The Saviors finally reach Waterdeep, but not before meeting a very special guest star.
When last we left our heroes, they had averted a plague in the Mere of Dead Men that was about to engulf the neighboring lands. They defeated the vile, demonic Ssessinek, who had enslaved the peaceful Lizardfolk. They also rescued a heavenly celestial, and received her boon. Finally, the way was clear to leave the swamp and journey on to Waterdeep.
The liberated Lizardmen and new best friends lead the party back to the main road. Now, I face my first dilemma; how to incapacitate a player in a cool, dramatic, and not obnoxious way. Andrew wanted to hang with his friends today, which really stinks because I had some really cool encounters planned and they were definitely going to make it to Waterdeep, which the players have been waiting eagerly for. My second dilemma involves letting James smuggle his horde of monsters/pets within the confines of the city and open up some roleplaying potential. Hopefully, I can kill both these birds with one wyvern.
I have all the players roll a perception check. Dramatically, they all fail. “All seems quiet, until at the last second when you hear a huge rush of air and the flapping of giant wings, as a huge blue dragon-like thing swoops down from behind you. The monstrous beast lunges for… (roll dice), Callan. It grabs Callan’s horse in its claws and lifts the horse into the air with Callan still in the saddle. Jack, roll an Athletics check to keep Callan from falling out.” Jack passes.
“What do I do now?” Jack asks.
“Well, you can jump from the horse; it’s about 20 feet up. Or, you can roll an Acrobatic check to climb onto the wyvern’s back. Of course, he picks the bad-ass option, passes his roll, scurries up the scaly beast and starts with the stabby-stabby. Unfortunately, this has the unintended result of causing the wyvern to drop his horse. “Can I save her?” cries James anxiously. Aw, crap. I forgot about the representative from Greenpeace.
“Maybe, what do you want to do?”
“Do I know Feather Fall?”
Slight pause… He had learned the spell from a dead wizard a while ago, but never before prepared it… “Yes.”
Moments later, the horse floats gently down to surface. James has saved another hapless critter. Crisis averted. And then Callan falls off the wyvern. James burns another Feather Fall spell to save him. And now I wait.
The combat continues for several rounds. One player is poisoned. The party manages to keep the horses from bolting. Both sides are evenly matched. The fight goes back and forth. And then finally, James’ wizard, Riandon, casts his last 1st level spell.
Immediately, the wyvern attacks and grabs Andrew’s character, Regizar, whom I’ve had the other players roll for until now. As the creature flies away with its next meal, James casts Dancing Lights into the drake’s eyes to force it to land. Instead, as before, it drops its prey, who falls, and Riandon cannot cast his saving coup de grace. Regizar falls 30 feet, not enough to kill him, but he lands awkwardly on a heavy log, breaking his leg in the process.
Enraged, the wyvern fights to the death, which our heroes gladly provide. Once dead, I hint that many parts of the wyvern are valuable, because I want them to have proof that they killed the beast. I expected them to just take the head or the tail, but ultimately, they just stuffed the entire corpse into the large cage on Riandon’s wagon. They shove Regizar onto the back of the wagon as well. They can heal his health but the leg will conveniently require a higher-level spell than the cleric can cast. One down, one to go.
A day’s journey brings them out of the swamp and into the rolling hills that lead toward the city. They come across a camp of about thirty soldiers. They are all clad in chain mail or plate armor. The players are instantly afraid this is a combat encounter, so I quickly have Garrick, another NPC tag-along, identify them as the elite City Guard from Waterdeep, but this is a little far from their usual jurisdiction.
They are quickly shown to the leader of this army, a man with an angry mop of coal black hair and sharp brown eyes. “Well met, travellers. I am Captain Hwil Wheaton of the Waterdeep Guard. How is it that you came out of the swamp alive? No one has traversed the mire in over a tenday.”
I’m waiting for the day when one of the kids can roleplay a recap of their own adventures in these scenarios, but neither steps forward and the adult, Jim, gives the rundown of the events in the Mere of Dead Men.
Capt. Hwil continues, “Incredible. We’d been sent to investigate the swamp and fix it if we can. I’d already lost two scouts and was frankly unsure how to proceed. But you’ve apparently solved everything for us. Incredible.”
