Dragon Heist session 63: Enter the Dragon (Heist)
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 as he dangled precariously in the air.
Last night was the 63rd session in our online Dragon Heist D&D campaign and the level six heroes are about to come-face to-face with their very first dragon. But first, they have a crumbly bridge to cross.
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 low enough that our Twitch channel (TPK_DnD) just achieved the award for 10 simultaneous viewers!
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 two glazier’s apprentices, the ghost of a friendly barman, 40 Luskan refugees, and a kind old lady called Alma Moyes who mistakenly believes Alan is actually her long lost son Cristopher.
The heroes have been hunting for the Vault of Dragons, a mysterious treasury that contains a hoard of embezzled monies (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. But currently the heroes have managed to put over half of their enemies out of action due to cunning, guile, and random fluke.
Last session, inside the climactic final dungeon, the battered and bruised heroes faced a Black Pudding and made it hallway across a crumbling bridge. Now they just have to make it the rest of the way across, find the Vault of the Dragon, collect their huge pile of gold, and find a way of getting it back to their tavern on the other side of the city.
A Bridge Too Far
Alan gripped the rope tightly as the masonry around him crumbled and crashed to the floor below. Dugg sprang into action and pulled on the rope, dragging Alan back up onto the ledge. Thanking his friend with a nervous hug, Alan looked across the fallen bridge. Crossing would take teamwork and cooperation, not this group’s strong point.
The session began with the party attempting to cross one of three bridges. They’d managed to secure the rope on both sides of the cavern and decided to use it like a tight rope, with Little Joe on hand to cast Featherfall the moment anyone slipped. This would be fine, as long as Little Joe was paying attention.
I had them all roll acrobatics and athletics checks to see how well they navigated the crossing, and eventually they all managed to get to the other side. In front of them was a magically locked metal door with a carving of a dwarf blacksmith working a forge. Little Joe cast a Knock spell on the door and it swung open as the sound of knocking echoed loudly around the dungeon.
Hammer and Anvil
They entered a small, square room, no bigger than 20 feet wide. It had beautiful, colorful frescoes of dwarven blacksmiths painted on the walls, and a large adamantine anvil on the floor.
Arvene and Dugg investigated the room, and with high investigation rolls (17 and 21) they spotted, amongst the paintings of dwarves working forges and hammering iron, a stone Warhammer that could be lifted away from the wall. Dugg lifted the hammer and struck the anvil. This caused an angelic ringing to echo around the room and they each gained a boost to their hit points (10 temporary HP).
They soon discovered this room had little else to offer, and so left and had to cross the bridge again to get to another door. More athletics and acrobatics checks later, aided by some decent rope tying, and they found themselves in front of another magically locked metal door. Little Joe used another Knock spell and the door swung open loudly.
This room was called Dumathoin’s Secret; it had a rusty suit of armor in each corner of the room and dwarvish runes on the far wall. Alan translated the runes, “A secret never told will part Dumathoins lips.”
As written, a single secret needs to be whispered in this room to allow the secret trap door to open. However, I wanted each character to share a secret and they soon realized they would each have to share something they’ve never admitted before.
Dugg stepped forward first and revealed his secret: “I once got a friend killed because I made a mistake. Only I know what I did, it’s all my fault.” Immediately the first suit of armor began to glow blue.
Arvene followed suit with her secret: “I was kicked out of the city watch for allowing a boat to be plundered. It was the Harpers who paid me to do it.” The second suit of armor glowed orange.
Little Joe went next: “My real name is Kaladin. I cheated my way into sorcery by stealing the blood of a dragonborn sorcerer named Joseph Wenig.” The third suit of armor now glowed purple.
Finally Alan stepped forward with the most shocking revelation of all: “My real name is not Alan, it is Cristopher. I was a soldier in the Warterdeep Guards and on our first deployment my friend was killed in action. Seeing him wounded, I deserted and secretly returned to Waterdeep assuming his identity. Alma Moyes is my birth mother.” The final secret caused the last suit of armor to glow green and a magical trap door opened in the center of the room.
With the trapdoor open, they saw a long stone staircase spiraling downward into darkness below. From here they couldn’t see how far the steps went down. Alan, Arvene, and Dugg all began discussing how they should proceed. This discussion didn’t suit Little Joe, however, and without thinking it through, he ripped off the chest plate of the closest suit of armor threw it onto the floor so that it balanced on the edge of the uppermost step and jumped onto it.
