DM’ing Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Session 1: The Killing Fields, and the Sally Port.

The story begins after the party met each other at Baldur’s Gate, where a trade caravan offered to hire them as bodyguards on their journey to Greenest. This is what brought the party together: Each character’s destination was Greenest and they found a group with common interests, a shared destination, and a caravan willing to pay them for this leg of their journey.

The Caravan consists of 3 wagons and a rough mixture of Dwarves and Humans. Each wagon is their owned by separate merchants, but the common belief that the merchants from Baldur’s Gate all share is that if everyone hires two three mercenaries and the wagons travel together, they will be safe.

Session 1 had 6 players, 2 of which were the continuing PC’s from LMoP: the Cleric and the Wizard. These PC’s were in one of the wagons, and I had the other 4 players decide how they were grouped up between the other 2 wagons with 2 PC’s in each. At this point, I had the players do their PC introductions, as they have been travelling together from Baldur’s Gate to Greenest for about 2 days now and will have gotten a chance to know eachother, as well as some PC quirks. It was interesting hearing what the players chose to share about their bonds and backstories.

When they arrived at Greenest, I read the box text with minimal alterations. I want to try to stick with following the book as to not require much additional prep-work on my end, but I do try to tailor it a little more to the party. They chose to sneak into Greenest by following the river into the South Western part of town, where they had their first encounter.

**The family and the kobolds **

I ran this encounter straight from the campaign and used it not only to give the players the first bit of information – to find Governer Nighthill at the keep – but also to gauge just how much more work I’d have to put in to have everything balanced out. I had already planned on tripling the CR of each of the encounters, after this session I realized that definitely wasn’t enough. They wanted to get the woman to join them, but she had just been separated from her family and couldn’t be convinced to leave them.

Kobolds on the Bridge

The first random encounter in Greenest that the party came across was this one. As they came to the crossing road, the party saw 2 assault drakes to the north eating a corpse, and to the south they saw 6 townspeople run under the bridge, with 4 kobolds atop the bridge searching for them. I ended up combining these encounters into one as they destroyed the kobolds in a single volley after coordinating a group sneak attack.

The party rescued the 6 townspeople, and had them follow the party to the keep.

One thing the party does is uses the Rogue’s attack as the trigger to unleash a volley. It works like this:

Rogue sneaks in. I describe scenario. Rogue sneaks back and tells others. Rogue sneaks back to gain first position and then readies an action to shoot her arrow into any enemy that is alerted in the event of a failed stealth check. The rest of the party sneaks in and does the same. This type of pattern continues until all are in position, at which time the Rogue shoots her arrow and everybody else follows suit, ending with the Barbarian charging in to clean house or set up for the next round. It’s smart, and we all have fun with the plan (them, planning and doing it, me, listening to it and planning around it).

The Killing Fields

This was the big event. They saw the Keep on the hill and about 200 yards of open field in between filled with dozens of kobolds fighting fewer Greenest soldiers, several townspeople trying to run to the keep, and a few assault drakes peppered throughout.

My overall idea was this: several soldiers and townspeople will die, driving in the extreme severity of the situation as explained in the campaign book. This entire chapter is not meant to be ‘won’, but ‘survived’.

This is a picture I took of the killing fields from behind my screen. On the board you can see:

  • 6 party members in the far back.
  • 6 townspeople following them to the keep (they ended up not on the board in this picture, but they’re there.)
  • 12 kobolds attacking…
  • 7 soldiers
  • 3 townspeople trying to run up the road to the keep on the road coming from the right of the map with…
  • 3 assault drakes chasing them

That is a lot to keep track of. To keep things moving along, I gave the party complete control over the soldier NPC’s. I did not tell the party what their hit points were and this was because of the way I kept track of the combat.