Riandon asks if there is any reward.
“We are under orders here, so not as such. But we’ve also been tasked with slaying a foul wyvern that has been terrorizing the area and there is a reward for that. Have you seen any sign of that creature?”
Proudly, Riandon unfurls the tarp covering the cage on his wagon. “Do you mean this?”
Capt. Hwil is amazed. “Incredible. Who are you people? What else have you got back there?” It is with a weird mix of pride and hesitation that Riandon showed off the rest of his travelling zoo. I think James was afraid that I was going to confiscate his pets. Capt. Hwil continued, “Without knowing, you have done a great service for the people of Waterdeep. So, I will return the favor. At the gates, give this seal to the guard. This will allow your wagon to pass without issue. Speak with Commander Maro about the reward for the wyvern. And you could probably sell the rest of it or any other creatures at the Old Monster Shop in the Trades Ward. In fact, the Sea Maiden’s Faire would probably pay even more for the live ones. They’re down at the docks. Safe travels, friends. When I’m back in town, feel free to look me up.”
The boys really liked this backward quest giving. They liked being rewarded for stuff they would have done anyway. Plus, I added a new contact in Waterdeep (and a famous one at that), and I seeded two possible adventure hooks, including one vital to the Dragon Heist module without being too obvious about it.
Later that day, as the group nears Waterdeep, they spot the most beautiful creature they have ever seen; a pure alabaster Unicorn, with a mane of royal purple and a golden horn. They spot it about a quarter mile away over the next rise. Just seeing the beast from this distance fills the characters with joy. Predictably, James charges his wagon to the next rise to catch it, but the mare saunters away and when they reach the top of the hill, it is gone.
Garrick tells the party that this is a serious omen. The Purple Unicorn is a legend. It only appears once or twice a century, and those whom it graces to see it are blessed by the gods. Their lives will never be ordinary. Ahghairon, Eliminster, Lord Piergeiron, and Mystra before she became a goddess herself, are all rumored to have seen the Purple Unicorn. Garrick ends with, “We are destined for great and terrible things.”
James asks, “Has she ever been caught?”
“She is uncatchable. No one can tame her.”
“I will catch her,” vows James.
I have no idea where this storyline will go, (or the Hwil Wheaton one either), but I like dropping these little bits early and see what develops.
Then finally, after 15 months of real-time adventuring, Garrick points out a boring, non-descript mound of dirt. “There’s she is, Glorious Hill.”
“What’s so glorious about that?”
“It’s what comes after that’s glorious.”
As the group crests the plain brown hill, the path leads to a wide-open plain that runs right to the ocean. Sitting on a plateau is the grand spectacle that is Waterdeep. Like an enormous forest of black and red, blue and green, the roofs of Waterdeep are too enumerable to count. Rivers of Gold snake in and out and throughout, forming the streets, avenues, and alleys of the city. In the afternoon sun, the whole city glittered like a multi-faceted jewel. The City of Splendors.
Occasionally, a tower or minaret breaks through the canopy of rooftops, but towering over it all is a gigantic single mountain, rising out of the sea, protecting most of the city from the harsh eastward winds and forming an indomitable barrier to breach the city. The landward sides of the city are surrounded by the longest wall ever constructed.
Having grown accustomed to quaint village life in Phandalin, with, at best, 30 buildings, the party is unprepared for such a spectacle. In a single word, it is glorious.
The sheer size of the city tricks you into thinking that it is closer than it appears. As such, it took most of the afternoon just to get to the city gates, aptly titled Trollgate. A line of people in wagons, on horses, and on foot are waiting to get inside the city. A small crew of men in uniforms of gold and green is checking people through the gate but there aren’t enough guards to do the job and the line is reduced to single file.
“This isn’t right,” says Garrick, the Wardhavian native. “There should be dozens of City Guards here, not a handful of the local Town Watch.”
Finally, the group is the next in line. The wagon in front of them stinks to high heaven even though the wagon is clearly empty. The owner must haul manure or something, but who transports crap in a cage? The guard and the driver are having some sort of argument. The guard is demanding to open the back while the driver is telling him that it is clearly empty. The guard orders him to open the cage. The driver does so and then dives under the wagon.
