Seeing The Board
Jarlaxle sat across the table with an expectant smile on his face. A few moments of silence passed before it converted to a smirk.
Jarlaxle: I must admit, I was hoping for a little more of a reaction. But, beggars can’t be choosers.
Meanwhile, the party scrambled to pick their jaws off the floor. While the name itself didn’t mean much to them, the flurry of rumors that surrounded it did. Jarlaxle and Bregan D’aerthe were tied to some momentous adventures and ludicrous situations. Not all of it could possibly be true, but it never seemed to quell the stories.
Jarlaxle stood and pulled a bottle and five small cups from the cupboard behind him. Pouring a shot in each, he lifted his own in a toast.
Jarlaxle: To friends
They drank. And then had another round.
Party: Why us?
Jarlaxle: Why you? Right place at the right time I suppose. As I told you before, you happen to show up at a time when I needed to create a little cushion between myself and a request. That was the start. But after that, you proved yourselves not only helpful but willing to put your lives on the line for a cause. Hells, you went toe-to-toe with Ahmaergo.
Party: What are you doing here? In Waterdeep?
Jarlaxle: Trying to right some wrongs that were done to the Luskan people by the former Open Lord. After liberating the nation from the hands of the mages, he left them to starve and die. The caravans of supplies he promised never returned. And so, instead of being stood up and allowed to flourish, the nation and its people became sick and starved.
After the War of the Five Captains, and the return of the nation to the rightful rulers, all I want is to see the people made whole. To put it another way, I want to see Luskan have a seat at the table of the Lord’s Alliance.
Party: What does this mean for the tournament?
Jarlaxle: Win it, for all I care. Entering was more of a way to, as the saying goes, poke the bear as it were. But the more interesting question is, why are you even in the tournament? Put another way, what do the Cassalanters get out of it? Have they told you yet?
No, of course they haven’t. They are not so pious as they like to portray themselves. The thing is, whoever wins this tournament is likely to receive an invite to an even more exclusive challenge. One that is very much off the record if you know what I mean. Quite literally underground.
Xanathar is known to host the most spectacular fighting games in celebration of the festival season. With rather remarkable rewards… should he feel like giving them away at the end of it all. But that isn’t what they are after.
I am sure by now you have heard of the Enigma. It is said to be an artifact of untold value. Xanathar thinks that he has it, but he only has one piece of it. The Cassalanters have another. And to my understanding, there is a third out there somewhere. Let us call them ‘The Eyes’ for now.
So the Cassalanters need a brave group of adventurers to go down into Xanathar’s Lair and steal it. But they don’t know about your little detour expedition yet. They don’t know that sending you down there is likely sending you directly to your deaths.
And then there is Manshoon. Yes, yes, the rumors are true. A clone has resurfaced, though my sources have not yet confirmed where it is residing. What I do know is that Manshoon’s little cult, the Black-whatever, was trying to broker a deal with Xanathar at one point. Presumably some sort of truce in an effort to rest power from the Open Lord.
But being the insane ball of emotions that he is, Xanathar betrayed him, killed all of the envoys, and took The Eye for himself. If you ever needed a reason to start a bloody gang war… I can’t think of a better one.
And myself? I believe it to be the key to getting Luskan into the Lord’s Alliance. I plan on using it as a bartering chip with the Open Lord. Though a far-flung plan, it is better than nothing.
Party: But it belongs to the people of Waterdeep. Why wouldn’t we just give it back to them?
Jarlaxle: Because my proposition is the only win-win scenario. Consider this. We don’t know what the Cassalanter’s want with it yet. But I would wager this ship that it isn’t for altruistic reasons. Xanathar is likely to just stick it in a chest somewhere as part of his collection. And Manshoon? My guess would be some sort of dark and twisted plot at power.
But if the Laeral is truly planning on using it to remedy the wrongs done to the people, she still achieves that. The only difference is that the people of Luskan are better off. That is all.
After a few more questions and answers, Jarlaxle stood. He gestured to the coins on the table.
Jarlaxle: Take them if you wish. They will open some of the right doors. And some of the wrong ones as well. Now, feel free to enjoy the celebration.
He backed his way to the doorway. And then, with a flourish, threw them wide open. In that single move, he was back to being Zardoz again.
The party made their way topside and took in the scene. Everywhere people were celebrating. Fiddles sang playful melodies while others beat on whatever they could find. A man was labeling ale out of a large cask and handing them to whoever reached for the tankards.
