DATE: May 30, 2021
PLAYERS: HA, AB, EB, EC, AJ, OR
Our merry band of adventurers are partying it up at the Black Pig after scoring an embarrassment of wealth from Princess Snowfall-at-Dusk, when out of the corner of Aranna's (AJ) eye, she notices Veleris (EB), a former love-interest (and a pickpocket). She avoids eye contact. Orlan (HA), glances over and sees his ex-sergeant, Darrak (AB) sharing drinks with Veleris. Orlan, too, avoids eye contact. Finally, Purple Nurple (OR) sees Darrak as well, someone he and Emma Frog (EC) had shared a prison cell with. Purple Nurple, not knowing the preexisting social entanglements, calls Darrak over.
A series of awkward exchanges are had between the six. Darrak is upset the other two broke out of prison without him. Veleris and Aranna don't say much to each other. Perhaps Aranna knows of his gambling debts. Perhaps she's upset at how things ended. But the party eventually reveal their good fortune and Veleris tells them of a contact in the city of Lankhmar... a fence who could help them store their new fortune. A tavern owner named Nylokk Gnuhk (spell it backwards...).
It's agreed they will travel to the City of the Black Toga, The City of Sevenscore Thousand Smokes... the City of Lankhmar.
Spoilers Ahead for Michael Curtis's "Masks of Lankhmar" (DCC-L)
Lankhmar is two days journey from Dolmenwood. On their first night, two poor men come begging for money... seeing how they had celebrated so boisterously at the Black Pig. Aranna is suspicious and nocks her bow. I tell her they look hungry. She replies, "that means they'll go down easier." Everyone tells her to calm down. Emma generously gives them a few gold pieces and they're on their way.
The next night, they come across an old man named Benson, spit roasting a fish. Once again, Aranna has her bow nocked and ready. A few others hide in the bushes. Emma Frog approaches to talk. Benson is a wizard, like Emma, and is on his way to Lankhmar to start a school of magic. The party offers to travel with him. He is grateful, and the next morning, teaches Emma a spell: Magic Bulwark.
Two encounters in which the players didn’t murder the NPCs? And were rewarded? How delightful.
The City of Sevenscore Thousand Smokes
They arrive at Lankhmar the next morning. Aranna has an old friend from her hometown who’s now a noted bladesmith, Rivis Rightby. Darrak has a very distant relative who’s now known as Ogo the Blind, a notorious fence. Ser Purple Nurple has a brother who’s now a poor tailor in the slums, but despite his impoverished state... has always offered a place for Purple to lay low or stay for the night. And of course, Veleris owes Nylokk 100gp in gambling debt, and must own up to it... knowing he could be a good contact to have.
Who to visit first though? After some mucking about, it’s clear their jewelry is no good without turning it into liquid currency. So they visit Nylokk Gnuhk, proprietor of The Wrymskull, who moonlights as a fence, an ersatz banker to adventurers, and a source of other bits of villainy.
Nylokk takes them down to his secret cellar where he has a hidden vault. They go through the terms of their contract for storing goods in Nylokk's safe, liquidate a few pieces of jewelry for cash, and name their beneficiaries should anything happen to them. They also set a password, sign the contract and it's magically sealed. Once that's done, Nylokk tells them to lean in as he's got a job for them.
Igrik of the East is a merchant who's trying to climb the social ladder of Lankhmar. He has taken to collecting rare art to impress the nobility. In three night's time, he will hold a masque to showcase his latest acquisition. Igrik's vault, which is usually well-guarded, will have his security thinned out that night. It's the perfect time to rob the place. Nylokk shows them a map he somehow-got-his-hands-on.
Elaborate heist? Elaborate heist? Elaborate heist?
There's a lot of shouting, staring at the map, coming up with ideas. It's great. It's everything I've ever wanted to see from my players. Planning and scheming. Orlan keeps asking if he can hit someone with his shovel in the plans. Aranna thinks of a way to sneak into the masque as nobles. Purple Nurple thinks turning into a purple-skin dog would be a great distraction. Veleris sits back, knowing he won't be needed until they get to the vault as the lock picker. Emma Frog comes up with ways to disguise themselves. Darrak IRL got vaccinated yesterday and has a headache but his mom didn't read this so it's fine.
Eventually a plan forms. With three days until the masque, their first decision is to send Veleris out to stalk Igrik and figure out where his favorite haunts are, his schedule and routine. The next day, they dress Orlan up as Captain Dirkling with connections to nobles from the East. He convinces Igrik to meet Emma Frog, Aranna and Darrak. In their disguises, Emma claims to be from House Mackenzie, fur traders of the Western lands. Aranna is now Lady Weaver, Mingol royalty. Darrak is her brother who's not quite right in the head.
They convince Igrik well enough. Igrik invites them to dinner for further conversations. Igrik is eventually so besotted with these new connections, dreaming of the new business and prestige they would bring him... that he invites them to his masque tomorrow night. The party has their "in".
