Dinner With the Devils
On the 18th, after putting the finishing touches on Trollskull Manor, the party cleaned up and headed to Cassalanter Villa. Willifort was there to greet them and escorted them into the entrance hall. More than three dozen holy symbols of Siamorphe reflected the light from a crystal chandelier hanging from the tall ceilings. A deep crimson carpet contrasted the silver chalices and escorted them to the smoking room.
Fine armchairs, arranged so that they faced each other, sat on a fine hand-woven carpet. Painted art filled the walls, with two additional pieces supported by easels. Each painting was a snapshot of the Cassalanter’s life.
- One, against the north wall, depicted a somber young Victoro standing next to his smiling human father.
- Another captured Victory and Ammalia smiling on their wedding day.
- Against the west wall was a portrait of their eldest, Osvaldo, holding a ceremonial rapier.
- And hanging on the south wall, the largest in the room, was a depiction of Ammalia sitting with the twins in her lap while Victoro read them a fairy tale.
Ammalia was standing in front of the last painting, a loving smile on her face. Victoro was resting in one of the armchairs, pulling on a pipe and reading. He stood when the party entered. Taking their drink orders he sent Willifort to fetch wine from the cellar while he poured glasses of whiskey.
After some pleasantries, the topic changed to the party’s adventures. They shared a few of their more public antics, each story exciting Ammalia even more than the last. Finally, she looked to be bursting at the seams. Victoro sighed and gave his wife a small smile before addressing the group.
Victoro: As you can see, my love greatly enjoys these tales. She often times seeks them out. So often, in fact, I would not be surprised if she could write a collection of books on the unspoken history of Waterdeep.
She has heard rumors lately and wanted me to ask you. Have you come across or heard anything relating to the Enigma?
The party feigned ignorance and asked what it was.
Victoro: (motioning to Ammalia) She will be able to tell you more than I
Ammalia: (very excitedly) So, I have heard it is a treasure left over from the War of Dragons. Not much is known about what it actually is, but it is said to be hidden somewhere in the city.
As she spoke her pace increased and the excitement levels in her voice peaked.
Ammalia: It is just like in the stories. Lost treasure, a mysterious origin, and clues everywhere!
The party asked what type of clues she was referring to. At this Ammalia faltered a little and looked semi-bashful.
Ammalia: Ah, well, I suppose the correct term is rumors. I have not heard anything someone like Victoro would consider to be substantial. Though I have heard mention of dragons!
Victoro: While we continue to discuss this, would you care to take a walk through the gardens? My wife has quite the green thumb. I am proud of her curations and it pains me to miss an opportunity to show them off.
He offered a hand to Ammalia who flashed a mildly embarrassed smile before accepting. Victoro led them back through the foyer, crossing through the library and exiting a door through the study. Outside spring was in full bloom. The gardens themselves were immaculate. But the real enchantment came from the sheer number of butterflies which fluttered through the air. Ammalia went on to explain some of her methods and the different plants which attracted the butterflies. They didn’t have a chance to return to the topic of the Enigma before Willifort appeared and announced dinner was ready.
They followed the head butler to the dining room and began the meal. Somewhere between the second and third course, Victoro filled a small break in the conversation.
Victoro: Ammalia and I have a gift for you. We have learned more of what you will be fighting tomorrow in the Champion’s Games. Dear, would you like to do the honors?
Ammalia was almost bouncing out of her seat.
Ammalia: You will be fighting… (long pause for dramatic effect) a pair of banderhobbs.
There was silence at the table. Finally, Finzu asked, “What is that?”
Ammalia looked taken aback at the question. Then her posture eased a little as she looked at Victoro.
Ammalia: Yes, well, I can’t say that I know either. I was rather hoping that you would know and would be able to tell us!
There was light laughter at the table and the conversation switched gears for the remainder of the dinner.
Doing Their Research
The next morning, they had time before they needed to be at the Fields of Triumph. They took the opportunity to meander around Trollskull alley and get a better lay of the land. Upon coming across the Book Wyrm’s Treasure Akta had an idea.
She stepped into the shop. It was far from what she imagined a bookstore to be. The floors were set with polished stone and expanded outward through the open spaces. Plentiful seating was available throughout, each piece made from the same jade fabric. Small magical lights were positioned around the store, illuminating precisely aligned book spines.
She moved to the first shelf and began to scan the titles. She didn’t even notice when the shop owner greeted her from over her shoulder.
