Dragon Heist session 58: The Siege of Trollskull Manor
There came a knock at the door. Louis looked to Dugg for approval to slide the shutter open to see who it was. Dugg nodded. Louis motioned to slide the shutter across, but was stopped in his tracks as the pointed end of a spear was thrust through the opening skewering the apprentice through the heart. Louis slumped to the ground. “Give us the Stone!” a voice bellowed from outside. “Manshoon demands his vengeance.”
After a month-long hiatus for the holidays and Armageddon, last night was the 58th session in our online D&D Dragon Heist campaign and the level six heroes are on the cusp of the adventure’s finale. They just have to first survive an assault from the Doom Raiders.
We started playing Dragon Heist nearly two years ago and for the majority of that time have been on the verge of its conclusion. We play online using Roll20’s digital tabletop platform, and use Trello and DnDBeyond to keep track of campaign information. We also stream all our sessions live on Twitch. To date our record number of simultaneous viewers to the nearest one million is zero.
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
Our Dragon Heist party:
Little Joe, Drow Sorcerer – scourge of the fenêtreman’s guild, member of Bregan D’Earth. Blue.
Alan Crabpopper, Human Ranger – a Harper and private investigator. A wererat in denial.
Arvene Galanodel, Half-Elf Cleric/Warlock – priestess of Tymora, bound to Golorr the aboleth.
Dugg, Earth Genasi Fighter – freelance dungsweeper and estranged son from House Roznar.
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 and engaged to a Zhentarim banker. One is being blackmailed by the leader of a drow secret society. And one has been enlisted as a reserve dungsweeper. They have been searching for the Stone of Golorr. It’s a mysterious object that will potentially lead them to a hoard of embezzled treasure (500,000 gold pieces!), but they’re not the only ones on the trail. The Zhentarim, the Xanathar Guild, Bregan D’Earth, and the Cassalanters are all desperate for the stone too, and willing to do whatever it takes to get it.
Last session, now in possession of the Elvis-impersonating Stone, they having narrowly escaped the underground lair of the Xanathar Guild. They rested and decided their next move over breakfast: find the final keys to the Vault of Dragons and end this madness. But, before they could go about their business, there was a knock at the door and Louis, one of Dugg’s two protégés, was skewered through the eye hole.
Seeing his young protégé drop to the floor, Dugg howled in rage. Alan tried to hold him back as he ran across the room to the door from whence the sharp sword came. Little Joe and Arvene both dived for cover as Alan quickly scanned the room. There were six comically armored Luskans stationed in the corners and each raised their makeshift weapons towards the door, tense. A snarling voice bellowed out, “The Stone and no one else dies.”
So the session began exactly where we left off. As soon as Louis’ body slumped to the floor, Dugg rushed to the door, Little Joe ran to hide behind the bar, Alan stood on a table, and Arvene looked confused. Prior to the session, I had prepared the Trollskull Manor map on Roll20, locating all the current inhabitants of the Manor.
There were the 40 Luskan refuges whom the party had offered shelter to in exchange for running their bar and tavern, all with names beginning with “S,” except for John; there was Alma Moyes, the friendly old lady whom the party befriended in the early stages of the campaign; there was Jeffrey, the shoe shine boy, another of Dugg’s apprentices; Lif, the friendly poltergeist who serves beers at the bar; and finally Captain Staget, the chief of the city watch, still recovering from his months of imprisonment in the Xanathar Guild hideout.
Having thus set up the session there was only one thing left to say:
Dugg went first and shouted “Protect Alma!” as he leaned by the door, cradling Louis’ limp body.
Next was Arvene; she considered whether or not she could help Louis, but decided, “Better to spare the dying than the dead” and saved her healing spells for later on—this turned out to be a very good decision.
Little Joe was next and tried to trick the invaders by casting Disguise Self and making himself look like Manshoon. He would need a far higher level spell to do this convincingly, and so, disappointingly, none of the Zhentarim attackers were convinced.
Alan, seeing the panic and fear in the room, decided to do something “leader-y” for once. He jumped onto a table and gave a rousing speech. It went on for a while and ended with him calling out, “Remember we fight not for vengeance, nor for freedom, but for profit. This is our business and they will not take it from us. Onwards for Trollskull. Onwards for Louis. And onwards for Alan!”
After Alan’s speech, it was the attackers’ turns. They were the Doom Raiders, an elite strike team sent by Manshoon to retrieve the Stone. They were not messing about.
First to act was Ziraj the Hunter, a half-orc warrior with an oversized longbow and glaive. He was Master of Assassins for the Zhentarim, and was the one who killed Louis. He pounded on the door and smashed in the entrance of Trollskull, letting his companions enter.
Next was Tashlyn Yaferra, a human fighter wielding an impressive greatsword. She was Master of Arms and Mercenaries for Zhentarim and jumped in through one of the windows on the ground floor. But doing so she fell afoul of some of the traps set by Louis and Jeffrey. Failing her dexterity saving throw, she dived through the window straight onto some broken Christmas ornaments and toy cars.
Skeemo Weirdbottle went next. He was a gnome and the Master of Magic for the Zhentarim. He stood away from the house and cast spells into the fray. His first attack was a barrage of magic missiles that struck Alan and Dugg; he also tried to command Arvene to let them in, but she resisted the compulsion.
