A Grim Dawn Over Waterdeep
So begins the next chapter in the illustrious career of Adventure Co. Brand Adventure Company. Following on the heels of their successful routing of Rezmir’s treasure hoard into the Northern tundra, the players had taken their trusty wyverns Socks and Patches as a means of escape, and travel back to civilization.
Having flown for a few hours, the wyverns were in dire need of a siesta and a margarita or two. With the benefit of cruising at several thousand feet, the party was able to pinpoint a fairly decent roadside B&B amidst the pine trees towards which they steered their mounts. Upon landing, the party dismissed the wyverns, who got neither a siesta nor even a single margarita, but who managed to find some unsuspecting deer elsewhere in the forest as they took their leave.
The roadhouse was nothing special; serviceable, but comfortable. No one thought twice about the party of grubby adventurers who tumbled through the door and took a seat at the first available table by the bar. Although vast sums of wealth were now buried beneath a shelf of ice in the northern forest, they scraped together enough cash to buy themselves a meal.
It had only been a matter of minutes since they sat down before the front door flew open and a panting, bedraggled half-elf staggered into the establishment. She gestured to the party as she passed on her way to the bar — “I’ll get back to you in a minute, don’t go anywhere” — where she slammed down some money, took a mug of ale, and downed it without taking a breath.
“Oh, thank Torm,” she said, inviting herself to the party’s table. “I’ve been hauling ass through the forest following your flight since the ice castle crashed. I’m Fucha Undertree. I was sent by Leosin Erlanthar to track you down and take you to meet him in Waterdeep. It’s urgent.” Undertree produced a teleportation scroll which she set up in a back room in the inn. “You’re headed to the Flaming Birch in the North Ward of Waterdeep,” she paraphrased for brevity. “Good luck!”
On the other side of the teleporter the party was met by another functionary, a surly halfling named Gurner Honeydew. With very few words, Honeydew let the party into the richly appointed streets of the wealthiest city on the Sword Coast.
It wasn’t long before the party learned that the world wasn’t as they had left it before setting off on their chase after the Cult of the Dragon. A sudden and inexplicable sense of dread overcame them, like a sense of atmospheric pressure that usually preceded a violent storm. Others in the city felt the same: bystanders quieted themselves down to confused and concerned whispers, dogs ceased their barking, birds their singing, and the streets became eerily quiet. But the sensation ended in the span of seconds. Life slowly seeped back into Waterdeep, but with a greater sense of unease.
Honeydew lead the party to the Lord’s Palace, a semi-government building that was the center of hurried activity. Curriers and functionaries raced in and out of doorways, and the streets surrounding the building were thronged by a variety of people sporting livery from all across the North: the Emerald Enclave, Baldur’s Gate, Silverymoon, and more were all represented in some form or another.
Inside the building, the party was reunited with Leosin Erlanthar, Harper agent and dragon cult scholar that they had rescued after the unfortunate situation in Greenest. There wasn’t a lot of time to explain the situation, Leosin relayed with apologies as he continued as their guide through the palace. The Council of Waterdeep was in session and needed to speak with the party as soon as possible.
“They want to hear your stories,” Leosin said as they pulled up short outside of the Council chamber. “But they are also going to leverage you against the cult in any way they can. This Council is a loose alliance, distrustful of one another despite the dangerous circumstances, and it’ll be up to you to act as the unifying force. But remember, they’re politicians and have their own agendas. Everything you say and do and how you do it will be weighed for or against you as a measure of your competence, trustworthiness, and honor. You won’t be able to please them all, but do your best.” Foreshadowing, ho!
The Council itself is made up of representatives from the major powers in the North: The Harpers, The Order of the Gauntlet (Onthar Frume representing), The Emerald Enclave, the cities of Neverwinter, Waterdeep, and Baldur’s Gate, the kingdoms of the Misty Forest, Mithral Hall, the region of Silverymoon, and even an attache from neighboring and constantly petulant Cormyr. Curriers and secretaries and clerks filled the room, attending to the council members and shuffling parchment and letters to and from the room. But the activity stopped when the party entered.
Introductions were made by Lord Dagult Neverember of Neverwinter, taking the party around the room to meet the individual dignitaries before calling the Council to order. Neverember asked the party to relay their adventure, which the bard was more than happy to do…in musical format. Although unconventional, the concept concert was a hit with some of the delegates, but rang sour for others.
The Council then filled in the gaps in the party’s knowledge regarding what’s been happening since they went undercover. The Cult has been gaining strength, numbers, and in boldness. The oppressive force that they experienced out on the streets of Waterdeep was the sounding of the Draakhorn, an artifact that the cult was using to summon chromatic dragons to their cause. These dragons have been accompanying Cult raiding forces across the region where they strip a village of its valuables and then raze the buildings to leave nothing but a charred patch of destruction. While the party’s efforts in keeping Rezmir from delivering her share of the hoard to her masters was successful, it was only a part of the overall wealth that the cult has been amassing.
The Council has need of the party once again, but this time imbued with the authority of the Sword Coast Alliance. A writ, given to them by Lady Laerl Silverhand of Waterdeep, deputized the party as agents of the Council, allowing them to requisition the supplies they need, and granting them access to the places that they deem necessary to further their investigation. It also put them on a leash, as everything they said or did would reflect back on the Council for the trust they placed in the party.
As the Council broke for dinner, the ranger approached Lady Silverhand and mentioned that they could use some additional bodies to round out their ranks, since it looked like things were going to get a lot more serious from here on out. Lady Silverhand agreed, and said she’d round up some fitting candidates for presentation in the morning.
