This is it! The epic showdown between the Saviors and the Bregan Daerth. All during a massive mutiny on a burning pirate ship.
When last we left our heroes, they had learned the true hiding place of the Stone of Golorr, this adventure’s McGuffin. But when they arrived, they saw the drow gunslingers who have been shadowing them the whole time, running away with it. A madcap chase over the rooftops of Dock Ward ensued. The drow were supposed to escape and lead them to the finale. But I had not accounted for the player’s determination or perseverance.
They killed one of the drow and captured two others, and gained possession of the Stone. Even worse, the drow that they killed was Soluun Xibrindas, the evilest one of this gang, and the one whom I had set up to be the true main villain of the season. Sure, Jarlaxle Baenre is the listed “villain” of the season, but his goals are noble, his methods are merely mischievous, and the means by which he is officially defeated are anti-climactic. Plus, Jarlaxle is nigh-impossible to beat in a fight, and not having an enemy to defeat in combat just wouldn’t feel satisfying to my particular group of murder hobos.
But Soluun, a high-ranking lieutenant in Jarlaxle’s organization is perfect. My players are just high enough level that they can take him on in combat. I added subplots, a scheme to blow up a temple and extra homebrewed encounters with this guy just so my players would hate him and want to kill him. But my plan worked too well and they killed him too soon and now I need to find a new way to lead the group to the season finale.
So, a tenday after the chase on the rooftops, everyone is back at the Trollskull Tavern. In the middle of the night, Regizar, who is holding the Stone, is woken up by a drow elf rummaging through his room. I don’t care if Regizar kills, captures, or chases this guy. Neither did Regizar, who shockingly just let him run away. But it doesn’t matter, on the floor they find something the dark elf dropped. It’s a flyer for the Sea Maidens’ Faire and on the back is a note with the address to their home. One of the players recognizes the handwriting as that of Zardoz Zord.
But Zardoz Zord has been nothing but a friendly ally toward the party even if a few of the crew members on board his ships were pretty hostile to them. But like intelligent players who know when the DM hangs a sign that says, “The adventure is this way,” they all agree to go down to the docks and check it out.
When they arrive, two of Zardoz’s ships are tied up at the dock as usual. Then they see a half dozen drow running up the gangplank of the “Hellraiser”. They are yelling to the rest of the crew on board, “Cast off! Cut the lines! We were betrayed!” The drow are barely on the deck, when the gangway is shoved aside and the ship begins to pull away from the dock. I have the players roll a Perception check and they notice that a couple of small creatures also snuck on board using the mooring lines just before the drow cast off. For some reason, the players suspect that these are members of the Halfling thieves’ group. They are wrong, but I don’t correct them.
The ship is moving quickly away from its berth; it must be powered by magic. It will be only a few moments before the ship clears the end of the dock. There are a few mooring lines and a net still dangling over the sides of the ship; if you hurry, you might just grab one. The group sprints down the wharf chasing after the ship, the dwarf pulling up the rear as usual.
Everyone rolls an Athletics check to see if they can grab onto a rope before the ship escapes into the harbor. All except Riandon; he casts Misty Step and teleports himself directly onto the deck. Eragon crushes his roll and I let him choose what part of the ship he wants to climb up to. Regizar barely makes his roll, in fact he initially missed, but by using the magic of the Zietbrille to alter reality one more time, he manages to grab the one of the lines. Geraldine the dwarf leaps off the dock just as the ship clears the last plank, aiming for the last rope trailing in the water…
I love epic finales (who doesn’t), and I’ve been planning this one for months. Although not really described in the adventure, I knew from the start that I wanted to have a massive fight on the deck of one of these ships. I wanted to use the Heartbreaker, which I renamed the Hellraiser, because this ship houses all the circus animals and I intend to use that complication later. In my initial plan, the ship stayed in the dock, but by setting the boat racing out to sea, it gave the scene more urgency, isolation, and danger.