The cage door of the wagon is smashed off its hinges and clatters to the ground. The guard avoids the door, but the next instant he is blown backward as if pulled by an invisible rope. He sails a dozen feet and smashes into some barrels, dead; his neck clearly broken.
In the same moment, a hideously ugly brute materializes in the threshold of the cage. It is over 9 feet tall with gangly arms and legs, sallow green in color and covered in bulbous warts. Its face is cruel and sinister with a mouth filled with sharp yellow teeth, an over-sized nose, and evil, beady, black eyes.
“Troll!” yells one of the guards. “Get the torches!” yells another one. All the townsfolk and civilians in line run away, screaming in panic. An alarm bell clangs out and the few poor guards in the area prepare to fight and probably die.
What came next was one of the nastiest, knock-down fights the group has ever had. It was gloriously chaotic, filled with screaming and anguish, excitement and dread.
With no room to move, Riandon cut his horse’s leads so they could escape. Of course, this left Regizar stuck in the back with a broken leg, but he’ll be fine. Callan ran to the area I had conveniently left for them with some torches and prepped some flaming arrows. Clarissa charged the beast. A half dozen guards sprang to action, some with arrows, some with polearms. Garrick and Droop protected Elsa on the far side of the battle mat.
Jack (Callan) asks if they have oil on them. I should be stricter about what they can miraculously have on them when they need it, but frankly I care more about a good story and having fun than inventory management, so sure, you guys each have 2 pouches of oil. “Can Regizar throw his at the troll?”
Absolutely. Regizar crawls up to the front of the wagon, throws his oil and misses, splashing oil all over the other wagon. Callan aims a flaming arrow, releases it and misses, hitting the same wagon which instantly erupts in flame. James uses Misty Step to jump to the front of the burning wagon and cuts the leads of those horses so that they don’t get killed by the fire. Clarissa gets knocked around by the troll. The driver runs, screaming, from under the burning wagon and hides.
This fight was great fun but also a real challenge to run. To start with, I kept track of the troll’s hit points with a pencil for regular damage and a red pen for fire damage. Each round I would erase 10 hp from the troll’s damage to account for its regeneration. Only when the red marks equal the troll’s total hit point is the troll truly dead. This was handy, since several times the troll would fall only to jump back to life the next round, which was awesome and freaked the players out.
In addition, I have several guards to help the players. I run them like the townsfolk from my giant goblin invasion back in Session 10 of the Lost Mine of Phandelver, except they have a better chance of hitting the target. Of course, since the trolls are quite deadly, any hit will instantly kill a guard. This will also help take the damage off the party, since we are down one player. Roughly as each guard dies, another comes out from the barracks in piecemeal armor to join the fray.
Finally, I had intended the fight to be a little more gradual with the threat level, but since the players managed to immediately set the troll wagon on fire, I had to move up my timetable. About three rounds into the fight, the wagon is fully engulfed in flames. Then one of the guards standing near the cage door is smashed down into a pulp by an invisible fist. Another newly visible troll reveals himself to be hiding in the cage. Fortunately, the first troll goes down the next round, but thanks to his regeneration, he’ll be back up in a moment. Then, from inside the flaming wagon comes a most disturbing sound. A roaring, bestial screaming comes from the inferno, but no creature exits the cage. The howling continues for the next several rounds, accompanied by the sounds of smashing chains and snapping rope. The players are terrified. They do not want anything to do with whatever is trapped inside that wagon.
By the way, although it was a really smart move to cut free the horses when the wagon caught on fire, I really wish that I could have had two terrified horses dragging a flaming death trap at full speed through the streets, all the while launching invisible trolls onto an unsuspecting populace; that would have been spectacular! Curse you and your brilliant ideas, James!
Finally, the first troll goes down for good and they can focus on the second troll. But then there is an ungodly yell from inside the wagon inferno. The wagon explodes, sending flaming debris everywhere. Everyone has to make a DEX save to avoid full damage. One guard is buried under the burning wreckage of the wagon. Another is lifted up by an invisible force and thrown 20’ in the air. The poor guard slams into the wall of the barracks and falls to the ground in a mangled heap.
