Dragon Heist session twenty two: Side-tracked
The haggard looking watch captain stared down at the three heroes. He was tired. “You guys are my last hope. I need your help. Advertence was killed last night. You were the last ones to see her alive. Her body was found and taken to the Rejviik mortuary. We had our clerics ready to speak with her to find out what happened. But the body went missing. I think I’ve got a leak in my ship and you need to find it. I know I can count on you.”
Last night was the 22nd session in our online Waterdeep Dragon Heist D&D campaign and after progressing to level three, our heroic adventurers were in over their heads. But before they could begin to help Captain Staget, they got a little distracted.
We have been playing Dragon Heist via Discord and using Trello and D&D Beyond to keep track of characters and share campaign information.
To help with my Dragon Heist game prep and to flesh out the city of Waterdeep, I’ve also been using supplements available from the DMs Guild. So far, we’ve had an adventure with the Dungsweepers Guild (Dung Work), a battle with a gazer in a bookshop (Waterdeep Dragon Heist: Expanded Faction Missions), and a mission from JB Nevercott (Scrying into his handkerchief). This week there was quite a bit of traveling through the city, so I used Waterdeep: City Encounters to roll a couple of interesting events while my players crossed town, and then The Press of Waterdeep towards the end of the session.
Alan Crabpopper, Human Ranger – a private investigator and member of the Harpers.
Dugg, Earth Genasi Fighter – dungsweeper and estranged son from House Roznar.
Little Joe, Drow Sorcerer – channeling the spirit of John Wayne, secret member of Bregan D’earth.
Arvene Galanodel, Half-Elf Cleric – priestess of Tymora, ex-city guard, ex-nun, fake harper.
Previously in Dragon Heist
During a mission from a mysterious haberdasher named J.B Nevercott to deliver a stolen handkerchief, the heroes suffered a catastrophic communications blunder. The handkerchief recipient, a tiefling girl called Advertence, became agitated and started screaming wildly in distress. Little Joe got the impression that Alan—his boss—wanted him to kill the girl, when actually Alan intended for him to cast a sleep spell. So, when Alan told him to “Take care of her,” Little Joe was only following orders.
The next day the party received two letters. The first was a distress call from old friend Alma Moyes, and the second a summons from Dock Ward Chief of Police Captain Staget. Captain Staget knew they were the last ones to see Advertence, but didn’t suspect them. Instead he wanted them investigate her murder, and root out the corruption in his own force.
Advertence is dead
The three of them listened as Staget explained the situation. Alan couldn’t believe what had happened, and he wished Joe was there to hear it too. They had only been with Advertence moments before her death and Joe was the last one to see her, perhaps she had said something to him in those last fleeting moments?
Meanwhile, Joe was making his way back to Trollskull Manor. His mind was full of cats and cookies and dead tieflings. Suddenly he could feel the presence of watchful eyes on his back. He was being followed. Again.
The session began with the party split. Alan, Arvene, and Dugg were making their way back to the tavern from their meeting with Staget, while Little Joe was heading to the same place, only Joe had a head start. As the previous session ended with the group of three, we started this one focused on Joe.
As he headed up the High Road, I asked him to roll a d100 on Waterdeep City Encounters table. He rolled high and came across a group of 40 refugees looking for aid. He listened to their story. They were from Luskan, a city in the north, and were fleeing the troubles there. So far no one had shown them any kindness in Waterdeep and they were desperately seeking shelter. What else could Joe do, but arrange for them to meet up with his friend Arvene at 9 AM the next day at Café du Pain in Trollskull Alley? “She is a woman of God,” he said. “she will help you.”
The leader of the group of refugees, a white-haired man named Shorval thanked Joe. “You are a saint,” he said. “We will meet your friend Arvene tomorrow.” And so, with smiles of gratitude and clasped hands, the 40 Luskan commoners all cheered for Little Joe.
After the encounter with the refugees, Joe closed in on Trollskull Manor. Aware he was still being followed, he rounded a corner and hoped to surprise his pursuers. Two familiar drow rounded the corner and faced him. “Oh, it’s you.” Joe said.
The two drow reminded Joe of his obligations (someone knew of his murderous misdemeanors and was blackmailing him) and had a mission for him. It involved delivering a letter to a journalist, Gaxly Rudderbust of the Waterdeep Wazoo. Little Joe took the letter and ran off to Trollskull Manor. Someone was pulling his strings, and he didn’t like it.
Alan, Arvene, and Dugg arrived at Trollskull Manor before Joe. They were sitting in the nearly-fully-refurbished tap room when Joe arrived. The incident with the drow meant he needed to cheer himself up, so he decided to scare Dugg by smashing his way in through the window. Stealth (17), acrobatics (14), and dexterity (6) ensued.
Dugg was not amused. Or scared. But Joe enjoyed it. Once he’d pulled the glass out from his shoulder and upper lip.
Reunited, the party shared information. Alan and co. got Joe up to speed with what happened with Captain Staget. Joe looked guilty, but somehow didn’t give anything away. And then Joe told them of the mission to deliver the letter to Gaxly.
Joe handed the letter over to Alan. It was seemingly an exposé on devil worship amongst the nobility of Waterdeep. It explicitly depicted sordid rituals and cult-like activates, and named the Cassalanters, amongst others.
Just as they were preparing to leave to deliver the letter before beginning their murder investigation, one of the workmen who had been renovating the manor entered the room. It was George, the Firbolg glazier. He took one look at the window Joe smashed and screamed. “How did this happen?”
Joe and Arvene decided to deceive the workman, stating it must be shoddy work. They both rolled very high deception rolls (18 and 23). They were wrangling for a refund, but instead George started to chastise Geoffrey, his very young, scared-looking apprentice. George began screaming and shouting at the poor boy, and Geoffrey’s eyes began to well up.
