The Worst Adventure Ever: Waterdeep, chapter two
Chapter 2 wastes no time in telling us where the plot is going to go: “Midnight can think of nothing but her lost spell book. She needs a spell book to cast spells, and the party certainly needs her magic! Everyone should agree at this point that one of the first things they must do is find a way to replace the lost book.”
I’m beginning to wonder if these adventures were even designed for parties with a mage. If the group has a mage on hand, he’s been entirely useless this whole trilogy. His magic hasn’t worked reliably, and he’s been routinely dwarfed in power by Midnight and Elminster, both of whom operate with power of plot while the PC mage is bound by the rules.
Event 1: The King’s Forest
“As the party travels, consult the King’s Forest Encounter Table, checking for encounters every 1d10 turns (or 1d6 turns whenever the party makes a lot of noise).
“Twice during the day the adventurers meet Zhentilar patrols, who harry them with crossbow quarrels from behind, hurrying them northward. Introduce these patrols whenever the PCs turn the party toward any destination other than Eveningstar.
“Zhentilar patrols are identical with those described in the previous chapter…”
This bit is almost an exact duplicate of last chapter: the PCs have to stay on the route, or they get killed by Zhentilar patrols. Zhentilar patrols led by Cyric. Who is trying to kill the party. But who Midnight still trusts for some reason.
This is also the second or third time in the adventure so far that an event has basically been, “roll on the random encounters table.” Someone was getting very lazy indeed at this point.
Event 2: An Evening in Eveningstar
Oh man, I love that show! Oh, wait…it’s an event, not a talk show.
As purple twilight settles over the forest, you see twinkling lights far ahead, glimmering through the trees: the lights of Eveningstar, the prettiest village in Cormyr.
Gotta love the lack of flavor text here. We got an entire chapter describing Shadowdale not too long ago, and now we’re reduced to stating that Eveningstar is merely, “the prettiest village in Cormyr” without giving even the slightest hint as to why it is considered such.
The PCs get to poke around town a bit and eventually rest at an inn. There’s no option not to do so…I guess the Zhentarim attack if the PCs try to leave town or something. During the night, the PCs hear this little exchange:
“Much later that night, one or more of the PCs (make Intelligence checks to determine who) is disturbed by the scrape of a boot in the hall outside, followed almost immediately by the faint sound of one of the room doors opening.
“Then they hear Midnight whisper, ‘I’m so happy to see you!’
“Inquisitive PCs find that their room doors can be opened in silence. If they watch, they see Midnight standing in the hall. At the head of the stairs is a hawk-nosed man – Cyric. Observers note a reddish glow briefly from within his cloak, as he sheathes a half-drawn blade. ‘You…er, I’m happy to see you as well,’ he replies.”
I love that exchange. Midnight is still blissfully ignorant of Cyric’s evilness even after he’s nearly killed her with a possessed sword that he stole from a halfling village he allowed to be slaughtered. And Cyric himself is surprised by her stupidity.
PCs are almost guaranteed to want to kill Cyric right now. But they can’t naturally. If they attack, Midnight summons up a wall of force from her small supply of memorized spells. If that fails, Cyric teleports away using his sword. The adventure wants the PCs to eavesdrop, but I would put down any amount of money that less than 1% of players are willing to let this rat bastard do anything but bleed. But if the PCs do eavesdrop, they hear a long exchange between Midnight and Cyric about how Bhaal, the god of assassins, is looking to capture Midnight and the Tablet of Fate. Cyric claims he can defend Midnight better than the PCs can (’cause he’s done such a great job so far), but Midnight refuses to leave the party.
Whether Cyric walks away or teleports to safety, he then sends 50 Zhentilar to storm the inn, meaning the PCs have to beat a hasty retreat. There is fortunately one obligatory stupid guard who can be taken by surprise, allowing an unblocked avenue of escape.
Event 3: Meeting in the Peaks
“Fleeing with Cyric’s men hot on their heels, the adventurers ride desperately west toward the far-off safety of High Horn. Streaming clouds cloak the moon periodically, plunging the road into darkness.”
This is a straight up chase scene, but with no real drama – unless the PCs stand and fight, the Zhentilar only hit on a 20 with their crossbow bolts at night. It is a decent chance for the DM to punch up some drama without actually risking the PCs’ lives (they don’t know the odds, after all), so I’ll let that slide.
The PCs have two options: run away or call for help. Both turn into the same flight scenario, but it’s worth noting that this event ends in something unusual:
“If [the PCs] don’t go to High Horn, skip the next event. When the PCs settle down for the night, translate Event 5 to their new surroundings.”
An option to avoid a stop on the plot railroad. Amazing.
