‘D&D Waterdeep Dragon Heist’ Session 23
Dragon Heist, session twenty three: This is why we don’t play on the stairs.
“What you going to do fool?” snarled the half-orc. “There’s only one of you and two of us.”
Arvene smiled. “More of you, you say?” The weave around her shimmered. Three illusory Arvenes suddenly appeared at her side. All wearing the same guard’s uniform, flanking her, twirling truncheons, and smirking oddly. Now she outnumbered them.
Last night was the 23nd session in our online Waterdeep Dragon Heist D&D campaign and, after progressing to level three, our heroic adventurers were in way over their heads, and sinking fast.
We have been playing via Discord and using Trello and D&D Beyond to keep track of characters and share campaign information. Up until last night this was going well. Unfortunately we suffered from some technological problems which upset the flow of the game and had some fairly dire consequences, but more on that later.
I’ve been using additional Dragon Heist DMs Guild supplements to boost my campaign, these include:
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, the heroes suffered a catastrophic communications blunder. A tiefling girl called Advertence became agitated and started screaming. Somehow Little Joe got the impression that he was supposed to kill the girl, when actually the intention was to cast a sleep spell. So, when Alan told him to “Take care of her,” Little Joe was only following orders. Or so he thought.
The next day the party received a summons from Dock Ward Chief of Police, Captain Staget. He wanted them to investigate Advertence’s murder. On the way to do just that, the heroes received a side mission to plant a compromising letter on the desk of top newspaper reporter Gaxly Rudderbust’s desk. Last session, while sneaking into the newspaper office, they were accosted by a second group on a clandestine caper of their own.
The Waterdeep Wazoo
The two thugs crashed down the glass staircase of the Waterdeep Wazoo, shattering every other step as they went. From inside Gaxly’s office, Alan and Dugg watched through a crack in the door. It seemed like Arvene had this under control.
This is always a good start to a session. Or it would have been if everyone’s internet connection was working. Nonetheless, we dove straight into initiative order and combat with the two thugs. One was a half-orc, almost seven-feet-tall, the other was a halfling, barely three and half. Both had tattoos on their hands and face, marking them as members of the Xanathar Guild. As the session began they were dusting off the shards of broken glass and rising slowly to their feet.
Little Joe rolled highest on initiative and was first to act. The only problem was that he was outside of the building, having jumped out of the window to avoid the thugs. His perception roll was just about good enough (18) to hear the sounds of breaking glass and shouts from inside, so he ran around to the front, saw the glass doors still open, and dashed inside.
Once inside he was confronted by the sight of the half-orc and halfling dusting themselves off and getting up at the base of the glass spiral staircase. He didn’t want to fight them so he tried his best to pretend to be a local doctor who just happened to be passing. He rolled a very good performance check (20) and they believed him. But they weren’t interested, and so ignored him entirely.
Alan was next. He was hiding behind the door in Gaxly’s office with Dugg when the fight broke out. The office was opposite the top of the stairs where the four Arvenes stood. Alan spotted the Janitor waking up in the room behind her. Seeing that Arvene might need help, Alan awkwardly climbed over Dugg, squeezing between his legs, and stealthily crawled across the landing to the room adjacent to the dozy janitor.
Not noticing Alan, the janitor, a burly human with a pot belly and a denim shirt with the sleeves cut off, stepped out from the room he was in and shouted at Arvene(s), “Oi you! You’re not supposed to be here. Get out.” He rubbed his eyes, dispelling the idea that the mirrored images of Arvene were just a byproduct of his half-awake state. “Oh sh…!” He attacked the closest illusion of her he could see with his broom and hit it hard, causing it to pop like a balloon before dispersing into illusory mist.
Arvene’s turn came after the janitor. She was more concerned with the two Xanathar thugs that were making their way back up the stairs. She ran half way down and swung her mace at the first one, hitting and dealing seven bludgeoning damage. In retaliation, he swung back with his scimitar. I was using a bandit captain stat block for this thug so he got two attacks. Both hit, one dispelling another of her illusions and the other dealing 5 slashing damage. The second thug also attacked, but his dagger attacks both missed Arvene as he tried to dash past her on the stairs.
Last to act was Dugg. Rather than join the fight, he decided to see if he could circumvent the melee and get down to the ground floor to cut off any retreat. There was a sash window in Gaxly’s office that looked like it hadn’t been opened for some time. A simple strength check from Dugg (19) and the window slid open causing a gust of wind to blow in, sending all the papers and post-it notes in Gaxly’s office flying. Ignoring the paperwork pandemonium he had created, Dugg climbed out the window and began lowering himself to the ground. A passable acrobatics check (15) meant that at the end of the first round he was holding onto the window ledge, dangling outside, ready to drop on his next turn.
The second round of combat saw the stakes raised somewhat. First, Joe pretended to heal the thugs, but actually cast faerie fire on them. This was surprisingly a good idea, and caused them both to glow neon pink, meaning any attacks against them had advantage.
Then a Gazer appeared in the room. The small football-sized beholderkin’s arrival reinforced that the thugs really were members of the Xanathar Guild. If that weren’t proof enough, Arvene noticed gang tattoos on the janitor’s knuckles too. What had they stumbled in to?
