11 min read

Pawns in the Game

Taman is forced to prove himself in a game of strategy and logic against Mirt. Davil gives them a seemingly innocent task. And Zardoz throws more doubt onto their relationship.
Pawns in the Game

You can find my prep notes for free on Patreon.


Dragon Chess

Durnan flagged the party down before they left the bar. He had overheard that they were planning on heading to Mirt’s mansion for an unplanned visit. Pulling a bottle from behind the bar, he recommended that they show up bearing gifts. He presented Dragon’s Breath, a rare spirit he knew Mirt enjoyed. Thanking Durnan profusely, they left the Portal and followed Renear’s directions to Mirt’s fabled mansion.

As they arrived they came upon a delivery wagon. Three men and a halfling were unloading dark wooden casks. To the side, another man was speaking with one of the servants. The servant led the men through a side door and into the cellar. Remaining outside, the party spoke about how they wanted to approach the situation with Mirt. The last time they had encountered him, they had been ‘enlisted’ into the service of the Open Lord.

Four men and the servant exited the cellar and as they made their way back to the wagon Taman cleared his throat. He mentioned that they had recently acquired a tavern and were looking for a good ale and spirit distributor. The man who had been speaking with the servant snickered and called out

Bandit Leader: Ya see now, we only cater to specific clientele. Cann’t help ya.

Taman pressed further and the man became more aggressive. He stepped up to Taman and gave him a push on the shoulder. At this point, Taman was able to catch a glimpse of purple eye tattoos on the man’s arm as his shirt sleeve pulled back. Upon seeing this Taman raised his arms, said he didn’t wish for trouble and took a verbal assault from the man.

As they watched the wagon roll away a sense of gloom set upon the party. If Mirt was working with the Xanatharians this could get messy.

The servant was standing there, eyeing them suspiciously. Speaking with him revealed that Mirt was stocking up for the festival season. The party informed the servant that they wanted an audience with his master. They then presented the bottle of Dragon’s Breath. Knowing that the gift was reason enough to grant the audience, the servant agreed.

He led them through the front door and into Mirt’s study. Packed with leather-bound books and smelling of rich mahogany, it was a comfortable space. Mirt was sitting on one of two facing couches in front of a fire, inspecting a game of Dragon’s Chess.

The party edged their way in and began explaining why they had come. Without looking up, Mirt cut them off by asking, “Any of you play Dragon’s Chess?” Taman was familiar and soon he found himself engaged in a battle of wits and foresight.

Mirt won the first round with a clever feint. Taman took the second with rock-solid play.

Dragon Chess Knight

Dragon Chess Knight

The third and final round came down to the last few pieces. As Taman looked over the board, he noticed that Mirt was once again attempting the move which had won him the first round. Taman countered it and took the game.

There was a tense moment while the party waited to see Mirt’s reaction. When the big man began to laugh and applaud his opponent, everyone relaxed. Mirt poured them all drinks, gave Taman his Dragon Chess set, and then got down to business.

He was perplexed with the sudden influx of Nimblewrights into the city and was aware of at least five so far. (The Watchful Order of Magists and Protectors, Lord Labor Adarbrent, Lord Corin Dezlentry, the Temple of Mystra, and the House of Graces). He had heard the Luskans were selling them at a loss and it frustrated him that he did not understand their goal.

He then turned to the party and informed them that, due to their relationship with the Luskans, they would be heading down to the docks to buy one for him. He intended to have it disassembled in an attempt to learn more about the constructs. Durnan would have the funds they required. He then had the servant see them out.

While making their way back to the Portal, four mounted City Watch guards escorting a black carriage through the Dock Ward cut them off. The contents of the passenger car remained hidden by tightly secured curtains.

The party assumed it must be something valuable to require an escort. Given that it was coming from the direction of the docks, perhaps it held a Nimblewright. As it passed Akta was able to make out the Gralhund family crest.

While We Wait

After enjoying breakfast the following morning, they approached Durnan about the funds. As Mirt had instructed, he pulled out a case and said

Durnan: Here you are, 25 thousand gold dragons.

This caused the party to pause. They had just purchased a Nimblewright for the Cassalanters at a price of 35 thousand dragons. The difference was staggering and they asked Durnan if they could get the remaining 10 thousand dragons.

This caused Durnan a bit of consternation. He informed them that that was a significant difference. Mirt had told him 25 thousand and if they needed that much more, they had best speak with him.