Rishall: (somewhat flustered) I, oh, I’m terribly sorry to have startled you. Are you alright? Is there anything that I may be able to help you with?
Akta explained that she was looking for any material he may have on Banderhobbs. The Dragonborn thought for a moment before moving deeper into the store. The party followed him and waited patiently as he picked through a few books, put them back, and grabbed another. Finally, he pulled one out and looked satisfied.
Rishall: Here you are. Creatures of the Night by one Volothamp Geddarm. Is there anything else you might be interested in?
Akta thanked him, declined, and took the book. Rishall shuffled toward the desk by the front door without making a sound.
Flipping through the pages she found what she was looking for.
“A banderhobb is the creation of a malicious mage or fey creature, called to serve as a thief, kidnapper, or assassin. It doesn’t live very long and so, despite its high intelligence, has no survival instinct to speak of; it exists only to fulfill its order.
There were a number of scribbles in the margins. Squinting she was able to make out a few words.
”… it has Shadow Step, which…”
”… allowing it to teleport… ”
”… very, very sticky … ”
She brought the book to the front and asked if Rishall knew who the previous owner was. He did not but, recognizing that the book was used, he offered a small discount. Akta thanked him, paid, and left.
The Weapons Master
Arriving at the Fields of Triumph the party found themselves caught up in the favor of the day. The mass of bodies pulled them towards the massive lions marking the main entrance. Once inside they had to fight against the current and make their way to a man standing in maroon robes.
The Cassalanters had instructed them to find one of these individuals upon arrival. They approached the man and told him that they were participants. He smiled, confirmed their benefactor, and then escorted them to a row of seats dead center of the arena about 12 benches from the guardrail.
The Escort: Here you are. These have been reserved for you. You are welcome to remain here and watch the matches that take place prior to yours. In which case I will return and collect you when it is time. Otherwise, if you prefer, I can escort you to the preparation chambers.
They thanked him and settled in to watch the upcoming fights.
It wasn’t long before a large, athletic woman donning City Watch armor sat stiffly in front of them. She made a show of ignoring them completely, looking one way, and then the other. After a while she settled, the clinking of the chainmail subsided and the hum of the crowd’s anticipation filled the void.
The Woman: (remaining looking forward) I know for certain that Davil was not taken by the Watch.
Her voice was low but the message shook the party to its core.
The Woman: What can you tell me of his disappearance? I am aware that you did some work for him and that he was fond of you.
Taman answered, keeping his voice low, that they were clueless and wanted to find out as well.
The woman hissed, her agitation reflected in the shifting clinks of her armor.
The Woman: Worthless. Just as Skeemo said you would be.
She then stood abruptly, stretched, and walked away.
Taman: Who the hell was that?
Davila’s journal flared once more.
Tashlyn Yafeera, Master of Arms and Mercenaries
Their escort returned after the first fight and led them into the bowels of the stadium.
Down a number of stairs, they arrived in the preparation areas. Roughly thirty feet wide with large alcoves all the way down, it terminated in a ramp that led out onto the field. Currently, there was a heavy iron gatekeeping the action where it belonged.
The man showed them to their staging area. A bench ran the entire width of the alcove, leaving room for one to pass between it and the wall. Against the back wall were racks of used and worn weapons and armor. Latched storage bins for their personal effects lined the side walls. He then smiled and retreated leaving the party to prepare.
It wasn’t long before their time arrived. The previous challengers had lost their match and the priests and healers had already pulled the unconscious men off the field. The party stood at the iron gate, watching through the bars as a lightfoot halfling skipped to the center of the area.
When he spoke, he had the voice of giants.
Master of Games: Oh my! What a terrible turn that was for those men. But oh how very very exciting! Am I right?!
He then went on a long preamble, doing his best to keep the crowd’s energy levels high. As his voice boomed around the stadium, the party became acutely aware of the sound of gears turning. The gate rose before them, opening the path forward onto the field.
As they stepped forth the game master charged his words with excitement. The crowd began to cheer again, directing all their energy down onto the party.
Master of Games: And their opponents! Cover your children’s eyes because their nightmares have come true! BANDERHOBBS!!!!!
And with that, he quickly ducked into a small door that stood open for his escape.
Two enormous and vile humanoids lumbered from the mouth of the opposite entrance. Despite their bulk, the creature’s movement betrayed a quickness. Resembling bipedal toads, each had a pair of bulbous yellow eyes which spun in their sockets, acclimating to the environment. And then, blinking vertically, they settled on the party.
