All of our campaigns have been D&D 3.5 edition rules, with occasional things added by me or the campaign setting. I ran a Dawnforge campaign, an Eberron campaign, another Dawnforge campaign, and now this one is a Forgotten Realms campaign. As our last campaign was extremely high power and high level (Dawnforge is a very high-powered setting) that involved traveling over half the known world and uniting a half-dozen separate peoples to fight a great war, along with time-travel and the use of artifacts therein, I decided this campaign would be different.
Also I have a lot of low-level monsters I haven't been able to use in years because I'd started our other campaigns at around 5th level.
This campaign is centered in the city of Waterdeep, known as the City of Splendors. It's effectively the magical fantasy equivalent of New York in terms of size, importance, and diversity. It's entirely possible to center a whole campaign around the intrigues, alleys, and dungeons in Waterdeep without ever really leaving the city. Our last campaign was also heavily combat-centric, while this one, being city-based, would have several sessions where no combat was done and little dice-rolling. It's been really fascinating to watch my players realize that, "No, I can't cut down this annoying guy in the street, even though he's a murdering bastard and I know it, because the city Watch will throw me in jail." They can't casually cast manipulation spells in public, can actually call the Watch for help (if they can prove they didn't start a fight), and have to use their contacts to help solve mysteries.
It's a delightful change of pace - the only hard part is I have to keep coming up with names for NPCs on the fly! I finally just kept my "list of Faerunian names" page open on my lap to keep up with the demand.
This is my opening e-mail to my players (they'd already written up their characters at this point and given me their backstories - 1st level, 32 point-buy, regional feat for free):
"Ok, with the Dawnforge Kingmakers campaign all wrapped up in all its glory, we embark upon a new journey. A journey in the Forgotten Realms, where you all live in the great city of Waterdeep. Though you are all just starting to hone the skills that will hopefully bring you honor, glory, power, treasure, renown, fame, fortune, and/or all the knowledge in the multiverse, you all have ambition to go as far as you can in the City of Splendors.
Attached is a handout that has basic information about Waterdeep, including laws and punishments, rulers, some power groups, and coinage. I also have included a Faerunian calendar, which we will be using, along with a list of the Faerunian deities. I've also included the elven and gnomish pantheons for [three of my players]'s characters, in case you need them. It's a rather long document (a good 14 pages), and it's probably one of those things you'll want to print out so you can reference it for all the relevant data, rather than memorizing it outright. ;-) Unless you want to, in which case, more power to you. Some of the passages in the handout I ripped wholesale from the Forgotten Realms online wiki, others I copied verbatim from the various books. Some I adapted.
About the only thing I don't have is the recent events of the city. In short, the city has suffered two large recent attacks, one from orcs, the other from various ocean races, in the past few years, as well as weather some magical crises (some magical portals were spitting out creatures from all over Faerun into the city before they were shut down). Amongst the usual problems of power struggles between the good and evil, lawful and chaotic groups of the city too.
Welcome to Waterdeep. It's going to be a hell of a trip."
And now, without further ado, our first session write-up!
When we first met our intrepid heroes, there were living in the city-state of Waterdeep, the City of Splendors, on Sword Coast north. The trading metropolis of Toril, known for its diverse citizens and fantastic markets and centers for the arcane arts, it's a city of grand adventure. Dangerous dungeons lurk beneath the city, a testing ground for some, a death sentence for others. Hundreds of opportunists prowl in the shadows, gaining wealth and information by any mean necessary, while others manipulate the markets or glittering parties of nobles to bring themselves wealth or power unlimited.