This resulted in some back and forth between Mirt’s Mansion and the Portal. They were turned away at the mansion due to how early it was in the morning. Before leaving, Taman left a note with the servant requesting Mirt to send over the remaining funds. At the Portal, they noticed that Davil now had a much larger group of bodyguards around him. One of them approached the party and requested that they come to speak with the sun elf.

As they approached, the new group of guards parted and cleared a set of chairs for them. Once they had taken their seats, the protective circle closed behind them, preventing any onlookers from observing the meeting. Davil looked haggard and tired. He informed them that there had been a legitimate threat made against his life. These men were extra protection until he could learn the details of the attempt.

Not wanting to spare his own men at this crucial moment, he had a task for the party that he hoped would be simple. His friend and fellow leader of the Doom Raiders, Skeemo Weirdbottle, owned a potion shop in the Trade Ward. All they had to do was stop in, pick up three potions of mind-reading, and deliver them to a buyer at the God Catcher at sunset. In exchange for their help, he offered them what the buyer was paying for the potions upon delivery.

Skeemo’s Shop

Skeemo’s Shop

With nothing else to do at the moment, the party set out for the shop. A well-dressed gnome greeted them and inquired as to what they were seeking. Once the party made sure they were alone they hinted to Skeemo that Davil had sent them to pick up a package. This immediately changed the wizard’s mood. Dropping the smile, he eyed the party before locking the front door and changing a sign from ‘Open’ to ‘Closed’.

He then motioned for them to follow him into a small back room. The items in this room were dramatically different than what was for sale upfront. Various magical potions ranging from oils of sharpness to potions of giant strength lined the shelves. In the middle of the room was a large work table littered with ingredients and equipment. The gnome pulled a small container from one of the shelves, put it on the table, and opened it so that the party could inspect the wares. Assuming all was in order, the party thanked the gnome, took the case, and left the shop.

Counter Moves

Once again back at the Portal, they sat down for lunch. As they were finishing a Paper Bird flittered through the open door and landed in front of Taman. It was from Mirt. And he was outraged that they were demanding more money and accused them of trying to con him. Realizing that they wouldn’t receive the additional funds, the only thing left to do was to head down to the Docks and see what happened.

They found the docks a flurry of movement as the Luskans continued to set up their carnival. Amongst the chaos they eventually found Zardoz. He was moving through the madness, giving orders, inspecting work, and doing his best to keep to the schedule. He greeted the party but told them if they needed to speak with him they would have to keep up.

As he weaved through the crowd, his attention flitted from one thing to another. This made it difficult for the party to hold the conversation. Then Zardoz rounded on him as if he had remembered something important. Looking at them as if just now realizing who they were, he asked if they had been successful in recovering the handkerchief.

This struck something in the party. Leading to this, they had grown skeptical of Zardoz and were beginning to sense nefarious intentions. He was, of course, working with demons.

But as they relayed their story to him his interest grew. It was as if they were confirming theories he held. They finished and he responded with one thoughtful word. Interesting. After a moment’s pause, he snapped back to the conversation and asked them why they had sought him out.

They told him that they had found a buyer for a Nimblewright. This time, however, they let slip that it was Mirt. This tickled Zardoz and he made comments that indicated he was familiar with the man. The party then dropped that they only had 25 thousand dragons on them. This didn’t seem to phase Zardoz at all. As he was instructing them to leave payment with the men at the end of the dock, the sound of children calling out interrupted them. “Mr. Zord! Mr. Zord! We found it! We found what you wanted!”

The three urchins that the party had met at Trollskull Manor pushed their way to them. In their excitement, they didn’t notice the party. The little girl, Nat, communicated with Zardoz with a strange form of sign language. While she did, the other two recognized the party. It was evident they did not expect to find them speaking with Zardoz and were wary about sharing the information with them. The Luskan then laughed, verbally thanked the group, and tossed them a few coins.

The Urchins playing at the docks

The Urchins playing at the docks

Zardoz watched them run off for a few moments in silence and then turned to the party.

Zardoz: She’s deaf you know. I do admire her tenacity. One cannot begin to imagine the hardship she endures being a deaf street child in this city. Perhaps, once this is all over, I will see if she would be interested in joining us in our travels.

He then asked if the party could undertake a second task. He wanted them to secretly deliver a note to the editor of the Sentinel. He pulled a piece of parchment and a type of writing device out of his vest pockets. After scribbling something towards the bottom of the page he handed them the unsealed letter.

