5 min read

The Dark House

After Volothamp Geddarm beseeches the party to find his lost friend Floon Blagmar, they find themselves deep in the Dock Ward, a literal war zone between rival gangs. But as they follow the trail, they find danger waiting for them.
A group of Zhentarim Kenku lay an ambush for the party.

You can find my prep notes for free on Patreon.

In the morning, an amped-up, over-caffeinated Volo greeted the party. He had been up all night trying to think of ways to help them. His solution? Hand the party a signed copy of the Waterdeep Enchiridion. He also took the opportunity to tell the party about Floon’s necklace, a detail he had forgotten the previous evening.

The players then set out to explore the city. Their first destination was the Skewered Dragon in the Dock Ward. On their way, I had them witness the Blood in the Streets encounter. They almost skipped over the entire encounter. But after I added some more detail into my descriptions of the men, Taman decided to speak with a City Watch official.

This is a purely informational encounter. It serves as an introduction to the conflict between the Xanatharian and Zhentarim. The mood and demeanor of the guard changed over the course of the short exchange. The more Taman pressed for information, the more agitated the guard became.

Realizing they were pressing their luck, they continued on to the tavern. It was a little difficult managing this scene. Ideally, it would have been the evening and there would have been plenty of patrons to speak with. However, it was mid-morning. I introduced two old, weathered-looking regulars and the head barmaid prepping for the afternoon crowd.

The Skewered Dragon Map by FoxGloveArmor

I hadn’t prepared much of the potential dialogue and information for this session. This made it a bit awkward. Especially since this was one of the first times that any of us had engaged in a critical encounter that wasn’t combat-centric.

In the end, she sent them to two regulars in the corner. After buying them a round, the party learned of a scuffle that occured down the road in front of Old Xoblob’s shop.

This was actually pretty fun and the party seemed to enjoy it. I used the trinket table from the DM’s Guide and there ended up being some fun items. Taman received a sleeping cap that prevented bad dreams and Viigo got a purple piece of metal.

The actual dialogue of this encounter was a struggle. It was difficult transitioning from a happy shopkeeper to someone who had info to share with them. I should have spent more time on the critical dialogue points as there was one more, later on, that felt forced.

After a few exchanges, Akta left the group and stepped outside. She passed her investigation check and they were able to follow the beads from Floon’s necklace north toward the warehouses.

Starting the third encounter, I stumbled. They stopped a random worker and asked about anything strange. I hadn’t thought about how to direct them to the actual house up to this point and so I split-balled it. Of all the rough encounters, this one was the best. I had the NPC call over a second NPC. Through this dialogue, the party learned about activity down Candle Alley at a place called ‘The Dark House’. Original, I know, but it’s what came to mind at the time.

So onward to the actual warehouse scene. In preparing for this I used The Monsters Know What They Are Doing to guide me in Kenku combat. Some of the key takeaways are:

  • They prioritize surprise.
  • They will flee if gravely injured
  • Half engage in melee while the rest pepper the party with ranged attacks.

The party was successful in sneaking across the open space and up to the large loading bay door. They managed to get it open without detection. And then… They started discussing what their plan should be. They had seen the Kenku and I had the battle map up and suddenly they were just standing in the doorway going… How do we want to handle this?

I let them discuss for a few moments before deciding to force their hand. One of the Kenku started to make his rounds, checking on the doors and such. Taman, who was still standing in the doorway had to make a Stealth check to see if he could slip out of sight unnoticed.

He failed. Roll initiative.

In the first round, I gave the patrol a surprise advantage since the Kenku were on high alert. He managed to lose a crossbow bolt and hit Taman. Then the real battle began.

It was interesting watching it play out. I’ll post the battle map below, but Taman was taken out of the battle right away. He used his rogue skills effectively and was able to take cover behind some barrels. But he didn’t do much else.

The rest of the party charged in and immediately engaged the two melee combatants. It wasn’t a hard battle but where it got interesting was when the second to last Kenku decided to flee.

He turned tail and ran around the barrels and crossed Taman’s line of sight. This left Taman with a decision. He didn’t have enough movement to hurdle the barrels and get close enough to the Kenku to attack. And his low health meant that a solid hit would render him unconscious at best. So he defaulted to a knife throw. The throw was at a disadvantage because the kenku was standing behind a supporting post. It missed.

Now the party was starting to panic. They couldn’t let him get away! So Akta, the tiefling paladin, used her dash action to close all but 5 feet of distance to the fleeing kenku. Here is where understanding your narrative comes into play. In our version, devils have been appearing with increasing frequency throughout the city. The kenku was aware of this. So, when a tiefling, complete with horns and tail, charged at him at full speed, shouting ‘Stop!’, the Kenku's reaction was to drop to the ground, cowering in fear.

As the battle concluded the rest of the party joined Akta. They teased Taman about his hiding tactics. Then, they noticed a massive draco-lich skeleton (an idea I borrowed from Sly Flourish) in the next room. The sight was both awe-inspiring and terrifying, inducing a sense of dread (prompting a Constitution saving throw) in everyone. They all passed.

They tied up the Kenku and began their interrogation. As he switched between three different voices, they learned about Floon's fate, ending with the phrase, ‘Xanathar sends his regards’. They left him tied to a pole and explored further, eventually finding the closet where Renear was hiding.

Once he felt safe, Renear emerged and briefed them on the situation:

  • Bandits had kidnapped Floon and himself the previous night.
  • They knew something was in his locket and they took whatever it was
  • He had no idea the locket even opened
  • Some other group ambushed his kidnappers
  • Floon was upstairs under interrogation
  • He believes that they took Floon thinking it was him
  • He used the chaos as an opportunity to hide. Oh, and give me a sword.

And with that, we concluded session one.

Session Takeaways

Prepare critical dialogue

I have since watched an interview that Sly conducted with Matt Mercer, where he shared some valuable tips on preparing dialogue.

  • Establish the NPC's goal
  • Identify what is driving the NPC
  • Establish why the NPC is important