To the delight of the crowd, Akta sprinted into the fray. Bringing her halberd down on the creature to the right she cast abjure enemy. It pulled up short, muscles locked and eyes bulging in fear. It was during this brief period that Taman drew the first blood. He attacked the other Banderhobb, making contact with his rapiers. Finzu was right behind him. And Viigo connected with his Warhammer. Following through with a blast of radiant energy.
The remaining Banderhobb took a deep breath. With a reverberating belch, it exhaled a putrid gas, producing a cloud that hung in the air, obscuring all vision. The crowd let out a loud gasp as Taman ducked into the plume. A second later a sound that mixed with a gurgle and a scream sounded. Taman slid out the other side of the cloud and turned on his heel.
Finzu also stepped free of the cloud, coughing on the noxious fumes. Just as he sucked in the fresh air, the wet, sticky tongue of the banderhobb shot forth. It stuck to his chest and snapped tight. His head jerked back as he disappeared again. Another round of gasps sounded from the crowd.
Sounds of combat replaced the visuals. Despite not having visibility, the crowd cheered louder. Then Akta escaped the cloud and surveyed the situation. To her right, Viigo stepped free. Taman exited the back and made his way around to the others. Finzu was the last to exit, ducking as another tongue shot past the side of his head.
As a unit, the party backed away from the cloud. Twice a tongue attempted to snag them, but soon they were out of range. And then there was silence. The party, a little confused, pulled up short. The cloud was begging to dissipate and as the air cleared, they could see one banderhobb body in the dirt.
Seeing the slain creature, the crowd erupted in a roar. The sound of their cheering coalesced on the field. It became almost oppressive in nature, causing disorientation. It was by chance that Akta happened to turn and see the tongue shoot from the shadows.
She stepped to the side and watched it fly past. But Viigo hadn’t been paying attention. There was a loud thwap as it connected with his armor. The tension was enough to pull him off his feet and drag him through the dirt. Akta chased after him, the others close on her heels.
They stepped into the shadowed area as Viigo connected. Another flare of radiant energy announced his searing strike. The banderhobb stumbled backward and then vanished again.
Akta turned to the group and shouted to the group. The crowd was too loud and erased her words. But that didn’t deter her. Running to each of the others she mouthed the words Shadow Step.
After she had communicated the message to Finzu, she turned to study the shadows opposite her. Finzu began to backpedal, thinking to keep his back to the wall for safety. The shadows had grown long with the later afternoon sun and the viewing box had, unknown to him, extended their range.
Finzu was pulled from his feet. And then he was airborne. The upper half of his body landed in something wet and noxious. As the mouth began to close around him he flailed wildly.
The noise of the crowd shifted. The energy went from celebratory to concern. The other members of the party picked up on the change and spun. In moments they were at Finzu’s side. Viigo grabbed his legs and pulled while Akta and Taman went to work with their blades.
The banderhobbs strong jaws went slack and Finzu popped free. The crowd became even louder. As if he had been there the whole time, the Master of Games appeared at their sides. He surveyed the group. Finzu, covered in a sticky substance, half on top of Viigo. Akta leaned on her halberd to catch her breath. Taman sat against the wall, scimitar hanging loosely in his hand.
Deciding that there was no immediate need for assistance, he smiled and began to motion for the crowd to calm themselves.
Master of Games: Ladies and gentlemen! I know that I speak not only for myself when I say bravo! What a match! It had everything! And this is only the first round!
As they were taking a rest after the round, a man in maroon robes appeared out of nowhere.
Man: When you are ready, it is requested that you join Lord and Lady Cassalanter in the box.
The party rinsed off and threw on some new clothes before following the man.
The box sat high above the field, directly center of the stadium. High above the rest of the seating, the view was perfect. One could see every piece of action from any spot. Back against the wall, a table laid with various foods sat almost untouched. The wine pitchers, however, seemed as if they were constantly needing refilling.
The moment they entered the box Victoro pushed through the crowd.
Victoro: Well done! That was a marvelous display. And the crowd, they absolutely loved you! Come, come, I wish for you to meet some people.
He placed a strong hand on Taman’s shoulder and began to guide the group when a nimblewright appeared at his elbow. It held out a tray with a number of drinks on it.
Victoro: I believe I got everyone’s order correct. But if you desire anything different, please, let him know.
