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Devil in the Details
Durnan was absent from his normal post the following morning. Bonnie, looking equal parts frustrated and concerned, didn’t know where he would be.
This piqued the party’s interest. Clearly their conversation the previous night had struck a chord. Wanting to help where they could, they spent the morning traveling to Mirt’s mansion. They hoped to see if they could find any clues.
Investigating the back entrance where they had seen the men turned up little. The door itself was solid, but cause Viigo to pause. It was, in his opinion, too flimsy to be an exterior door. Akta, investigating the road, found a rolled cigarette among the multitude of wheel tracks. Not much foot traffic came this way. Everything looked in order.
They surveyed the exterior of the house, looking for any obvious points of entry. Realizing Mirt likely knew how to protect himself, Finzu crept close to a window and peaked in. A thin silver line caught the morning light and he was able to trace it to the trigger of the trap. Figuring it was best to leave it alone, they began the trek across the city to Trollskull Manor.
Picking their way through the Dock Ward, movement in a side alley caught their eyes. Taman stopped and stepped into the shadows for a closer look. Huddled over itself, talking in low tones, was an imp. It was no larger than a cat and as Taman approached, its large eyes lit up.
“The mark! The mark! You bare the mark! You all do! How fortunate! How much? How much for your souls?”
The party was taken aback and questioned the miniature devil.
“The mark of Asmodeus. The mark of death of course.”
“Oh, they will pay well, quite well for your souls.”
“Who is they?”
“I cannot say. But quite well they will pay.”
As the party continued to prod, the imp became more skittish. It nervously fingered a pair of coins.
“What are those?” Taman asked upon seeing the gold catch the sunlight.
The imp tentatively raised them so they could see. They were roughly three times the size of a normal dragon. Encircled in a gold ring, a perfectly clear gem rotated freely.
Taman stepped closer. The imp snatched the coins close and retreated a step. After a period of tense silence, the imp turned and began to flee down the alley away from the party. Taman, Finzu, and Viigo set after it as Akta remained behind to guard the entrance.
The imp was quick and, seeing this, Akta abandoned her post to help chase it down. As she was closing the gap, the air grew hot and began to fizzle. There was a loud explosion and a force crashed into her back. Fire erupted all around her as she was flung face forward into the alley.
The combination of the explosion and her cries stopped the others in their tracks. Turning, they watched as a creature stepped from the shadows, looming over Akta. Resembling a tall humanoid, its gleaming eyes surveyed the party. Barbs, spines, and hooks covered its body as it chittered to itself.
The air ignited again as a pair of fireballs careened down the alley. The party scattered, throwing themselves against the walls. Finzu sprinted forward and engaged the devil before it could strike a prone Akta.
The two shadowboxed, each able to dodge the other’s melee attacks. Taman stepped into the fray and missed but received a sharp barb to the shoulder as the devil’s tail whipped up. Viigo’s Celestial Weapon, in the shape of a war hammer, split Taman and Finzu, catching the devil square in the chest. As it reeled, the war hammer came around for another pass and connected again.
As Akta climbed to her feet, two more fireballs raged outward, striking both her and Taman. This time she was able to remain on her feet. She stepped within range and lowered her halberd on the creature’s shoulder. It hissed as the blade drew blood, but far less than she would have expected.
It lashed out with its claws and tail. Finzu continued to evade the attacks but the devil’s tail caught and struck Taman. Strikes from the party’s blades didn’t seem to slow the creature down.
Then, from point-blank range, the barbed devil summed a pair of fireballs and hurled them at Finzu. The first narrowly missed, singeing his clothes in the process. His sidestep put him in the path of the second blast. As it careened toward his chest, the monk breathed deeply and closed his eyes. He moved his arms in a steady rhythm and the fireball followed his lead. It seemed to roll down his left arm, across his chest, and back down his right arm. The redirection sent the blast hurling back at the barbed devil.
After the flare of the blast cleared, the devil took a step backward and reassessed its opponent. This gave both Taman and Akta opportunities to attack from behind. Encircling the devil, the party picked away at its tough exterior until it dropped to the ground.
As black blood spread across the cobblestones, Taman searched a small pouch that had been slung across the devil’s hip. In it, he found two coins like the ones the imp had shown them. Viigo cast Identify and learned that they were unused soul coins. Seeing the value in what they had discovered, Viigo held onto the coins for safekeeping.
