D&D Diary – Waterdeep: Dragon Heist – Session 17

The plan to get a magical stone goes out the window when their drow nemesis grabs it and dives out a window.

Waterdeep Dragon Heist cover title
Closer and closer we get to the man in the giant purple hat.

When last we left our heroes, they had just tricked the last possessor of the Stone of Golorr into revealing its hidden location. The Stone is just waiting for them, right there, right now. So, with great haste our heroes take a long rest, purchase some new equipment, check in on the tavern they own and the zoo they are building in an old tower, and then run right over to the different old tower in the Dock Ward where the stone is hidden. Yep, nothing beats the sense of urgency like a city adventure.

This tower is really small and can barely be considered an encounter area. I added that the front door is locked just so the thief character can feel useful. And I completely removed any sign of the Teleportation Circle in Room O5 since this only applies to the Manshoon storyline; here it’s just an empty storeroom.

Map DH4.5 Old Tower DM web
Map 4.5 Old Tower – DM version – Perhaps the most pointless map in the adventure.

In the Jarlaxle storyline, the only thing of note about this tower is that there is an anti-magic field surrounding it. No spells will work or can be cast inside. Also, there are 6 animated swords that are currently inactive due to the anti-magic field. No mention of their locations is given, so I placed one in each room in a dramatic position, such as in Room O2 where the sword is plunged straight through the burnt chair as if it stabbed someone sitting there. But in Room O1, I placed two of them in an umbrella stand right by the front door.

The anti-magic field was discovered immediately when they entered the tower and Riandon’s Mage Armor instantly winked out. Then Regizar took the bait and took both swords from the umbrella stand and slung them on his back. Tee hee. When they entered the second room, I had them hear footsteps upstairs and they immediately ran to investigate.

DH Gunslingers minis
My original idea for the Drow Gunslingers. But the pistols in their holsters weren’t recognizable.

On the top floor, they find three drow elves. One of them just grabbed something from the fireplace and he and another drow are running toward a window. But the players instantly recognize the third as the drow that shot at them outside the Elfstone Tavern so many months ago. Eragon should want revenge for almost dying at his hands and Regizar definately wants to pry the drow’s pistols from his cold dead hands. With a wicked smile on both their faces, Regizar and the drow (Soluun) begin fighting. But for everyone else, they run to the window after the other drow, and the chase is on!

Chases are weird in D&D. They can be fun and exciting, but even though the math works they still feel wonky. According to D&D, the average man can become exhausted after running just 250 feet. That’s less than 1/20th of a mile. And virtually every chase ends before 500 feet which is less than 1 city block.

Bob World Builder move
For some more fun videos about D&D rules vs. real life (and some other cool, nerdy D&D things) check out Bob World Builder on YouTube.

But ignoring that, the biggest issue with a chase is organizing it. Of course, you could just use a piece of scrap paper like everyone else. Or you could use my slightly better CHASE Tracking Sheet, which has all these pretty boxes to put your distances and dashes and obstacles and exhaustion levels in.

The first thing to keep track of when running a chase is the number of Dash Actions each participant has. That number is equal to 3 + the Constitution modifier. For instance, a player with a Constitution of 14 (+2 modifier) would have 5 Dash Actions to start. Any Dash Actions after that threshold number require the chase participant to roll a DC10 Constitution check of they suffer 1 level of exhaustion. This creates a downward spiral as the 1st level of exhaustion has all ability checks (including the ability to dodge obstacles in the chase) rolled with Disadvantage. Then the 2nd level halves movement speed until finally, the 5th level reduces the movement rate to zero and the chase is automatically over. Refer to the exhaustion rules in the PHB or, better yet, my Rules FOUR PAGE synopsis for more details.

Combat Basics
The Rules FOUR PAGE– 316 pages boiled down to 3 + some stolen homebrewed nonsense. You’re welcome.

The second thing to note is just how fast everyone is moving. The most common action in a chase is to Dash which will multiply your base movement by 2. An average speed of 30 becomes 60 feet per round. Don’t forget that some characters have a higher or lower speed and some others, like thieves, have an extra Dash action per round. For a thief, that often works out to 90 feet per round, or 17 miles per hour. Not bad. Unfortunately, if you actually play the chase as written in the book with the drow elves merely having a 40-foot lead on the party, then the chase will end in two rounds. 12 seconds. Not a very exciting chase.