After a while, they began to notice small changes. People were still speaking Common, but they had a distinct accent that sounded elvish. Taman also picked up on some hand-talk flashing between individuals. It clicked into place. He had seen the same movements at the warehouse as Soluun had directed the other gunslingers. And again at the docks between Nat and Zardoz.
Now that he knew what he was looking for, the illusion faltered. A hand clapped on his shoulder and as Taman turned he noticed it flicker between slender and dark-skinned and calloused and pale. He looked up into the face of Tarwind Tallybrook.
Tarwind: My friends! I hear a celebration is in order. Would you like to follow me below deck? We have some introductions to make.
The party agreed and followed the captain deep into the ship. They arrived in a small room which had six drow sitting spaced among the cargo. Tarwind followed them in and then began introductions.
Velds, Tylan, and Llorath (himself) were all captains of the ships. He re-introduced Soluun, who didn’t raise his eyes from the dagger twirling between his fingers. And finally, he introduced Fel’rekt, the right hand of Jarlaxle.
As a form of greeting, Fel’rekt kicked an upright barrel toward them. As it slid across the floor, the bottle on top nearly tipped over. But both came to a stop at Taman’s feet. Then there was silence as all drow watched the party take a drink.
The burn was the worst they had ever felt. Not warm like whiskey but something completely different. Their insides churned but all were able to keep it down. The three captains began to laugh as Akta sputtered into a cough. Fel’rekt nodded and then stood and left the room. Soluun wasn’t far behind him. As he was leaving Taman called out.
Taman: What? Not going to stay and drink with us?
Llorath: You are either brave or crazy or both. That one is one of the most dangerous creatures you are to come across. And keep in mind where I’m from. (wink)
The party shared another drink and spoke about nimblewrights. The captains didn’t know much and as the spirits took hold, their memories continued to fade. Eventually, the party decided to head topside to join the rest of the festivities.
The fresh air was revitalizing and they began to mingle. Akta noticed Khafeyta and Margo at the bow of the ship. Khafeyta was resting on the side rail with Margo entwined with her. They spoke without breaking eye contact and never seemed to stop touching each other.
Despite wanting to make sure everything was ok between them, Taman decided that now wasn’t the best time. Instead, they drank and danced until the lights went out.
Fire and Ice
They awoke to find themselves lying in rowboats beached between the two docked Luskan ships. Checking their pockets they found everything where it should be. They concluded that it was a prank that the carnies had pulled late in the evening.
Struggling to their feet, they determined that it was mid-morning. With no outstanding plans, they decided that it would be best to head back to Trollskull Manor. Tonight marked their grand opening and they wanted to make sure everything was in order.
They arrived without complication and found a bustling neighborhood. Fey day decorations seemed to have sprung up overnight. The scent of flowers and fresh breeze swirled amongst fresh baked goods. As they climbed out of the dray, Finzu and Viigo decided that they wanted to explore the area. Akta and Taman went straight to the manor to make sure everything was prepared for the evening. Finzu headed west. Instead of stopping in any stores, he meandered the alley taking in the sights.
Viigo headed east. He made his way through the winding alley until he came to a kink in the path. It zig-zagged south before turning west once more, splitting two buildings that greatly interested him. A small wooden sign hung above the shop’s main door. Instead of a name, a large nail, bent at a 45-degree angle, had been lodged between the planks. Large windows offered a room containing displays of ornate wooden furniture. He was about to enter when the building to the right caught his attention.
A large bay door stood open giving a full view of the workshop. A curving wall, like a yin and yang sign, split the visible space. Upfront was the business. Armor and weapons had been carefully arranged. The racks and mannequins added to the flow of the space. It was easy for Viigo to become caught up in the displays. Admiring the increasingly impressive craftsmanship his feet carried him deeper into the shop.
The space his heart ached for was through an open portico. Through the opening in the flowing wall, he could see the forge which had birthed the pieces surrounding him. Two large furnaces stood against the back wall. Shelves and workbenches were littered with works-in-progress. Viigo unconsciously began walking toward the warm glow of the room. But he pulled up short when he saw the weaponsmith heaving a large hammer over a blade. Viigo watched as the master tempered the steel. But it wasn’t just the technique that fascinated him. It was the master himself.
Bent over the anvil, he struck the steel with a passion that perfectly matched his blazing visage. The fire genasi’s hair flared with each strike. Each time the hammer made contact with the blade the spiraling tattoos decorating his body illuminated.
Before Viigo could go any further he was stopped by a voice that had crept upon him. He spun around, missing the question.
Viigo: Huh? I’m sorry, I missed that
Standing in front of him was a humanoid with blue skin decorated by twinkling beads of moisture. He had large blue and black eyes which belayed a sort of playfulness. The water genasi tilted his head to the side and the movement caused his hair to sway so that it reminded Viigo of being underwater.
