Waterdeep Dragon Heist
Dragon Heist session 36: The oldest trick in the book
“Move along,” said one of the guards as Alan gaped. “Nothing to see here. You never seen 50 liters of spilled custard before?”
Joe stepped forward, “Excuse me officer, we’re trying to get to the House of Inspired Hands?”
“Oh, you’ll have to take that dark, ominous alleyway over there,” he said pointing across the street.
Last night was the 36th session in our online Waterdeep Dragon Heist D&D campaign and our group of level four adventurers are investigating a fireball and trying to get to the House of Inspired Hands, but first they must navigate a lake of custard. There must be a spell for that…
We have been playing Dragon Heist online via Skype, using Discord, Trello, and D&D Beyond to keep track of campaign information, all whilst streaming our sessions live on Twitch. To date our record number of viewers is eight and a half.
My DM setup ranges from a single laptop when I’m not anticipating any combat or have forgotten to prepare anything, to two laptops, a webcam, some photography lights, my Dwarven Forge terrain tiles, and a handful of badly painted minis. Last night the whole toolbox was out.
Additional Dragon Heist supplements I’ve been using for this campaign:
Residents of Trollskull Alley
Waterdeep: Expanded Faction Missions
Scrying into his handkerchief
The Press of Waterdeep
Dragon Heist: Expanded Faction Missions
Shard Shunners: a Zhentarim Faction Mission and DM’s ResourceShard Shunners: a Zhentarim Faction Mission and DM’s Resource
Fireball – A Waterdeep: Dragon Heist DM’s resource.
Our Dragon Heist party:
Dugg, Earth Genasi Fighter – freelance dungsweeper and estranged son from House Roznar.
Alan Crabpopper, Human Ranger – a harper and private investigator. A wererat in denial.
Arvene Galanodel, Half-Elf Cleric – priestess of Tymora, fake harper. Resurrected.
Little Joe, Drow Sorcerer – channeling the spirit of John Wayne, member of Bregan D’earth.
Previously in Dragon Heist
Alan, Arvene, Dugg, and Joe have been through the mill. Two of them have died and been brought back. One is a secret wererat. One is being blackmailed by the leader of a drow secret society. And one has been enlisted as a reserve dungsweeper.
Last session the party set off for the House of Inspired Hands. They were following a lead, trying to solve the mystery of who set off the fireball outside their house that killed 12 people. They didn’t get very far before they were ambushed in an alleyway after making a detour to escape some suspiciously spilled custard.
Arvene and Dugg bowed down the alleyway first, as Joe and Alan tried to find out more about the fallen dessert. “It’s crème Faerún, and it’s none of your beeswax,” said the guard, pushing them away.
Arvene and Dugg turned the corner and found a tall, hooded figure staring ominously at them from the other end of the alley. Recognizing the signs, Arvene tried to back away, but soon discovered they weren’t the only ones in the passageway. Two more hooded figures pushed them from behind and Dugg could feel the cold steel of a dagger pressed into his bare flesh. Meanwhile, Joe was arguing whether it could really be called crème Fearún if it wasn’t hot. “Doesn’t that make it a sabayon?”
So the session began with every D&D player’s favorite phrase:
The combat began in the alleyway. It was a 60-foot-long alley that connected two adjacent streets. At the far end of the alley (opposite where Arvene and Dugg entered) there was a brick wall, presumably the back of someone’s house. This wall had a large hole knocked through it, big enough for a person to climb through, and a weird blue light could be seen pulsing inside. As the combat began there was one hooded figure (a cultist fanatic) standing in front of the blue pulsing light, and two more hooded figures (also cultist fanatics) pushing behind Arvene and Dugg.
Alan and Joe, who were still in the street away from the action, rolled highest for initiative and the went first. They realized something was up and ran to Arvene and Dugg’s aid, instantly engaging the two rear cultists. Alan swiped twice with his short sword and dealt 10 damage to one, while Joe tried to tackle the other to the floor. A contested strength grapple of 9 vs. 12 left Joe pinning the female cultist to the ground. She screamed out, “Now, Donny! Get him.”
As she screamed, a small devilish imp—the same one whom had tried to tempt Arvene to sell them her soul—appeared in the alley and joined the fray.
The imp attempted to grab Dugg, but missed its attack. Then the cultists all cast spells versus the party. Arvene and Alan both took damage before Arvene cast Bane on the assailants and Dugg struck back at the imp with his shortsword. He soon realized that a steel shortsword did no damage to the devil, so tossed it aside and pulled out his small silver tack hammer.
The Cult of Asmodeus
After the first round of combat, the party started trying to work out why this group of cultists had ambushed them in the alley. A perception check revealed familiar insignia on their robes that identified the cultists as worshipers of Asmodeus—a powerful archdevil. However, it still didn’t make sense, unless the cult was after the same things my players were. But, thanks to the often sporadic nature of our game sessions, and the lack of an elected note taker, none of my players could actually remember what they were after. Typical.
To help, I had prepared some phrases the cultists could say during combat to help provide some exposition:
“Ha, I can’t believe you fell for the oldest trick in the book – the ol’ spilled custard illusion.”
“Go for the Purple one—he’s the on the list. The others aren’t important.”
“This was supposed to be easy—the boss said you’d all be distracted.”
“We’ll succeed where those wererats failed.”
“Quickly, complete the ritual and He can help us.”
