D&D 5E D&D Encounters: Hoard of the Dragon Queen (spoilers, complete! 18 sessions)


Eternal Optimist
hoard-cover.jpgIt’s been a busy week for me. On Tuesday, the Player’s Handbook got released in Ballarat, and I spent the afternoon and early evening helping people understand it and running short adventures. On Friday, I ran a session of Lost Mine of Phandelver for my regular group. On Saturday, we had the first session of the new season of D&D Encounters (as well as more D&D afterwards), and I’m just back from seeing the new episode of Doctor Who at the cinema on Sunday morning.

In fact, I had a little nap between getting back from seeing Deep Breath and writing this. I needed it. It’s been busy!

We had 35 people at Good Games Ballarat last night for the kick-off of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. This is our largest turnout so far. About six months ago, I was ecstatic that we had 18 people for the first night of Scourge of the Sword Coast. We’ve almost doubled our numbers – and there were people who couldn’t make this session! The number may yet grow, although we’re beginning to reach our limit for the number of players the store can accommodate.

The trickiest question I had to field during the night was from players who can’t make it every week, but still wanted to play at the same table each week. I explained to them that it was going to be difficult, as it’s very difficult to run a table where most of the players might not turn up each week. The DM needs to be there and DMs are at a premium. We might have to shuffle some of the players around from table to table each week. For the time being, I was able to put friends together at the same tables, but we’ll see how it develops. Given how this season works, keeping the same players together is something I want to encourage if possible.

My biggest worry related to the faction folders. Wizards of the Coast kindly provided us with gifts for those playing in D&D Encounters: a folder, magic item certificate, sticker, character sheet and adventure log, as well as a welcome letter. These were themed to faction. We had enough for 8 DMs and 8 of each faction. (8 DMs, 40 players). I ran around like a crazy person as people arrived at the store, getting them to nominate the faction they wanted to play. By the time everyone had arrived, we had eight players wanting to join the Harpers, eight players wanting to join the Zhentarim, eight players as part of the Emerald Enclave, four in the Lord’s Alliance and three in the Order of the Gauntlet. (The numbers add up to more than 30 as we had one player who had to leave before the event started due to an emergency, and one player who kindly DMed because the person who was going to DM was ill). A couple of players may have changed their faction because they noticed the faction they wanted was getting crowded, but mostly everyone got their first choice. Phew! (Unfortunately, there are no Harpers folders left for my PC, Taliesin Brightwood, assuming I ever get to play him!)

I took some time to welcome everyone, describe the factions, get everyone settled at their tables, and give a few notes on how the Adventure Logs worked. More time than I (and the players) really wanted to spend, but I wanted to make sure everyone knew how the season would work. I handed out pregenerated characters to the three people who needed them, reminded everyone that they could rebuild their characters as much as they liked in the first four levels, and finally was able to sit down to play.


While I was busy attending to everyone, the players at my table were working out how their characters knew each other. I didn’t catch all of it, but Lili’s paladin, one of the few characters belonging to the Order of the Gauntlet, had apparently officiated at a wedding of relatives of some of the other PCs. It’s nice to see them working together in that way; I hope to bring it out with the role-playing in upcoming sessions. We were a little pressed for time here, and also by the urgency of the situation. I got three of the players to roll on the “Bonds” section of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen appendix to determine their reasons to go to Greenest, the town where the adventure starts. One had run afoul of the Cult of the Dragon and was going to Greenest to escape their clutches, another had had prophetic, apocalyptic dreams that indicated that Greenest was the place to find answers, and the last had a father who confessed on his deathbed that he’d helped the Cult of the Dragon smuggle things and wanted the PC to go to Greenest to put right his misdeeds.

And so we entered the Forgotten Realms. With the evening approaching, the travellers came in sight of Greenest, a small town on the Uldoon Trail, mostly unremarked upon in Realms lore. (It gets a mention as a newly-founded palisade town in the 3rd edition Campaign Setting; check Western Heartlands, Green Fields).

There was more smoke than they expected as they came in sight of the town. Were the townsfolk having a strange festival that involved burning their houses? But then it came into view, a huge, dark shape over the town, a dragon! The town was under attack.

My group had no hesitation at all about what to do and led by Elena, Lili’s paladin, they charged into town, seeking to aid the townsfolk from what soon turned out to be a fully-fledged attack, with men and kobolds also participating in the attack against the town. A townswoman carrying a spear ran into view, protecting her children and husband from a gang of eight kobolds, taking hits as the party rushed to her aid. Battle was joined!

Elena and Mordekai, Josh’s tiefling fighter of the Lord’s Alliance, were in the front lines, taking a number of hits from the kobolds, despite Mordekai’s excellent Armour Class (17); the advantage the kobolds had when working in packs was telling against them. “Music”, the tiefling bard played by the other Josh at the table, used the Vicious Mockery cantrip against the kobolds a lot and discovered that it wasn’t all that effective – while it’s great against big, dumb foes (like ogres), against kobolds it doesn’t do enough damage and giving one kobold disadvantage on an attack doesn’t really help when there are seven others just like it!

Guldan, Floyd’s half-orc warlock, was being wildly inaccurate with his eldritch blasts – hitting walls, stray pigeons and cobblestones – and seemingly anything but the kobolds. As he got more and more inaccurate, Jesse helped Floyd understand exactly how to calculate his attack bonus, and his accuracy miraculously increased later in the session, although he still had a goodly run of low numbers.

Danielle was playing a halfing Sorcerer, with the improbable name of Vanilla Ice. Well, that’s what my notes indicate she was playing – I had a lot of memories of her playing a gnome rogue over the past six months. I’m not really sure how much she was using spells, in fact – a light crossbow seemed to be her preferred weapon, and there was a lot of skulking in the shadows.

Finally, Lewis was playing Adran, a wood elf ranger, whose accuracy with his bow far outstripped Guldan’s, who was happily picking off kobolds. It took about three rounds to deal with the first lot of kobolds, and Elena hurried to heal the fallen woman, who was very close to death.

The group were joined by the husband and the children; greetings were hastily made, and the party learnt that the townsfolk had no idea of what was going on – all of a sudden their town had come under attack! They were making for the keep in the centre of town, when the kobolds had caught sight of them and pursued them. Our heroes offered to escort them to the keep, which they gratefully accepted. Adran and Music scouted out in front, and it wasn’t long before more trouble found them: four more kobolds and a pair of humans dressed in leather and wielding scimitars!


One more band of raiders came upon the group as they made their way towards the keep, but both bands were defeated, although not before Gudren found himself attacked by a kobold with wings when he thought himself safe far from the action, and Music was knocked unconscious by the raiders. Elena used another point of her lay on hands ability to get Music moving once more, and the group stumbled into the keep with some relief, with the guards closing and barring the doors behind them as the raiders began to surround the keep and began to attack it in force.

The group were escorted up to the parapet of the keep to the governor of the town, Tarbaw Nighthill, pictured in the adventure book holding a goblet – obviously from happier days. He was now wounded and scarred, with blood and scratches down the right side of his face and he had one arm in a sling.

He thanked the group for their aid; very grateful to have extra aid in the town’s hour of need.

As they conversed, the group became aware of the town’s militia rallying nearby, with a red-headed shield dwarf commanding the soldiers. All were quite agitated, and it soon became obvious why: from the dark sky above, a great blue dragon was heading towards the keep!

And, at that point, we ended the session.

