Session Report #5

I regret that I didn't keep better session notes in the earlier half of the campaign.  This campaign is currently on its 23st session.  And my notes for the first 13 sessions are extremely scanty--or non-existent.  However, I went back through old messages on my D&D discord server to figure out when this particular session occurred.

It was the 5th session of the campaign: Hammer 18, 1493 DR (January 18, 2021).  After a TPK in the very first session, the players had three more successful sessions under their belt.  The cast of characters was still fairly limited.  Of the "original 4" post-TPK PCs, only two still see regular play.  Valian Lightfingers, and Fradd--both rogues.   Joining Valian and Fradd for in session #5 were Gywdion the Bard--who has since left Waterdeep to seek his fortune elsewhere in the world--and Forwyn Brightflame, a high elvish eldritch knight.

The "plot-hook" the players decided to follow this session arose out of downtime.  During one of Gwydion's earliest downtimes, he was approached by a representative from the Bardic College of New Olamn.  The College of New Olamn wanted Gwydion to join the bard's college. The College prides itself on its professional reputation and offers numerous benefits to members--including fancy bard clothes, access to the facilities at the College of New Olamn, and an invitation to the College's annual masquerade ball.  Gwydion happily paid the membership dues, and was accepted as a member of the college.  Out of all the benefits offered by the College, the one which really struck my player's interest was the invitation to the swanky costume party. 

In these very early sessions of the campaign, I usually had a better sense of what my players were planning to do during each given session.  In this case, my players told me, numerous times, that they were planning to go to this ball--hobnob with the rich and famous, and also (hopefully) steal as much loot as they could get their hands on at the College of New Olamn (leaving Gwydion--who was fairly lawful for a bard--out of this part of the plan I think).

I admit, I was pretty much flummoxed about to run the session the players were asking for.  I had never previously run a heist in D&D.  Nor, had I run a session where so much of the action was literally just talking to NPCs.  So I procrastinated.  When January 18 rolled around, I was still not really sure how to run a "masquerade/heist" session of D&D.  So I procrastinated some more.  About an hour before the session, I decided I really only needed a four things to run this session:

(1) a Map
(2) a list of major NPCs of Waterdeep, a very brief characteristic, and their masquerade costume
(3) a list of treasure in the College of New Olamn
(4) a list of guards and other NPCs who were keeping watch over the college's treasures, etc., while the party was going on.

I wasn't sure what I wanted the map to look like.  So, instead, I prepared my three lists.

- NPCs and interesting masks: unicorn, owlbear, vampire, gold dragon, Titania, queen of faeries, etc. (pro-tip, if you're ever stumped as a DM, just start flipping through the monster manual--80% of the time, it works everytime)
- treasure in the college(a bunch of magical musical instruments with some art and other stuff for good measure);
- a roster of guards (mostly low CR henchmen, but with a few higher level fighters, and of course a smattering of bards for good measure)

Well pretty much right after I had finished preparing my lists, it was time for the session to begin.  I still didn't have a map.  But I figured it would only take me a few minutes to find something that worked.  While my players were still chit-chatting, a few quick web searches pulled up a map entitled "Undercity Mansion" which I considered (and actually sent out to my players in Discord).

Very quickly however, I decided that I didn't like this map so much.  It was too complex, and fiddly and "dungeon-crawling" oriented.   But although it wasn't the right map for the stealth/heist/007 mission my players had planned, my quick perusal of this map gave me an idea.

An idea of a VERY SIMPLE map--I was already familiar with--which featured an Entry Hall, a Ballroom, a Parlor, a Kitchen, a Dining Room, a Library, a Study, a Conservatory, and a Billiard Room.  What's more, this map was already drawn up into 10 ft squares so I could easily determine distances (IF NECESSARY). So of course, I sent my players this map of the College of New Olamn:

I only modified one room--the Billiards Room was now a "Fine Art Gallery."  And armed only with my three hastily compiled lists, and the map from Clue, this session got underway. 

The players spent a half-hour or more moving around and schmoozing with the various guests--trying to learn their identities.  Valian had a memorable encounter with a beautiful noblewoman in a cat mask (they kissed, and he's still spending some of his downtime 5 months later trying to track her down).

After a while, Fradd, Valian, and Forwyn decided to "break off" from the main party areas, and look for treasure.  Valian also noticed the beautiful noblewoman wearing the cat mask also seemed to have disappeared.  Meanwhile, Gwydion--as one of the newest members of the Bardic College was honored with a request from the Guildmaster for him to play the Lyre of Balduran (a masterwork instrument of great monetary and musical worth--which belonged to a legendary figure in Waterdeep's past).

Fradd and Valian decided they would surreptitiously make their way downstairs.  And Forwyn went to the fine art gallery to find a painting to steal.  The rogues navigated the basement without much trouble.  Eventually, they found themselves in a long corridor which appeared to have several alcoves with magical items in a locked bulletproof glass cases.  The rogues triggered the trap--and one of them nearly died from poisoning.  After claiming this first item, the rogues decided they would ignore the alcoves and investigate the door at the far end of the hall.  On their way, they noticed the traps in the hallway had already been triggered or disarmed.  More suspiciously, when they came to the heavy iron door at the end of the hallway they found that it was NOT LOCKED.  Instead it was hanging slightly ajar.  Inside the room, they found several of instrument stands were already empty.  And sitting on one of empty stand--a note addressed to Valian "Better luck next time, love" sealed with a lipstick kiss.

Meanwhile, Forwyn had found a nice looking painting to burgle.  Unfortunately, as soon as he removed the frame from the wall an audible alarm started going off.  Forwyn hustled out of the gallery and into the library--managing to elude the guard who came to investigate.  But once the guard noticed a painting was missing, he quickly raised the alarm throughout the house. 

While the alarm was starting to go off, Fradd and Valian loaded up some of the remaining musical instruments, and then headed back down the hallway--hoping to slip back into the party unnoticed.  But they ran into a guard.  Before he was able to start yelling "DOWN HERE, the THIEVES ARE DOWN HERE," Fradd had the good sense to murder the guard, in the basement, with the knife (I was really hoping this would happen during the "Clue session" of D&D).  Fradd, Valian and Forwyn all managed to avoid attention, and sneak out of the College of New Olamn through a ground floor window.

During all these shenanigans, Gwydion continued to wine and dine, and ingratiate himself with the upper-crust.  He secured a favorable contact with the Open Lord of Waterdeep--a hook which I don't think was ever followed up on.  The players all met up after the heist at their tavern Barrelriders.   And they started plotting how to fence their stolen items in Waterdeep.  Gwydion even managed to return some of the stolen items to the College of New Olamn for a reward--pretty cheeky if you ask me.  And that was where we called it an evening.

Session #5 was one of the finest and most enjoyable sessions in the Waterdeep campaign to-date.  I think only one session so far has been more enjoyable: Session #20, where the party went to the city of Sigil, spent an hour haggling with a planar merchant over the prices of various magical items, and then traversed the Outlands, fought with a warparty of devils from the 2nd circle of hell, and undid the curse on a magical sword (Holy Avenger).  But I learned more as a DM from session #5. 

I learned that I only REALLY NEED a handful of notes to run a great D&D session.  I need to know how many NPCs my players might run into; I need an interesting detail (like a whimsical mask pulled from the Monster Manual) for these NPCs; I need to know how many opposed NPCs the players will face off against; and I need to know--sometimes, but not always (it's ok to roll on the treasure tables for random encounters)--what treasure the players will receive if they succeed.


Popular posts from this blog

Real-time play & the "Braunstein" effect

How I run Downtime and the Calendar:

Session #25