Waterdeep Dragon Heist
Dragon Heist session 40: Chaos in Gralhund Villa
Having dealt with the evil groundskeeper and his shadow-spawned mastiffs, the heroes dragged their stunned leader into the stables to recover. Alan took a few moments to regain his breath; both he and Arvene looked drawn and withered from the fight. Dugg peeked 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.
Last night was the 40th session in our online Dragon Heist D&D campaign and the party were on the trail of a nimblewright (a weird robot-thing) and followed it to Gralhund Villa. The only problem was that there was already a ruckus going on there.
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 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, while chasing the trail of a rogue nimblewright—the lead suspect in a heinous crime—they arrived at Gralhund Villa and had to deal with its evil groundskeeper. They were using a special mechanical detector that had indicated that the nimblewright was close. Then, just as they approached the entrance of the house, a chair flew from an upstairs window and the sounds of fighting could be heard from within.
Dugg dragged Alan to his feet just as Joe and Arvene dashed back into the stables. “There’s definitely some sort of ruckus going on in there,” said Arvene.
“Actually, I think it was more like a scuffle,” said Joe.
“A fracas?” asked Dugg.
“Yeah, that’s right,” said Arvene. “Some kind of fight anyway.”
So after a quick linguistics discussion, the session got underway. I began by sharing the map of Gralhund Villa to give some idea of the layout of the grounds. I had described it in great detail previously, but the description wasn’t in rhyming couplets, so my players didn’t retain the information.
They decided to sneak in ’round the back through the kitchen.
Pass without a trace
As they approached the door they could hear the sounds of fighting, shouting, and steel clashing. Dugg cast Pass without a trace to enhance their stealthiness. This surprised the rest of the party. “Why didn’t you do that before?” they all asked him. He had forgotten he could. Which is ironic as the player who plays Dugg was also the player who played Brundle Swash in our Curse of Strahd campaign—a druid with the same spell. He also plays a ranger with the same spell in another campaign. He said, “It’s hard to keep track of which characters have which abilities.” All of his characters have that ability…
The door to the kitchen was locked, and in spite of wanting to be stealthy, Little Joe decided to cast Knock. This is a spell which magically opens any locked door, but is accompanied by a very loud knocking sound that can be heard up to 300 feet away.
They entered the kitchen and began exploring the villa. But not before searching the kitchen for cheese and booze. Alan and Arvene rolled investigation checks to do so. Neither rolled very well, so it took them 15 minutes, whilst making lots of noise, to find a hidden drawer with a butter dish containing a small lump of Swiss cheese and a bottle of moonshine.
Meanwhile they could hear the sounds of fighting coming from the other side of the house. But they were really focused on looting the pantry first. Dugg checked the nimblewright detector while they searched and it indicated that the nimblewright was not as close as it was when they started, but it was still within 200 or so feet. Ignoring the warning signs, they continued raiding the food store.
The tone quickly shifted when they entered the room adjacent to the kitchen. The small tiled room had two fresh corpses on the ground. Forgetting the cheese and booze for a moment, they investigated the bodies. Medicine checks let them know they were very recently dead and had been victim of sword-based attacks. A wooden stair led out of this room and up to the next floor.
They ascended the stairs and found themselves in the servant’s quarters. A section of the villa entirely cut off from the rest. They could hear the fighting coming from behind the walls, but there was no way to access it from this floor.
Entering one of the servant’s bedrooms, they found a group of maids and children huddled together hiding from the melee. This was clearly a situation that required compassion. Little Joe stepped forward. The encounter escalated quickly into a screaming match. But he was able to discover that the fighting was happening because some of the Lady’s “guests” had turned against her. They were looking for the Stone of Golorr, but neither my players nor the maids knew this fact. They also didn’t know that Lady Gralhund had given the stone to the rogue nimblewright who had also just left the Villa and was in the process of escaping while the party raided the pantry.
The party left the servant’s quarters and headed for the main hall of the Villa, but not before Little Joe, in a moment of unusual kindness, handed over two crossbows, 10 bolts, a candle, a shortsword, and two gold pieces to the huddling commoners. He doesn’t realize what he has set in motion. I think they’re going to do a Harley Quinn and become vigilantes.
Zhents in the Great Hall
Somehow, by the time they got back to the kitchen they had still not managed to alert anyone to their presence, so when they arrived in the great hall, the two Zhentarim thugs there didn’t notice them.
The great hall had a large banquet table and a grand staircase beyond. The two thugs were standing in front of the stairs, surrounded by a pile of dead bodies. Some Zhentarim, but mostly guards who acted as security for the Gralhunds. The Zhentarim and the guards had clearly been fighting. Alan and co. had previous experience with the Zhentarim and so decided that these two thugs needed to be dealt with.
They did so quickly and efficiently, using a surprise round to great effect. Alan charged at the two. Leaping on the table and diving at them with all his beastly might. He used his Horde Breaker ability to attack both Zhents, as Little Joe sent crossbow bolts, Arvene used Sacred Flame, and Dugg sneaked under the table and grappled one to the ground.
A dart from the dark
One of the Zhents died quickly. The other Dugg tried to question. He did not roll well on his intimidation check. So the only information he got was that the Zhents were looking for the stone. Seeing this thug was useless, Dugg let him go. He ran to the door, but as he passed the threshold a crossbow bolt flew from the top of the stairs and stuck him down.
Stunned, the party looked ’round to the stairway just in time to see a wooden door slam shut, hiding the assassin. They gave chase.
At the top of the stair they reached the landing for the first floor. There was a pitched battle raging among three Zhentarim and four Gralhund Guards.
The party decided to help the guards, and in a couple of rounds the Zhents were down, but it wasn’t clear where the dart that killed the Zhent downstairs had come from, and the guards weren’t exactly pleased to see Alan’s Bureau of Investigators in the mix.
Even more confusion
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” the lead guard yelled at Dugg, wiping blood from his sword.
“We’re here to help. We heard the fracas from the street and thought you might need assistance. Lucky we did, really,” replied Dugg, still panting from the battle. The guard didn’t believe him. Dugg’s attempts at deception never ended well.
“Speak truthfully if you want to live.”
Another fun session that hopefully sees the narrative of the campaign pushed forward a bit.
There’s a lot going on in this part of the campaign, and it’s really confusing to keep track of. I asked my players once the session was over what they thought was happening in the villa. They had no idea. Partly that’s because they don’t always pay attention. Partly it’s because my internet connection was quite weak and kept breaking up. And partly it’s because there is just so much going on in Gralhund Villa.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Let your players make mistakes. They might not ever do what you wanted them to, but if you take away their agency and railroad them throughout the whole of a campaign, it stops being a fun, shared storytelling experience and just becomes a group of disinterested friends listening to a rather chaotic bedtime story. My players only remembered halfway through their investigation of the villa to check for the presence of the nimblewright. By this time—and considering they spent a long time raiding a larder—the nimblewright was already on its way away from the villa. They’ll pick up its trail again later I’m sure, but for now they’re sure to be disappointed when they find that it’s escaped.
Next week my players will face the main boss of this dungeon. Lady Gralhund is a force to be reckoned with, and she won’t appreciate their presence in her home—even if they did kill a few Zhenatrim thugs.
WE ARE AMAZON ASSOCIATES