Our heroes are as follows:
Garden (pronounced Gordon) of the Origami clan of gnomes from the island nation of Lantan. Known as "Roof Runner" or "Rufus" to a select clientele. A near-native of Waterdeep (he's been there since he was a child), he's a rogue with a locksmithing and weapons shop in the Dock district. A shrewd businessman, he's not adverse to buying or distributing things through unconventional channels. (My dad's character, male gnome rogue headed towards Gnome Artificer PrC from Magic of Faerun)
Charissa (pronounced Karissa) of the Origami clan of gnomes. A human female deposited on the footsteps of the Origami clan's stronghold in Lantan (apparently knowing their predilection for adopting nearly anyone), she was raised as a gnome and took to their love of smokepowder at a young age. She's a gunslinger who splits her time between working at her brother Garden's shop and at the temple of Gond (the Wonderbringer, god of artifice and crafting), making weapons and smokepowder. (Female human gunslinger (from Pathfinder), native of Lantan, played by a husband of one of the other players)
Evelyn Violette - A spellscale sorceress of great beauty, strong magic, and powerful ambition, Evelyn (or Evie) wants to use her natural charm, beauty, and power to one day bring her to the ranks of the rich and highborn. If she doesn't end up marrying into nobility, she's going to get ennobled herself, one way or another. Though her family is not rich, Evelyn's uniqueness has gotten her invitations to several parties of Waterdeep's merchant nobility. She swaps gossip and tales of the nobility for fine clothing from a skilled and fashionable seamstress, and tells all who see her where she got her gowns. With her familiar Princess (a white cat of unutterable cuteness), Evelyn is certain she can charm her way anywhere and dodge any unpleasantness life throws her way. (Female friend's character, female spellscale (Races of the Dragon) sorceress (Book of Eldritch Might version) with cat familiar)
Steven Violette - A spellscale paladin of freedom of Mystra (the goddess of magic), Steven is Evelyn's elder brother by a whole five minutes. He's dedicated himself to two causes - freeing people from the threat of evil magic, and making sure no one, NO ONE, harms his sister in any way. He's Evie's self-appointed guardian, and passes judgement on anyone who crosses her path. Or near her path. Or in the vague vicinity of her path. (Mr. Chat's character, male spellscale paladin of freedom (from Unearthed Arcana) of Mystra)
William de Mer - A half aquatic-elf wizard of a scholarly bent, William is a student at the once-exclusive but still excellent Etorchul Academy. His father is a sea elf, his mother from a minor noble family. His father is a trader, and William has learned to increase his family's fortunes by taking what treasures his father brings from the sea and learning how to smartly sell them to those shopkeepers who cater to the truly wealthy. A dedicated student of the natural arts, when William is not selling to the shops, he can be found in the library, doing research. Actually, most of the time he can be found in the library. (Male half aquatic-elf wizard, headed towards the Guild Wizard of Waterdeep PrC from Magic of Faerun, played by the wife of Charissa's player)
Shandri de Mer - A human cleric of Istishia (the lord of elemental water), Shandri is William's cousin on his mother's side. With so many of her family wedding to the sea (William is not the only one with unusual parentage), Shandri felt called to the Church of Istishia from a young age, as their clerics intercede between the races of water and land. The church doesn't like stagnation, so while a cleric may stay in the same general area, they switch jobs and responsibilities frequently to keep fresh. Shandri has worked as a sailor and has spent time teaching people how to swim, but recently has come back to land to work amongst the people of the Dock Ward. (DM's NPC, female human cleric of Istishia - the god of elemental water)
On the day in question, the 28th of Eleint (the equivalent of September), it was lacking two days to the Highharvestide festival. Garden and Charissa were down at the docks proper, picking up a shipment from the Lantan branch of the Origami clan. They found their first two expected crates easily, and then a third one was also found, full of the chemicals and reagents Charissa needed for smokepowder manufacture. That was delicately put on top of the dolly, and then Charissa was expected to push the whole thing back to the shop. Because she could see over them. Equitable division of labor, that!
Evie was down in the Dock Market for several reasons. Though the main Market in Castle Ward was known for having the best bargains, the things from the Dock Ward were often newer, people sometimes didn't know what they had, and very good bargains could by struck by the savvy shopper. As such, it had become a popular place recently for some younger nobles to congregate, enjoying the "rustic" atmosphere of one of Waterdeep's most diverse districts. And specifically, young Lord Robilar Wands was supposed to be there today, and Evie was, by the gods, going to get an invitation to the Wands' family Higharvestide party. Steven had come, of course, to protect her virtue. Because this was Evie, and Evie was... Evie.
Shandri had gone to find her cousin in the Etorchul academy library and whispered to him that she'd found something rather unusual in the Docks Market and wanted his expertise in seeing if it was worthy anything. With a bit of persuasion (and the threats of the Blessings of Istishia, a.k.a. a bunch of water conjured over one's head) William decided to take a study break.
