DMing Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Chapter 2 and into 3, Session 4

This session was a lot of fun and turned out to be less combat focused and more about exploration roleplay, at least the way this group handled it. Typically, this large group is usually very combat centric, and everybody agreed that this was a nice change of pace, which allowed the party to use some of their other, non-combat skills.

At this point I’m still generally increasing the CR of encounters because the party is a group of 6-8 level 3 PC’s.

Chapter 2: Raider’s Camp.

In the morning, Nighthill is the first to greet the group. He informs the party of what they learned from their prisoner (the captured Cultist from before) and offers them 250 gold apiece to investigate the camp to gain more information, as per the book. Tim, Cleric of Chauntea (NPC not from the book), asked the party to keep their eyes open for his old friend Talis. Nesim asked them to find Leosin.

Stragglers

I Increased number of Kobolds and increased CR of cultists – who ended up being mercenaries as opposed to full fledged members of the cult. I used this encounter to differentiate between the mercs and the actual cult members. The party ended up taking the last one prisoner after he surrendered and got information from him (and then killed him before he gave any info on the rearguard). Jerks.

Rearguard

Aside from increasing CR, I didn’t change much here. By now, the party was getting used to the power of the cultsts so they actually RP’d their way around, which turned out to be quite hilarious.

At the Camp

Didn’t make many changes here either. As per the book, the camp was in disarray and unorganized at this point, as raiders were coming in. The party members did end up wearing some stolen cloaks from the Stragglers encounter, but I didn’t do much about that. After they saw that many of the cultists and mercenaries were taking theirs off and heading into their tents or cooking dinner, they followed suit. I split up the Cultists and the Mercenaries so that the Cultists were camping in the center and northern cluster of tents in Level 2, and the Mercenaries were camping in the southern clusters of tents. That meant that it was the Mercenaries that were watching over the prisoners in area 1.

The party went to check out the prisoners and half of them sat down with some mercenaries that were cooking food and generally complaining about things. After finding out that the prisoners were being used for manual labor, the Mystic casually asked “Who’s taking them out next?”

“Sounds like you just volunteered yourself buddy! We take them out 4 at a time, so when you get them, take 3 of those stupid kobolds with you as guard. That’s the rules.”

They did some more investigating and found Leosin under close guard by 1 active dragonclaw.

The party ended up splitting into 2 smaller groups, each with different plans. 1 group was to get the 8 prisoners from area 1, the other was to break out Leosin.

Group 1: Free the Prisoners

Mystic came back a bit later with the Artificer to take the prisoners out to cut down some trees.

“What’s this? We’re only supposed to take 4 at a time.” the mercenary challenged.

“Yeah, boss man says to take them all. Planning something big and gotta cut down more trees this time.” Roll deception – pass.

“Alright well be sure to grab some kobolds on your way out.”

The Cleric and 6 kobolds met up with them on their way out, and they headed into some trees that were to the south of the camp. They quickly dispatched the kobolds and armed the freed prisoners with the kobolds weapons and hid, waiting for the other group to come out with Leosin.

Group 2: Free Leosin

Ranger, Rogue, and Wizard went to get Leosin.

The book says Leosin is tied to a stake at the back of area 3, so I put him a little south, below the southernmost cluster of tents.

After ensuring they were not being watched, The Wizard approached the dragonclaw, acting drunk to create a distraction, passing a Deception check. The Rogue snuck up behind and sliced the dragonclaw’s throat, and the Ranger put an arrow through his chest for good measure. A few stealth checks later, and they had Leosin freed. They put him in a mercenary’s cloak and began to leave camp acting as casually as they could, having to persuade Leosin that this is the best way to get what he wants. “You can’t accomplish your goal if you throw your life away” being the main arguement. They met with the first group, hid while the Rearguard came back to camp, and the road back to Greenest was clear to travel.

Downtime at Greenest

The Cleric returned the religious carvings of Chauntea looted from the Stragglers encounter to the temple. The party talked with Leosin and he told them, as per the book, that he did “… not expect the cultists to make any sudden changes requiring immediate attention.” The main time crunch here was the he expected the Eggs in the hatchery to be hatched within the tenday. The party received their rewards from Nighthill, and planned some downtime activities.

The Articer, Wizard, and Cleric worked together to create a set of Boots of Striding and Springing for the Cleric (who is always struggling to keep up as a Dwarf), and spent some of the gold obtained from Nighthill to enlist the aide of the local Wizard (who they worked with to mend the Sally Port previously) to bring the crafting time down to 3 days.

