20 min read

Dark Waters

Having made their decision to aide Soluun. The party finds themselves attempting to assassinate The Hand of Xanathar.
Dark Waters

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


Chasing Drow

The party crouched behind a stack of crates, watching the warehouse for movement. A light drizzle had begun. Street lamps illuminated the street wrapping around the building. Light poured through open windows. Together, they created pockets of shadows that acted as the perfect cover.

The drow conversed silently through their hand talk. Then, without warning, began to move. Soluun and another moved across the street and to the side of the warehouse. They flanked an open window, their bodies pressed up against the building, and remained as still as the structure itself. The third drow evaporated as if a shadow. Quick movements here and there betrayed his presence.

DM’s view of warehouse

Confused by the sudden movements, the party froze and remained where it was. They peered over the crates, watching as the drow took turns peeking through the window. There was more hand-talk before Soluun’s partner took off after the other gunslinger. Soluun then motioned for two of the party members to cross over to him.

Taman and Akta checked the street for any movement. Not seeing any, they made their move. Soluun made room, stepping to the side. Once they were sure no one had taken notice, the dark elf singled Taman to look through the window.

The room inside was comfortable. Two large, overstuffed chairs sat facing a roaring fire. Art hung above the mantel and against each wall. Across the room was a table, spread with cheese, bread, meats, and wine. Next to the table was a desk piled with neatly stacked books. A door and window leading to the streets sat on the wall perpendicular. And guarding those entry points were a pair of bugbears.

Resting in the chair angled toward the window was an old dwarf. Bald on top with a muttonchops beard, he nursed a tankard while he spoke to the occupant hidden in the chair opposite him.

Dwarf: Now, now Avareene, no need to be anxious. The men need their energy if we are to complete this ‘fore daybreak. Their meal won’t take long.

Avareene: We take a great risk here Ahmaergo. Rarely do we operate so openly within the walls of this city. I do not wish to risk any more than needed.

Ahmaergo: Even if the watch comes by, everything looks legitimate. As long as we steer them to the exterior storerooms, they will have no reason to suspect anything. Any of the illicit goods are being brought in via the passage. No need to worry.

Avareene: I do hope you are right my dear. For both of our sakes.

Taman pulled back from the window in time to watch Soluun give silent commands to Viigo and Finzu. They understood and began to follow the path of two other drow up and around the warehouse. Following the drow wasn’t a difficult task. There were two spots that would prove tricky. One was the door that led to where Ahmaergo and his guard sat. The only risk here was that they would decide to leave. But the other was an open window looking out to the street from that same room.

Viigo paused to peek inside and found the broad back of a bugbear blocking his view of the room. He lowered himself close to the ground and took a step. Pausing, he took another. Confident that he could pass undetected, he moved quickly. Focusing too much on the noise he was making and the bugbear above him, he didn’t see the puddle.

The bugbear failed an Investigation check

The splash he made didn’t make much noise, but it made enough. He scrambled around the corner, placing himself next to the door, and leaving Finzu on the other side of the window. There was a grunt from inside and then two large paws gripped the window sill. Finzu, mimicking the drow, pressed himself as close to the building as possible. The bugbear leaned out and surveyed the street. It looked down and inspected the area below the window. And then, giving another grunt, returned to its normal post.

Once his breathing returned to normal, Finzu crossed beneath the window. He and Viigo reunited and then danced from shadow to shadow until they met up with the pair of disgusted drow. The dark elves shook their heads, upset at the close call, and then turned to move once more.

The Escort

DM’s view as Ahmaergo picks up his escort

As they were about to cross through a small patch of light, a voice froze the four of them. Around the corner came three individuals. The leader was carrying on a one-way conversation as he led them past the party and to the door they had passed. He knocked and one of the bugbear guards opened the door. A moment later, he stepped aside and allowed them to enter.

Ahmaergo: Well, Avareene, as always, it has been a pleasure. But duty calls.

Avareene: Always a pleasure my love. I will join you on the ship soon. First I wish to check the wares.

The dwarf nodded, stood, stretched, and then turned to leave.