My group probably achieved less than most of the other groups in play, mainly because our start was delayed as I dealt with administrative issues. This won’t be an issue next session, I hope! All the groups reached the keep, some spending more time hunting down raiders, others beginning on the other missions. XP awards for the session were between 100 and 200 for each group in general. This brings us towards one of the odd things about running Hoard as part of D&D Encounters: there is a cap on how much XP can be awarded for each episode. It’s quite likely most groups will hit the cap long before the episode ends. I’m going to leave in the DM’s hands how they deal with this: either ending the episode early without doing every mission, or by continuing on and just not awarding XP. We’ll see what happens.

However, this excess of XP does have a bright side: It will help any players whose characters meet untimely ends, which is not entirely unlikely in this portion of the adventure. We’ve only just begun, and the group is already low on resources. The episode is pretty relentless in its threats, and this is all to the good: we really, really want to impress on the players how scary the cult can be. Will anyone die during the dragon attack? It’s entirely possible.

We’ll find out in a week’s time!
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First Post
I'm happy to see your Encounters sessions are doing so well, Merric, and that you apparently intend to report on this season as well. :) Looks like Wizards may finally have come up with a really good idea to attract new/lapsed players into the game.

Say, at the other tables, were there deaths? From what I've read on other threads, this episode in general and the dragon attack on the keep in particular can easily result in casualties. Oh, and I'll be curious to see how what the Zhentarim-affiliated players will do in the future when they're not running/fighting for their lives, considering they're with an evil faction. If I was a Zhentarim player, I'd consider sending messages to my faction to move into settlements/areas that my party has cleared of enemies to offer protection/supplies to the communities, and thus gain footholds there.


Eternal Optimist
I'm happy to see your Encounters sessions are doing so well, Merric, and that you apparently intend to report on this season as well. :) Looks like Wizards may finally have come up with a really good idea to attract new/lapsed players into the game.

Say, at the other tables, were there deaths?

Do lots of kobolds count?

The first few encounters aren't that likely to cause deaths. It's the cumulative effect of lots and lots of encounters.



Eternal Optimist
hoard-cover.jpgThe second session of Hoard of the Dragon Queen saw another seven players turn up, which gave us a group of 42 people. This was somewhat challenging, both in terms of space and finding enough Dungeon Master’s, and was complicated further with a few late arrivals. Eventually, we moved Ben onto a table of new players while Sarah took over the DMing at her table. So, six tables handling 36 players. The numbers weren’t spread around evenly, and I made sure Lee and I had the bigger tables so that we could use our miniatures as well as handle more players; I had seven players on my own table.

Going into the session, it was quite obvious that if the players just went after every encounter, their resources would soon be depleted. I’d been investigating the Player’s Handbook a little more over the last week, so I was now aware of the potential of the Healer feat; for these first level characters, it would allow a healer’s kit to restore 1d6+5 hit points once each during the evening. Thus, the keep gained a doctor with the feat, and the ability to survive the adventure went up just a little bit.

That said, I’ll probably throw in just a little more healing in the next session, because things are going to get tough before the end of the cult attack!

We picked up the session where the last ended; the characters had been talking to the Protector of the town, and now they were looking up to see a huge, blue dragon flying down towards them. The castellan of the keep, a red-haired dwarf, was organising archers onto the keep’s walls to attempt to drive the thing off, and the players looked at each other and decided that defending the keep was a good idea.

Meanwhile, Jesse’s character was unconscious from the end of last session. No-one had time to heal him, so he sat out of this encounter. I don’t think he was unhappy about that, because the dragon was pretty scary. As it approached the walls, it launched a massive bolt of electricity which slew several of the archers and injured others, before turning away and beginning to circle before approaching again. At this point, the group began to realise how poor their ranged options were. Lewis and Ricky were both playing rangers, and they were the most effective at ranged combat; Lewis was rolling poorly, but Ricky was rolling really well – even with disadvantage for long range he was hitting consistently. The dragon was not amused by the effective shots; the town archers were not effective.

Danielle’s character called out insults to the dragon in its language, and suggested it leave. Lewis, whose ranger had the favoured enemy of dragons, could see that the dragon was having second thoughts about the entire affair. Meanwhile, Josh escorted the Protector to a more secure location in the keep. Eventually, Danielle’s urgings proved too attractive to the dragon, as it was struck for a third time by the party’s archers, and it flew away to somewhere more congenial. Below, the group could see members of the attacking force shouting at the dragon, urging it to return, but it ignored them and disappeared out of sight.

The group were now offered a place to rest for an hour, which they took; the keep’s doctor attending to their wounds.

While they were resting, kobolds and cultists smashed the old sally port door, forcing their way into the keep. The initial attack was repulsed, but the castellan rushed to the players, hoping to gain their aid in reclaiming and repairing the door. The group came to the sally port to discover a group of seven kobolds guarding it, aided by an acolyte and an ambush drake. The acolyte cast bless on some of the kobolds and the drake, but was soon cut down by the group’s archers. The kobolds went down hard after Michael started cleaving one after another (he was a Great Weapon Master), but they still got a few hits in. The Ambush Drake was fairly easily dealt with, and it rolled so poorly for initiative that most of its kobold friends were slain by the time it started attacking.

The group then secured the sally port door, and a local hedge wizard began casting mending spells on the door to repair it. Ricky set a trap outside the door, and the group then fought off about six cultists and six kobolds led by a cultist guard – they had enough range to see the attackers approaching, so their missile fire cut down a lot of them, and the melee fighters were able to slay the few attackers that reached the door.


Reporting back to the Protector, the group saw a figure in purple robes being escorted by a number of guards who seemed to be one of the leaders of the attack. The Protector mentioned how much he wanted good intelligence – capturing one of the leaders of the attack, or even one of the common soldier – would allow them to learn so much more. The group volunteered to capture someone, and obtained a couple of nets to aid them in their quest.

They soon found one of the lesser priests being escorted by six guards. The party’s attempt to ambush them was unsuccessful, and then their ranged attacks killed the lesser priest outright. At the moment he went down, the archers turned to each other. “Weren’t we meant to capture him?” “Oops!”

The guards were trickier to deal with, although Ricky managed to entangle two of them in nets – his night of rolling really well continued. By the end of the fight, two of the party were unconscious and, although stable, only one of them would be able to be healed by the keep doctor. The resources of the party were being stretched to the limit. It was now 2 am.


The group returned to the keep, with the keep guards hauling up the party by ropes (which needed to be tied to the prisoners and the unconscious player characters). Once back safely, they interrogated their captives and learnt that the attackers were members of the Cult of the Dragon, seeking treasure to place before the Queen of Dragons when she returned to the realm. One of the captives attempted to intimidate the group by informing them that the cult had several dragon eggs at their camp, which would hatch into more dragons to terrorise the realms; the players were not particularly impressed.

By this stage, we’d been playing for almost two hours and our session came to a close. I expect my table will finish up Episode 1 of the season next session.

I’m very grateful to our DMs for running the sessions: Ben, Sarah, Dave, Josh and Lee. Sarah took up the role when expecting to play, and Josh battled through illness to DM his group. There are going to be weeks coming up when a DM or two can’t make it, which I really don’t look forward to. However, it seemed that everyone enjoyed this session and I hope this season of Encounters manages to continue entertaining everyone.


Eternal Optimist
hoard-cover.jpgOur numbers were slightly down this week from our all-time high of last week, but – at 36 players – it was still the second highest turnout in our store! It wasn’t as simple as six people couldn’t make it, though, as a couple of players who missed last week were here for this session. The fluctuating player base is one of the reasons that turning up on-time is so important for Encounters: it makes organising the tables much easier!

