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5E Rise of Tiamat: Attack on Waterdeep

pukunui

Hero
Hi all,

In Ed Greenwood's novel Death Masks, it briefly mentions that Waterdeep's Field Ward was recently burned down by dragon attack. It doesn't go into the details of when this happened or why, but I think it's fairly safe to assume that it was meant to have occurred during the Tyranny of Dragons period.

With that in mind, I'd like to incorporate this event into my Tyranny of Dragons campaign. The PCs have just hit 11th level, and we are at a point where I am going to run the second Cult Strikes Back event. I was thinking it would be fun to stage it as part of a larger attack on Waterdeep.

Earlier in the campaign, I allowed the PCs to acquire the black dragon mask when they killed Rezmir. They ended up giving it to Lady Laeral Silverhand for safekeeping. They have since agreed to hand over all captured dragon masks to the metallic dragons. However, I don't think any of this would stop the cult from at least attempting to get that mask back, and so I am thinking that the assault on Waterdeep's Field Ward would be part of this plan.

The cult sends a flight of red dragons to attack the Field Ward, the city's most vulnerable district on account of it being outside the boundaries of the dragonward. The dragons are backed up by cultists who attack elsewhere in the city to divert resources away from defending the Field Ward. All of this, however, is mainly intended as a distraction so that a group of Red Wizards can steal back the black dragon mask ... and so that another group of cultists and wizards can assassinate the PCs.

As an aside, I don't think I will let the cultists succeed in recapturing the mask. That would cheapen the PCs' hard work in obtaining it, I think. This is just meant to show that the cult hasn't just rolled over and accepted the mask's loss. They've been planning this assault for some time, using magic to locate the mask and determine its defences and the like.

Anyway, I'd like to take advantage of the opportunity to make this encounter more than just a simple street fight. The PCs will no doubt want to go and help in the Field Ward, and so I'd like the assassins to hit them in the midst of all the fiery chaos. I'd like some help determining some random events that I can throw in to mess with the players' plans. Random dragon flybys, crying kids separated from their parents, burning buildings collapsing, that kind of thing.

In other words, I'd like to try and utilize the environment to enhance the encounter.


Anyone got any good ideas?

Thanks in advance!
 
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CM

Adventurer
In a fight like that the Walking Statues might make an appearance. Perhaps the Cult's Thayan allies have found a way to usurp control of one?

Dragons may be prevented by the ward from entering the city proper, but they could always use bombing trajectories to drop boulders or casks of burning pitch within the walls. Perhaps some of these land near the PCs.

A spellcaster or three barricaded in a belltower would wreak havoc on the streets below with groups of summoned creatures or aoe spells. One could use cloudkill (concentration) to deny access for most defending forces.
 

pukunui

Hero
In a fight like that the Walking Statues might make an appearance. Perhaps the Cult's Thayan allies have found a way to usurp control of one?
That's a possibility.

Dragons may be prevented by the ward from entering the city proper, but they could always use bombing trajectories to drop boulders or casks of burning pitch within the walls. Perhaps some of these land near the PCs.
True!

A spellcaster or three barricaded in a belltower would wreak havoc on the streets below with groups of summoned creatures or aoe spells. One could use cloudkill (concentration) to deny access for most defending forces.
I'm planning on having two Red Wizards attack the PCs, aided by two mezzoloths and a kenku dragonsoul (with some lesser cultists as backup).
 

Quickleaf

Legend
The cult sends a flight of red dragons to attack the Field Ward, the city's most vulnerable district on account of it being outside the boundaries of the dragonward. The dragons are backed up by cultists who attack elsewhere in the city to divert resources away from defending the Field Ward. All of this, however, is mainly intended as a distraction so that a group of Red Wizards can steal back the black dragon mask ... and so that another group of cultists and wizards can assassinate the PCs.
Sounds like fun!

As an aside, I don't think I will let the cultists succeed in recapturing the mask. That would cheapen the PCs' hard work in obtaining it, I think. This is just meant to show that the cult hasn't just rolled over and accepted the mask's loss. They've been planning this assault for some time, using magic to locate the mask and determine its defences and the like.
So what exactly are the stakes of the attack? What's at risk besides the PCs' lives (which is generally the case for adventurers)? What defines the PCs' success or failure in this scenario – is it how much destruction they can mitigate in the Field Ward?

If so, that's a bit nebulous, so having specific sites/NPCs in the Field Ward that they are attached to come under threat would be the best bet. Guessing that there aren't many specific to the Field Ward, so if that's the case part of the adventure will need to be giving the PCs attachments / reasons to care about specific sites. If, for example, there's a Shrine to the Seldarine that gets incinerated, the PCs should feel that loss because they care about that particular shrine for this reason _____ .

