Note from James Haeck: Today, I am pleased to publish the works of a great author—so to speak—in the pages of D&D Beyond. You may know him as Volo, and the work he has penned may be of great interest to players and Dungeon Masters of the adventure known as Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. DMs, if you want to give your players a helping hand as they near Dragon Heist’s endgame, this story could give them a little bit of information on how to infiltrate Xanathar’s lair.
Enjoy reading this little short story, and consider printing it out and handing it directly to your players so they can read it as an in-universe artifact.
Greetings and salutations, esteemed readers! The tale you are about to read was penned by none other than myself, the beloved and acclaimed raconteur, Volothamp Geddarm. Over the past several months, I have found my city of Waterdeep, the most beautiful and sparkling gem of the Sword Coast, overrun by villains, violence, and vitriol. It is clear that one lone scribe is not enough to turn back the tide of evil that threatens our realm, no matter how handsome or talented he may be. Nevertheless, I strive to tell stories that inspire and guide adventurers and heroes with talent in steel and spell to push forth and perform great deeds of heroism! The kind that one day, I will write legends of.
Recently, I undertook—at great personal risk to myself, I might add—an infiltration of the Xanathar Guild. This secretive (indeed, some might say mythical) guild is supposedly led by an immortal thief known only as Xanathar. I reveal to you in this wholly true and unvarnished text, that Xanathar is not only immortal, but he is not even human! Nor is he elven, dwarven, or any manner of humanoid being. Xanathar is a monster, and he is rightfully paranoid. He fears always that his immortal life will be cut short by betrayers or colluders.
Now, brave adventurers, heed my words, learn from my dangerous research, and find a way to unseat this many-eyed tyrant! His reign of terror cannot last forever!
A True and Unvarnished Account of the Horrors and Paranoia of the Xanathar Guild
by Volothamp Geddarm, based on extensive firsthand research
The deep darkness of Skullport was suffocating. Verily, I could hardly breathe for the mildew that drifted through the air and the terror which clutched at my breast like an icy hand. For centuries, Waterdhavians have speculated about the existence of the infamous Port of Shadows, a refuge of pirates, scoundrels, and monsters—a “city beneath the city,” which exists in the lightless caverns beneath Waterdeep.
I write this passage, dear reader, hiding in a kitchen in the lower levels of a labyrinthine complex. A group of seven kobolds are running frantically about as I deftly hide from their distracted eyes. Each of these scaled critters wear a tall white toque hat and seem to be serving as some sort of chef, cooking up bizarre meals with unearthly aromas for a master with a truly monstrous appetite. They are aided by two most peculiar creatures: orb-shaped beasts the relative size and shape of a handball with a sickly green pallor use their telekinetic eyestalks to hoist these massive plates of gourmet rubbish into the air and levitate them along.
It was no accident that I, Volothamp Geddarm, found myself in this eerie place. Though, as I watched a pair of mind flayers glide past the Guts and Garters tavern on Illithid Lane, I began to doubt the wisdom of my very purposeful decision to venture here. I was here on a mission: to plumb the depths of Xanathar’s lair. Amidst the recent chaos in the City of Splendors, it became clear to me that unless the Xanathar himself were put to the sword, this disturbance would never come to an end.
I slipped with exceedingly heroic stealth and poise down the hallway, following the tiny, many-eyed abomination as it levitated its master’s platter. I wound through the guild’s recreation hall, which was filled with goblins and drow and all sorts of people of foul repute reveling like it was the day before the end of the world. I count my lucky stars that my famous visage was not recognized by such ill-educated dastards, and I was able to slip through this fête of foulness unnoticed. Through that room I followed the many-eyed monster into a thin passage, ascended a staircase, and watched as it touchlessly popped open a hidden trapdoor in the ceiling and levitated upward through it into a dark and cavernous chamber above.
With cat-like tread, I scrambled deftly through the trapdoor and instantly slipped into the dread darkness of the chamber’s outermost edges. Concealed in its blessed shadows, I looked on with mounting terror—a sensation kept in check only by my boundless courage. Before me, I saw a dazzling display of psychedelic colors forming in the chamber’s center. Woe and amazement! The creatures were bringing their feast to a spectral beast made up of countless dozens of shimmering eyes of prismatic light, swimming through air like fish through water.
The creatures and their plates hung back, for the being of swimming light was already speaking with someone else. A dwarf knelt before him, and he wore a hat made of wire and metal designed to look like a mess of tentacles—or perhaps they were eye-stalks? He shivered and shook before his master, and I don’t blame him one bit.
