15 min read

All Is Not What It Seems

Viigo strikes a deal with the Iron Banker and Taman discovers that he doesn’t know an old friend as well as he had thought.
All Is Not What It Seems

You can find my session prep notes for free on Patreon.


A Bite on the Eyecatcher

The day was young as they stood outside the temple. The color was returning to Viigo’s complexion and the weather was looking promising. They decided that it was a good time to head down to the Dock Ward and ask Zardoz some questions. Taman was particularly interested in anything he may know about the submarine.

Once amongst the bustle of the Luskan docks, they learned that Zardoz hadn’t come ashore yet. The guards stopped them as they approached the dock where the transport dingy bobbed in the water. Taman did his best to persuade them to let them pass and provide transport, but they stood firm. It was only when Finzu stepped up and issued a not-so-veiled threat.

The halfling was half the height of the men, but his words were stern and had an impact. Parting, the guards issued commands to the rowers to take the party out to The Eyecatcher.

Once aboard, they were once again led to the captain’s quarters. As they opened the door an array of delicious smells bombarded them. Spread out all across the massive captain’s table was a grand feast. Fruit, chicken, boar, and, most importantly, wine decorated the setting. And at the head of the table was Zardoz himself. He wore a large-brimmed hat with a white feather plume stuck to it. His mustache and goatee were immaculate. And his attire… Was unique. Aside from a pair of stylish leather boots, all he wore was what looked like an orange harness. If came over his shoulders, met in the middle of his torso, and then circled his waist and crotch.

Despite his appearance, Zardoz was overly jovial and greeted them warmly. Begging them to help themselves, he told them of an afternoon he has planned with the captains and the women, Margo and Khafeyta.

Zardoz: By the way, that ship you mentioned the day of the parade, thank you for that. We looked into it and there is definitely something going on. And while that particular boat is no longer at harbor, another just like it arrived this morning. We plan to take a closer look tomorrow at midnight. You are welcome to join our little recon mission if you’d like. You’ve proven yourselves time and again.

Taman: We’d love to. Unfortunately, none of us have taken on a mission like this before. Wet wouldn’t know what to do.

Zardoz waved off the response and picked at some grapes.

Zardoz:  No need to worry about that. We all need to learn sometime. Khafeyta will be leading the mission. She’s more than competent and frankly, this will likely be well beneath her skills. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn from a master.

A wide smile bloomed across his face and he winked to accentuate his statement.

Finzu: What’s going on that you are sending a whole group for recon?

Finzu’s question caused Zardoz to pause a moment mid-pour as he considered.

The Eyecatcher in the the Waterdeep Harbor
The Eyecatcher in the Waterdeep Harbor

Eventually, he nodded to himself and finished filling his cup.

Zardoz: After you brought the ship to our attention, we did some poking around. Rumors mostly. But we did stumble across something interesting. A certain dwarf, named Ahmergo, had been said to be making appearances around these ships. I’m not certain if you know of The Iron Dwarf, but he is without a doubt one of the baddies. He is well known for his work in the slave trade and answers to the Mad Beholder himself. We thought it would be worth looking into.

After a moment of silence, Zardoz cut in again.

Zardoz: But you didn’t come all this way to talk about that. To what do I owe this honor?

It was Taman who stepped forward and asked if Zardoz was familiar with the submarine, the Scarlet Marpenoth. Upon hearing the name Zardoz once again paused. He scanned the group, hand on his chin, with a thoughtful look. Finally, he spoke

Zardoz: I’ll tell you what. Earlier, you had posed another question to me which I did not answer. You were interested in the reason for the newspaper article. I’ll tell you what. You get to decide which question I answer today.

A smile spread across his face as he watched the group stare at each other. While they discussed, he absently made his way around the table, picking at fruit and other bite-sized morsels. Once they had decided, Taman asked about the newspaper.

Zardoz made good on his word. But to do so he had to engage in a small history lesson of the relations and tensions between Luskan and Waterdeep.

Zardoz: You see, the people of this city, they smile at you but you are not one of them. We serve a purpose, to entertain, but nothing more. The everyday man does not concern me. But the noble houses do. And some are more open about their distaste for us than others. It became apparent to me that I had, for whatever reason, created an enemy in one of these houses.

The first errand I had you run, the one in which you recovered the handkerchief, was a request from one such family. And when I say request, I should mention that the threat was not all that veiled. But then you showed up and provided me with the perfect opportunity. I was able to complete the task by having you execute it for me while, at the same time, distancing myself.