Anyway, I'd like to take advantage of the opportunity to make this encounter more than just a simple street fight. The PCs will no doubt want to go and help in the Field Ward, and so I'd like the assassins to hit them in the midst of all the fiery chaos. I'd like some help determining some random events that I can throw in to mess with the players' plans. Random dragon flybys, crying kids separated from their parents, burning buildings collapsing, that kind of thing.

In other words, I'd like to try and utilize the environment to enhance the encounter.

Absolutely! Can you give us a better understanding of the Field Ward and what one would find in it? I know that demihumans live there, and its in the northernmost part of Waterdeep, but I don't have a good grasp on the character of that section of the city.

Some ideas:
  • Challenge. Named NPC of Waterdeep downs a red dragon, damaging its wings. Dragon crashes into a warehouse, endangering people on the ground.
  • Challenge. Fires / breaches in the north wall have isolated a group of soldiers operating a ballista, and a dragon is wheeling around to make short work of them.
  • Challenge. A red dragon bodily lifts a small house or horse and rider (allied NPC) into the sky. Who will save them?
  • Dilemma. A mage of questionable loyalty claims he has a way to extend Ahghairon's dragonward over the Field Ward.
  • Dilemma. A dead cultist, knocked from the saddle of a dragon, bears a note about the planned theft of the black dragon mask from Lady Laeral Silverhand, with orders to kill the Lady to send a message.
  • Dilemma. Dwarven engineer proposes using grappling hooks/chains in the ballistas to create a web above the Field Ward making it harder for red dragons to maneuver, but it will take time & resources.
  • Hazard. Odiferous trades like wooling, leatherworking, and making oils are common in the Field Ward, but also the materials in these workshops is dangerously flammable/explosive.
 

aco175

Hero
I thought I read someplace that many of the wards on the city are no more since the Spellplague and that the walking statues animated and trashed parts of the city and now lay motionless, some where they fell among the buildings. Not sure if this is official though.
 

pukunui

Hero
So what exactly are the stakes of the attack? What's at risk besides the PCs' lives (which is generally the case for adventurers)? What defines the PCs' success or failure in this scenario – is it how much destruction they can mitigate in the Field Ward?
Well, primarily it's just the PCs' lives that are at stake. This is one of the "Cult Strikes Back" scenarios where the cultists try to assassinate the PCs in retaliation for messing with their plans. I just thought I'd set it amongst the backdrop of a larger assault on Waterdeep. I'm not sure I want to focus on that bigger picture. I'm just thinking in terms of environmental effects caused by the conflict raging all around them in the background.

Absolutely! Can you give us a better understanding of the Field Ward and what one would find in it? I know that demihumans live there, and its in the northernmost part of Waterdeep, but I don't have a good grasp on the character of that section of the city.
This is all the SCAG has to say about it: "Of relatively recent vintage, the Field Ward stands between the inner and outer north walls of the city (an area formerly used as a caravan grounds). This ward grew up in a messy, unregulated fashion and is home to many of the poorest residents of the city."

So basically a bonfire waiting for a match ...

Unfortunately I'm not sure I can get much more detailed than that, since in previous editions, the Field Ward was just a big open space ... hence the name. I would have to create any specific landmarks or businesses myself.

Some ideas:
Those are great! Thanks! I want environmental effects - having an injured dragon crashing down amongst the combatants, as opposed to just having one strafe them with its breath weapon - would definitely be cool. I'd also like to tug on the heartstrings a bit and play the "child in jeopardy" card. You know, like in Rogue One, where the rebels are fighting the stormtroopers and Jyn sees the little girl crying for her mum and goes to rescue her. Maybe in this instance the mum is screaming for help because her kids are trapped in a burning building (or maybe the kids are screaming because their mum is trapped in the building).


I thought I read someplace that many of the wards on the city are no more since the Spellplague and that the walking statues animated and trashed parts of the city and now lay motionless, some where they fell among the buildings. Not sure if this is official though.
Interesting. Do you think you might be able to track down where you read that? I have it on good authority from Ed Greenwood that the dragonward still exists but that its boundaries fluctuate and no one quite knows what sections of the city are protected at any given time. The Field Ward isn't protected because it's a newer district that's well outside the bounds of the original mythal.


EDIT: Did a bit of googling, and The God Catcher, a 4e era novel, establishes that the walking statues were all rendered inert after going crazy during the Spellplague and that, in fact, some of them have been built over or hollowed out and turned into tenements and such (including the eponymous statue).