Davil Starsong, a dwarf and Master of Opportunities for Zhentarim, followed and dashed into the tavern alongside Ziraj. He raised his hands and cast Cone of Cold into the taproom. This is a powerful level five spell and dealt a lot of damage to the party. It was now that Alan and Co. realized they were in a lot of trouble.
Last of the Doom Raiders was Istrid Horne. A dwarf and Master of Coin for the Zhentarim, she is also engaged to Alan and was last seen fleeing the city, promising to come back for him. Her appearance here shocked the party. They couldn’t believe she turned against them. Little did they know she was under magical compulsion from Manshoon.
This was a big fight and took the whole two-and-a-half-hour session, during which all four party members at one time or other were reduced to zero hit points, falling to the floor unconscious, only to be saved by the Luskans fighting alongside them, and Arvene’s well-deployed healing spells.
Throughout the fight, the Luskans used their makeshift crossbows; Jeffrey continued to employ Home Alone-style traps against the marauders—including paint tins thrown from the rafters, a blowtorch attached to a door frame, and putting his pet tarantula down the spellcaster’s pants to break their concentration; and Lif attempted to help where he could, but ended up the focus of an Otto’s Irresistible Dance spell and spent the rest of the battle waltzing and jiving around the tavern.
Just as the fight looked unwinnable, Alan scored a critical hit versus Istrid, tears rolling down his face as he struck his fiancé, but it broke the spell which compelled her to fight. A light dawned in her eyes and she turned to strike Davil Starsong—he was already distracted by a spider in his undies—knocking him to the ground. Smiling, she turned to Alan and gently touched his cheek.
Seeing Davil fall and Istrid turn changed the Zhentarim attackers’ perspective on the fight. There were now only three of them and they were vastly outnumbered and badly hurt due to some impressive Burning Hands spells from Little Joe. They decided to turn and flee.
They didn’t get very far. They hadn’t factored in the military grade ballista mounted on the highest turret of the mansion manned by Sandrew and Starsky. Tashlyn managed to escape, but both Ziraj and Skeemo were skewered and killed by the giant harpoons that flew from the sky as they fled. The Luskans cheered, and then began gathering their fallen and tending to the wounded.
Arvene, meet Golorr; Golorr, Arvene
Moments before Skeemo was skewered by the harpoon, he had cast Banishment on Arvene. She was instantly teleported to a mysterious plane of water and came face-to-face with a gigantic, terrifying, wet sea creature with thousands of tentacles and a gaping maw.
“Well, hello Baby, fancy seeing you here,” the Aboloeth hummed at Arvene. She shook her head in disbelief, confounded by her new location. “Looks like you’re in a spot of bother. What can I do you for Baby?” It took Arvene a moment to realize who she was talking to. Golorr really was a monster. But clearly had the power to help. She asked about the keys to the Vault of Dragons and realized that they may all be in her possession very soon. Then, as quickly as she arrived she was gone, returned to the material plane and looking upon a skewered Skeemo Weirdbottle, the once Master of Magic for the Zhentarim, now a shish kebab. END
This was a really tough encounter for the party, one they would have not been able to win without the aid of their Luskan refugee tenants. Manshoon is very angry with Alan and Co. and he would naturally send the Doom Raiders as his A Team to dispatch them. However, he wouldn’t have counted on 40 passionate refugees helping to defend the party.
Exactly how they came to house these refugees in the first place was a pure chance of luck early on in the campaign. They were traveling across the city and so I rolled on the encounters table on the Dragon Heist DM screen. The result saw Little Joe notice a band of refugees marching into the city, looking lost and confused. In an uncharacteristic moment of charity, Little Joe approached them and offered shelter—he was feeling guilty after murdering a blind fortune-teller accidentally on purpose. In the weeks since, the refugees have been well treated, given jobs, and turned Trollskull Manor into a thriving taproom. And now, they have successfully managed to create a defensible fortress. I don’t imagine many other Dragon Heist campaigns will follow such a path. This is what I love about D&D, literally anything can happen.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: If you don’t like something in the campaign book, don’t use it. This has been my mantra throughout our play through of Dragon Heist and it’s worked really well. For instance, the player characters are now in possession of the three required keys to enter the Vault of Dragons, but before the last few sessions, the exact nature of these keys was undecided. In the book you can roll on a table and could send your players off in search of a unicorn, or a hairless dwarf, or a rendition of a funny song, or any number of random unrelated items. I didn’t feel that this would make much sense in the context of our campaign, nor did I relish my players slowly searching the city for these things. So instead I had the Stone give three extremely vague descriptions of potential keys: “The eyes of a villain, the words of an enemy, and a weapon that would do you harm.” I left it up to my players to decide which items would fit the bill and they now have a beholder eyestalk taken from the crypt in the Xanathar Guild, an oversized longbow carried by Ziraj the Hunter, and a letter from Manshoon giving instructions to the Doom Raiders to retrieve the Stone. This all felt more satisfying than rolling for arbitrary unrelated items. But that’s not to say it won’t work in your campaign. Use whatever you like.
Next week, now in possession of the keys, my players have to decide what to do. Do they rest and wait for the next onslaught, or head directly for the Vault of Dragon and (potentially) the end of the campaign?
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