Dragon Heist session 61: Claws for thought
As they entered the crypt, Arvene turned to Alan. “I guess we’re not trying to be sneaky anymore,” she said. Thick plumes of smoke many feet wide began to billow up from two of the dead monstrous tree creatures. If any of their pursuers didn’t already know their current location, they do now. The pair shuddered as they stepped across the threshold into the Brandath Mausoleum.
After another extended break whilst our group were seconded to the Martian military to fight the invading centipede overlords, last night was the 61st session in our online Waterdeep Dragon Heist D&D campaign. Our level six heroes are about to enter the fabled Vault of Dragons, and are so close to the end of the campaign that they can taste what it had for breakfast (granola).
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 our Twitch channel Dnd_TPK. To date our record number of simultaneous viewers is equal to the numbers of times over the past year I’ve said, “Oh good, that’s exactly what I wanted to happen this year,” (two).
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:
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/Warlock – priestess of Tymora, bound to Golorr the aboleth.
Little Joe, Drow Sorcerer – scourge of the fenêtreman’s guild, member of Bregan D’Earth. Blue.
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 (500,000gp!), 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 way to the Brandath Mausoleum in the City of the Dead. Outside the mausoleum they fought a treant and two awakened trees that were guarding the entrance to the mausoleum.
Out of the Frying Pan into the Foyer
Dugg and Little Joe were first into the Mausoleum, and so, by the time Alan and Arvene entered minutes later, they were already in trouble. There were four stone tombs in the room. Little Joe dashed over to one and tried to wrench the lid free. He failed. Dugg on the other hand was far more successful removing the lid of another. As Alan and Arvene entered, they were greeted by Dugg’s shrill shrieks. “Ahh! Get them off me! Get them off me!”
The session began with immediate action. Five severed zombie hands leapt out of the casket like jumping spiders and crawled hideously over Dugg’s body. Little Joe paid no attention to Dugg’s plight, so it was lucky that Alan and Arvene entered when they did.
The crawling hands wouldn’t be considered much of a threat under normal circumstances—they only have an armor class (AC) of 12 and 2 hit points (HP) each. However, these weren’t normal circumstances. The heroes had just come from a fierce battle with some disgruntled foliage and both Dugg and Alan were badly hurt. Moreso than I realized.
At first, Dugg tried to evade the scuttling finger-spiders using the classic stop-drop-and-roll technique. Not just for putting out fires, this maneuver was also helpful in removing the pernicious paws from his body. But that didn’t stop them from rounding on his allies and springing into attack.
I suppose we didn’t really need to enter initiative for this fight. It was all over pretty quickly as—as mentioned above—the malicious metacarpi were easy enough to hit and died as soon as they were struck. But by entering initiative it allowed each of my players a turn at taking one out.
Arvene struck first with a sacred flame. The hand she attacked instantly burned to cinders in a pyre of radiant energy. Another fierce fist was squished on the floor by an enraged Dugg, who could have very easily died if he hadn’t successfully dealt with the maddened manus. Next, Little Joe sent a firebolt at one as it scuttled towards Alan; the firebolt struck in all its blazing glory and incinerated the devilish digits. Finally, Alan, who was as keen to be included in the hand smashing action as any, but was also very badly hurt, drew his longbow and, from a safe distance, skewered the fourth hand as it bounded towards Little Joe.
This just left one crawling claw. The severed hand clenched its fiendish fingers and flexed its knuckles, speeding towards Arvene, before clawing its way up the outside of her habit. There it gripped tightly her thorax and squeezed her throat. She gasped and swung at the hand but couldn’t break its grip. Alan stepped forward, and with a flourish swung his short sword at the hand. And Arvene’s throat.
Luckily Alan rolled well on his attack—a critical failure (a roll of a 1 on a 20-sided-dice) would have been much worse for Arvene than a reanimated severed hand. Thankfully Alan caught the malignant meat hook and was able to flick it carefully across the room, where it splatted on the upturned lid of the sarcophagus it came from, rolling onto its back with the fingers curling in over the palm.