That being said, the Sundering that ushered in the 5e era could easily have brought them back to life somehow. I'm not sure if they show up in Death Masks. I'll have to have a look.

EDIT 2: Am looking at an excerpt from Death Masks, and in it Vajra, the new Blackstaff, recalls that Khelben had showed her how she could use the remnants of the staff to reawaken the walking statues, which were still where they'd been left when they stopped rampaging. I don't know if she actually reawakens any of them later in the novel or not, though.
 
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Quickleaf

Legend
Well, primarily it's just the PCs' lives that are at stake. This is one of the "Cult Strikes Back" scenarios where the cultists try to assassinate the PCs in retaliation for messing with their plans. I just thought I'd set it amongst the backdrop of a larger assault on Waterdeep. I'm not sure I want to focus on that bigger picture. I'm just thinking in terms of environmental effects caused by the conflict raging all around them in the background.
Well, if the dragon attack is basically "background color", then it sounds like the hit squad needs to be played up as a really deadly fight. I'd suggest the assassins use the chaos to their advantage to try and divide & conquer the party or put them in the classic dilemma of "you could kill him now, but those precious seconds might help save the people trapped in the burning barn."

This is all the SCAG has to say about it: "Of relatively recent vintage, the Field Ward stands between the inner and outer north walls of the city (an area formerly used as a caravan grounds). This ward grew up in a messy, unregulated fashion and is home to many of the poorest residents of the city."

So basically a bonfire waiting for a match ...
Ah, in that case, I'd expect to see:
  • Herd animals running wild through the streets, possibly on fire. Think a chaotic version of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.
  • Demihumans and poor up in arms against the Lords of Waterdeep, the flames of their discontent perhaps fueled by cultist demagogues.
  • Issues with water access. Perhaps the usually inconvenient water access of the Field Ward is made even more desperate by an attack on an aqueduct or water tower that floods one of the streets.

Those are great! Thanks! I want environmental effects - having an injured dragon crashing down amongst the combatants, as opposed to just having one strafe them with its breath weapon - would definitely be cool. I'd also like to tug on the heartstrings a bit and play the "child in jeopardy" card. You know, like in Rogue One, where the rebels are fighting the stormtroopers and Jyn sees the little girl crying for her mum and goes to rescue her. Maybe in this instance the mum is screaming for help because her kids are trapped in a burning building (or maybe the kids are screaming because their mum is trapped in the building).
Have some NPCs that are known to the PCs but aren't crucial to the adventure path get picked up and dropped by red dragons from 200 feet, a height that would surely kill them. Then think of some possible ways the PCs might save the NPCs besides feather fall, like leaping onto a dragon's leg and grabbing the NPCs hand, shooting a magic arrow to pin them to a tower, using Action Surge to spur a winged mount to the rescue, conjuring a pool of water for them to land in, etc.
 

pukunui

Hero
Well, if the dragon attack is basically "background color", then it sounds like the hit squad needs to be played up as a really deadly fight. I'd suggest the assassins use the chaos to their advantage to try and divide & conquer the party or put them in the classic dilemma of "you could kill him now, but those precious seconds might help save the people trapped in the burning barn."
Yes! Exactly!

If you're familiar with The Rise of Tiamat at all, you'll know that the Cult Strikes Back episodes are extremely barebones. They basically just give you some building blocks and say "Here, create your own scenario", which is fine, given the open-endedness of the context. So this is my attempt to flesh it out a little.

With the previous episode, I had the city of Everlund come under attack, and the PCs fought off their attackers on one of the city's bridges, with dragons doing occasionally breath weapon flybys but no real hazards or interaction with the populace of the city. It was just a straight-up fight with some bad guys on a bridge.

These are the opponents I've picked out for the attack:
*a CR 5 Red Wizard enchanter
*a CR 9 Red Wizard abjurer
*two CR 5 mezzoloths
*a CR 7 kenku dragonsoul

If needed, I can bring in some lower ranked cultists as reinforcements, but I'd like to mix things up a bit with some environmental effects and moral dilemmas. Rather than just have more cultists for them to kill, they can dodge falling buildings, crash-landing dragons, and flaming carts. Rather than being able to focus all their attention on their would-be assassins, they can be distracted by imperilled bystanders and the like.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
If needed, I can bring in some lower ranked cultists as reinforcements, but I'd like to mix things up a bit with some environmental effects and moral dilemmas. Rather than just have more cultists for them to kill, they can dodge falling buildings, crash-landing dragons, and flaming carts. Rather than being able to focus all their attention on their would-be assassins, they can be distracted by imperilled bystanders and the like.

