Dragon Heist session 60: Trick or Treant
“So that’s the plan then,” said Alan. “We send four disguised Luskans to Zardoz as a distraction while we head for the Vault. Meanwhile, we get a message to Xoblob for Xanathar that Zardoz has his eyestalks. That will enrage the beholder and send him straight into Zardoz’s path. And when he gets there the four Luskans—Squirt, Shadow, Sunsa, and Schemee—all set off the barrels of black powder that we stole. That should keep everyone out of the way while we take the remaining 15 Luskans to the City of the Dead and take the 500,000gp straight to the bank. Any questions?
Last night was the 60th session in our online Dragon Heist campaign and the level six heroes are (still) on the cusp of the adventure’s finale.
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 is less than the numbers of seconds it took you to read this sentence.
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. They have also managed to acquire a number of tenants in their tavern; these tenants include a kind old lady, two glazier’s apprentices, the ghost of a friendly barman, and 40 Luskan refugees. 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 Stone and the three keys needed to enter the Vault, they made their plans. They knew their enemies were all closing in, so needed to act fast. They came up with the perfect distraction. Zardoz Zord, leader of Bregan D’Earth, had invited them to dinner at his boat, but instead of going themselves, they sent four dopplegangers armed with three barrels of black powder (stolen from the Xanathar Guild). If this wasn’t distraction enough, they had also arranged for Xanathar himself to arrive at the same time, thus taking out two birds with one stone—or so they hoped. As for the Zhentarim, they’d just bested the Doom Raiders (the Zhent’s elite fighting team), so were confident that they’d bought themselves a little time before they heard from that faction. So with all their ducks lined up in a row, they headed off to the City of the Dead, to the Brandath Mausoleum.
Dugg, Alan, Little Joe, and Arvene began to make their way south through the streets of Waterdeep. They wanted to keep a low profile, and what better way to do that than as a funeral procession? So, with the body of Louis, Dugg’s recently deceased orphan apprentice, carried on a litter, the black-clad heroes made their way slowly and solemnly to the City of the Dead.
So the session began with the party processing south to Waterdeep’s main cemetery. They wanted to get across the city without attracting too much attention and their plan seemed like a good one. They had sent the three groups of five Luskans ahead of them to collect carts and horses (to carry all the gold) and wait for them at the mausoleum.
One, Two, Tree
First they entered the City of the Dead. The four of them, carrying Louis’ corpse—strong-man Dugg was doing most of the work here—arrived at the gates of the City’s famous cemetery. Only the highest echelons of Waterdeep society could be interred here, so the party were surprised when the enchanted gates magically opened allowing them access—this could have been a clue to Louis’ true nature.
They then began searching for the Brandath family plot. There were signposts around the City of the Dead pointing in all directions—“This way to the Cassalanters,” “Here lies the Roznar’s,” “West to the Gralhunds,” that sort of thing. I had them roll investigation checks to find the Brandath plot. Alan rolled a 3. So it took a lot longer than it should have, but they eventually found the Brandath mausoleum. Waiting for them when they arrived were the 15 Luskans they’d sent ahead.
The mausoleum was a crumbly, decrepit structure, not at all well-kept like the other plots, and as they arrived they could see a coppice of trees which, neglected, had grown across the path to the entrance of the building. The Luskans stood by their carts, away from the mausoleum, waiting for orders. Shorval, the lead Luskan, took charge of Louis’ body and swore an oath to Dugg that he would protect it.
Alan approached the mausoleum first, tentatively. Part of him—the part that was the player and not the character—knew this was a trap. As he got closer, the large elm tree that blocked the way shuddered and became animated. It unfurled two large branches like arms and raised a trunk-like leg out from the ground. A gnarled mouth appeared amongst the bark and bellowed, “Only those of Brandath blood are welcome here. Begone!”
This Elm Doesn’t Parley
Immediately, Dugg stepped forward and, in an attempt to pacify the treant and gain access, tried to invoke the “Dungsweeper’s code, section 43.3 sub clause F”—the right to clean an abandoned mausoleum at night. The treant did not respond.
Alan then tried to convince the tree that he was a long-lost descendant of the Brandath family and should be allowed entry. Interestingly, if he had changed tactic ever-so-slightly and used Louis’ body instead, this would have worked. He didn’t.
The treant repeated its cry and this time called to the two trees to its right and left, and used its awaken tree ability. The two trees began swinging their branches wildly in attack. Alan swore loudly. Dugg drew his silver hammer. Arvene started twirling her mace. And Little Joe stood back by the carts, undecided if he was interested in fighting a tree.
The fight began with the first enormous tree monster attacking Alan. He hit him twice with massive branches and knocked the ranger back 10 feet. Immediately they could see this was not going to be an easy fight.
Dugg, Alan, and Arvene faced off against the three trees while Little Joe tried to sneak in behind them and gain access to the mausoleum. The first round saw all three tree score big hits against the party and Dugg, Alan, and Arvene were badly hurt. Little Joe made it to the entrance, but couldn’t pick the lock. By the end of the first round things already looked dire.
Thankfully, the party had brought along 15 Luskans, each of whom carried a crossbow and a spear. So, following Shorval’s lead they all unleashed a barrage of spears and bolts at the trees and this certainly helped. It also helped that Alan and Arvene decided to use fire-based attacks. Trees are made of wood and so intrinsically vulnerable to fire.
So, by the third round one of the trees had already fallen, Arvene was getting worried about the smoke, Little Joe cask Knock to open the door to the mausoleum, and Alan was getting crushed by a large Elm hoof. Dugg, fearing for his own safety, followed Little Joe into the protection of the ancient mausoleum.
One more round was all it took for the main treant to fall. This caused the final tree to go dormant again and Alan and Arvene dashed into the mausoleum, leaving the Luskans to protect the cart and extinguish the flames.
Stealth is a Beacon
As they entered the crypt, Arvene turned to Alan. “I guess we’re not trying to be sneaky anymore,” she said, as thick plumes of smoke many feet wide began to billow up from two of the monstrous tree creatures. If any of their pursuers didn’t already know their current location, they do now. END
So, we begin the final moments of the campaign. They have entered the foyer of the ultimate dungeon, and they’re already close to death.
It’s amazing how a Dungeon Master can be impressed by amazing moments of player brilliance and inventiveness, whilst simultaneously shocked at their stupidity and recklessness.
The official part of our campaign is drawing to a close and will soon be over—one way or another—but we have decided to carry on with these characters, and so I now have to devise a way of segueing into another campaign. I can see a trip to hell on the horizon a la Descent Into Avernus, or perhaps a delve into the fabled Undermountain…
What did we learn?
DM Tip: When we began this session, as ever, there were things that I knew which my players did not. This is how you dungeon master; your players can’t know everything. But it should be possible for them to find everything out. I often have to remind my players to ask questions—I’m not just going to tell you all the secrets. I also have to remind them not to blindly trust everything an NPC says. In this instance they didn’t know that Louis the ex-glazier’s apprentice, the boy whose body they were using as a rouse to get into the City of the Dead, was in fact a long lost descendant of the Brandath family. On his mother’s side. They had no real way of knowing this, but I had thought that they might try to trick the treant and then be surprised when the ruse actually paid off. However, they didn’t and so they fought the giant compassionless and unwavering tree monster, and now begin their descent into the Vault of Dragons already on almost zero hit points. Things only getting tougher from here on in…
Next week the heroes descend in the depths of the Vault of Dragons, where glory and fortune await. Or maybe just death by dragon…
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