Not surprisingly, this battle was long and complicated. Having minis and a good battle map will really help to show where things are. But even without them, if you just take your time, describe where everything is, and help your players understand the unique nature of this encounter, then this will be a fantastic and unforgettable fight. The deck has three different levels. This confused one of my players initially, but he understood it once an enemy started targeting him from a different section of the ship.
I chose to separate the players onto different sections of the ship, based upon their skill at grabbing the ropes. Not only did this increase the challenge and the tension of the battle, but it also allowed me to subtly pull an enemy away from an overwhelmed player to one who isn’t. Of course, if they had come up with a plan to get them on board as a group, then I would have played it that way. But they didn’t. I planned for this to play out like a story, with a number of narrative beats, so forgive me if I forego the game mechanic descriptions in this recap.
Riandon materializes at the bow of the ship just as Eragon slips quietly on board in the aft castle where the ship’s wheel is located. Regizar is clinging to one of the mooring ropes; it will take him a few moments to climb up to the main deck. Hopefully Geraldine made it to one of the ropes, but the group has lost sight of her.
On deck, there is a hive of activity but there are no drow to be seen anywhere; just the usual human sailors, some hoisting sails, some hauling up the anchor, some pausing to catch their breath. The only one my players recognize is the Captain, whom they had dinner with ages ago along with Zardoz Zord. Even back then, this Captain took an instant disliking to the group and his unwarranted hatred has only gotten worse. He yells to his crew, “Repel boarders! Kill the stowaways and throw their bodies overboard. But leave the elven scum to me. I’ll kill him myself!”
With a hearty pirate, “Argh!” most of the crew turns to attack the players, drawing curved scimitars and some even have the same pistols wielded by the drow gunslingers. But a few sailors refuse this order. A senior mate on the main deck cries back, “No, Captain! You know what the Jubbuk (which means “master” in the drow language) has said. These men are not to be harmed. This is not the Bregan way.”
The captain is furious. “You worthless dog! You would be a slave to this darthirii (elven) filth? If you are not with us, you are against us. This is a mutiny! Kill the traitors. Let them share the fate of the surface dwellers!” The Mutiny of the SS Hellraiser has begun.
Eragon the dragonborn thief has managed to sneak on board without being seen. He is standing atop the aftcastle, along with the Captain, a single mate at the wheel, and one of those difficult-to-kill Nimblewright automatons. Creeping up behind the nefarious machine, Eragon draws one of the pistols they obtained last week, aims it point-blank at the back of the robot’s chrome plated dome, pulls the trigger, and… The gun misfires with an ominous “click”. The metal construct slowly pivots his head 180 degrees to face his challenger, his eyes glowing red with fury. He draws his sword and the battle is joined. Eragon puts up a good fight, but alone he is clearly outmatched.
Meanwhile, Riandon the elven wizard chose to teleport to the bow of the ship, also called the forecastle (or the fo’c’s’le if you want to sound real pirate-y.) His first action was to cast Sleep on the crowd on the main deck. He instantly regretted it as he wasn’t sure if he was targeting enemies or allies. He put three crewmen into an eternal slumber from which they would never awake. One was up on the mast and he fell over thirty feet into the open cargo hold. The other two were ultimately washed overboard.
Next, the Captain immediately casts Mage Armor which subsequently freaked out the group as they did not expect to face off against another magic-user in this battle. (Although I had hinted at it in a previous session). He vaults over the railing, landing on the upper deck, runs to the next railing and launches one of his most devastating spells, Lightning Bolt, directly at his elven enemy, Riandon, who is on the opposite end of the ship. The bolt streaks towards its target, but Riandon sees it just in time. He casts Counterspell which, in this case, deflects the spell and it strikes the eerily beautiful figurehead on the bow. The carved statue seems to absorb the damage but doesn’t shatter, and the whole ship bucks violently, seemingly in pain.
