Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
“You Must Construct Additional Pylons”
Hoard Of The Dragon Queen Episode One, Part Two
Steve as Gatt (Gnome Rogue & Spy)
Alex as Mablung Raventree (Half-Elf Wild Mage & Noble)
Lee as Gesh (Dragonborn Fighter & Acolyte)
Jacob as Willen aka Mockingbird aka Father Benjamin (Human Bard & Charlatan)
Vinnie as Joggi Hvolner (Dwarf Monk & Outlander)
The Cult of the Dragon are robbing people all around the Greenfields region of the Sword Coast. The player’s characters joined forces to travel without getting mugged; only to find the town they were all heading to getting invaded by cultists, dragons and dragon-dogs. They were split apart temporarily, found the keep where most of the townsfolk were hiding, killed a handful of cultists and took their robes as disguises.
This is a printed adventure with a fixed opening, a fixed ending, then a ton of side quests which comprise the middle section. The town is under attack in so many places that they can’t save everyone and everything. The site which had several fixes to problems in the adventure had some great ways of rewarding or punishing the group for the missions they pass, fail or elect not to do.
There are 1,200 people in town, 1,000 of whom are at risk depending on the actions of the characters. If they fail any of the quests, people will die and the boss monster may gain even more hit points. That’s the simple risk/reward of what they do.
As an example they broke open the hidden tunnel which will add 200 survivors to the base 200 of ‘safe’ townsfolk. They chose to ignore the invasion of the sally port so the healers in the keep died along with 60 townsfolk. I did hint a few times both from the soldiers in the keep and the cultists being infiltrated, but the group felt the pylons were the most relevant threat at hand.
The group were concerned by their lack of healer (a legitimate healer, so “Father Benjamin” doesn’t count). I created a pair of NPC clerics and hid them in a temple to Chauntea which would need saving. One was an old halfling who was more willing to help than able, the other was his tiefling intern who was lazy but capable. As long as they saved the temple then they would be okay.
Then there are the pylons. They didn’t really exist in the adventure. They were flavour from the fix, but if the players think they are important then they need to be important. I decided that if they managed to do… whatever it was they were planning, that would mitigate one failure of a side quest.
So the group were dressed as cultists and on the bank of the river (Position A on the map). Gatt killed the unconscious cultists the group had left alive for interrogation, which I guess was a learning experience from the group… never trust Gatt. They saw there were several tall pylons planted deep into the ground with sculpted blue dragon heads pointed at the keep. Mablung and Willen were able to work out that they for; channelling the lightning breath of the blue dragon who was circling the town. The dragon was played by a Lugia toy in our game, along with Twirl Bites as pylons, blue beads for groups of cultists and a clear bead for the heroes, as shown below.
The nearest pylon was guarded by a handful of cultists (at Position B) so the group hid in the secret tunnel while Willen went over to them and said that he saw a hidden entrance to the keep which they should check out. He kindly offered to guard the pylon, something the cultists were pleased to hear as they were fed up having nothing to do and had eaten their packed lunches.
The other player characters were waiting to ambush them, attacking from the tunnel without mercy. Joggi took on the largest of their number, who only seemed more confident with each hit; tearing his robes off and revealing a, “the real dragon” tattoo pointing at his junk. This guy was hardcore and horrific (most of this was through his ability to somehow stay alive after a ton of useless die rolls from Joggi). Gatt dropped from the vines on the roof, stabbing one cultist in the head, then hid in the water and disembowelled two more. I think this was the first of the, “Gatt is terrifying” moments in the campaign.
Meanwhile Willen was keeping completely out of the combat, being a coward. There are issues with having a game which emphasises combat and a character who doesn’t, the main one being that they still need as much ‘screen time’ as the others even if they aren’t up to a fight. Willen saw the sculpted dragon head at the top of the pylon and started to try moving it, but he’s a bard whose Strength stat is less, “bend bars/lift gates” and more, “attend bars/lift pints.” He called over a handful of cultists from nearby. He explained that the people who put the pylon in originally got it wrong, then cast an illusion to make it look like that was the case. The cultists moaned about the bunch of cowboys who installed it, then set to turning the pylon. They failed too, leading Jacob to have his character use his bardic inspiration for the first time in the game, but to have it inspire people who were his enemies. They succeeded and it looked like any electrical damage channelled through it would point at the attacking army instead of the keep.
The cultists in the tunnel were all dead and quietly disposed of, leading to the group back at the pylon by the river bank, wondering what to do next. They started to observe the army of cultists. There were well over a hundred people outside of the keep as well as the ones still sacking the town. There were wagons of weapons, a blue dragonborn and a human woman talking in a command area which was well-guarded. Then Mablung saw a young messenger run off in the direction of a group of buildings. He did some quick mental maths about range and area of effect, then cast a sleep spell on the messenger before he could cross the bridge which led to the mill (Position C).
As the group were still disguised, Mablung ran over and woke him up. The messenger was panicked about his sudden fainting spell, especially as his grandfather had died from a brain tumour. Mablung took this ammunition and ran with it, convincing the child he probably also had a brain tumour and should get the clerics back at the cultist’s camp to look at it. The messenger explained that he was supposed to round up people to attack the mill (the main source of the town’s business) and Mablung said he’d passed the message on.
In the book, there’s a section of what to expect at the mill, the kind of encounter that’s there, but in a single action the group had bypassed it. Now I could have railroaded the players and insist that the mill is still attacked, but they did such a good (if grim) job. Well done players, that’s 30 more survivors!
Mablung returned to the river where the group had found enough information from the other cultists to know that the Temple of Chauntea was the next target. It was in a walled compound further down the river, made in a fairly blocky Dwarf design. The group knew they would be outnumbered, so they had to do something risky which might be beyond them… they needed to use tactics.
As they planned, they saw the blue dragon spit out lightning breath at the keep, incinerating some of the cultists thanks to the redirected pylon (good planning, guys!)
They travelled along the river and through the woods, then walked around the temple’s walls until they could just about see ten dragon-dogs, three cultists and a pair of guard drakes trying to break into the temple. They set up an ambush zone using any flammable materials they could find. Joggi grabbed a broom to use as a weapon because it would look cool (and a quarterstaff is an allowed weapon for a monk to use). They alerted the drakes and summoned the attacking force to the ambush zone. It was a great idea, they managed to blow up a bunch of the enemies right away and burn all of them hideously. Yay! This was a massive force though and there was a bloody brawl which had some of the group on the floor, bleeding out. They managed to kill a couple of cultists who were running away to inform the main force of these attackers. They won this fight, but then there were still several people trying to break into the temple who the group hadn’t seen previously (seriously there are SO MANY enemies around the temple, indicative of the lack of balance in this episode). They were so wounded, had used up most of their limited abilities and needed to rest, at least for a time.
I told the group that they would be able to find a place to hide for an hour which translates to a ‘short rest’ in D&D terms. Abilities like Gesh’s fire breath would become active again and everyone could heal a small amount. They searched and couldn’t find anywhere secure. There was a large house with a couple of exposed doorways, so the group took that and started their rest, hoping nothing would interrupt it.
That seemed like a good place to end the session, so we left the cast trying to catch their breath while all the chaos was still going on outside.
Finally, here’s a picture of what I see when Steve plays Gatt:
Notice: This is an entirely subjective experience both of Hoard of the Dragon Queen and of the session. Readers; if you think the sections I love or hate of this campaign are wrong, you’re welcome to your opinion as I am to mine. Maybe post your own account, I didn’t see many online and varying campaign reports could be interesting. My lovely players, this is how I remembered it all from behind my screen and from my half-legible notes.