DMing Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Episode 1, part 2, Session 2: The Old Tunnel and Sanctuary.

2 players couldn’t make it to todays session, so I had their characters stay behind to help defend and fortify the keep. However, we had a friend join us with the full intention of just hanging out. He played a Warlock in the LMoP campaign but didn’t have the time to commit to playing a character for HotDQ. He hung out for a while, commenting and joking and having a good time until I asked him if he felt like ‘being the AI’ for the Kobolds. It turned out to be great fun, and also a huge challenge for the party because he was a heck of a lot more bloodthirsty than I tend to be as a DM.

Old Tunnel
Locked doors and broken locks tend to not be much of an issue for this party, as we have a Rogue who is proficient in lockpicking and an Artificer who has the Mending cantrip. I handled the Swarms of Rats a little differently from a typicial single unit.

The primary differences between a Swarm of Rats and a single Rat is the Swarm has HP of 24 while the single Rat has 1 HP, and the Swarm does 1d20+2d6, or half of 1d20+1d6 piercing damage if below half hp, while a single rat does 1d20+1 piercing damage. I changed things up a bit mechanically to reflect this as I thought was appropriate. Considering the differences, I calculated 1 swarm to be 24 rats, and each successful hit on the swarm killed 1 rat, unless there was some sort of AoE damage. The Ranger smartly asked if he can use his Hordebreaker ability on a single swarm, and I allowed that since it made sense.

As the Swarm attacked the party members, I had described the attacks as the Swarm climbing up their legs and into their clothing, and the attack damage as not just rat bites but “Biting and clawing all over your body”. The party was particularly worried about having the rats that were climbing all over them being tagetted by their fellow party members due to this party’s unbelievably high track record of Critical Fails and friendly fire. The Cleric used Prestidigitation to cause minor earth tremors in an attempt to scare the rats away, and it worked on 1 of the swarms, putting them in a ‘frightened’ state. When half the rats in the swarm were killed, they began to try to run away, taking any Attacks fo Opportunity as needed. Barely a handful escaped.

Kobolds outside hidden door

The Rogue snuck out the door from the Old Tunnel first just in time to see 4 townspeople running to hide in the reeds to the West of the door and a group of Kobolds appearing to be trying to find them coming from the East. This is when I asked our friend if he wanted to control a few baddies while he was hanging out. He just asked what weapons the Kobolds had and the range and made full use of their slings and Pack Tactics.

The party encounters Kobolds hunting innocent Townspeople outside of the hidden door to the Old Tunnel.

The party dispatched of the first group in 2 short rounds when another group of Kobolds came from the North, above the hidden door into the Old Tunnels. From here, they had 1/2 cover from the environment and got a few good hits off with their slings. The ‘AI’, as I’ll call him, noted that the Kobolds wouldn’t have really known what was going on here when they crested the hill and just shot at the closest targets, killing 1 of the townspeople.

After the encounter, the party told the rescued townspeople to go through the tunnels into the keep, then heard chanting and screaming to the East and decided to head towards the Sanctuary.

Street encounter: 8 Cultists

I threw a small, random encounter at the party as they made their way through the streets. I used the Cultist stat block and simply increased the count to 8, and added the complexity of more townspeople to save. This turns the encounter into more of a tactical one, as the Cultists will murder a townsperson quickly if they can.

Sanctuary (Temple)

This was the grand finale for the night, and almost resulted in some player deaths if not for the Bard’s quick thinking.

I did make some modifications to the groups by increasing the number of kobolds to what I thought would be a challenge, adding an Ambush Drake or two where needed, but the biggest change was upgrading the Cultists. From the previous encounter with Cultists, I quickly realized that numbers aren’t really a challenge. That’s what kobolds are there for. So, instead of having them just go up against Cultists (CR 1/8), they went up against Cult Fanatics (CR 2) and a melee cultist using the Bandit Captain (CR 2) stat block. This provided much more of a challenge as they didn’t drop in one hit, and showed the players that they should not have any preconcieved notions of what they’re up against.

The party was feeling pretty good about themselves at this point and did not hesitate to initiate combat. They waited for Group B to round the corner out of sight and then they began their attack on Group A, which took down their resources heavily. Although they were able to defeat in 3 rounds, they were hurting and wanted to retreat to try to hide and try for a short rest. Three Kobolds from Group A were running away to try to call for reinforcements as the Artificer jumped up onto the wall surrounding the temple and killed 2 with his gun, and then jumped down onto the roof of a nearby house to begin to run away. 3 of the other party members decided, comically, to join him on the roof. This was a hilarious miscommunication, and as they were arguing about “why are you all on this roof”, 3 Assault Drakes from Group B sprinted around the corner and jumped up onto the roof. Roll initiative.

Combat at the sanctuary (the dice are stand-ins for the battering ram). The party made use of the partial cover of the wall surrounding the temple.

It is always fun for me, as a DM, to watch the moment of dispair linger as the players flip through the PHB and their notes to try to find something – anything – they can do to get them out of this situation. At this point, they were close to dying, but were determined to take one of the Cult Leaders (a buffed up Cultist) as prisoner for interrogation at the keep. What they ended up doing was brilliant, as the Bard (who was on the roof), positioned himself in such a way and cast Thunderwave, knocking the Assault Drakes off the roof, and to their deaths as they failed the saving throw and took falling damage. They retreated and were able to hide as they all used their actions to dash away from the remaining Group B.

Conclusion

This is where we decided to wrap it up. They ended up making it back to the hidden entrance safely after outrunning the Kobolds, and turned the prisoner over to Castellan who wants group to return to Temple ASAP.

He presented 2 options:

  1. Go back to the temple now. Castellan will bring a Cleric to heal group for Prayer of Healing at 3rd level (3d8+4) and give them 2 Potions of Healing each.
  2. Short Rest and Castellan will send whatever soldiers he can to the Temple, but he was very unhappy about presenting this as a choice as the Keep is still under massive attack and needs all of the soldiers here.

Will the party boldly return to the temple in time to save the townspeople inside? Will they hang out at the keep for an hour while they try to replenish HP and spell slots like total wimps?! Find out next time on DMing Horde of the Dragon Queen – Session 3!!!

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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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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”.

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