To fix this, I moved the drow to 100 feet ahead of the players. No matter how fast the players are, this will allow for at least a couple of hazards to throw at them and make it exciting. Also, although the book does not state this, I would absolutely make a rooftop chase be difficult terrain, which will decrease everyone’s movement by half. This will drop the thief’s multiple dash actions down to 45 feet per round. That’s like being able to run up and down and across two rooftops in 6 seconds; still ridiculously fast but manageable.

Chase Tracking Sheet
The CHASE Tracking Sheet. Spaces to note speed, exhaustion, obstacles, etc. And if your chase actually goes longer than 20 rounds, then you’re running a marathon.

Next come all the Hazards. Most of the unique (and reasonably cool) hazards in the rooftop chase section of the book state that on a failed check to count the hazard as “X” number of feet of difficult terrain. Rather than try and figure out what 1/3 of 1/2 of 1/2 of a character base movement is, just subtract “X” from the total distance moved that round. For example, a dashing character with a Speed of 30 over difficult terrain has to scramble over 10’ wall. If he makes his ability save, great; he moves 30 feet over the rooftops this round (30’ move + 30’ dash x ½ for difficult terrain). If he fails the check, he moves 20 feet (30 – 10).

The most important rule to remember is to never make the math more important than the story. Keep the action moving. Think of the chase like a movie. Do you think James Bond or Jason Bourne worked out the distances between roofs, or the descent angle of the drops? NO! Just jump off the damn roof! If any issues arise with dividing odd numbers, just round up to the nearest 5, and most always rule in the player’s favor. When the Rule Lawyer claims that his prone character should still be able to move for half of 15, or 7.5 feet, just let him move for 10.

Quantum of Solace rooftop
Quantum of Solace – It may be one of the worst James Bond films, but it does have one of the best rooftop chases.

Back to hazards, the adventure makes an excellent suggestion of mapping out a chase route with obstacles beforehand. I did not do this, but wish I had. But I did note whenever the drow (who were in the front) encountered a structural obstacle so that the players would have to overcome the same challenge in the same place. Also, I placed the starting point of the chase (the tower) at Julbuck Alley in the Dock Ward. This location features the longest stretch of rooftops that ends at Mistshore (the presumed next location) and isn’t broken up by any large intersections that would force this chase onto the street. Although we still somehow managed to end up in the street.

Jarlaxle Chase Map
The far west corner of the Dock Ward. Julbuck Alley is on the back side of Sea Lion Street and has the longest stretch of rooftops heading toward Mistshore.

Back to our adventure. As soon as the drow exit through the window, they turn invisible. This is so the drow have a chance to get ahead of the players who normally be able to grab them immediately. The players are forced to scan the area looking for them. My players, who are getting savvier by the day, questioned the contrivance of this, and your players will probably do the same. Just explain to them that the drow were invisible before they entered the tower, it turned off when they entered, and it turned back on when they left. The magic is just suppressed, not dispelled. It’s still contrived but they accepted it, especially when the wizard’s Mage Armor turned back on as well.

I have the players all roll a Perception check. The roll is irrelevant, I just tell whoever rolls highest that they see the drow about three rooftops ahead of them, running toward the harbor. Okay, now the chase is on! Eragon the thief runs after them immediately with a total dash speed of 45’, as does the dwarf, Geraldine, but his max speed is only 25’. These drow and the thief quickly outpace the dwarf who immediately lags behind. BTW, the wizard uses his first round to activate Chuy, his Figurine of Wondrous Power that takes the form of a flying leopard that he can ride. Chuy’s Speed with a passenger is only 20’, but by flying he gets to use the Dash action without impediment,  and avoids all difficult terrain and any rooftop hazards.

Chuy Figurine2
Chuy the flying leopard Figurine of Wondrous Power. The party’s most used magic item, But I think that title will be surpassed by the thing they get next week.

Meanwhile, back in the tower, Regizar and Soluun are duking it out. They are evenly matched since Regizar is 6th level with like 70+ hit points. But if you are playing the adventure as written, your players will probably be about 3rd level, so you will need to reduce the damage output of this drow, especially his guns. But in my campaign, these two can go mano y drowo. They smacked each other around for a bit, but then I wanted to turn it up a notch. So, I had Soluun quick draw and shoot Regizar in the stomach at point blank range and then jump out the window. Regizar jumped out immediately after him and was instantly attacked by the two animated swords that he had grabbed earlier.

