Dragon Heist session: 48 Exit, Pursued by a Bugbear
Tied to the chair, blindfolded and gagged was Ott Steeltoes. Clearly crazy, this old dwarf wore a leather skullcap adorned with rubber tentacles resembling beholder eye-stalks. He gibbered and moaned as Dugg and Joe interrogated him, revealing a connection to the Xanathar Guild and the dispatched bugbears, as well as the fact that he was captured while purchasing fish food. They were just about to give up on him revealing anything useful, and then he managed to grab hold of lucidity for long enough to divulge the destination of the Stone of Golorr: the Brizzenbright theater. It was time to go see a show.
Last night was the 48th session in our online Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Dungeons & Dragons campaign and our level 5 heroes were headed to the theatre.
We began 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 simultaneous viewers is ten. Last night, however, we continued our trial of Roll20, a digital tabletop roleplaying game platform. We were using the official Dragon Heist Roll20 conversion, and this was our third session using Roll20—I even tried creating my own map and it wasn’t as hard as a thought it would be.
As with most official campaigns, there are a number of unofficial supplements and expansions available on the DMs Guild to help bolster your game. Additional Dragon Heist supplements I’ve been using for this campaign include:
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
Dragon Season: A Waterdeep Dragon Heist DM’s resource
We were without our genasi fighter Dugg last night as they were recovering from investigating the healing properties of giving yourself a disinfectant enema. It was going to be a long recovery.
Our Dragon Heist party:
Dugg, Earth Genasi Fighter – freelance dungsweeper and estranged son from House Roznar. ABSENT
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. They are searching for the Stone of Golorr. It’s a mysterious object that will potentially lead them to a hoard of embezzled treasure, but they’re not the only ones on the trail. The Zhentarim (bad guys), the Xanathar Guild (also bad guys), Bregan D’Earth (more bad guys), and the Cassalanters (rich folks, and therefore probably bad guys) are desperate for the stone too, and willing to do whatever it takes to get it.
Last session, following the trail of the Stone of Golorr, the heroes wound up at Cuttle’s Meat Pies. Here they found a lovely old lady who had no idea that her famous meat pies were made from people meat and not animal meat. She also had no idea where the Stone of Golorr might be. Thankfully for the heroes, her neighbors, Zhentarim spies, did. So, after a quick game of good cop/bad cop/psychopath/drow, they discovered the stone was headed for the Brizzenbright theater in the Dock Ward, just round the corner.
The Trail is Still Hot
“So,” said Alan, “We’ve got to act quickly while we know the trail is hot. We’re looking for Vevette Blackwater. Did you get a good look at her, Joe? Do you think you could spot her in a crowd? You do. How about in the audience of a theater with the lights dimmed and lots of other people around? OK, then. If you’re sure. Let’s go.“
So, the session began with some very valid questions about the setup of the next encounter. How exactly were the heroes supposed to spot an NPC in a theater watching a show? Good Question.
While it does chronicle vividly the narrative of the play they’re watching, the campaign book doesn’t go into precise details about discovering the identity of Vevette, merely suggesting a DC14 perception check will suffice. Just roll 14 or higher on a twenty-sided dice and you see her; less than 14 and you don’t.
Sometimes the abstract nature of rolling dice for characters’ actions brings into the question the very foundations of the TTRPG paradigm. Such questions can cause the illusion to burst, extracting you bodily from the immersion with a jolt. They make you reassess all the time, money, and energy you pour into a make-believe hobby. It’s at times like this that I like to remind myself and my players that it’s just a game, and that as insane and unlikely as the world of Dungeons & Dragons can be, it is way more believable than the chaos that’s happening in the real world right now.
When they did get to the theater, they were greeted by a ghost in a tuxedo and bow-tie. This was Master Brizzenbright, a man so dedicated to his theater that his soul couldn’t bare to be parted from it.
He insisted they purchase tickets to the matinee performance to enter the theater, and they were directed to their seats. They paid extra and were given a luxury box for the best view of the stage. From here they could see the whole audience and quickly began trying to work out if they could spot Vevette.
However, as they took their seats, the show began and the lights were dimmed. To make matters worse only Little Joe had actually seen Vevette. And that was only her ankle as she disappeared up a drainpipe onto a roof in the rain. So, for the purposes of maintaining the illusion, they had to wait until the intermission to effectively spot her.
There were some other notable attendees at this matinee performance: Victoro Cassalanter was having a private meeting with Jarlaxale Beanre in the box next to the party; Floon Blagmaar was slumped over drunk in the second row; and Remalia Haventree, a high standing member of the Harpers, was sitting at the back of the theater watching for Zhentarim operatives. However, this was not whom Alan’s Bureau of Investigators were here to find.
