Waterdeep Dragon Heist
Dragon Heist session 39: Evil Groundskeeper
With the nimblewright detector in one hand and Alec Traybake gripped tightly in the other, Arvene was taken on a whirlwind tour of all Waterdeep. From the magnificent walking statues to the slums of the Dock Ward, she took it all in and was able to scan the whole city for nimblewrights in less than two hours. Six times the detector went off and she noted the location of each. She already knew about the ones in the House of Inspired Hands, the North Ward watch house, and the Halls of Justice, but now they had to decide where to investigate next: the decrepit Kolat Towers, the Sea Maiden’s Fair in the Dock Ward, or Grallhund Villa in the North.
Last night was the 39th session in our online Waterdeep Dragon Heist D&D campaign and our band of level four heroes was closing in on the mysterious nimblewright that had caused a fireball outside their house.
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 it was just a single laptop, my notebook, and pen.
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
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
Waterdeep: City Encounters
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 – scourge of the fenêtreman’s guild, 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 continued their investigation into the fireball that killed 12 people outside their house. They were following a lead that took them to the Hall of Justice. Here, Arvene took to the skies, helped by a friendly—and uncomfortably amorous—griffon rider and using the nimblewright detector determines the three possible locations their quarry could be.
A graceful dismount
Joe, Dugg, and Alan watched as Arvene, employing her usual grace and decorum, fell from the griffon as it skidded to a halt in the stables. Alec Traybake, her handsome guide, leapt down and helped her to her feet. Taking her hand, he kissed her and whispered something in her ear which made her blush. This was not something Alan, Dugg, or Joe had ever witnessed before. Usually it was Arvene who made others turn crimson. Moments later Alec had re-mounted Hoofton and the griffon beat its wings and took to the skies once more, leaving Alan’s Bureau of Investigators to determine their next step.
Arvene quickly recounted what she had seen from the skies. They now had three locations where they might find a nimblewright, two of which they had heard of before.
The Sea Maiden’s Fair was a carnival made up of three ships docked in the Dock Ward and ran by the mysterious Zardoz Zord. It was also very far away.
Gralhund Villa was the closest to them and they had already heard that there might be a hideout for the Zhentarim.
The third location was Kolat Towers, a place they had not come across so far this campaign. Both Dugg and Arvene are Waterdeep locals, so they each rolled a history check to see what they might know about it. Arvene rolled a 9 and didn’t remember anything. Dugg rolled 14 and knew that the Kolat Towers were a pair of dilapidated towers in the South Ward; rumor had it that it was built by two eccentric brothers, Duhlark and Alcedor. Both were wizards. The brothers became paranoid and encased the towers in a magical force field. They eventually fell out and Dulhark became a recluse who died in his own fortress.
To the villa
After weighing up their options they decided on Gralhund Villa. After all it was the closest.
On the way there they discussed how they could get inside the manor to search for the nimblewright. They knew that the Gralhunds would likely have an entourage and security detail protecting the villa and that posing a pizza delivery was unlikely to work—no matter how much Little Joe wanted to pretend that it might.
Their usual Modus Operandi was to go in as rat catchers, hired as pest control, but since their recent exploits fighting wererats in the sewers they felt slightly differently about this approach. They knew from experience that it could quickly spiral out of control. So they decided that perhaps trying to break in and be stealthy might be their best approach. What could possibly go wrong?
After a brief incident with a ghost crossing the road that they pretty much totally ignored, they arrived at Gralhund Villa just as night was settling in. A large brick wall, 15 feet high, ran around the grounds, which were situated in the middle of an upper-class residential neighborhood in the North Ward.
Scoping out the grounds
For once they took the sensible option and decided to take some time scoping out the villa before rushing straight in. So, splitting up into two teams—Alan and Arvene, and Dugg and Joe—they walked the perimeter wall.
Successful stealth checks from everyone meant they did so without raising the alarm from any nosy neighbors. They noticed two potential entrances to the grounds. One was clearly the public access; it had a wrought iron gate with a large G in the center that looked out onto the lush gardens which surrounded the house. The second entrance they spotted was around the rear of the building and, although their investigations didn’t reveal the exact details, this door led to the stables behind the house.
True to form Little Joe was keeping a keen eye out for any windows which could be easily jumped through. However, since I was prepared for this, all of the external windows had metal bars preventing such an entrance. All except a large ornate window, 10 feet from the ground in the library. Alan tried to throw a rock through the window, but only rolled a 3 and couldn’t reach the glass.
So, having scoped out the vicinity they decided the best entrance would be via the iron gates that led to the gardens.