My own table had seven players: Josh, Jesse, Danielle, Floyd, Lewis, Tim and Michael. The other tables were mostly at 4 or 5 players, but all of my players could make this session. (Liliana and Ricky were able to make the session as well, but I no longer had room at my table, so they moved to other tables). I think that, from now on, my table will be pretty set in its make-up.

My original plan going into this session was to complete Episode 1 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen by first running the church encounter and then closing things out. It didn’t quite work that way, as my players indicated they wanted to take a rest. I decided to pre-empt them by running the challenge encounter, forgetting that it was meant to close things off. Once I realised what I’d done, I thought “Why not end episode 1 here? They’ve got the XP, they’ve fought the good fight, and they’re exhausted!” So, instead of running a couple more of the Episode 1 missions, we ended Episode 1 at the beginning of this session.

The end of the episode ran like this: A blue half-dragon challenged the townsfolk to send a champion to fight him, or he’d slay a family the cultists had captured. One of the guards was all ready to challenge the half-dragon, but Michael’s Barbarian stepped in himself. The party considered treachery, but the cultists had foreseen that and kept the guard’s wife behind so that she’d be killed if the townsfolk tried anything. Lewis’s ranger, whose favoured enemy is dragonkind, asked me for information on half-dragons, so I told him that Blue dragons are traditionally Lawful Evil and honourable (if cruel). I was thinking of Kitiara’s dragon Skie as my exemplar of blue dragonhood! So, the group knew that this half-dragon, Cyanwrath, would probably keep his word.

The fight was very short indeed. Michael won the initiative, but missed (by a point). Cyanwrath attacked once and hit, dropping the barbarian. He then attacked again, inflicting another wound on Michael, which counted as a failed death saving throw. With that, the order for the raiders to leave was given, and the humans and kobolds left the town, leaving Michael’s body behind. Lewis rappelled down the walls and ran to his companion and used a goodberries spell to heal him. The townsfolk were left counting the cost of the raid, and the party settled down to finally rest.

The next day, Episode 2 began with the party finding the Protector of the town walking around the ruins of the town. He was very worried about where the raiders had come from. Who were they? Would they return? He offered them a substantial fee to discover that information. The group accepted, and prepared to leave, taking advantage of an offer by the Protector to resupply them. (I did make sure that no really great items, like platemail, were given away for free, though – the Protector’s offer as written is a bit of a blank slate!) While they were preparing, they were contacted by an injured young man who told them that his master, a monk from Berdusk, had been captured by the raiders… and that his master knew a lot about them, having been investigating them for months. Would the party please rescue him?

The group agreed to keep an eye out, and set out on the trail of the watchers. Jesse and Lewis scouted on ahead, discovering a group of raiders (kobolds and humans) who had paused to have a meal. The kobolds and humans weren’t getting along, and Jesse helped that along by using the message cantrip to make one group think the other was poisoning the food! Soon enough, the kobolds – disgusted by the bullying they were receiving from the humans (and Jesse) left the campsite. Soon after, they spotted Jesse and Lewis, and began to pursue them. Those worthy adventurers fled as quickly as they could back to the rest of the party. Lewis was able to hide on the way back and start sniping the kobolds, but Jesse kept running until he could hide behind everyone else!

With the party able to shoot at the kobolds from long range – and Tim’s character has a very, very long range on his Eldritch Blasts – the kobolds were soon defeated. The group then went to confront the human raiders, who were, by now, wondering where the kobolds had gone and wondering if it were safe to eat their meal. The group rolled incredibly well on their stealth checks and completely surprised the raiders, and soon forced them to surrender – Josh just walked into the middle of camp and demanded their surrender. Once they realised they were surrounded, they did so. Interrogating them, they discovered where the main camp was. They then discussed what to do with the raiders: Kill them? Let them go? Take them with the party? Eventually they decided just to tie them up and return for them, after I pointed out a few flaws with the other plans.

So, they closed in on the raider’s camp. By now, Lewis was scouting ahead about 80-100 feet in front of everyone else. However, his Perception, while good, wasn’t enough to spot the ambush the raiders had made on the way, and the Perception of the ambushers wasn’t good enough to see his stealthy ranger! The net result was that he walked right through the ambush and only realised something was wrong when the rest of the group reached the ambush site and were ambushed by the raiders! At that point, Lewis turned around and hurried back to the group.

He found them crawling out from under boulders that the raiders had pushed down on them. At least, most of the party were: Jesse was quite still, having been knocked unconscious. The warriors in the group charged up the slope towards the raiders, engaging them in melee before they could cause more trouble, whilst the rest of the party got out their ranged attacks and spells. The fact that the raiders had a lot of cover didn’t really bother Tim that much, because he had the spell sniper feat and could ignore cover. Meanwhile, Floyd tried to stabilise Jesse. He was completely unsuccessful, but after a couple of rounds, Jesse managed to roll a natural 20 on his death saving throw and recover by himself!

Eventually the raiders were defeated. Noting that they had formal uniforms, the party took the uniforms with a view to disguising themselves once they reached the camp. Interrogating the survivor, during his declaration of allegiance to the Dragon Queen and his description of her magnificence, the group hit on a novel strategy: they pretended to be persuaded by his words, releasing him and asking him to take them to his leader as new initiates of the Dragon Cult. Given how well their Deception checks were, I saw no problem with this plan…

And that’s where we left it for this session. Next session, they infiltrate the camp. Surely nothing can go wrong with their plan?


First Post
Whoops, I somehow missed your update last week. Glad to see the dragon encounter wasn't problematic for your players the way it's apparently been for a number of games. The completist in me doesn't like that 1st-level parties can't possibly run through all the encounters in the town. I know, the adventure was designed so that DMs could pick and choose the encounters they preferred, but I'm the sort of player who likes to explore every nook and cranny (and kill every last foe). Jesse seems to be particularly unlucky - his character was knocked unconscious in two consecutive sessions.

So, now the party is following a time-honored D&D tradition, infiltrating an enemy camp by pretending to be some of the enemy's soldiers. I'm sure that will work out perfectly.:p


Eternal Optimist
hoard-cover.jpgThis session began with our heroes having been sent to the raiders’ camp to find out who they were, how many there were, what their plans were and – if they could be bothered – to rescue a monk who had been captured by the raiders. At the end of the last session, the group destroyed the raiders’ rear guard, and then convinced the one survivor that they wanted to join the cult! So many things could go wrong this session…

The astonishing thing is that they didn’t. The group romped through the camp, convincing all they met they were genuine and learning a number of key facts about the cultists. And they rescued the monk – although not any of the other prisoners, unfortunately.

How did they do it? A large part of it was just good role-playing and play from the group. I also dislike upsetting the plans of the players when what they’re doing seems sensible (and they’re rolling well). Uncomfortable moments? Absolutely, but not to destroy the party’s accomplishments! It’s tremendously difficult doing investigative work in a role-playing situation, especially with players who are unfamiliar with the format, so I tend to work with the players and not against them.

Upon entering the camp, which was somewhat in disarray with all the raiders terribly tired from the last night’s attack on Greenest, they were introduced to one of the lesser officers who was happy to see them, especially with Josh saying all the right things about how wonderful Tiamat was! They got orders to find themselves a hut and it was explained to them that they’d have to prove themselves before they were properly initiated into the cult. How could they prove themselves? By bringing back lots of treasure for the cult’s hoard!

Loot was on a lot of the cultists’ minds, as the group discovered as they moved around the camp. (Oh, and sleep!) They discovered where the half-elf monk was being held, and considered rescuing him. He was in bad shape, and the group were given a nasty scare when some guards in uniform came by and asked them what they were doing; they managed to barely talk their way out of it, and decided to come back later in the early evening to rescue him, when it wouldn’t be quite so obvious what they were doing.

