Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
Hoard Of The Dragon Queen Episode Four, Part One
Just so you know, I think this is my single favourite session of the game.
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 Pastor Solomon aka Count Frequenty (Human Bard & Charlatan)
Vinnie as Joggi Hvolner (Dwarf Monk & Outlander)
The Cult of the Dragon robbed a bunch of villages blind and are transporting the hoard north as tribute to Tiamat, a five-headed dragon god they are trying to summon. The players are travelling to Elturel to warn their allies.
Well… that’s what they should be doing.
The players have levelled up and were a little distracted in working things out during the start of the session. Alex caught everyone up on what happened so far, which deserved an Inspiration point*. Steve did a coffee round and from this session I decided to start rewarding the people who got the drinks in at the start of a session. Players, if you’ve not noticed that yet, consider this the drink-for-Inspiration guarantee!
Then the period of distraction started. While the group were travelling to Elturel, Alex said that they should go to Beregost and warn them of the incoming caravan of cultists as they’ll probably be raided. There were several flaws in the plan:
* The cult were already on the road and the group were heading in the other direction.
* Beregost is a tiny town with no walls or guards, at best there are a couple of taverns and the Flaming Fist are patrolling that way.
* The above knowledge of Beregost is nothing mentioned in the book and only based on my flimsy rememberings from the amazing Baldur’s Gate video game. The book barely mentions them at all. No one cares about it, but the players don’t yet know why they shouldn’t try and stop the hoard yet.
After a lot of persuading, it was said that Beregost was a lost cause and would have added even longer to the six day’s ride to Elturel. It did come up again a few times, but the book didn’t care, no one but Alex cared about poor Beregost.
During the time I asked what they were doing to help out the travel and get them to Elturel quickly. Mablung and Willen were practising magic. Joggi was helping them find a way. Gesh was apparently helping with sermons and Gatt was not actively hindering. That said, he went scouting when the rest of the group were sleeping and the only thing he managed to find were, “bunny berries.” After gorging himself on them, he became horrendously ill for the next few days of travel.
We cut ahead to their slightly late arrival at Elturel. A few knowledge checks had the group aware of a few things:
* The gods worshipped in the town are Helm and Chauntea.
* Elturel has a popular but cheap pub called, “A Pair of Black Antlers” (think Weatherspoons). A hipster pub called, “Phontyr’s Unicorn.”
* There are about 17,000 souls in the city.
* For… I’m sure some random reason, there is a glowing orb which burns any undead who go near the city and can’t ever turn off.
I visited the Forgotten Realms Wiki for most of that information, although there was at least a little more than usual here.
The book mentions Ontharr Frume as a blustery, heroic type who might be mucking about with contests. This is a cool idea, so the ‘fix’ document actually made a timetable of events for three days of festivities. I decided to lean on this a bit, as there wasn’t a huge amount else to do in this town. It would give the characters some fun downtime and allow them to be themselves instead of just questing murderers who could, frankly, be anyone.
The guards on the gate mentioned the festival and the group found their way to A Pair of Black Antlers, where Ontharr was in a massive crowd. Mablung tried explaining their position and their need to talk with him privately. Ontharr laughed him off and tried to get them to enlist in the contests. Gatt jumped up, grabbed him by the neck, shook him and shouted about the dragon cult, about basically the whole plot. Steve is a player who is great at the flouncy acting but in games like D&D will bee-line towards the main mission without letting a side plot get in the way. Ontharr grabbed him by the neck and whispered that there were ears everywhere and not to yell about things like that. In the background, robed figures moved around, watching them all.
The group realised this was the first actual city they’d gone to and started to visit shops as well as sign up for contests. Gatt sulked on a tower and spotted the robed figures closing in around Mablung, who was gleefully unaware.
Gesh started to negotiate having a set of dragonborn armour made, which would be expensive and time-consuming. Willen, as Pastor Solomon, went to Phontyr’s Unicorn to sell the suspiciously large collection of centaur art. Yeah, we all remembered the centaur art.
I admit I did a hatchet job on Phontyr’s Unicorn. I know it’s probably supposed to be something much more flouncy and high fantasy-esque than it ended up being. Originally I imagined it as a pretentious place which would serve people artisanal mead in jars or potion bottles, with purposefully tasteless art up in the name of irony. Willen showed off the centaur art to the proprietor, Slizard the Lizard (human, but with a reptilian look to him). In the background a barmaid threw up when she saw one of the pieces of art. “Bottle that for later,” Slizard said and suddenly Phontyr’s Unicorn became a very different place. Slizard offered a staff of the redder, a night’s stay and one of the barmaids to Willen, who humbly accepted and realised that he would never want to shine a paladin blacklight over any surface in the tavern. The staff of the adder was fitting and looked cool, but I wasn’t versed in the DMG enough to know it wasn’t usable by anyone in the group yet. Maybe at some point in the future it will be. At least the paintings found a loving home, something I never thought would happen.
So, after all of that ugliness, the contests started…
Gesh and Joggi signed up to the pie-eating contest, one for glory and one just for food. Before the contest, Gesh found a kindred soul in a contestant called Liftron the Magnificent. Liftron was actually a creation of a friend of mine at a CabinCon D&D 5th Edition game, harvested as an NPC here. He was a barbarian and former circus performer whose main goal in life was to get strong enough to lift the world. He made a lot of boasts and tattooed pictures of anything he lifted on his body.
