Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
Hoard Of The Dragon Queen Episode Eight
Steve as Gatt (Gnome Rogue & Spy)
Alex as Mablung Raventree (Half-Elf Wild Mage & Noble)
Lee as Gesh (Dragonborn Fighter & Acolyte)
Jacob as Willen Kingsley aka Mockingbird aka an Elven Cultist (Human Bard & Charlatan)
Vinnie as Joggi Hvolner (Dwarf Monk & Outlander)
Talis (half-elf, obviously not evil)
Tony the Weasel (Gatt’s familiar, a compulsive liar)
Previously: Cultists have been raiding the Sword Coast, stealing things to make into the hoard of the five-headed dragon god Tiamat. The player characters have been enlisted in hunting the hoard down. They have tracked it down to Skyreach Castle, a flying castle due to take off in a few hours. Talis, the half-elf dragon cultist has claimed to be on their side and directed them to Skyreach in order to track down the hoard and discredit her colleagues. In the process of all this, Willen died, was resurrected and currently thinks he’s Mablung which will totally not get tedious.
We started the session a little earlier than normal, to make use of the August bank holiday and try to get the whole episode done in one go. Despite this need for expedience, I decided to ask the group to share with everyone the moment they felt was defining for each of their characters.
This in some way explains the horror of the group, I guess.
The village of Parnast was controlled by the Cult of the Dragon. When the players arrived, they were instantly on guard. Joggi made an Insight skill roll to see whether or not he could sense anything amiss. He rolled a three and suspected everyone of everything. He and Willen went to a small shrine in a shed to pray for Willen’s mental health. Most of the effigies in the shrine were neglected, with only one looked after and another vandalised. Captain Othelstan, the head guard of Parnast recognised Willen in his mangy rotted elf disguise immediately and attempted to buy him. There was some backstory here, you see. Othelstan’s granddad was the squire to Sir Kingsley and ended up being the sacrificial offering used for Kingsley’s pact with a horrendous elder god, in order to thwart the dragons. He was in this for revenge and had sent his people out to hunt the heir of Kingsley to return the favour by sacrificing him to Tiamat. A nice reversal, a nice plan. Instead of any of that coming to light, the D&D solution to problems took place and Gatt stabbed one of the guards, starting a big fight. It didn’t help having most of the group in a shrine roughly the size of a shed. My dice rolling proved awful and Captain Othelstan flailed blindly.
Joggi’s best reaction to all this was to slam the shrine door shut to keep safe. The guards started to set fire to the small wooden shack. Realising there was no real safety there, Joggi punched the door out, hoping it would work as an improvised weapon against the people on the other side. It ended up less impressive than he hoped and the guards started psyching each other up with a pep talk. It turned out they were called Bob and Ralph and both had big plans on making it through the fight. “We will never die!” they yelled, pretty much securing their deaths. Whenever one of them hit a player character they would cheer each other on. Bob and Ralph were great. Gesh cast scorching ray on them both and Mablung cast an illusion of Mockingbird fleeing. Two of the dragonwing guards in the village ran after them. The captain continued to miss Joggi who punched his heart out of his chest. All of that long-term planning of Othelstan was over and Willen didn’t even realise he was Willen at the time. It was probably a bad idea to have a character with plot in a combat, it normally is.
Okay, let’s have a quick sidebar here about character secrets and backstory: Jacob’s character was Willen Kingsley, a conman calling himself Mockingbird whose grandfather killed a dragon. He was being hunted by the cultists. The players knew all this, the characters didn’t know he was Willen Kingsley or even that he was a conman at first. As a master of disguise he wasn’t visible to his hunters and as a traveller who kept changing his identity he didn’t really leave any leads for them. Jacob had evaded his enemies, but he asked for a bit more plot involvement. I decided that the cult needed a way of seeing through the disguises. His grandfather’s raiments were found by a sub-boss (Othelstan) who had a personal grudge and was sending dragon dogs out. They would be able to smell out the heir of Kingsley. That meant the hunt was on again, a little. It was decided that he had some kind of eldritch connection which led to the betrayal of Othelstan. In a game where the main interface with the world is violence, there was probably not going to be any result other than the combat characters murdering him in a fight. Part of this damp squib of a revelation is on me, part is on Jacob and part is on the system. Without giving Othelstan plot armour or having him vanish, I’m not sure what else I could have done without much more of a stretch which would have strained credulity with the group.