All the while, Regizar the human fighter is desperately trying to climb up his rope and onto the deck to join the fray. To make matters worse, one of the crewmen is trying to cut the rope he is clinging to and another is constantly shooting down at him from his vantage point on the deck. It took every ounce of Strength and Dexterity, plus all his skill in Athletics just to maintain his hold, all while dodging bullets and attempting to climb a wet, slippery and fraying rope while being soaked by countless waves, and bruised by the hardwood planks of the bouncing boat.
Amidst all this, a massive battle rages among the crew. There is fighting on all three decks and even up in the riggings. Sailor versus sailor, mate versus mate, brother versus brother; it is impossible to tell who is on which side. The fighting even spreads to the wheel deck and the pilot is knocked away from his position and a combat ensues over the control of the ship. The ship heaves to and fro as it is buffeted by the crashing waves and the erratic steering of the ship.
Eragon is in way over his head all by himself on the wheel deck. The Nimblewright has severely wounded him and he is out of options. In a panic, he considers jumping off the boat and into the harbor, despite being unable to swim. In a desperate move, Eragon runs to the edge and jumps off while slinging his grappling hook to grab the railing. His aim is true, and before the dragonborn drowns in the drink, the hook pulls tight, and the thief rappels down to the lower deck, crashing through a window into the Captain’s Quarters. He spent a round recuperating with a refreshing healing draught and then he did what rogues do best. He looted the place clean, grabbing some very valuable baubles and even finding the Captain’s precious spellbook. If Riandon survives, he’ll be very happy.
However, the odds of this are getting slimmer and slimmer. Riandon is the only party member still fighting on the deck and he is surrounded by angry pirates. He casts Thunderwave on the group pressing in on him, killing one outright and knocking another over the bow into the foaming headwater where he was crushed by the keel of the ship. With this slight respite, he planned to focus his attention on the figurehead because he thought that it powered the ship. He’s half right. But then the Captain called upon all his demonic forces and summoned forth a Shadow Demon.
This was the first true summoning witnessed by the party. A black, empty void opened in mid-air before the Captain’s feet. Out of it rose a terrifying aberration. A creature of smoke and shadow and darkness. A phantasm of nothingness. A visage of death. With cold, steely purpose, it glided menacingly across the deck, right through one of the masts, straight toward Riandon, who is about to be in the fight of his life. To make matters worse, the Captain also casts Witch Bolt, another previously unseen spell, that creates a tether between Riandon and the evil Captain, sapping the health from our good wizard each round.
But all is not lost; Regizar has finally climbed on board and joined the fray. He immediately kills the sailor who tried to cut his line and then turns to face the bastard who has been shooting at him the whole time. This foe was supposed to be Soluun, my main villain in disguise, so that Regizar could have a proper one-on-one battle with his nemesis here on the deck of the out-of control ship. But since Soluun got himself perished last week, Regizar now faces off against this nameless and expendable gunslinger. But this is still an evenly-matched toe-to-toe fight between two warriors who won’t back down and will give no quarter.
Both fighters are bloodied after a few rounds. During the melee, the sailor is cursing at our hero in what they now recognize as the drow tongue. “Dos elggen ussta dalninuk. El go’h!” Regizar doesn’t know what this means or why this human speaks drow, but it can’t be good. Then finally, the tide may have turned. In a perfectly executed feint, Regizar disarms his opponent and has him at his mercy. But the sailor would rather die than surrender to this rivval (human).
The sailor throws himself at Regizar, attempting to grapple him and shove him overboard. The two become entangled, but the sailor can’t quite knock him off the ship, but neither can Regizar break the hold. With a complete disregard for his own life, the fanatical crewman pushes both himself and Regizar over the railing to plummet into the hungry waters below. The moment the two go over the edge, the human sailor instantly transforms into an elven drow pirate. It was all an illusion! With a wicked grin, satisfied that his death is also the death of his enemy, the newly discovered dark elf accepts his fate and is swallowed by the sea. Regizar flails frantically and fails to grab onto any lifeline. He is about to suffer an agonizing and horrific death by drowning…
Until a hand reaches out and grabs Regizar by the wrist at the very last moment, saving him from a watery grave. Geraldine the dwarf managed to grab a line after all, and has been struggling to climb on board this whole time. With renewed vigor, and by helping each other, our two actual fighters quickly climb back onto the deck and finally rejoin the battle.
