You can find my prep notes for free on Patreon.
Now that we are into Chapter 2, the world is opening up. Because of that, I’m going to begin structuring these differently. For the recap, I am going to try and be more descriptive so that it better encapsulates the story. The retrospective will remain the same. I am also going to add a Commentary section.
The goal of the Commentary section is to provide context to what is happening in the broader story. One thing that I learned during this season is that players can spend almost an entire session on a single decision. What this can do is obfuscate the larger narrative because the scope is so small.
I am trying to make the world feel as alive as possible. Waterdeep is a living, breathing environment that offers a lot of storytelling opportunities. Because of that, I want to keep an eye on what is happening off-screen so that I can bring that in where appropriate.
The party awoke the next day to find a hungover Renear and Volo waiting for them at the Yawning Portal. Volo, maxed out on caffeine, was oscillating between too much energy and the thrumming of his headache. Renear, on the other hand, looked worse for wear and spent breakfast doing what he could to stomach his meal and coffee. After the meal everyone, save Volo, climbed into Renear’s carriage and made their way to the dilapidated manor.
What they found was even more disappointing than they had expected. Weathered and chipped paint rimmed broken windows and the front door barely clung on to its hinges. Three street urchins bounded around the cul-de-sac playing make-believe at being adventurers.
As they exited Renear’s carriage one of the urchins stopped his game and approached them. He was a small trifling boy with a wooden sword on his hip and an eye patch that he kept filling with. With the bravado of adolescence, he informed them that this was their area and demanded to know what they wanted.
The party explained that they had recently acquired the manor and that they had come to look it over. The tiefling was a little apprehensive, but the pudgy Turami boy poked him and said, “Squiddly, ask ‘em ‘bout Lif”.
This caught the party's attention. They were soon regaled with a story about the history of the Manor. They were told that it was once an orphanage and that the caretaker, Lif, had cooked and eaten children. This upset the party a little. They eyed the building but promised to solve the problem.
Content, Squiddly eyed Akta who was also a teifling. Recognition filled his face as he called out.
Squiddly: I know you! You’re the one that got out!
Akta had once been a thief, living out of the slums where a community of tieflings had gathered. It was a hard life and almost impossible to escape. But she had. Not only had she escaped but she had gone on to take the Oath of Vengeance and join the paladins serving Mask, the Lord of Shadows and Thieves.
Squiddly’s recognition caught her off guard and after a moment he followed up with, “I want to get out too.” She smiled and gave him a few reassuring words before tossing him a few coins. She then followed the rest of the party toward the manor.
Pushing through the front door, Renear laughed to himself. He informed them that the child-eating orphanage keeper was but a child’s story. The old owner had abandoned the manor after his close friend and head barkeep had been brutally murdered.
They now stood in what once had been a tavern room. And their first impressions were not enthusiastic. Viigo made to explore the cellar, stepped through the hatch door behind the bar, and almost fell through the stairs. Taman inspected the crumbling fireplace. Finzu jumped at the sound of metal scraping across metal resonating from the kitchen.
The halfling monk slowly made his way toward the kitchen area. Fed up with his timid approach, Akta sighed and forced him through the threshold. As she followed she gestured, “See, nothing here. Just stories.”
But Finzu protested.
Akta: Here, I’ll prove it.
She cast detect good and evil. To her surprise, she felt the presence of an undead a few levels above them.
Akta: Well, definitely haunted.
As a group, they climbed to the second level. Moving from room to room made it clear that the manor itself was something special. Despite the desolation, there was a lot of potential. It had great views, ample natural light, spacious rooms, and plenty of interesting features. Eventually, they climbed to the third floor and entered the library.
Sitting at a dust-covered writing desk was an apparition of an old elf. It sat hunched over as if scribbling its thoughts down. At the sound of the creaking door, its head spun like the exorcist and it let out a soundless shriek. It then fell through the floor and disappeared.
Superstitious to a fault, Taman freaked out and refused to go any further. In an attempt to communicate with the ghost, Finzu placed a pen and paper on the writing desk.
With no more of the manor to explore they returned to the main floor. Lif was waiting for them behind the bar, a shattered glass mug in his hands as if cleaning it. As Viigo attempted to approach, the ghost whipped the mug past his head. Ignoring the act of aggression, Viigo instead cast mend on the pieces and returned the mug to the bar. Lif eyed the glass for a moment and then turned and walked away, disappearing into the pantry.
Exasperated, the party left the manor and returned to the carriage.
Renear began estimating the cost of getting the manor in good enough shape to open back up. After a few moments of estimation, he arrived at a guess of 1,500 gold dragons. This shocked the party and almost caused them to walk away.
But Renear was able to pull them back in by informing them that he knew of at least one family that was known for lending. Because they had saved him, he was more than willing to introduce them to the Cassalanters. They accepted.