The Black Boat
A quick stop at Trollskull Manor found that the workers had left for the day. Speaking with the Urchins revealed that a group of Luskans had shown up with a briefcase. As they approached the manor the workers began to heckle them. This resulted in a tense exchange that almost came to blows. In the end, the workers stormed off, complaining about safe working conditions. The Luskans left shortly after, but not before entering the Manor.
Checking behind the bar, the party found the payment for Mirt’s nimblewright. Yet, they were upset that the Luskans had chased off the workers. To get to the bottom of the situation, they headed to the Dock Ward to confront Zardoz.
The Luskan Docks were a hive of activity and the streets were not that much more calm. People had begun to cluster at intersections in anticipation of the parade. This made it difficult to navigate the main streets. So the party decided to take a more roundabout route. They looped to the south and emerged on the water with a clear view up and down the harbor.
To the north, the colorful Luskan ships stood out against the dreary merchant vessels. To the south, another ship caught their attention. It was not its uniqueness, but rather its unremarkable exterior that captured the party’s attention. The ship was darker than the rest in the harbor and did not sport any identifying marks. What was interesting were little skiffs that were maneuvering around the larger vessel. Remembering what Davil had said about how the Xanatharians were smuggling in goods, the party decided to investigate further.
Before they could get close enough to make out details, a large man with a barrel chest stepped in their path. He loomed over the group and had scars up and down his exposed torso. Taman did his best to persuade him to let them pass but he refused. When they mentioned that they were on familiar terms with the Luskans the man laughed. Once he had composed himself he spat at their feet.
“You tell ‘em bilge rat fuckas dat they can go fuck ‘em selves eh? And while yous at it, yous can do the same.”
He then turned and left them, glancing over his shoulder to make sure they weren’t following. Instead of pushing the issue, the party headed north towards the carnival.
They found the Luskan leader standing with Khafeyta on the docks. The two were overseeing the chaos of preparing for the parade. As the party approached Zardoz greeted them warmly.
“Ah, I see you received my invitation. I’m so pleased you accepted. Though I will admit that you are a bit early.”
Taman broached the topic of the incident at the Manor. Zardoz listened thoughtfully. Once the rogue had finished, he sighed and lowered his head.
“Yes, I heard about the unfortunate event at your establishment. You must accept my most heartfelt apology. Waterdavians have made it well known to us that we are only tolerated as entertainment. Any time we venture into the city we are met with some form of hostility or another.”
This information resonated with the group. They understood that the Luskans who had dropped off their payment had meant no harm.
“There are so few places we can go and not be bothered. I wonder, what would you say if we frequented your tavern from time to time?”
This caught Taman off guard and he agreed more out of habit and nicety than anything else.
“Wonderful! Well, if there’s nothing else, my friends, I hope you enjoy the parade. It’s not much, just something to whet the people’s appetite. The main course comes later.”
Taman then told him about the ship to the south. Zardoz looked down the docks and evaluated the vessel for a while. From this distance, it was impossible to see anything meaningful. But it looked as if he was connecting dots. He then turned and leaned close to Khfeyta. Once he finished, she nodded and headed off into the crowd.
“Thank you, friends, we’ll look into it. Now, please enjoy the rest of your day.”
The party then made their way to the Fish Street intersection. While they waited for the parade to start, a scaled hand tapped Viigo’s shoulder. Turning, he found Valetta.
She had come down to view the parade because she had heard the Luskan floats were as much mechanical marvels as they were visual. She was excited to see what they had thought up and was hoping to corner an engineer for a discussion. Viigo also received an invitation to tour the Hall of Inspired Hands. He happily accepted.
The parade was entertaining. A series of nine “mini” floats made up the procession. On each were various types of performances. These ranged from jugglers to balancing acts to a bear standing on its hind legs.
Once the parade passed the party decided to stop by the Carpenter’s guild to discuss the workers. After waiting in line they inquired about what the expectation was for the workers to return. The representative informed them that, as of right now, they were ahead of schedule. However, if the party would like to file a complaint, they could do so.
The party declined and left to pick up Akita’s sword. The rest of the party acquired studded leather armor, daggers, and the like. Once content, they left for the Portal.
The imp and the barbed devil are agents of the Cassalanters. Realizing that 99 souls are an almost impossible number to obtain, Victoro sent the devils to acquire the souls of anyone willing to trade for money. His hope is that they can get a head start on the souls if they should fail to get the gold payment. It is a win-win in his eyes. Should they acquire enough gold then he expects to have a large supply of soul coins to use at his discretion.