And not a moment too soon, with the thief still MIA on his private little heist, the wizard has taken the brunt of the attacks. He’s been forced to engage the Shadow Demon in melee combat since it is immune to most of Riandon’s magical attacks and he still has to defend against several sailors and is still being ravaged by the Captain’s Witch Bolt. Sensing the mortal danger his elven friend is in, Geraldine unleashes her most powerful spell, Guiding Bolt, and she calls forth all the divine smite she can muster. A beacon of light bursts from the heavens, striking the satanic beast straight through the heart, obliterating it in a pulse of radiant energy.
At the same time, as Regizar climbs back onto the deck, he yells out to his friends, “They’re all drow! Drow in disguise!”, as he guts another sailor who falls to the deck, dead. But before he can act upon his discovery, he must face the Nimblewright, in what will become another epic showdown of man versus machine. Thankfully, Riandon also put it all together, and now that he is freed from his battle with the shadow demon, can focus his attention on the figurehead.
Moving toward the wooden statue, and conveniently out of range of the Captain’s spell, severing the connection, Riandon draws his Wand of Phlogiston (a fascinating word, look it up). Using the wand, he casts Aganazzar’s Scorcher, completely immolating one sailor, and inundating the figurehead; setting it and the bow of the ship on fire. With the carving destroyed, its magic no longer functions. Instantly, every single sailor on the ship, including the Captain, the unconscious, and the deceased, transforms back into their natural dark elven form. Our heroes exclaim in unison, “I knew it.”
The deck of the pirate ship is pure pandemonium. The ship is out of control, no one is at the helm, parts of the ship are on fire, and if anything, the fighting has gotten worse. The battle rages on all three decks, with the desperate, dead and dying flung to and fro with the erratic lurching of the ship, sliding across the decks slick with the swirling mix of blood and sea water. It is everything our heroes can do just to remain on their feet. But amidst the chaos, the enraged Captain floats like a rock, oblivious to the impending death of his ship, intent only on the destruction of the despicable elf, Riandon. He prepares to cast another devastating spell that will probably doom his ship, but will at least kill his hated adversary.
It is upon this scene that Eragon enters from his private tour of the Captain’s Quarters. Determined to stop the ship and keep it from drifting out to sea or being dashed upon the rocks, Eragon runs to the anchor hoist and releases it, sending the anchor plunging into the murky depths of Waterdeep harbor. Just as the Captain casts his spell, the anchor snags on a rock at the bottom of the bay.
The ship violently heaves to one side, sending everyone flying to the port side of the ship. Only Regizar, Riandon, the Nimblewright, and one random sailor manage to stay on their feet. Several sailors and most of the dead are flung over the side. But the worst reaction is the captain. The Fireball spell he intended for Riandon, instead flies right into the open cargo hold and explodes in one of the lower decks. This ignites the barrels of smokepowder in that hold, rocking the ship with another huge explosion, blowing out a portion of the hull. The ship is now sinking!
With most of the crew decimated, it doesn’t take long for the thief and the fighter to destroy the dreaded Nimblewright. Likewise, the mage and the cleric team up to take out the Captain. It’s only a matter of time. Time they do not have. As the Captain draws his final breath, he spits out one last curse, “Better to die on my feet, than drown like you pathetic worms!”