Event 4: Dinner at the High Horn
“High Horn is a mighty, many-towered castle perched atop a crag overlooking the narrowest point in Stormhorn Pass. Frowning gatehouses guard the three windswept paths that bend and twist up to it.”
The PCs are invited into the High Horn by Lord Deverell, who gives them shelter from the Zhents. But nothing else really happens in this event – the PCs are given a chance to eat and rest. Some of them can look around the castle and note that certain stairwells are built to collapse if needed. That might come in handy later, but until then…on to the next event.
Event 5: To Battle Murder
“In the early hours of the morning, shouts awaken the PCs:
“‘Halt in the name of Azoun, the Purple Dragon!’
“‘Stay back! Back, or I’ll – aiieee!’
“‘Watch him! He’ll – aaghh!”
Who is causing all this trouble?
On the stone stair below the landing, four chain mail-clad guards armed with halberds and short swords face a single unarmed man. The man is climbing upward, empty-handed. His simple tunic is torn wide open, showing a gaunt, bony body covered with many cuts and gouges. He stands little more than a head taller than a halfling. His head is shaved bald and tattooed with green and red swirls.
The man’s face is ugly, with nervous, bulging eyes, buck teeth, a small nose, and flaplike ears. His eyes burn with a strange intensity as he calmly walks up the stairs.
This is Bhaal, the god of murder. He’s a little less than impressive here, but on the other hand I like the idea of a little guy tearing his way through all these guards. More importantly, the PCs have a chance to fight a god once again! Time to bust out the big epic deeds, especially since Elminster isn’t around to hog the glory! Or is it?
“A powerful party can challenge Bhaal – possibly. After all, he is AC 0 and has only 84 hp and 45% magic resistance. Since he regenerates only 2 hp per round, they might overwhelm him.
“However, when he is in danger of dying during combat, he can simply possess a new body, regaining full strength as he does so. Bhaal does not possess PCs or important NPCs; instead, he chooses another guard. There is no shortage of these men, who throw themselves bravely against the god. Other than this, Bhaal prefers not to use magic in combat.”
So it’s a bit of a Catch-22: the PCs can potentially defeat Bhaal, but he’ll do the El-Cheapo body hopping trick to stay alive. Plus, if he does die, he goes up in a huge explosion that might kill the PCs. But there’s another trick: the PCs can collapse the staircase while Bhaal is on it if they found out about that defense in the last event:
As the dust clears, the avatar of Bhaal lies amid the loose stone rubble. His head twists sharply to one side, and his sprawled body looks crushed and lifeless. But his eyes are still open. He stares up at Midnight in anger, and slowly curls his hands into fists, one after the other.
So how about collapsing more of the landings on Bhaal? Bring the whole damned castle down if needed!
Everyone stares down at the dust-shrouded rubble.
As the dust clears, all you can see of Bhaal is a bloodied hand and foot projecting from the stones. The hand twitches, and then slowly pushes a stone away.
Son of a bitch!
I actually liked this encounter up until this point. The PCs finally get to fulfill some of the promise of this adventure trilogy: they get to fight an evil god. Sure, they probably can’t best him in a toe-to-toe fight, but using trickery and strategy, they have a shot. And if you ask me, outsmarting a nigh-unbeatable god is more satisfying than beating him in a straight brawl. But alas, Bhaal’s defeat will not come from the PCs’ hands:
“Midnight frowns, and murmurs something. Making a pass with one hand, she takes something from a pocket of her robe, and sprinkles it on the rubble below.
“The rubble glows briefly, turns orange, seems to melt and shift, and turns transparent. Soon the mangled form of Bhaal is encased in something that looks like pine sap.
“Bhaal continues to struggle slowly. Midnight, eyes shut, is quietly chanting and making intricate patterns in the air with her hands. The sap hardens until Bhaal – all except for one feebly moving hand – is encased in a huge drop of rock-hard amber.”
Surprise! The PCs’s involvement didn’t matter again!
Story-wise, this is fine – Midnight is, after all, the main character of the novel trilogy. However, this is not a novel – it is a role-playing game. And the game is useless as entertainment if the players feel wholly useless to the plot, or if they realize that nothing they do actually alters the course of these events.
As has been all but spelled out before, Midnight has been chosen by Mystra to become the next goddess of magic. The PCs are essentially acting as escorts on her trip to divinity. While there are some restrictions on what she can do, it basically boils down to the fact that Midnight can do anything she wants with magic, albeit with magical chaos still in effect (except when it’s ignored by the plot). Once again, poor Wembley the Wizard is rendered less than useless, since he has now been overshadowed in every possible way by Midnight. Poor Wembley.