The group observed some of the leaders of the cult, and spent a lot of time talking to tired cultists about what was going on; they learnt the identities of the leaders, as well as where all the treasure taken from Greenest and other towns the cultists had raided was being kept… in the cave at one end of the canyon they were sheltering in! The group was very curious about the cave, but they could see it was very well guarded; a mystery for another time.

Eventually, night fell and the group rescued the monk. They found the way out more challenging than the way in, as now all the guard posts were manned. The group disguised the monk as a cultist and explained that they were going out on patrol. The guards checked them over, and I called for Deception checks. This was where I expected they’d have to fight their way out, but the lowest result from the group was a 17! Five players, no-one rolled low. How could I argue with that? They slipped out of the camp and made their way back to Greenest.

(We only had six players for this session, with Lewis unable to attend; however, for the infiltration, Floyd’s ranger stayed outside the camp waiting for a signal in case the group got into trouble… which they didn’t!)

The group then spent a little time in Greenest resting and resupplying. After a couple of days, Leosin, the monk they’d rescued, came by to visit them. He told them that he’d been following the depredations of the cultists over the past few months, and he was now returning to his superiors in Elturel to tell them what was going on. However, he really wanted to know what the cultists were guarding in the cave – the players had heard rumours of dragon eggs and treasure – and confirmation was needed. By waving a lot of money in front of the players (and appealing to their sense of right and wrong), he hired them to check out the cave and meet him in Elturel afterwards.

The group found the camp deserted – the cultists had abandoned it for some reason. Although the camp was deserted, a few cultists remained guarding the cave. Rather than being sneaky about it, the group just walked straight up to the cave and attacked them, with high initiative rolls going the party’s way, they were able to get rid of the first lot of guards easily enough.

Advancing further into the cave, one of the party fell into a patch of violet fungi, which proved surprisingly nasty. The cave was turning out to be an entire system of caves – and quite a big one, at that! (It was big enough that the noises the party were making weren’t carrying to any cultists left there, or so the party hoped!)

With the fungi dealt with, the group discovered a great flock of bats covering the ceiling of the next gallery. While most of the group wanted to sneak through quietly, one player wanted to use a light spell to startle them, and was prepared to cast it regardless of what the rest of the group wanted. I pointed out to the group that disruptive play wasn’t a good idea, and so no light spell was cast. Instead, the group all rolled really badly for their stealth checks, and the bats (and the stirges hiding amongst the bats) were disturbed – the bats flying everywhere being a nuisance, and the stirges attempting to make a meal of the party!

It wasn’t all that difficult for the party to deal with the stirges, although they took further damage in the process, and they were slightly surprised to discover that still no cultists were coming after them! What were they doing?

That was all we had time for this evening, so we ended the session there. Our next session will find the group continuing through the cave, looking for treasure and dragon eggs!

For those wondering, each of my sessions runs at about 90-100 minutes; we have a two-hour block of time set aside for Encounters, but I’m generally late starting my table’s session due to my duties organising the sessions. I run combats pretty quickly and, though there is role-playing, it rarely takes up a large amount of time. Thus, we’re going through Hoard of the Dragon Queen a lot faster than most groups would take it. Episode 2 of the adventure was meant to take 2-3 sessions, it took us a little more than one session!

That said, we’ll be continuing through the entire Tyranny of Dragons storyline with this group, so finishing up the three episodes that are properly part of the Encounters season won’t be that much of a problem.


Eternal Optimist
View attachment 64210This was the first session where we split the Encounters groups so that five of the groups played at 5.30 pm, and the final group played at 7.30 pm. It worked pretty well, and Kris was glad to be able to hear his DM in the later session. Overall, we were a little down on numbers, but that still meant there were 36 people participating.

My own group are mid-way through Episode 3, which means they’re investigating the cave at the cultist’s camp. After the trouble with the stirges last week, the group came to an intersection that allowed three ways forward: Down some ledges straight ahead to where bits of parchment and metal could be seen amongst bits of wood and cloth, to the right where a steep set of stairs led down, or to the left where the corridor widened and curved out of sight. After considering their options, the party went left.

(My friend, Sarah, once designed a dungeon based on the fact that the group we were playing with always turned left, and so if you went right straight-away, you got to the end boss without the other encounters. What she didn’t count on was that I’d be playing for once, and I took the party leader role… and turned right at the first intersection!)

This choice wasn’t so portentous, and Lewis’s ranger, scouting ahead, discovered a number of young guard drakes being kept in a pen where the corridor dropped down to a cavern on its right. The drakes couldn’t get to him, but he wasn’t sanguine about the ability of the party to sneak past them. They tried, and failed, the drakes giving off loud cries of alarm as the party crept up to his position. The group started to pacify them, with Danielle’s sorceress talking to them in Draconic.

This was an interesting interaction to DM; Guard Drakes understand Draconic, but they can’t speak it. And they aren’t very intelligent. Danielle was saying the right things, and rolling well on her Charisma checks, so I allowed her to pacify the drakes. The party started getting all excited about taking the drakes with them, but, as a DM, this made me very worried. Let’s face it – they’re guard drakes, and it would take a lot more time to train them properly than the party had available. Animal Handling might make them passive, but it wouldn’t allow the group to just gain control of them. Eventually, the group threw them some kobold meat to keep them quiet and moved onwards.

Hang on a moment? Kobold meat? Where did that come from?

In fact, while Danielle was engaged with pacifying the drakes, the group had been attacked by kobolds who had been alerted by the noise of the drakes. The kobolds got a couple of hits in, but were mostly outclassed by the third level party. So, with a small number of dead kobolds, the drakes had more food.

Michael’s eldritch knight took the lead as the group continued to explore, and they found the kobold barracks along with twelve angry kobolds who were annoyed they hadn’t gotten enough sleep!

At this point, Michael started to demonstrate the power of the Blade Ward cantrip. It gave him resistance to weapon attacks at the cost of his action. The tunnel leading down was narrow, so the kobolds couldn’t get past him. He just stood there with his Heavy Armour Mastery feat, and took the kobold attacks. 5 damage from each one, which was halved to two due to Blade Ward, then reduced to nothing thanks to his armour feat. Meanwhile, the rest of the group stood twenty feet behind him (or thereabouts) and hit the kobolds with ranged attacks and spells. One of the kobolds ran off to alert the rest of the lair, but Michael was basically unharmed after the combat – only critical hits could harm him, and I wasn’t rolling many of them! A few kobolds tried to attack the back ranks of the party, but were doing so at long range and with cover (Michael) in the way, were very ineffective at doing so.

The last encounter for the evening saw the group descend further into the cave and discover Cyanwrath waiting for them in a temple dedicated to Tiamat. The half-dragon warrior was somewhat pleased to see Michael’s character, who had fought him in the duel that closed off the first episode of the adventure. Cyanwrath once again challenged Michael, but was horrified when the party showed themselves to be honourless and did not follow the rules of single combat.

He started to beat down on Michael, and Michael was very glad to have the effects of his armour mastery preventing some of the damage. Meanwhile, Cyanwrath’s bodyguard – two berserkers – attacked the rest of the party. The rest of the party were really hurting. And then Cyanwrath got really mad, as spells were cast on him from the back ranks of the party.

