Tag: DM Notes

DMing Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Episode 1, part 3, Session 3: Return to Sanctuary, Dragon Attack, and Half-Dragon Champion

After narrowly escaping the overwhelming force attacking the Temple of Chauntea, the party has handed their prisoner, a Cultist Leader, over to Castillan the Red for interrogation. On hearing that there is still a remaining force threatening to slaughter the innocent people inside the Temple, Castillan implored the party to go back without hesitation.

The party has been able to use the old tunnel which leads into the cellar of the keep from a hidden entrance near the river to the south. The cellar has since turned into a makeshift hospital where townsfolk have been brought for refuge and security.

Castillan sent one of the younger boys to fetch the Cleric for the healing and health potions. This is where I changed my plan a little between the sessions.

At the end of the session, I was planning on having the Cleric heal the party for a Prayer of Healing at 3rd level (3d8+4) and 2 health potions each in an effort to convince them to return to the temple immeidately. Between sessions, I decided to have the boy come back with a good news, bad news type of situation.

The boy returns with a heavy bag of rattling potions, but no Cleric. “Good News: I found an extra potion of healing for each of you, Bad News: the Cleric was last seen at the Temple of Chauntea.” This added some much needed urgency to the situation at the temple.

Sanctuary, Part 2

This time, the party took a more strategic approach. I did not add any more enemies as I felt there were still enough from last time to keep the fight challenging. I simply took the remaining kobolds and cultists from group B (the group circling the temple) and had them pick up the battering ram. Group C was still at the back trying, and failing miserably, to set fire to the back door. Because of the open environment, this fight heavily favors ranged weapons and classes, as the Order of the Soul Knife Mystic found out while he was trying his best to chase down things all over the place only to have them shot down by the Ranger, Artificer, Wizard, of even the Rogue first.

The party uses ranged attacks through the slits in the wall surrounding the Temple as two of the members try to remove the firewood stacked up at the rear door and the Artificer snipes targets from the roof.

The Wizard did get points for being creative with Mage Hand and pulling a kobold off the 15 foot wall I put around the temple to die from falling damage, and extra points for not meta-gaming when a group of 3 kobolds were sneaking up around the back. Although he, the player, knew the kobolds were coming around back and he asked if he could roll an insight check to see if his character might think to check behind him before he took off after another enemy. I allowed that and he ended up failing it anyways (rolled so low he didn’t even tell me what he rolled).

After the last cultist (Cult Fanatic) was killed, the Cleric of the Temple (NPC inside) opened the door from the inside and, after giving the party’s Cleric the most epic Dutch-meets-Dillon Predator arm wrestle handshake, invited the party in.

I turned this into a small roleplay encounter while the Temple Cleric, Tim, cast his 3rd level Prayer of Healing. Casting time here is 10 minutes, so I had various NPC’s inside the temple ask the party questions. “Where are you from?” “What brought you here?” and so on. The party’s Cleric asked me, as DM, “Do we get any loot for saving these people?” I replied with an in-game, “Half a dozen of the villagers come to you with the arms full of their family’s only posessions they were able to grab from their homes before they were set ablaze, and they offer you some coinage as thanks.” Doing the right thing, he and the Wizard, and then the rest of the party, turned down their offer with a “Your thanks is enough, now we need to get you to the keep.” This was great for our party because we’re still trying to do more RP in our games and this turned out very well.

We took a short snack break here, and after the healing the party decided it’s time to head to the keep. They decided to sneak back to the keep through the forest to the Temple’s south, which sat directly north of the riverbank. They had 20 villagers and Tim, the Temple Cleric.

Dragon Attack

I should mention that during the party’s entire time in Greenest, I kept the party aware of the Adult Blue Dragon’s location, who was flying in wide circles around the town swooping in randomly or tromping through the streets. Before making any actions or moves, the party would often ask the whereabouts of the dragon and make plans based on that in an effort to avoid it.

I played this one a little differently than was written in the book, which has him attacking the Keep and slaughtering the defenders on the wall. I felt that this encounter, again, was too favorable for the ranged classes and I wanted to add more urgency to the encounter. I had the dragon attack the party as they were trying to safeguard the 21 villagers they just rescued from the temple and bring them to the keep through the secret tunnel. This turned out to be amazing.

The party was on the northern riverbank, heading west towards the secret tunnel. The Rogue scouted ahead to find 6 kobolds poking through the dead bodies of their fallen compatriots from the first encounter out of the tunnel in session 1. She reported her findings to the party, who was waiting behind with the villagers.