Avi: No, no, it’s my fault. I shouldn’t have snuck up on you. I was simply welcoming you to Steam and Steel. Was there anything in particular that you were looking for?
The genasi spoke with such a rapid cadence that Viigo had difficulty understanding. Eventually, though, he gathered himself.
Viigo: Uh, no, nothing in particular. I was just admiring all of the craftsmanship in this shop. I am a blacksmith as well, though I specialize in locking mechanisms.
Avi flashed a large, beaming smile.
Avi: Is that so? I would know if you had a shop in the North Ward so I have to assume that you are from the south side of the city? What brings you up this way?
Viigo: Well, actually, I one of the new owners of Trollskull Manor. We are having our grand opening this evening and I wanted to extend an invitation.
Joy poured into Avi’s expression.
Avi: Oh! Welcome! That is so exciting. Embric and I were wondering who had moved in and renovated. You say your grand opening is tonight? This would be the perfect opportunity to get Embric away from the anvil for an evening. It’s been so long since we’ve had a proper night out.
Viigo smiled and let Avi know that they would be open at sundown. Then, after a longing gaze at the forge, he left and headed back to the manor.
It didn’t take long before people began to trickle in. Among the first wave of patrons were many of their neighbors. Fala Lefaliir took a seat at a central table and was joined shortly by Taliolvanar Fellbranch from the Bent Nail. Avi and Embric weren’t far behind as they took a pair of stools at the bar. A group of dwarves, about seven filthy and ragged individuals coming off their shifts, pilled into the large table in the corner.
Taman was surprised when Yagra pushed the door open. Her large, broad form was hunched in an even mix of fatigue and resignation. Her feet more slid than stepped as she made her way to a table towards the back. Taman was quick to fill a tankard and dropped it in front of her before sliding into an open chair opposite.
Yagra: Thanks, Taman. It’s been a long few days.
Her fingers played with the handle for a moment as her mind wandered. She then seemed to remember where she was and brought the ale to her lips for a deep drink. Placing the tankard back on the table she looked at Taman.
Yagra: I can’t find him. I’ve looked everywhere, knocked on every door, flipped every stone. It’s like he went up with the morning mist.
Taman: We don’t know much either. All we know is that the men that took him weren’t working for the Watch. They may have been working for the Black Network.
Yagra shrugged in a form of acknowledgment.
Yagra: Yeah, at least that corroborates with what I’ve heard as well.
Her eyes took back on the long stare. Taman smiled weakly and then pushed the chair back.
Taman: This one’s on the house. Let me know if I can help in any way.
Yagra: What? Oh, thank you. Yeah. Yeah, I will… thanks.
Viigo brought drinks over to the pair of genasi at the bar. Embric grumbled thanks and looked down into his mug. The flames making up his skin were significantly subdued compared to the way they had danced while he worked the anvil. Avi, on the other hand, could barely stay in this seat. He moved and swayed like a wave while he spoke.
Avi: It’s so nice to get out and finally spend some time together. Embric has been so busy with orders lately that I can’t ever pull him away.
Viigo stayed and spoke with the couple. The dichotomy between the smells of smoldering stone and fresh rain made it difficult to get comfortable. But eventually, Viigo asked if he could show them something and get their opinions.
Avi: Of course! We’d be more than happy to take a look. I know I don’t look it, but I am also known for my work in the forge.
He beamed a proud smile.
Avi: But not tonight, please. It really is rare that not only do I get Embric out of the house but that we also find somewhere that is so… (He looked around the room) … accepting. I hope that you understand.
Viigo did and left them to continue on their date with a round on the house.
A lanky man with messy brown shoulder-length hair approached Taman. He wore gaudy clothes of purple and green hues and tenderly carried a lute that was badly scarred and had only three strings.
Mattrim: Taman, am I right? Look, I’m really sorry to have seen Bonnie leave. I know you two were close. I knew her quite well as well. She had asked me to stop in tonight and see if I could add some spirit. I couldn’t say no.
Taman recognized the young bard as the one from the yawning portal who had told the tale of Renear and Meloon. He had been quite good then and Taman figured it wouldn’t come cheap. When he asked how much, Mattrim shook his head.
Mattrim: Consider this a favor to Bonnie.
He went and set up. His music immediately filled the space. As it did everyone’s mood turned upward.
It was very apparent when Renear’s group arrived. First through the door was a halfling with curly, chestnut-brown hair and long sideburns. Silver rings in his left ear and nostril clinked as he swung his head back and forth to speak to the large man behind him.