Its Invisibility spell spent, the troll that steps from the ruined shell of the wagon is truly the stuff of nightmares. While most trolls are long and lanky, this one is huge and grotesque. All of its features are distorted and distended. Over 12’ tall, this thing is more like a giant than a troll. Its head is enormous and every tooth inside its gaping maw is the size of a dagger. Its body is burnt black in several places and its hair is on fire. Yet despite the obvious pain, its black eyes hold only one thought; kill.
Overcome with fear, several guards run away, but most hold true. With a renewed sense of duty, they threw themselves at the Troll King. The Saviors of Phandalin did the same. They fought tooth and nail, and used their last oil, javelin, arrow and spell; and in the case of four more guards, their last breath to kill these abominations.
In the end, it is Callan, the tiny halfing, who took down the behemoth Troll King with a flaming arrow straight through its eye. The three Trolls lay dead, their smoldering corpses rotting in the setting sun. Now that it is safe, there were suddenly hundreds of people in the area, some to help, most to gawk. A squad of guards and watchmen appeared and immediately began to clear the debris. The injured were tended to and the dead prepared for prayers. The surviving guards thanked the players and invited them to a drink at the local tavern. I’ll have to find a name for that tavern later, since Andrew immediately took them up on that offer. I think the 14-year-old boy wants to vicariously pretend to get drunk.
The Saviors of Phandalin were now also the Defenders of Trollgate. Word has already begun to spread of their deeds and by nightfall, every tavern in town will have heard the tale of their heroic battle.
The driver of the wagon is found unconscious near the gate with a gash on his head. He is revived and hauled up to look upon the destruction he had wrought. A small, thin man in black robes appeared in the crowd with a contingent of guard. Despite his slight stature he reeked of authority, and the crowd parted to let the man approach the hapless driver.
With a deep, dark voice the man in black proclaimed, “I am the magister of this district. You stand accused of attempting to smuggle trolls into Waterdeep, and less than a ten-day from the Festival of Trolltide, in addition. This action led to the murder of 7, no 8, of our best watchmen. Given our fair city’s history with trolls this is a capital offence which amounts to treason, punishable by death. What say you in your defense?”
The poor, pathetic driver is beside himself. “I didn’t know there were trolls! I was paid 50 gold to take this cart into town, no questions asked. I got 12 mouths to feed. That was enough for 6 months of food. I needed the money.”
“What did the man whom you claim hired you look like?”
“He was cloaked. I didn’t want to see his face.”
“Where were you supposed to take the wagon?”
“I got the address right here.” The driver begins to frantically search his clothing. “I had it right here! Where did it go?”
I have the players roll a Perception check. James scores the highest. James’ Riandon finds a scrap of paper on the ground. I hand James a scrap of paper with a scribbled address and a strange symbol on it. James keeps the secret to himself, but promises to tell the group about it later.
The Magister speaks, “Although you have no credible defense, I can tell that you are but a dupe in this whole affair and certainly not capable of turning three trolls invisible. I find you guilty of smuggling and mayhem, and I sentence you to 5 years hard labor or a fine of 800 gold, to be paid to the families of those killed here today.”
“I don’t have 800 gold! I got 14 mouths to feed!”
Jim, as Clarissa, attempts to convince the other players to pay the man’s fine. Neither kid wants to do that. At all. Mostly because they are misers and don’t ever want to part with any gold, period. Finally, Jim says that he’s in charge of the treasury, so he pays the fine. There is a collective gasp from the crowd when Clarissa opens up the chest filled with a fortune in brass Toals and Harbor Moons they claimed after the villain Nezzar was chopped in half and dragged through a portal back to the Abyss. It’s a long story. I feel another rumor of these new heroes is about to spread to every tavern, and thief, by morning.
We finished the session here. The players don’t know it but they are already famous in Waterdeep (and they haven’t even entered the city yet) and only time will tell if this brings them greater glory or more misery. Or maybe a little of both. Next week, we finally, properly start Dragon Heist and meet no less than three of the most infamous people in all of the Forgotten Realms.
I’ve created a Waterdeep Dragon Heist Resources Page to compile all of the maps, handouts, and extras used during the adventure including all of my homebrew side quests. Hopefully, you will find them useful for your campaign.
As always, acid will kill a troll as well, and Game On!
I got 13 mouths to feed – Benny Carter, the hapless Troll chauffer, who can’t seem to keep track of how many kids he has.