The Ranger went to the blacksmith to ask about a longbow. It turns out the smithy was completely destroyed and looted. All the mastercraft items have been stolen, and all the common weapons and armor were destroyed. I gave the smith the bond #6 from Appendix A – which was unused by any of the players. The smith’s name is Ulric, son of Ulthric – the renowned Dragon Slayer of the Greenfields. The cult attacked them a week ago, saying the Cult of the Dragon never forgets and always avenges. Ulric took his sister to be with family after that attack, but his father stubbornly stayed behind, and ended up being killed during the raid and the smith burnt down and looted. He plans to return to his sister, as she is the only family he has left and with the smithy burnt down he has nothing else keeping him in Greenest. He told the Ranger to keep his eyes open for any weapons with the seal of their smith – a dragon’s head with a lance through it. He does not ask for anything in return, other than to be sure to slay as many members of the Cult of the Dragon that they can with their mastercraft weapons.

Ranger and Rogue recon back at the camp

Since it would take 3 days to complete the boots, the Ranger and Rogue headed out for some reconnaissance back at the camp.

They found the camp abandoned, except for the hunters (Scouts) that were bringing food in for the Kobolds, as per the book. The Rogue hid while the Ranger walked in like he belonged, and was successful at this infiltration. He got to work immediately prepping some of the game that the other Rangers had brought in, and started some conversation. They watched as 2 winged kobolds came out from the cave to collect the meat that the hunters prepped, and then waited for them to come back out, which took about 30 minutes. After some info gathering (information givien in Chapter 3, “Abandoned Camp”), a well coordinated attack took out both of the hunters in between the kobolds coming out. They hid the bodies, grabbed the horses, and rode back to camp with some loot and information about the cave.

Chapter 3: Dragon Hatchery

After finishing up their Boots of Striding and Springing and prepared with the information from the Ranger and Rogue, the party returned to the camp.

Parts 1-4 ended up being run straight from the book. I didn’t have to get creative until they encountered the Kobolds in area 7.

I added 3 winged kobolds to the group in area 7 and moved the guard drakes into area 8, planning on having them come out halfway through the fight. What I didn’t plan on was that before the fight started, the Cleric tossed a glowing rock into the trash dump in area 5. He watched as he noticed 4 creatures burrowing under the trash, but they didn’t attack them. After a minute, the movements stopped. It turns out, the troglodytes got curious what that was and came out to attack halfway through as well.

So, the party began the fight with the 4 kobolds and 4 winged kobolds, killing 7 of them within a few rounds. In the first 2 or 3 rounds, the Artificer stepped on the spike trap in area 7, becomming confused for 1 minute due to the poison. This ended up causing the party a lot of trouble.

1 kobold ran away down into the hallway leading to area 8 and getting the attention of the 2 guard drakes at the same time that the 4 troglodytes crawled up from the trash pit in area 5.

At this point, the Artificer was confused and ran into area 4 heading towards the entrance with 2 troglodytes attacking him. The Cleric and Mystic were in that area fighting off the 2 others and trying to keep Artificer alive. He ended up going down at least once, but Cleric brought him back.

A note on troglogytes and an overpowered spike trap:

The spike trap in area 7 doesn’t just poison, it poisons with the 4th level enchantment Confusion. This took the Artificer out of the game for a solid minute of combat, and he even attacked the Cleric a few times with a melee attack, swinging his gun around as an improvised weapon. This trap is overpowered and imbalanced.

At 1/4 CR, troglodytes pack a mean punch. With multiattack, the 2 of them took the 3rd level Artificer down pretty quickly. Bear in mind, though, that he was confused and couldn’t really fight back. Although they hit hard, they have pretty weak defenses.

A more intelligent creature might slash a few more times to e sure their enemy is dead, but these troglodytes had other living enemies around to kill first. However, with their multiattack (which would be a flurry of blows that would not stop if they down their target in the first 1 or 2 hits), they did get the Artificer with 1 claw attack while he was unconcious. Keeping in mind that being unconcious means that all attack rolls against the creature have advantage, any Attacks that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature, and taking a crit while downed is 2 failed death saves, Artificer almost died for real.