  • Kobolds had 5 hp, as per MM. This was easy enough to keep track of in my combat tracker excel spreadsheet. I grouped them into 2 different groups, in numerical order so combat moved fast.
  • Townspeople would die in 1 hit.
  • Soldiers: I did not keep track of their HP, but only that they could each be hit 3 times. Since players didn’t know what the NPC’s HP was, this made it so I could simply state “The kobold thrusts his spear, maiming the soldier in the thigh”, or something like that.
  • One soldier was actually Governer Nighthill, who I gave 6 hits. He almost went down, but the Cleric healed him.

Halfway through combat, assault drakes attacked from the rear, killing 4 out of 6 of the townspeople that the party saved from the bridge. The governer began shouting at them and a few surviving townspeople to get in the keep as another huge wave of 24 kobolds attacked from the rear. What the players didn’t know is that there was a volley of arrows about to shoot from behind the keep walls. The Barbarian began charging straight towards the kobolds when I said “You hear someone shout ‘Ready’ from behind the keep walls, and the captain (they didn’t yet know it was Nighthill) is yelling at Barbarian to get back”. The Barbarian kept charging, “You hear ‘AIM!’ from behind the castle walls, the captain screams at the Wizard to tell his friend to stop or he’s surely dead.” The Barbarian stopped just in time for the volley of arrows to loose over his head to come down on the wave of Kobolds. It was pretty awesome.

This combat took 3 hours. It was a complete blast, and I felt that using the system I came up with made combat feel complete and smooth.

Another picture of the killing fields from a further back POV which allows a glimpse at the combat tracker excel spreadsheet I use.

**Inside keep: **

Upon soldiers barring the gate of the Keep, the party found out that the captain who’s life they saved on the fields was Governer Nighthill. They spoke to him and Esobert the Red and got information. I did not change much from the book, and the urgency of the matter helped me keep the RP short and sweet, giving me more time to get comfortable with the characters before the party really starts having RP encounters with them.

The Sally Port

The party chose to fortify the Sally Port as their first job.

What made this encounter complicated is that the room on the inside of the sally port was only 30x30ft, making it a very cramped fight. A Fog Cloud and a Thunder Wave spell made it especially interesting. The artificer ended up using his Mending on the door while the rest of the party held the enemies off.

Conclusion

We ended the session here, at 10:15 pm in-game time. Overall, I think that the first session went very well and nothing really stands out as any difficult DMing decisions I had make or any major modifications. One thing I have gotten good at is improvising encounters and adding modifications or challenges as needed, and this really helped in this scenario. Another thing that helped is I created a special encounter in LMoP for my other group that involved a small army of Orcs inviding Phandalin, giving me experience in a chaotic town-raid environment. I may do a write up on that…

Anyways, we have already completed session 2, now to get to writing!

Rereading Revelation Space: Chapter 6

On Nostalgia. En Route to Delta Pavonis, 2546

Volyova has been administering the loyalty treatments to Khouri. She takes her into the spider room to show her the ghosts (echoes of other space-farers). Volyova uses the spider room to speak in private, as nobody else on the ship knows of its existence.

Volyova mentions Sun Stealer to Khouri, and then shows her the Gunnery, which contains some of the most destructive weapons known. Khouri learns that controlling the gunnery means controlling every weapon on the Nostalgia.

Cuvier

18 months passed since Girardieau showed Sylveste the Amarantine sphere, a year since Sylveste’s and Pascale’s wedding, and the biography, Descent into Darkness, had been completed, and Sylveste was again publishing scientific articles. Sylveste shows Pascale the obilisk data in a 3d form. There is a figureine on top of a spire in the middle of the city. The figurine has wings while none of the other carvings or reliefs do. Sylveste suggests the figurine “Is a big two fingered salute to whatever god they used to believe in”, and that a new god moved in. Different graphicforms around the alien city depict “Sun Stealer”.

Rereading Revelation Space: Chapter(s) 4, 5

Carousel New Brazilia, Yellowstone, Epsilon Eridani, 2546

The Nostalgia has arrived at Yellowstone. They dock at the carousel – a sort of orbiting space station, and take a large elevator down to the planets surface. We are introduced to a variety of factions – Skyjacks, Conjoiners, Demarchists. The Triumverate go to a bar named “The Juggler and the Shrouder” where Hegazi and Khouri discuss the tensions with Sajaki, and we learn that Sajaki visited the pattern jugglers with the captain, and hasn’t been the same since.