Taman told him that they wanted to know what this was about. Why did he want this delivered? Why had a demon been involved in their previous delivery? Zardoz considered for a moment and then responded,

Zardoz: I could tell you, but I won’t.

Taman: Why not?

Zardoz: Because I don’t want to. Now you will either do this or you won’t. That is up to you. I must be going.

He then turned and continued on with his work.

The party dropped off the payment for the Nimblewright and left the docks. Once out of range of the Luskans they read the note. It made outrageous claims about noble families’ involvement in demon cult worship. It detailed secret dealing, orgies, and blood rituals. No one in the party had enough knowledge to determine the validity of the details presented. But there was enough there that it felt as if it could be real.

Scribbled toward the bottom of the letter were five family names:

  • Snobeedle
  • Highchurch
  • Adarbrent
  • Hansberg
  • Cassalanter


This was a fun session from a narrative perspective.

Mirt, Xanathar, and the Black Lilly

In going to Mirt’s, the party stumbled upon a plot of assassination. The men making the delivery were agents of Xanathar. The beholder believes Mirt is getting closer to disrupting his Black Lilly trade and has ordered him killed.

The delivery is a means to sneak the assassin into the mansion. They have bought off the servant to help them. The halfling that did not return is currently waiting inside one of the delivered barrels in the cellar. On him is a dagger laced with an unknown poison from Undermountain that will resist magical healing. In a day or two, he will try to assassinate Mirt.

The Doom Raiders

Davil is convinced that the attempt made on his life was carried out by the Xanatharians, an extension of the gang war going. However, it was actually done by members of the Black Network under the orders of Urstel Floxin.

While he is aware of the fracture within the Zhentarim, Davil has not yet realized how deep it goes. As far as he is concerned, the appearance of Manshoon is a rumor and nothing else. He believes that it is a mechanism that Urstel Floxin is using to drum up support.

Skeemo’s Betrayal

Unknown to Davil, Skeemo is now a double agent working for the Black Network under Manshoon. Because the party didn’t inspect the concoctions, they don’t know that the potions are actually vials of poison.

This will have implications in the next session with the Black Viper (the buyer).

Zardoz and the Cassalanters

The party was able to confirm what Zardoz had suspected regarding the Cassalanters. He now understands that:

  1. They had demonic connections
  2. They hadn’t told him that a demon would be involved and leaving out such an important detail meant that they could not be trusted
  3. They were extremely dangerous and should not be taken lightly.

Understanding that he was up against expert players in the Great Game, he decided to try to throw them off balance. He hoped that the letter he asked the party to deliver would achieve that. By including their name in the list, but not explicitly calling out Victoro and Ammalia, he hoped that he could:

  1. Cause them to panic, and thus make a rash decision
  2. Disrupt their current plans by forcing them to divert to damage control
  3. Force them into more extreme situations so that he could observe their reaction.

He will be taking extra care to review the Nimblewright’s recordings from here on.


Planned Encounters

This session was a lesson in how the party’s decisions can go in a completely different direction than you had anticipated. I had thought that, upon seeing the Xanatharian tattoo, the party would confront the thugs. In preparation for this, I had prepared a chase encounter. The thugs would leave one man behind to delay the party while the rest took off in their cart.

However, the information the party took from the tattoo was the exact opposite of what I had intended. Instead of seeing something they had to stop, they came to the conclusion that Mirt and Xanathar were working together. This was a scary prospect to them and so they stayed out of it.

Going into the session I had told myself that, if the party didn’t stop the halfling, he would make an assassination attempt on Mirt’s life. However, during the actual session, I felt myself panicking. I didn’t really want to have Mirt removed from the story. But due to their choices that is where it’s going.

To me, this is a case of letting the players define and change the world you have set for them. Stepping back from the game and reflecting, I am even more excited about the new prospects than I was about my original game plan.

Time Management

One thing I didn’t like about this session was the constant back and forth to the Yawning Portal. It felt boring and one of the players even said, “I guess we just go back.”

To me, that’s a failure on my end. I should have implemented better plot hooks and guidance to keep them moving.


This will have been the third session in a row without combat. While Dragon Heist isn’t a combat-focused adventure, I can feel it missing. This was confirmed when one of the players reached out to me and let me know that they would like to see more combat going forward.

To me, this is the exact reason you create feedback loops with your players. Knowing that it wasn’t just me feeling this way and that the party wanted certain things helped me craft the next session.