At the interval, as Arvene, ever focused on the job in hand, was at the bar collecting half-time drinks, Little Joe looked around to see if he could spot Vevette. He rolled 18 on his perception and spotted her in the third row, just as she spotted him.
She immediately jumped out from her seat and made a dash for the door. Little Joe leapt from the box down to the stalls and gave chase.
Thus a street chase began. 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons has very specific rules for when a chase happens, but you have to buy the Dungeon Master’s Guide to find that out. This is the first campaign I’ve played where it insists on there being chases as part of the story and, in my opinion, this is the weakest section of Dragon Heist and the D&D rules in general.
You begin a chase by rolling initiative. Everyone moves in turn order. You can do two things during your turn. Then someone else does the same two things. Then it’s your turn again. Then you catch the person. It’s all very dull. But it does take a long time.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Or perhaps it’s my DMing skills that are lacking, but in future I would skip the chase scenes. In this session I didn’t. I even made my own map on Roll20 for it.
The chase lasted four rounds. That’s 24 seconds of in-game time, 45 minutes of play-time. Not much happened in those four rounds. Vevette ran. Little Joe and Alan caught up. Arvene fell over. Vevette got away. Alan and Joe caught up. Arvene stood up.
Eventually they caught Vevette. Alan tackled her to the ground and she instantly started screaming for the city guards. She was going to make this awkward if she could.
Two city watchmen ran to the scene hearing Vevette’s shouts and immediately looked like they were coming to her rescue.
However, a quick bit of improvisation from Arvene had the guards believing the heroes were chasing down Vevette for running out on a bar tab. I had the players roll a group deception check to see if they could convince Corporal Herman and Lieutenant Craig. They rolled well: 16, 17, and 18. And it turned out that Craig and Herman were regulars at the TM Bar, weren’t the brightest watchmen, and believed their ruse. Even though the bar is in the North Ward and the chase would have lasted at least two hours before it reached this particular alley in the foot of the Trade Ward.
They believed them nonetheless and dispersed the newly gathered crowd of commoners. They asked if Arvene and co. had the situation covered and, as it was a domestic issue and didn’t appear to require city watch officials, they let Alan, Joe, Dugg, and Arvene take Vevette away.
Intimidation is the sincerest form of battery
They took Vevette down an alley for questioning. She neither had the Stone of Golorr nor was she forthcoming with its current location. The heroes had only one course of action.
Having murdered her, they now needed to find somewhere to bury her. Or they could just leave her in the alley way for the City Watch to find. Guess what they did.
I ran out of pre-planned material at this point, and hadn’t read through the next encounter, so instead brought a new NPC into the mix. Remalia is a high-level Harper and had some information and questions for the group.
Remalia stood in front of the party, studying the blood stains on Alan’s jacket. They looked fresh. But he was wearing a Harper’s badge and so was the nun with him. “If you’re looking for her accomplice, I saw her pass something to the man in front of her as she took her seat in the theater. He’s someone I’ve been watching for a while. His name is Fouco and he lives in the Mirtshore district. Be careful though, he’s connected to the Zhentarim.” END
I didn’t expect this session to be over as quickly as it was; it ended well before the usual two hours. I did consider starting the next encounter from the chain of events—Chapter four of Dragon Heist is set out in four encounter branches that create a chain of events following the Stone of Golorr. I quickly flicked through the following encounter from the Winter chain—Mirtshore—but it was a few pages long and I realized I had no idea what was supposed to happen. So, rather than improvise and get it all wrong (my usual modus operandi), I decided to end it early and do more planning next time.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Roll20 isn’t as hard to use as I was worried it would be. Sure, there are plenty of features we’re not using, and I haven’t found out how to control the volume of the jukebox so that my players are deafened whenever they enter a new location and I’ve set up a track to auto-play, but on the whole it is intuitive and easy to use. I enjoyed building a (very basic) map and can see how this will be much easier next time, now that I understand which buttons to avoid. If you’re thinking about using Roll20 to run a campaign I would definitely say “give it a go.” Although I think that using it to create a brand new story would be much harder than using a pre-made campaign like the one I’m using. Either way, it’s a great platform to play via—especially if you’re recovering from a disinfectant enema and can’t go outside for fear of overwhelming your already weak, vitamin-D-deprived immune system.
Next week the party heads to the Mirtshore district of the Dock Ward to further investigate the whereabouts of the Stone of Golorr.
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