Dragon Heist session 62: Splitting the Bill
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 find 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.”
Last night was the 62nd session in our online Dragon Heist D&D campaign and the level six heroes are deep within the Vault of the Dragon.
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 (@TPK_dnd). To date our record number of simultaneous viewers is embarrassingly low.
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 (500,000gp!), 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 they finally entered the Vault of the Dragon and began their dungeon delve into the murky depths.
Through the Obsidian Doors
They present their three keys to the doors. The weapon that would do you harm: Ziraj’s giant longbow. The eyes of a villain: Xanathar’s grandad’s eyestalks. The words of your enemy: Manshoon’s letter of instructions to the Doom Raiders. A second passed and nothing happened. Little Joe began to tap his feet irritably, while Dugg and Arvene caught their breaths. Alan simply stared at the doors in silent anticipation. CREEEEEK. The obsidian doors swung open revealing a massive dark hall.
Our session began with the investigation of the entrance hall to the dungeon. As this was our first real dungeon since converting to Roll20, we were using the fog of war function and it took a bit of getting used to. So, eventually, when everyone could see something on their screens, they began investigating all the nooks and crannies of this large dark dungeon. Little Joe cast Dancing Lights to illuminate each player, which helped with their investigations.
The entrance hall was a large cavernous room. There were three large pillars in the center that supported three walkways 60 feet above the floor, the roof of the cavern was another 20 feet above the bridges. Around the room were 10 sets of large iron doors, each decorated with intricate carvings of dwarven fighters in various stages of battle.
Nooks and Crannies
The details of the room were fairly scant in the campaign book, so I added a few embellishments as they examined the walls and doors. Alan repeatedly rolled very low investigation checks (6, 11, 9, etc.) so was more interested in the bugs and beetles that scuttled around that room rather than the iron doors. All of the doors except one were fake and it took a good 30 minutes of my players trying each door only to be distracted by something else shiny for them to realize which one was real. And that was with my thinly veiled clue: All of the doors except one had carvings of dwarves in battles; the real door that would lead to the treasure vault cunningly had a dragon sitting on a huge pile of gold carved into it. I thought this was a clear signpost to the treasure, but my group is far too paranoid for such obvious signaling. I feel like perhaps I have been too harsh in the past.
So, having explored all of the nooks and crannies, they realized which door was real and then spent a further 10 minutes deciding who was going to be brave enough to open it. They wrongly assumed this was the door that would lead directly to a large pile of gold, and seeing as they collectively had less than 30 hit points (out of a maximum of 185), none of them were keen to be the first through the door.
Of course, this wasn’t the final door of the dungeon, and there was no dragon waiting for them on a big pile of gold coins, but it was one door closer to the end.
Through this door was a far smaller room with a large winding stone staircase on the far side. On the opposite side of the room to the stairway was a 20-foot-square fresco depicting dwarves battling goblins. This time my players were right to be paranoid, and it came as no surprise when Little Joe, the arsonist, set the fresco on fire. This was a clever move and it destroyed the incantation on the wall that would charm anyone who got too close. Not that he checked anything first. He just didn’t like the image of dwarves winning a battle.
This fire-setting was followed by another 10 minutes of discussion as to who should be the first to go up the stairs. For once my players showed the kind of reservation and caution that is often lacking in our game. It would have been more impressive if this didn’t immediately follow a random act of flaming violence.
This is the kind of dichotomy that exemplifies our D&D games—one minute the heroes are overly cautious and consider carefully every step of an entirely innocuous and innocent stairway; the next they’re spontaneously setting things on fire as a knee-jerk reaction to an uninteresting work of art. But, to be fair to him, our sorcerer is yet to immolate a tapestry that didn’t turn out to be evil.
Eventually they all made it up the stairs and breathed a huge sigh of relief as the danger of the staircase passed. At the top, they saw the three walkways that spanned the entrance foyer below. From this perspective they could see they were in a poor state of repair and would require careful maneuvering to cross.