Garden and Charissa were moving carefully through the crowds when a ragged street urchin approached them. He offered them a piece of chain main about the size of large man's hand, well-made and of unusual metal, for a very nominal price. Both Origamis were intrigued, and bought several pieces from him. Garden noted that there was a peculiar red powder on the chainmail. Possibly dried blood?
Evie hunted around the market until she spotted Lord Robliar Wands, and swung into action. She had discussed her plan beforehand with Princess, her familiar, and set her loose. Calling out, "Princess? Princess, where are you?" Princess made her way through the crowd and began to twine around Lord Robilar's ankles. He curiously picked up the cat just as Evie "found" her, and was very grateful that he'd been so goodly a gentleman as to rescue her beloved pet. They got to talking, and Robilar recognized Evie (she's one of only four spellscales in the city) from both her description and the fact that she's known as Madam Silverleaf's girl (Silverleaf being the seamstress that Evie wears exclusively). He suggested that he'd "see her there" at the Higharvestide party two days hence, quailed very slightly under Steven's gimlet stare, and eventually left to do his business.
After Lord Robilar had left, another urchin slipped up to Evie and Steven and showed them some unusual red rock, like deep red coral, and asked her if she'd like to buy it. Evie found it to be very unusual, and something that would make quiet an impression on everyone.
Shandri led William to the cart of a rag-and-bone man called Harken. Amongst his usual bits of half-trash were also five chunks of deep red coral-like stone, one of which had a coral disk embedded in it. Harken didn't quite seem to know what he had, and William realized he could get quite a bargain. However, he was too upright a citizen to cheat the man too badly, and wanted to know where the stone had come from. Harken confessed he was selling it for a friend (after a few judicious bribes and some lunch), a "skimmer" called Snail. Snail would come and meet them around lunchtime (for which William would pay) and might be willing to tell them where he found the stone. Agreeing thusly, William and Shandri took the stone back to William's "Uncle" Pietro, who had a warehouse, to see if there was anything else they could learn. In investigating the stone, William discovered that the stone itself radiated moderate transmutation magic while the bronze disk held faint abjuration magic.
Evie and Steven happened to notice that the same stone the urchins had sold her was also being sold to a scholarly looking fellow and a priestess over at a barrow-stall. They asked the urchins where they'd gotten the stone, and they were very reluctant to tell them. Steven, being the upright guy that he is, implied that he was going to call the Watch on the kids. The urchins bolted. As that commotion was going on, Garden and Charissa saw the urchins running (and Steven running after). Since they were the same ones who'd sold them their armor, they wanted to have words with them. Garden turned the dolly, which sent Steve sprawling. Charissa lunged for the box of explosive chemicals and managed to save it one inch from disaster. One urchin manged to get away, but the other knocked himself silly on a wagon.
Evie was there instantly, cooing over the little lad, putting his head in her lap, and trying to talk with him. She learned his name was Kip, and he was rather loopy and disoriented. She managed to get out of him that there was indeed more of this odd red rock, and he'd gotten it from a grate on Sea Road. He'd take her there, if she really wanted. Well, he said that after Steven had bribed him a bit.
Back at Garden and Charissa's shop, they were just putting things away when there was a knock on their door. Garden looked out the peephole to see another of the urchins, this one named Jik, who said he had more bits of metal to sell him. If he was willing to pay, Jik would take Charissa and him to the source. After some consultation, the Origamis agreed, and headed out.
At Uncle Pietro's warehouse, Pietro was intrigued by the rock, but wanted to know more about it before he started selling any of it. Shandri managed to pry the bronze disk out of one of the rock chunks, and discovered it was a holy symbol of Nobanion, god of kings and noble beasts and wemics. Which was an odd symbol to see around Waterdeep - not that you couldn't find something for nearly every god in Toril here, but Nobanion was usually far to the east of Waterdeep.
William and Shandri went to meet Harken's friend Snail, a decided slimy-looking man. After a bit of lubrication with silver, he agreed to take them to where he'd found the stone. And oddly enough, that's exactly when and where Garden and Charissa and Evie and Steven (and their urchin escorts) also showed up. The urchins took on look at each other, exclaimed, "I thought you were dead!" and both ran off. Eager to get to the bottom of this, the group questioned Snail, who said he'd been picking up pieces for several days, near "where the moans were coming from." The group wanted more information than that, but Snail slipped away (literally, the man was so saturated with things best left unmentioned that he was too slippery to hold).
