The Saviors are back! And we turn the session into CSI: Waterdeep following a deadly explosion in Trollskull Alley.
When last we left our heroes, they had returned from a harrowing adventure in The Sunless Citadel. There they managed to defeat an insane druid and his mad plot to infest the land with an army of vampirous blights. Along the way, they rescued several fellow adventurers who were being used as mind-controlled slaves. One of these adventurers is a dragonborn thief, named Eragon, and he has decided to join our merry band of marauders. Which is convenient because we have a new player, Jack 2.0, who wants to play a dragonborn thief. What are the odds? If you are only interested in the previous Waterdeep adventure, that is located here.
Now The Saviors are back in the city of Waterdeep, looking for new escapades. But first, I foolishly try to get Jack up to speed with the current campaign. Big mistake. Huge. Jack was a really good sport, and listened to my entire, long, boring, info dump. If you read my Phandelver Diary sessions 1-14, Waterdeep 1-7, and Sunless Citadel 1-5, you’ll get the gist of the tedious backstory I dropped on this poor kid’s lap.
My second mistake is since I knew Jack had played D&D before; I assumed that he knew how to play D&D. Even worse, his prior DM was just another inexperienced kid who didn’t know how to guide the story along, so every session devolved into utter chaos. A world of unlimited choices is a dangerous playground for an untethered mind, virtually forcing every budding, chaotic-neutral, murder hobo to push the boundaries of common sense past their breaking point.
Jack spent over 2 hours asking if he could do one inane thing after another; constantly raising the bar. “Can I rob this guy? Can I rob that guy? Can I burn down his house? Can I kidnap him, hold him for ransom, then sell him into slavery?” BTW, he is playing a good-aligned character. “I want to bribe and extort every tavern in town so that they give all their money to me. Ooh, and where’s the nearest bank? I want heist it!” Dude! You’re in an adventure called Dragon HEIST! You’re gonna get gold. Settle down.
Even worse, Andrew, my son and Jack’s best friend, went right down this rabbit hole with his buddy; egging him on, and trying to top Jack’s outlandish and frankly, stupid plans. I wanted to kill them. Figuratively. I tried to settle them down and told them to save all these plans for their downtime activities. Let’s focus on the adventure at hand. Trust your DM, I promise there will be murder, and gold, and even a little arson.
Finally, they settled down and I made my third mistake. My first encounter with my brand new player was all role play with zero action. To Jack’s credit, he and Andrew and James played it as well as three bored teenagers could. They even had some really great ideas about the investigation. And some really dumb ones, but we’ll get to that.
Chapter Four: Dragon Season starts with a bang. Literally. “While you are hanging out at Trollskull Manor, doing some repairs, a huge explosion rocks Trollskull Alley less than 100 feet from where you stand! When the smoke clears, a dozen bodies lie strewn about the alley. The City Watch is sure to be here in a few minutes, what do you do?” Mistake #4.
Here is one of the biggest drawbacks of running a city adventure with kids. The players know that they are not in charge here. James immediately said, “I wait for the police to handle it.” And nobody bothered to check if anyone was still alive. Instead, I should have run the encounter as if Trollskull Alley is a small village unto itself, where all the NPCs are well aware that the players are the local heroes who handle problems like these. I should have said, “…a dozen bodies lie strewn about the alley. Everyone else is in a state of shock and they look to you, their local heroes, to do something. What do you do?” Let the players conduct the investigation without worrying about the police. Yet.
Another dilemma is that this scene is hard to visualize in your mind. It took me several read-throughs to get a sense of where the explosion took place and where the witnesses were located in relation to it. I knew that my players would not “get it” either. So, I drew them a Crime Scene. This drawing really sparked their interest and they all became junior detectives, like the Hardy Boys but with swords.
In addition to the Crime Scene, I expanded upon the descriptions of all the bodies. This should help them better grasp who is at the heart of the scene and who was an innocent victim. I also drew a barrel at the scene, since it had specific bearing with one of the witnesses. Since having only one barrel in the drawing seemed weird, I drew in a few more, and without thinking, I placed them exactly where all of the witnesses could be found. This was an unexpectedly perfect detail.
Jack immediately honed in on this. “What’s this thing?” It’s a rain barrel. “I wanna check it out.” Andrew and James chimed in, “I wanna search the other ones.” Okay, put your mini on the barrel you want to investigate.
This was great. Truthfully, I was at a loss about how to organically get these notoriously non-verbal role players to have conversations with the various witnesses and still keep all of the players engaged. Now they are all perfectly positioned to meet these vital clue-givers one-on-one. I pull each one out of the room separately for their individual witness interrogation.
At his barrel (near the crime scene), Andrew meets Martem, the little boy who hid behind the rain barrel and found the murder weapon. Of course, Andrew wanted to keep the item to himself. I told him he could keep the item but he should share the discovery and the knowledge gained with the group. Jack meets Jezrynne at the Tiger’s Eye barrel, who saw the assassin, a strange golden metal man on the rooftop above the scene. Jack asked if he could frame Jezrynne, a totally innocent witness, for the crime and then extort her for money. Seriously, this crap went on all night. James meets Laia at the Potion shop, who saw another suspect grab something from the dead gnome and run away.