The dragon circled around overhead in a wide, lazy, clockwise circle where the Keep would be at 9 o’clock. The party hid with the villagers in the woods and waited for the dragon to continue its wide arc past them, and then it perched itself atop the Keep, interested in whatever was inside.

The Cleric and Mystic stayed with the villagers in the woods while the Rogue, Ranger, Wizard, and Artificer planned their attack on the 6 kobolds. Between the 4 attackers with the Ranger’s Hordebreaker, they were able to quickly dispatch 5 of the 6 kobolds in 1 quick volley. The remaining kobold shit his pants and dashed away as an action. It was the Artificer’s shot with a crossbow that took him out after all the other missed.

This got the dragon’s attention, and they decided it was now or never. They decided to run for it as soon as the Rogue unlocked the secret door. I made them roll 1d20 to find out how many villagers made it from the woods to the tunnel without the dragon noticing. NAT20. So, the villagers were at the tunnel’s entrance as the dragon lept off the roof of the Keep and dove towards the party.

Shit was getting intense.

“Is the dragon in range?” the Ranger, Artificer, and Wizard were all asking. “What’s your range?” I asked them all back, planning to have the dragon at the shortest range given (within reason).

  1. Ranger: Longbow at 150ft.
  2. Artificer: Thunder Cannon at 150 ft.
  3. Wizard: Firebolt at 120ft.

“The dragon is 120 ft. away, and closing fast.”

The Ranger, Artificer, and Wizard all begin to attack, and the Cleric joins in with a Guiding Bolt cast at Level 2 , damaging the dragon over 2 rounds. The dragon’s fly speed was 80 feet and I didn’t have it dash as an action, so round 2 had the dragon 40 feet directly overhead as the party let off a few more shots.

For each of these turns, I had the villagers attempting to pile into the narrow tunnel. I didn’t allow for dash because of the chaos and confusion, saying the villagers were all tripping over eachother and panicking. In turn 1, 6 villagers made it in, basing this on the speed of 30 feet and nobody could get past them or end their turn on a shared space. Turn 2, 6 more made it in and the dragon began its descent. Turn 3, dragon was 40 feet over, 6 more made it in. Turn 4, the last of the villagers, the Temple Cleric (who was waiting until all of his people made it in before he went in), the Rogue, Mystic, and Party Cleric got in the tunnel. The Ranger and Artificer were stuck outside to face down the dragon.

I had a few lines prepared for this because I wanted it to be awesome and I am terrible at improvising lines.

  • “Who do you think you are that you can meddle in the affairs of dragons?”
  • “I have been watching your… feeble attempts to save this miserable slum from its inevitible doom. Do you really think that your pitiful heroics can make a difference?”

I had a few other lines ready that I didn’t get use because the party is yet to grasp that “if an enemy is talking to you and the odds are stacked against you, you should probably try talking your way out of it.” Instead, the Ranger and Artificer shot it in the face.

The dragon leaped into the air and smashed down onto the Artificer, biting him and clawing him to unconsciousness. He then changed targets with his multiattack and clawed at the hunter – not doing any damage but instead pushing his massive claw down onto his body and grinding him into the earth, saying “I am… disappointed. So mch killing, and barely any treasure to show for it. And worst of all, this ragtag troup of miscreants is the best the town can come up with…” He pushed off into the air and began to fly away, saying “If you wish to meddle in the affairs of dragons, then allow to demonstrate the true power of dragons!”

Not sure what that meant, the Ranger got up and carried the Artificer into the secret tunnel, locking the door behind them.

Short Rest in the Cellar

The party collapsed in the cellar, which has grown cramped with the number of wounded townsfolk huddling inside. Tim, the Temple Cleric, tended to some of the people from the temple and then sent one of them off to fetch Governer Nighthill, saying that he would want to speak with the heroes who saved them from the attackers.

The party basically said “Yeah, we’re not going off to look for anyone. We’ll wait here until he comes to us.”

I gave them enough time for their first short rest in 3 sessions. They earned it.

Half-Dragon Champion

After an hour, Governer Nighthill came down into the cellar to seek out the party, offering many thanks and apologizing that he could not be more rewarding for their deeds. “But.. there’s something you need to see.. follow me.” he said as he began to ascend the stairs out of the cellar, not waiting to see if the party was following. Suspicious of his behavior, the party carefully followed him out of the cellar and into the ward.