Rant over, back to the adventure! The people of Parnast were freaking out and ringing the alarm. The group ran to the wyvern stables and realised there were only two. This was going to be tricky with the five of them and Talis. She elected to stay behind and the group divvied out their weights onto the two wyverns. Oh, also their relative wyvern-flying skills.
Gatt, Mockingbird and Mablung took one while Gesh and Joggi took the other. As it turned out, the wyverns were wholly disinterested in going to the castle or obeying orders.
While attempting to fly, Mablung had enough of Mockingbird imitating him and with some application of medicine (aka a firm knock to the head) Mockingbird was back! …and immediately attempting to steer his wyvern away from the conflict using the illusion of a falcon which the wyvern wanted to eat. Gesh and Joggi attempted to use meat on a stick to lure their wyvern to the castle. Eventually the two groups, willingly or otherwise, managed to crash land on the upper courtyard of Skyreach Castle as it took off.
Finally, they were in the last set piece of the game! The map was big and pretty odd, which I quite like in a setting as it feels quite unique. What you’re looking at here is a central big bit of rock which is hollowed out into a dragon’s lair. Then there are two courtyards with massive buildings in them acting as a home to a cloud giant and a vampire. There was also an ogre barracks, which the party landed right next to. There was a lot of debate about what to do followed with fleeing once the ogres noticed the group.
They dashed down steps made from carved ice and found the lower courtyard with a bunch more buildings. There were several to the right and food smells to the left. Gatt was sent ahead as a scout to the right. Joggi followed his stomach. The kitchen was oversized and had four hill giants rushing around, cooking food. One paused when he saw Joggi who claimed to be the new porter. One giant whose face was oddly immobile on one side handed him a massive bowl of soup and asked him to deliver it to the guests. Joggi agreed and double-checked where the guests were staying.
While Gatt scouted some of the rooms and listened in on a pair of Red Wizards chattering about the lovely new lectern they’d bought, Mablung had found the barracks. Even better, it was a barracks with ten sleeping guards. He did the unthinkable and called Gatt using a message spell.
Mablung pitched to Gatt that they needed just one person in that room to interrogate. Gatt displayed a little self-awareness and pointed out to Mablung exactly what he was asking of Gatt and what would happen if he was set loose in the room, basically that he’s complicit in the inevitable slaughter. Despite this, Mablung let it happen and when the remaining guard was woken up he was utterly terrified, understandably. The remaining guard gave his name as Paul and explained the layout of the castle to the group, along with the cult’s plan to deliver this hoard to a town in the south in the mountains just down and right a bit from Greenest, making this a massive round trip from the treasure, pretty much just to put people off the scent of where it’s really going. The commanders of this force were revealed as Rezmir (dragonborn the group were tracking), Blagothkus (freelance giant with a moving castle) and Esclarotta (a vampire). Paul begged for his life as he just joined this group of cultists as he needed money to get by. Gatt decided he couldn’t kill a man with dreams and a name, so instead Mablung & Mockingbird wrote a confession in Paul’s name and Mockingbird slit his throat, deciding it would also act as a suicide note.
Do you know what alignment these three people are? I asked them. Their answer?
Chaotic good. I called them all a bunch of fucking liars.
As bloated and terrible as Hackmaster 4th Edition was, I do almost want to bring their ‘Alignment Audit’ system into this game.
After that horrible moment, Joggi took the massive bowl of soup to the guest room where a couple of stone giants were bickering. He handed them the soup and introduced himself to them. They were Wigulf and Hilda, a married couple who were visiting their friend Blagothkus who owned the castle. They’d been meaning to go on holiday for a few hundred years and while it was nice to get away from their mountain, Blagothkus was really busy with this cult he was doing some freelance work for. They weren’t bitter, but would like it if he spent some time with them. Joggi went back to the kitchen to get some bread for the Wigulf and Hilda, only to see the shocking truth behind the kitchen giants!
