You can find my prep notes for free on Patreon.
As the party made their way to the God Catcher, one of the cities fabled Walking Statues, they stopped at Diloontier’s Apothecary. The owner welcomed them as any shop owner would, but his mannerisms concerned Taman. He noticed the hunched man dry wash his hands with darting eyes at every sound. Stained teeth hid behind cracked lips.
They asked about the herbs that Finzu required for his quest. The owner answered that Fate’s Hair was a rarity and that he himself had never seen it. But when they mentioned Dream Flake his demeanor changed. His jittery mannerisms intensified as he tried to deflect the question. Combined with his appearance, Taman deduced that this individual wasn’t a simple seller of herbs.
Taman had spent many nights sailing with a band of pirates and was familiar with the signs of many types of drugs. Though he had never heard it called Dream Flake, he recognized the signs of an addict. This drug, derived from a black fungus, was consumed by placing the flakes between the cheek and gum. When used extensively, the user’s teeth would begin to blacken. The drug itself would produce hallucinations, euphoria, and sometimes cause the user to enter a vivid waking dream. As they continued to use Dream Flake the occurrence of bad trips would become more common, leading to paranoia and severe anxiety.
As he pressed the man, he became more unpredictable in his answers. He would double back, try to talk around their question, and deflect. Frustrated with his deflections, Akta stepped forward and threatened the man. This caused him to start babbling and he let slip that shipments of Dream Flake had all but dried up. In their place, a new drug had begun to become available. This drug, Black Lilly, was plentiful and he had plenty of it if the party were so inclined. This confirmed their suspicions that he was acting as a front for this cartel. Unfortunately, he only worked with middlemen and did not know who was behind the operation.
After deducing he had no additional information, the party warned him that they would be back.
Sounds From the Cellar
The moment they exited the Apothecary the street Urchin girl Akta had tossed a coin to earlier ran up to them. She looked exasperated and out of breath but elated that she had finally found the party. Squiddly had sent a message with her. They needed to come to Trollskull Manor immediately because there was trouble.
Realizing that they had not dealt with Lif, the party rushed north to the manor. They found the workers outside in clusters. They eyed the manor with a mixture of concern, fear, and false bravado. The workers had found a hole in the cellar wall that seemed to drop straight into the Abyss. Not long after they had discovered it, a muffled moaning had started. They hadn’t thought much of the noise. Experience told them it could be the wind pouring into the exposed expanse. What concerned them was the fact that the sound had grown louder overnight.
The party entered the manor, expecting to find Lif, but there were no signs of the apparition. Cautiously, they made their way through the trap door down to the cellar. They immediately understood the workers’ fear. The muffled moans of pain and anguish echoed through the room.
Viigo, hoping his dark vision would allow him to see deeper into the hole, stuck his head through the gap. The metallic face of a Merregon peered upward from the darkness. As he wheeled back, a massive hand gripped the side of the opening and the devil began to emerge.
The cellar itself was small. A retaining wall separated the space into two small spaces. As the devil crawled free, the party retreated behind the wall, hoping to create a choke point. Relying on the cover the retaining wall provided, they darted up to the Merregon, attacked, and retreated.
They were able to get a few in but it only served to anger the Merregon. Raging, the devil threw its body at the retaining wall. Debris pummeled the party causing small amounts of damage. The real issue was that the Merregon now could engage the entire party head-on. Unable to fan out, the party was at the mercy of wide-sweeping halberd swings. Each swing struck multiple members and began to take its toll.
Over time, they were able to create a flanking situation. This proved to be the death of the Merregon. The tactic not only diminished the effectiveness of its attacks but also exposed its backside. This allowed the party to find weak spots in the armor. Deep cuts slowed the devil, but it was Taman’s rapier finding a home between the breastplate and face mask, that ended its life.
Straddling the corpse, Viigo took his belt knife and began to cut away at the creature’s face. After some time he removed the mask and proclaimed that they had found a decoration for the bar. Hoping to dispose of the body before the workers discovered it, Taman, Finzu, and Viigo struggled to get the body up the stairs. Before following, Akta picked up the halberd. She swung it in large arcs to test its balance and satisfied, followed the others.
As she emerged, workers began funneling into the manor. They had never seen such a creature and looked upon the body in amazement. The party left the workers standing around the corpse. The beginning of tales that would flood the taverns later that evening began to take form.
Racing Through the Streets
Coming to the High Road they found an excited crowd. Investigating, the party learned that there was a foot race forming. The organizer approached them to see if they would like to participate. After paying the entry fee, both Akta and Finzu agreed.
Akta and Finzu left the field in the dust. One other managed to keep pace with them, but he soon fell behind. As they rounded the last corner and entered the final stretch, Akta’s tail got ‘caught’ between Finzu’s legs. He stumbled and gave Akta the edge she needed to cross the finish line first. (Game Note: Used the Chase rules for the race).
