Our heroes finally catch the murderous metal man, but they are still no closer to finding the hidden fortune of gold.
When last we left our heroes, they had been searching for a mysterious man made of metal who may have murdered a dozen people and may have the key to a vast horde of over half a million gold. Can you guess which of these mysteries my players care about solving? Along the way, our heroes have gotten sidetracked by exploding warehouses, watching parades, opening a tavern, committing grand larceny, birthing a baby dragon, murdering lords, and thinking about joining the circus. This week, we try to get the adventure back on track.
Following the events at Gralhund Villa, way back in Waterdeep – Session 10, the party is at a dead end. The metal man is gone and the Gralhunds will not reveal where he’s gone. The book states that the players can randomly search the city using the nimblewright detector (provided that they have it) and that the nimblewright is eventually found in a random alley, hiding under a pile of trash. What a terrible waste.
I really like this adventure, but this struck me as the laziest, most anti-climatic way to end this monumental search for this mad bomber. I don’t mind finding the thing in a lonely alley, but how we arrive at this point is just awful. Yes, it does not matter which alley you find him in, but the moment you tell your players that, it also tells them that their actions don’t matter either. There needs to be a story that leads them to the end of the journey, not “After days of fruitless searching, you find the guy hiding in a random alley.”
I want my adventures to be a series of interconnected events where the actions of a previous scene inform the encounters that follow, not a pile of random stuff happening. Although it is not specifically stated, following the Gralhund Villa Massacre is when the book intends that the group should play through a few Faction missions or Tavern quests. But once those are done, there is no direction on how to get back to the story.
But because this is a role-playing game, you can’t always predict in what direction the story goes. But you can and should provide options. However, due to the variety of seasons and villains, the book itself has no idea where you are going to be. So, this work falls upon you.
First and foremost, decide which alley the nimblewright will be found it. Where the nimblewright delivered the Stone of Golor depends upon the chosen villain. But this is not where the nimblewright is found. I would choose an alley near that destination that seems interesting. There are a number of alleys that are listed in Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion at the back of the adventure book. For even more options, I used Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep. I’ve mentioned this tome before, and it is out-of-print, but it is an invaluable resource of information about this fabulous city. Seriously, it’s $10 at DriveThru RPG. Go buy it already.
Second, you need to get your players into that general area. If the players happen to take themselves into the area, then great, problem solved. But you’re probably going to need to lead them there. The best way to do this is by using the Faction missions. I’ve put together a Faction Missions Chart that lists all the various missions and their locations. Just pick the one that best serves your needs and send them on the mission. Once that mission is completed, then suddenly the nimblewright detector will come to life. Imagine that. Here is the link to the Waterdeep Faction Missions.
If you’d rather have a story that is more player driven, then I would add a handout to the Gralhund Villa while the party is participating the massacre. Basically, this is a letter from the main villain to the Gralhunds. There are no names or addresses, just vague references and the mention of a specific Ward. For example, “If you need to contact me, send word to our mutual friend in the “X” Ward.” This will give the players a target area to search, and they will feel that they are following the clues rather than just being led to the right spot.
In our campaign, my players didn’t choose to investigate the Trades Ward after reading their handout, so I needed to be more direct. Our heroes were having dinner aboard the boat owned by the ringleader of the Sea Maiden’s Faire, Zardoz Zord, who is also the main villain, Jarlaxle Baenre, in disguise. It is all very complicated. In the middle of dinner, a Paper Bird flew through a porthole with a message for our heroes.
The note was from the Harpers, one of the local Factions, sending our players on a mission to help someone kill some thing in the attic of her shop. Her shop is in the Trades Ward, but she will meet our heroes at a nearby tavern called Felzoun’s Folly. So, our merry group exited Zardoz’s ship and trotted on off to the Trades Ward, unaware of just how close they came to getting killed during dinner and dumped overboard.
Felzoun’s Folly is another rich and detailed tavern within Waterdeep, but no further information if given beyond its name. Do know where you can get more info about the place? Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep. For example, Felzoun’s Folly, named for its owner, a fearless dwarf named Felzoun Thar, is a huge, three-storied tavern that is always packed and noisy. Located on the main connection between High Road and the Court of the White Bull, the city’s main livestock market, the tavern caters to all sorts and is famous for its chicken and cheese pasty. Some what less well-known is that the tavern is also the place of business for one of the busiest fences of stolen goods, Haerlit Thomm, who specialized is stolen furniture and housewares.
