17 min read

Trials and Tribulations

Taman makes new contacts within the Guild network. Akta hears voices. And Viigo comes face-to-face with a God.
Trials and Tribulations

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


Drinking With the Dungsweepers

Once finished speaking with Davil, the party decided that they should take a night off. The four of them bellied up to the bar and began to order drinks. After the first round, Finzu decided to call it quits, but the rest continued to imbibe. Finally, Taman was the last one standing.

Disappointed that his group had decided to quit so early, he decided to explore the Portal. It wasn’t long before the shouts, songs, and laughter of a group of men at a large table caught his attention. He meandered over and introduced himself.

The patrons were all members of the Dungsweeper’s Guild and had decided they wanted to try a new drinking spot. They were foul-mouthed and rowdy, and it wasn’t long before Taman was sitting among them.

As the rounds continued Taman discovered that he was feeling the effects enough to call it a night. When he attempted to leave a very drunk dwarf reached up and grabbed his arm. He pulled Taman in close and said

“You watch yourself now you hear? I seen a drow down in the Dock Ward. Not that its eva a safe place, but a drow… that’s the devil’s shadow.”

Even though the dwarf, Dillian, had tried to keep his voice down, the man sitting next to him overheard. As soon as he did the jokes began to flow. The rest of the members ridiculed and mocked the dwarf as Taman thanked them and left.

Before heading back to the party, Taman thought it would be best to let Davil know what he had learned. Tipsy, he managed to side into his normal seat at the sun elf’s booth.

Davil listened intently, and once Taman had finished, asked who had told him this. Taman motioned across the bar to where the Dungsweepers were still drinking. Davil followed his finger and his eyebrows rose.

Davil: “And which one saw the drow?”

Taman: “The, uh, one on the table.”

Dillion was in his back on the tabletop. The rest of the group was chanting as a single dwarf stood over him, a pitcher in hand. As the chants got pounder the dwarf began to pour ale directly into Dillion’s open mouth.

Davil: “I see. Well, thank you for sharing. I will pass the information on to Ziraj.”

The People’s Champion

The next morning the party decided to stop in at Trollskull Manor. On their way, they were delayed by an impromptu celebration as a crowd crossed their path carrying a man and cheering. Akta stopped one of the trailing celebrators and asked what had happened and who he was.

“Ah, dear, you must not be from around here. That there is Maloon Wardragon! The people’s champion! He just won the Sea Ward challenge. The first time a non-noble has done so in my lifetime!”

Akta began to ask more about the challenge and the champion but the woman simply smiled and ran off to join the procession.

As the group crossed the High Road Akta felt something call out to her. It was soft and gentle. Tickling in the back of her mind. A voice but no words. She shook it off and continued on with the party.

Arriving at Trollskull, the party found Lif at his usual place behind the bar. Viigo approached him and held up the map, pointing to the depiction of, what they presumed to be, a Trollskull. Lif inspected the map for a minute and then leaned over the bar, attempting to look out the windows. After a few more moments the ghost shook its head and went back to polishing the drinkware.

The Trials of Gond

Viigo decided that it was time that he took Valetta up on her offer. Arriving at The House of Inspired Hands, a mass of Waterdavians greeted them. Citizens of all backgrounds were funneling in and out of the temple. As they waited in line to enter, the party overheard conversations about Open Shop day. This was the city’s opportunity to get a peek at all the marvelous inventions behind these walls. As such, it brought quite the crowd. Nobles hoping to finance the next big idea, smiths trying to get a look at new techniques, and adventurers looking for a tool to give them the extra leg up. People of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds teamed the entry to the temple.

The party was able to make its way to the Inspired Hall where the mob split into clusters around each exhibit. Viigo was able to spot Valetta standing next to the Scarlet Marpenoth across the hall. She acknowledged their arrival and completed her lecture on the ‘ship with no sails’. Once the group of onlookers had moved on, she approached them with a large smile.

Valetta: “Welcome to Shop day! It is quite exciting! The crowds every year continue to astound me.”