Our heroes, and the few remaining drow who fought by their side, are left to contemplate those prophetic last words. They are stranded over a mile from shore, none of them can swim, nothing is nearby, and the ship has just minutes left before it is consumed by the cold, uncaring grasp of Umberlee. But then a sight they did not expect. Zardoz Zord, the man himself, accompanied by a few drow bodyguards, comes running up to the main deck from a lower hold. “Thank Eilistraee you are alive. Tell me quickly what has happened here.”
Hotly, Regizar accuses, “Your comrade, the Captain, is a drow who tried to kill us and blew up his own ship!”
One of the dark elven sailors attests, “It’s true, Jabbuk. The Captain has betrayed you.”
“What is going on here?” Riandon demands.
“There is no time to explain. Please, you have no reason to trust me, but do me one last favor. Save my animals in the hold below whilst I salvage what crew I can. Do this, and I will explain everything to you. Take this.” Zardoz Zord throws them a non-descript piece of black cloth. “When you are done, meet me at the bottom of the ship.”
“The bottom? But we’re sinking!” the party cries in unison.
“Aye, the bottom. Trust me.”
Taking a gamble, our heroes run down to the middle deck, where the circus animals are kept in the stern of the ship. The party is currently in a forward hold and it is a smashed pile of boxes, crates, parade floats, and webs, lots of webs. The deck below is completely submerged in water and it is quickly flooding this deck. The entire ship is pitched forward. Getting to the back of the ship is like climbing up a steep, wet hill. But before they can even do that, several of the parade floats that are painted up like giant spiders move in to attack.
These are actual giant spiders merely painted in carnival colors. The party saw these before during their tour of the ship, but they didn’t seem real then. They seem quite real right now. The fight is short and sweet and terrifying as the water is rising faster than our heroes can kill these annoying pests.
But soon the vibrant arachnids are dead and left to float long with the rest of the jetsam in the hold. They get to the animal pens just as the water begins to flood the area. There is a drow dressed like a lion tamer, crushed beneath several crates, but he is still barely alive.
“How do we release the animals?” Riandon pleads.
The wrangler gasps, “These levers will set them free.” I intended this drow to die, but the group freed him and healed him and eventually returned him to Zardoz Zord.
Throwing caution to the wind, the group pulls all of the levers and over 20 pens are opened simultaneously. Dozens upon dozens of animals file out into the central corridor. Lions, tigers, and bears (oh, my) plus elephants, gorillas, wolves, giraffes, rhinoceroses, and a few more monstrous; giant beetles, death dogs, even a very angry owlbear and an enormously nasty vulture-like thing that is more demon than bird.
Panicked and knowing that the only way out is through our heroes, the animals charge toward them. Eragon spreads the cloth in front of the rampaging zoo. The cloth spreads out to become a Portable Hole. The menagerie tumbles into the inter-dimensional space two by two; a portable ark you can carry in your pocket. Even the owlbear fell in the hole; though it did take a swipe at the wizard as it fell. Only the vulture-beast avoided this fate. He flew over their heads, out the open cargo hold, and was gone; I hope that doesn’t come back to haunt them later. (It will). Now don’t bother thinking about the actions of the animals once they’re in the hole, or how much oxygen there is, just go with it.
As the heroes turn to run down further into the submerged ship, they hear a cry for help coming from the forward hold where they fought the spiders. Obligated to investigate (they are allegedly heroes after all), they wade through the flooding chamber to find the four urchins with whom they’ve had few encounters. These urchins almost ran them over with an apple cart, accidentally, in Session 14 and threw rocks at them, accidentally, in Session 17. They were the shadowy figures the group saw board the ship earlier. One of the urchins, a grey elf, is stuck to the ceiling by webs and the others are vainly trying to free him. “Help us,” they plead.
Shockingly, our heroes consider letting them drown. (I guess they were still mad about the rocks.) Ultimately, they do the right thing and save the children. It is a simple matter to free the trapped urchin, Aeluss, but by the time they trudged back to the stairway down, it is completely flooded. They debate ditching Zardoz’s plan and going back up to the deck and jumping overboard. But they decide to trust Zardoz one last time.