Of course, this mission doesn’t warrant a huge level of detail. It’s just another extermination quest with zero consequence or impact on the story. In the book, the players must kill a Gazer. Since my players are much higher in level, I made the monster a Spectator. It’s a mid-level beholder thing even if it doesn’t fit with the canonical lore. My players faced one ages ago but they didn’t have to fight it, so here’s my chance to fix that. Plus, I’m curious to see how tough I can make this combat. A spectator can’t likely kill a strong party, but it can be a real nuisance to take down.
It was a surprisingly challenging fight. It had positioned itself at the top of the stairs. It had the high ground, Anakin! It kept paralyzing anyone who came near, causing them to tumble down the stairs to the floor below. Everyone kept taking a little bit of damage and denied the players the ability to attack. This went on for quite some time, allowing the Spectator to use its more damaging attacks.
Eventually, the players made their saving throws, allowing them to attack the creature as a group. This overwhelmed the Spectator and it soon perished. But I did succeed in severely weakening the players, and they did not realize that another combat was looming right after. One of the drawbacks of city adventures is that it’s too easy go all out in every encounter and then just take a rest to recuperate. It is very difficult to challenge players in the city. We need to get back to a dungeon!
Upon exiting the shop, I asked who had the nimblewright detector. It had been so long since we used it that they had forgotten about it. One of them “magically” had it in his inventory and surprise, surprise it is spinning like crazy. The nimblewright must be close.
The detector leads the party into a nearby alley, Brindle Street. There finally, after weeks and weeks and countless distractions, close calls and misdirections, our heroes have finally caught the correct nimblewright. What are the odds that it still has the Stone of Golor in its possession? The odds are exactly zero. With no further instructions and nothing to live for, this shameless plot device fights to the death.
I had already softened up the party with the spectator and I knew this was going to be a good fight. But I want a tough, memorable fight, which is why I choose this alley. This alley is famous for one unique feature. It is the home of the Hand That Sings. This bizarre aberration is a single, giant, disembodied hand that float along this alley singing random songs. It also tends to grab things as it passes by and it has an affinity for magic items.
While the party is fighting the nimblewright, which the players are surprised to learn has three attacks a turn, they hear a horrible, wailing, out-of-tune song, coming from around a bend in the alley. I chose to make my song a prophetic verse, alluding to an adventure in which, of course, my players will be the main protagonists. The song goes: “She’ll be coming down the mountain when she comes. She’ll be held by her companions when she comes. She’ll be carrying the Blackstaff, she’ll be equal to Arunson, she’ll be fighting with the ten-rings when she comes.” This adventure will occur during the Autumn season, while our heroes are battling the Cassalanters.
Our heroes have their hands full (pun intended) with the nimblewright and ignore this new dilemma. Big mistake. I rolled to see which player The Hand will target. I rolled the wizard and rolled again to see which magic item it would grab. It turned out to be Riandon’s Wand of Vines. I give the player a Dexterity check to avoid this outcome and he fails. The Hand That Sings grabs the magic wand, immediately casts Entangle and floats away around another corner unaffected by the spell, still singing his song and still holding Riandon’s wand.
The spell incapacitated everyone except the nimblewright, giving it a few free whacks on the party. But eventually the party regained the upper hand. So, who should come back from around the corner? Our crooner friend with the grabby hands (hand?). This time he targets Regizar and his favorite sword, Talon. Regizar was able to hold onto his sword, but then The Hand gave him a huge shove, knocking Regizar prone, and The Hand just floated away again.
Frankly, I was shocked that Regizar didn’t get up and chase after the thing and give it a little pugilistic justice with his electrified magic ring, but the player forgot to think of it. My players off-handedly remarked, that this was the stupidest things that I’ve ever thrown at them and that I made it up. I told them that The Hand That Sings was actually a piece of canonical lore and showed them the picture as proof from, you guessed it, Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep.
