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Table of Contents
Once Taman had finished salvaging some of the beast’s razor-sharp teeth, the party continued through the only exit. The large pipe led back into the lower sewers and they continued to use the purple eye markers to navigate.
But the path ended at a “T”. Branching to the left, red-eye markers began and headed into the darkness. To the right, green, blue, yellow, and orange eyes dotted the walls. On the wall that faced them were six markers, one for each of the colors. Convinced there was something special about this particular intersection, Taman stepped forward and inspected the wall.
The shimmer of magic became more visible the closer he moved. After some discussion with the rest of the party, debating following another path versus attempting to access the door, they decided to begin randomly touching the eyes on the wall.
First, in order, they hit green, orange, and red. The green eye illuminated but as they touched the Orange marker it faded again. Next, they tried purple, blue, and green. Purple and blue lit up but both faded once they touched the green marker.
They played around with various combinations until they arrived at purple, blue, and red. Once all three markers were illuminated, the wall faded and exposed a spiral staircase descend deeper beneath the city. The walls were covered with the same markers with no identifiable pattern to the colors. As they began to descend they got the feeling that they were being watched. Like when you swear a painting followed you around the room.
After a few hundred feet, the staircase terminated in a small room. The only way forward was through a circular door in the far wall. Carefully, the party peaked through, rotating it open a sliver.
On the other side was a massive hall. Carved eyes of all shapes and sizes populated the walls. Yet unlike the markers in the staircase, stone eyelids opened and closed at irregular intervals. At the southern end of the hall, a ghostly eyestalk dangled from the ceiling in front of a set of double doors.
They edged their way in and surveyed their options. They could head south towards the large doors. Or they could head north where it appeared as if the hall turned a corner. Before they arrived at their decision, something caught Taman’s eye. The outline of another door was barely visible against the far wall. Inspecting the area around it, he noticed that two eyes, in particular, looked worn from touch. Pressing each eye, the once-hidden door swung inward, revealing a curved hallway beyond.
Lifelike statues decorated the 20-foot-wide magically lit hallway. The sounds of singing and laughter carried around the corner. Taking care to not expose themselves as they stole a peak. Halfway down the hall was a deep gnome dressed in clownish garb. He was dancing and singing to himself as he bounced from statue to statue. He would stare at the frozen figure for a few moments before suddenly giggling to himself before moving on.
While the rest of the party debated how best to approach, Finzu stepped into the hall. Realizing what was happening, Taman quickly fell into stride behind him. They stopped two statues down from the one the clown was presently inspecting.
Taman: My, these are remarkable. Quite the piece of art.
The clown suddenly realized that he was no longer alone. He quickly recovered and a giant smile split his face as he bounded to them. His voice was gleeful as he greeted them.
Clown: Visitors! Oh, we get so few visitors. This makes Flutterfoot so happy. Tell me, tell me, why have you come? Have you come to meet with Big Boss? That is often why they come. But also why they often do not leave te-he-he
As Taman told Flutterfoot that they indeed were here to see the ‘big boss’, Akta and Viigo joined them.
Flutterfoot: Why yes, I can take you to him. Currently big boss is in the Audience Chamber. Many have gathered to hear him speak. Many indeed.
Taman: How many?
Flutterfoot: Why, most of them. If one would press Flutterfoot, he might guess over two dozen. The Xanathar Gang is quite extensive you know.
Hearing the name Xanathar caused Taman to fumble his next question. Looking at the other party members, he watched as it dawned on each of them where they were. But Flutterfoot didn’t seem to notice. He leaned in close as if to tell a secret.
Flutterfoot: I ‘s tell you what. Flutterfoot can take you to Big Boss. But I can do better. Certainly for our guests. But first you must answer me a little riddle, yes?
Taman: And what do we get if we answer correctly?
Flutterfoot: The grand tour of course!
And the deep gnome spread his arms wide as if it were the best gift one could imagine. The party agreed.
I come with a smile;
In slaughter, I rest;
I can be contagious,
But my medicine is best.
What am I?
After a moment’s consideration, Akta answered.
Akta: Why, laughter of course!
Flutterfoot: Of course! Oh Flutterfoot is so happy to have guests. Come! Come, allow me to be your guide.