The party’s excitement was short-lived. The crowd’s enthusiasm had died as soon as a tiefling had crossed the line. Displeased, they began to murmur and quickly dissipate. A clearly unhappy organizer dropped the pouch of coins in her hand. He offered a curt “Congratulations” and quickly walked off.
Keep the Change
They arrived at the God Catcher with time to spare and spent the afternoon exploring nearby shops and sampling food stalls. Once the sun began to disappear behind the horizon they set up watch around the square.
As they had been told, a woman in a purple shawl and hood arrived at the base of the statue. Taman made his way up to her and leaned against the monument, never looking directly at the buyer. After a quiet moment, he placed the small box between them. (Game Note: Stealth check to see if anyone around them noticed). She was quick to secure the package.
Then she stood, looked around, and turned to Taman.
“Tell your handler, a storm is coming.”
She then walked away, disappearing into the crowd. Left behind was a small pouch which Taman quickly snatched up. Inside was their payment of 15 platinum pieces.
As they made their way back to the Portal, cries for help echoed from one of the alleyways. A woman was standing, screaming and crying, in front of a fire. Back to them, she continued to sob as they approached. As they reached her a voice called from behind them
You the ones helping old Davil?
They turned and watched as five men stepped from the shadows. The obvious leader didn’t wait for an answer to his question.
You see, David has been causin’ some problems for our organization. A little of this, a little of that, you know, bringing’ outsiders in ta do his dirty work. But, we’re a hospitable group ya? Thought to me self, why not give em a proper greetin’ eh?” And then he pushed the woman down the alley, sending her off.
As the men sneered and began to move in Taman said.
Are you certain Manshoon would approve of this?
The man paused and responded.
Ah, see, why ya gotta say things like that? We was just gonna leave ya with some lumps is all. Now we gotta kill ya.
Crossbow bolts rained in from the bandits on the flanks while the three other men attacked. The party turned out to be more of a match than the bandits had anticipated. Viigo made quick work of one of them by summoning a magic war hammer. He bashed two rogues, incapacitating one of the ranged attackers. Akta’s halberd cut through another and Finzu dropped a fourth. Seeing his advantage slip away, the captain pulled a small bag from his pocket and tossed it into the fire.
A large bang went off, followed by searing light. The whole party was temporarily blinded by the flash bang and the captain went to work. He took the opportunity to deal as much damage as possible as he moved through the staggered crowd. But he couldn’t do enough. As their vision returned, the party continued to cut through his backups and then set to work on him. Soon he was bloody and pinned up against a wall trying to make a deal.
When asked about who had sent him he laughed and told them.
It doesn’t matter what you do… I’d be dead anyway.
They continued to press and learned that Davil’s group, the Doom Raiders, had split off from the Black Network. The captain mocked Davil’s grand visions as pipe dreams. They also learned that the Black Network had permeated all levels of the Waterdavian society. The captain continued to laugh and spat blood.
We are everywhere.
Hogtying the captain, Akta used Thaumaturgy to set off a loud boom. Realizing they intended to draw the City Watch with the sound, the captain began to cackle maniacally.
As they left him in the alley, he called to their backs:
We own them!
A Perfect Storm
A stone sober and equally serious Jalester was waiting for them at the Portal. Durnan, with who he had been in conversation, handed him a key and then went on his way. Jalester approached and instructed them to follow him to a back room. There were things they needed to discuss.
Ensuring they could not be overheard, Jalester took a chair at the head of the table with his back to the door. He then asked them to recount their time at Mirt’s mansion the previous day. After hearing their tale he broke the news.
There had been an assassination attempt on Mirt’s life. The assailant had managed to enter Mirt’s mansion and in the middle of the night, they had tried to slit the sleeping man’s throat. Had it been anyone other than Mirt, they surely would have died. Instead, he had been able to hold on until the morning servant made her rounds and found him. He was now being treated at Castle Waterdeep under the care of the Open Lord. The Nimblewright had been transported to Blackstaff Tower for further inspection.
The party filled him in on their latest encounters and a shadow fell across his face. As they finished he made a request. A man who was a known ex-Xanatharian and drug runner up and down the Sword Coast was in the city. Rumor was that he was there to make a deal with Xanathar to help him expand his smuggling network. Additionally, a drug called Black Lilly was starting to flood the city streets. Mirt had been investigating this with his own network. They suspected Xanathar was behind the assault.
This expansion of power in the city’s underbelly was only intensifying the war between the Xanatharians and Zhentarim. With stone reserve, he asked the party to find this drug runner in the Dock Ward and eliminate him. He hoped this would slow down the escalations for the near term.
Before excusing himself he looked them over and sighed.