Meloon followed him in, practically dragging Floon along. The two laughed at a joke that had been told outside, Meloon’s booming, room-filling laugh was the perfect undertone for Floon’s more tenor pitch. Renear, Torlyn, and a woman about their age brought up the rear. Taman was quick to seat them at the large table in the turret alcove. Viigo wasn’t far behind with the ale.
Renear introduced Osco, the halfling, and Elra before helping to distribute the drinks. Before more greetings could be made, the front doors flew open and a garishly dressed man sauntered in with a woman draped in a simple but beautiful dress.
Zardoz received Taman with a large gesture, arms spread wide. Taman led them to the table in the center of the room, directly in front of the hearth. At request, he brought two glasses of wine. Though, after witnessing Margo’s distaste, he quickly swapped them out for ales.
The night wound on. As the other patrons dwindled the party had more time to mingle with those who remained. Zardoz, having been recognized from the carnival, had taken the opportunity to assimilate himself at Renear’s table. Once they threw the lock on the front door the party joined them.
The rest of the night was spent taking turns recounting adventures, telling jokes, and emptying tankards.
(Almost) Full Disclosure
Jarlaxle’s trust in the party has reached an all-time high. That and the fact that he understands they have connections where he needs them the most. He chose to reveal himself and share his end-game for a couple of reasons.
- He believes that the party would be sympathetic to his goal. The more that has shared about the relations between Waterdeep and Luskan, the more he has seen a deeper appreciation for the former’s standing.
- He needs the Stone of Golorr and, if the party is going to assist him in that goal, he will be asking them to do some very dangerous things.
- In his hind, he believes that giving them a greater appreciation for what is at play will make them even more amenable to his plans. Up until now, everyone has been giving them only pieces. He hopes that sharing the bird’s eye view will lock them in as allies.
Avi and Embric
The two genasi are master crafters. Embric is a member of the Most Careful order of Skilled Smiths and Metalforgers with a specialty in weapons. Avi specializes in armor and is a member of the Splendid Order of Armorers, Locksmiths, and Finesmiths. Together, they have a lot they can teach Viigo. This is especially true when it comes to the Craftmaster.
The fact that Jarlaxle joined Renear and his friends is significant. He used the opportunity to learn more about what Renear knows, both implicitly and explicitly, about the Stone of Golorr and the eyes. He knows that the locket Renear wears around his neck held one of the eyes. Jarlaxle spends most of the night asking very careful questions to pull out information about Degault, Renear’s mother, and other family information and history.
This session started out as a massive info dump as Jarlaxle opened up to the party. They learned a lot but the danger with a scenario like this is that the players can become a little lost.
As a DM, you have all the information and so everything makes sense. All the references and nods to details seem so obvious. But the players aren’t playing with the same knowledge as the DM. In fact, info dumps are likely to cause more confusion than help. The reason is that they don’t understand how everything connects yet. Details are just fragments of the story. More like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. You know about where it goes based on its shape and color, but you don’t know its exact location.
To that end, there is certainly a relationship between the number of details and hooks that you provide and the amount that the players will absorb. I’m going to venture that less than 50% of what you share during these types of encounters sticks. The players that take notes are busy trying to capture everything and so aren’t working to commit them to memory. And the ones that don’t take notes… well, you can only remember so much at one time.
That is why I think it is important to avoid red herrings. Unless you have a really good reason to drop on in, you are only muddying waters that are already opaque. The players are managing a lot, trying to stay up to speed on their world and the happenings of the adventure. If you want them to remember details, don’t waste their brain space.
Preparing for Social Encounters
For one reason or another, I completely failed to plan for the fact that the party would want to, well, party. I do have a half-formed idea in my head but I didn’t want to waste it. To that end, I did my best to wing this situation.
This got me in a little trouble. The first was that I hadn’t reasoned out how the drow would now act towards the party. The second was that I hadn’t thought about how the drow would actually party.
Another miss I had was that I didn’t have some rumors I could sprinkle into the RP. This would have been the perfect opportunity for the Luskans from the carnival to drunkenly share some information.
Running The Tavern
This turned out to be quite fun. In preparation, I created three lists of potential patrons. The first was comprised of Renear’s group of friends. The second held any neighbors that may stop in. And the third was for any auxiliary characters that may pop in and mix things up.
Then for each NPC, I had three bullet points that represented topics, hooks, or antics. I lifted this directly from the Alexandrian remix. If you haven’t run something like this before, I highly recommend going with his setup.
My next step is going to be to create some general tables that I can roll on to determine who is there on any given night.