The party graciously accepted the drinks and followed him toward the back of the booth. Victoro made a bee line for a woman standing in the corner. She wore a long black dress with yellow flowing from the hems and a tight neckline. She stood rigid, with her chin high and her arms crossed.
Victoro: Yalah! My dear, I would have some individuals I’d like to introduce you to.
He made a great show of their introduction, taking time for each member of the party. Once he had concluded, Yalah simply looked them over and then replied.
Yalah: We’ve met. I trust you are enjoying your new pets Victoro?
Victoro: Ah, Yalah, no need for that. I know you were keen to show your nimblewright off. I’m sorry we seem to have rained on your parade
Yalah gave an impossibly tight smile.
Yalah: It is of no consequence Victoro. You know that I have no qualms with what you choose to do with your property.
Her eyes slid to the party as she completed her statement.
Victoro: Yes, well, let us…
He was interrupted by a hand clapping down on his shoulder. Victoro wheeled around but Zardoz had already moved on to the party.
Zardoz: My! What a fight! I must say it was a surprise to see you all out there, but I would be lying if I told you I didn’t love every moment of it!
Ammalia slid up next to her husband and hissed.
Ammalia: What is he doing up there
Zardoz: Now, now, love. There is no need for rudeness. We are all here to enjoy the tournament!
Victoro: Yes, we are. Though if you will excuse me. I need to find the guard. It appears a bit of deplorable rabble has somehow made it past them.
He went to take a step and Zardoz moved into his path.
Zardoz: Oh Victoro, I know you’re not talking about myself and Margo here. You couldn’t possibly be since we are the sponsors of the next team.
He smiled just inches away from Victoro’s face. There was a flicker of surprise in the half-elf’s eyes but he recovered quickly. Almost inaudibly he breathed the words -
Victoro: I know it was you spreading those lies to the newspaper. I won’t have my family name be trodden upon by a pirate.
Zardoz laughed and began to turn, waving his hand in Victoro’s face as he did so. Victoro snatched Zardoz by the wrist and made to twist it but the Luskan was far too practiced. In a blink, there was a dagger that seemed to have materialized at Victoro’s throat.
Zardoz: You are lucky we are in the great city of Waterdeep Victoro. Where I am from I would be punished for not killing you for such an accusation.
The entire box held its breath until Victoro let go of the wrist.
Victoro: You will get your recompense Zord. I am watching.
Zardoz: Oh I know. I saw the flying devils.
Rage flared in Victoro again, but before he could act Zardoz had turned away and put his arms around Taman and Akta. He led them to the front of the box where they could watch the match.
Zardoz: Come, let us watch.
The voice of the Game Master announcing the next round reverberated through the box.
The party nestled up to the opening overlooking the stadium. Zardoz slid to their right and pulled Margo close. They all watched as the gate across the field opened.
A lone figure stepped from the shadows. She had dark skin, silky black hair, and the walk of someone with a chip on their shoulder. Her loose white blouse fluttered in the wind as she came into full view. White bandages wrapped around her head, under her hair, covering nearly half of her face. Similar dressings were wrapped tightly around her right arm down to her wrist.
But she was unmistakable. Khafeyta had returned.
Song of the Siren
Margo gripped the wall, her fingernails scraping against the stone. Her gaze fixed on Khafeyta. Her brow knit in worry.
The sound of the gates beneath the box rang out. There were two ferocious roars. Neither of which seemed to bother Khafeyta in the slightest. Margo, on the other hand, looked like a nervous wreck. Zardoz placed a hand between her shoulder blades a spoke into her ear.
Hearing his words she let her eyes close. The party watched as the two ogres lumbered forward, clubs dragging through the dirt toward Khafeyta. It was then that they noticed the song. It started as a hum. Turning, they saw Zardoz rubbing Margo’s back as she picked up a tune.
Ammalia: Zardoz, please tell your woman to quiet. We are trying to enjoy this match.
Zardoz turned to Lady Cassalanter and threw his arms up.
Zardoz: Firstly, she is not my woman. Secondly, I do not tell her what to do.
Then, eyes still closed, Margo began to put words to the tune. As she sang, she began to sway with the melody. With every word, she sang louder. The sound was pure and enrapturing.
Oh, you taught me well,
There’s some devils in heaven there’s some angels in hell
So, promise me child when they pull your card
You’ll know, you’ll know, which one you are
Oh, oh, ohhhh
If you can’t do good
Better do bad well
What Taman and Finzu Saw
Khafeyta watched as the ogres closed the gap. As they neared, they brought their clubs up in anticipation. They entered striking distance and brought the tree trunks in a downward arc. A second before contact Khafeyta moved.
