FINALLY! Waterdeep! A relatively nondescript location along the Sword Coast. It’s not a big college town.
The party rolled in along with the rest of their caravan, merging with other merchants and teamsters who filed into the city through the southern gates and forming a massive flotilla of trade. The majority of wagons took up positions in a vast unloading yard just inside the city walls, waiting for their turn to unload their wares. During this time, the party squared their employment with Mom: 50g each*, and received a steady stream of high marks from other wagon drivers who offered them employment should they be heading out on the road again.
The cultists, however, did not stop. They apparently had other business elsewhere in the city. Shrewd eyes found their wagons plowing through the other merchants, and it was determined that they were heading north. Because of the crush of the crowds, the carts couldn’t move quickly, making it easier for the party to follow on foot**. Turns out that the cult wagons were congregating just outside the northern gates, joining other wagons driven by people who apparently knew the cultists that the party had been following.
Remembering that Carlon Amoffel (the Harper who had been buried in the middle of the road) had offered them assistance in Waterdeep, the party split up: The monk and ranger nonchalantly stood watch at the northern gate while the rest of the party tracked down the Temple of the Order of the Gauntlet. There, Carlon related what he had been told about the cultists: they had been gathering outside the north gate for a few days, and occasionally would venture inside the walls to visit a warehouse. Carlon explained that this warehouse was a crucial staging area for goods used to repair the High Road that runs between Waterdeep and Neverwinter, but the Harpers had no idea why the cultists were visiting that specific warehouse.
The bard, a proficient tinkerer, had created a mechanical carrier pigeon to ferry intel between their location and their spies at the northern gate, so she released it to inform the monk and ranger of the situation. Carlon offered the party supplies, took their order, and said they could pick up their stuff the next morning or have it delivered to wherever they would be staying.
Once the party reconvened, though, their focus shifted from the antics of the cultists outside the walls to the mystery of the warehouse. A quick recon found four normal doors, three loading bays, a hoist to move goods in and out of the upper levels, and a bank of windows high above the ground. Waiting until nightfall, the party returned with the intent to break into the warehouse to see what the cultists found so interesting about the place.
Two sets of two guards were patrolling around the perimeter at erratic intervals, making timing a break-in difficult. The ranger cast Silence at a point that encompassed the least conspicuous door with the initial intent to break in silently, but instead he and the monk used the silence as a diversion to disorient two of the patrol guards so they could render them unconscious. This non-violent combat situation produced a set of keys which let the party into the building without further damage.
Inside, the party found…a warehouse. A standard, every-day, run-of-the-mill warehouse. It was filled with construction equipment and materials, but the hard-packed dirt floor didn’t reveal any signs of unusual activity that might point the way to secret trap doors to underground tunnels. There was no sign of any cult treasure among the timbers and bags of gravel.
The most interesting place happened to be the foreman’s office which contained maps of the High Road, laborer and caravan schedules, and an open-call sheet filled with names of those who had signed up to protect the workers, as the road ran straight through the marshy and dangerous Mere of Dead Men. With no smoking crossbow to be found, the party decided that the cult wanted something to do with the construction detail out on the road. The best way to ensure they didn’t lose the cultist trail, then, was to sign on for more guard duty, and the easiest way to ensure they’d make that happen was to put their own names on the sign-up sheet.
* * *
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.