The Wizard ended up being face to face with the 2 guard drakes from area 8 while the Rogue and Ranger chipped away at them. Eventually the Wizard went down, and they were able to take both guard drakes down and stabilize him. The guard drakes did not continue to attack the downed Wizard’s body because they were being shot at by the Ranger and the Rogue.

The party then began to hide the bodies (they’re familiar with my M.O. of enemies finding dead bodies and sounding the alarm) and then the entire cave went into full alert mode and they fled the cave. We ended up calling it a night right here, with the party far enough away from the cave to be safe. At least for a little while.

Twitch and Twitter

We experimented with our first Twitch stream and set up a Twitter for the stream as well!

We didn’t do much other than aim a webcam and start playing, but we have some ideas for making it higher quality next time, including another webcam for the combat map and a better mic (might be able to use the mic from the combat map webcam).

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Rereading Revelation Space: Chapter 7-9

In an effort to stop reading so many books at a time, I focused on finishing Altered Carbon before continuing on with these chapter summaries. These chapters were very expository so I read through them at once, particularly chapter 7 where Reynolds descibes the Stoners wedding ceremonies and Sylveste’s backstory in painstaking detail.


Nekhebet Isthmus, Resurgam, 2566

At Sylveste and Pascale’s wedding, there is an attack. Janequin’s peacocks were used as biological weapons with poisoned barbs in their feathers. Sylveste and Pascale escape into the Amarantin dig.

Sylveste used his infrared vision to escape through the labyrinthine tunnels in a random path. In the end, they were caught in a dead-end, and Sylveste admits to Pascale that it was himself, not Lefevre, that broke down during his trip to the Shroud, and because he was too scared to pull the explosive charges to separate the ship from Lefevre the ship was pulled apart by gravity torsions and he doesn’t know why survived.

Then, they find them. Sleeping gas begins to fill their lungs and Sylveste gets shot in the face by some kind of flared weapon.

He was blinded by the shot, and kidnapped. Taken by True Path who lead the coup against Girardieau, which turns out to be lead by Sluka.

Falkender, a Docter under Sluka, fixes Sylveste’s eyes just enough to see in black and white, and in slow fps.

On Nostalgia

Khouri learns of the crew’s plan to get Sylveste to heal the Captain, and that he’s done it before. She also learns that the Captain had visited the pattern jugglers with Sajaki, and that Sajaki hasn’t been the same ever since.

The Mademoiselle clarifies her instructions to Khouri – she is to kill Sylveste in a very precise manner, with complete surprise, on Resurgam, and in complete isolation as to prevent a transfer of his conciousness.

Khouri spent so much time in the gunnery that it had begun to ‘invade her dreams’.

Sun Stealer was trapped in the gunnery due to the isolated nature of its firewall which allowed for data to only flow into the gunnery (since the gunnery would operate outside of the ship, this was to prevent other ships from attacking via a virus). Sun Stealer used the Mademoiselle’s ‘dogs’, a viral AI used to scour networks and retrieve information, to hitchhike out of the gunnery and into Khouri’s brain. The Mademoiselle concludes that this is what drove Nagorney mad.

Info: the reason Sylveste went missing was because they brought him aboard Nostalgia before to fix Captain Brannigan 20 years after Sylveste returned from the Shrouders – in 2460.

At this point, Khouri has been in reefersleep for 2 years with 2 and a half more to go before reaching Resurgam. The Mademoiselle woke her up to tell her this information, that the bulk of Sun Stealer remains in the gunnery, and that she has implanted an avatar of herself into the gunnery so that she might control it if needed.

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DMing Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Episode 1 review: Unbalanced, difficult, chaotic, and a lot of fun

How do you get a party of PC’s drawn into a campaign and give them agency in defeating the BBEG? Beat them down mercilessly at Level 1 and slaughter innocent NPC’s in front of their very eyes. At least that’s what Chapter 1 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen would have you believe.

Chapter 1 is unbalanced, difficult, chaotic, and can easily result in a quick player kill or even a TPK if the party is not careful. Especially for a level 1 party. It is designed to give the players a real reason for hating the Cult of the Dragon by showing them the raw power they possess, and I think it does a pretty damn good job at that.