The others gasped as Little Joe pushed down hard on the chest plate and began surfing it down the stairs and into the darkness below. Shrugging to each other, and barely concealing their excitement, Arvene and Dugg immediately followed suit. “When in Watedeep…” mumbled Alan, as he too grabbed a chest plate and threw himself down the stairs.
I really enjoyed the joy of this and awarded Little Joe inspiration for his act of sheer stupidity, totally in keeping with his character. I considered asking for dexterity saving throws to see how well they navigated the dark spiraling stairs, but felt that this was just too cool to potentially spoil. And besides, knowing what comes next, I figured they should enjoy their time in the dungeon while they still could.
So, 300 hard stone steps and a lot of yelling, clanging, and whooping later, the four of them came skidding to a halt at the base of the stone stairs and crashed heavily into a stone wall facing the bottom step. Before they could get their bearings, the sound of slow, considered footsteps approached from the darkness.
An old dwarf in white and gold robes hobbled to greet them. He held a metal staff made to look like two twisting dragons and his long white beard very nearly brushed the floor. “I wasn’t expecting anyone,” he said plainly. “Perhaps you should come back later, after I’ve tidied up a little bit.”
As ever, Little Joe was the first to step forward and begin dialogue. But he was stopped in his tracks by the enormous pile of gold coins behind the diminutive robed gentleman. Little Joe then tried to trick and convince his way into Barok Clanghammer letting him take the gold. He lied about what he wanted to do with it. He made false claims to be the owner of the gold. And finally, he created an illusory deed signed by Dagult Neverember (the true owner of the gold) stating Little Joe was to be the new vassal for the horde.
Little Joe rolled a deception check (17); Barok didn’t seem impressed.
Immediately, as Little Joe cast his illusion, the dwarf’s countenance changed. No longer smiling and slightly confused looking, he glared up at Little Joe and his companions darkly. Alan, Arvene, and Dugg all took a deliberate step back. “Fool! I am no mere bank clerk to be tricked into a false withdrawal,” he bellowed. “I. Am. AURINAX!” And with that, the elderly dwarf’s body began to twist and curl inwards. A blinding light shone out from where he stood and Little Joe covered his eyes. He could hear a deep, primal, steady breathing. Blinking through his fingers Little Joe let out a tiny whelp. There before him stood an adult gold dragon. The dragon breathed in deeply. END
So close to the finale, and yet so far. This is really a cool dungeon that definitely suits the style of the campaign. It doesn’t take long to explore, but there are plenty of unexpected rooms with things that can either outright kill or heal the party—especially if they are prone to rushing in without thinking things through. The final dragon encounter is probably the weakest part of the story however, and I haven’t quite worked out how it will play out. Thankfully I’ve got a week to think it over…
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Don’t be afraid to stop a session early and allow yourself some time to think about what happens next if you’re struggling with an important encounter. I have real difficulty with NPC dialogue when the stakes are high, and sometimes find it hard to work out how a villain will react to the smack-talking, disrespectful heroes that won’t lead to their instant immolation. Aurinax is a powerful adult dragon that could insta-kill the party with ease, but that didn’t stop my players from insulting them and not grasping the gravity of the situation. If the dragon attacks with full force, they’ll kill the party and thus end the campaign in a really unsatisfactory way, and would likely leave my players feeling short-changed. Conversely, if the dragon just lets them get away with it, they don’t learn their lesson and all NPCs will face the same constant trash-talk. It’s a real dilemma. While, I want the campaign to end on a high note—ideally with the party successfully getting the gold and confounding their enemies—I also don’t want to just hand over the gold without consequence. I couldn’t work out how to react on the fly, and it was getting towards the end of the session, so I concluded last night’s game on a cliff-hanger with Barok Glanghammer revealing his true nature as Aurinax the dragon, without diving directly into combat. This will give me a week to figure out how he’ll react and perhaps allow my players some time to come up with a strategy that doesn’t involve a painful fiery death.
Next week could well be the final episode. It will likely go one of two ways: death by dragon, or death by the things that come after the dragon.
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