But back to the matter at hand (I got a million of these). Despite all my distractions, it wasn’t long before the party avenged all the poor nameless NPCs who died at the hands of this dumb robot. Naturally, the City Watch shows up just in time to be completely useless. This seems to be a recurring theme with these guys. Too late to give any help, but always on hand before the players can do anything cool, fun, and/or stupid. I should have had Captain Hyustus be in charge since he doesn’t like our heroes and could have given them a hard time, but I forgot. The book really wants this Captain to be a recurring character, and he has a nice reveal in the Xanathar Lair, but the book does nothing to keep him relevant in the eyes of the players.
With the demise of the nimblewright, the trail for the Stone of Golor, the super-McGuffin has gone cold. Or has it? Clutched in the Nimblewright’s cold dead hands (okay, I’ll stop) is a scrap of paper. It turns out to be a map with a note leading to the next link in the chain. Depending upon which villain you choose to be the Main Villain determines where this map leads to. You could just tell your players that the map leads them to whatever building in whatever Ward, but for me this is the perfect time for another handout.
In our campaign, Jarlaxle Baenre is my first Main Villain, so the map leads them to another alley somewhere in the Trades Ward. But where exactly? I used a map that was an extreme close up of a very small section of town. Hopefully, the players can find the location using the scant clues found on the map. I made sure that they had a copy of the main city map, and a copy of my Waterdeep Directory, that lists all the major locations in town, and I left it up to them to find it.
Sadly, the player that would have loved this puzzle dropped out of the campaign due to the pandemic. The players that I still have didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped, but they solved it anyway, so good for them. You may be asking where I got such a detailed, close up map of this small section of Waterdeep. But you know where, Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep. I can’t speak enough about how useful this book is. I should be working on commission.
I had placed these two locations (where the map is found and where it leads) close to each other so that the players would feel compelled to head to the next encounter right away. But they were so beat up (all spell slot gone, down to single digit hit points, and no healer) that they decided to head back to the Tavern for a nice long nap. Again, it is really difficult to put the fear of death in the players’ minds in a city adventure. There are just too many safe havens.
Fortunately, this rest actually played out pretty well. In the book, no matter how quickly the players get to the next destination, the Stone has already moved on. But since the players took their time getting there, they assumed that it was their actions (or lack thereof) that caused them to miss the Stone. This made it less disappointing than having them run to the next encounter and still not discover the stone. That’s right, Johnny, your actions don’t matter, but you keep following those breadcrumbs. Despite its multitude of tangents and side quests, this whole adventure is very much a railroad. Which isn’t a bad thing, despite its reputation.
As our heroes enter the alley, they have their first encounter with the Urchins, Nat, Jenks, and Squiddly. They are the three kids that can be found in almost every two-page illustration in the book, such as the page for the autumn season where they are playing on the docks, even though they have no listed interaction with the Sea Maiden’s Faire.
I can’t quite figure out the Urchins purpose within the greater story. Are they comic relief? A sweet interlude? The negligible connection between all four seasons? I can’t tell. In some seasons they play no part of the story, and in others a more significant role. In one season, they even take possession of the Stone of Golor for a brief time.
I added a fourth urchin to this merry band of misfits. He is an elf with an unusually dark grey skin tone, who appears to be 6 or 7 years old. His name is Aeluss. This translates to “Abandoned One” in drow, and he might play an important development in the Jaraxle storyline. Obviously, this is some homebrewed nonsense that I’ve added to the story (because it isn’t complicated enough, right). I have no idea how or even if this will play out, but I wanted to lay the seeds here in case it does. BTW, you can probably guess who his father is, and I’ll tell you, dear reader, that his mother is Lady Yalah Gralhund.
During the runaway cart scene, the wizard, Riandon, casts Web and strings it across the alley to catch the cart. My son has been watching too many Spiderman cartoons. But it worked and everyone is saved. Introductions are made and are immediately forgotten by my players who still never write anything down. Even though this frustrates me slightly; as the DM it is my job to run the game that my players want to play. I will always include subtle clues to bigger mysteries because I enjoy them, but I can’t force my players to care about them. If they want to just follow along with the story, killing stuff, that is fine. There is nothing wrong with that, and is, in fact, how most people play the game.