Taking a deep breath, they swim deeper and deeper into the bowels of the sinking ship, praying for a miracle. Just as they run out of oxygen, they swim through some sort of force field and fall down the remaining stairs into a pocket of air on the lowest deck of the ship. Two deep gnome spellcasters are holding the water at bay with their incantations. “Hurry! Into the hatch. We can’t hold this much longer,” one of the gnomes tells them. They notice an open circular hatch in the floor on the bottom of the boat and climb inside. The two gnomes dive in right after and seal the hatch just before the deluge of water floods this new underwater vessel. Welcome to the Scarlet Marpenoth.
Inside the submarine, Zardoz Zord is there along with a half dozen gnomes and 10 very wet and bedraggled drow elves. With the heroes, the urchins, and all the drow, it is very crowded inside the vessel. The kids spend the entire time fascinated, staring out the portholes. Zardoz asks for the return of his Portable Hole, which Eragon begrudgingly gives back him. Eragon was already making plans if he ever gets his own Hole. After a short underwater excursion, so short that you couldn’t possibly start a conversation in it, the Scarlet Marpenoth docks beneath Zardoz Zord’s flagship, the Heartbreaker.
As everyone climbs out of the submarine, all of the drow turn into human versions of themselves as soon as they enter the ship. Zardoz asks a sailor to go and turn off the illusion, so that there are no more secrets between friends. Moments later, all of the human sailors revert once more into drow elves. Zardoz hands the Portable Hole to another sailor and tells him to get the animals into their temporary cages. Hopefully, not too many of them have been eaten. Zardoz leads the group up to the dining room. Once they are seated, Zardoz Zord says, “I apologize for all the deception. Allow me to introduce myself.” And as he takes off his hat with a flourish, “I am Jarlaxle Baenre,”
With his Hat of Disguise removed, the rugged, bearded, human, circus ringleader is transformed into a handsome, debonair, and suave dark elf rogue who is surprisingly, completely bald. “I am Jarlaxle Baenre, leader of the Bregan Daerth, a mostly merry band of drow elves. I apologize for the group of dangerous drow that you have so adroitly exposed. They were not working under my orders. Clearly, they were unable to give up their own hatred and they have paid dearly for it. I’m embarrassed to say that I was oblivious to their malice. I had so hoped that they could be turned from the all-too-common drow’s destructive destiny.”
“As a group, we are not so very different than your precious Harpers or even the Lord’s Alliance. In fact, our goal was to use the Stone of Golorr and return the rumored gold to the city in return for accepting Luskan, our adopted home, into its ranks. But until we can be accepted as a people, we use the Sea Maidens’ Faire as a cover, and, besides, bringing joy to thousands and thousands with our carnival is actually quite fun.”
“You may know me best as Zardoz Zord, but you’ve also met me as Rongquan Mystere and even Lady Silverhand, and I’d appreciate if you kept that one quiet, as it is not strictly legal to impersonate a lord, even as a lark.” During this announcement, Jarlaxle doffed his hat and transformed into each different persona and then back to Jarlaxle. “But you must have some questions for me.”
Eragon wants to know, “What about all those drow that tried to kill us?”
“I just recently learned that Soluun Xibrindas, the one you killed in the Dock Ward, and those loyal to him, had a plan to blow up an elven temple, The Seldarine. I think you played a part in exposing that plan. Plus, Captain Besham, whose real name is Tylan Xibrindas was Soluun’s brother.” (A detail added just now to make the captain the new villain following Soluun’s death.) “In fact, they have another brother, N’arl, who was working undercover for us with the Xanathar gang, but I believe that he has betrayed me as well. I certainly wouldn’t mind if you killed that one too.”
Out of the blue, Riandon asks, “So you don’t actually speak with the “ye” and “thee” thing?” (Referring to the speech pattern I used during Jarlaxle’s disguises.)