Side-stepping the strikes she spun to the outside flank of the ogre on the left. In a flash, she had slit its Achilles tendon with her tandem short swords. The beast roared in pain as she took two steps and leaped, both short swords pointing down. As if she were flying, she floated by the right ogre’s calf, piercing it with both blades.
Both beasts wheeled in surprise and pain as they fell to their knees. Without missing a beat, Khafeyta seemed to scale the beasts back. Then, standing between its shoulder blades, she brought both points down through its upper vertebrae. Shock radiated through the ogre’s eyes before its life winked out.
Watching its partner fall, the other ogre attempted to stand. Without a working foot, it stumbled again and fell forward. Khafeyta was waiting for it.
Points up, she planted the hilts of both short swords as hard as she could in the ground. The ogre fell onto them, the blades ripping through the bottom of its mouth and puncturing its brain.
By the time the dust settled Khfeyta was halfway to the gate, completely unimpressed by her challenge.
What Akta Saw
Margo’s eyes snapped open. Her irises had gone ice blue with white bolts streaking outward from the pupil. A wave, the color of a clear sky, emanated from Margo. It washed over everyone in the booth. As she continued to sing it grew and rolled over the balcony to the general seating. She watched as it continued to spread until it had covered the entirety of the stadium.
I don’t believe in miracles
Flickers in the night
I know when something is worth it
I know how to fight
Two shadows moved from the back wall. As they strode forward Akta gasped.
A pair of drow emerged to support their teammate. She recognized one as Soluun Xibrinas, from the warehouse, but the other she had never seen.
The three of them moved together as if of the same mind. The drow swung wide, capturing the attention of the ogres, while Khafeyta sprinted middle. As the ogres went to strike the dark elves, Khafeyta opened wounds in each of their calves. The beasts roared and reared on the human, turning their backs to the gunslingers.
They never see the story
Only wrong from right
It’s just like you told me
Oh, I still remember the night
First were the kidneys. Then the livers.
The ogres spun again, trying to decide whom they should be attacking. As they did, Khafyeta’s blades began to draw open the tendons in their legs. Both ogres fell to the ground, arms flung forward to brace their falls, but exposing their necks. This left the opening the drow needed.
Oh, you taught me well,
There are some devils in heaven there are some angels in hell
So, promise me child when they pull your card
You’ll know, you’ll know, which one you are
Oh, oh, ohhhh
If you can’t do good
Better do bad well
Soluun brought his blades down through the back of one ogre’s neck. The other drow brought his upwards through the chin of the other.
Before the creatures had hit the ground, Khafyta tossed her two short swords to the unknown drow. And then, like the shadows from which they had appeared, both elves were gone. Khafeyta stole a look towards the gate. A small smile cracked her face and she mouthed the words “I love you”. She then turned and walked toward the gate.
What Viigo Saw
Viigo saw a combination of both experiences. The two realities would flicker, briefly exposing the other. As the match continued, he looked down into his mug, inspecting the ale. Then, when that didn’t work he tried rubbing his eyes. Finally, he concluded that this was all perfectly normal and enjoyed the show.
After the match, Zardoz insisted that they come to the docks for the carnival’s grand opening. Seeing that they were unsure he added
Zardoz: And of course, you are to be my honored guests at the after-party on the Eyecatcher. Once the final show is complete, then the real fun begins.
He winked and led Margo out of the box.
The party, still taking in all that had happened turned to the Cassalanters. They received cool looks and even icier tones.
Victoro: You did well today. Though I cannot approve of the company that you keep, I am happy with the round’s outcome. I wish you the best of luck in round two.
And with that, he escorted Ammalia away.
The party stayed in the box, discussing what to do the rest of the evening until they were kicked out. With nowhere else to go, they headed for the Docks.
The boardwalk and streets in front of the Luskan ships had been cleared all the way to the water. Carnival tents had replaced carts and small buildings. They rose into the night, using the backdrop of Waterdeep harbor to make them even more magnificent.
A massive crowd had gathered facing the water and pressed against a barricade that kept them from the tents. No lights had been lit in the streets, drenching the boardwalk in shadows. As the anticipation grew, so did a strange fog.
It was too cool for the fog to naturally manifest. It rolled across the water and slowed as it ate the two large Luskan ships. It wasn’t long before the docks were devoured.