Ahmaergo: Aye, let’s get on with it then.

The escort stepped back onto the street, followed by Ahmaergo, with the pair of bugbears bringing up the rear.

Ahmaergo and crew followed the street that hugged the warehouse. It bent out of sight as it angled back towards the waterfront. Keeping to the shadows, the party followed at a distance. As they followed, they noted a single patrol at the corner. The two bandits on watch snapped to attention as the dwarf passed. Then immediately sagged once he had passed. After another moment they lost interest in the warehouse and turned to explore the nearby alley.

The Clock Starts

Ahmaergo takes a moment to relieve himself

Soluun, Akta, and Taman watched Ahmaergo and his escort leave. The moment the door clicked shut, Soluun was on the move. He ducked down and moved in the opposite direction the other gunslingers had gone. Continuing to circle the side of the building, he pulled up short of a rectangle of light spilling from a window. From inside they could hear multiple voices holding conversations.

Carefully, they ducked under the window and then slipped past the door. As Akta passed, it swung open. The door smacked into her tail. There was an oomph and then cursing. In the few moments they had, the three of them disappeared around the corner.

Two bandits emerged from the dining hall talking about uneventful things. The party held their breaths until they turned up the street and began their walk to the docks. As Soluun went to move over a series of crates one gave way. There was a loud crack as his foot fell through. Both Akta and Taman ducked behind more storage units and watched the window overlooking the harbor.

A face emerged. The bandit scrutinized the darkness, made a few comments, and then turned for the door. Another followed him. The pair made their way out the door and around to where the party was hiding. The rain had picked up, causing the second bandit to whine about “It’s just rats” and “C’mon I wanna stay as dry as I can”. After a quick search, the original bandit grumbled something and turned away. Together they followed the original pair.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Akta and Taman followed Soluun around the corner. They found themselves facing a gap in the boardwalk a shade under ten feet in width. The water channel it exposed seemed to flow into the building as opposed to hitting a retainer wall. Akta was noting this when Soluun passed by her in a blur.

In a few quick steps, he jumped to the wall and ran the length of the gap before springing to safety. Taman shrugged and took off, leaping straight across. He landed and was just able to clear the way as Akta followed suit.

Soluun was pressed up against the building once again, leaning slightly so he could see around the corner. The wind carried a loud voice over the rain.

Ahmaergo: Aye, hol’ on a moment, I need a second.

The sound of a steady stream followed a moment of silence which, in turn, was followed by an “ahh”.

Soluun took one last look at the pair following him. Without a word, he pulled his short sword free and disappeared around the corner.

Battle at the Docks

Taman and Akta

Soluun approached Ahmaergo who was standing on the edge of the dock buttoning his pants. Dagger in hand, he lunged forward, the blade targeted vital organs.

I rolled a natural 1 on his attack

It was a wild chain of events that led to his miss. The rain had started to come down a bit harder. The gunslinger was annoyed by his newly acquired shadows (Taman and Akta). And Ahmaergo happened to turn at the exact moment the blade would have found a home.

Instead, Soluun stumbled forward, the sudden open air leaving him with nothing to slow his momentum. The movement caught Ahmaergo’s attention and the dwarf turned to face them.

Ahmaergo: Ah, well isn’t this interesting. I haven’t danced in a long time.

What followed was a flurry of movement. The old dwarf moved like a halfling monk. A great-ax appeared in his hands as if summoned and just as quickly was pealing through the air. Two blows struck Soluun and one found Taman as he rushed forward to help. Ahmaergo laughed and spat taunts as he readied his weapon for another attack.

As Taman made to feign with his right, Soluun attempted to flank the dwarf. The dark elf, as he had to cross the channel, jumped to the side of the building and began to run. As he passed Ahmaergo, the dwarf dropped his great-ax and reached up with arms as thick as logs. His hands gripped the dark elf and, using Soluun’s momentum, swung him out into the harbor. Soluun flew face-first into the dark waters, leaving Akta and Taman alone on the boardwalk.

Ahmaergo looked over his shoulder. His two bodyguards heard the commotion and were fast approaching.

