9 min read

Chasing Threads

Having been given a grizzly task by their handler, Jalester, the party prepares to confront a known drug smuggler. Viigo makes a new friend.
Chasing Threads

You can find my session prep for free on Patreon.


The House of Inspired Hands

The sun was setting as the party arrived at the House of Inspired Hands. Yalah Gralhund had directed them there to learn more about Nimblewrights. As they approached the temple, a figure stood silhouetted against the setting sun. It raised its hand and released what looked like a little bird. The bird’s wings beat furiously as it took off, but then veered and began a downward spiral toward the party.

Nim’s mechanical bird

Nim’s mechanical bird

Viigo raised his crossbow and managed to clip one of its wings, sending it on an even more chaotic descent. As it fell towards Taman, he raised his sword in a baseball stance and prepared to take a swing. He miscalculated the path and his swing missed as the bird smashed into his face. Both he and the mechanism dropped to the ground. Seeing this, the shadow panicked and ducked out of sight.

Valetta, a priest of the temple, met them as they approached the open double doors. The gold-scaled Dragonborn had been closing down for the night but, after noticing that Viigo was a maker, allowed them in.

She escorted them to the Hall of Exemplary Inventions. It was a pentagonal room in which models of some remarkable inventions were on display. Among them was a model of a device called The Scarlet Marpenoth. Taman immediately gravitated toward this display and asked Valetta about it. It turned out that this was one invention she did not have a whole history on.

Valetta, priestess of Gond

Valetta, priestess of Gond

The man who invented it had not been a member of the clergy. While she was but a Seeker Postulant at the time, she remembered that he had been obsessed with the idea of a ship that did not sail. She then offered to do more research for them if they would like.

The conversation turned to Nimblewrights. Valetta was happy to inform them that they had one such construct acting as an acolyte. She showed them up the flights of spiral staircases to a door at the very top. But when Valetta went to open the door, she found it locked. Inspecting the door, she informed the party that this was a new lock and looked to be of custom design. She called out to Nim. There was no response. She continued to call out to him, letting him know that he had guests, but still nothing.

Patience growing thin, Akta attempted to pick the lock. This resulted in her thieves' tools snapping against the mechanism and leaving a piece of metal somewhere inside. Taman knelt next to her and went to work. It took much longer than he would have liked, but eventually, the door popped open.

Inside they found a cramped workshop. Parts littered workbenches and spilled onto the floors. Boxes piled in front of designs pinned to the wall. Hiding in the corner was Nim, the first working Nimblewright the party had encountered.

Viigo was the one who stepped forward and reached out to it. Nim paused and tentatively came out of its hiding place. Viigo offered it his hand as a means to greet it. When Nim took his hand, the dwarf cast Identify and was overcome with the knowledge of how much magic had been infused into the machine.

Nim’s Nimblewright detector

Nim’s Nimblewright detector

Collecting himself, Viigo continued to ask it about its work. Nim grew more animated. Its body movement was more than enough to make up for its inability to speak. It motioned around the room to various machinations it had built. It showed them a device that had a mechanical umbrella on it and designs for a small metal bird. Seeing this, Viigo held up the sparrow which had smashed into Taman’s face.

Nim’s head lowered in shame but Viigo reassured it that everything was ok. He then returned the broken bird. The party then asked about nimblewrights and it appeared that Nim had grown sad at the topic. It led them to a large workbench and motioned to the designs he had pinned on the wall. They were designs for a nimblewright he had been trying to create. Despite being a construct, Nim was lonely and desperately trying to make a companion.

Before leaving, Viigo told it that they were friends and that Nim could come by Trollskull anytime it liked.

Harko And His Flock

With darkness setting, the party traveled to the Dock Ward. It took a few hours of searching and asking around but they found their way to a back alley. And, sneaking up, they were able to identify Harko by Jalester’s description.

The man was leaning against a cart while smoking something. Four kenku guards stood on either side of the alley keeping watch. Realizing that a head-on attack would be disastrous, the party split up. Taman and Viigo stayed where they were while Akta and Finzu made their way back up the street and over to the parallel alley. This would allow them to directly engage the kenku instead of allowing them to use their crossbows at range.

Harko’s kenku bodyguards

Harko’s kenku bodyguards

Taman was able to do considerable damage to the first guard without alerting any of the others. To finish off the bird, Viigo’s hammer fell from the shadows and crushed its skull. Then, in an attempt to sneak up on Harko, Viigo stumbled over the body. Everything jumped into motion at once.

Harko proved to be a strong fighter. He separated Viigo and Taman. Taman had to decide between either attacking Harko and being caught from behind by the other kenku, or disengaging from the captain and dealing with the guard. Taman turned and began to spar with the bird.

As Viigo and Harko traded blows, Finzu and Akta rounded the corner and caught the other two guards by surprise. They teamed up on one guard thinking to quickly dispatch him. However, he was able to dodge many of their attacks while keeping in range to use its short sword. Frustrated, Akta whirled on the remaining guard with her halberd. The reach of her blade brought it down without Akta taking any damage.

Watching his guards fall told Harko that it was time to leave. He yelled to his remaining contingent:

“Do your jobs!”

He disengaged and made a break for it. Taman was able to cut him off at the first pass. Harko lashed out and slashed Taman across the chest, wounding him, before doubling back and trying to escape south. Akta, sprinting as fast as she could, was able to get in his way before he rounded the corner. Seeing no other option, Harko lowered his shoulder and plowed into her.

