I’ve talked before about the Dungeons and Dragons game that I’m running. I use roll20 for the virtual table top, and we’ve recently switched to discord for the audio/video. Roll20 is a great tool for virtual table top game playing and I recommend it to everyone who is thinking of trying to get into playing RPGs over the internet.
As part of the new campaign I’m running, Waterdeep Dragon Heist, the party was given a tavern. This got this tavern from the very opening of the campaign when they took on a job to find a friend of Volothamp Gedarm. Volo’s friend, Floon, was kidnapped by Zhenthariam thugs, and then double kidnapped by Xanathars Gang. Thats not the important however. The important part is they were given a tavern.
Unfortunately, the tavern was in quite disrepair, and if the group wanted to reopen it to make money off of it, they had to put in a lot of time doing repairs themselves, or hiring and paying workers to take care of it. When planning out the campaign, I really didnt want the players to get stuck playing Sim Tavern for too much, and rathered had them focusing on the overarching plot of the campaign, or engaging in faction side quests that , at least I felt, were more engaging and would keep the interest of everyone playing.
Another quandary i had was how to make sure the “Hook” for the 3rd phase, really the opening of the 2nd half of the campaign, would catch the party and ensure they were engaged in the plot to come. Its one thing to have a fireball explode in the street in front of the tavern your repairing and hear someone got away with something vs something a bit more personal. Some of the materials that help DMs run Dragon Heist call out this specific bit as a difficult point to overcome. There are actual NPCs (Officials of the City Watch) that tell the party to NOT be involved. And I worry the players will say “If the DM is telling you to not be involved we’ll go back to grinding Faction XP and fixing up our house!”. Definitely don’t want that to happen.
SO I figured I’d have someone close to the party die in the fireball that explodes to start chapter 3 of the campaign. I had some discussion on reddit about the best way to do it. In the hard cover module for the campaign, there are mentions of a group of halfling children who inhabit the alley the manor/tavern is set in. Killing random kids who live nearby seemed a bit heavy handed. Having those kids be NPCs that engaged the players often and nudge the players towards adopting or at least taking them under their wing… and then killing them (as some redditors recommended) seemed even worse and even more cruel. So I had to come up with another NPC who would ingratiate themselves into the good graces of the PCs, not be too obviously bait, and still grab the party focus and desire for vengeance. Enter Mazzy.
So I spent some time drawing up (not literally drawing) an NPC that would be well received by the group. I made Mazzy a woman in her later years. Retired, if thats even a thing in Faerun, and helpful. In her youth she had worked at the tavern the PCs now own, and her familiarity with the tavern, the ghost who resided there and her connections with craftspeople of Waterdeep would allow her to help them make the repairs easier.She knew who to hire that was reputable in the quarter who could repair the roof, fix the plumbing and clean up the water damage. She knew where to buy brewing equipment and plates plans. She could help with getting the windows replaced and the kitchen restocked. I even gave them a discount on all the repairs they needed if they worked through her. In short she was their project leader for the Tavern. I also made sure to call out that she always wore vivid bright red dresses every day, and red ribbons in her hair. The PC’s probably assumed this was because red is my own favorite color…
I didn’t put her in for free. The party had to pay her a wage for the work she was doing, and she discussed being a partner for the party in running the tavern, while they stayed out adventuring. They offered her a nice wage and she agreed to take on the job and run the tavern in their stead. It seemed like a great setup for them to be the wealthy owners, but not be stuck with any of the drudgery of actually RUNNING the tavern.
But not only did I have Mazzy as the “tavern keep” of a tavern they were investing in. She also ran the home portion of the manor house, above the tavern. This was where the party lived and had rooms. Mazzy helped them repair their furniture, install new washrooms and clean up the house. And when the group would return back to house after a day of chasing Xentarium Thugs, or hunting down a talking horse, she was there to listen to their stories and pour them a mug of ale. She had sort of become the Edna Garrett of the house for the Party.
So with how loved Edna, I mean Mazzy had become, it made perfect sense that she’d be the unintended collateral damage of the fireball cast to kill the Gnome spy running from the Zhentarim. Here we had an NPC who had won over the hearts of the party, and had gotten into a place of trust and affection. I may have even laid it on a bit too thick by having the Fireball take place on the day the Tavern was set to open. I could tell my plan had worked when the party had decided to give Mazzy a raise for a job well done, and then open the first cask of their expensive wine from the Stoutfellow farm, (their special batch vintage even!) and one of the PCs gave a toast to Mazzy and all the hard work she had done. They seemed to be really grateful and appreciative of her! So it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise at how hard they took her death.
I closed the session with a brief description of their morning. The spirit that had taken up residence in the taproom, a former bartender who met an untimely demise, had even made them coffee for their morning. I then had a giant explosion shake the entire manor house. When the PCS ran out of the house they all rushed forward to see the unmistakable sight of Mazzys bright red dress on one of the charred bodies lying in the street.