Jalester: You might as well know. It’s for your safety. The drow you tangled with the other night, he’s gone. Like a shadow in the night, he simply vanished. We have reason to believe he is still in the city but we have been unable to locate him. Yet I fear I have worse news. The only identifiable information we were able to glean was due to a tattoo he brandished. It was that or Began D’aerthe, the infamous drow mercenary group. He was either part of or had been a member. Be careful out there.
He feared that the future of Waterdeep was at risk. Demons stalked the night, blood flooded the streets and now they may have to deal with Bregan D’aerthe. He wasn’t sure that Waterdeep would survive the festival season.
Before leaving he said:
Jalester: If you’ve never experienced it, this season is my favorite. It brings out the soul of the city. And if this is the end of it all, make sure to take some time to enjoy it.
The assassination attempt on Mirt was the result of the party’s inaction in the previous session. The Xanatharians they had encountered outside Mirt’s mansion had snuck a halfling hiding in a barrel into the cellar.
The drug was featured heavily in this session. Xanathar has now begun pushing Black Lilly into all the Wards of Waterdeep. This expansion has connected his agents with all aspects of society. Aside from Black Lilly he is importing weapons, armor, and slaves for his upcoming gladiatorial games. These operations are run out of the Dock Ward and are being overseen by Ahmaergo, the Iron Dwarf.
Once the party picked up the potions from Weirdbottle Concoctions, Skeemo immediately informed his contacts in the Black Network. He had not been expecting adventurers to be the runners for Davil. In response to this information, Urstel Floxin sent the bandits to attack the party as a warning.
Jarlaxle and Began D’aerthe are indeed in the city. The drow who had been arrested is Soluun Xibrindas. He is sadistic, racist, and homicidal. Having grown up in Menzoberanzzan, he had a deep, burning hatred for surface elves and half-elves. This leads him to take advantage of any opportunity to kill one.
Jarlaxle and the others knew what he was up to during his homicidal escapades, however, they allowed it since it did not seem to be attracting too much attention. It was only once the party was able to subdue Soluun that Jarlaxle stepped in. On one hand, the party had demonstrated itself both formidable and connected. These were attributes he could exploit. On the other, one of his most trusted and vicious lieutenants was now sitting in a cell beneath Castle Waterdeep.
After breaking Soluun free, Jarlaxle has constrained his movements to the ships. He can’t risk more attention as he continues to establish his influence on the city.
I was told that this had been the party’s favorite session thus far. I felt the same. It had a good balance of role-playing, combat, and cliffhangers. I’m continuing to peel back the layers in the story and show the party just how much is going on. Jalester’s quip at the end of the session left the players with an understanding of what they would have to overcome. And it served its purpose.
After having a discussion with a player about the desire for more conflict, I spent much more time designing interesting scenarios. I focused a lot on developing dynamic environments and natural scenarios.
This is how I arrived at the two encounters that were eventually run. I liked the inclusion of the Merregon in the manor. The party immediately recognized it by my description. They also recalled that Durnan had been required to kill it. This set the mindset for battle. It was not an opponent to take lightly.
Whereas the Merregon was a straight-up slash-and-dash encounter, the bandit combat was about tactics. I designed it so that the party started at a disadvantage. They would have to deal with both close combat and ranged attackers. And there would be a surprise to further complicate the situation.
Being blinded, especially when it happened out of turn at the top of the round, caused the party to have to quickly adapt. They went from being clear favorites to suddenly being at a disadvantage. Watching how they dealt with the surprise was a lot of fun.
In preparation, I also created one-pages for the combat. On this page, I pre-rolled the health and initiative of the monsters, detailed the tactics, and had a mini description of the environment. This really helped me focus on the description of the battle instead of the mechanics.
You can find the Merregon encounter here and the Bandit encounter here.
This was a lesson for me in combat difficulty. The Merregon encounter was a 4-on-1 scenario and ultimately was never in question. The tight fighting space made things interesting, but, once combat started, I never had any doubt as to who would be victorious.
The bandit encounter surprised me. I thought it would be more difficult than it turned out to be. This was the first time I got to see the party leverage their abilities since the Xanatharian hideout and they surprised me with some of their spells and tactics. This was particularly true in regard to Viigo’s Celestial Weapon which did massive damage and eviscerated two opponents in the first round.
The entire scene in the apothecary was improvisation. I had not anticipated them stopping in to ask about these illicit herbs. But this proved to be a great opportunity to work in the Black Lilly storyline that I had come up with after the previous session.
Starting the scene, I had no idea this was the route I would take. But as I began describing the shopkeeper, it began falling into place. I added in his shaky hands and his darting eyes. These details signaled to the players that there may be something else going on here.
It turned out to be a fun exchange. They used different tactics in terms of Intimidation, Persuasion, Insight, and Deception. Taman and Akta played good -op-bad cop. And I was able to set the stage for not only the storyline, but context about the dangers of going around blindly asking about Dream Flake.