The Xanatharians are gearing up for Xanathars festival season underground gladiatorial games. As such, they have stepped up importing goods. Everything from weapons to armor to drugs for the event is buried in the crates. Boats arriving later and more discreetly will be bringing slaves.
Luskan and Waterdeep
Roughly 100 years ago Lord Brambleberry of Waterdeep led an army of mercenaries against Luskan. The attack destroyed the Hosttower and Captain Deudermont was installed as governor. He tried to rebuild before winter however they were unable to do so successfully. Luskan descended into a state of pure survival as many starved and more were murdered. This led to a revolution in which Luskan liberated itself as a free port. Unknown to many, the revolution was propped up by Bregan D’aerthe, led by Jarlaxle. He provided resources and intelligence in the hopes he could profit from a free port.
Due to Luskan’s history, many Waterdavians have the perception that those of Luskan origin is no more than savages and pirates.
Tensions Between Bregan D’aerthe and the Xanatharians
Xanathar, not knowing that the Luskans were being led by Jarlaxle and Began D’aerthe, had tried to extort the visitors. He claimed that they were in his city and must pay to dock their boats. In exchange, they would provide ‘protection’ while they remained in the city.
Jarlaxle, under the guise of Zardoz, declined.
In this session, as Khafeyta goes off to investigate the boat, she comes across a few Xanatharian thugs in an alley. They are positioned with a cart full of explosives, ready to attack the parade. She, and a few men who went with her, were able to dispatch the men and thwart the attack.
This session was almost entirely driven by random encounters. I used the Waterdeep City Encounters. and rolled randomly on the Dock Ward table. This resulted in the imp in the alleyway. If you only get one supplement for this campaign… this is the one! It has created so many memorable moments and helps to make the city feel alive.
Going into the encounter, I didn’t know how I wanted to play it. However, there was enough of a prompt in the book to spur my imagination. Having a good understanding of my NPCs, particularly the main antagonists, helped me weave this into the narrative. The soul coin idea came from Sly Flourish’s recap of his Waterdeep: Dragon Heist campaign.
I was worried that I would either spoil something, back myself into a hard spot, or both. Because I was doing this on the fly, I did my best to keep things vague. That is why I had the imp become more skittish as the group pressed him for information. I figured I could have him run away if needed.
But then I thought… what if he had a bodyguard. A quick D&D Beyond search brought up the Barbed Devil. I didn’t even realize how difficult of a fight it would be for the party because I was trying to find something quickly. In the end, it turned out well. Everyone was happy with the battle and, even though the imp got away, I figured soul coins would be a cool treasure.
I fully expect these decisions to come back and get me later.
The Xanatharian boat was also made-up on the spot. I was describing the docks and wanted to spice it up a little. I hadn’t been expecting the party to bite. This was another instance where taking time to think through what the main factions are doing alongside the party came in handy.
Another goal of mine in this session was to get across the tensions between the Luskans and the Waterdavians. I felt that this was important to explain why Jarlaxle was doing the things he was doing. It also served as a reason as to why the Luskans may be acting strange from time to time.
Letting Things Go
I had planned for an encounter at the parade. My intention was to have the Xanatharians attack the floats by sending a cart full of explosives into its midst. Then I was hoping to start a chase sequence.
However, two things happened during this session that made me shelve these plans.
- The party told Zardoz about the boat. Because of this, I decided that Khafeyta and her crew would likely come across the thugs and take care of the situation.
- More importantly, was the fact that one of the players made a comment about there being an attack. They were expecting it to happen. This led me to look for a way to make it disappear in a reasonable manner while keeping my story cohesive.
Not allowing the attack when the players expected, throws them off a little. Instead of having to fight their way through the crowds, I introduced Valetta. It was almost the exact opposite of what they were expecting. My hope is to keep them guessing whenever they have to make a decision.
During the battle with the Barbed Devil, one of the players asked an out-of-game question.
I have a really cool idea, would I be able to…
What he was asking would not be allowed if following strict Rules as Written adherence. However, as he described to me what he wanted to do I found that I wanted him to be able to do it as well.
Thus we created a homebrew rule we are calling Heroic Moments. You can read more about them here.
I provided one handout to the party. They received this at the start of the session with the explanation that it had been slid under Taman’s door. This is Zardoz’s handwriting and will turn up again in the future.