel, Half-Elf Cleric – priestess of Tymora, ex-city guard, ex-nun.
Previously in Waterdeep
Alan, Dugg, Joe, and Arvene met in Waterdeep and there formed a small independent investigations company formally called the ABI (Alan’s Bureau of Investigators), now called Dragonclaw Investigates. After a couple of small jobs dealing with goblins, they were hired by Volothamp Goddarm to find a missing person. His friend Floon Blagmaar had first been kidnapped by the Zhentarim and then by the Xanathar Guild, and Volo was keen for him to be returned safely.
Both the Zhents and Xants had confused Floon for Renaer Neverember, estranged son of the former Open Lord of Waterdeep, and were trying find clues to a missing treasure cache. The heroes discovered all of this and eventually, with the help of the real Renaer, rescued Floon. Volo was very happy to have his friend returned safely, but he couldn’t pay the promised gold, instead offering the deed to Trollskull Manor. Last week the party accepted Volo’s offer and now find themselves in possession of a large house in the North Ward that is in desperate need of renovation.
Dragon Heist chapter two
As they left the town hall and began their walk back to the North Ward, their heads were swimming with ideas for their new abode. Could it be a headquarters for their investigations business? A Ravnica-themed bar? A hotel for stray cats? Somewhere for Alma Moyes to live? They were so lost in thought that the hour long journey passed without them even noticing the rain. It was late when they eventually arrived at the manor, there was a troupe of Halfling buskers performing on the street, which angered Little Joe. Suddenly a buzzing sound filled the air around them, and a piece of parchment folded into an odd arrow-triangle formation glided through the air and came to a stop, hovering by the front door.
And that’s how our Dragon Heist chapter two began. The paper aeroplane served two purposes. First, it reminded my players of their own Paper Bird—a magic item that is a piece of parchment that when folded will fly off to find its recipient. And second, it was a letter from Volo which I used to introduce the two main elements of this session.
Volo’s letter read: Dearest Friends, Welcome to your new home. It occurred to me that you might want to renovate the manor, but probably don’t have the funds. To help out, I’ve sent a writ of support to my old friend Mirt “the Moneylender.” He’ll be able to help you out if you don’t have any luck with the banks.
There is one thing I forgot to mention: there’s supposedly a poltergeist residing in the taproom of your new abode. As far as I’ve been able to gather, it’s a former barman, a half-elf named Lif. From what I’ve heard, Lif is quite possessive and not at all malicious; perhaps fixing up the place to its former glory is enough to get on his good side.
If you ever need me, I’ll be there. You can always send a bird, Volo.
Naturally my players ignored the letter. They were far more interested in causing a scene with the buskers across the road. The four young halflings were the Appleblossom family: Bree, Cora, Bobbin, and Finan, all clearly under 14 years of age. Two played instruments while the other two juggled and danced. They were quite good and had attracted a crowd of at least ten appreciative people. This was my players’ chance to impress the locals. All they had to do was be nice. Little Joe threw a rock at one of the dancers.
“Get out of our street you filthy rats!” The rock flew through the air and hit its target square in the head. The crowd immediately turned. They were angry. Little Joe bent down to grab another rock as Arvene ran over to try administer some healing to the injured boy. A protective lady with her arm around the halfling child pushed Arvene away. Dugg and Alan looked on bemused, not sure quite what had set Joe off, or how to react to it.
Joe, still seemingly enraged by the street performers, tossed another rock. This time Arvene managed to intercept it, batting the rock away with her mace. She made an athletics check contested by Joe’s dexterity and won. Making decent contact with the rock, she knocked it straight through the only unbroken window in their new home. SMASH.
“Get out of here!” yelled a voice from the crowd. “You and your friends ain’t welcome here in Trollskull Alley.”
There was a loud crash from inside the building and the same rock came hurtling back out and smacked Arvene square in the chest. They didn’t know it yet, but this was Lif the poltergeist agreeing with the locals. This was not how I planned start to Dragon Heist chapter two.
The Bent Nail
Deciding that withdrawal was the better part of valor, the party bundled Joe away from the fracas and headed down the street, leaving their mansion for now, in the hope that locals wouldn’t attribute the manor’s new owners with the assault.
They decided to split up, hoping to explore Trollskull Alley and find some resources with which to renovate and rebuild their house. Alan and Joe headed to a carpenter’s called The Bent Nail, while Arvene and Dugg went back to their manor and started cleaning up outside.