Viigo stammered a bit, trying to explain that he was here for the tour, but that she appeared to be quite busy.

Valetta: “Oh my, no, I would be happy to provide that tour for you. In fact, today is, in my opinion, the best day for it. The workshop is alive with demonstrations. It would be my pleasure!”

She motioned for them to follow as she moved through the Exhibition Hall and out into a large courtyard. The main temple behind them, they were now overlooking the grounds.

Valetta: “Over there, to the right, is the garage. Any designs for transportation are housed there for use, repair, or maintenance. It also doubles as a stable. The tower to your left serves as the private quarters for most of the clerics. On the lower floors are a feasting hall, various studies, libraries, and bathhouses. But this, this is what you came to see.”

Sprawled out in front of them was a large three stories building. Large bay doors on all levels stood open, exposing the workshops within. Leading them through the largest of the doors, more ornate than the others and serving as the entrance, they were greeted by the heat, smells, and sounds of numerous forces at play.

Valetta turned and led them down a central walkway which presented them with a magnificent view of each station. At each end of the long building, a staircase switched back and forth giving access to the upper levels. And written on the walls behind the stairs were the words of Gond.

Symbol of Gond

Symbol of Gond

Actions count.

Intentions are one thing, but it is the result that is most important.

Talk is for others, while those who serve Gond do.

Make new things that work. Become skilled at forging or some craft, and practice making things and various means of joining and fastening until you can create devices to suit any situation or space.

Question and challenge the unknown with new devices.

New inventions should be elegant and useful.

Practice experimentation and innovation in the making of tools and the implementation of processes, and encourage these virtues in others through direct aid, sponsorship, and diplomatic support.

Keep records of your strivings, ideas, and sample devices so that others may follow your work and improve on what you leave behind and encourage others, such as farmers and hunters, to think of new tools, improved ways of crafting and using their existing gear, and new ways of doing things.

Observe, acquire, and store safely the makings of others and spread such knowledge among the consecrated of Gond.

Discuss ideas and spread them so that all may see the divine light that is the Wonderbringer.

The tour continued through each floor and then returned to the entrance. Concluding the lesson from her tour, she paused and then gave a sheepish smile.

“Viigo, I hope that it is not too forward of me to ask, but, would you care to give a short demonstration? We have anything you may need.”

She motioned behind the group to where a station sat prepared. After a moment’s thought Viigo agreed and moved behind the workbench. He took a few minutes to acclimate himself to the tools, parts, and layout. Once he was content he reached into a small box and pulled out a tiny gear.

“Everyone needs a good lock…”

He began working as he spoke. He talked about the different locking mechanisms, the best designs for different types of locks, and made jokes that only he would understand.

It then occurred to him that he no longer heard the noises of the forge or crowds. Looking up from the mechanism in his hand confirmed it. Nothing moved. His friends, Valetta, and the various onlookers, all were statues.

Bright light poured through the open bay doors, obstructing the view outside, but Viigo knew that the same was true. He slowly lowered the mechanism he was holding to the tabletop and began to move around the workbench, intending to approach one of his friends. The sound of heavy steps stopped him.

Stepping into the workshop was a man large enough to be a half-giant. Thick red hair that was shorter on top than it was his chin was slicked back by dark streaks of grease and ash. An apron, with a multitude of tools organized in its various pockets, clung to his massive chest. As he approached he made to remove the workman’s gloves he was wearing and flashed Viigo a genuine smile.

Gond, the god of makers

Gond, the god of makers

“Well met young maker. How do you fare?”

He wove through the crowd and pulled out a stool for him to sit. This close Viigo could smell the sweat and the familiar scent of the forge.

“Now this looks interesting.”

The man reached out and plucked the mechanism Viigo had been working on off the workbench. It looked like a small toy in the man’s thick fingers and for a moment Viigo thought he would accidentally crush the device. Yet the man delicately turned it over, inspecting its inner workings.

“Tell me, what do you consider to be more important. The intention of the device or its use?”