Ahmaergo: Been a while since I had the chance to toss an elf. Too long in fact. (Stretches his head to the side with an audible crack)

(Pointing at Akta) Take her to the Pit. The boss hasn’t seen one of them fight in a long while. The other (pointing at Taman), kill him. We got plenty of them

And then he turned his back to them and walked down the boardwalk leaving them to face the two bugbears.

Finzu and Viigo

DM’s view as chaos breaks out

The drow gunslingers seized their opportunity the moment the bugbears left their post. Diving into the three bandits making up the escort they let their blades fly. As the captain defended and fought them off, Finzu slid past the battle and appeared behind him. The halfling let loose a flurry of blows on the Captain’s exposed flank causing him to turn enough for the drow to strike true.

As the captain fell, the other drow faced the remaining two bandits. They fought for their lives, blades flying wildly, but the practiced mercenary was able to parry all their attacks. This left an opening for Viigo.

The cleric watched as Ahmaergo moved towards them. He channeled and cast heat metal, praying that the dwarf was wearing some form of metal armor. He guessed correctly and the plate chest plate Ahmaergo was wearing began to heat up. Unfortunately, the rain, coming off the ocean, was cool and suppressed the impact of the spell. Ahmaergo smiled, unaware of the spell, thinking he had gotten back some of his youthful vigor.

Casting a glance at the drow cutting down his patrol, Ahmaergo called out:

Ahmaergo: Avareene?! Now is as good a time as any!

Over the sounds of battle, a silky voice carried on the winds.

Avareene: Do not trouble yourself, my love. I am here, as always.

The woman from earlier in the Captain’s Quarters appeared on the pier. Looking over the fighting she looked amused.

Taman and Akta

The bugbears approach, sneering at Akta, their morning stars dangling at their sides. Akta’s eyes narrowed as she brought her halberd up. As the bugbears moved within range, she swung it in a broad arc, opening a wound in the closet assailant’s shoulder. He let out a growl and watched as the blood began to flow freely.

It brought its morning star upwards, clanging against the halberd, forcing it upwards and unable to parry the next attack. Akta took a shot to her side as the other bugbear preyed on the opening. She grunted and took a step back.

As she did, a subtle noise caught her ear through the rain. Light footsteps were approaching from behind. She smiled and readied herself as Taman leaped. She brought her tail up and pressed it against his backside, giving him a boost. Then, as his foot landed on her shoulder, she lifted with all the power she could muster in her legs.

Both Taman and Akta had to pass an Acrobatics and Strength check respectively.

Akta had to pass a pretty high Acrobatics check to pull this move off. She also had to beat the bugbear in a Dexterity roll-off to determine if she was able to make contact before the bugbear could react

Both bugbears watched, open-mouthed, as Taman flipped over their heads and landed behind them. Now in flanking position, Taman found purchase with his rapier. Noticing that all the attention was now on Taman, Akta began to run toward the group. As she neared she stuck the heel of her halberd between the planks of the boardwalk and used the momentum to carry her in a sweeping arc. She swung around the pivot point and planted two hooves in the chest of the closed bugbear.

The force lifted the bugbear off its feet and sent it into the harbor. As the remaining bugbear danced with Taman, she then cast Command.

Akta: Dive

The bugbear immediately dropped his morning star. With a look of confusion, it turned towards the bay, took a running start, and launched itself into the dark water.

Finzu and Viigo

DM’s view as the patrol catches up to the melee

Viigo turned to the sound of shouts from behind. Running down the street toward them were four more bandits returning dinner. Three of them crashed into the group while one began banging on a large double door.

Bandit: Aye, can’t you hear! Get out here! Bring ya blades!

The doors opened and two more bandits launched themselves into the fray.

While Finzu and Viigo did their best to navigate the chaos, the gunslingers demonstrated why they were so feared. Their deadly movement flowed through the mess of bodies. Men screamed. Blood sprayed. But the gunslingers moved as if dancing. Their faces were as calm as if they had been sitting by a warm fire, a hint of satisfaction pulling at the sides of their mouths.