“Good gods, no. Nobody speaks like that. I just did it to see if ye would catch on. And ye didn’t. In fact, I only know one person who talks like that, and he’s a right pompous ass.”
“So, why all the disguises?” Regizar asks.
“First, it’s hilarious. Second, people only trust what they can see. Without a disguise they’d only see an evil, untrustworthy dark elf. We keep our true form hidden because your surface dweller prejudices are quite strong, but we are not all the boogeymen that your children’s tales would have you believe. Speaking of children, who are these ragamuffins and how are they involved in all this?”
Regizar answers, “They are just some street urchins that we found in the lower hold.”
One of the urchins chimes in, “We only snuck on board to see the animals. Then those big rainbow spiders attacked us. They webbed up Aeluss, and if these guys hadn’t saved us, we would have died!”
Jarlaxle is curious about the young grey elf and takes a long look at him. “You say your name is Aeluss? Someone has a mean sense of humor. In my language, Aeluss means “abandoned one”. Or in other words, a bastard. It’s remarkable; you look just like I did as a pup.” Then turning back onto our heroes, “Do you know anything about this child?”
Riandon, who has been paying attention to these things, says, “I think Lady Yalah Gralhund is the mother, and if you are also Rongquon, then you might be the father.”
“You say, I have a son? Blessed Eilistraee, it must be so! And you have saved him. You saved my son! I am in your debt. This is a glorious day! I have a son.”
“My child, would you be willing to travel with a crazy old man upon the seventeen seas, where I will teach you all my knowledge and the ways of your people? And who knows, with your heritage, you may someday be the bridge between our two races.” Aeluss nods in agreement.
“Splendid! But I can’t call you Aeluss, it’s too cruel. You will be named Farjaliuss, which means Precious and Beloved to our people. And as for your three friends, they need never sneak onboard again. They are welcome anytime to see the animals. My man will take you now to visit them if you’d like.
Turning back to the heroes, “I cannot thank you enough. You have exposed a cancer that would have ruined years of hard work. and you have rescued my own kin. Though you are not ilythiiri drow, you will forever be welcomed in the ranks of the Bregan Daerth. But you need a more public honor. From this day hence, you will be the Sea Maiden’s Champions. We will make a float in your honor. Our bards will sing your praises, with a few minor alterations. You will always be our honored guests. And if ever you need assistance, use this and I will render whatever aid I can.” Jaraxle hands them a single rock with a spider’s skull etched in it; one of a pair of Sending Stones.
“I have just one more small favor to ask. Would you be willing to keep our secret, under our hat, as it were? I give up all claims to the Stone of Golorr. The gold means nothing compared to this. But be warned, others will seek the treasure with far greater malice than I and be far less gracious about it. And once you’ve found it, you will find it nigh-impossible to keep it. But good luck. Inviddus dro zhah inlul. Life is empty, til we meet again.”
And thus, we finally concluded the Summer Season of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. Next, we spent over an hour just talking about it. Wrapping up loose ends and explaining things that I failed to properly describe the first time. What happened to the two captured drow? They were released; running on roof is not a crime. What’s in the Captain’s spellbook? Lots of new spells, but not the demon summoning one, that’s an innate power. What would have happened if we investigated the blueprint? You would have been framed for the mapmaker’s murder and had a big fight in the Seldarine Temple. Is the Aeluss storyline in the adventure? Nope, completely homebrewed.
It’s good to have a talk following a long and convoluted roleplaying excursion. This denouncement is a good way to clear the air with your players. Peel back the curtain a little bit so they can better understand what just happened. Now, the next adventure can begin with a clean slate. Sure, there may be elements that carry over to the next chapter. For example, why do the Gralhunds have a symbol of Asmodeus in one of their letters? But mostly they can start fresh and not worry about the details that only pertained to this part of the adventure.