Sajaki discovers that Sylveste isn’t on Yellowstone, and has left to Resurgam 50 years ago.

Khouri wakes up 22 years later (in the current year) from a reefersleep that she does not remember entering, in the Mademoiselle’s chamber.

The Mademoiselle had lied to Khouri. She has her husband in reefersleep, and has promised to kill Fazil if Khouri does not complete her mission to kill Sylveste. Khouri follows the Mademoiselle’s instructions, and goes to The Juggler and the Shrouder where she is recruited by Volyova.

Volyova and Khouri leave the Juggler and the Shrouder, and Khouri learns that the Mademoiselle has implanted a beta sim of herself into Khouri’s brain. Khouri finds out she is to become the Nostalgia’s new gunnery officer. Sajaki knocks her unconcious.

On Nostalgia

Khouri wakes up on the Nostalgia. Although she is extremely upset that she was kidnapped, the Mademoiselle tells her that her infiltration is successful if she will just go along with the idea that she is Volyova’s recruit for the position of Gunnery Officer. Khouri has implants that will nullify any loyalty treatments, but needs to pretend that the loyalty treatments are working to maintain the ruse.

Cuvier

Pascale is working on Sylveste’s biography, which is more of a fully immersive experience where a viewer can spectate from a variety of points of view.

Sylveste’s Biography Flashback

We learn that his father started the SISS – the Sylveste Institute for Shrouder Studies, answering the question of what ‘institute’ had its data wiped by House Reivich in 2439-40. The SISS has established monitoring stations around all the Shrouds so far discovered.

Sylveste meets with Philip Lascaille, the first human to ‘successfully’ interact with a Shroud, in the institute. He hasn’t been the same since. He is usually found in the gardens, mostly naked and in a zombie like state, drawing complex patterns in chalk. Sylveste would wait hours for himi to wake up.

Lascaille came the closest to the Shroud before he was shot out with a mixed up brain. A cult has risen grown up around him, believing that his experience with the Shroud was religious. Despite the cult growing, Lascaille’s existense was almost forgotten about by all except Sylveste, who visited him often in the SISS.

One day, without warning, Lascaille had woken up for a brief moment of clarity and explained everything to Sylveste. He called the space around the Shroud “Revelation Space”. He drew a multi-limbed, tentacled, armourplated, spined, barely symmetrical, and truly monstrous creature and told Sylveste to dedicate it to memory. He explained that Pattern Jugglers were capable of storing personalities of entities that they have interacted with, and that by visiting the jugglers, a human can have impressions of the Shrouders implanted in their brains and may be able to fool the Shrouders into letting them in.

The Shroud’s boundary is almost a living thing that responds to the thought patterns of those entering it, which Lascaille says has assumed the role of galactic matron to keep harmful technologies that are far beyond human comprehension a secret.

Lascaille tells Sylveste that if he is to visit the jugglers, he should bring an information-dense gift. He was found dead a month later.
Sylveste visits the Shroud. He had visited the pattern jugglers on the planet Spindrift to imbed the mental impression of the Shrouders thought patterns into his brain, along with a group of 3 other volunteer scientists.

Sylveste’s partner delegate dies in their attempt to enter the Shroud. Sylveste barely escapes, but was able to enter Revelation Space.

Back in Cuvier, real-time

Sylveste makes a deal with Pascale – she will provide him with full access to the data about the obelisk and he will provide her with full access to Calvin’s beta sim.

From the data, Sylveste learns that the Pavonis system is a binary star, with one of them being a burnt out neutron that didn’t show up on interstellar probes, but the Amarantine knew about it. He also learns that Pascale is Girardieau’s daughter. Sylveste confronts Pascale, and confirms that the biography was Girardieau’s idea.

Pascale takes Sylveste to the dig site, and they meet with Girardieau.

(Cuvier is now known as Resurgam City, after political changes.)