The wall of fog pulled up 100 feet from the barricade. And then silence.
The Greatest Show
The Choir: WOAH OH-oh-oh-oh
Light exploded from behind the mist and illuminated a lone figure striking a pose. The light sat at an angle so that his shadow towered over the boardwalk. Wearing a large top hat he banged his cane on the wooden boardwalk twice to a beat as an unseen chorus of voices rang out. It was accompanied by an unknown number of feet stomping
The Choir: WOAH OH-oh-oh-oh
The silhouette struck a pose.
The Choir: WOAH OH-oh-oh-oh
The Silhouette: (striking another pose) Ladies and Gents, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for
The Choir: WOAH OH-oh-oh-oh
The Silhouette: (Spinning into another pose) Been searching in the dark, your sweat soaking through the floor
The Choir: WOAH OH-oh-oh-oh
The Silhouette: (Lowering his head and tracing the brim of his hat) And buried in your bones there’s an ache that you can’t ignore
Taking your breath (flourish with his cane)
stealing your mind (another flourish with his cane)
And all that was real is left behind
The beat picked up and he began to move toward them. His shadow shrank as he did so, slowly returning him to normal size.
The Silhouette: Don’t fight it, it’s coming for you, running at ya
It’s only this moment, don’t care what comes after
The shadow struck a wide-legged pose. Using his cane, he pointed into the night, and at his command lights flashed to life.
Your fever dream, can’t you see it getting closer
Just surrender ‘cause you feel the feeling taking over
An army of shadows, hunched over and moving the beat, became visible through the fog. They snapped, stomped, and clapped as they approached. The silhouette’s voice rose, spiking the anticipation.
The Silhouette: It’s fire, it’s freedom, it’s flooding open
Behind the mob of shadows, figures writhed and moved, their arms flowing as if they didn’t contain bones.
It’s a preacher in the pulpit and your blind devotion
Two massive, lumbering shadows with large floppy ears materialized, their bulk towering over the others.
There’s something breaking at the brink of every wall it’s holding
All that you know
All lights winked out, covering the boardwalk in darkness.
The Silhouette: (arms spread wide) so tell me do you wanna go?
Fire burst from the mouths of performers as four horses with standing riders rode forth. Light exploded across the boardwalk and a strong breeze swept the heavy mist away as if it had never existed.
And then the song took an uplifting tone as all the voices joined in. People standing throughout the crowd suddenly donned sparkling carnival garb. With a smile, they sprang through the air over the crowd, towards the musical mob. They tumbled through the air, various acts bursting to life beneath them. Jugglers, knife throwers, dancers, and exotic beasts created a spectacle.
The Choir: WOAH OH-oh-oh-oh
All the performers coalesced around their ring leader. They began to circle him like a maelstrom.
Zardoz: Colossal we come, these renegades in the ring
The mob circled and closed in.
Zardoz: Where the lost get found and we crown them the circle kings.
He disappeared in the mess of bodies.
Zardoz: Don’t fight it, it’s coming for you, running at ya
The Luskan ring leader began to rise from the center.
Zardoz: It’s only this moment, don’t care what comes after
He was now shoulders above the rest.
Zardoz: It’s blinding, outshining anything that you know
He seemed to be standing on the cyclone of performers.
Zardoz: Just surrender ‘cause you’re calling and you wanna go!
He thrust his cane to the sky and as the rest of the voices joined in, fireworks exploded over the bay. All different colors and patterns illuminated the night.
Where it’s covered in all the colored lights
Where the runaways are running the night
Impossible comes true, intoxicating you
Oh, this is the greatest show
Against the backdrop colors, one large golden firework rose into the sky. As it exploded, the shape of a dragon unfolded its wings. It reared back and flew over the boardwalk, golden dust falling over the crowd in its wake.
We light it up, we won’t come down
And the sun can’t stop us now
Watching it come true, it’s taking over you
Oh, this is the greatest show
The carnival held something for everyone. Games, food, shows, and exhibits were in abundance. After the opening performance, the crowd of spectators descended on the booths and tents. Laughter, gasps of awe, and singing carried the night forward.
Never once did the energy levels fall. Every time it felt like a lull was beginning to manifest, a performer would appear or an exotic animal would casually stroll through the crowd.
The party ate, played games of chance, and visited some of the exhibits. The night dissipated like the fog which had brought it and the carnival began to shut down. The party took this as their cue to head to the Eyecatcher for the after-party.