Viigo was silent for a few moments. Then he answered that no matter the intention, it is how it is used that defines a tool.

“Hm, interesting. I see you are putting a demonstration, yet I doubt any here truly understand how this device works. When the day is done, will you share your work with them or take the knowledge with you back to your forge?”

Viigo responded by saying that he was a teacher first and that he wished his craft was more widely understood.

“And do you spend your time tuning a device to perfection or pursuing other challenges once you have reached a useful, yet elegant state?

Viigo answered that he found that the more he experimented the better his end results tended to be. This caused the man’s eyebrows to raise.

“Is that so? In what way?”

Viigo shrugged as if the answer were obvious. By experimenting with new ideas he was able to bring them to existing processes, thus improving the original design.

“Hm, yes. I have found that to be true in my work as well.”

The man put the device down and stood, once again towering over Viigo.

“Sadly, young maker, I must be going. But I suggest you seek out the Diagrams of Gond. I believe they will be useful to you in the future. It has been some time since new eyes looked them over.”

The man smiled again and nodded before turning and walking blackout the front bay door. As he disappeared into the light the world sped into a blur around him. Viigo stood, rooted to his spot, as he watched a crowd gather. It surrounded his workstation and poured out the front doors. The light outside faded and he watched the shadows grow as the day grew long.

And then time returned to normal.

The crowd murmured, some jostling for position. He looked up to find the stunned faces of both Valetta and his friends. It was then that he realized his hands were moving. Looking down, he gave a start.



Beneath a polishing rag sat a war hammer. It was a beautiful piece made of black ore polished to the point of reflection. Gold inlay wove around the handle and the ends. Fine black leather wrapped the handle. And in the center was a mechanism that clicked and spun with little gears, resembling the locking device he had started with.

Valetta: I don’t believe it.

Valetta took a short step forward, eyes moving between Viigo and the hammer.

Valetta: It can’t be. The Craftmaster?

She made a motion as if asking Viigo’s permission. He nodded and she delicately lifted it off the bench. Eyes sweeping the weapon, her brow furrowed.

Valetta: And yet… it is not. Not quite. It looks like it, but it is missing something.

Viigo then asked about the Diagrams of Gond and where he might find them. Valetta’s eyes widened as she returned the war hammer.

Valetta: So you did speak with him. Amazing. Simply amazing. The Diagrams of Gond currently reside in the personal library of the Open Lord. Though why she covets them, I do not understand. She is a Chosen of Mystra. And while on good terms with Oghma, her deity and ours never saw eye to eye. If you have been tasked with retrieving the Diagrams of Gond, you will need to seek an audience with the Open Lord.

Viigo nodded. He now had a purpose.

Old Acquaintances

As the sun set behind the harbor, the party made their way to the Dock Ward. Khafeyta was waiting for them with a few men by the Luskan ships and informed them that they would be meeting a second team closer to the boat.

She led them through side streets until they had a good view of the operations.

Khafeyta: We are to meet the others here, though I was not told who.

Then a low, dark voice sounded from the shadows

You’re late.

Stepping forward was the drow that had escaped from the Waterdeep prison. Flanking him on either side were two more gunslingers.

Khafeyta: Soluun, I’m surprised he let you out of your cage.

At this, a dagger appeared in the dark elf’s hand and was at her throat before anyone could react.

Soluun: What your tongue Mulhorandi, or I’ll have to cut it out.

Khafeyta: Don’t threaten me with a good time.

She smiled and then, using her idea and pointer finger, delicately touched the end of the blade and guided it away from her neck.

Sneaking around the docks

Sneaking around the docks

A Ship in the Night

Collectively, the group decided that they would split and conduct two separate recon missions. The drow vanished and made their way to the warehouse sitting at the end of the dock. Akta and Viigo stayed behind as watch as Taman, Finzu, Khafeyta and the Luskans stole two small rowboats.