So it was that Alan approached the crumbling bridges without a care in the world. Naturally he was shocked when the apparently harmless puddle of black liquid by the third bridge coalesced into a large black oily tendril and attacked.
A black pudding is a kind of gelatinous cube, but instead of being made of transparent liquid it’s formed of oily black gunge. It falls under the category of monster know as an Ooze and is often found lurking in dungeons waiting for adventurers to absentmindedly step in. It also has the rather annoying tendency of splitting in two every time it is attacked with sharp pointy objects.
Cue Dugg and his two sharp pointy objects, and before long there were five Black Puddings attacking the already badly hurt party. This would have been the perfect opportunity to showcase some of the calm, cautious reserve they exhibited earlier on when climbing the staircase. Naturally they didn’t, and a desperate fight ensued.
Little Joe and Alan wisely moved to a space far enough away from the ooze monster to avoid its amorphous-pseudopod-arm-attacks, and took pot shots with arrows and fire spells from a safe distance. Arvene, on single digit hit points, cast Blink on herself—a spell that makes you alternate from the material to the ethereal plane—kind of like if Doctor Strange forgot his keys, went back inside the Sanctum Sanctorum only to remember that he left in them in the car, returned to the car and couldn’t find them there, then went back to the house only to realize they were in his pocket the whole time, but his pockets are in another dimension—and so was in a much safe place. And this left Dugg alone, facing the five oozes. They made short work of his nine hit points and he fell unconscious under a bubbling swarm of black goop.
Little Joe MVP
Thankfully for Dugg, Little Joe was on the case and, in spite of feeling frustrated earlier on in the session, he pulled out all the stops to rescue his friend. A twinned casting of Burning Hands was all it took to wholly incinerate the five Black Puddings, and he dashed over to the unconscious fighter to perform a miracle of medieval medicine, reviving his fallen comrade. Dugg gasped back to consciousness—albeit with only a single hit point—wrapped his arms around Little Joe, and thanked him in an unusually poignant moment of tensions and relief.
The oily smell of broiled Black Pudding was almost enough to put Alan off his jerky, but the intrepid leader of this rag-tag group held his nerve and his stomach, and led the way to the crumbling bridge chewing on his trail snacks. Tying a rope around a piece of fallen masonry, Alan tethered himself and began crossing, watched eagerly by Arvene and Dugg. Little Joe’s mind had wandered by this point and so he didn’t notice when the ground beneath Alan gave way. Alan let out a yelp as pieces of the ancient bridge crashed to the floor 60 feet below. Luckily for Alan, his knot was a good one, although he didn’t feel that lucky. END
It always amazes me, when I reflect on our games, how I am continually surprised by the seemingly unpredictable nature of my players, when I really should see it all coming. But I guess it stands to reason that they would act the way they do. After all, as seen in this episode, when they do take care and proceed with caution it is often unnecessary; and when they set fires as instinctual reactions, they usually end up dodging far worse outcomes. I don’t know if there’s a lesson there, but it sure is fun.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: It’s important for a dungeon master to be able to sense when players may be getting frustrated with situations and offer them a slight let up if required—after all this is supposed to be fun pasttime, right? Near the beginning of this session, Little Joe was clearly getting irritated about the environment—the lack of light, difficult to find secret doors, inability of his character to simply fly to the dudgeon’s end boss fight. So as soon as I realized this was happening, I lightened the tone slightly and gave a couple of small hints about the location of the secret doors. This worked and Little Joe soon came around the enjoying the session, and in fact became the MVP of the Black Pudding fight, taking out the multiplied enemies with an impressive Burning Hands spell and then reviving Dugg with a natural 20 on his medicine check. So hopefully, his earlier frustrations melted away and he’ll come to the next session raring to get the adventure’s conclusion.
Next week, we’ll see how long it takes the party to cross the broken bridges to the doors beyond. There are three choices, each of which leads to an equally appalling scenario. I would feel guilty about their imminent demise and the unfairness of the situation, but I didn’t write this story…
WE ARE AMAZON ASSOCIATES