As they ascended, they began to hear chanting in Draconic “Cyanwrath, Cyanwrath, Cyanwrath!” coming from outside of the keep. In the ward, about 60 soldiers of Greenest stood in formation, frightened.

Governer Nighthill continued his ascent up to the battlements at the top of the wall, and the party followed. At the top, the could see over 200 kobolds in a loose formation on the killing fields outside of the keep, continuing their chant. Again, the Ranger asked “Are they within range?”. “They are”, I replied. “Do not attack them, dude” the rest of the party told him. “Oh, I was just curious” he said.

Nighthill explained, “I have no idea what they are chanting. They have stopped attacking the town and have been assembled here for at least 20 minutes.”

“It’s a name… Cyanwrath…” the Rogue told him. She spoke draconic (half the party does, almost as if they knew what they’d be going up against) so she recognized it as a name, although didn’t know who the name belonged to.

After a moment, I read the box text to the encounter, adding only that the Champion “is disappointed he has not come across a single warrior that could stand up to him.” Unfortunately our Barbarian couldn’t make it to this session because this would have been ideal for him.

After some discussion and some convincing from Governer Nighthill, the Artificer stepped up. Nighthill offered his sword to whoever fights, which was a Sword of Sharpness straight from the DMG, Tim the Cleric blessed him, and some random villager inside the keep gave him a ring “to protect him.” Although he was suspicious of the ring, he accepted it. The pressure was on. (Remind me to tell you about how I fucked this up.)

Our bloodthirsty Monster AI friend was hanging out for the night and took control of Cyanwrath. I had him and the Artificer roll their initiative. Cyanwrath wins and goes first.

The Artificer has his epic standoff with Cyanwrath, the Half-Dragon Champion, as the rest of the party watches from the battlements.
  1. Artificer had readied Dodge as he began to approach, even before rolling initiative.
  2. Cyanwrath critically fails the first attack and slices into his own leg, and then Artificer dodges and slashes Cyanwrath for 11 slashing damage.
  3. Cyanwrath attacks, Artificer activates the Ring of Shield to block the attack. Cyanwrath attacks again and misses. Artificer readies Dodge again.
  4. Cyanwrath attacks two times, Artificer dodges both and slashes back for another 11 slashing damage.
  5. Cyanwrath attacks once with his greatsword, missing once and hits the Artificer with his Lightning Breath for 12 lightning damage, blocking the Artificers next attack.
  6. Cyanwrath cuts the Artificer down to unconciousness.

The army of kobolds go into a cheering frenzy, and then Cyanwrath hefts his greatsword into the air, chopping down at the unconcious Artificer two times immediately causing two failed death saves. He lifts his sword again, ready for a third strike, and then lowers his weapon saying “… disappointing.” He tells his kobolds to let the human prisoners go as they begin to leave. The prisoners run and pick up the Artificer’s limp body and carry him to the Keep as the two Clerics run out to get him.

That is the end of Chapter 1, and the end of this session. They still have the prisoner to interrogate and certainly some rewards from the townsfolk and the Nighthill and Castellan.

Remember how I said I fucked up?

I did not notice every detail in the stat block for Cyanwrath before our Monster AI friend took him over, and completely missed the fact that he has Blindsight. I wanted to help the Artificer, so the ring that the villager gave him originally before heading out was a Ring of Blur, allowing him to use Blur for free once per day.

This completely backfired on me when Artificer activated Blur on Cyanwrath’s first attack, and Monster AI pointed out that Blindsight should negate Blur. After a table discussion we agreed on that decision. I admitted that it was completely my fuckup and I added it in there to try to actually help out the Artificer but had overlooked that stat for Cyanwrath, and called a do-over.

What really sucked for the Artificer was that his first roll was a NAT20 in the initial fight, but Cyanwrath also would’ve taken him down in the first hit or two because of high rolls (and Monster AI was rolling in the open, so there was no fudging on my part).

Looking back, I probably could’ve said Cyanwrath doesn’t have that ability, but we went with the do-over and it all turned out alright. I really don’t know how any Level 1 PC would stand a chance against Cyanwrath, but it looks like that’s intended.

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DMing Princes of the Apocalypse. Non-Spoiler Character Adventure Hooks.