In The Bent Nail, Alan and Joe met the owner, a half-elf called Tally Fellbranch. Immediately Joe tried to convince him to give them money for the renovations. In spite of a high charisma roll, this approach didn’t have the intended effect. But it did make Tally slightly more amenable to the heroes, and so he gave them some free advice, pointing them in the direction of other guild members who could help with the renovations. He also gave Alan a brand new mop.
It’s a wonderful Lif
Meanwhile, after the buskers and crowd had moved on, Dugg and Arvene finished clearing up the debris from outside Trollskull Manor, including a large wooden chest full of moldy clothes that seemed to fly spontaneously out from a third story window.
They then decided to enter the building. As they stepped over the threshold, they saw the ruined remains of a tavern taproom. Broken chairs, smashed glass, rusty fireplace and shredded tapestries covered the area. Once they were both inside they were suddenly confronted with Lif, the now very angry poltergeist.
He tossed around broken masonry and poured foul smelling water over the pair. Every time they tried to speak or reason with him he rasped loudly at them. He would occasionally leave the room, giving them the sense of safety, only to return with more broken furniture and glass from the rest of the house. They would clearly need to do something meaningful to appease this poltergeist. For a while they considered fighting it. As a cleric Arvene is quite powerful versus undead spirits, but they both really liked the idea of opening the tavern again and having a ghostly bartender serving drinks.
Eventually, once Joe and Alan returned, and Joe apologized to Lif, promising to get the tavern back to working order, the poltergeist backed off a little. He wasn’t entirely placated, but it was as good as they were going to get right now.
Mirt “the Moneylender”
Deciding they needed to make get some funds in order to renovate, and remembering Volo’s letter, they headed off to find Mirt “the Moneylender.” Arvene, the Waterdhavian amongst them, knew a bit of Mirt’s backstory—he’s a famous ex-adventurer, well known in the city—so she led the way.
Along the road Little Joe noticed they were being followed by a pair of Drow thugs, but as soon as he tried to give chase they fled, leaving only a shred of purple material behind them. They also bumped into their new neighbors, a pair of genasi weaponsmiths called Avi and Embric, who offered a discount in their shop. Eventually they made it to the Castle Ward and arrived at Mirt’s mansion to speak with the rotund moneylender.
Mirt twirled his mustache and gave a smile that showed his pearly white teeth. “Ever since that lazy dullard Durnan got his own place I’ve been thinking of running a tavern myself. Now you’re telling me I can, but without the glass-cleaning and chair-stacking that old fool is spending his days with. Count me in! Now, here are my terms…” END
So we’ve now started Dragon Heist chapter two and this is where the campaign becomes very sandbox-y. For DMs this can be quite intimidating, as there’s a lot to cram in and so much detail that knowing where to start when it comes to preparing the session can be a bit of a nightmare. I’m using three resources from the DMs Guild to make my DM prep a little easier and to flesh out some of the narrative: Trollskull Alley DMs Resource from ValeurRPG, Residents of Trollskull Alley by Donna and Hal Howard, and the Leverage: Waterdeep series from Benjamin L. Eastman & Matt Dunn. All three of these products are extremely useful in giving extra context, content, and direction to a challenging part of the campaign. Naturally I won’t be using all of the content from each of them, but for inspiration and some cool ideas I highly recommend checking them out.
This was another combat-less session, but I still had a use for the map of Trollskull manor and the players minis. The encounters with Lif in the taproom proved much simpler using them as a visual aid. There very nearly was fighting a couple of times—the locals very nearly rallied against Little Joe for throwing stones. If he’s not careful, he’s going to find out that in Waterdeep karma can be a very painful thing indeed.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Think outside the sandbox. As mentioned, Dragon Heist chapter two is very open and your players can choose to do whatever they want. But only if you let them. You don’t have to give them all of the options at once, and you can still plan when you’d like certain things to happen. I drew up a series of event chains of what I wanted to happen over the course of the chapter, leaving some space in between for player choices. And so I have been able to roughly jot down how I think each session will go. Naturally there will be times when things go off the rails and you’ll have to cope with that as it happens. Like when your Drow Sorcerer attacks an innocent family of halflings. But you can still guide the narrative and retain an element of control, if that’s your preferred DMing style. Using the three resources mentioned earlier really helped me with this and greatly influenced this session in particular.
Next week we continue our exploration of Dragon Heist chapter two. Will our adventurers be able to raise the funds required to renovate their new manor? And how many more locals will Little Joe upset?