Meanwhile, Alan spent his turn looking for something heavy to push down the stairs, hoping to take out all the foes at once. He decided on the large mahogany desk. A terrible strength roll (5) meant he only just managed to push it out from the room he was in, just as Arvene was on the receiving end of a critical hit from the half-orc. She dropped to zero hit points and fell unconscious.
Unaware of the events inside, and following his own bizarre plan, Dugg dropped down from the window and onto the street outside. However, a critical failure on his dexterity saving throw meant he sprained his ankle upon landing. He took six points of force damage and until he was able to spend time recovering, his speed would be reduced by half.
Things went from bad to worse in the third round. Joe faced off against the gazer. He somehow managed to resist its dazzling ray, and then, rather than attack it, he cast a minor illusion spell that created the sound of the city watch’s alarm bell outside. The thugs all looked at each other, worried.
Just as that happened, Alan pushed against the bulky wooden desk once more. This time he rolled a natural 20 on his strength check. The critical success meant the large mahogany desk slid across the floor and toppled down the spiral staircase loudly. Both thugs just managed to jump out the way, but Arvene, who was unconscious on the stairs, was not so lucky. There was a crunch as she was crushed under the desk. First failed death save, 1-0.
As the desk slid to a halt, the halfling thug took out a dagger and used it to pin a crumpled letter to the top of the desk, before he, the gazer and the half-orc, all reacting to the sound of watchmen on their way, turned to exit the building. The janitor, also sensing the jig was up, decided to leave the encounter and dove out of a window, followed by a loud thud and a groan.
Dugg, meanwhile, had just managed to hobble through the front door as the halfling brushed past him using its innate nimbleness. The half-orc wasn’t as lucky. Dugg blocked the doorway to prevent his egress; he received a punch in the face for his efforts, but hit back, dealing six more damage.
At the foot of the stairs Arvene’s body was leaking vital fluids. The death save was rolled (4). Second failed death save, 2-0.
The final round of combat started with Joe trying to heal Arvene. He had no potions and no medical proficiency, but rolled a good medicine check nonetheless (17). As they were only third level characters, and I didn’t intend for them to die just yet, I allowed Arvene advantage on her next death save as a result. She rolled 19. First passed death save, 2-1.
Alan dashed down the stairs and tried to help Arvene too. But he couldn’t get around the giant mahogany desk which he’d pushed onto her. Meanwhile Dugg was facing a gazer and a half-orc in the doorway. Sensing this was a losing battle, he stood aside to let them pass.
Once the enemies were no longer a threat we came out of initiative to see if the heroes could save their unconscious friend. Neither Alan nor Joe had any potions or healing between then—something I had suggested they rectify before this—and couldn’t work out what to do.
Arvene rolled another death save (6). Third failed death save, 3-1.
Unaware of his friend’s passing, Dugg stood in the doorway. As he watched the thugs leave, he glimpsed an odd movement in the shadows in the street opposite. Suddenly three large, loud bangs echoed around the alley. BANG. BANG. BANG. Dugg stared in shock as with each bang another thug fell. Each hit by an unseen force before crumpling on the ground. Blood started to pool out of them onto the street. Then, the distant sound of bells and shouting warned of city guards approaching. They had to get out of here. But how? END
Wait. What just happened? This was not how I saw this session going. No one was supposed to die.
So many things to note: nobody asked why the Xanathar thugs were there, what the shadowy figures across the street were, or what the loud bangs could be. Their mission was to deliver a letter without anyone knowing. Not only did they manage to destroy the offices, but Gaxly’s room now had an open window with all his papers blown about, and they didn’t even deliver anything. In fact, the Xanathar thugs were the only ones who did!
At some point I’m sure we’ll return to the actual story of Dragon Heist and get back into chapter 3 proper, but until we manage that Arvene’s death and the repercussions of this encounter are going to prove quite an interesting digression.
Outside of the game, we have been having some connectivity problems with Discord over the last few weeks, which has caused Arvene’s microphone to cut out periodically. Usually while she’s talking, in the middle of describing her actions. This has been quite problematic as it means the session has to stop and the momentum is taken out of the action. This continued last night and became especially pronounced during the combat scenes—hence it took two hours to run only four rounds. This didn’t directly correlate with her failed death saves, and her death was by no means a punishment for having a problematic setup, but perhaps it would have been avoided if her allies had been able to understand what she was doing and had come to assist her in her final moments?
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Be prepared for player characters to die. At some point this will happen, and there will be nothing you can—or even should—do to stop it. Arvene’s death in this Dragon Heist session was entirely down to some poor player choices and unlucky rolls. It was definitely not how I expected any of this part of the story to go, and now I have to think about what should happen next. There are options provided in the Dragon Heist campaign book about what to do in this situation: a faction member might help them out or they could raise the funds to revivify her. But it all depends on how they act in the next session. If they upset too many more people, they’ll find their options very limited.
Next week we’ll see what Alan, Dugg, and Joe can do to rectify the situation. There will be options available to them to make amends, but they’ll have to make the right choices. Not something they’ve been doing well lately. Or since we started playing Dragon Heist.