The Grand Tour
After answering his riddle, a delighted Flutterfoot marched them down the Hall of Statues and pointed to doors on the right.
Flutterfoot: This here is the barracks. Lots-o-people live in there. But right now, empty. Everyone is listening to the big-boss man. Would you like to take a peak? The men have decorated the walls with art which I find so funny.
The party declined.
Flutterfoot: Here we have rooms of Noska Ur’gray. He not so bad. Just stay on his good side yeah? And don’t mention his arm. Don’t look at his arm. You know, just pretend his arm is perfectly normal.
The party nodded that they understood.
Flutterfoot: Next is where the Iron Dwarf lives. I do not recommend going in there. Ahmaergo does not appreciate a joke. And there are some very very strange things in there.
The party nodded again and moved a little quicker from the door.
Flutterfoot: And this is Thorvin Twinbeard’s workshop. I like it in here. Thorvin likes my jokes and he is always working on something interesting for Big Boss. But I knows a secret yes? Big Boss is not happy with Thorvin. No, no, no he is not. That is why the eye follows him everywhere.
Flutterfoot pointed to his own eye as if to hammer home the point. Once he felt that they had understood, the deep gnome led them back up the Hall of Statues and then veered off into another hallway.
Not long, about 15 feet, the hall emptied into what appeared to be a large chamber. A large 40-foot-high domed ceiling provided excellent acoustics. The circular floor tiled in black marble and inlaid with gold, formed some sort of mosaic. Statues like the ones from the Hall of Statues lined the walls.
Bodies packed the chamber with their backs to the entrance. A psychedelic display of magical orbs, each the size of a human eyeball floated at the center as if submerged. From within the swirl of eyes, a voice resonated outward and told a tale of victory for the true lord of Waterdeep, Xanathar.
The party stood at the mid-way point realizing what they were walking into. Standing inside the chamber was the entirety of the Xanathar gang presumably including its leader, the beholder.
Taman: Well? Do we just slip in and hope no one sees or recognizes us?
Flutterfoot: You could if you are in a hurry to speak with Big Boss. But I still have the best part of the tour!
The jester turned and, with a number of swift moves, activated a secret door that pulled away from the wall.
Flutterfoot: I’m so excited to show our guests this! I am! Very few have ever seen this before I promise.
And he bounded away into the passage. Thinking that joining the pep rally was a bad idea, the party was quick to slip inside and chase him around a short bend. They found him standing at a dead-end, his hands working the stone. The wall parted down the middle and opened enough for a human to walk through.
Flutterfoot: (Making a grand gesture) The best part!
Where the Magic Happens
Taman was the first through the gap. Viigo and Finzu followed while Akta stayed behind with Flutterfoot.
The room had a flat, 30-foot-high ceiling from which luminous violet particles drifted like mist. A large 20-foot-diameter fishbowl dominated the room. It was filled with water and was complete with a small coral reef, a shipwreck, and a sunken treasure chest. A smaller fishbowl sat on a pedestal next to the larger bowl. And standing with his back to the party was a dwarf wearing a skullcap adorned with eyestalks. The dwarf seemed to be mumbling to himself as he sprinted flakes of food into the smaller bowl.
A loud roar came from the large chamber next door.
Looking around the room, Taman noticed that an alcove jutted into the wall across from him. It looked big enough to be a room in itself. Even more enticing were the faint multicolored lights that shimmered across its floor and walls.
He took a deep breath and steadied his heartbeat before sliding around the corner and to the large fishbowl. Keeping an eye on the dwarf, he lowered to a crouch and slipped between the glass and the wall, following its curvature until he had come around the other side.
Another cheer rose from the audience chamber, this time followed by stomping and clapping.
After a moment of watching the dwarf, he decided that he might be able to slip into the alcove undetected. But as he moved across the dwarf’s line of sight he triggered its attention. It dropped the food bowl, drew his dagger, and stammered.
Ott Steeltoes: You shouldn’t be here! Stay back! Or I’ll call the boss!”