Holding noses and breaths, the unlikely group descended into the sewers. Though smelly and dark, the group lit up lanterns or globes of magical light and spied chunks of red rock and bits of bronze armor littering the area like breadcrumbs. Crossing to parts of the sewers without getting slimed was nearly impossible, but they found a curious thing. One chunk of the armor was embedded in the red rock, and a couple chunks of red rock had texture on the inside, like they had been wet clay once formed around a rather large arm. Upon searching further, the group turned the corner to find a corpse being feasted upon by a pack of ravenous rats. Charissa fired a blank charge at them, trying to get them to disperse (nearly deafening the party), but the rats instead turned and swarmed them, biting Charissa and Garden fiercely. Everyone fought as well as they could, killing individual rats by sword, hammer, or bullet, but Evie eventually put them all asleep. Shandri smashed the remaining rats in a fit of anger, then healed those who had been wounded.
Upon investigating the corpse, they discovered it had some of the red rock actually growing out of it, embedded into its skin. He also had a slim belt pouch which contained some unusual ivory coins usually only found in the Shaar, far to the east. It was then that the group heard moaning, like someone was in terrible pain. They pressed onward, scooping up chunks of rock or armor. The found a large spiderweb, and in it, a large spider, the size of small dog, who'd been completely encrusted by the red stone. Its eyes still blinked though, which gave most a very creepy feeling.
Beyond that was a waterfall down to a pool, and there, against the back wall, a large, six-legged creature covered in red stone, shackled to the wall, was moaning. Several of the group made their way down there (more or less gracefully; it was a steep slope). With careful application of a sap, Gardon was able to free the creature's mouth a bit. Shandri recognized the creature as a wemic, and that was bore out by the creature's story. It talked about a "cursed disease." Sir Karrik Firemane, paladin of Nobanion, had been guiding a group of four pilgrims here to Waterdeep. Apparently he had drawn some emnity when he defended his charges from attack, and they had cursed him, because he could remember little before the equinox (which had been seven days prior).
The group wanted to help him, but no one knew how to break the curse or cure the disease themselves. Shandri reluctantly recommended someone from the Church of Talona, the goddess of poison and plague. She was a nasty, petty goddess, but her followers would cure people of diseases without any questions asked, and no one knew which enemies the paladin could have. Seeing that they couldn't get the huge, stone-encrusted, nearly immobile wemic out of the sewer, everyone but Charissa and Garden elected to go to the temple of Talona themselves. Garden and Charissa worked on chipping off Sir Firemane's stony exterior as much as they could.
At the temple, the group told the greeting priestess their story, and showed the stony spider as evidence. Before long they were joined by Plaguemother Myra, an older woman, pockmarked with disease, who was clearly a powerful cleric. She listened to their story as she tried different techniques on the spider. The spider, through no fault of its own, ended up being split in half with some nails and a hammer (don't ask. One doesn't ask about the ways of a Plaguemother). Because the group could not pay, the Plaguemother instead asked that Steven deliver a sealed box to a manor in the Sea Ward. Steven was wary, but couldn't see that she was lying, and so agreed.
The Plaguemother returned to the sewers with them (she called them the "cauldron of the Mistress," much to the group's consternation), and through use of powerful scrolls, managed to cure the paladin from his stony curse. Upon hearing what that stone DID, the members of the group asked if they were in danger from having handled it The Plaguemother said that if, "No one had thrust it into your flesh with malice," they should be fine.
Sir Firemane thanked them for their help, and took the news that the other victim found in the sewers must have been on of his charges with sorrow. But there were still three more he needed to find and protect. He accepted his holy symbol back from Shandri, and then Evie and Garden handed him their cards. He swore to them he owed them a great debt, and then leaped from his place of imprisonment and was gone.
The group conducted the Plaugemother back to her temple, and after judicious scrubbing of themselves and the rocks and armor, sold them to raise a tidy profit. Who knows if they'll ever see these other slightly demented folks again? But still, it'll be something to chuckle over on long, dark evenings.
It was curious in passing, however, that Steven found he had to deliver the sealed box he'd gotten from the temple of Talona to the Wands' estate kitchen. Quite curious...