The final hand dealt with, Arvene was able to administer some magical healing to the group and they could continue their exploration of the mausoleum.
There were four stone coffins in this room which were all investigated thoroughly. Of course, this was only after Little Joe and Dugg both managed to drop the heavy stone lids on their feet, thanks to some very poor dice rolls. On the whole, they found nothing of interest, apart from some heavily decayed corpses. Alan, however, was more successful in his investigation and discovered a silver headband. There was something magical about it so Alan put it on. Typical of my players, they didn’t check it first—it may well have been cursed, or dangerous, or who knows what. Thankfully for Alan it was not.
Sensing magic in the mausoleum, Little Joe decided to carry out some magical investigation of his own. Players have a number of ways to do this. There is the Detect Magic spell, which does exactly as you would expect, providing a sense of the nature of the magic and its location. There is also the Identify spell which allows you to recognize the magical effects on specific items or locations. And then there is the range of abilities that each players has, which include the Arcana ability. Technically, this shouldn’t be that helpful unless Little Joe was preparing for a history of magic exam.
One of the first mistakes I made as a Dungeon Master, and one that I still make, is to give too much power to an Arcana check, thus making the Detect Magic and Identify spells next to useless. Arcana checks only really make sense when used to learn about magic, not to identify magic. If a player tries to use an Arcana check to find out what a magic item is, for instance, it negates the necessity of the Identify spell. It also doesn’t make sense that any player with a bit of skill in Arcana (including non-spell casters) can achieve the same result as a full-blown Wizard using a spell slot and resources, just by knowing a little Arcana lore.
That being said, when Little Joe asked, “Can I do an Arcana check to see if there’s magic in the room?” I said, “Sure.” There was. Little Joe magically assessed the silver headband to be a headband of Intellect and discovered the illusory wall in the chamber hiding a secret passage. I’ll get it right next time.
They carried on their exploration of the mausoleum and continued through the illusory wall into a further chamber with more tombs. They spent some time exploring these and Little Joe found some more loot. I must have been feeling especially generous last night because, for a reason I still don’t understand, one of the corpses had a ring of invisibility on their right hand. Little Joe immediately took it, grinning madly.
I knew instantly that this was a mistake. This is the same Little Joe who whenever he walks into a building looks for the first window he can leap out of. The same Little Joe who tried to con an innocent tailor out of 1,000 gold pieces’ worth of bow-ties. The same mischievous Little Joe who, given the opportunity, would absolutely try to convince his fellow adventurers that he had turned into a ball-point pen and that they must seek out the famous wizard Dumb-bull-door to turn him back. It happened.
Needless to say I instantly regretted giving Little Joe this newfound power. But we are all prone to moments of weakness and mustn’t hold ourselves to account for every bad decision. Right?
The Obsidian Doors
Having investigated the mausoleum, they found an old passageway that led down in to the depths of the crypt below. Here the walls became less well-worked stone and more ancient quarry. They worked out that this must be leading to the Vault of the Dragon, and that the vault must be part of a far older structure than perhaps even the city was.
Little Joe’s silvery lights danced around the tunnel as they descended deeper into the vault. The four adventures were bruised and bloody, but determined to achieve their goal. Eventually the sloping floor began to level out. Now at almost 300 feet below the surface they found themselves in a long, dark, ancient passageway. In the darkness they didn’t see the end until it pounced on them abruptly. Two large black obsidian slabs barred their way. On it inscribed in dwarvish were the words: “THE THREE KEYS BRING THEM FORTH.” END
I made lots of mistakes in this session but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Make sure your players know the boundaries of the world you have created, and stick to those rules to avoid player disappointment. For example, if in one session you let a certain ability check, Arcana for instance, be used to discern the nature of something, make sure you allow this same use in future sessions—or explain, ideally beforehand, the decision to ret-con the ability. Players will build and develop their characters based on past experiences and events in a campaign, so a player may not decide to take the Identify or Detect Magic spells because they don’t see the importance of them, knowing they can simply use their ability to “sense magic.”
Next week we continue to explore the Vault of Dragons and maybe, just maybe, my players will survive and be all the richer for it.
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