Essentially the cultists were trying to assassinate Dugg, whose name was on a list of targets which the players had already seen when they fought some wererats in the sewers a few sessions prior. The cultists had been following the party and lured them into the alley by tricking them with an illusion of spilled custard. But it still wasn’t clear why someone wanted Dugg dead, or whom the cultists were working for, and if they even knew about the fireball or the stone of Golorr that the party was investigating. But I just wasn’t going to give everything away.
The Bluest Part of the Wall by Devil and the Cultists
By the end of the third round of combat, one of the cultists was dead and the other two were badly hurt. The imp had been popped out of existence like a wayward extraplanar balloon and the players were feeling like they had this encounter all but wrapped up. Then the weird blue light from the hole in the wall grew larger. Arvene went to have a look.
She saw a circular pool of blue goo on the floor that was writhing. From inside the goo, a clawed, spindly hand pushed through a thin film and began tearing at the edges of the pool. All the while Arvene gaped in horror as the blue light pulsed and grew. She watched as a spined devil the size of a small person emerged from the pool like a bird breaking free of an egg. Two more cultists stood by the pool chanting feverishly as the devil instinctively lurched forward towards the crack in the wall. As it did, it unfurled two dripping, leathery wings. It was covered in prickles and calluses and called out in some dark, foul tongue, “They want the genasi. His soul must be intact.”
“Erm…” said Arvene. “Problem.” She immediately cast a Mirror Image spell on herself, creating three identical illusions of herself. And so it came to pass that Arvene and the Arvenes were playing on the same bill as Devil and the Cultists and they were both singing covers of The Bluest Part of the Wall. (These all sounded like excellent band names to us.)
The battle continued, but with an additional two cultists (now four in total) and the spined devil. Dugg and Joe quickly took out the two original cultists, so now there were only two left, and Arvene and Dugg focused on the devil. Dugg was attacking it with his silver hammer, which did some damage, and Arvene spent her time healing Dugg and occasionally hitting the devil with a Sacred Flame.
Then, as Alan faced a cultist, they cast a Command spell on him and he failed the saving throw and became magically compelled to follow the one word command the cultist gave him. She was badly hurt and desperately wanted Alan to leave her alone, so her single word command was “Abandon.” I left this open for Alan’s interpretation.
So, Alan abandoned. He cast off his worldly possessions, threw his daggers to the ground, stripped naked, and ran. Abandoning all sense of self and humanity. Letting himself fall to his primal wererat instincts, he howled and snarled and dashed to the exit of the alley way.
But he didn’t get very far because on the next turn Little Joe threw the final blow versus the cultist and her spell wore off. This left Alan naked and confused. But he decided he couldn’t lose face. And so, that is why when the Devil had Dugg cornered and was about to whisk him away, Alan, in all his abandoned glory, dived straight at the spined devil and tried to tackle him to the ground. I had already mentioned to my players the porcupine-like nature of the spines that covered this devil, but naked Alan went for it anyway. Needless to say, when the encounter was over, he graciously accepted Arvene’s offer remove the prickles…
Four in a Row
By the sixth round of combat, it was just the spined devil and one cultist fanatic left. The devil had caused quite a bit of damage to Dugg, but had also taken some in return. But at the beginning of this round something weird happened. First Alan, and then Joe, and then Arvene, all rolled critical fails one after another. Each of them tried to attack the devil, who was down to single digit hit points, but each failed miserably. Then, incredibly, as the spined devil took its turn, rounding on Dugg and ready to deal a killing blow, it too rolled a natural 1. The fourth critical failure in a row.
Whenever someone rolls a crit fail in our games, we have a crits and fumble table that we consult to see what happens. This can be anything from losing your weapon, to falling over, or allowing an instant retaliation. In the case of the spined devil this was an act of seppuku. After four crit fails in a row there could be no other way.
The devil lurched forward and dropped his steely fork onto the cobble stones. It jammed in between two stones, standing rigid on the floor, as the devil fell forward onto it. It was fatally wounded and bamfed out of existence, returning to Avernus in the Nine Hells from whence it came, its mission incomplete. Seeing the devil thus dealt with, the only remaining cultist panicked. They ran to the fading portal on the floor of the house and belly-dived into it, only to remember at the last moment that it wasn’t a portal at all, just a puddle of blue goop on the floor. The impact knocked them out, and Alan, still under the sway of his animal urges, leapt forward and ensured they would never wake up. END
This was a really a fun session that was entirely combat based; we haven’t had one of those for a while. While I think it’s really good to keep players invested in the story with cool plot twists and lots of roleplaying, it’s always a good idea to make sure there’s enough combat in a campaign so your players can let loose once in a while. This would be Dragon Heist’s biggest failing for me; not enough action. After all, why else do we play Dungeons & Dragons other than to pretend to beat up the scary bad guys who say mean things to us in alleyways?
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Keeping track of initiative isn’t easy. In fact, it’s one of the things I mess up the most when DMing our Dragon Heist campaign. I often miss out a player’s turn, or go two rounds without realizing one of the monsters hasn’t thrown a punch for a while. So it’s worth investigating ways which make this easier. There are cool Initiative Trackers you can buy like this one, or you can make your own out of pegs. I have a printed sheet with the players’ characters on a section for all of the NPCs/monsters they might fight. The only problem is getting it all in the right order.
Next week the party will hopefully make it to the House of Inspired Hands and continue their investigation. Unless of course they get too distracted trying to work out why this cult was trying to kill Dugg and go on a 30-session detour to Avernus…
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