Ahmaergo and Avareene

Ahmaergo: Burn the boat.

Avareene: But your men my dear. And the cargo.

Ahmaergo: Forget all of that. It’s now about sending a message. Burn. The. Boat.

Avareene’s face broke her flirtatious mask for only a second as her brow furrowed. She then nodded to herself and turned down the pier to the boat. Raising her arms, a large ball of fire grew out of nowhere. And then she cast it forward.

A large explosion rocked the boardwalk as the fireball crashed into the boat. Shrill shrieks of kenku pierced the night and the now raging fire created a beacon in the night.

Avareene: Might I suggest we…

She stopped as Soluun pulled himself from the dark waters and onto the dock. He pulled his short sword free and began to advance on Ahmaergo, who brought his great-ax into attack position.

Avareene: No. I’m afraid we simply do not have time for this.

With a flick of her hands, a near-invisible wall sprang into existence between the two warriors.

Avareene: Now, my dear, would you be so kind?

As she turned and began to cast teleport Ahmaergo sneered at Soluun through the wall. From the corner of his eye, he watched as one of his bugbear bodyguards began to pull themselves up on the dark elf’s side of the wall. Soluun saw it as well. In response, he pulled his pistol from his belt, checked the flint, and then leveled it between the bugbear’s eyes. Without breaking eye contact with Ahmaergo, he pulled the trigger.

A bang rang out as the bugbear’s head snapped backward. Its hands let go of the dock and it fell to the water. Fury raged in Ahmaergo’s eyes as he licked his lips, imagining what the dark elf’s blood would taste like. And then Avareene completed her spell. Both she and Ahmaergo vanished.

Taman and Akta

Running to support the melee that the others had engaged in, a splash caught Akta’s attention. She stopped and looked over the side of the boardwalk. Making its way through the waves was the second bugbear. She shook her head and struck downward with her halberd as if she were spearing fish in a stream.

She got advantage because of the surprise, attacking from above, and the fact that the bugbear could not defend itself.

The halberd sank through the bugbear’s shoulder. The creature’s howl was drowned away as water filled its mouth and it sank to the bottom of the harbor.

She then joined the others in time to watch more patrols come around the side of the warehouse. But this time, the bandits looked at the carnage that littered the docks.

Bandit: No, this ain’t worth it

And they began to flee

Inside the Warehouse

Taman emerged from the double doors and informed the party that he had been successful in picking the lock. He also shared that he had identified at least four bandits, including their captain, and a gazer inside.

Gunslinger: Is this the only entrance?

Taman: No, I believe that the channel on the waterside leads to the interior of the building. There were two of the skimmer boats tied up, still in the water.

The drow conversed through hand talk and then turned back to the group.

Gunslinger: Go inside, but not into the main room. Wait for us to signal you in.

And then they headed back harbor side and out of sight.

The party did as they were told, moving into the initial room. There were piles of hay, a cart, barrels, and a single lamp providing insufficient amounts of light. And they waited.

The steady pounding of the rain was the only sound in the night. The minutes dragged on and the party began to get antsy. Akta took it upon herself to take a peak. She stepped up to the door and, as carefully as she could, pulled it open wide enough to get a decent view of the room.

Bodies spread out across the open area, most of them with slit throats, but none of them drow. After another moment, she pushed the door open and stepped into the large central room of the warehouse. Here was where the real business was.

Crates and barrels of all sizes were stacked in various piles around the room. A water channel and a pair of makeshift docks provided access to the harbor. To her right were a pair of cells, each with a human lying on a bed made primarily of boards.

As the party stepped there was a loud shout followed by a string of curses they couldn’t understand. One of the drow fell backward with a bolt lodged in his thigh. Soluun and the other gunslinger appeared from behind crates. They began to converse fervently in hand-talk until they were satisfied with their approach.

Like shadows, they moved from the party’s sight once again. Shortly after, a gunshot echoed through the room, amplified by its high ceilings. When Soluun returned to view, he motioned for the group to move deeper into the room before he went to tend to his companion.

