The next D&D storyline is Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, a story which begins in the grand and sinister city of Baldur’s Gate and quickly slides into the Nine Hells. Over the course of the summer—that is, between now and the release of Avernus on September 17th, 2019—we’ll be dedicating the occasional Encounter of the Week to covering a “road trip” from Waterdeep to Baldur’s Gate. A similar trek was chronicled (in reverse) in Hoard of the Dragon Queen; feel free to use these encounters to expand the road trip in that adventure, or use that adventure to expand this series of encounters. If you don’t want to take your party on a trip down the Sword Coast, these encounters are all perfectly suited towards characters traveling along a road between villages or cities.
You can keep track of this journey on this massive map of the Sword Coast, originally presented in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. The trip from Waterdeep to Baldur’s Gate covers about 750 miles of both road and off-road wilderness. A small party on horseback can cover about 24 miles per day at a casual pace, with just under two days off for rest per tenday of travel. All in all, this journey takes about a 45 days to complete for a small party of adventurers—assuming they’re well-prepared and no serious complications arise. The characters ought to have some sort of light mount, such as a riding horse, a pony, or a riding dog (for Small characters).
Social Encounter: Toll on the Road to Baldur’s Gate
This social encounter can get messy. If it does, it’s best suited for 1st-level characters, but it can be scaled up to challenge a higher-level party.
The characters have left Waterdeep on a journey along the Sword Coast to Baldur’s Gate. Their reasons are their own, but they are sure that they’ll have many adventures along the way. The Trade Way is a well-trod highway that, in parts, has been reclaimed by wilderness and monsters, making it the perfect environment for fresh adventurers seeking danger with the chance to return quickly to safety.
These explorers’ first adventure, however, isn’t anything as heroic as battling trolls or uncovering long-lost treasure. No, their first adventure is with a couple of petty highwaymen.
While traveling along the Trade Way, the characters see a small hut on the side of the road, and a spiked barricade erected in the middle of the road. Two men with cudgels in their hands stand on either side of the road. These two brigands proclaim to be members of the Waterdeep City Watch, but any Waterdhavian with half a brain knows this to be a lie. The truth is that these are common highwaymen trying to fleece travelers and merchants with a phony road toll.
In this simple encounter, the characters can employ whatever inventive tactics they want to pass the brigands. They may simply pay the toll, they may try to intimidate the bandits or appeal to their better nature by making a Charisma check, or they might resort to violence. Or, they may attempt something else entirely! Encourage creativity.
The characters are traveling south along the Trade Way, one of the largest trade routes in the Sword Coast. Read or paraphrase the following:
As you travel along the broad, dirt road, you see a small cottage on the side of the road. It seems old and untended. As you draw closer, you also see a barricade stretching across the entire 50-foot width of the road. Two tall, broad-shouldered people stand in front of the barricade.
These two people are highwaymen. They have built a barricade with a gate in the middle, and have dressed up in stolen Waterdeep City Watch uniforms, and are telling travelers and traders that they need to pay a 10 gp “Trade Way toll” in order to use this road. One is Rorrey, a chaotic neutral male mountain dwarf thug with the following racial traits:
- His walking speed is 25 feet.
- He has darkvision out to a range of 60 feet.
- He has advantage on saving throws against poison, and has resistance to poison damage.
The other thug is Kendrei, a lawful evil female tiefling thug with the following racial traits:
- She has resistance to fire damage.
- She has darkvision out to a range of 60 feet.
- Once per long rest, she can cast searing smite as a 2nd-level spell (spell save DC 10).
Kendrei is a tiefling of Zariel’s bloodline (see chapter 1 of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes), and feels a supernatural pull towards destruction and domination. She’s given in to this pull, and is expressing it in the only way she and her fellow bully Rorrey know how: by intimidating and stealing from innocent people.
If the characters see the barricade and decide to avoid it entirely, allow them to go off-road. Consider rolling for a random encounter (using the random grassland encounter table in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, for example) while the characters take the long way around, if only to show that every action can have consequences.
If the characters come within 30 feet of the barricade, read or paraphrase the following:
The two figures look up at you and hoist their cudgels, practically in unison. The pair are dressed as members of the Waterdeep City Watch, and wear incredibly dirty and tattered uniforms. One, a male dwarf with a singed mustache, strides forward and holds out a hand to stop you. The other, a female tiefling with moonlight-pale skin and beady black eyes shouts:
“Halt! In the name of the Watch, there’s a toll to pay. 10 gold per head, for use of this road. Pay the toll, or face justice.”
Kendrei speaks with confidence, but a character that succeeds on a DC 10 Wisdom (Insight) check recognizes that something is wrong about her demeanor; the toll is much too high for the most heavily trafficked road on the coast. Likewise, a character that succeeds on a DC 10 Wisdom (Perception) check notices that Kendrei and Rorrey’s uniforms are beaten, bloody, and slightly ill-fitting (as they were stolen from actual members of the Watch they ambushed several days ago).
If the characters pay their toll, the two thugs guffaw and let them pass without trouble. “Come back soon,” Kendrei says sarcastically as they depart.
If the characters try to reason with them, they can attempt to make a DC 15 Charisma (Deception, Intimidation, or Persuasion) check. On a success, the two thugs allow them to pass, either by being fooled, bullied, or flattered into submission. On a failed Charisma (Deception or Intimidation) check, the thugs snarl at their enemies, and attack. On a failed Charisma (Persuasion) check, Kendrei shakes her head and simply states: “I won’t ask again. The toll. Pay it, or turn around and scram.”
If a fight breaks out, Rorrey fights to the death. Kendrei, however, fights until either Rorrey dies or she is reduced to half her maximum hit points. At this point, she bellows out her surrender and demands that her attackers spare her (and Rorrey, if he still lives). She offers everything she’s earned fleecing traders, and holds up a satchel containing 50 gp. A character that succeeds on a DC 15 Wisdom (Insight or Perception) check recognizes that this satchel contains only half of the gold she’s made. If the characters insist that she stop robbing innocents, she reluctantly agrees to dismantle her barricade and move on.
With one adventure behind them, the journey to Baldur’s Gate continues! The adventurers purses are a little bit heavier, but if they looked inside Kendrei’s satchel of stolen lucre—perhaps to divvy up their loot—they find an unusual coin. It’s a fair bit larger than a Waterdhavian gold dragon, and almost as large as a platinum harbor moon. It seems to be made of silver, and is constantly cold to the touch. The coin is marked with an unusual glyph—and any creature that reads Infernal recognizes it as an Infernal glyph.
This unusual token is a soul coin, the currency of the devils of the Nine Hells. This frigid coin contains a single humanoid soul, and characters that listen closely may even hear faint, despairing wailing issue from its icy surface. Kendrei isn't exactly sure how she came into possession of this soul coin, nor its true infernal nature. Characters that hold onto this infernal specie may have the chance to spend it in future encounters...
Are you excited for Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus? It's available for pre-order now on the D&D Beyond Marketplace!
Did you like this encounter? If you want to read more adventures, take a look at the other encounters in the Encounter of the Week series! If you're looking for full adventures instead of short encounters, 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 the Gold Best Seller 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.
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.