To Dugg’s horror, Geoffrey was fired on the spot. So when the 8-year-old, sobbing and wheezing, asked for some money to get home, the gentle earth genasi felt sorry for him and offered him an apprenticeship with the company, beginning at 9 AM tomorrow. “Thank you mister Dugg,” said Geoffrey between snuffles. “Can my mom come too? She’s always wanted to be an adventurer.”
So, after making two unexpected appointments for the next day, the heroes were finally ready to being investigating this murder. But first a trip to the Waterdeep Wazoo.
It was getting late by the time the tall newspaper offices loomed up ahead and there were no lights inside. A very poor group investigation check (11) meant their scouting of the perimeter showed no obvious places to enter. Then Joe remembered a new spell he had learnt and stepped up to the large glass doors as the front of the building. Alan, Arvene, and Dugg were fully prepared for him to smash through in true Joe fashion, but instead he gently tapped twice on the glass. Casting knock, Joe stood there as the door silently flew open. He calmly stepped through.
Once inside it was obvious that no one was about. Arvene cast pass without a trace on the party, granting a +10 to stealth checks, and Joe cast dancing lights, producing four small glowing spheres by which they could all see. They investigated the ground floor, looking for Gaxly’s office and found some signs pointing upstairs for journalist’s rooms. Before heading up they had a final look around, it was an open plan area, with a mechanized printing press in one corner that was steadily churning out the next day’s news. Somehow, they resisted the urge to alter the settings, creating headlines promoting their own business, and headed up the glass spiral staircase to the upper offices.
Arvene lead the way and just heard the janitor whistling in time to cast sleep on him before he gave the game away. She dragged him into a room marked Adren Drosshammer and stood guard while the others searched for Gaxly’s office. They pasted signs for Brendan Lies, Corrine Truestory, Dorian Felshood, Esther Fibbentrot, and Feldric Malaprop before reaching a brass plaque that read Gaxly Rudderbust.
Inside was like a scene from a conspiracy theory film. Alan and Dugg each rolled investigation checks to see what they could make out from all the Post-It notes and chaotic scrawls linked together by string. Like a deranged spider’s web, where instead of bugs there were tidbits of rumor and fantasy all merged together, cocooned in the remnants of one man’s desperate crusade for truth.
They could have found whatever they were looking for here. But they had to be specific. I wasn’t going to just give it all away. Dugg looked for clues to the Black Viper. He rolled a 17 and could now almost work out their identity. Alan rolled well too (16). He was searching for anything to do with wererats and found clues leading to a family of halflings, the Shoebedle’s, in the Dock Ward.
Voices up the stairs
For some reason Little Joe held back; not wanting to risk too much. He still had the letter in his hand when he heard voices coming up the stairs. A good insight roll (19) and he knew the voices were up to no good. Fearing for his safety, and still worried about what might happen later, he wasted no time in running for a window and jumping out. He cast featherfall to soften his landing and was surprised when his companions didn’t immediately follow.
Arvene heard the voices too. With Dugg and Alan in Gaxly’s office and Joe out the window, she wasn’t sure what to do. But she was still disguised as a guard, so she stepped forward to the top of the stairs and attempted to play the role.
“Hello ‘ello ‘ello. What’s all this then?”
The two thugs didn’t fall for her ruse, or if they did, they didn’t care. One, a thick-set orc-like fellow pushed and tried to intimidate her. She didn’t move.
“What you going to do fool?” snarled the half-orc. “There’s only one of you and two of us.”
Arvene smiled. Her magical disguise shifted slightly to compensate, making her look like a sailor with something stuck in their teeth. “More of you, you say?” she replied, muttering breathlessly as she weaved invisible magic around herself.
Suddenly three more illusory Arvene’s appeared around her. All wearing the same guard uniform, twirling truncheons and smirking oddly. Now she outnumbered them. Or so it seemed. “Let’s count,” she said, and pushed hard in the orc’s chest. “One.” He toppled backward on the top step. “Two.” He grabbed his silent companion to right himself, but ended up taking him with him, crashing through the glass steps. “Three!” Wait, that wasn’t Arvene’s voice. END
This was another Dragon Heist session that was borne out of a couple of supplements and got a little out of hand. I hadn’t planned for Little Joe to offer Arvene’s friendship to the 40 refugees at the beginning of the session. I also hadn’t planned for Dugg to hire an apprentice. And I hadn’t planned for a second group of people to have broken into the press offices and surprise the party during their break-in. But it turned out to be quite fun. I wonder what will happen next session, now that the janitor is awake and seemingly in with the thugs?
Also, this is now the fourth time in our Dragon Heist campaign that Little Joe has jumped out of a window for no reason. He did it at Alma Moyes’ house, the North Ward City Watch, and now twice in this episode. I think he might have a problem. And I think I might have the glazier’s guild pay him a little visit.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: After a session with no combat, ending on a cliff hanger can be a really good way of keeping your players engaged. Especially if you get to start the next session with the words, “Roll Initiative!” If you’re running a Dragon Heist campaign you should definitely be prepared for lots of time without combat, and when it does happen it can be pretty unusual.
In truth I hadn’t really planned what would happen once they arrived at the Waterdeep Wazoo, so that was all pretty much improvised. The only problem with improvising such an encounter is that at some point you’ve got to figure out what the wider ramifications are. When that happens I guess I will be just as surprised as the rest of my players.
Next week we’ll start with rolling for initiative. Arvene has just pushed the thugs down the stairs, the janitor has just woken up, Alan and Dugg are hiding in Gaxly’s office, and Joe is gently gliding to the ground outside.