Following the street urchin distraction, our heroes finally arrive at the final destination of the Stone of Golor…Only to find that the place has been ransacked, the Stone has moved on and the person who allegedly has it is nowhere to be found. Again. The players were just a little too late. Again. Get used to this. There is a whole convoluted backstory of what happened here that the players have no chance of discovering except by being told about it. I added that there are two dead duergar dwarves and one dead drow elf within this trashed apartment. The players were both disappointed and delighted that the drow was not the one who shot at them the other night in. They really want to kill that guy themselves.
As they exit Fenerus Stormcastle’s hovel back into the alley, our heroes bump into the 2nd most powerful person in the entire Forgotten Realms. Laeral Silverhand. In the book, she is the Open Lord of Waterdeep, the Head of the Lord’s Alliance group that gives the players mandatory quest, and an all-around force of Good in the Forgotten Realms for centuries. Now in my campaign, she is all those things except she is not yet the Open Lord. Lord Neverember still holds that title in absentia. But Laeral is the Head of the Lord’s Alliance. Except that this isn’t Laeral Silverhand. This is our Main Villain, Jarlaxle, in disguise.
But the players don’t know that. As far as they are concerned, they are standing in front of, essentially, their queen. “Before you stands a regal, elven woman in an elegant, silver gown. She exudes power, confidence, and poise. Even here, alone, in a grimy alley, she has an aura of magnificence about her.”
With an air of authority, she speaks, “Well met, fellow adventurers. I am Laeral Silverhand, Head of the Lord’s Alliance, and ye must be the heroes I’ve heard so much about. Ye have made quite a name for yeself since coming to our little village. Opening a tavern, saving the Dragondown Festival from some errant kenku, fighting drow in the streets. If ye aren’t careful, someday ye might be as famous as I.”
Immediately, James was suspicious. He asked, “What is she, a pirate?” He almost has it. The real Laeral Silverhand does not talk like a pirate. But all of Jarlaxle’s disguises do. As I mentioned last week, Jarlaxle also says some common phrases between all his roles and is the only NPC that waves his hands in grand gestures when he speaks. All this may seem too obvious, and maybe it is, but you want the players to solve this riddle on their own. But you must determine how obvious you need to be. You want them to feel smart and powerful that they saw through your deception. You don’t want them to feel stupid when you finally just tell them the secret and they cry, “How were we supposed figure this out?”
My players are almost there. I hope that by the third disguise or at least by the time they meet the real Laeral Silverhand that they will seriously question all this nonsense and more importantly start doing something about it. One other note. I specifically did not have the fake Silverhand mention things for which the heroes are even more well known for, such as being the Defenders of Trollgate. Jarlaxle only knows about the things that he learned from the players themselves during their dinner with Zardoz Zord. Another subtle clue that this fake Silverhand is not as knowledgeable or powerful as she claims.
Silverhand/Jarlaxle continues, “I know that ye are on a quest seeking the Stone of Golor. The retrieval of the Stone is very important to the future of Waterdeep. I can tell ye that the man ye seek has been taken to a secret uln’hyrr (drow for “lair”) in the sewers near Helm’s Hall. The entrance is a red door marked with the symbol of the Xanathar. When ye find the Stone deliver it to The Seven Masks Theater. The owner is a trusted agent of the Alliance, named Rongquan Mystere (this is a lie, see the above love letter). Give the Stone to him and Waterdeep will forever be in ye debt.”
My players are getting better at asking questions, and one asked, “Why don’t you just get it?”
Fortunately, Jarlaxle has the perfect catchphrase response. “There are reasons for things that a casual observer might not understand. I would not be proper for myself to be seen participating in a treasure hunt. People such as yeselves do not attract as much attention. Fare thee well. Remember, Rongquan at The Seven Masks Theater.” And with a flourish of her hands, she disappeared into thin air. (Jarlaxle has a Cloak of Invisibility.)
Next week, our heroes invade yet another Xanathar lair and actually get their hands on the Stone of Golor. And if you believe that then you haven’t been paying attention to the course of this adventure.
Check out my Waterdeep Campaign Resources page for a complete guide to running this adventure, including articles on all the villains, factions, and NPCs in the greatest city of the Forgotten Realms. Plus, of all of the maps, handouts, and accessories I used while playing Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.
As always, players should be very wary of omnipotent NPCs, and Game On!
Yes, James, the most powerful wizard of the land and leader of the free world, is a pirate. – One bemused DM