Earlier this year I bought Keys from the Golden Vault, and I effin loved it… my next Hipsters & Dragons post will be a 10,000 word review of the anthology, complete with rankings, and remixes to make the adventures even better.
Naturally, delving into this fun and fast-paced anthology made me want to write my own cinematic heist adventure for 5e D&D… before I realised that I already had.
One of the sidequests in my epic DRAGONBOWL adventure is to sneak off, during the festival’s VIP opening party, and steal the Dragonbowl Airship’s blueprints. It was a sidequest that my players accepted, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable and amusing episodes in the campaign (especially when the party’s warlock fell off the airship’s precarious maintenance ladders half way through the heist and splash landed in Cave Fisher Lake).
After reading Keys from the Golden Vault, I quickly became convinced that if ‘Airship Heist’ (as the sidequest was called in DRAGONBOWL) was tweaked for standalone play it would fit in perfectly into the other offerings from the Keys from the Golden Vault anthology, and would have a fair shot at playing out as one of the most entertaining capers in the collection.
The excitement of a heist closely corresponds with the cool factor of the target location, and in this regard I felt that the Dragonbowl Airship could hold its own against the best locales from Keys from the Golden Vault. A futuristic dirigible with a four deck hull, a flight carriage and several ‘flying capsules’, above an envelope used to display corporate sponsors, there are loads of cool spaces to explore on board, while the blimp is also fitted with fun distractions like Arcade Orbs and SkyBubble™ jacuzzis, not to mention heavy security such as repeating ballistas, DragonEyes™, alarms, glyphs of warding and an escort of 10 hobgoblin guards mounted on flying DragonDisks™.
Not only then did I have a location tailormade for a heist, but I had already commissioned beautiful ‘Dyson-style’ maps of the Dragon Airship location, from the talented Xploring Map cartographer, and my good friend and fellow D&D player recklessly volunteered to create some 3D art for the airship. That meant him having to action a million picky revisions from me, and I’ll be forever grateful for his patience in finishing the project. The results are rather stunning (as are some of his other works), and really helped bring this unique location to life.
If most of the location content for a rambunctious airship heist was already elaborated for DRAGONBOWL, there was something important to address plot-wise. In DRAGONBOWL the players are invited to the VIP opening party, as honoured guests, before a Harper agent approaches them with the quest half way through the fiesta. This worked fine for DRAGONBOWL, but to get the true heist vibe, I felt like the players needed a chance to plan and prepare for the caper. While I also wanted to make getting on board the blimp a challenge in itself, not hand the players a golden ticket to embark.
Possibly my favourite moments in Dungeons & Dragons, as both a player or a DM, are when a player has to improvise a bare-faced lie to get past an NPC authority. It often turns into a battle of wits between the player and DM (as the NPC challenges the lie) and, whoever wins, the results are usually a lot of fun, and often downright hilarious.
And so, for The Incredible Balloon Bamboozle, I devised a set up whereby the players are heavily encouraged to board the airship in the guise of several VIP guests, which the Harpers have waylaid in order to steal their invitations. In other words, the players have to disguise themselves as specific NPCs, and pull off corresponding impersonations, in order not to be rumbled. To make things more complicated, the waylaid guests are all uniquely difficult to impersonate, so plenty of high jinks should ensue as the adventurers have to dress up in aarakocra bird suits, kobold rubber masks, bouffant wigs, fake boobs and even whirring mechanical limbs, in order to pass themselves off as the real invitees. Two of the players will be expected to put on a song and dance at the fiesta as well, since they will be posing as paid entertainers.
Once they’ve pulled off their impersonations (or not!), and are securely on board the dirigible, the players will still need a plan on how to reach the Dragonbowl Head Office and purloin the blueprints. The airship was specifically designed to allow for a few different routes of travel, in that respect, from clambering up poorly designed maintenance ladders, to stealing a key for the company’s teleportation circles, or bluffing their way into a business meeting in the airship’s chamber of commerce, options abound (ie. you don’t need to railroad them along any certain route for the adventure to succeed!).
The heist finishes with an epic complication, in the shape of a certain crimelord beholder who wants to blow the airship from the skies. A development which DMs can use to either crank up the difficulty right at the adventure’s end, or else provide a useful distraction if the players flunked their Deception checks and have all been locked up by airship security!
While it was just published 48 hr ago, several advanced copies of The Incredible Balloon Bamboozle went out around the Interwebs, and the feedback has been great, including from a lovely group of Spanish gamers who gave the adventure a second playtesting…
Divertidísima aventura, bien estructurada y original. No se puede pedir más a una aventura.
— Juan (@JuanSixtoC) August 15, 2023
Special thanks too to regular H&D contributor, Rick Coen, who gave me some valuable feedback, which led to a final improved revision of the adventure!
20% Reader Discount!
I think most of my regular readers prefer to run their own homebrew adventures, so if you didn’t invest in the likes of DRAGONBOWL or the Ed Greenwood-endorsed Candlekeep Murders, I forgive you!
The Incredible Balloon Bamboozle however is a one shot (likely two sessions, if you want to play the Xanathar attacks final combat), which you can drop into any campaign (admittedly a high magic setting would be better!). Or you could just play as a break from your usual campaign, for a nice change of pace and style. So guys, no excuses… get over to the DMs Guild!
Of course, I’m not leaving y’all empty handed, so here’s a 20% discount link so you can pick it up for less than 4 bucks. Enjoy!