Taman threw up his hands in feigned resignation and attempted to calm the dwarf down. After a few failed words, Ott closed his eyes and began shaking. The words "Xanathar!", "Intruders!", "Come fast!", and "Disintegrate!" met Taman’s ears. But before he could move Viigo step up and clapped the dwarf on the back of the skull with the side of his hammer. Ott fell to the ground, nearly knocking over the smaller fishbowl.
Viigo: We should go!
Taman: But there’s something here! One second!
Taman ducked into the alcove. Hovering 10 feet off the floor was another bowl, this one six feet in diameter. Crystal lattice pulsated with various colors. And Taman decided he had to have it.
One final roar boomed through the walls. This time it was followed by the shuffle of feet.
As fast as he could, he pulled out a length of rope and made a lasso. He heaved it up towards the top of the bowl and, for a moment, felt it catch the lip on the other side.
The rope fell and the sound of stone scraping the floor snapped Taman back to attention. Viigo and Finzu ducked between the large fishbowl and the wall.
Akta watched in horror as Flutterfoot’s eyes widened and he turned to her.
Flutterfoot: It is time we go. Right now!
And he hit a few spots in the wall and the secret door snapped shut, sealing her off from the others.
Akta: But my friends are in there!
Flutterfoot: (Calling back while running down the passage) Then your friends are dead!
The Eye Tyrant
Akta whipped around and inspected the door. Concentrating, she did her best to recall what Flutterfoot had done to open the door. Reaching out, she did her best to mimic his movements. As she touched the last stone the door split down the middle and swung open.
With the door reopened, Finzu and Viigo slipped into the passage. Taman made it a few steps before the door leading to the audience chamber swung open. A spheroid body with a great bulging eye and a wide toothy maw floated in the doorway. Seeing the secret door open, its many eyestalks swiveled to the fishbowl. And then it disappeared.
Thinking fast, Taman snatched the hat from the unconscious dwarf and pulled it on. Doing his best feeding impression.
A voice sounded from all angles.
Xanathar: Sylgar! Sylgar! Where are you?
Taman could feel a great presence moving about the room. It then came to rest over his shoulder.
Xanathar: Ah, Sylgar! There you are. I was so… Who are you?
And then everything went dark.
Flight of the Fools
Unable to see, Taman sprinted in the direction of the door. The floor turned slick and slimy beneath his feet. As he blindly skated he felt rays of energy pass by in the darkness. He slammed into a solid wall and hands began to grasp his shoulders.
Akta pulled him out of the darkness she had cast on the room and they all began to flee. They caught a group of Xanatharians by surprise as they erupted from the hidden entrance.
Taman: Turning to the gang members as his party continued to run Yeah, so, uh, the boss isn’t very happy. I’d get out of here
This provoked a panicked response from the gang members who began to scramble. But then Xanathar’s voice echoed from the passage.
Xanathar: Intruders! Kill them!
This broke Taman’s deception and they began to pursue the party. Turning into the Hall of Statues many of the leaders began to slide. Legs lifted into the air as their boots stepped on the caltrops that Taman had dropped as he had turned the corner. One of the gang member’s knees buckled with a sickening crack and he reached out as he fell. He pulled down two others as he screamed and a small pile began to form.
The party had a moment to celebrate before a blinding ray of light blasted across the Hall of Statues, covering the pile of writhing bodies. When their vision returned, nothing remained but a pile of ash. And then Xanathar floated around the corner.
Three more rays streamed down the hall. A light blue ray, twinkling with flickers of dust, passed by Taman’s hip. A misty grey blast narrowly missed Viigo. As it hit the wall, the whole area turned to stone. And then a bone grey ray connected with Taman’s back. Fear wracked his body and his eyes were wide in sheer terror, he sprinted as fast as he could from the pursing aberration.
They rounded the corner and fled into the Watched Hall. Akta threw her shoulder into the round door leading to the exit and was able to spin it open for the rest of the group. She felt the charge of the ray pass her ear. The sound of the explosion and the light from the blast forced her back a step. And when she could see again there was no door. A heap of dust was all that separated her from the staircase.
Stealing a glance back at the beholder, she threw herself forward and followed her party up the winding staircase. While they climbed, Xanathar’s curses chased after them.
Stumbling into the sewers the party didn’t even think about where they were running. They turned right and began following the red-eye markers. They walked until they came upon a ladder that looked as if it led back to the surface.
