The party wasted little time getting the act together, and none too soon: Turns out Lady Elia had a trick up her sleeve, and that trick was turning into a silver dragon in the fortress courtyard, freaking out the animals and making uninformed citizens panic at the sight of a dragon suddenly in their midst.
Elia — her real name being Otaaryliakkarnos, in WotC’s typical alphabet soup fashion — flew the party to the meeting place high in the mountains, and along the way provided them with a dossier on each of the dragons they would be meeting with.
Protanthur: proud and distrustful of humanoids. He’d be the party’s greatest opponent.
Ileuthra: A wise dragon who spends his time walking the planes of existence and consorting with gods. He would be judging the party’s arguments most strongly.
Nymmurh: Already given over to the humanoid cause because of his relationship with Lady Dala Silmerhelve of Waterdeep, so at least the effort was starting at absolute zero.
Tazmikella: A dragon who has spent a good part of her life in human form, living among humanoids, and has gotten burned by the younger races more times than she could count.
And herself, of course, but no one asked her about her position on all of this Cult business.
True to her word, Protanthur turned out to be a tough nut to crack. By and large, the dragons were all on the same page that something needed to be done, but the dragon clans weren’t sure that there was any benefit to entering into a formal alliance with the humanoids. If their paths crossed in pursuit of some mutual goal, then so be it, but there was no point to a formal alliance. To the long-lived dragons, this subtle distinction apparently meant something.
The party presented their case to the best of their ability. A united force of humanoids and dragons could only be stronger than if either group went it alone, and the party attempted to enumerate the ways in which their contributions could benefit the dragons. They walked a fine line between obsequiousness and a show of over-confidence in the abilities they were touting, but the dragons weren’t entirely on board. The party spoke of the benefits of humanoid knowledge to a dragon who moves through the planes of existence with ease. They described war to creatures who had fought in battles than humanoids knew only as legends. Most of all, they tried to sell the “triumph of the human(oid) spirit” as their greatest asset, but that turned out to be the dragon’s — or at least Protanthur’s — sorest spot.
Each dragon had some beef with the humanoids. Taz had first-hand experience with the two-faced nature of humans, elves, and dwarves. Otaaryliakkarnos clan sought restitution from the dwarven kingdoms for their careless hunting of her ancestors (and from having made a suite of armor from the skin of one in particular). Protanthur’s ire was reserved for elves and tieflings specifically, each of which were represented in the party, but his greater issue was that humanoids, with their short lifespans, couldn’t amass the wisdom that leads them to make good decisions. Humanoids were corruptible and weak, and prone to infighting over transient elements that they’d never live long enough to enjoy. He stated the it was humanoid frailty — of life, of character — as an excuse for a “get as much as you can, while you can” attitude that had wreaked havoc across the realm for centuries. In short, humanoids were why Faerun couldn’t have nice things.
Nymmurh was Protanthur’s foil, however. The younger dragon had spent much time on both sides of the current argument, some among his clan debating the situation, and some among his confidants in Waterdeep. As the one who felt most at ease in both camps, he could only remind Protanthur that while everything he said about the humanoid races was accurate, the fact that they were still around despite centuries of strife and fallen empires spoke volumes as to their tenacity and will to survive. No, they didn’t need an alliance with them, he agreed, but that being the case, there was no good reason not to ally, and the only reason Protanthur was holding out was due to his bias against the younger races.
As the dragons disengaged from the party to discuss the matter amongst themselves, the party regrouped to consider their options at this point. It was mentioned that maybe they could sweeten the pot a bit if they offered the dragons a part of the Cult’s treasure hoard in exchange for an alliance. If the dragons returned and Protanthur’s position remained unchanged, there might be no other option. The party seemed hesitant to stoop to common tit-for-tat, though, possibly believing that doing so would offend the ancients and ruin whatever logical arguments they had spent the past hour and a half making for their case.
As the dragons reentered the grotto, most still had reservations, but were in a better mood to bargain. Although Otaaryliakkarnos figured that the suit of armor made from her ancestor was lost to history, she requested a formal apology from a representitive of the dwarves for their centuries of drunken revelry that they called the dragonmoots that usually ended with the slaughter of her kin. The party stated that they couldn’t speak for the entire dwarven nation, but Otaary seemed to be very insistent that they try in exchange for her support. Ileuthra had one contingent request: that once the dragon masks were recovered, they be given to the metallic clans for safekeeping. While he was cool on the idea of an alliance himself, he was concerned that the masks left in the well meaning but relatively weak hands of the humanoids would eventually be too much of a temptation, and if an alliance was the price they had to pay for the humanoids to agree to hand over such powerful artifacts, then so be it. In a more casual conversation with Taz, the mention of a cut of the treasure got her attention, and she suggested that Protanthur’s current internal struggle might be swayed by a promise of a portion of the spoils. Because, dragons.