Boarding their rowboat they followed a train of others on their way to the ship. And it wasn’t long before they were on deck among the performers. If possible, the energy was even more electric here as the celebration got underway.
It wasn’t long before there was a light tap on Taman’s shoulder. He turned to find Tarwind Arryhook, the captain of the ship standing there.
Tarwind: I hope you are enjoying yourselves. If you wouldn’t mind, Zardoz would like a quick word with you.
They agreed and he led them to the captain’s quarters where Zadoz was waiting for them, seated at the large table. He welcomed them and motioned for them to sit opposite him.
Returning to his seat, he leaned into it, all the muscles releasing their tension. With the door closed the music above was a distant muffle. Laughter occasionally carried through the open window, sweeping through the cabin with the soft breeze.
Zardoz: You know, these are my favorite nights. (putting his hands behind his head and leaning even farther back). There is something about being alone, breeze washing over you, and letting the drone of the music fill the spaces. It is a pure moment and I get so few of those.
He smiled. It wasn’t his characteristic smile. It was one of true serenity and happiness. They realized that everything before had been an expertly crafted charade.
Zardoz: I must admit that I am surprised at our friendship. I would not have thought to have found allies such as yourself in this city. (Leaning forward). And I have learned that friendship is built upon trust. And so I have something for you.
With a quick flourish, he produced four coins in his right hand, one pinned in the spaces between each finger. Another quick movement and they collapsed into a neat pile in his palm. He reached forward and spread them across the table in front of the party.
Each coin had a symbol engraved on its surface. A feather against a backdrop of spider webs. As the party followed his flourish they were momentarily distracted by the coins. But then they noticed that the hand that rested casually at the end of the line was not Zardoz’s tanned flesh.
The hand was slender and attenuated. The skin had turned to a dark hue and rings adorned a number of the fingers.
They followed the hand to the shoulder and then to the face of the individual sitting across from them. Dark pointed ears with gold rings had appeared. Zarodz’s hair had disappeared, revealing a shaven bald head. The drow watched their reactions through an eye patch.
The Drow: It’s time for a proper introduction.
My name is Jarlaxle Baenre. Welcome to Breagan D’aerthe.
Dinner With the Cassalanters
The Cassalanters have ulterior motives for backing the party in the Champion’s Games. There is a rumor, perhaps more than a rumor, that Xanathar hosts his own type of games in his lair. The beholder is known to extend an invitation to the winners of the Champion’s Games.
Victoro and Ammalia view this as an opportunity. They are aware that Xanathar has one of the Eyes. Their hope is to send the party to Skullport to fight in the tournament with the added task of securing the Eye. To this end, this is the primary reason they went through the trouble of learning what the party would be fighting. Any leg up they can get in the Great Game is worth the cost.
They, of course, do not yet know that Xanathar has put a bounty on the party and is demanding their heads.
Zardoz and Victoro
This relationship started off rocky and has done nothing to improve since their initial meeting. Victoro suspects that the story in the Waterdeep Sentinel stemmed from the Luskans. Being the pragmatic individual that he is, he has created an incredibly shortlist of enemies who would not only have the resources but the stones to pull such a move.
While he could easily brush this off as pure libel, the details in the article were very specific to a ritual he had recently been a part of. It had gone into great detail, without disclosing the victims, of the ritual in which the Cassalanters had sacrificed another noble family. This is the same family that resides on the bottom level of the Crypt of the Seven with Mirklav.
The question, however, is how someone knew what they did. The ritual had been completed in the shrine beneath their estate. There was no opportunity for an outsider to happen across them. But Victoro doesn’t yet understand Zardoz’ angle with the nimblewrights.
Victoro had used his nimblewright to assist in the ceremony. It brought him utensils and artifacts when he needed them. When not occupied, the construct would stand off to the side.
Zardoz/Jarlaxle has all this on his recording device. In fact, it is how he now knows about all the going on in Waterdeep. He has placed nimblewrights in about every establishment including Blackstaff Tower (the nimblewright Mirt had procured), the City Watch, and the Watchful Order of Magistrates. With these in place, he can be sure to always be a step ahead of the Open Lord’s plans.
His constructs among the noble houses have proved more useful than he could have hoped. He knows that the Gralhunds are aligned with the Black Network and through them, he is learning about the Eyes and the Stone of Golorr.