So he furiously moved away from Michael. Michael made an attack of opportunity, and rolled a critical hit, but it wasn’t quite enough to take down Cyanwrath. And then Cyanwrath used his breath weapon on the party, including his two allies. Shortly thereafter, three of the party were down as well as one of the berserkers. Michael was able to slay Cyanwrath, but the characters that were left were badly hurt and there was still an almost undamaged berserker attacking…

And then two of the downed characters rolled natural 20s on their Death saving throws, and rejoined the fray. Soon enough the last berserker was down, and the group – after noting that the treasure chest was likely trapped – retired to rest for an hour or so.

Yes, a rather tough encounter there – and it isn’t the last in this episode. The party will probably be able to grab a short rest, but not much longer before the remaining cultists realise they’re there…


Eternal Optimist
hoard-cover.jpgWe had our lowest attendance for D&D Encounters this week – a mere 30 players – although I expect numbers will rebound somewhat next week as several players return from birthday parties and the like. We were also missing two Dungeon Masters – as it happened, from the tables who were missing most of the players – so we merged those two tables and Sam ran them through a D&D Expeditions adventure instead, for which I’ve heard a lot of praise of his DMing.

My own table was down to five players this week; one player has dropped out because they want to do other things during these evenings, another just couldn’t make it but should be back next week. We’d left the adventure about half-way through Episode 3, with the group having just dealt with Cyanwrath. They returned to the ambush drake’s chamber to have a short rest.

At this point, I needed to determine if they’d be disturbed while resting. A large part of that decision came down to the pacing of the adventure. Did they need a rest? Absolutely, they did. It’s not like they were just having one because they felt like it; they were having one because if they continued in their current state, they’d most likely die. I also considered whether Cyanwrath would be disturbed or if anyone else would notice; given the layout of the dungeon, this seemed unlikely. So, the group were able to rest undisturbed.

If, on the other hand, they were doing it merely to “game” the system, I would have disturbed their short rest with a wandering monster. However, I’m very aware of the flow of the adventure; if a group really needs to rest, then I’ll likely allow it.

Continuing on, they discovered the hatchery where the eggs were stored. They also discovered the Roper that guarded the eggs. (Yes, carefully studying the area tends to eliminate those nasty surprises). I’m very glad to report that the group then negotiated with the Roper, offering it fresh meat to let them past. The adventure suggests offering meat from the supplies the cultists have for the drakes, but the group had walked right past that room. Instead, they offered the bodies of the cultists they’d killed. (Waste not, want not?) The roper was somewhat dubious of the plan, but eventually they talked it into it. And named it Steve.

Kobolds attacked the party at the end of the negotiation, but it fared poorly for the kobolds, despite their use of glue and fire pots, by this stage, the group were very familiar with how to fight kobolds. The group debated on what to do with the eggs, but eventually settled on destroying them. Once this was done, they returned to Cyanwrath’s chamber and took the other route, which led to a chimney in the caves, with a rope ladder attached.

This lead to Mondath’s room, one of the Cult leaders. She was not pleased to see them, and – after calling for aid from the guards – attacked. This is one of those encounters I wish I’d run better; although she’s not a particularly important NPC, she deserved better than just being used as another monster. Dialogue with the players would have made her more than just a faceless cultist, but instead I played it merely as a really challenging combat encounter. It was complicated for the players by them not all being there at the beginning of combat; because they had to climb up the ladder, I only allowed one to enter each round. Despite that, they were able to eventually defeat Mondath and her guards.

The group discovered papers detailing the plans of the cult to move their treasure north – towards some person named Naerytar, or at least that’s what they concluded. They then went through the chambers of the caves they hadn’t yet explored, although there was little there for them to find.

With the group now knowing the destination of the treasure, the group were ready to leave Greenest and meet up with Leosin, the monk they’d rescued, in Elturel, where they could decide on their next moves.


Eternal Optimist
hoard-cover.jpgWith this session, my group left the safe harbours of the D&D Encounters program and wandered into the murky waters of Casual play. All of which means that I’ve stopped ignoring the pacing guidelines of the D&D Encounters version of Hoard (which would have had us going for a few more weeks in any case), and are now working from the adventure text directly. And probably ignoring parts of that instead. The actual sessions remain at 90-120 minutes in length, as we’re still doing them in our Encounters slots. Other groups were still completing Episode 3 (or still in Episode 2). We had about 36 people taking part in the game overall.

This session was rather unusual in that a large part of it dealt with the transition from the first stage of the adventure (Greenest and the Cultist Camp) into the second major stage of the adventure – the road trip north. The group needed to travel to Elturel to meet up with Leosin and his friend, Ontharr Frume, learn the details of what they needed to do, and then get to Baldur’s Gate where they could join the cultist’s caravan and head north, trying to track down the location of the heart of the cult.

All of which meant that a large part of the session saw the players not really making many choices, but instead just sitting there listening to me talking at them. It’s by far my least favourite way of running D&D sessions, and there were time for a few good character moments (Josh’s PC has a wife in Baldur’s Gate, so they had enough time for a visit there), but those moments were few and far between. The role-playing between Onthar, Leosin and the PCs as their mission was described was really flat – a problem I often have with these scenes. The players recognise that they’re about to have something necessary explained to them, and their interaction with the NPCs won’t do all that much, so they just sit back and listen to it than properly interacting with their patrons.

This may, of course, be a flaw in the way I run games, for certainly I’m not the strongest role-player out there. (Story and Rules Knowledge are my strong points). However, it’s also hard for players, especially when they don’t have a great grasp of the game world and their places in it. The fourth episode of Hoard is designed to – as much as anything else – introduce the variety of the Forgotten Realms to the players, so over the next few sessions I hope to improve the role-playing opportunities for the group, particularly in ways that the group finds relevant to the development of their characters.

So, the first half of the session saw the characters get some new equipment and better armour. They were also charged with the duty of catching up with the cultists’ wagons and infiltrating the caravan so they could accompany the cultists north and discover (a) where it was going and (b) what the cult wanted with all that treasure anyway.

The cultists attached their wagons to a greater caravan with two or three other merchants also travelling north, as it’s much safer in the Realms to travel in numbers. The players gained positions as guards with the other merchants in the caravan, except for Paul’s character, who, in his first session, was unknown to the cultists. (Paul has been gaming with me for several years now, but he’d been on holiday for the last couple of months and this was his first session of Hoard). Paul’s character instead joined up as a guard for the cultists directly. The adventure gives a nice amount of detail on the merchants, but doesn’t really detail the leader of the cultists accompanying the caravan that well; we ended up calling him Cultist Bob. A few of the players probably thought the name was a reference to Blackadder (it’s been one I’ve used before), but actually it was more a Doctor Who reference. (Angel Bob, from The Time of Angels in particular).

A couple of days after the caravan set out, it came across a pair of women setting up camp beside the road. Both were stunningly beautiful, and Cultist Bob was quite taken by them; he got Paul to see what they wanted, and the two women soon set themselves about ingratiating themselves with both the cultist and Paul.

No, this wasn’t suspicious at all!

That night, Paul was summoned by Cultist Bob to investigate something happening outside the camp; which proved to be one of the women lying unconscious on the ground. Paul investigated, only to discover that she was merely feigning her unconsciousness. She leapt up and attacked, and soon rendered Paul unconscious. The other players, having been alerted that something was going on, were prevented from helping Paul by a sudden attack from Cultist Bob – and he was proving himself strong and dangerous in combat!

A couple of the players were able to avoid Cultist Bob, and ran to help Paul, who was making death saving throws (mostly successfully), and were surprised to find that Paul was coming towards them – and even more surprised when he attacked them! Soon there were two combats underway, and Cultist Bob and Paul were doing some serious damage to the characters. However, it wasn’t all going their way – eventually the players were able to overcome them, at which point the real Cultist appeared out of his tent, wanting to know what was going on, and the other characters found Paul unconscious hidden near a log.

