Hoard of the Dragon Queen – session 1

If I wanted the title to be really accurate, I would say D&D 5th Edition: Tyranny of the Dragons: Horde of the Dragon Queen, Episode I – Part 1, but that would be a form of colon cancer. One thing I should note is that I’ve taken to altering the adventure slightly, based on the notes given at the Hack & Slash blog. One advantage to having waiting (whether willingly or not) so long before starting to run this adventure, is that many people have already done so and identified problem areas. The plot hasn’t changed and the major encounters are pretty much the same, but the way some of the information is presented has been altered.

We began with character introductions. For character creation, I did not put any serious restrictions on characters; I stipulated that only the Player’s Handbook be used with the option of using the Bonds presented in Horde of the Dragon Queen. I discouraged the creation of dragonborn characters, but did not forbid them. I personally don’t like how WotC has been shoe-horning dragonborn into every setting regardless of whether or not they have a history in that setting, frankly, but my opinions on dragonborn could be an entire blog post in and of itself. Anyway, our band of heroes includes:

Zinniana Namfoodle, a forest gnome rogue.
Flint Rockbottom, a dwarven cleric of Sune and a brewer of fine beer.
Tobin DeNalia, a half-elf bard.
Broken Sky, a sylvan elf monk.
Veya, a human barbarian.

Most of the characters were created together at a joint session (which I prefer), but due to the realities of life, a few were created independently. It’s a good mix, though the bard has to pull double duty as an arcane caster. A lot of the classes have options to add spellcasting, so it’ll be interesting to see if the lack of a dedicated arcane caster, such as a wizard or sorcerer, gimps the party in any significant way.

As with previous long-term games, the session summaries (without snarky/insightful commentary) will be posted on Obsidian Portal. Of course, all summaries will contain spoilers for Wizard of the Coast’s 5th edition D&D adventures Horde of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat.

On with the show…

Our happy band of heroes were returning to Greenest, when the little town they remembered was not the same as when they left. Several buildings appeared to be on fire, there was chaos in the streets, and a dragon circling the keep. Concern for those they knew in Greenest overrode their instinct to stay away from an attacking dragon and they ran down the hill toward town.

Looters ran unabated in the streets. A man leading his family was set upon by a gang of kobolds. They leapt upon him, tearing out his throat as his wife tried to fight them off and their children looked on. Our heroes charged into the fray, slaying the kobolds, albeit too late to save the man. They learned from the woman that the residents were trying to make their way to the keep for safety. Despite a dragon attack the battlements, the keep was a safer location than the houses that were currently being looted. They made their way toward the keep, rescuing a few other residents of the town along the way.

They arrived at the keep just in time. The guards shut and barred the gates as cultists and kobolds surrounded them. Once inside, they met the Governor. Clearly rattled, he was somewhat incoherent and irrational. Nevertheless, he suggested there might be an alternate escape route: an abandoned waste water tunnel that lead down to the creek. It hadn’t been used in years, but might let them move in and out unseen by their attackers. The governor asked them to try to capture a cultist who could tell them what was going on.

The tunnel was undiscovered by the attacking looters. Zinniana used her gnomish talent for communicating with small animals* to dissuade the rats that were in residence from attacking and was able to pick the rusty lock at the gate after Flint broken open an odd trinket filled with oil** he’d had for years. Once outside, they dealt with a group of kobold and cultist scouts on the creek’s banks, taking them by surprise. They then entered the town and looked for a group of looters. Tobin and Veya disguised themselves using robes they’d looted from a group of cultists they’d dispatched earlier. They were able to discover that the cultists were members of the Cult of the Dragon and were looting the town to gather a hoard for the Queen of the Dragons: Tiamat. They were unable to capture anyone, however, but they did rescue some more townsfolk who’d been barricaded in their root cellars.

When they returned to the keep, the Governor asked them to do something about the dragon, much to their consternation. Tobin made an attempt to go to the battlements, but was unable to go out there. Crippled by dragonfear, he confirmed that it was, indeed, a real dragon and not some sort of illusion. The rest of them decided the keep’s guards should handle the dragon and they confronted the Governor about his cowardice. He was still shaken and irrational, but one bit of useful information was gleaned: the Sanctuary, the temple of Chauntea was now under attack by the cultists.

Our heroes exited the keep via the tunnel and made their way to the Sanctuary. The temple was under siege by groups of cultists and kobolds at the front and back doors, and a patrol of the same walked the grounds with two ambush drakes. They avoided the patrol and ambushed the cultists attempting to batter down the front door. Naturally, this alerted the patrol. The patrolling force arrived just as the last of the cultists who were trying to break in fell. It was a difficult combat, but our heroes prevailed at last, though not without wounds. The announced themselves to the people barricaded inside the temple and received some healing from the priest.

As they caught their breath and assessed their wounds, they knew they had two tasks remaining: deal with the third group attempt to set fire to the back door of the Sanctuary and get the priests and townsfolk to the keep…

Wow! Combat is really fast, at least at low levels. The battle at the Sanctuary featured large numbers of foes. A similar fight in Pathfinder or D&D 4E would’ve taken much longer (I’ve had combats in 4E against fewer opponents take longer than all of the combat in this session put together). The Sanctuary was the first fight in which the PCs didn’t maintain an overwhelming advantage through surprise and guile and the pack tactics of the kobolds were much-hated. In fact, in convinced the players that their early stealthy approach to the situation was going to be the only way they would survive this portion of the adventure. From what I’ve read, groups that don’t adopt these types of tactics find themselves losing PCs to death very early on. This is a fairly deadly iteration of D&D… and I like the sense of danger their getting. From KOBOLDS. When was the last time a group of PCs encountered a pack of kobolds and considered them a serious threat? AD&D, that’s when.

Now that I’ve got a handle on what the adventure is going to run like, the next couple of sessions should be better. I’m not very good at thinking on my feet and improvisation, but I’ve had some ideas…

* The giant rats, apparently, were a problem for many groups who played this adventure from what I’ve read. Obviously, they didn’t have a gnome with them.

** This is an actual trinket from the trinket table in the Player’s Handbook. Since the type of oil was undescribed and it was a clever use of a curiosity, I let it work like WD-40 on the rusty lock. I might have even given out an Inspiration for it. If I didn’t, I should have.

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