Once pulled up close to the ship, Finzu and Khafeyta began scaling its sides. To see in they needed to get to one of the windows. As Khafeyta arrived at the lowest porthole she discovered a pair of bandits escorting two humans to the lower hold. They wore torn clothes, had famished frames, and looked to have been recently beaten. Finzu continued to climb. Poking his head over the side of the top deck he was able to make out two kenku on either side of the boat. A gazer floated near each pair.

With this information, they returned to the rowboats and returned to the docks.

At What Cost?

They met the team of drow back at their original vantage point. Khafeyta explained that she believed at least part of the cargo were slaves and that they were being held in the cargo hold. She had an undeniable fire laced with determination in her voice now. Soluun reported that, while the warehouse was heavily guarded, they were able to identify Ahmaergo, the Iron Dwarf.

Soluun: I have orders to eliminate him if the opportunity presents itself.

Khafeyta: If you do that they will kill those still in captivity. We have to free them.

Soluun: Then we lose our opportunity. Do you doubt that he would flee at the first sign of trouble? No, we must strike fast and true.

Khafeyta: You are willing to sacrifice all of those innocent lives?

Soluun: Yes, if that means killing the slave driver. Think of all the future lives we save then. Would you trade theirs for these?

Khafeyta: I would. Because these are real. We may have another opportunity to complete your task. But we won’t have another chance to free these people. I don’t care what you do. My men and I are going to board that ship and free those people.

She then turned and looked expectantly at the party. After a long moment of consideration, Taman informed her that they would be accompanying the drow in an attempt to kill Ahmaergo.

Khafeyta: Then their blood is on your hands as well.

She hissed at them and then disappeared with her men. Taman turned back to the drow to find him looking at him. He then nodded and turned back to the warehouse.


Meloon Wardragon

Meloon is truly a champion of the people. He helped Vajra ascend to the position of the Blackstaff, assisted Renear in the protection of Ahgharion’s Tower, and is a member of the new Force Grey.

Unfortunately, during an expedition to Undermountain, he and his party were attacked by Xanatharians and one of Nihiloor’s intellect devourers took up residence in his head. He is now a spy working for Xanathar with the charge of hunting and killing any Zhentarim he can find.

As the party begins to engage with Vajra, Meloon will start to show up more. The longer his time around the party, the more Xanathar will seemingly be one step ahead of them.

Legendary Weapons

Viigo has received the favored weapon of Gond named The Craftmaster. However, it is currently laying in a dormant state. This means that it is no more than a +1 war hammer. But, by collecting the diagrams and finding the resources they call for, he will be able to unlock abilities one at a time.

I got this idea from Critical Role and the Wildmount setting. In that world, there are weapons and artifacts called Vestiges of Divergence. These items exist in one of three states: - Dormant - Awakened - Exalted

As Viigo crafts the upgrades The Craftmaster will follow a similar path.

The Gunslinger

Soluun has been on the ships ever since his escape from Waterdeep prison. Jarlaxle decided to keep him on a very short leash given his murderous and xenophobic tendencies. However, Soluun is incredibly efficient at killing. Jarlaxle feels that he can get some great returns by having Ahmaergo killed.

First, he sends a message to Xanathar. No one in Waterdeep would be brave, or stupid, enough to attempt an assassination of the beholder’s top lieutenant. Xanathar would have to know it was the Luskans and he would certainly realize that they are more than they seem.

Second, he may be able to parlay this deed into some goodwill with the Open Lord. His true goal in Waterdeep is to convince her to allow the Luskan nation to join the Lord’s Alliance. This is no easy task given the history between the two cities.

And finally, Soluun isn’t the only strike team present at the docks. Jarlaxle also sent Fel’rekt and his team to observe and tail anyone who flees. His hope is to learn the way into Xanathar’s lair.


Hard Decisions

One way to engage the players is to use NPCs to present them with difficult decisions. This was something I was quite proud of in this session. The players had to make a moral decision. And not an easy one. Ultimately, they needed to put a value on known lives that were at risk and weigh that against an unknown future.