While Sylveste was in prison, Girardieau had continued to investigate the obelisk. The obelisk had been buried after The Event, and is a record of something that is buried at this location. They enter an elevator and go down “only a couple of kilometres”.

Exiting the elevator, Sylveste sees the 400 meter wide black hemisphere that is buried beneath the obelisk. They do not yet know what material the sphere is made of, but it appears to be a form of molecular technology. Inside the sphere is a labyrinth that leads them into an alien city.

DM’ing Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Intro and preparation.

This is my first post in a series on running Hoard of the Dragon Queen from a DM’s perspective, where I will be focusing on decisions I made and opinions on how the game ran from behind the screen. I’m not going to get into the PC side of things too much in these posts, so I’ll just be referring to the PC’s as Wizard, Rogue, Cleric, etc. The group consists of 8 players, which can be difficult to manage at times but we make it work.

Scheduling

When we began playing D&D last year, we realized that as adults with full time jobs, families, and kids, coordinating everybody’s schedules is the hardest part of D&D. At first, we tried scheduling games around when players were available, but could never get everybody in a session. We found it was much easier for everybody to make it with consistently scheduled sessions that everybody can plan around, so now we play every two weeks and we all try to be as consistent as possible. This party is 8 players large, but we have yet to have a session which more than 6 have been able to make it. We work around that. As the DM, I try my best to make the PC’s absense make sense in-game, but when I cannot we simply take it in stride and keep going.

"... as adults with full time jobs, families, and kids, coordinating everybody's schedules is the hardest part of D&D."

After we finished the Lost Mine of Phandelver starter set, I left it up to the players which campaign they wanted to do next and the group decided they wanted to play the Hoard of the Dragon Queen. One of the players was nice enough to buy the campaign book for me to start reading through far ahead of time, so I had a very good idea of what will be happening in throughout the campaign and what issues surrounded this campaign.

Levelling

One thing the players were not looking forward to was starting over at level 1. Some players wanted to start new characters while others wanted to continue what they were playing already. We agreed to start new characters at level 3 and the players continuing their characters lowered their PC’s level to 3 so everybody was on the same page. I allowed 1 magic item to carry over from the LMoP campaign, and new characters got to send me their ‘wish list’ of magic items they wanted to start with.

We are using milestone levelling per chapter and we are starting at chapter 1. Because the PC’s all started at level 3, I told them they’ll just be chilling at level 3 for a while so just get comfortable there and enjoy the story as they are simply not leveling up until chapter 4. I have seen that some groups have just decided to start at chapter 4, skipping 1-3, but that’s a lot of content that we’d be skipping so we decided to do it this way.

Bonds and Backstories

I shared the page with the Bonds from the Appendix of the HotDQ book with the party and encouraged them to choose one of them for their character to help tie them into the campaign. 3 of the players chose the bond that said “The dragons destroyed everything you hold dear. They killed your family and destroyed your home. Now, with nothing but what you carry on your back and a horrid scar of the near fatal wounds you sustained in the attack, you seek revenge.” which works out well enough as it is a relatively vague bond that each player was able to uniquely weave into their characters backstory. One player took the “Apocalyptic dreams every five nights” bond, and another took the secretive “You are really a gold dragon who served Bahamut” bond, which I am excited to see how it pans out.

One player has yet to be able to join the party, but I think he is leaning towards using the Cult of the Dragon Infiltrator background feature and I’m not sure which bond he’s going to use yet.

For the PC’s that are continuing from the LMoP, I simply said that Sildar Hallwinter has asked them to investigate some goings-on with the Cult of the Dragon down south, and said to find a contact named Leosin Erlanthar. Since the party had tangled with the Cult in Thundertree, this was a pretty simple connection. What is a little odd, however, is that the town of Greenest is hundreds of miles away from Phandalin. As I mentioned in the section about scheduling up above, we took this in stride and just left it at “the party travelled for 6 months to get there”. The players also jokingly said that this could be the reason why the went down in levels – the 6 months of travel was boring and uneventful – and it sort of stuck. To make it a little more immersive, we are also saying that during their travels they were always one step behind whatever villages the Cult had raided for plunder. This sort of prepped them for what was going to happen at Greenest. I also mentioned that one of these PC’s had a childhood friend named Talis that he knew lived down in that area since nobody chose that bond, which helped connect them a little more in the story.