They emerged into a dark building. The single room was full of armor and weapons, all of which sported the City Watch emblem. Deciding disguises would be best, Viigo and Taman donned City Watch outfits. They loosely fitted shackles on the wrists of Akta and Finzu, hoping no one would question them while they escorted the ‘prisoners’.
Looking around as they emerged from the small armory they found Castle Waterdeep towering over them. The walls reached out and encircled the large open area where soldiers and watchmen were running drills.
Voice from behind them: If I didn’t know any better, I would think you’d be testing me to see how many laws you could break before I arrested you.
‘Art’ in the Hall of Statues
The statues that make up the ‘art’ in this large hallway are the petrified remains of individuals who stoke the ire of Xanathar. They have been placed here, on display, as a reminder of the gang’s temperamental leader. This is also the case for the statues in the Audience Chamber
The Open Lord
The Open Lord and the Captain have been monitoring the party for a few days. Especially with the incident at the docks. But the main reason has been that Laeral is interested in the Luskan’s true intention. She doesn’t believe they are only here to entertain. And her ears from across the nations have informed her that the man named Zardoz Zord simply does not exist.
Because of this, she and the Captain have been monitoring their movements. Once they realized that the party was likely to surface, albeit accidentally, through one of the secret passages within the castle walls, she sent the Captain to retrieve them.
Xanathar’s Pep Rally
Thinking that he already has the Stone of Golorr, Xanathar has begun to fashion himself the true ruler of Waterdeep. With his expanding black market trade, he has captured the shadier side of the economy. And with the civil war within the Zhentarim beginning to rise to a fever pitch, he has been able to win some crucial battles in that conflict.
He intends to use the festival season as his ‘coronation’. To celebrate he is holding blood tournaments in the Pit of Blood and Fortune. These are often one-sided battles that result in a gory finale.
When the party arrived, he was giving a speech about how grand and powerful the Xanatharians, and himself by extension, have become. While predominantly self-praise, the ale he bestowed upon the gang members offered an incentive to join the festivities.
The Eye Puzzle
Even though the party never actually figured out the trick to the puzzle, they were able to move forward. I think that the danger with puzzles or riddles is that they can sometimes draw the entire session to a halt. If you, as a DM, insist on only the ‘correct’ solution you run the risk of frustrating your players.
One thing I have realized about puzzles, coming from both a player and a DM, is that they are never as obvious as they seem to you. You have the answer. You constructed the mechanics. You know every about it. But very often, your players are left to imagine the puzzle based on your descriptions. This inherently makes it subjective to each player’s interpretation.
In the case of the eye puzzle, there were many solutions. The way that the puzzle worked was as followed:
- The first eye that they touched marked the start of the sequence. In the world, of the Xanatharian Gang, this identified the path they had followed to get here. This was information then transmitted to the watchers below.
- The subsequent eyes that needed to be activated are based on primary and secondary colors.
If the first color was a primary color then the players needed to touch another primary and then the secondary color that those two represented.
- For example: If they touched red first and blue second, then purple would need to be third.
If the first marker was a secondary color, then the players would need to touch both primary colors that combined to match the first marker.
- Example: If the first marker was purple, then red and blue would need to follow in any order
Because I didn’t require a specific order, that gave the players 18 possible solutions to arrive at. This almost ensured that they could proceed even if they didn’t figure out exactly how the puzzle worked.
Here are all the possible combinations:
I still haven’t figured out how to properly leverage passive perception to allow the party to detect secrets. I read a post on Reddit the other day that dealt with this. The title was Passive Perception feels like I’m just deciding ahead of time what the party will notice and it doesn’t feel right. This is exactly how I felt.
But the top comment’s stance helped me a lot.
I take the position that perception does not equal understanding
I like this a lot because it provides the agency to the player to investigate. And it all comes down to how you describe it.
In past sessions I have literally said:
You notice the outline of a door
Which, I immediately regretted.
But I should have said something more along the lines of -
You notice light marks that lead directly into the wall, as if something heavy had been dragged through it
Or, as in the comment
The stonework on a section of the floor looks sightly different. For the age of the room, there is very little dust.