One of my parties decided on running Princes of the Apocalypse for their next campaign after Lost Mine of Phandelver. While researching character bonds and background hooks, I made this newby DM mistake:

While I really appreciate Sly Flourish’s rewrite of the hooks and think he did a fantastic job summarizing them, I didn’t realize how many names of people and places were shared. I thought it felt like a little too much information to give away to everybody in the party, so I rewrote them to take out names. I do plan to give the names the players who choose those hooks. I am having the players choose 2 hooks and keep them secretive from the other players, and I will decide what happens in the event of multiple players choosing the same hooks, as some may work like that while some may not.

I have put this in a pdf with Faction summaries here: PotA Adventure Hooks at homebrewery.naturalcrit. (Ink-Friendly version)


Princes of the Apocalypse

Character Adventure Hooks

Best Served Cold: A silver-tongued bard murdered your sister. You seek revenge against this murderous minstrel, who was last seen in the area of the Dessarin Valley.

Dangerous Information: During your travels you overheard that a group of murderous bandits are planning a terrible raid somewhere in the Dessarin Valley.

Dangerous Secret: A mysterious circle of druids supposedly know of a ritual magic unknown to other druids. You have been sent to infiltrate these druids, now residing somewhere in the Dessarin Valley, and learn of their secret.

Dark Omens: The signs and portents are clear. Nature is out of balance. You have apocalyptic dreams of fire, floods, tornados, and earthquakes swallowing up the towns of the Dessarin Valley. You travel to the Dessarin Valley to seek out and remove the reason for this imbalance.

Defeat the Skyraiders: Viscous raiders mounted on hippogriffs have laid waste to several small hamlets and merchant caravans. In the process they murdered your closest friend. You have arrived having heard word of their activity in the Dessarin Valley.

Feathrgale Rebel: Nobles of Waterdeep hired you to retrieve a Waterdhavian noblewoman who was last seen somewhere in the Dessarin Valley.

The Fugitive: You are on the trail of a wizard who murdered his fellow mages and stole their arcane knowledge. His last recent sightings are in the lands of the Dessarin Valley.

Hired Hand: The homesteaders who raised you as their own and were often kind to itinerant workers are now missing. You now seek to rescue the members of your adopted family who still live and seek revenge for those now dead.

Madman at Haunted Keep: Brigands you used to travel with took a dark murderous turn, andd you just happen to know a secret entrance to their keep.

The Mud Sorcerer: Months ago you were robbed by an earth genasi who killed several innocent bystanders by tearing open a rift in the ground and swallowing them deep into the earth. You must find him and make him pay.

Ominous Dream: Your dreams are filled with nightmares of the earth swallowing thousands while a male medusa stands atop a rock etched with a strange symbol. You know that this dangerous villain must be stopped before this disaster comes to pass.

Recover Your Sword: Thugs broke into the workshop where you apprenticed and murdered the master smith who taught you. They stole a beautiful sword she made and carved strange symbols into the walls of the shop.

Rescue Your People: Raiders have abducted members of your family and must be rescued at any cost. They left behind only a strange symbol burned into the wood of your home. You’ve heard that similar signs have been seen around the Dessarin Valley.

Seeking Revenge: Your home village had been put to the torch, killing dozens of your friends and neighbors. Your investigations have led you to the Dessarin Valley.

Settle a Score: Your family has been robbed and you were left for dead by marauders wearing armor that looked like stone. You have heard of similar raids in the Dessarin Valley.

Stormbringer’s Trail: Your ship has been sunk by an unnatural storm sending many of your brothers on the sea to their watery deaths. Your investigations have uncovered a stormbringer that he resides somewhere in the Dessarin Valley.

Strange Map: An ancient map showing a forgotten dwarf stronghold beneath the Sumber Hills has come into your possession. Though incomplete and faded, it has a name written on it in dwarven.

Suspicious Fellow: You have been sent to investigate a suspicious activities of a knight of the Feathergale Society who now resides somewhere in the Dessarin Valley.

Undercover: You have been tasked to break up a smuggling and piracy ring taking place somewhere on the Dessarin River.

Walked Away: While working as a freelance mercenary you fell in with a group who began an unhealthy association with fire as their weapon of choice. You left the group after the began to burn their victims alive. You now worry that these mercenaries are responsible for troubles in the Dessarin Valley and must be stopped.


That’s it! I hope somebody else may find this useful, and am looking forward to the elemental adventures that await the party in Princes of the Apocalypse.

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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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