Four kobolds were sat on one of the kitchen surfaces, tired and smoking pipes. They were muttering about the lengths they had to go to in order to get paid work. A giant’s body was slumped over the counter and Joggi quickly put two and two together… These kobolds were all wearing a suit to appear like a giant in order to get some kitchen work. He told them that he would keep their secret and knew that it was a rough time for jobs in this economic climate. After encountering these rather un-culty NPCs, Joggi decided that he could actually try to negotiate with Blagothkus (who was a bugger to get the pronunciation of right) and see whether he could help navigate the castle away from its’ intended destination.
The rest of the group were doing what they do well, breaking into places and angering enemies. They had elected to avoid the Red Wizards who were busy drinking tea, but Gatt returned to the room he was ogling the locked door of before Mablung called him over. He picked the locks and found a nice room with a pair of angry guard drakes who had heard and smelled the group. Mablung tried to cast sleep on them but it failed, which was probably the signal that they were in for a bad time. Gesh stomped in to attack them and realising the amount of hit points at play on both sides I just have written, “Oh my god this will take forever.”
There was a big fight and after Gatt’s initial hit, he ran to hide, only to get swallowed by the bedroom’s rug. He escaped and hid under the bed but it bristled after him, desperate to choke the life out of him. Gesh made short work of the drakes and started to hit the rug. They all then started to pound it and as it wasn’t really going to offer much threat I decided to gloss over the death of the rug.
You’d think the threat was over but of course it wasn’t. Gatt poisoned himself looting the treasure chest of the room’s owner, Rezmir. Inside was a black dragon mask used by Rezmir, but the group didn’t trust it enough to wear. They took it anyway, just in case it was valuable.
Joggi made his way up to the ogres in the top courtyard of the castle and while he failed to convince them that he should go into the steering tower, he did just about manage to get inside and talk to the cloud giant Blagothkus (represented by a different kind of giant in the photos, I know, I only have so many D&D miniatures).
He guilted Blagothkus into playing host for his visitors and said that he could steer. Blagothkus said that he would need someone who could read dwarf & giant in order to commune with the dead spirit of his wife as she was the one who steered the castle. I know that sounds weird, but for all I know this is a completely normal practice in cloud giant culture, I certainly played it off as that. Once they were alone, Joggi talked to the glowing cloud of ghostly energy which was Mrs Blagothkus, explaining that they were flying an angry pinata full of loot and dragons, things which really work against her and her husband in the long run. I pointed out where they were on the map and Vinnie started to come up with ideas about what to do.
Downstairs, the group hid from Blagothkus and made their way up to the top courtyard where they thought they were going to fight Rezmir as she was commanding the ogre battalion who were up there. At that point, Joggi announced his plan to flip the castle upside down. That was… unexpected. I mean, it wasn’t exactly in the list of command words I gave, but I decided ‘why not?’ The castle tilted round, pouring ogres all over the land, also ridding them of Rezmir in a fairly unceremonious way as she plummeted hundreds of feet to the ground.
They pondered where to fly the castle to and settled on Elturel. They were headed past exactly where they started their journey which I expected to catch a ton more shit for as it kind of rendered a lot of the travel even more futile than it first seemed, but the group went with it and in looking to go to Elturel, the home of the Glowing Orb in the Sky Who Sees The Hidden Shame of All, which would burn the undead in the castle just for being near it. Amazing thinking from the group. Some genius use of previously established parts of the campaign.
Mockingbird suggested going invisible, polymorphing into flying animals and splitting from this whole upside down castle thing.
Before they could celebrate and/or flee from their position in the tip of the now upside-down tower, they heard the flapping of wings and roaring of a dragon. I asked them for more dice as I needed sixteen twelve-sided dice for the hit points of the dragon. Of course, then they started mathsing out how many hit points it probably had. The answer was a ton guys, it had a ton.
Just the sight of the dragon scared Mockingbird (of course) and Gatt. It breathed icy doom at the group and while it was a recharge ability, I quickly wondered if this might be an attack that would herald the death of the party. Mockingbird and Gatt were quite right to be scared as both were knocked down to ‘dying’ by the dragon breath. Mablung poured a potion into Mockingbird’s mouth to keep him alive after last time and the whole death save fiasco. Then he did another one of those brilliant, completely unexpected mad player moments. He cast polymorph on Joggi, turning him into an ape. Oh wait, did I say ape? I meant GIANT APE! This was going to be some King Kong Vs Godzilla madness going on in the upside down tower.