Yes, I used you. But look how far we’ve come!

Now, to the article in the newspaper. I do not have much political pull in this city. This puts me at a great disadvantage against these houses. So the article was my way of introducing a little chaos to the mix.

These families, they have everything planned to the slightest motion. But what they can’t plan for are what I can provide. I suspect that this family will be very concerned about clearing their name once the story breaks. I have heard that a name carries a lot of weight in this city and it would be a shame if it were to be dragged through the mud. But that will take time, focus, and energy to do. All of which will have to be diverted from their perfect plans.

You see, all I did was introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order.

These words hung in the air. While the party was aware of the Great Game, it was now clear how intertwined everything in this city was.

After a few more moments of follow-up questions, the party decided to leave. The ride back to shore was quiet as everything they had learned continued to weigh on them.

Istrid, the Iron Banker

Per Davil, Istrid Horn was operating out of a warehouse in the Dock Ward. Since they were in the district they decided now would be a good time to stop by. Following Davil’s instructions, they soon found themselves standing outside a plain and bland warehouse. There were no markings, no signs, and no people in sight.

Taman reached out and knocked on the only door they could see. After long moments of silence, he knocked again. For the second time, only silence greeted them. As Taman reached out to knock a third time a small voice called from behind the door.

Istrid Horn, the Iron Banker

Istrid Horn, the Iron Banker

Delre: What is your business?

Taman slipped the letter Davil had provided under the door. There was the sound of the unfolding of paper. Then there was a click and the door opened a few inches. A small dwarf stood, peering up at him from behind a pair of spectacles. She held a massive book and introduced herself as Delre, Istrid’s assistant. She then turned on her heel and led them deeper into the warehouse.

From what they could see, the warehouse itself was completely empty. Nothing but a few errant crates occupied the dimly lit space. Delre took them to what seemed to be an office off the main floor. Holding the door for them, she motioned everyone inside and, after taking a last look at the door they had entered from, nodded to herself, and joined them.

Across the entry door was another. This door, however, was made of steel and had sliding bolts that were currently in the unlocked position. She took them through and down a set of stairs that wound their way down until they reached the basement.

If the main floor was dead, the basement teemed with life. People crowded the space, working at desks, hunched over coins or artifacts. It wasn’t long before a dark-skinned dwarf came into view. Workers surrounded her, reading aloud from ledgers as they moved. Delre took them right up to the woman and handed her Davil’s note.

As soon as she began reading, the others around her went silent, waiting for her to finish.

Istrid: I see Davil holds you in high regard. I am Istrid Horne and unfortunately, I do not share his opinion. What you have brought me is no better than the information I already possessed. It is nothing but hearsay and rumors. And for this, you want what? The map? Ha! Delre, please see them out. And give Davil my regards will you?

As the assistant began to usher them away, Viigo broke from the pack and approached Istrid’s group. He spoke in Dwarvish which brought her to a halt. Turning, she eyed Viigo for a moment and then patiently listened to what he had to say.

After much bargaining Istrid instructed Delre to retrieve the ledge which held copies of the map.

Istrid: I appreciate you. It is true, as much as I do not wish to admit, that there are stakes at play that are bigger than myself. You are right that we need to tend to the reputation of the Doom Raiders. You may take this copy of the map. Best fortunes to you. Now, Delre, please see our new friends out.

The exasperated assistant handed the large ledger she had retrieved to one of the others in Istrid’s group. She then escorted the group to the exit.

Once outside the group peppered Viigo with questions about how he convinced her.

Viigo: Yes, obligation was part of it. But I think it was mostly that I agreed to give her half of whatever we found at the end of this treasure hunt.

Appearances Are Deceiving

Seeing the party enter the Yawning Portal, Bonnie immediately asked if she could speak with Taman in the private room. He agreed and followed her across the portal to the room where they had met with Davil a few days past. Viigo and Akta grabbed seats and drinks outside as Taman went in.


As the door clicked shut Taman caught a glint of steel in his peripheral. Turning, he barely managed to swat away the knife Bonnie was thrusting at him. She brought the blade around again and once more he was able to parry her. They moved in a blur until Taman was able to secure her wrist and pin her up against the wall.

Bonnie: Did you know? Did you? Who gave you those vials! Who told you to deliver them?

Bonnie hissed into his face. As Taman tried to piece together what she was asking, Bonnie attempted to thrash free. In her rage, her image flickered. It flashed to a dark-skinned woman with braided hair, to a man with scars all over his face, to a Tamerian half-elf noble, and then back again to Bonnie.