Another route he proposed was to approach Mirt. Known as the Merciless, the Money Lender, or the Old Wolf, Mirt invested in ventures across the city. He would likely want to be part owner, but that would be between them to negotiate. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the relationship with Mirt that would allow him to arrange the meeting. Instead, he suggested that they speak with Durnan.
Akta then asked why he couldn’t front them the money. He was, of course, a noble. His father was the former Open Lord of Waterdeep. He clearly had the funds. Renear replied that, while he would love to help them out, he did not have the funds available to him to do so. This sparked ire in Akta who criticized him for being unwilling to aid them. Renear responded just as sharply and then climbed into his carriage, leaving them to walk to their next destination.
Deciding that they would approach Mirt, the party began the long walk back to the Yawning Portal where they hoped to find Durnan. Along the way, Taman began to notice little hints that they were being followed. After ducking through a crown and stepping into an alley, they waited. A moment later a man, searching for someone stepped into view. When they confronted him informed them that Captain Staget had asked him to follow them. He then stepped into the street and disappeared.
Entering the Portal, they were immediately approached by Yagra. She told them that her associate had heard about their acquisition and would like an introduction. They thanked her but were wary of getting involved in what they perceived to be a shady business.
Durnan greeted them and heard them out. Upon learning that they wanted to approach Mirt, he laughed and called him the Old Walrus. Despite the moment of levity, he did warn them that Mirt was sharper than he let on. These comments troubled the group. This Mirt individual was shaping up to be a formidable figure.
Thanking Durnan, they then signaled Yagra over and accepted her offer. Excitedly, she introduced them to Davil Starsong. The sun elf was well dressed, better spoken, and knew quite a bit about their time in the city thus far. He let them know that he would be happy to introduce them to an associate of his who would be able to lend them the money. Not only that, he could guarantee rates that would match any noble lending family. All he asked in return was that they investigate a series of murders that had been happening in the Dock Ward. Frustrated by the efforts of the City Watch, he needed another party to investigate for him.
Agreeing, they set off for the Dock Ward to begin their investigation.
On their way, they a messenger approached them. Apparently, the Cassalanter’s were eager to meet the adventurers who had saved both Renear and Floon. They had immediately sent an invitation for lunch at their Villa for the following day. Ultimately, the first night was uneventful.
The next day they headed over to the Cassalanters. They were well received, briefly met the children, and then led to the Reading Room. The party’s stories of their adventures thus far fascinated both Ammalia and Victoro.
Ammalia apparently had a flair for the dramatic and loved dramatic stories. She pushed particularly hard on their findings in the warehouse as
“Cultists! Oh my, how exciting. Did you find out what they were about? Were there any sacrifices?
Eventually, they got to business and the party was able to secure a loan for 1,500 dragons at 10% interest. However, Victor offered them a 6% rate if they would be willing to purchase a Nimblewright from the Illuskans for them. It was essential that it was anonymous because they wanted to surprise guests during their feasts over the festival season. There were too many gossipers to send their own servants.
After agreeing and having a delicious lunch they headed back to the Portal to wait for the evening to come.
As darkness set in, they returned to the Dock Ward. To kill time they poked around a small pop-up carnival that the Illuskans had set up on the docks. It wasn’t much but there were games, food stands, and entertainment. While exploring the area, they learned about the tension between the Waterdavians and the Luskans. The latter had a reputation as pirates and that didn’t sit well in a civilized city such as Waterdeep.
They also had the opportunity to play a game of chance. The challenge was to throw an oddly shaped ball into one of three rings anchored in the harbor. Each ring was farther out than the last. Taman went first, followed by Finzu, and then Viigo. All failed.
Then Akta stepped up and, on her first throw, dropped the ball through the farthest ring. Before turning around to celebrate, Akta caught a quick glimpse of what looked like a golden snake moving through the disturbed water. She asked the carnie but he didn’t know anything about it.
Taman then started small talk with the carnie. Which bar would he recommend around here? The Muleskull Tavern. How long will you be here? Through the festival season. Do you have any Nimblewrights around?
This question caused the carnie to pause. After a moment he told Taman that he would speak with his boss and to be on the docks tomorrow at noon. No later.
Hunting a Hunter
As the night wore on the party made their way to the Tavern. They didn’t have to wait long before its patrons began spilling out onto the street. First was a group of humans headed to the nearest brothel. Second, a pack of beat-up dwarves cursing out anyone still in the bar. Third, came a tipsy lone elf who took a moment to light up a smoke before continuing deeper into the Dock Ward. They were about to follow when an extremely drunk half-elf came bursting through the door. He stumbled, caught himself, belched, and then began his journey home.
At a fork in the road, each elf took a different path, forcing the party to decide. They opted to split up, Finzu and Akta would follow the half-elf while Taman and Viigo would take the sun elf.
