I really enjoyed this session for a few reasons.
First, no more caravan duty! That was a real PITA for everyone: I’m sure the players were tired of it — although it served a purpose by introducing them to Carlon, Jamna, and the Thayan Jos (who’s still with the cultists, BTW) — and I had a difficult time with the pacing. Having story elements in the game is great because RPGs are all about the narrative, but collaborative stories are really difficult to pull off. Two solid months of caravan duty, with several breaks in between, made for a messy situation that took longer than it should, despite actual attempts not to belabor it.
That’s why once the party reached the walls of Waterdeep, I didn’t up-play the experience. They got in, got their payment, followed the cultists, figured out what they were doing (but not why they were doing it), and formulated an initial plan of attack. Bam bam bam done.
I also tried to let the party drive this one, and they did a great job! Splitting the party is always a questionable tactic, but this time it was handled in spectacular fashion. There was a lot of discussion on the mechanics of the clockwork carrier pigeon, what it could do, and how it could work. I said that they could make one, but it would only fly between two set points. So when some the party went to visit Carlon, what they could have found by observing the cultist activity, he already knew. While having the NPC deus ex machina plot points is generally bad form, I think the situation played logically, and quickly gave the players the info they needed.
When the players opted to break into the warehouse, I was a bit taken aback. I tried to instill the fact that this warehouse was a legitimate business, although the players apparently suspected that it was a legitimate business front for cult activities. Technically, they could have simply signed up for work during the day, but their espionage approach worked out quite well in the end, and I thought the fact that they signed up for work in the middle of a break-in was kind of funny. As they said while we were wrapping up the session, “we broke in and got ourselves employed.”
* The payouts the players had been receiving in earlier chapters lead to a whole lot of cash on hand, so while the 50g seemed relatively low compared to what other payouts had been, this is an attempt to get the economics back under control so the players aren’t going to make a side quest out of finding a castle to buy with their excess cash.
** Waterdeep is actually a massive city and the idea that the players could keep pace with a wagon traveling south to north is kind of absurd once you see the map. But in the interest of getting the story rolling, I just wanted to ensure that the players didn’t RP the city block by block.