Out in the hallway, it was time for Jamna to leave the party. She had joined back during the caravan days by letting the party know that she had also been sent to infiltrate the cult, although she didn’t say by whom. She didn’t elaborate at this point either, choosing to make her goodbyes and quickly slip away. It was also time for Gina to choose a different path. Her lost beau [I Forgot His Name] who was last seen boarding a ship that would take him to an arranged marriage, had decided to defy his bloodline for his love of Gina. Because of the feud between the [I Forgot The Name]’s clan and Gina’s clan, the only way he could be with her was to renounce his claims. Gina was overwhelmed and, despite her responsibility to the party in this incredibly dangerous time of need, deus ex machina’d her way off-stage as well.
Watching from a respectful distance were two huddled figures, the disparity in height between them almost comical. Once the party drama had concluded, these two approached and introduced themselves: one was an unconventionally armored warrior of some sort, and the other was a diminutive druid. They couldn’t help but overhear that there were vacancies in their party, and being the sole survivors of an expedition similar to AdvCo’s recently-concluded mission, and currently without marching orders, made it known that they’d be interested in throwing their lot in with the group.
+ + +
This is the start of the Rise of Tiamat (RoT), the second module in the Tyranny of Dragons storyline. The party is now level 8, and is staring down the barrel of a loaded shitstorm.
The cult has been busy while the party has been focused on the single aspect of Rezmir and her immediate plan. As a footnote, the party learned from the Council that the cult has acquired five chromatic dragon masks that have something to do with their planned ritual to free Tiamat from her captivity in the Nine Hells. Meanwhile, the cult itself has been growing in strength, destroying towns and villages, and the Council is worried that at this rate, it’s only a matter of months before they’re bold and organized enough to lay siege to the cities of the Sword Coast with a very good chance of winning.
RoT is a difficult module from the get-go because it’s starts off with a whole lot of RP, and a whole lot of characters. Each member of the Council has his or her own personality, and that personality has to be discernable by the players at some point because the purpose of the Council is to score the players on their outcomes and behaviors.
Each mission that the party undertakes will be reviewed by the Council at one of several interstitial debriefing sessions. Each Councillor has his or her own criteria for being impressed by the party. Under most adventuring circumstances, an approach of “by any means necessary” is perfectly fine, but because of the Council oversight, the players will need to not only succeed, but succeed with parameters — collect information, get an item, etc. In addition, how they succeed, and the decisions they make, are going to play into the Council’s opinions. Capturing an NPC instead of killing them, or killing instead of capturing, is going to make some Councillors happy, and others unhappy. The whole point is that the Council is disunified; they know they have to work together, but they’ve never had to pool their resources like this before, and are unsure if they can trust one another not to stab one another in the back. They lack info needed to make concrete decisions regarding the resources they’re each willing to commit, which is where the party comes in. They will have to gather info to convince the Council that the danger is as bad — or worse — than they thought. Along the way, anything the party can do to throw a wrench into the Cult’s plans will be favorable, assuming the methods don’t offend certain sensibilities of certain Councillors. When the module is over, the opinion tally sheet (yes, there’s an actual tally sheet) will be calculated, and the results will play into the outcome of the module. Can the players walk the political tightrope and appease enough members of the Council to bring them together at full strength? Can they ally themselves with some of the Councillors, and will that be enough to counter the Cult? Or will they piss everyone off, resulting the Sword Coast falling into ruin as Tiamat rises to the Material Plane?
We also had to get our two newest party members Andrew and Amanda into the Adventure Co. group. Jamna had to go…she’s had her own agenda all along. I wanted to move her out before the party got to Waterdeep, but forgot. Gina also had to go because a six person party would be overkill, especially with the firepower the party will end up packing. Jamna was mysterious enough, but Gina’s hasty and relatively weak exit was a fall-back: I had wanted her to be killed by Cyanwrath at the end of the last module.
There’s a couple challenges going forward with this module:
- Adjusting to the idea that decisions matter more than just “did we win”. There’s legit RP personalities in the party that we’ve run with in the past: the violent ranger, the center-of-attention bard, the always hungry monk (I guess…). Things Got Done, and it wasn’t really much of a concern how they got done. But with the Council offering the writ on the condition that the party comport themselves as representatives of the Alliance, the party is going to have to consider further ranging consequence, and I’m going to have to start using the rope to let them hang themselves if that’s what it comes down to. That’s not to say that I lack confidence in their ability to actually RP a game; quite the opposite, as they’ve all been playing to type quite well, but now they’re on notice: they’re being watched, and they’re being judged.
- Making things clear, but not too clear. This is my burden. There’s a lot of folks on this Council, and if the players have any chance to game the NPCs, they’re going to have to be able to discern what each one likes and what each one dislikes. That means I need to split my personality in over a dozen different directions. I’ve been trying to come up with mnemonic method for remembering each personality type, and for ways for those personalities to manifest in in-character, but without being so obvious that an NPC blurts out “KILL THEM ALL TO APPEASE ME!”. These NPCs are politicians, and are used to being the manipulators, not the manipulated, so they keep their agendas close to the vest.
- Crowd control. We as a group are going to have to be more mindful of the amount of time at the mic now that we have six people (five plus me). Last night we had a few situations where folks were talking over one another, which is to be expected because we don’t have any way to sense when someone else is going to start speaking. But with the same two hour gameplay window and a whole lot to get done with more people this time around, I think we’re going to all have to be sure that we’re focused more on the game and less on the fluff so we can get more accomplished in our gameplay window each week, and so everyone has a chance to get their voice heard.