Sky Flourish seems to agree with this approach. In his article Flow of Trap Detection he goes on to say:
But we can change what they see with passive Perception. This can depend on the story and the situation. We can be sure that a character with a passive Perception higher than the DC of a trap notices danger ahead, but they might not know what danger they see. This would require its own Intelligence (Investigation) check to learn more about what is going on with the trap.
This requires either quick thinking or some planning ahead, both of which I didn’t have while running this session. But it is something good to keep in mind going forward.
I have to admit that I have no idea how all the characters made it out alive. Thinking back to the whole situation there were so many ways they should have been killed. But it was their night with the dice.
As things progressed and I realized that they weren’t as afraid as they should have been, I began thinking about how best to handle a character’s death. I hate Deus Ex Machina and they had managed to come eye-to-eye with one of the most dangerous creatures in the game. The only acceptable option was to let whatever happened to happen. I didn’t fudge any dice. I didn’t pull punches. I played it as I thought it should. They managed to pull it off.
And kudos to them! It made such a fun session that we were talking about it the rest of the week. Knowing that I hadn’t ensured their survival did two things (in my view at least).
- It made their accomplishment seem that much more epic. They did it. Not me. They overcame a situation that should have wiped them out.
- It built trust in me as a DM. I think that, knowing I was willing to allow them to fail, increased their trust in me as both a storyteller and a DM.
It’s hard to explain why I feel this way. Part of it may be that they know I’m not going to force a narrative on them. If I’m willing to let them get disintegrated, I’m not going to hardline a story on them. The other part may be that they knew I didn’t want them to die. They know I’m not out to kill them, to overwhelm them. I’m out to create a fun environment for them to explore and play in. One with real consequences that are a result of their actions… not an evil DM.
In all honesty, I was not prepared for the Xanathar encounter. In no world did I think that they would continue to press on once they learned they had accidentally found themselves in his lair. Part of that, is players being players.
So we are in one of the worst places we could find ourselves. I mean… we literally just blew up their boat. We should probably keep going deeper and just see what happens.
But another part is my failure. The party didn’t even flinch when I finally name-dropped him. That shows me that I need to spend more time building the character for them and showing them how dangerous he can be. Up until now, Xanathar has been a name that has been thrown around. Now, having faced him head-on, it may change their tune. Maybe.
Since I did not anticipate them actually coming face-to-face with Xanathar, I didn’t spend a lot of time preparing for him. I completely missed the treasure chest in his lair, which contained an eye. That I will have to rectify at some point. But I also completely forgot about the Beholder’s lair actions until after Akta cast darkness.
Only then did I take advantage of one of his actions. While it feels like a missed opportunity, there is always next time.
Luck of the Roll
As stated above, the party only survived because they were incredibly lucky. I thought it would be fun to list out all the critical rolls and decisions they made that led to their escape:
- Akta rolling a natural 20 to remember how Flutterfoot opened the door
- Taman’s Deception role when putting on the hat
- Akta choice to cast darkness in the room
- Xanathar not looking in her direction at the time and thus not having the cone of anti-magic in the right position
- Xanathar missing his first three rays
- The natural 1 that the gang member rolled when sliding on the caltrops and bringing down many of the others
- The ray that hit Taman turned out to be the Fear Ray (rays are chosen by rolling a d10. Literally, any other ray most likely would have resulted in his death. The only other ray that might have been ok would have been the Enervation Ray which only deals necrotic damage. So a 20% expected survival rate on this one.
- Akta rolled a 16 on her Dexterity saving throw at the end of the chase. Xanathar had cast a Disintegration Ray that held a DC 16 check. If it would have hit her, her hit points would have fallen to 0 and she would have been reduced to a pile of fine gray dust.
After it was all done I had to take a moment and try to fathom what had happened.
This was also my first skill challenge. I used these rules.
It became immediately apparent that I need to study up on these. It may have been their amazing roles, but I felt like they were blowing through it. Most of that was due to the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing.
Matt Colville did a great video on skill challenges. I tried my best to remember his points in the session, but going back I realize how poorly I did in the execution.
I am looking forward to trying these again. The difference will be that I will have done my homework ahead of time.