In the end, Protanthur begrudgingly agreed to the alliance in exchange for 1/3 of the Cult’s hoard. It would no doubt be an uneasy alliance, with one side desperate for the help of the other side which appeared to be unengaged in the process, but the party requested that the dragons sign a written agreement that they could take to the Council as a formal declaration of the alliance.
+ + +
I was both excited and terrified of this session going in. It’s difficult enough to RP a single character; it’s very difficult to have to RP several characters over the course of an adventure; it’s stupidly daunting to have to RP several characters simultaneously during the same session. Not only that, but to have to RP dragons, and to give them some air of ancient wisdom, aloofness, and hubris and self-centeredness, all while trying to not agree with the logical, very humanly relatable points that the players were putting forth, in the name of playing the characters.
Each of the dragons had three traits: desire, attitude, and concession, as well as a bearing such as angry, unfavorable, neutral, and favorable. Their desire is what they wanted in the context of the module, which was the cessation of the Cult’s rituals. They differed from the Council’s approach in that their dragon pride made them believe that they could and should go it alone, not because it was “a dragon problem”, but because they’ve got the “long view” of life in Faerun, and have collectively decided that the pattern of humanoid races is one of general dumbassery. They were quick to remind the party that it was a human’s perchance for corruption that started the whole Cult business in the first place.
During the negotiations, it was basically two against one: the bard and (oddly) the tiefling warlock took the initiative to argue the case. Their positions were very Star Trekish: yes, humanoids can be selfish and dickish, but there’s so much potential there…swap the party for Jean Luc Picard and the dragons for Q and I think I’d seen that episode before. But as a person I couldn’t find any fault in their argument; as dragons, I had to.
The only thing the dragons had in their favor (aside from their racism) was their long view of the world. They had seen some shit, and have noticed the patterns. They don’t feel that they could trust that humanoids were doing this for any other reason than selfishness which would eventually devolve into the usual squabbles between their nations. While humanoids were certainly good at war, one dragon asked, point blank, “how can we be sure you’re not just going to turn on one another once the Cult is defeated and go to war over the spoils?” Hopefully, no one could really answer that — they could speak on behalf of the Council, but they couldn’t really speak for the Council, after all. It wasn’t so much that the dragons were trying to be right, but they had to seem entirely uninterested and unconvinced that there was a benefit to them doing something they really didn’t want to do with people they’d rather not do it with.
That’s where the concessions were supposed to come in. Before the party left Waterdeep, Sliverhand attempted to impress upon the party that for the purpose of these negotiations, they were the Council. Part of the point of the scenario was (minor spoiler for the party members who read this, but probably not really) to put the party in a difficult position: yeah, they had the authority to wheel and deal, but after they made promises to the dragons, they would then have to convince the Council to actually make good on those promises. In this, the dragons can only be proven to be correct in their fears: humanoids aren’t as unified in their support for one another as the dragons are, no matter how dire the circumstances are that they’re staring down. I didn’t use all the concessions, because by the time all of the speechifying was done we were abutting our quitting time, and there was still the final go-ahead that needed to be nailed down. After 1.5 hours of talk, throwing in the towel because the dragons lined up to make demands would seem really stupid. Plus, the broaching of the subject of concessions was supposed to be part of the empowerment of the party. They could have outright asked “what can we do to win your support?” and I think the scenario could have been over in about 15 minutes.
But we got some good RP out of it, and hopefully everyone enjoyed themselves. True to form, though, the party’s wildcard Dimsdale Butterstick the Perpetually Scintillating — the barbarian who’s convinced he’s a wizard — almost derailed the negotiations with his unique brand of outbursts, but someone produced a whole bunch of crumpets from their adventuring rations which kept him busy throughout most of the proceedings. At the end, though, once the crumpets had been consumed, the warlock summoned some pretty lights to amuse the barbarian, which actually worked because he failed his Wisdom saving throw.