She took the blow and the collision sent Harko to the ground. He immediately began to negotiate but Taman ended his life before he could finish his proposition.

Quid Pro Quo

Bloodied, the party returned to the Yawning Portal where they met Jalester at the bar. Overjoyed to hear the news, he promised to ensure they were not implicated in any way. Additionally, he had good news.

There was word of a map floating around the city. It was said to lead to something incredibly valuable. Jalester suspected that it could be Neverember’s Enigma and he wanted the party to get a copy. However, the only copies he was aware of were owned by the Xanatharians and the Zhentarim.

Tired and beaten down, the party approached Davil. He was very open with them about the map. Istrid Horn had acquired a copy as payment for a debt she had collected. After everything they had done for him, he would happily give them a copy. Unfortunately, he was not Istrid. Davil felt that it would be difficult to get her to part with the map.

But he had an idea. He had received rumors of necromancy in the City of the Dead. That coupled with the rumors of Manshoon caused him to worry. He wanted to make sure that this was not the work of the Zhentarim. The party was to meet Sir Ambrose in the City of the Dead who would show them the way. Davil was confident that helping the Doom Raiders with this would persuade Istrid to part with the map.



Unknown to Viigo, his newly acquired knowledge of how nimblewrights work has alerted Gond, the Wonderbringer. He is now interested in Viigo’s ability to retain and synthesize such complex logic.

The Map and Manshoon

The map serves as a clever decoy conceited by Manshoon. Not only that, he has derived it as a way to punish a being who refused to follow him. Understanding that everyone is now looking for Neverember’s Enigma, Manshoon created an expansive treasure hunt spanning the many wards of Waterdeep. It concludes in the City of the Dead in the Dungeon of the Crypt where the Baron of Blood, Artor Morlin resides.

Manshoon had been trying to recruit Artor to his side. The vampire had refused. Because of this, Manshoon decided that it was time he exposed the vampire’s existence. Manshoon anticipates Artor to kill anyone who learns he exists. He then plans to threaten the vampire with a never-ending stream of adventurers until he joins the Black Network.

At the present, the Doom Raiders, Open Lord, and Xanatharians have all fallen for the ruse.

Harko’s Death

Because the party killed Harko, his smuggling network is now leaderless. As it begins to fall into disarray, other factions will pick up pieces of it. The Xanatharians, Began D’aerthe, and the Doom Raiders will all salvage bits of the network for their own purposes.


Side Missions

I was struggling with coming up with meaningful encounters for this session. My party is moving slowly and is being incredibly meticulous. It’s almost like they fear that fast-forwarding a day or two will cause them to miss something.

This is fine, of course. It tells me that they are engaged, but the downside is that it is rapidly depleting the storylines I had set up. I can always add more encounters or side quests, but with the complexity of the main story arc, I don’t want to muddy the waters too much. A second issue with adding a side mission would be that it runs a couple of sessions and they end up forgetting information about the main quest.

Going into the day before our session, I had one encounter planned that I knew they would take. Other than that, I was scrambling. Do I tell them that they can explore the city for a few days? What about pulling different storylines forward (even though that may reduce their dramatic feel)?

Fortunately, after searching through content online, I came across some interesting add-ins. After some thought, I figured out how I would want to tie them into the plot.

The first is an extension to the Grave Consequences faction quest. It’s a relatively short (4-hour) dungeon dive meant to be a hook to the Mad Mage campaign. The second is the Adventures League adventure series starting with A Map With No Name.

Story-wise, I think Manshoon is my most underdeveloped antagonist. All he is to the party are a series of rumors. And even though he did visit them in a dream sequence during Session 8, they don’t know that it’s him.

To that end, I intend to make the following changes to the two adventures listed above.

  • Manshoon is responsible for the necromancy in Grave Consequences
  • The location is the same but it will be the spot where Manshoon escaped Under Mountain.

The whole map scenario is a plot by Manshoon to:

  1. a) Throw off the other players in the Great Game
  2. b) Put pressure on the Vampire Lord to force an alliance with him.
  • Instead of the drow in the climax, it will be Zhents

I’m hoping that a small dungeon dive will help burn time and give them more combat-heavy encounters that I’ve been lacking recently.

Role Playing

Another thing that I learned tonight is that you don’t need to do voices, or even speak at all. My players absolutely loved the encounter that they had with Nim. Being a nimblewright who couldn’t speak, I had to convey his emotions and intent all through his body language. And in doing so, I was able to get a player who normally doesn’t role-play to jump in. By certain motions, exciting clapping when Viigo said they were now friends or dropping the head to show sadness at his failed designs, it made his character feel more real than any voice could.

When it comes down to it, you don’t need voice-acting skills at all when crafting NPCs. What you need is a personality that makes them as unique as someone you might meet in the real world. Something that says more about them than a bad Irish/Jamaican/Russian accent ever could.

Some things to consider in this respect:

  • What are they doing with their hands?
  • What do they do as filler when they pause to speak?
  • What cadence do they use when speaking?
  • What type of language do they use?
  • How do they address both the party and, perhaps even more importantly, other NPCs?

All this is informed by their background, situation, and intentions. Understanding those elements going into an encounter will help you create realistic characters for your players to lean into.