He also has unfettered access to the Cassalanters. Jarlaxle is one of the few individuals in Waterdeep who truly understands how dangerous and evil that family is.
I considered this one of the key sessions of the campaign. I had been thinking about this for a long time. One thing I have learned is that an opportunity where you know exactly where your party will be and what they will do does not come around that often. I was looking to capitalize on that.
To that end, I had a lot of big reveals that I wanted to layer on. Aside from a cool fight, the party got to see Margo in action, the return of Khafeyta, the rising conflict between Victoro and Zardoz, the spectacle of the carnival, and the big Jarlaxle reveal.
This was by far the longest session we have run. Leading up to it I had prepped the party by letting them know we had to get to a certain point and making sure it was ok that we went longer than our normal 3-hour block.
Favor Of The Crowd
For the Champion’s Games I added a twist to the combat. During the match, the players could gain and lose the favor of the crowd. It is a pretty simple mechanic but it added another layer to the encounter.
Favor works as such. At any point, you can have a maximum of 1 point of favor. You can then spend that point in one of three ways.
- If you were to drop to 0 hit points or fewer, you can spend your point to drop to 1 hit point instead and remain on your feet.
- When you score a critical hit, you can spend a point to make an additional melee attack as a Bonus Action
- On your turn, you can spend a point to gain an advantage on a single melee weapon attack.
You can gain favor by:
- Dropping an enemy to 0 hit points
- Scoring a critical hit
- Spending an Action to play to the crowd’s involvement. The more detailed the player is in the action their character is taking the lower the DC on the check. For example, if you are trying to “pump up” the crowd you would have to roll a Charisma (Performance) check. I also took into account the crowd’s current attitude towards the party.
You can lose favor by:
- Being hit by a critical strike
- One of your allies falls to 0 or fewer hit points.
- You deliberately take an action that does not move the match in the general direction of the crowd’s preferred outcome. This might be if the party decides to play a game of attrition. There would be little action and the crowd would grow bored.
Favor of the crowd is actually quite powerful. But so were the banderhobbs. Not only are they a challenging foe if you take them straight out of the book, but I took some liberties with their abilities. The gas cloud was one such ability. It wasn’t a direct attack but it made the battle more difficult, and in my opinion, more interesting.
Because of that, I felt justified in adding in favor of the crowd to help keep some balance in the challenge.
Making It Your Own
One massive change that I made in my campaign was how Jarlaxle conducts himself. I am aware that canonically he is a man that sticks to the shadows, doesn’t make a big show of anything, and plays everything close to the chest and mired in misdirection.
But I took the creative freedom to make him a larger-than-life character. At least his alter-ego is. Jarlaxle in drow form is all of the above. But I threw in a deep desire to be seen. And that is where Zardoz gets all of his pizzaz.
The actual adventure book doesn’t give much to Khafeyta and Margo. And while I am very happy to see the inclusiveness with the homosexual characters, I feel that they were very underutilized. Throughout the story, I have been alluding to the love the two women share, and, despite not including all the dialog and little details in the recap, this session was the confirmation.
In the session, before walking off, Khafeyta looked up at Margo and mouthed the words
I love you
This made all of the pieces click for the party who now understood how everything fit together, particularly why Margo was so upset with them when Khafeyta did not return from the Dark Waters mission.
But that wasn’t all that I expanded with these two NPCs. I wanted to find a reason that Jarlaxle kept them so close. Having the reason only be that he was part of their love triangle felt lazy to me.
What better reason would Jarlaxle need than if the two women were even more dangerous and deadly than they were beautiful?
Khafeyta I gave a backstory, to be expanded upon in another post, which paints her as a soul born through tragedy and violence but which came out the perfect weapon. Her skills with the sword are tough to match.
Margo is, obviously, a bard. But I consider her more than that. In my head, I call her a siren. Her songs can literally re-write reality, replacing what your senses are experiencing with something altogether different. When she sings, and her eyes turn that ice-blue, she has the potential to turn the tide in most conflicts.
As DMs, we draw inspiration from all over the place. I pulled Margo’s song directly from the lyrics in the song the recap. I also modeled the entire carnival grand opening off of The Greatest Show. As I set the scene and described everything going on I actually played the song in the background.
This really helped because I had various events tied to different parts of the song. It also really set the energy for the players. What could have been a relatively boring period where they just sat and listened to me, became engaging and memorable.
I don’t think you should shy away from tying mixed media from the real world into your campaign. There are a lot of opportunities to be had in building emotions.