Taman: Are you done?

Taman demanded, slamming her wrist to the wall once again. Once the tension in Bonnie’s body melted away he released her. Head down she took a chair across the table.

Bonnie: Taman, you need to tell me, who gave you those vials.

Taman took a seat. Bonnie then revealed that she was the Black Viper and the same person who had met him at the God Catcher. He also learned that not only was she a doppleganger, but that she led a small group of them. It turned out that one of the younger members of their group was beginning to become impatient. The night that Bonnie had met them to receive the vials, he had impersonated her. A tavern is a wonderful place to hear rumors and he was looking for a large score.

Thinking that the vials were potions of mind-reading he had snuck one away that evening. And last night he had drunk it, planning to run his score. But he never made it out of his room. He died before being able to call for help.

Bonnie continued to press him for the name of the dealer. Not wanting to make an enemy out of Davil, Taman refused. Instead, he promised that he and the others would investigate. She needed to give them some time to learn what they could, but he promised he would tell her what they found.

Taman then stood and left while Bonnie sat looking at the table.

Return to Weirdbottle Concoctions

Taman filled the group in as they made their way to the Trade Ward. They all felt that, before approaching Davil, they should revisit the potions shop from where they had picked up the vials.

Skeemo was behind the desk when they entered and greeted them with the same false warmth as before.

Skeemo: Not that I am not pleased to see you all once again, I must ask what you are doing here?

The shop was empty so the party didn’t hesitate to dive right in. They asked straight out what Skeemo knew about the vials they had picked up. As they mentioned the potions Skeemo hissed and quickly moved to the front door. He flipped the sign and locked the door, as he had done before.

The moment the lock clicked, Skeemo’s whole demeanor changed. He whirled on them and hissed

Skeemo: What are you doing here? And what are you thinking? Speaking so openly? To the backroom, immediately.

He motioned towards the door behind the counter. When the party hesitated, fearing a trap, he let out a frustrated puff and went in first.

Once the whole party was inside Skeemo once again let loose a tirade about their lack of discretion. Taman did his best to dodge the verbal barbs and demanded to know what had been in the vials. Skeemo reiterated that it was as promised, potions of mind reading.

This didn’t sit well with the group. The more they asked about Skeemo’s operations the more the mage became withdrawn and angry. He began to push back on the party. Once he had had enough, Skeemo opened the door and demanded that they leave.

Then Akta did something unexpected. She cast detect evil. The spell caused Skeemo to become outright irate. He then cast “Mage Hand” and forcibly removed them from the back room.

Collecting themselves on the street outside the shop, Akta shared what she had learned with the group. Her spell had detected an undead in that room. It was something small yet very powerful. It wasn’t Skeemo… But it was in a way. It was very difficult to explain.

The party found this to be incredibly interesting and decided that it was time to approach Davil.

The Doom Raiders

Taking their normal seats at Davil’s table, the party wasted no time in getting to the point.

Davil: The delivery job? No, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It was a relatively simple request, especially for someone like Skeemo. Craft the potions of mind-reading and have them delivered to the buyer. Simple. Clean.

They did their best to prod Davil for information without divulging what they knew. Eventually, they asked straight out if Skeemo could be trusted.

At this question, concern crept over Davil’s face. Taking a deep breath he sat back in his booth.

Davil: Do you know why we are called the Doom Raiders? While in retrospect, it is an unfortunate name, I assure you that it symbolized no nefarious intent. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

You see, prior to arriving in Waterdeep, we were an adventuring group. Istrid, Tashlyn, Ziraj, Skeemo, and I. We traveled all over searching for riches and excitement. But we had a specialty.

You see, a Doom is what we call the home of a lich. As you can imagine, these locations are ripe with valuables. As they should be. Liches are incredibly dangerous and to defeat one, well, you must know what you are doing. And be lucky on top of that. Yet that is what we sought.

And thus, we came to be known as the Doom Raiders.

He looked down at the table. They could see the memories flickering by as collected himself.

Athraxes, the lich

Athraxes, the lich

Davil: Our last raid was particularly difficult.

The Doom itself had been constructed specifically to keep people like us out. Traps, puzzles, guardians, the whole gambit. And even though we had an idea of what to expect, every twist and turn was more devious than we could have imagined. But we pressed on until we found him.