“I am Xanathar! The ultimate. The powerful. The great,” boomed the massive creature I saw before me. “You are Ott Steeltoes. The worthless. The groveling. The utterly pathetic! You worthless sack of flesh and chattering teeth! How dare you so much as breathe in my presence after what you did!”
“O mighty Xanathar,” the dwarf spoke flutteringly. He opened his mouth to speak again, but was immediately cut off by the ranting, tyrannical creature that floated before him.
“Silence!” boomed Xanathar. “I know your ways. You plot. You scheme. Even this very instant you look for a way to kill me. I know you are in league with them. That shifty, traitorous drow they call Nar’l—I have given him a watchdog, and still he plots and plans my downfall!”
“O resplendent one, I have never so much as spoken to Nar’l Xibrindas! I am merely your humble fishtender. And has Sylgar ever so much as suffered a scratch on my watch?”
And then, in that very instant, it seemed like Xanathar’s mind-bending visage seemed to soften. The mass of colorful, floating eyes seemed to soften and even—dare I say it, my eyes may have been playing tricks on me—smiled.
“Sylgar… yes. You have indeed kept him safe, Steeltoes. You know he is all I have in this world.”
“I am aware, O outstandingly ocular one.”
All of a sudden, Xanathar’s mood soured again. It focused its full gaze upon the dwarf and said, “Then begone. Tend to Sylgar. Watch over my enemies… if Nar’l takes even one step out of line, destroy him.”
The dwarf leapt to his feet, bowed deeper than any dwarf I’ve ever seen (as deeply as he could without throwing himself back onto the ground), and yelped a quick affirmative before dashing pell-mell from the audience chamber. I surreptitiously bowed out behind him. I had no stomach to hear Xanathar sloppily devour the meal which his underlings offered him, and I was quite eager to find a way out of the Xanathar Guild’s labyrinthine lair.
The rest of Volo’s story shifts blank before your very eyes, as the ink itself seems to wash clean from its pages. In their place, an unseen hand seems to scribe a new text in shimmering scarlet ink.
My dear Volo, your dedication to—what did you call it, “veracity?”—is admirable, but surely you understand that without corroborating your findings with a professional, your report is little more than rumormongering. I would have enjoyed a pleasant cup of tea with you with you, my old friend, before you published this nonsense.
I shall cease my critique here, lest I deface your “exceptional” text any further, dear Volo. Instead, allow me to address the adventurers reading this volume directly. Adventurers. What you’ve read above is mostly true, but I simply cannot allow you to read the nonsense that my good friend Volo has published hereafter. I note with great sorrow that you have been enwrapped in a rather deadly adventure. While I regret to say that I am unable to swoop in and solve it myself (the fate of cosmic balance itself seems to have been placed upon my shoulders once again; if you see Mordenkainen sometime, ask him about it), I know you have the power to succeed where others have failed.
I shall not judge if you choose to be noble or selfish in this endeavor. However, if you wish to perform an act of great heroism and bring ruin upon the creature my dear friend Volo has so haplessly described in this text, you have my aid. Look within the back cover of this tome. I have enclosed a single gold dragon emblazoned with my arcane mark. Take it to her ladyship Laeral Silverhand, and I assure you, this token will grant you an audience with the esteemed Open Lord of Waterdeep.
How she may help you is beyond my precise knowledge, but surely the aid of so powerful a woman would not go amiss.
Did you like this short story? If you want to read more, you can pick up the adventures I've written on the DMs Guild, such as The Temple of Shattered Minds, a suspenseful eldritch mystery with a mind flayer villain (for 3rd level characters). My most recent adventures are included in Tactical Maps: Adventure Atlas, a collection of 88 unique encounters created by the Guild Adepts, which can be paired with the beautiful tactical poster maps in Tactical Maps Reincarnated, recently published by Wizards of the Coast.
You can also check out Dragon Heist: Forgotten Tales, a book by the Guild Adepts which gives you a new beginning, middle, and end to Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. It's the perfect way to give this adventure even more replay value! My new beginning is a great way to introduce a campaign focused on either the drow or devil cult factions causing trouble in Waterdeep.
If you want Adventurers League-legal adventures, take a look at The Cannith Code, set in the magic-punk Eberron campaign setting, All Eyes on Chult, a high-stakes adventure set in Port Nyanzaru included in Xanathar's Lost Notes, or Fire, Ash, and Ruin, a demon-filled dungeon delve in an active Chultan volcano! This post contains DMs Guild affiliate links, which means that I—James Haeck—get an extra 5% of the sale if you buy anything from the DMs Guild using these links. You don't pay any extra, but your purchase helps support my work. Thank you so much!
Also, for more free encounters, take a look at the other encounters in the Encounter of the Week series!
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and their feline adventurers Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.