The Joggorilla attempted to grapple a dragon, rolling a ‘true d10’ by mistake as it looks identical to a d20. A good start. On a second take, he managed to launch a flurry of blows at the dragon and pin it. The dragon failed to get free and as a GM I never thought I’d end up with any player attempting to grapple something so huge. Still, I love the weird innovation of it all. It dropped prone, landing on the group. Gesh had to lift the dragon’s tail to rescue Mockingbird. In the distance, a ghost of Liftron watched and nodded in approval before vanishing.
What ensued, at least on my notes, were 200 hit points of dragon being battered by the angry rage of an incompetent dwarf turned giant gorilla. I also have, “grappling is stupid,” which is true. With no ability to do anything other than struggle against the gorilla, the dragon wasn’t all that much of a threat. In the end, Joggi pulled the head off the dragon in a rage.
Blagothkus entered, upset that the castle had gone upside down. He turned it the right way up, but kept it going to Elturel where Esclarotta burnt in her crypt, just from proximity to The Glowing Orb in the Sky Who Drinks Deeply of Tears. Another problem solved and basically all that was left now was the hoard itself.
The hoard in the book is pretty crap. It’s just some coins. The group realised with their status of mainly being on the road that they were amassing vast amounts of gem and gold but not much of anything else. There was a bow and a spellbook from Hoard and three itself I quickly patched into session seven (Episode Four) as prizes for the tournament.
I decided to use a link provided in one of the fixes which allows you to make a treasure parcel. The list of treasure was pretty massive and more indicative of the crazy looting the cult did. It went through the mundane to the bizarre. Example items are:
* 1 x A polished stone orb
* 31 x amphora of vinegar
* 43 x manacles
* 1 x rug
* 2 x sedan chair
* 43 x snowshoes
Plus money, plus gems, plus magic items, of course. One of the best items there was a longship which was decked out in large carpets and tapestries as a makeshift bed for the white dragon. The group took what they needed but left the majority. They piloted the castle all the way to the bandit camp from early in the campaign. They put word out that most of the items had been recovered, kept quiet about what they kept and used the intricate ledgers they’d seen from earlier in the game to hand out people’s possessions. Finally, a nice act which was far better than I expected from them given well… you’ve read this campaign so far.
Each victim of the cult of the dragon were given a single scale from the body of the white dragon. The castle took off so Blagothkus, Wigulf and Hilda could have some holiday time together now they were free of the cultists. They waved goodbye and we faded out with the player characters as heroes.
Of course, we needed to see what would happen in the future for the cast, so I asked for the group to come up with what their characters would do next…
When the castle righted itself in the sky, a treasure chest fell out of the sky and landed next to a farmer. He realised that it must have held vast amounts of gold. Instead he found the remains of Jamna Gleamsilver, who hid in the chest back in episode six and never made it out.
Gesh hung out with Gatt for a little while until he went back to his homeland. He returned to his temple, his faith in the world and his god reasserted.
Joggi watched his fellow hero Mockingbird robbing what he wanted from the hoard and decided to leave for Greenest. Their temple was being slowly rebuilt and he asked if they needed any help.
Mockingbird was flush with riches and travelled down to Amn for a bit to live like a noble until he ran out of money and had to go back to his swindling ways.
Gatt used his cut from the hoard to pay off his debts to the Raventree family and decided to take some time out of murder to find out what a forest gnome is really like. He and Tony sought out his kin to reconnect with them.
Mablung returned to Waterdeep a hero and no longer a despised shame of the Raventree dynasty.
Talis is still at large, supposedly, “undercover” and totally not planning anything evil.
So that was it, The Hoard of the Dragon Queen. It was a massively flawed campaign with some great moments either from the set pieces, the fixes or more than anything else, the players.
The In-Fighters provide a certain amount of chaos and I was pleased they didn’t assume every encounter could only be dealt with by combat. I’ll sum up my thoughts on the campaign and what it could do a lot better in my final Hoard article soon. Until then, I just want to thank Steve, Alex, Lee, Jacob and Vinnie for their participation in the campaign.
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. Additional thanks to the lovely Emma for the idea of putting a bunch of kobolds in a giant costume.