Yes, the entire business was the work of two doppelgangers!

I’m actually rather pleased with how it played out; the players were kept confused and guessing at what was going on. Was Paul dominated? What was Cultist Bob up to? And it ended with a good explanation as to what had happened – good closure, which I appreciate.

The next session I’ll be giving more definition to the NPCs accompanying the group. Jesse, Tim and Michael have been hired by Lai Angesstun, a gold dwarf who is very interested in money, whilst Josh and Danielle have been hired by Edhelri Lewel, a moon elf who is transporting fine wood. Preparing more for those characters to do in reaction to the events that will occur is going to be important to bringing this part of the Realms to life!


Eternal Optimist
There’s a lot of creativity required from the Dungeon Master when running this stage of the adventure, which is aided by preparation. I’ve been a bit distracted of late, so I haven’t been able to prepare as much as I really should be doing. Thus, for this session, I kept things fairly simple as the adventurers continued to accompany the cultist’s wagon up the Sword Coast towards Waterdeep.

It doesn’t help that running enjoyable wilderness adventures is hard. The typical way of presenting one – as is done in this adventure – is to provide a random encounter table and a few set encounters. However, rolling on random encounter tables for each day of travel (the adventure actually notes that rolling every hour is overkill) tends to not give the most memorable game experiences. These days, I find it better to select encounters with an eye for building excitement and pacing.

What happened this session? I rolled a few random encounters.

The session was elevated by the players, in particular by Lewis, who was back after being absent last week. We determined that his ranger had been hired as a bodyguard of one of the other merchants in the caravan, and he quickly set about destroying the relationship between the two of them. Merchants, when they hire bodyguards, rather want their hirelings to follow their orders (and protect them). It gets a lot more difficult when the bodyguard is a player character doing exactly what he wants to.

The first random encounter was an attack by spiders and ettercaps. In a random forest. Which wasn’t on the map before this encounter, and probably won’t be there ever again. It’s actually a perfectly fine encounter, but as someone who thinks of the Forgotten Realms as an incredibly detailed setting, that kind of hand-waving details feels wrong to me. (It isn’t; it’s totally reasonable; it just feels wrong). We’re not using miniatures at the moment, so I wasn’t faced with the problem of setting up a path through a dark, tangled forest with spiders and ettercaps coming out of the foliage. All I had to do was describe it. I had the attack come from both sides of the path, although some of the players thought it was all coming from the one side. (I’m not sure if that was me describing it badly, or the players not paying attention). In any case, what we got was a tough, entertaining fight. Both Tim and Michael got webbed, Paul’s rogue spent his time running from one side of the caravan to the other, taking advantage of the cover to sneak attack the spiders, and Josh discovering that he was being attacked by all the remaining monsters after Danielle used misty step to get out of there and Tim created a globe of darkness centred on himself and ran off. Thankfully, Josh has a really high AC, so he was able to withstand their attacks.

During the attack, Lewis had his panther accompany his merchant towards safety. Lewis has a completely different view of the intelligence of his panther than my own. In Lewis’s world, the panther is probably more intelligent than most of the other party members. (This, it must be said, is probably not that high a bar to reach). Meanwhile, in my world, Lewis’s panther is an animal that knows a few tricks. At some point, I probably should work out exactly what it can do, which would include reading the rules, but it hadn’t previously been that important. This looks like it is changing.

Anyway, with the ettercaps dead, Lewis and Paul went on a scouting trip to discover their lair and get any loot from it. This they were able to do, but they discovered even more ettercaps and spiders in the lair. So they came back, and the players had a short discussion about clearing it out, eventually deciding not to abandon the caravan. Just as well!

And then Lewis returned to his employer, who was furious with him for abandoning her. Lewis tried to explain that he’d left the panther, but she wasn’t having any of that. Why hadn’t he asked permission before he walked off into the forest? This was the moment when I expected Lewis to apologise to his employer. He didn’t. Instead, he tried to intimidate her. This didn’t work very well; she ended up sacking him. Every so often, it’s nice to have a few NPCs that will stand up to the players!

This led Lewis without an employer in the caravan. Paul came up with the answer: he’d hire him as an extra guard for the cultists. Cultist Bob was fine with this, continuing on with the relaxed relationship between the cultists and the adventurers. The group considered whether or not Lewis would be known to the cultists, but as his ranger had been absent for the session where they infiltrated the camp, it was reasonable to use him as a guard.

A couple of days later in the journey, the group got attacked by Perytons. The Peryton is a strange beast, and one that I’m not really familiar with. Which, of course, led to a fairly forgettable encounter as basically Jesse spotted the Perytons as they were still airborne, then everyone used ranged attacks to take most them down before they reached the group.

It wasn’t completely forgettable though, thanks to Danielle using ray of frost to slow down one of the Perytons so that only one actually made it to attack Jesse (and then missed him). After that, the last one tried to get away, only to discover that long bows have an astonishing range, especially when you’ve got a longbow-wielding ranger wielding one. That’s Lewis, by the way.

After the Perytons were dead, Lewis wanted to track them back to their lair. I’m beginning to detect a theme here. Unfortunately, flying stag-birds don’t leave much in the way of tracks. (And Lewis realised that leaving the caravan for a day or more might be a bad idea). There are lots of times when tracking monsters back to their lair is a really, really good idea, but those times haven’t come yet in this adventure.

The last encounter of the session was a role-playing one, when the group met a gnome that wanted to join the caravan when they reached a wayside inn. This is actually one of the set encounters in the adventure, but it was slightly complicated by my having lent the book to another DM who hasn’t been able to get a full copy of the adventure yet. So, though I knew there was a gnome joining the group, little unimportant things like his name were sadly forgotten.

That said, I have a lot of trouble with names in any case. There are reasons I’m referring to everyone by their actual names rather than their PC names. (Even that is often an achievement. Just ask Sondra how long it was before I managed to get her name right!)

So, I managed to run an encounter where the gnome completely failed to introduce himself to the party. He did buy drinks for everyone, allowing us to have some amusing role-playing. Lewis was pretty active here, but the bulk of my attention was taken with Josh and Danielle.

Danielle is playing a tiefling sorcerer, as far as I remember, but her previous character was a gnome rogue. And, for some reason (probably related to character names), I have continued to think she is a gnome rogue, despite the fact that she casts spells and stuff. Thus, the gnome talking to her as a fellow gnome doesn’t make all that much sense in retrospect.

However, he did manage to ingratiate him with the PCs. (It’s amazing how players like their characters being bought alcohol, even when there’s no “real” drinking going on). So, for next session I’ll find out what his name is and have him properly introduce himself. He’s proving a lot more memorable to role-play than the rest of the NPCs on this trip, let me tell you!

So far, the journey has encompassed about 12 days of the 60 days it’s meant to take. I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll need to up the pace before the group lose track of what the real storyline is.


Eternal Optimist
This session saw the characters proceeding northwards with the caravan, spending a day in Daggerford, and ingratiating themselves with the cultists. I had a full table this week, with seven players and myself as DM. All in all, we had slightly above 30 players participating this week at Good Games Ballarat.

My session focused a little more on role-playing and story this time around. I used the opportunity of the group arriving in Daggerford to tell tales of the Scourge of the Sword Coast heroes, which pleased Danielle and Josh no end, as they’d played through that campaign earlier in the year. I used Sir Isteval, the patron of that previous adventure, to interact with a few characters who were members of the Lords Alliance (which is about half the table), allowing them to feel that they weren’t alone in this adventure, as well as giving them some much needed support. In particular, Sir Isteval was able to reequip the player characters. As a result, most of the fighters now have plate mail armour and so will be significantly more durable in a fight.

