This adventure log will contain spoilers for the D&D 5th edition Tyranny of Dragons adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Ye’ve been warned!
Using Zinianna’s raven familiar, Nevermore, to scout the castle, our heroes decided to make their way around to the northwest tower. The plan was to scale the wall and sneak around, avoiding the patrols of lizard folk and bullywugs. It was a similar plan to the one they executed at the roadhouse. Veya was the first to climb to the top of the tower. Once they were all up, she pulled away some of the shingles so they could access the top room. It was dark enough inside, that Zinianna sent Nevermore in to scout.
The bird died.
No sound, just the sense of a ghostly hand. Our heroes decided to skip the tower and go into the courtyard instead. A few drakes were patrolling, so Tobin dropped a fog cloud on them and they snuck through in the confusion to the castle’s central tower. They burst in just as the drakes noticed them and barred the door behind. Inside, our heroes discovered they’d just interrupted a meeting between a half-dragon and a Red Wizard of Thay. The Red Wizard they recognized as Azbara Jos, the wizard who joined the caravan from Baldur’s Gate. How he beat them to Naeryar Castle, they did not know. Rezmir ordered the wizard to destroy the intruders.
A short, brutal battle followed. After a few exchanged, Rezmir, the half-dragon, chose the better part of valor and attempted to retreat just as an elf descended from the upper levels to join the fray. In the end, the three cultists were defeated and the heroes kepts Azbara Jos alive for future questioning. The battle was swift enough that a general alarm was not raised and after deflecting a patrolling lizardman and bullywuf, Broken Sky barred the door with his Immovable Rod so they could search the tower in relative privacy.
It was clear they stumbled into the heart of the cult’s operations in Castle Naerytar. The Black Dragon Mask* was now in the heroes hands, along with a mouthy sword that practically dripped with evil intent. Tobin grabbed the dragon mask and added it to his collection of cultist robes and also grabbed Rezmir’s symbol identifying her as an officer of the cult. They searched the tower, avoiding an attack by gargoyles guarding the top level when they saw the symbol around Tobin’s neck. The top level of the tower appeared to be some sort of observatory and was home to a Farseer of Illusk. They peered through it, spying on the lair of the dreaded black dragon of the Mere of Dead Men, discovering that one feared dragon was, in reality, two! With care, they removed the Farseer from its housing and packed it to carry with them, strapping it to their large, strong, barbarian woman.
They snuck out much like they snuck in, though under cover of darkness, hauling both the Farseer and the unconscious Azbara with them. They returned to their canoes and retreated into the swamp, intent on setting an ambush for the cultists heading north from Baldur’s Gate with the stolen treasure from Greenest…
Normally, I don’t put huge spoilers in my comments, but just be warned: there’s a more spoilery discussion below than is usual:
Ah, the best laid plans… I thought I knew how I was going to get things back on track, but I was wrong. I’m not going to go into detailed spoilers, since some of my players read this version of the log rather than the one on Obsidian Portal, but basically, they have totally broken this adventure and have taken things in a direction completely unanticipated by the designers. On one hand, it’s good that they’ve synergized their skills so well and have become excellent at avoiding conflict when necessary. On the other hand, they’ve skipped several key sections designed to bridge the sections of the adventure. Here is where HotDQ’s roots as a weekly Adventure League scenario shows. While I don’t have direct experience, I suspect what happens in the AL version is each set-piece is a session (the Roadhouse, the Raider Camp w/Dragon Hatchery, Naerytar Castle) and everything designed to get PCs from one section to another is narrated to keep all groups running through Adventurer’s League content on the same page. Giving the PCs freedom to explore the world a bit, as I did on the caravan, in Waterdeep, and ever since, causes them to go off on unanticipated directions. Plus, the descriptions of the castle leave out some important details and the maps are a bit lacking; it’s not clear how some things are designed (like do the castle walls have battlements or are they just walls?) and with three levels (and three maps which do NOT share the same scale and orientation) each with over 20 numbered rooms, there’s a LOT to remember about Castle Naerytar).
So, the way I see it, I have two options:
1) Throw in an encounter that drops some heavy clue bombs leading the PCs back to where the adventure thinks they should be.
2) Wing it (which is what usually gets me into trouble… but how much worse can it get?) and see where they go. They’re planning to ambush the cultists they leapfrogged and then go back to Waterdeep. They have a sentient evil sword AND the Black Dragon Mask. Eventually, that information has to get back to the Cult of the Dragon and they’ll send assassins after the PCs. I could almost start Rise of Tiamat content, except the PCs are not really high-enough level for that yet (they’re only level 5 and they’re supposed to be level 8 before starting Rise of Tiamat–granted, they’ve been taking out threats even the adventure thinks should be too tough for them).
I mean, I could just make a list of all the really important stuff that needs to happen and build a new adventure around that using my own material. That’s basically Option 2, right there. A lot of the criticism Hoard of the Dragon Queen gets is centered around how rigid the plot is, and now I’m seeing the chinks in the armor, so to speak. I think Wizards of the Coast would have been better off waiting until 5E was fully released before publishing this adventure; the fact that it was mostly developed while the rules were still in development show, particularly as the PCs become more experienced. From what I’ve read, Rise of Tiamat is more of a sourcebook than an adventure, so I’m going to have to do that anyway once Hoard of the Dragon Queen is finished.
Looks like I have my work cut out for me.
* Apparently, Rezmir was NOT suppose to have the mask at this point. Later in the book, it’s described as being safely locked away. Unfortunately, the only stat block given for her takes it’s effects into account and there is no indication in the Castle Naerytar section that I shouldn’t have used it as written. Grrrr. It’s editing crap like that that really irritates me. This is also why I really miss the Old School way of listing stat blocks WITH the encounters. Apparently, I was supposed to read ahead TWO chapters and remember details from rooms in that future location that affect THIS location.
ARGH GRR GROWL GRUMBLE.