By saving the slaves from the boat, they would lose the opportunity to eliminate Ahmaergo, the slave master. He would experience a slight setback but would be back at it again very soon.

However, by eliminating Ahmaergo, the slaves on the ship would be executed. But by doing so they would save all the future lives that Ahmaergo would take.

In psychology, this is called the trolly problem. It gives the person an ethical dilemma of whether to sacrifice one person to save a larger number. I just dialed up the stakes and it went really well. The party took the decision seriously and did not give their answer lightly.

Recon Missions

This was where I struggled during this session. Leading up to this, I had posted a question on the r/DungeonMasters subreddit. A lot of great advice came through. Unfortunately, I had posted it too close to the session and didn’t have time to read them.

However, some great advice that I got was this:

  1. This is the opportunity to tell the players the various ways in which they could approach and succeed in the next area
  2. We need to provide them with opportunities to discover various ways in which they could approach the end goal
  3. Show them the escape options should the worst happen
  4. All along the way, the players need to have their options described to them

I dropped the ball on all four of the above. When it came to describing what was happening, I did it as I always had. I focused on the sights, sounds, and touch. What I didn’t do was focus on opportunities.

When I say focus on opportunities I mean having descriptions act as mini-hooks.

Good Description

As you look around the loading docks, you are immediately faced with what appears to be mainly open streets. Lamps are scattered through the area providing pockets of illuminated spaces, but shadows hide corners. Light spills from the windows of the rooms on the corners of the building and large loading crates are pushed up against its sides.

The rain has picked up. As it beats against the water, bringing a cool breeze, other sounds appear muffled. But you can hear commands being issued from the dockside, orders to keep moving but you can’t make out the words.

Bad Description

The boat creeks as the waves gently rock it. The wood smells old but appears to be in strong condition. The rain has picked up, bringing much-needed relief from the day’s sun. All around, people bustle trying to complete their tasks quickly in an effort to get inside and dry off.

What is the difference between the two? In the Good Description I have provided them with:

  • An understanding that they can move about the streets without much fear of being caught
  • If they need to, they can hide in the shadows
  • The windows are open, giving them visibility to the building’s interior
  • The rain can be used as cover from sound
  • There is at least one ‘manager’ who is giving orders and presumably more than one worker
  • They have the opportunity to try and listen carefully and potentially hear the commands being shouted

In the Bad Description, all the players received were fluff descriptions meant to make the Arena of the Mind more tangible. There was no actionable information provided.

Personal Quests

When I first thought about integrating personal quests into the campaign, I actually reached out to one of my players to get his perspective. He responded that and I’m paraphrasing a whole conversation, they could be a good idea but had the potential to completely derail the campaign. He also noted that they would likely lengthen the duration of our story.

I took this to heart and thought it over quite a bit before deciding that I would move forward with them. There are two primary reasons for this. The first is simple. I liked the ideas I had for their quests. The second reason was much more about the players and it comes down to this.

Everyone wants to feel special

We play this game and place ourselves in this imaginary world so we can do things we can’t in real life. As a DM, I am always looking for ways to help the players feel like they are standing out.

I also recognized the danger they presented. And I will likely do a post once we finish the campaign on what I learned. But right off the bat, my friend was right. Not only can they derail a campaign but they can also prolong other payoffs. I would also add that, if done improperly, they can slow down the narrative, cause even more isolation in the group, and feel forced.

What I ended up with, and I hope it turns out, was one rule.

Each quest needs to have a meaningful and direct impact on the story.

When I sat down to flesh out each quest line I kept that in mind.

In this session, I got to kick off Viigo’s personal quest. His backstory is that of a maker, a smith, and someone who specializes in locks. When the party initially decided to stop at the House of Inspired Hands I realized that Gond would be the perfect fit.

The next step in the quest chain is to retrieve the diagrams from the Open Lord’s personal collection. This will be the second mission that ultimately leads them to Lareal. She can be a powerful ally and can provide a lot more information about the inner workings of Waterdeep