Each cell contained a single human. A man in the right cell was completely still while the woman in the left cell breathed in rapid shallow breaths. Picking the key from the dead Captain, Taman opens the woman’s cell.

Rolling her over, Taman called for Akta. The bruises and contusions dotting the woman’s exposed skin were enough to tell him that there was more damage inside. Viigo beat Akta to the cell and cast Stabilize. With her comatose state stabilized, her breathing slowed. She now looked as if sleeping. Akta threw the woman over her shoulder and went to check on the man in the other cell. The man had succumbed to his wounds.

As the gunslingers made to leave, the one who had taken a crossbow bolt stopped and nodded toward the party.

Gunslinger: You fought well. I will ensure he learns of this.

And they left the party alone in the warehouse.

As Akta loaded the woman onto one of the small skimmer boats, Viigo and Finzu explored the crates pressed against the walls. Low-grade weapons and armor filled most. But then they came across a number of crates that had carefully packaged plants and powder. With the knowledge generated by growing up on the streets, Akta confirmed that they had found the stash of Dream Flake and Black Lilly. They then took the opportunity to load some of the drugs onto the boat with the woman.

Before leaving, Taman suggested that they explore the rest of the warehouse. At first, the party was reluctant, expecting the City Watch to bust down the doors any minute, but they relented.

The exploration was mostly uneventful. They found a kenku body with a gunshot wound to the head lying in a secret hallway. A narrow opening looked out onto the central room. But aside from that, there were a few rooms used for storage, a dining area, and sleeping quarters.

Then they entered the Captain’s Room, where they had eavesdropped on Ahmaergo and Avareene. The fire was still going, giving the room a comforting feeling. Exploring the various shelves, they pocketed a few bottles of fine wine, a pendant, and a ring that opened to reveal a fine powder.

Returning to the central room, the party loaded onto the skimmers and set off into the night.

The Refugee

They set off for the Luskan docks, but as they drew closer they were reminded how late it was. The carnival was empty and a light fog drifted through the tents giving it an eerie feeling. Deciding that they were unlikely to get an audience at this time of night, they pulled into a dock and unloaded the woman.

Before they were even off the boardwalk they realized that it was likely not the best idea to be walking the Dock Ward in the middle of the night with an unconscious woman slung over the shoulder of a tiefling. They carefully laid her down and Akta cast Cure Wounds.

The woman took a deep breath and her eyes snapped open. Seeing the devilish features of a trifling hovering over her, she panicked and began to scream. Taman frantically tried to silence her and went to cover her mouth. The aggressive action caused her to flail in an all-out effort to free herself.

Then she was quiet and the remnants of the Command spell faded from around Viigo as he instructed her to “Calm”.

Now that she was taking in her surroundings, the party began to ask her questions. They learned that her name was Jeha Waladh and she was from lands north of Luskan. She told them that her village had been raided and many of the young adults had been taken. She didn’t know how long she had been in captivity but informed them that she had been one of the first to be taken from the ship and that over two dozen remained.

The party broke the news to her that she was the only remaining survivor and asked her what she wanted to do. Hearing that Luskans were near, she asked the party to take her to them. They agreed and everyone piled back onto the boats.

Early Morning Reception

Crossbow bolts plunked the water as they approached the Eyecatcher. Once the warning shots had made their point, a voice demanded to know their business at this hour. After a lengthy exchange, the party was able to persuade the sentries to allow them to board.

Once on deck, they were escorted to the captain’s quarters. Tarwind answered, smelling of booze and wiping sleep from his eyes. After snapping at the guard he then turned to the party. His hazy brain took a moment to process the party in front of him. As soon as he recognized them he jumped and invited them in. Seeing them seated at the table, this time littered with bottles of wine (empty and half drank), picked over food and other remnants of a party, he left to fetch Zardoz.

The Admiral wasn’t long. He arrived wearing only his britches and trademarked hat. Margo was at his hip, dressed in his large billowy shirt. He welcomed the party and joined them at the table.

After listening to the party recount the evening, he sat in silence for a long while. Then he ordered Tarwind to fetch the good whiskey and rum. As he asked about Khafeyta, Margo became visibly tense. Hanging on their every word she sank deeper into her chair as they spoke.