I like that you're mixing it up :)

I'm not too familiar with The Rise of Tiamat except the broad strokes, but I can imagine and I have Volo's Guide to Monsters which has stats for a CR 5 enchanter and CR 9 abjurer which I'm assuming are lifted from The Rise of Tiamat. Lots of wicked spell strategies you could come up with for them, and for the mezzoloth's cloudkill to.

If I was prepping an encounter with that assassination squad, I'd consider the following strategy:

The enchanter is at large in the Field Ward, and has been undercover for quite some time, agitating the peasants. Either through rhetoric (countered by PC role-playing and/or Charisma checks) OR a charm person (cast at 5th-level, countered by dispel magic), the enchanter convinces a group of 5+ commoners to undertake an act of sabotage or turn against the PCs for some perceived slight. Foreshadowing the enchanter's presence in Waterdeep is a must, even if just a little bit! "Someone has been agitating the field workers..." Maybe the enchanter uses suggestion on a guard sergeant to enact a terrible defensive strategy (e.g. "burn the homes nearest the inner wards to repel the flames, these demihuman rabble be damned"). During the actual fighting, some of the enchanter's best tactics will be to stay safe behind mage armor + cover and (1) cast dominate beast on a creature the PCs usually rely upon as an ally (or perhaps on a herd of rampaging cattle, stretching the spell description a little), and

The abjurer should also do a bit of planning, beginning with Rary's telepathic bond to communicate with his teammates, and maybe dropping a delayed blast fireball in a location where they try to lure the PCs to, so the fireball just gathers strength meanwhile. Again, it's only fair to foreshadow this, maybe witnessing a glowing red orb falling from one of the dragon's into an old temple. And casting an arcane lock on the building's door or even a wall of force once the PCs are in would be suitably villainous. Also, the abjurer can teleport his team to the PCs' position in an attempt to surprise them, though since he lacks divination magic he'll need to get a sight line to the PCs, probably from an elevated perch like a tower warded by globe of invulnerability.

Both casters should attempt flesh to stone on any flying creature, whether a mount, NPC, or PC, and watch them plummet from the sky. Wicked laugh optional.
 

pukunui

Hero
I like that you're mixing it up :)
Thanks! I try.

I'm not too familiar with The Rise of Tiamat except the broad strokes, but I can imagine and I have Volo's Guide to Monsters which has stats for a CR 5 enchanter and CR 9 abjurer which I'm assuming are lifted from The Rise of Tiamat.
That's actually where I got them from. The book just says to use the mage statblock from the MM. But that gets kinda boring after a while.

Nice strategies! Thanks very much.
 

aco175

Hero
Interesting. Do you think you might be able to track down where you read that? I have it on good authority from Ed Greenwood that the dragonward still exists but that its boundaries fluctuate and no one quite knows what sections of the city are protected at any given time. The Field Ward isn't protected because it's a newer district that's well outside the bounds of the original mythal. EDIT: Did a bit of googling said:
The God Catcher[/I], a 4e era novel, establishes that the walking statues were all rendered inert after going crazy during the Spellplague and that, in fact, some of them have been built over or hollowed out and turned into tenements and such (including the eponymous statue).

That being said, the Sundering that ushered in the 5e era could easily have brought them back to life somehow. I'm not sure if they show up in Death Masks. I'll have to have a look.

EDIT 2: Am looking at an excerpt from Death Masks, and in it Vajra, the new Blackstaff, recalls that Khelben had showed her how she could use the remnants of the staff to reawaken the walking statues, which were still where they'd been left when they stopped rampaging. I don't know if she actually reawakens any of them later in the novel or not, though.

Most of the things I read was from another reddit page from someone else looking things up, or quoting another source- since we all know if you read it on the internet it must be true. Here
 

pukunui

Hero
Thanks for that. As I mentioned upthread, the excerpt of Death Masks I read last night included a bit where Vajra Safahr was magically viewing each of the walking statues in turn and remembering that Khelben had showed her how she could use the broken Blackstaff to reactivate them. I have not read the whole book, however, so I don't know if she actually does that or not. Since some of them have people living in them now, I think it would be rather destructive if she did bring them back online.

I've asked Ed on Twitter but he'll probably say he can't answer due to an NDA.


Still, it's my game, so I could include a walking statue if I really want to. If I do, though, it'll have to be in the background, as my game is tonight, and I don't think I have time to stat one up.

EDIT: Actually I think I'm going to have to put this off until the third (and supposedly final) cult retaliation event. I need more time to bring it all together. I'll have this one be a little more low key.
 
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