Starting Items

The Wizard and the Cleric were continuing, and they chose the Staff of Defense and the Gauntlets of Ogre Power respectively. Some new PC’s carried over items from their LMoP playthrough to their new characters in HotDQ such as Boots of Striding and Springing and the Wand of Magic Missiles. Other purely new PC’s got a magic weapon of some type. My personal favorite is the new Bard who wanted to be able shoot his Lute like a bow and arrow, so because of the creativity of the weapon I allow him to imbue his arrows with Vicious Mockery, simply adding 1d4 psychic damage as he whispers his insult into the arrow. I am changing it slightly so that the insult does not add the included disadvantage on their next attack, removing the saving throw and streamlining combat. The new Barbarian got a modified Dwarven Thrower in the form of a +1 axe that acts as a boomerang.

I am using a shared Google Document to keep track of the party’s adventures. I use this to share maps and important information as they come across it, as well as it being a place for the party to keep track of their notes.

I think that’s about it for my setup notes. We’ve already completed 2 sessions and it’s gone well so far. We’ll see where the adventure takes us!

Rereading Revelation Space: Chapter 3

Cuvier, Resurgam, 2561

10 years after Sylveste was arrested at the Amarantine dig site, we find him in his cell. He is woken by Girardieau, who informs him he wants to start a biography about him.

Five years earlier, a ship under command of a man named Remilliod had begun orbriting Resurgam and selling various wares.

Pascale wants Sylveste to tell her the real story of what happened to his fathers Alpha level simulation.

An organization named True Path is beginning a counter-coup to Girardieau’s. Janequin is free to continue doing his own work.

Sylveste’s father Calvin was the last of the 80. His alpha level sim has been missing, and evidence suggests that it was lost before Sylveste travelled to Resurgam. The alpha seems to have vanished around the time Sylveste met with the Shrouders.

Info: House Reivich wiped the data cores containing some alpha sims after attacking ‘The Institute’ in 2539-40.

Chasm City

Khouri learns from Manoukhian that the Mademoiselle wants her to assassinate someone. What makes this different from her other shadowplay assassinations is that the target is not aware of it.

Manhoukian begins to tell Khouri that he helped save the Mademoiselle during an accident a long time ago and gets distracted.

Khouri meets the Mademoiselle, who turns out to be a hermetic. She informs Khouri of her target – Sylveste, and that she must travel to Resurgam.

On Nostalgia

Volyova is informed by her janitor rats that the rest of the crew has awoken.

5 crew members were now awake – Khouri, Sajaki, Hegazi, Kjarval, and Sudjic (6 including the Captain). Volyova meets them in the forests of Nostalgia, eating breakfast.

Sajaki questions Volyova about Nagorney. She lies that she knows nothing. Volyova says she will look for another gunnery officer on Yellowstone.

As Nostalgia nears Yellowstone, Sajaki tells Khouri not to worry about Sudjic. They enter Nagorney’s room and find a coffin that he had made for himself that is decorated in bas-reflief to include the words ‘Sun Stealer’. Sajaki says to destroy the coffin.

New Characters / Character Info

  • Yuuji Sajaki: One of the triumverate of the Nostalgia. Closest to the Captain, although has not spoken with him.
  • Abdul Hegazi: Another of the triumverate of the Nostalgia.
  • Kjarval: Chimeric Ultra in the crew of Nostalgia. Skin is seamless black. Eyes are red feline, nose is flat and rilled for aquatic living. Dreadlocked hair.
  • Sudjic: Chimeric Ultra in the crew of Nostalgia. Arms are engraved bronze gauntlets. Dreadlocked hair.
  • The Mademoiselle. A hermetic who employed Khouri to assassinate Sylveste.