Zardoz: It is troubling that she did not return with you, but I am sure she is staying low after such a prolific event. (He turns and looks at Margo, gives a half-smile, and then squeezes her hand). She is very resourceful. I’m sure that is all it is.

He then announced that he was returning to his quarters. Looking over the party one last time, he invited them to eat and drink as they pleased and, if they wished, there were beds available in the crew’s quarters.


The Wizard And The Warrior

Avareene and Ahmaergo are two sides of Xanathar’s slave-trading operation. Where Ahmaergo operates on the slave markets, Avareene is infamous for kidnapping her goods. The two seldom worked together but were this night due to how much cargo needed to be moved. Alone, each would be a significant challenge, but together they make an exceptionally deadly and ruthless combination.

Watching From The Shadows

Ziraj observed the entire encounter from the rooftops. This was the first time he had been able to locate his target, Soluun. However, he did not act because the party had been involved. Instead, he decided to watch and report back to Davil. If the party was working with the drow, the sun elf would need to know.

Disrupting Operations

The events of the evening have gone a long way to disrupt Xanathar’s brazenly open operations. His import business will slow significantly. The beholder is going to be upset because this comes during the festival season. Not only is the demand for Black Lilly spiking, but he enjoys holding his own ‘tournaments’ to celebrate.


Large Encounters

This was the first time that I had run an encounter even close to this size. All in there were nearly twenty NPCs for me to run. One way that I was able to keep everything straight was by following a technique I found in the Alexandrian.

In preparation for this battle, I created a roster that told me who and where everyone was once we started. From there I could use that information to make it feel more genuine when “adds” began showing up.

I gave the party the drow gunslingers as allies in this battle because of how many bad guys there were. While this helped to level the playing field, the players were still making comments about how they didn’t think they would survive.

Battle Outcomes

I had planned a number of potential outcomes for this fight.

  1. The party was successful in clearing the warehouse: This was the most likely and, ultimately, the one that took place.
  2. The whole party became captured: In this event then they would have been defeated and transported to Xanathar’s lair where they would have had to fight in the Pit.
  3. Only some of the party became captured: This was the least likely of all the outcomes. However, at certain points in the battle, the party had begun talking about fleeing and leaving members behind. They had the full intention of returning to retrieve the body afterward and doing what they could to revive the individual. But they didn’t realize that Ahmaergo would be just as happy to knock them unconscious and enslave them. I hadn’t quite figured out what to do in that case, but based on how unlikely this outcome would be, I left that for another time.

Using Allies

I didn’t realize how one-sided the fight would become once Ahmaergo left the battlefield. I had always intended on him leaving the encounter once the ship had been set aflame, but the swing that it caused caught me off guard.

The gunslingers were too powerful for the waves of bandits. Once I felt that the battle was over and getting boring, I had the remaining bandits decide to flee. This allowed me to wrap up the fight in a satisfying way without dragging it on for no reason.

Creating Tension

One way I tried to create tension was by using the bandits, kenku, and bugbear who were returning from their break. Each turn I would advance them 20 feet around the warehouse. As soon as they were in the line of vision of the battle, I added them to the initiative order.

This helped create a sense of urgency with the players. Not only did they have to deal with the immediate danger, but they were on a clock. And each wave was more difficult than the last. If they wouldn’t able to clear the add-ons fast enough, they would likely become overrun.

Killing Ideas

Initially, I was going to have Ziraj enter the fray at some point. His sole target was going to be Soluun and my goal was to use it to kick off a side-story line. However, as we progressed through the session, I never found a moment that felt right. Each time I considered pulling Ziraj out of the shadows it felt like it would have felt forced.

And so I killed the idea. What resulted is something that I like even better. Now the party needs to resolve this conflict with Davil. It will be difficult to explain why they were working with the drow.


Warehouse Map

This was a map that I took from u/Tarsiz on reddit and modified it slightly in Dungeon Draft to fit my needs.

You can also find the jpeg here.

Battle Roster

You can find my battle plan and roster here.