The half-elf led them on a winding route through alleys (where he relieved himself) and to a darkened street corner (where he emptied his stomach). Despite his inebriation, nothing dangerous caught their eyes.
The sun elf comfortably strolled through dark side streets while the rogue and cleric followed. As they were about to give up Taman noticed something in a recessed doorway across the street. He couldn’t tell exactly what it was. There was movement and then a quick flash as the street light caught a glimpse of a blade.
As the shadow made its move Viigo cast command on the creature forcing it to “HALT!“. The sun elf whipped around in surprise and seeing the assailant took off in a sprint. Watching the elf flee to safety, Taman and Viigo approached the figure and discovered it to be a drow. They took his sword and dagger and then tied him to a street lamp before beginning their interrogation.
The drow was clearly not going to cooperate. He laughed at them. Spit at them. Cursed them out. And challenged them to do their worst. Taman, in an attempt to intimidate the prisoner, got as close as he could to issue his threat. Cut short by the sound of thunder he fell backward and found a smoking hole in his boot.
The drow cackled uncontrollably. He mocked them for forgetting to check his waistband where he kept his gun. He didn’t even seem to notice the blood now dripping down the front of his pants.
The sound reverberated through the narrow streets. Akta and Finzu came running as fast as they could. They arrived just after a pair of City Watch guards who were currently in the process of arresting Taman and Viigo.
The drow was pleading with the Watch saying things like:
“They jumped me from the shadows!”
“They tied me up!”
“They were going to kill me! Look! That’s the dagger they were going to use! Just like the other elves!”
Things looked bad for the pair. Here they were, armed with a ‘victim’, albeit a drow, tied to a pole in an area known for recent murders. Viigo started talking as fast as he could and name-dropped everyone from Renear to the Captain.
This caused the guards to pause. Unsure of what to do, the Watch took all three of them into custody.
Akta and Finzu ran back to the Yawning Portal and approached Davil. Hoping he would be able to help them, they told him all that had happened. Davil sighed and rolled up his sleeve, exposing a black snake tattoo. He then explained that, due to his affiliations, his pull only went so far. He would do what he could, but could not promise anything.
This was the first official session of Chapter 2. Unlike Chapter 1, this part of the story is a sandbox. It is what you make it. Prior to this session, I had learned about the Alexandrian Remix. I fell in love with the idea of this complex and interwoven narrative. I also made a few changes of my own.
If you aren’t familiar with the Alexandrian Remix, I encourage you to check it out. It uses all four factions and establishes a Great Game in which everyone is attempting to find what they refer to as Neverember’s Enigma. The catch is that, at this point, none of them know exactly what it is, only that it is extremely valuable.
I felt that the Open Lord could be a faction in and of itself and so I added them as a fifth main faction.
Unknown to the characters, the Open Lord has tasked Captain Staget with learning anything he can about the Enigma. He has been using the ongoing gang war between the Zhents and Xanatharians as a reason to poke around. For this reason, he saw value in having the party continue to disrupt things. They had cleaned out the sewer hideout. Who knew what else they would stumble upon?
From a DM’s point of view, I was dreading this section. Before finding the remix I was thinking about fast-tracking this chapter. I am so glad that I didn’t.
I have read a lot of comments telling new DM’s to keep things as simple as possible.
But, in my opinion, you should, in order:
- Do what your players would enjoy
- Do what you would enjoy as a player
- Do what you find interesting as a DM
As long as everyone is having fun, then there is no reason to intentionally hamstring your creativity. Go for it. But also ensure you have an open feedback loop with your players.
After this session I let them know that I was planning to go off script and asked if that was alright. I also asked that they tell me immediately if they were no longer enjoying the story.
Having this feedback loop is critical to maintaining an enjoyable game. Without it, I could very easily see myself falling into the trap of trying to force my own story.
While I didn’t have any planned combat encounters, I learned that social encounters can be as challenging for the players to navigate. Some of my favorite moments from this session were between the party and the Cassalanters.
The party had no reason to be suspicious, but the whole encounter centered around two things.
- Gain the trust of the party so that the Cassalanters could manipulate them later.
- Allow the Cassalanters to learn details about what could eventually lead back to them in a disastrous way (the cult clothing in the warehouse)
It seems to be a cliche that the players will go off script and throw wrenches into the DM’s plans. While planning for this session, I had no idea what route the party would take. I sketched out a few possibilities but not much.
The reason I feel it worked was that I had spent time learning about the world of Waterdeep. Not only the lore but the NPCs’ roles within it. Understanding how everything fits together allowed me the flexibility to keep up with my players. I didn’t go deep either. I focused on the NPCs and locations I thought they would encounter in this session. I plan on going deeper and wider with my research each session.
I think the ending of this session will live on forever with our group. Half the group is imprisoned and there is no obvious way out. This has left a sense of excitement in the group. What’s going to happen? How do we get ourselves out of this? It was fun to hear them talk it over before concluding.