At this point, the chase was nuts. I had the two drow in the lead on one roof. Eragon the thief was two rooftops back but was gaining thanks to his bonus Dash actions, despite failing every single hazard along the chase. He slipped on loose shingles, had trouble scaling a dividing wall, and got pelted with rocks thrown by some punks on the street. The wizard, Regizar, was on Chuy 10 feet above and one house back and steadily gaining due to his unimpeded flight. Geraldine the dwarf was three houses back and rapidly falling behind despite passing every ability check; for instance, he just crashed through the wall, sending bricks flying everywhere. Next, about 5 houses back was the last drow gunslinger who now seems to be chasing the dwarf. And finally, the fighter, Regizar, who is bleeding profusely from the gut, and fending off two flying swords, pulling up the rear.

Jarlaxle Rooftop Chase minis
This took way longer than it should have to balance all these minis.

The dwarf has given up on chasing the lead drow. He turns around to run back toward the dark elf behind him. Seeing this, Soluun changes tactics, turning right, sliding off the roof and landing on the street below. Regizar, who is right on his heels, throws caution to the wind and launches himself off the roof to tackle his dark nemesis. I had really intended to have these drow escape once more and move on to the next encounter location that would lead directly to the big villain finale. But I did not consider just how much Regizar’s player, Andrew, hated this NPC nor how determined he was to get a hold of those guns.

I told Andrew that Regizar would take 2d6 damage plus two opportunity attacks from the swords. “Don’t care, I jump.” I gave him a DC 20 Athletics check to knock over the drow. “Whatever. I roll a 22.” I give him a DC 17 Acrobatics check to remain standing or fall prone. “Fine. I got a 12, so I guess I’m prone now.” The drow made his save and gets 2 attacks with advantage, plus here comes the flying swords again. “Good. Bring it on! It doesn’t matter what you do, this drow dies here and now. I want those guns!” He was gonna get those guns or die trying.

DH Drow minis
Here are the new versions of the drow gunslingers that the party was chasing. Soluun, the one destined to die, is in the middle. The other two are identical, as were their human disguises. Where did we meet them?

Needless to say, this was a fight to the finish. I had beefed up Soluun’s hit points, the animated swords were attacking everyone, and Regizar had already taken a fair amount of damage, but it didn’t matter. In the end, especially once the dwarf Geraldine joined in, Soluun was doomed, he just didn’t know it yet. Now the secret main villain of the entire season lay dead, in a pool of mud in an unnamed back alley in a forgotten corner of the Dock Ward. It’s not the epic finish I had planned for him, but it’s the one he got.

Meanwhile 200 feet down and 20 feet up, the chase is still running. Everyone had used up their free Dash actions and was running on fumes. (Except for Riandon who was fresh as a daisy on the back of Chuy.) Everyone had one point of exhaustion, but the party had only gained about 30 feet on the fleeing drow. This chase was either going to end quickly once one side had two levels of exhaustion, or it was going to take forever.

Chase Tracking Example
Here is my copy of today’s chase. It took almost an hour to run and we only ran 330 feet!

Again, I really wanted the dark elves to get away and move on to the next encounter. As the DM, I naturally want to run the story as written, but I didn’t account for the tenacity of the players. And if they get the Stone here then they miss out on the next cool set piece. So here’s Lesson 1 – The story isn’t written in the book; it’s played out on the table. I was unaware of just how sick the players were of having the Stone slip through their fingers time and time again (the biggest issue with this chapter), and like Riandon and those guns, they were determined to get this ridiculous item at all costs.

I was also unaware of the plot brewing in the head of Riandon’s player, James. He’d been biding his time, slowly gaining 10’ per round until he came within 60 feet, and Chuy had just managed to get him there. “After Chuy moves, I leap off his back and use my bonus action Misty Step to teleport 30 feet closer, and then I cast Web at the two drow which has a 30-foot range.” The other players cheered because they love it when they think that they’ve beaten me at my own game. And this time they really had. His plan was so good; I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Misty Step as a spell is a bonus action, but Benign Transposition, which was the Conjurer class feature that he was actually using here, is not. Lesson 2 – The Rule of Cool beats the rulebook, every time.