Meanwhile, I properly introduced the gnome who joined them last session as Janma Gleamsilver, a female gnome who proved to be both nosy and charming. She proved particularly interested in what was going on with the cultists’ wagons, and especially in a new traveller who had joined the group, a human male who showed signs of a tattooed scalp he kept hidden beneath a woollen cap. (Which, because it was amusing, I described as a deerstalker). Her primary interactions were with Danielle and Josh, but she was curious about all the group.

Paul and Lewis, who were travelling with the cultists, noted the interest of Janma in the new traveller, but proved no more able to have a civil conversation with him than Janma, although he spent a lot of time in conversation with Cultist Bob.

Was Janma one of the Harpers? She was inquisitive enough for them, although she got on pretty well with Paul (who is a member of the Zhentarim).

Speaking of Harpers, once the group was on the road again, they came across a human man, buried up to his neck in the middle of the road. The wagon masters were all in favour of leaving him there, as they didn’t want to be set upon by bandits (who had presumably buried him), but the group persuaded them that they could learn more about the bandits by interrogating the stranger. So the caravan stopped for a few hours as they dug out the stranger. He proved to be a member of the Harpers. He explained that he’d been buried by his jilted bride’s in-laws, who had proven to be bandits (which is why he didn’t marry the girl). The group invited him to travel with them to Waterdeep, which he gratefully accepted.

Action was provided for the session by the group coming across a merchant’s wagon being attacked by particularly savage gnolls. I played this encounter beginning at fairly long range, which permitted the archers in the party to fully appreciate their skills (even if the gnolls did not think likewise). Lewis, in particular was pretty happy to just cut down the gnolls as they raced towards the group.

I’m quite happy to let the archers dominate the occasional battle. They can have a hard time of it during dungeon crawls when everything is at close quarters!

During this stage of the trip, one of the cultist wagon-drivers began paying a lot of attention to Danielle’s character; it seemed he recognised her from Greenest! A couple of nights later, the cultists attempted to get rid of Danielle in a night-attack, but they were stopped and killed by the group. Their bodies were hidden, and the session ended with Cultist Bob ordering Paul and Lewis to find those responsible. Paul and Lewis were extremely enthusiastic about the order, but proved extremely poor at actually finding the murderers!

The caravan continues north…


Eternal Optimist
This week saw the lowest turn-out since this season began, primarily due to a rather major convention (PAX) being run down in Melbourne, as well as illnesses afflicting several players. We had only 25 players – I expect numbers to rebound next week significantly.

My own table continued to accompany the caravan north towards Waterdeep. I’ve cut out a lot of the intervening space – well, skipped over it – so they were reaching the end of their journey. As we progress through the adventure, I’m getting more comfortable with role-playing the characters. Janma Gleamsilver, the gnome who joined them a couple of sessions ago, is forming a good relationship with both Vanilla (Danielle) and Mordechai (Josh). She began the session by joining them for breakfast, and saving them from a dangerous trap that had been added to Vanilla’s food – a bone ring that would uncurl and perforate her insides if eaten. Janma asked to meet the characters that evening, leaving them with their breakfast.

Mordechai gave his bowl of porridge to one of the cultists, who was later seen pouring it into the fire, making the players even more paranoid.

That night, Janma revealed that they were on the same side; she’d also been sent to deal with the cultists. What she really needed was to discover what they were carrying and where they were going. Adran (Lewis) used his magic to send a squirrel in to check the cultists’ wagons, who returned with the news that there were a lot of barrels holding wool – probably to protect the valuables. They informed Janma of this, and she was grateful for the knowledge, although she also really wanted to know where the cultists were going.

Phosphorous (Paul) and Adran, both employed by the cultists, spent a large part of the next day’s travel trying to talk to the woollen-hatted human who was travelling with Cultist Bob, but they had no luck there. Phosphorous was able to get more information from Cultist Bob; he’d get instructions from their leader once in Waterdeep. Phosphorous tried to persuade Cultist Bob to take Adran and him along, but Cultist Bob did not seem amenable to that idea.

The weather turned foul that day, and the group were extremely happy to reach an inn at the end of the day’s travel. They were less happy to discover that the inn was booked out by a quartet of nobles. The group provoked a fight, and discovered that the nobles had superior weapon skills, but eventually were able to subdue them; two were killed, the others captured. The innkeeper was aghast by what had happened, but wisely was silent.

Further investigation revealed odd items on the nobles – disguise kits, extra signet rings and a poisoner’s kit. Interrogation revealed that the “nobles” were, in fact, assassins. The group wasted little time in persuading Cultist Bob that the assassins had been responsible for the death of the cultists last session (they’d tried to kill Vanilla, only to be killed themselves and their bodies hidden). Cultist Bob then killed the two remaining assassins. The party was relieved; they had been quite disconcerted by the threats the assassins had made against them, especially those that pointed out that the Assassin’s Guild in Waterdeep would come after them… and they had the magic to find them!

A couple of days later, Vanilla found herself accused of murder! It seemed that another of the cultists had been killed, although who did it was unknown. Danielle came up with the defence that she was “a murderer, not the murderer”, which amused us all greatly. The wagon master was less than amused at the incident, but as there was no proof that Vanilla had did it, the cultists were not allowed to kill her. Tensions were running high as the caravan finally reached Waterdeep.

With the arrival in Waterdeep, the merchants had reached their destinations. The players were thanked and paid, and were now ready to plan their next moves. We’ll likely spend a bit of time role-playing in Waterdeep next session, but after that they’ll attempt to follow the cultists further north. What awaits them there?


Eternal Optimist
We had a couple of DMs missing for this session, but thankfully we were able to cover every table, even though it meant that Paul was DMing Lee’s group rather than playing on my table. Josh also did superb work DMing his regular 7.30pm table as well as filling in for our other Josh at 5.30pm. My own table was full, except for Paul, but we were still down a few players overall – about 30ish were present for this week.

This session saw the group following the cultists out of Waterdeep and to a work camp near Neverwinter, a journey of about a ten-day. There wasn’t as much role-playing and shopping in Waterdeep as I expected, with the group moving on pretty quickly to joining the caravan the cultists were travelling with as guards. The caravan was pretty small, in fact – about twelve guards in all, which meant that the player characters with Janma made up more than half the guards! The cultists were not particularly happy to see the party again, although Mordechai (Josh) was trying to disguise himself.

The journey was an excellent time to throw some more monsters at the group – both for the XP as well as demonstrating exactly how dangerous this part of the world could be.

Ogres came first and, a couple of days later, trolls. The players did really well at defeating the threats, although they killed a few of the other guards protecting the caravan. The fight against the trolls was made much easier by two of the characters able to fling fire bolts at the trolls and thus negating their ability to regenerate. They gained a good deal of respect from the other members of the caravan thereby.

Eventually, the group came to the end of their journey – a work camp near Neverwinter. The camp was run by a half-orc with the improbable name of Bog Luck, who quickly took charge of the unloading of the wagons. The players were very interested in where the cultists’ treasure would be taken, and were somewhat bemused to see their crates locked in a secure area by the half-orc. That night, Lewis and Tim went skulking, trying to work out a way into the secured area. As they did so, they became aware of the sound of movement within. However, the door – which could only be opened from the outside – was still locked. What was going on?

They decided to find Bog Luck to get him to admit them to the strongroom. He refused, blustering that there could be no-one there, especially as all the noises had stopped by the time he arrived. The group appealed to the leader of their caravan, an old soldier who was well respected in the camp, and he agreed with them and forced Bog Luck to open the strongroom.