The contestants in the pie-eating were:
Guts – A dwarf who Willen conjured the illusion of maggots in the pie of. He snobbishly said they were the wrong maggots and left.
Liftron – Who did okay on his own steam.
Blean Blarchee – A halfling caught snorting the Dust of Digestion and disqualified.
Crazy Legs – Fresh off his failure in a footrace the group were too late for.
Somehow Joggi actually got full and a little sick from all the pies he’d eaten.
During the contest, Gatt saw assassins closing in on Mablung and murdered them. He rifled through their pockets, was arrested by the guards and bailed out for 40 gold. Lunch was free, which was okay for everyone but Joggi who stuck to booze instead. Gesh and Liftron had their own private contest where they lifted an anvil, then got matching tattoos of it.
The final contest of the day was a general talent show, held at Phontyr’s Unicorn (apparently now Elven slang for ‘penis’). The contestants from worst to best were:
Pumpous Maximus – Puppets. He got stage fright and ran away crying.
Bull Tannerhauser – A terrible stand-up comedian.
Liftron – Lifted the stage.
Willen – Hastily trying to have a different identity, Willen performed impressions but a cultist started asking him to do impressions of, “Kingsley the Dragonslayer” and fled, causing Willen to be disqualified as he left the arena.
Gatt – Performed really well, tumbling and jumping around the place.
Crazy Legs – Surprisingly was great at juggling, even when his crazy legs kicked in and he fell on the floor, juggling with both his arms and legs.
Mablung – Sang a song, “All hail the glowing orb”
The top three contenders were made to compete against each other and Gatt walked away with the prize. Deemed the most heroic of the night he was given a pair of Boots of Springing and Striding!
After the performance and before the prize-giving ceremony, Ontharr and Leosin (who had been hiding) explained that the group needed to follow the caravan to their destination and see what was happening with the hoard. They were working for the Harpers, a benevolent cult. The cultist’s caravan (the blue line on the map) would take ages to get to Baldur’s Gate, so the group could carry on with the competition here, get a boat out west to meet up with them, then join whatever caravan the cultists were on. That way they could follow them to the Mere of Dead Men undetected. It also meant they could chill out here for the rest of the contest.
We sped up a little through day two and three, as a lot of the session’s run time had been used up. Gatt heard that Bull Tannerhauser was planning on spiking the drinking contest on day two and Willen helped the local guards find some of the cultists, as well as keeping an eye out for the rest. He started to interrogate the imprisoned cultist, who said that the cult of the dragons were after the remaining heir of Sir Kingsley the Dragonslayer. They knew he was a master of disguise, so they found his grave and got his scent for the dragon-dogs to follow. Fortunately for Willen this team didn’t have any dragon-dogs with them, but hunting squads were in every town looking for him.
The second day had an archery contest where Joggi tried being a target and intercepting other people’s attacks. That wasn’t quite the way they did things in these parts. Gatt did the best in that contest.
Then there was arm-wrestling, which ended with Gesh and Liftron facing off against each other. They pretty much broke the table they were using.
Finally there was the drinking contest with Joggi, Guts, Pumpous, Bull (who was disqualified), Gesh and Mablung.
The drinks escalated in order; A shandy (Pumpous was defeated by this, the wuss). Artisanal mead from Phontyr’s Unicorn. Old elf wine (Joggi and Guts failed at this one). Dwarven Spirits (conquered Gesh). Mablung won, mainly through cheating. It’s probably for the best as the only thing left would have been scrapings from behind the bar at Phontyr’s Unicorn.
Mablung was declared the most heroic and received a Ring of Thunder Resistance, which would have been great when facing that adult blue dragon in sessions one to three.
Day three brought the final contests…
The riding contest involved more showy horsemanship than racing. The contestants were: Randolph, Crazy Legs, Mouse and “Count Frequently” (a new identity for Willen). Randolph won the contest, a late addition to the contests, drawing hate from the group.
The second contest was a dance-off, done in a duelling style. Gatt vs Blean (Gatt won), Mablung vs Mouse (Mablung won) and Crazy Legs vs Bull (Bull won as Crazy Legs’ legs gave out on him). Finally there was a three-way dance off which Gatt won.
Finally, the last competition was wrestling.
Gesh fought Guts and won. Pumpous Maximus was thrashed by Bull (who was back to his cheating ways) and Joggi beat Liftron (he did promise Gesh that he would go easy on him). Gesh was the overall winner of the wrestling in a Gesh vs Joggi battle.
Gesh was declared the most heroic out of the victors and given the Gloves of Swimming and Climbing.
The group were well-rested and ready to travel to Baldur’s Gate, having had a fun three days where they didn’t have the weight of the world on them. In my list of fixes for the adventure, they had covered almost no ground at all, but that was okay, sessions like this are worth it. I had run ‘contest’ games before and even participated in the writing of one and while they’re difficult to pull off, they’re great when they do. This was definitely one of those times and after the initial resistance to downtime and attempts to rescue a town ignored entirely by the book, it was great. The players did vote Liftron the Magnificent the MVP for the session though. While technically not doable, it was a sign he’d made an impression on them. A throwaway NPC was going to be their first hireling…
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.
*Inspiration points, for those who may not be aware, can be spent to give ‘advantage’ or remove ‘disadvantage’ from a roll. Advantage in this case being rolling two twenty-sided dice instead of one and picking the best. Disadvantage is the opposite.