Afterward, I just sat back and let them work out all the clues. They got most of it, except for one crucial detail. They all though that the golden man was some sort of illusion, like the Dark Mark in the Harry Potter books. And then the City Watch showed up, and we went off the rails. First, I should have immediately introduced the lead investigator to the group, but I did not. Instead I had the guards clear everybody from the immediate area while the detective did his investigation. Andrew and Jack had the brilliant idea (NOT!) of climbing up onto the roof to get a better view. The same roof the attack just came from and one of them is holding the murder weapon.
A second crucial mistake is that I did not describe that the detective, Barnibus Blastwind, could be seen discovering all the same clues and speaking to the same witnesses. Andrew and Jack just assumed that the guards were dumb and clueless, which they are not, and this will severely affect their roleplaying options in about 5 seconds.
I tell them that the guards are cleaning up the scene, placing the bodies onto a wagon, and taking them away, presumably to a barracks or maybe a temple. Both boys say, “We follow the wagon.”
“That is an excellent idea,” I say, “Give me a DC 5 DEX check to climb off the roof safely.”
“Oh, no! We follow them by jumping from rooftop to rooftop!” I die a little inside.
“Why?” I plead with them, “Just follow them on foot.”
“No way, this will be way cooler!”
“Fine! The very first gap is over 20 feet, which is farther than you can normally jump, roll a DC15 DEX check to see if you can make the extra distance.” Both fail spectacularly. “You both fall 20 feet to the ground, take 8 points of damage… And you land in the wagon filled with dead bodies and are surrounded by angry guards. Blastwind looks at you two and demands, “What is the meaning of this!””
Rather than just telling the truth, they decide to bullshit their way out. I don’t know why teenager players insist on lying their way through every encounter. This fails, of course. I considered having the guards arrest them, which would lead to combat, followed by charges of murder, and derail the whole campaign. The players considered running away, which would lead to a manhunt, charges of murder, and derail the whole campaign. The scene was needlessly very tense and frustrating.
Finally, the boys come clean. I really do not want this nonsense to hinder my players moving forward, so I use the little boy, Martem, to back up their story and add that these are the famous Defenders of Trollgate (see Waterdeep, Session 3). The investigator demands that they turn out their pockets, discovers the necklace of missiles, and confiscates it. Blastwind then gives them a stern warning about interfering with an official investigation. I had wanted the players to keep this magic item, but I consider this an adequate penalty for being so dumb. Andrew does not. He vows get the necklace back and begin making plans with Jack to steal it. ‘sigh’
Meanwhile, James has been waiting patiently while we deal with all that ridiculous nonsense. He wanted nothing to do with anything involving those two idiots and says that he wants to follow the bloody footprints leading from the scene. “Okay, you see that the footprints continue toward…”
Jack and Andrew whip out their phones and begin playing “Among Us”.
I ended the session immediately. With all their nonsense this session, this was my last straw. I am furious, but I kept my composure. Congratulations, I’m an adult. I apologize to James, but I tell them that I will not continue playing with them under these conditions. Andrew and Jack are aghast; they were just messing around and having fun. Sure, fun at the expense of everyone else’s enjoyment. And the second it doesn’t revolve around them, they’re done.
For a moment, I honestly feel as if the campaign was going to die right here and now. I am unsure if Jack is a purposely disruptive player or an obliviously disruptive player and I am angry with Andrew for going along with it so easily. Both kids are actually well-mannered, good kids and they were very apologetic and I think shocked at how disruptive they were being. James is upset and terrified that we may never play D&D again.
I have a long talk with the boys about role playing etiquette and what I expect from them at the table. We talk about the what kind of game I run, about how I will always try to incorporate the player’s personal ideas and goals into the story, but I won’t let that interfere or ruin another player’s enjoyment at the table. I also tell them that I don’t run my NPCs like fools to be bullied but like reasonable people who will react poorly to blatant shenanigans. And I ask them to trust me; that I will let them do their crazy things at the right time in the story, but in the meantime, they have to be involved with the session at hand.
To be fair, Jack never got this talk, which I should have had before the session. I tell them to think about whether they want to continue playing and to let me know. I also ask them what kind of campaign they want to play in. I’ve always tried to include a mix of the various playstyles to see what they like best, but maybe they’ll be better off focusing on just one. We’ve got the roleplay-heavy city adventure here in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, the hack-and-slash funhouse dungeons of Tales From the Yawning Portal, or we can just play through the light sandbox Western Marsh campaign of Dragon of Icespire Peak, which we have also played sporadically.
Next week, we discover if the Saviors can survive these internal threats from within. But since there will be a next week, you can probably guess the answer.
Check out my Waterdeep Campaign Resources page for a complete listing of all of the maps, handouts, and accessories I used while playing Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.
As always, players who bring their phones to D&D are highly SUS, and Game On!
What are the rules about torture? – Eragon, the Chaotic Good homicidal sociopath