The Break In
The plan goes exceedingly well. Aranna, Emma and Purple Nurple go to the masque disguised as nobles. Orlan, Darrak and Veleris wait outside to be snuck in through a window. Aranna releases Purple Nurple to create a distraction so that Emma can attempt to "look for a bathroom". Unfortunately, she's turned around by a guard. Igrik tells Aranna to keep control of her dog. Emma takes Purple Nurple and Aranna, being more sneaky, tries to look for a bathroom as well but is also turned around. A few guards are starting to get suspicious of these two Eastern nobles. Aranna has one last card up her sleeve. She takes Purple Nurple directly to the guard room and convinces them that her dog needs a calm place to be. He's getting too excited at the masque. The guards relent and let her into the room next door. It's the exact room she needs to be to let the others in.
They're all in.
In the cellar, Veleris fumbles with the vault lock once, twice... and suddenly five guards are on them. They're from the Slayer Brothers gang, hired by Igrik for extra security. They're trying to prove themselves and fight to the death. Aranna and Darrak guard Veleris while he continues to work on the lock. Orlan, Purple Nurple and Emma act as the front line. The guards are dispatched without much injury. Darrak kills one with a perfectly aimed shot to his right eye. There's much debate on whether or not to keep the eyeball. I convince Darrak's player to waste an item slot to keep this souvenir without breaking. The others tell him it's a dumb idea. Darrak listens to his team mates.
Veleris unlocks the vault door, but hesitates on opening it. He hears growling and hissing. A new plan is needed. Aranna and Emma Frog stand at ready while Orlan swings the door open. They immediately see two desert jaguars. Emma casts hallucination turning the entire room into a desert with foxes and rabbits for the jaguars to chase in a corner. (Orlan suggested pizza instead of wild animals. His idea gets shot down.) The jaguars are now distracted by lunch. Aranna fires and maims one. Purple Nurple rushes in to take care of the other.
Once the illusion melts away, they realize there's yet another vault door. A vault inside a vault! Veleris is called up to do his thing again while everyone else waits. Fortunately, he picks the lock with a natural twenty. Unfortunately, it triggers a spell. The bronze door melts away and turns into a wall of fire (a firewall? hyuk hyuk.). Emma Frog casts magic bulwark in an attempt to nullify the spell. It doesn't work. Purple Nurple suggests throwing water on it. Aranna says it's magic fire, it won't help. (DM note: It would've helped.) Emma Frog casts magic bulwark again. The flame's intensity lessens by two thirds. Aranna takes the risk of running through and gets burnt a little. Emma casts magic bulwark one last time. The fire vanishes. Aranna, singed and annoyed, scowls at Emma.
Surprisingly, no more guards appear.
A Bare and Disappointing Vault?
They walk into the inner vault to find it laid bare. Igrik had spent most of his money on tonight's masque. What a huge disappointment. There are three items on the shelves. A chain mesh bag contains a pitiful 50gp. A small wooden chest carries all of Igrik's business documents, ledgers, and contracts. And finally, there's a sturdy coffer with a large key inside, with three purple amethyst gems along its length in the shape of a lozenge, a crescent, and a trapezoidal-shape.
Veleris the thief notices something strange about it right away. It can be disassembled. It's hollow inside with a note. The note is a strange poem. Very cryptic. Orlan knows a code-breaker in the Plaza of Dark Delights.
They leave. Velleris, Orlan, and Darrak through the same window. Emma, Arranna and Purple Nurple (once again a dog) through the front door. Igrik spots them, but both Emma and Aranna are full of wonderful excuses on why they must leave the masque early. Great roleplaying from Aranna's player. I imagine the two exiting the luxurious manor with their leashed purple dog to the soundtrack of Ocean's Eight.
Chekhov's Ticking Time Bombs
- Igrik of the East will eventually figure out he's been robbed. And not just of capital, but incredibly valuable business documents.
- Thork may be dead, but his wife Aranna isn't. Her inheritance? 800gp of debt to the cult of Loki.
- Emma Frog, Purple Nurple, and Darrak are fugitives from a neighboring region.
- Two drunes of the Dolmenwood cult of sorcerers were murdered in cold blood.
DM Notes to Myself
Angry's system for random encounters and as a timer worked exceedingly well. When a player fails at a check and wants to "try again", I simply add another d6 into the pool. It's a great physical reminder that lapsed time means lurking threats.
Secondly, I was also quite pleased with my small modification of this module. It was not originally a planned heist. The module calls for the party to begin in the cellar in medias res. By having Nylokk sell them a map, this allowed the players to work together, plan, scheme and execute. This triggered a fountain of creativity and strategic thinking, which aligns with my goal of making my RPGs more OSR-imagination-driven versus stare-at-character-sheet-and-kill-everything.
The group came up with and executed on a plan worthy of a heist movie. I couldn't ask for anything more. Great game, guys.