5e Books 3pack
These books are just jam-packed with things to ignore.

The web catches Fel’rekt, who failed his saving throw. But he is able to pass off the stone to his partner, Krebbyg. (Not that the players ever learned these names until the end. Another issue with this secret identity villain plot.) Krebbyg makes his saving throw and runs on, making his exhaustion check and running beyond the limit that would allow Riandon to move and cast another spell within range. I might be able to let him escape after all.

But Riandon isn’t done schooling me. “I run 15 feet. (His max distance over difficult terrain, without a dash action.) This makes the drow 45 feet away. I cast Entangle from my wand, which has a range of 60 feet!” And this time the drow fails his save, ensnaring him in a massive bramble of vines and roots. All the drow are dead or down. You have won possession of the Stone of Golorr! My players are loving it. But they ain’t done.

Stone of Golorr
Look, look. It’s the thing you’ve been chasing for weeks now. No, no, don’t look at those guns. Put them down.

Andrew – “I loot the corpse and take his guns and bullets.”

Jack – “I want a gun too.”

Owen – “These guys got guns? I want one.”

Andrew – “Check the other guys. I bet they got one. Hey, didn’t this guy have two?”

Me, regretting that I didn’t make these things crossbows from the start – “Yes.”

Andrew – “Great I take them both. How many bullets do I get? Ooh! We should call ourselves the Three Musketeers!”

Jack and Owen – “Awesome!” I should note that Andrew, Jack, and Owen are all friends in high school, and James, the younger brother, is the odd man out.

Me – “What about James? You have four guns.”

Andrew, blinded by gun lust – “What about him? These two guns are mine!”

Me – “He might want one. And there were Four Musketeers.”

James – “It’s fine Dad, I don’t really want one.”

Andrew – “See, he’s good. And it’s the Three Musketeers, Daaad.”

Me – “Yes, but if you actually read the book, you’d know there were really four. And remind me to pencil you in for a chat about sharing and inclusion.”

P.S. I really hate these guns!

Man in the Iron Mask
There are 4 Musketeers! Aramis, Athos, Porthos, and D’Artagnan. The fifth guy here is The Man in the Iron Mask, as seen in one of the better Musketeer films.

So, let’s talk about these stupid guns. I knew as soon as I read about them, that these were going to be a problem. I intended to make them into boring crossbows that my players would not care about, but I forgot all about that when I first revealed Soluun, bursting out of the saloon doors backward with his shooters blazing like a bad-ass western cowboy. What 15-year-old doesn’t want to be that guy? But now that they have them, this is all that they will focus on. Every combat will be a shoot-out. Every intimidation check will be a gun to the head. Every shopping trip will be a hold-up. It’s going to be exhausting. So, how to fix this?

The best way to fix them is to remove them. Seriously, make the gunslinger use poison-tipped crossbow bolts. But if you really want to have guns in your game, then make sure you diminish their usefulness. Make them a single-shot, barrel-loaded, flintlock pistols circa the 15th century. It takes one action to fire and two actions (rounds) to load, making them useless in melee combat. Their range is only 30/60 and their attack roll is Dexterity based which most fighters don’t use. The players will not have proficiency in the weapon, and must make every attack at disadvantage. The damage is 1d10, higher than any other one-handed attack, but there is no poison damage. That is a coating applied to the bullet by the drow and is not available to the players. Lastly, keep close count of the number of shots taken and bullets used. Unlike arrows and such, once they’re gone there is no way to replace them. The Dungeon Masters Guide has more rules related to firearms, but like their real-life counterparts, use with extreme caution.

Flintlock Pistols
Very dangerous. Do not touch!

Back to the alleyways and rooftops, I ask Jack and James what they want to do with their prisoners. Andrew and Owen, who are clearly the more murderous of the group, tell them to execute them. I tell them to shut up and that they are not there, this is for Jack and James alone. Being far more humane, Jack and James spare their lives.

