DMing Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Episode 1, 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 by any other member of the party. 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’.

The party encounters a dozen Kobolds fighting Soldiers on the fields rising to the keep

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.

The party battles Kobolds and attempts to fortify the Sally Port.

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!

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