I read a lot about running Hoard of the Dragon Queen before starting it. Mainly, “Run a different campaign” seemed to be the resounding recommendation. But, nearing the end of Lost Mine of Phandelver, the party decided that’s what they wanted to run and one of the players even bought the campaign book for me, so I was going to run it and make it as awesome as I could. Upon completing Chapter 1, I can see why it has such negative criticism. However, I think it was pretty damn awesome and it worked out very well in the end. The party is pretty pissed at the Cult now that they have seen what they do, so Chapter 1 did its job getting the players invested.

Random Encounters

The random encounters aren’t bad for level 1’s I guess. I feel like they’re pretty well balanced. But, my party was level 3 and there are up to 8 active players during any given session, so I’m constantly having to beef things up. I started by simply doubling the CR of each encounter and ramped it up as needed.

I always like to try to make things more interesting by adding other environmental hazards such as fire or hostages to the mix, and the burning town under seige was perfect for this. For example, instead of simply “You see 6 cultists on the street” it’s “To the north, you see 6 cultists looting a house, 2 of which are viciously beating a man while 2 others hold back what looks to be his wife. To the south, you see 3 assault drakes tearing the flesh from a corpse in the middle of the road, and you notice a young woman hiding under a wagon close by. What do you do?”

Upgrading the Cultists

If you start at a higher level, upgrading the Cultists (CR 1/8) to Cult Fanatics (CR 2) and cultists using the Bandit Captain (CR 2) stat block worked really well for me. The Bandit Captain cultist wasn’t a challenge for ranged PC’s, but dealt some serious melee damage with his multiattack if he was able to get in close. I am a huge fan of taking existing monster stat blocks straight from the Monster Manual and modifying them to fit my needs. By doing that, any humanoid in the MM can be a cultist.

As usual, use any spells that your monsters have quickly instead of holding onto them for the right moment. In my experience, you usually won’t get that right moment before the party takes them out.

The Old Tunnel and The Sally Port

I feel like these were pretty well balanced. For my large party of level 3’s, I basically doubled the CR of each of the encounters which still didn’t seem to be enough of a challenge. But, this is a game of attrition and it did whittle the party’s resources down somewhat, and they are not really able to take any rests until the end of Chapter 1 so I guess it’s ok.

The thing I didn’t like about the locked door at the end of the tunnel is that there are no alternative choices to going through the door. You either make it through, or you turn around. My party had no problem getting through due to the mending cantrip, but my opinion is that there should be other options if you can’t make it through the door. Anything aside from ‘turn back’. I added a trap with an underground river for this reason. The trap wasn’t so much of a trap, but rotten wooden planks that fell apart beneath the feet of one of the party members, which dropped down 20 feet into an underground river that they could have used to get out. But, as I mentioned, the door wasn’t an issue.

Save the Mill

I didn’t end up running this encounter as it took us 3 sessions, each lasting at least 5-7 hours. It takes a long time to run a big group and, although we aren’t rushing, I could tell the party simply wanted to move on. This encounter seemed a little dull I wasn’t inspired with it like I was Sanctuary and the others, so I skipped it.

Dragon Attack

The Adult Blue Dragon has a CR of 16. Its average bite and claw attacks could easily bring a level 1 PC, or in my case a level 3 PC, to 0 hp in one hit, and some attacks could outright insta-kill a Level 1 PC easily. Don’t even ask about its Lightning Breath.

I get that its heart isn’t in the fight and it can ‘easily be driven away’, but c’mon. And the idea that it’ll be floating 25 feet away from the battlements and just using its lightning breath every once in a while on soldiers is silly to me. That’s why I completely changed that encounter, as you can read about in my session 3 notes.

Half-Dragon Champion

Another encounter that simply is not meant to be won is the Half-Dragon Champion. With its multiattack or Lightning Breath, it could take a level 1 to 0 hp in 1 hit and with its bank of hit points, I would find it hard to believe any Level 1 PC that tells me they beat him, unless they were up to some pretty serious shenanigans.

Closing thoughts

I thought it was great, but I’m also the guy who created Death March, a homebrew campaign designed to kill at least 1 PC per session.

My advice is to a new DM running this is:

  • Know what’s going on in the town (chaos).
  • Keep tabs on where the dragon is.
  • Adjust difficulty as needed.
  • Utilize environmental hazards such as fires, ambushes, and hostages for all random street encounters.
  • Warn your players that ‘if something seems like instant death, it probably is, so be careful”.
  • Remember that the Dragon and Half-Dragon Champion are not meant to be won by the players.

If you read this far and haven’t read about the sessions that took place in chapter 1, here they are:

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