There was no-one inside, but the pair couldn’t find the cultists’ boxes. What they did find was a secret trapdoor leading to a tunnel!

Before they got a chance to follow it, one of the cultists, who had been holding a grudge since the murder of his friend a few days back, attacked the pair. The cultist was no match for them, and soon enough all of the party were ready to continue onwards, following the secret tunnel to wherever it might lead.

There was a good amount of role-playing and investigation in the later sections of tonight’s session. This brings us to the end of Episode 5 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. We’ll be returning to some site-based adventures in the next few sessions.


Eternal Optimist
This session, my players followed the tunnel they’d discovered during the last session through to the Mere of Dead Men, a large salt-water marsh that sits between Waterdeep and Neverwinter, created when a wizard caused the land to become flooded to win a battle many centuries ago. I let the players know of its origins as they made their way through its stinking surrounds. After a day’s travel, they came upon an empty camp from which the lizardfolk had taken the treasure over the water to their lair. With night closing in, they set up watch and camped on the raised stone slab which was one of the only dry bits of land about.

Phosphorous (Paul) was on watch when the lizardfolk returned, paddling their canoes into the shore. He alerted the rest of the characters and they ambushed the unsuspecting lizardfolk. There was some talk of capturing them, but it was quickly forgotten by the spell-casters who were happily flinging around damaging spells, and the archers likewise were unable to take non-lethal shots. Despite this, the group were still able to capture one of the lizardfolk, who quickly forgave them killing all his friends (they had been bullying him), because he saw them as the potential liberators of his folk from the cruel bullywugs!

Bullywugs? It seemed that the cultists had a base in a nearby castle where they’d got both bullywugs and lizardfolk working for them. The bullywugs were oppressing the lizardfolk, so the lizardfolk wanted the bullywugs stopped. It’s quite likely the lizardfolk would be disappointed by what occurred.

The next day, the group moved off to the castle, where their friend got them past the initial lizardfolk and bullywug guards, and they settled into some serious “get the cultists” action. For the most part, they sneaked around, finding small groups of cultists and killing them. They avoided the bullywugs for the most part, dashing the hopes of the lizardfolk. (Actually, I think I didn’t really express to them how much the lizardfolk wanted the bullywugs gone instead of the cultists. Oh, well!)

The cultists, on the other hand, were having a very bad day.

The players were very interested to find the leader of the cultists, but she wasn’t in residence, although they discovered notes in her chamber detailing a magical portal beneath the castle and directions on how to use it.

The major battle happened at the end of the session, where they came across a great hall where the cultists were sorting through the treasures they’d accumulated – although there were fewer treasures than the group expected. Perhaps they’d already been taken through the portal? The cultists put up as much as a fight as they could, but the players had surprised them and took full advantage of the situation. The group reassured the kitchen staff that they weren’t here to kill them, and exulted in finally having found a lot of gold. There were a couple of questions about who the treasure actually belonged to, but returning it seemed somewhat infeasible at the present time.

So ended the session. This was the first part of episode six, which I estimate will take three of our 2-hour sessions to complete. There are probably between six and eight sessions left in the adventure, which means we should complete Hoard sometime in the New Year. I’ve been looking through Rise of Tiamat, and it looks like a very enjoyable adventure, albeit one that makes a lot of demands on the Dungeon Master. I’m planning to run that adventure after Hoard, although it does make the timing a little tricky as we move into the next season. It may be possible to have a couple of longer session to enable us to finish it in time. I guess we’ll see!


Eternal Optimist
Things have been pretty busy around here as we reach the end of the year, so I’ve fallen a little behind with updating my reports. Here’s a combined session report for sessions 13 & 14 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, which brought my group to the end of Episode 6.

We finished the last session with the group having cleared out most of the cultists from Castle Naerytar, except for the central keep, although they didn’t know this at the time. Their initial explorations in the thirteenth session concentrated around the north-west tower, which had been used as bedchambers for most of the cultists they’d already killed in the main hall. They also discovered the stairs down to the caves below the castle, but they chose not to explore them yet.

From the tower, they were able to see into the inner courtyard, where a number of guard drakes were on watch. The window didn’t give a good vantage point for archery, although that didn’t stop Adran (Lewis) from trying; leaning out the window with someone holding onto him didn’t seem like quite the easiest way to fight them.

At this point, the group saw a couple of cultists leaving the central tower and walking towards the great hall. Most of the players raced downstairs to intercept them; others dallied a bit and Adran finally decided that climbing down the wall was a preferable way of getting there. Neither of the cultists knew what hit them as the party’s rogues ambushed them once they entered the hall. Lewis discovered that getting to the bottom of the tower just made him the only target the guard drakes could attack! Much hilarity ensued, with drakes chasing party members around the courtyards, while some of the more mischievous players barred the doors to the Great Hall, preventing the fleeing members from returning to safety! (Cue Yakety Sax).

Eventually, the group got serious again and slew the drakes. They then focused their attention on the central tower. The cultists within had locked the door, so rather than trying to pick it, they decided that climbing the tower and getting through the open top, which had been converted to an observatory, a much better idea. It was, too, although it was great seeing Adran failing his Athletics rolls to climb it rather spectacularly. We were much amused when he used a climber’s kit to anchor himself 20 feet up, only to realise it would only stop him falling more than 30 feet… he promptly fell back down at that point.

The first to the top put a rope down to allow everyone to climb up, only to be attacked by gargoyles as he did so. During the battle, one more character entered the combat each round, although the first up was rather savaged by the gargoyles by the time the last arrived!

With the gargoyles defeated, the group perceived a slow hand-clap from nearby: Dralmorrer Borngray, the leader of the cultists in the castle, had been much amused by their battle. He taunted the group and finally attacked along with the rest of his cultists. Unfortunately for Borngray, the party was nowhere near as depleted as he’d hoped, and soon the cultists were dead and the party were looting their corpses. And that is where we ended the thirteenth session.

The fourteenth session saw the party actually heed the cries of Snapjaw, the lizardfolk who had led them here in the first place, as the group confronted the bullywugs. The bullywugs and their leader, Pharblex Splattergoo (see awesome picture) had realised the cultists had been defeated, and in the time when the party had rested after defeating Borngray, had taken control of the remainder of the castle. Their moment of glory had come!

Alas for Pharblex, it was a very short moment of glory as the bullywugs were slaughtered by the party, who, by this stage, had some extremely powerful magics at their command.

The remainder of the session was spent exploring the caves beneath the castle. There wasn’t that much here – a few stray bullywugs and giant frogs, for the most part. A gray ooze was avoided (along with its treasure; sorry, guys!) and the group found the magic portal they’d learnt about in Rezmir’s chambers pretty easily.

One thing gave them trouble: retrieving the treasure that Pharblex had in his underground lair, which was protected by a number of traps. The group were dreadful at disarming the traps, and eventually set them off with magic that allowed them to remain outside the room; they then fled from all the spores that erupted from the chest after it was opened. After having a rest, they returned to find the spores settled, but the chest was empty! I pointed out they’d gotten quite a bit of loot from Borngray, and they prepared to step through the portal to what they feared was the lair of a black dragon, having seen it through the telescope in the observatory…

And that could wait for the next session!


5ever, or until 2024
Pharblex Splattergoo and Bog Luck: the spirit of Douglas Adams lives on.

Curious as to your material. Are you running this "out of the book" with the various vignettes basically spelled out there (and then there was an inn with assassins disguised as nobles...). Are you only using part of it? Does it give some scope for options or improvisation?

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