I really liked this season of the adventure. Personally, I love that the main bad guy isn’t “bad”. Jarlaxle is incredibly cool and a great antagonist, but he isn’t a good villain. I had to do a lot of manipulations to provide the players with a proper BBEG and set up a (hopefully) awesome “origin” story about how Jarlaxle came to be an ally of the group in a natural way that still felt character motivated. Also, since I don’t want the players to find the treasure until later, I had to wrap up the season with a completely different finale. All while constantly adjusting things when the players didn’t go along with my plan. Which is always; your players will always ruin your plans. Be prepared for it.
The other unique element of this particular villain is that it is really a mystery adventure. Who is Jarlaxle? My players knew from the book cover that the villain of this season was Jarlaxle by name, but they hadn’t read the Drizzt novels, so this little bit of fan service meant nothing to them. Plus, they never interact with Jarlaxle himself (just his disguises) until the very end. And the book doesn’t do a very good job of unveiling the mystery.
I tried to have a number of clues for the players to pick up on. All his disguises spoke with the same mannerisms, plus there were various journal entries and some very suspicious NPCs. I had four handwritten notes, all allegedly written by different people, yet all created using the same font, Blackadder, to lead them to realize that these were all the same person. But they never even found the fourth letter. I had expected them to do a little more stealth searching on either Zardoz Zord’s ship or Rongquan’s theater, but they didn’t, and at the time I didn’t think to just have them “find it on the floor.” It seemed that with every tantalizing clue, the players would veer away from it at the last second. In the end, I just told them that the handwriting on the final note was identical to that of Zardoz, just so they would think to investigate his ship
But no matter, they got to the end, and I was very happy with it even if I had to lead them to it. Don’t feel bad if your players don’t get all of the nuances of your story either. Very few players are self-directed enough to create their own satisfying endings, and are perfectly content to just follow along with the story you want to tell. So, try and make it a good one.
Epilogue: The story of the foiled bombing, hijacked ship, and explosion at sea made the paper (although none of the facts were accurate), and for days after, drow elves continued to wash up on the shore. Tales were also told of a giant vulture demon that now lives on Mount Waterdeep and swoops out of the sky to steal cattle and goats on the way to market. The Sea Maiden’s Faire held its final show during the Midsummer Festival and as promised, our heroes were the honored guests, hailed as the Sea Maiden’s Champions. A float was made recreating the battle, though all the drow sailors were replaced by generic pirates.
Life returns to normal at the Trollskull Tavern (for now). A day after the carnival set sail for another port of call, there is a knock at the door. No one is around when the door is opened, but there is a brightly painted wagon with a note: “With my compliments, to my Champions and Confidants, ZZ & JB”. In the wagon, are a number of boxes and a large cage. There are a dozen kegs of Jasmarim Shadow, a particularly potent dark elven wine, for Geraldine. The giant cage holds an owlbear for Riandon’s zoo. An elaborate box for Regizar contains two engraved pistols and more ammunition. And Eragon get a scrap of black cloth; it’s his own Portable Hole. My god, what have I done?
Going back inside, Lif the poltergeist bartender has found another table to replace the one that was broken in a bar fight with some undead. This new table is unique in that it is also a carved map of the region. It also has a mysterious note etched on it addressed to the players and a few other bits of forshadowing. But this table and the carvings are over 100 years old! Ignoring this enigma, of more immediate importance, it has the location of a town called Blasingdell. This is the missing starting point to a treasure map that the players got ages ago in the Lost Mine of Phandelver, Session 14. Who’s up for a road trip to another monster-infested lair, where we can kill everything in sight?
Next week, we take a long-deserved break from the civilized city shenanigans of Waterdeep, to do a little dungeon delving in The Forge of Fury as presented in Tales From the Yawning Portal.
BTW, not that my players ever explored this area, but the combination to the safe in Jarlaxle’s bedroom is actually the birthday of his creator, R. A. Salvatore.
As always, your players will ruin all your plans. Be forewarned, and Game On!
There are reasons for things that a casual observer might not understand. – Jarlaxle Baenre