My players solved the trolley problem by running over the trolley.
To begin with, it doesn’t sit right with me that the Cassalanters were ever able to strike this bargain. You can put your own butt on the line in a contract to benefit your children (as with co-signing a lease), but you can’t unilaterally put their butt on the line to benefit you. That kind of thing may fly with some Chaotic Skeevy fey like Rumplestiltskin, but not with a legitimate businessman like Asmodeus, imo. So, while I appreciate the film noir thing the writers were going for and was planning to end with the “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” vibe of the alternative presented here, I was willing to meet my players at least halfway if they came up with a plausible solution to the problem as written (which I couldn’t do).
Here’s what they came up with (bear in mind, we used to play a lot of Shadowrun, so they like an overly complicated scheme now and then): The vengeance paladin and the arcane trickster got jobs as an upstairs maid and a groom at the Cassalanter villa, after paying 50 gold each to the Xanathar Guild to create new cover identities for themselves (which I thought showed impressive foresight). This gave them the opportunity to run around scouting the place. The wizard used the ritual found in Ammalia’s study to ask the fiend why a family of bankers with everything to lose would insert themselves into the middle of a gunfight between the Zhentarim and the Xanathar. The story as written says the ritual has the same effect as a commune spell, but I decided to be a bit more forthcoming, since, short of flat-out asking the Cassalanters, there doesn’t seem to be any way of finding out about the moral dilemma in the first place. That got them the details of the arrangement.
They went back and forth on possible solutions, as expected, but ultimately, they let the Cassalanters rob the vault. Then they swapped the vials of poison in the desk for a harmless substitute which was fed to the poor people at the feast and arranged for the chefs to unwittingly put the real poison in the cultists’ food instead. I took the liberty of massaging the size of the cult from about 45 to 100+ (which made sense to me, moving 1,000 20 lb. sacks of gold from C29 to A7 would take a long time). I was also willing to say that all the guests at the feast were cultists, rather than nice people duped into attending a mass murder, as the book suggests. That also made sense to me. The Cassalanters need to make the event disappear for their own sake and you can’t blackmail people with their presence at an event that never happened.
Anyway, the cult poisoned 100 people. Victoro dumped the gold in the bowl. Everything went according to the cult’s plan, just the wrong people died. The scoreboard at the end read: 1) Letter of the contract fulfilled. Kids completely in the clear. 2) Poor people get a fun show to go with their nice dinner, then go home safe and sound. 3) Enough actually important people die that the Cassalanters can’t cover it up and all their dirty laundry comes out (especially since all of their emergency money somehow disappeared from the villa in the confusion). 4). The whole cult is wiped out and decades of Asmodeus’s work in Waterdeep is undone by his own agents. 5). The characters false IDs were burned and no one the wiser.
It was all nicely heist-movie-ish and I honestly can’t think of a better result for the party, even if I did fudge things a little. The players forwent the gold jackpot for a more modest payday of the silver bars and the golden table service, but I’ll certainly find a way to make that up to them. This is an insanely long post, so I’ll spare you all the details, but it was a blast. We all had that Oasis song from the end of Snatch playing in our heads during the Founders Day session.
Bravo! What an amazing way to untie this Gordian knot. Kudos to you and your players!