Best laid plans only work when they’re laid
Of course as soon as they decided this, Dugg and Arvene went around the back and tried to break into the stables.
Meanwhile, Alan and Joe stood in front of the iron gates. The garden beyond was faintly lit by candle light from the house, but mostly shrouded in darkness and shadow.
Little Joe cast Knock on the gates and a loud magical knocking sound reverberated around the grounds. Dugg and Arvene could hear it from the other side of the villa. The iron gates swung open and Alan strolled in. Little Joe then ran around to the other side of the house where Arvene and Dugg were so he could do the same on that door. I’m not sure why he did this.
Alan was greeted by a menacing, if elderly, groundskeeper call Hurv. Hurv had two equally elderly mastiffs called Rocky and Creed, and is literally described in the Dragon Heist campaign book as Evil Groundskeeper. Hurv clearly didn’t trust Alan, who claimed to be a resident of the house, but a very good intimidation check (21) meant Hurv left Alan alone with instructions to leave the grounds, as he retreated to his quarters in the stables.
Of course Alan didn’t leave the grounds. Instead he tried to sneak through the shadows along the villa walls and make his way to the stables, following Hurv. Alan rolled a stealth check of 9. The DC (difficulty class) for this skill challenge was 14.
While this was happening, Arvene and Dugg were failing to break into the stables. Through the door they heard a voice and the sound of dogs enter the stables, followed by a weird popping, melting sound, and then silence. Then Joe arrived. He cast Knock on the locked door and once again a large knocking sound reverberated around the grounds and could be heard up to 300 feet away. The door swung open revealing a clean stable containing a beautifully maintained coach, four draft horses and a jet-black riding horse. But no groundskeeper or dogs. There was a second room which contained tack and a harness for each of the horses as well as bales of hay and yard tools, and two large cots. Still no evil groundskeeper or dogs.
The Gralhunds are apparently not a very nice bunch of people and they paid a necromancer to perform a ritual on Hurv—presumably before he was evil—and his mastiffs. So that, after sundown, the physical forms of these figures melts away, and they become shadowy remnants and act as the first level of security to the villa and grounds. Alan was just about to find out that failing his stealth check had alerted the shadowspawn.
As he crept along the shadows, hugging close to the wall, Alan felt a dark pressure rest on his shoulders and force him against the brick. From the shadows an amorphous shape lurched towards him. Its vaguely humanoid shape gave the impression of an elderly groundskeeper, before shifting into a tall dark elongated being that wrapped itself around him. It attempted to drain Alan’s strength, but he resisted and drew his weapons.
A quick combat encounter followed. For the first round Alan fought alone as Arvene, Dugg, and Little Joe heard the muffled sounds of struggle from within the stable. But by the second round they were able to come into the grounds and assist him.
Shadows are particularly difficult monsters to fight. While they only have one attack option, they have multiple resistances and invulnerabilities. Alan soon realized his shortswords weren’t dealing as much damage as they might normally. But thankfully, both Joe and Arvene had plenty of magical attacks at their disposal and the shadows did not like radiant or fire damage.
They were eventually dispatched, crisping and disintegrating like paper under a flame, but not before both Alan and Arvene became affected by their strength drain attacks. This has the effect of reducing a player’s strength score by 1d4. After this, neither character had a strength score of higher than 10, which will put them at a pretty serious disadvantage for the future if they don’t seek restoration.
Having dealt with the evil groundskeeper and his shadowspawned mastiffs, the heroes dragged their stunned leader into the stables to recover. Alan took a few moments to regain his breath, but both he and Arvene looked drawn and withered from the fight. Dugg looked through the doorway towards the villa; somehow their antics hadn’t raised the alarm. Relieved, he and Joe tried to find a way in. As they approached they could hear raised voices and clashing metal from within. A loud smash from a first story window made them jump as a chair fell from the sky just by where they stood. Something interesting was happening inside the villa. END
This was a fun session, the first one with combat for a while. As we delve deeper into the villa I’m sure there will be more chances for the heroes to test their fighting prowess. Alan and Arvene, however, will need to seek restoration soon or they will struggle to be effective in battle.
What did we learn?
DM Tip Make sure you’ve read and re-read all aspects of a dungeon or potential encounter location prior to playing the session. As soon as my players realized the front gates to the villa were locked, they started scoping around the villa. I hadn’t prepared for them to come in ’round the back and so had to frantically look up what was going on in the rear of the premises. If I’d prepared better they might have been able to make smarter decisions, and could have even totally avoided the evil groundskeeper.
Next week they continue to explore Gralhund Villa. The nimblewright detector suggests their quarry is within the building, but who else might they run into whilst looking for them?
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