Athraxes had been a powerful mage in life, but the afterlife had elevated his skills. All of our research had been conducted on his living self, but… but that was all in vain. In the end, it was Skeemo who saved us but at a cost.

I was on the ground, leg shattered.

Tashlyn had been cast against the stone wall and was unconscious not ten feet from me.

Magic swirled all around us and there was this… screaming. I can still hear its piercing song.

As I was lying there, I remember thinking that this was it. We had finally overstepped our abilities. We weren’t invincible. This was the end.

And that’s when Skeemo stepped past me. Even though I couldn’t hear him amongst the cacophony, I recognized that he was wielding magic. Each step he took closer the more strain it put on him. Each movement seemed to cause him unbearable pain. And yet, he continued. Right until he was looking up at Athraxes.

And when their eyes met… I remember… I remember a light. And then darkness. I was surprised to find myself awake, staring at the ancient stone. But we were all there. Alive. You see, I owe my life to Skeemo. When you ask if I trust him, I will answer you, with all my heart.

As he was enraptured in his story Akta took the opportunity to cast Detect Evil on him, as she had on Skeemo. She detected nothing.


Bregan D’aerthe and the Xanatharians

Jarlaxle is after two things with the recon mission. The first is information. He wants to understand what it is, exactly, that Xanathar is importing. The second is to send a message. Because he is aware of Ahmergo he figures that slaves are at least part of the cargo. This is why he is sending Khafeyta. She was once a slave herself (and has the tattoos to prove it) before she escaped and ultimately joined Jarlaxle’s crew. She will be leading a small group of Luskan men.

He is also sending his two lieutenants and small strike teams. The first is led by Soluun with the express purpose of assassinating Ahmergo should the opportunity arise. Jarlaxle figures this could be a ‘two birds with one stone’. The second is led by Fel’rekt Lafeen whose job it is to observe. His assignment is to learn about both the operations and the way to Xanathar’s headquarters.

Bonnie / The Black Viper

Bonnie is completely distraught about the death of her friend. It’s the reason she attacked Taman. Though she never intended to harm him, she wanted to intimidate him enough to get the information she needed. Taman, to his credit, was able to calm her down and buy the party some time.

Depending on what happens as a result of all this, Bonnie may prove to be a very valuable ally in the future.

The Doom Raiders - Skeemo

Skeemo is now both exceptionally angry and paranoid that Davil is on to him. He is planning on spending a considerable amount of time trapping the private spaces in his shop and making plans in the event someone comes for him.

He is also sending a warning to Manshoon that he may be compromised.


Session Prep

This was a very interesting session for me. Going into it, I knew that the party would be speaking with Zardoz, Istrid, and Bonnie. What I found to be very helpful was, at the conclusion of a session, to ask the party what they intended to do next. This gave me good visibility into what they intended and allowed me to focus on creating interesting encounters.

The Importance of the Ship Recon Mission

I find it amusing how what was once a detail made up on the spot will now have such an important role in the remaining campaign. While I did have the option to let this thread die with Khafeyta, I found that it was a great opportunity to do a test run on how to conduct a heist.

Once the fireball goes off after Chapter 2, the party will be conducting a lot of heists. Since neither they nor I had ever done something like that, I like the idea of having a ‘dry’ run.

Quick Time Challenge

For the ‘fight’ between Bonnie and Taman, I experimented with something I am calling ‘Quick Time Challenges’. I got the idea after watching a clip from Captain America: Winter Soldier where the Winter Soldier and Cap have a knife fight in the streets.

I wanted to capture the urgency and quick actions of the fight. The way that I did this was to first have Taman roll a Dexterity check. Based on how he did on that check (DC of 10), I then chose the size of the die accordingly. A Critical Failure would have resulted in a d20 whereas a 12 might have got him a d8 or d6. He then had 30 seconds to roll five 6’s.

I do plan on running these in the future, but there may be a couple of changes I’d like to make. The first is to reduce the time the player has to roll. The player was able to easily get the numbers he needed. And while this may have been a function of his high Dexterity roll, I felt like it took away from some of the excitement.

The second change I have not yet decided on. I want to make the challenge feel like a fast-sparing match. I don’t feel like having him roll alone accomplished that. I also don’t feel that it would be right to have a roll-off between a player and DM. One potential option would be to have a set of numbers that, when rolled, subtract from the total.

Say, on a d6 it would be something as simple as a 6 gets you a point and a 1 takes it way. This may give the sense of a push and pull. Though the downside here is that everything is so random. I would like to work in the player’s modifier in some way as well.