One of the spared drow tells them, “The master will not forget this kindness. Your mercy here is exactly way we must bring peace to our not-so-different people. Sadly, some, like our friend Soluun, could not see beyond his hatred, and paid for it with his life.” Riandon asks who the master is and why he is hunting the Stone. The drow replies, “The master has always had a soft spot for you all, and all will be revealed in time.” Jack asks who they are. “I am Fel’rekt and this is my twin brother, Krebbyg. And we have met before, only you did not know that then. Now, I’d love to stay and chat some more, but it appears that the local constables have arrived right on time to arrest us. Best to go and make your excuses.”

DH Jarlaxle mini
And if these guys keep screwing up my plans, then they’re never going to meet this guy.

The Town Watch arrives and the group explains that the dead drow is the one responsible for shooting up “That Tavern” a few weeks back and the two tied up on the roof are his “buddies”. That Tavern was the Elfstone Tavern and it was only 5 days ago in game, but I’m the only one who keeps track of these details, so who cares. On Soluun’s body, the players also found another blueprint map to the Elven Temple, The Seldarine, which they turn over to the Watch. Jack asks about a reward.

“A reward?” the lead guard demands, “You’re lucky I don’t run you in for destruction of property and mayhem. Look at all these shingles and bricks here on the street. There’s webs and vines and panther poop (uhm, it’s a leopard) all over the rooftops, and who smashed through that wall? Get outta here before I start asking some uncomfortable questions about what you were even doing down here in the first place.”

City Watch
These guys only exist to wrap up any played out encounters. “Nothing to see here. Move along.”

The players beat a hasty retreat. By the way, James privately told me that after the heat dies down, he goes back to the tower with a sturdy chest and collects as many swords he can find inside. He is rewarded for his ingenuity with the sound of four sabers rattling around inside his box. Who needs guns when you can have an army of flying swords to fight your battles?

By the way by the way, I never got to run my Mistshore encounter. I didn’t have anything particularly memorable at the location, except for the moment of the drow’s escape. Before the players can reach the drow, they see an enormous metal turtle rise up out of the water. The drow hop on and with a mighty salute to the players, they sail off across the harbor, directly towards… Roll an Insight check please. Directly towards Zardoz Zord’s ship in the middle of the harbor. But alas, now I have to figure out a brand new way to get these guys to the end of the adventure.

Dragon Turle escape
This would have been the finale of the drow’s escape plan. However, they will never see it.

Next week, with the actual Stone of Golorr in hand, we come to the thrilling conclusion of the Summer season that ends with a massive mutiny on an out of control and burning pirate ship.

Don’t forget to check out my Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Resource Page for all the things I used to run this campaign. Maps, Handouts, Charts, Articles, a complete Campaign Diary, and more for the greatest adventure in the greatest city of the Forgotten Realms, Waterdeep.

As always, Lesson 3 – If the players beat you before you’re ready, let them and Game On!

“Well, I got two guns. One for each of ya!” – Doc Holliday, in Tombstone

 

6 thoughts on “D&D Diary – Waterdeep: Dragon Heist – Session 17

  1. Hi Rich, I really appriciate your blog and followed it in my game play as we started with D&D 5e. We played “Das schwarze Auge” for quite some time, but I switched back to D&D at the moment. Also played D&D as a student. We play as family here over in Germany to escape Covid reality, started with Phandolin and also my heroes (barbarian (13y), half-elf sourcerin (wife) and rogue (20y) ) just got the stone! It also did not get along my plan 😉
    The chase ended in the following scene: The last drow jumped on the turtle, followed by the 180 pound barbarian. The drow smiled wickedly, but then the turtle tilted, due to the weight, the drow was thrown up. The barbarian (2 attacks) swinged the blade, and of course, he rolled a 20. Epic kill of my NPC as he came down. Also all players enganged. Didn’t plan, but we had a lot of fun.
    Btw: I do not like the key search and now send them to the forge of fury to find a Durgeddin weapon to open the vault. Backstory is, that Renear’s father was fond of weapons and use the Durgeddin weapon as key. Worked well, they are almost entering stonetooth and of course, they will find the specific weapon right under a black dragon 🙂
    Thx for your blog, I will keep reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ich liebe es! What a great death for the evil drow. Keep me posted. I love to hear about how others played the same scene. Strangely, after my big finale, which I will post soon, my players can’t attune to the Stone and head off for a little dungeon crawl in the Forge of Fury! What are the odds? Auf Wiedersehen.

      Like

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