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!
As the PCs stared out of the tunnel into the swamp ahead, they heard voices speaking in Draconic. Tobin realized they were lizardfolk and crept up to eavesdrop. The lizardfolk were complaining about “frog-people” muscling in on their territory. Leading with a sleep spell from Tobin, our heroes rushed the lizardfolk to subdue them. After a fairly unproductive conversation with their captives, they learned there was more than one lizardfolk tribe in the swamp, bullywugs being lead by “dragon kneelers” at a castle, and a dragon.
They knocked their captives out again and entered the swamp. After a while, the ambient swamp noises quieted down and they were aware of a creature nearby. Though they heard its approach, they were unprepared for what broke through a tangle of underbrush: a hydra! They were prepared to fall back, but Kagark charged the beast. They fought hard; Kagark fell… twice, but in the end, they were victorious. A few hours later, as the sun rose, they found a campsite along the trail they were using. The campsite was obviously frequently used, but currently unoccupied. Our heroes took the opportunity to rest and recover from their battle with the hydra. Several canoes were moored at the campsite and appeared to be the only means by which they would be able to venture deeper in to the swamp.
Before taking the canoes, Tobin used the fly spell in his cittern to scout the area. Flying high above the trees, he spotted the castle of which the lizardfolk spoke. He marked its location and the heroes set out in the canoes. Kagark was more than happy to paddle the canoe through the swamp with Veya. He even sang as they traveled, “Kagark row the bow ashore | I’m with Veee-yaaa | Kagark row canoe ashore | I’m with Veee-yaaa!”* The rest of the heroes traveled in relative silence and they avoided another lizardfolk patrol in canoes. Shortly before dusk, they arrived at the castle’s makeshift dock, but spotting patrolling bullywugs, they circled around to some land some ways from the castle. They beached their canoes and worked their way overland toward the back of the castle, where they planned their next move…
I thought was prepared for the game session, but I was not. As a result, the session accomplished less than I expected and I felt like I was floundering all night (that and there’s a LOT of things going on in my personal life that has me off-balance). Of course, such clouds often have silver linings, and I know what I need to do for the next session.
That’s the cool thing about sandbox-style sections in adventures. I can manipulate them to last several session or just one. I could have spent several game sessions with the PCs exploring the Mere of Dead Men, but it wouldn’t really have advanced the plot. They had one job, as the meme goes, and that was to track the cultists. With the caravan, it was different because there were dozens of other characters involved. Here, it was just the PCs and their quarry… which they actually skipped ahead of when they left Waterdeep by ship. It was a bit of a derail, but one that has multiple little repercussions down the road rather than one huge trainwreck (and I don’t mean to imply the adventure was a railroad at that point). Basically instead of following the treasure and picking up clues along the way, they’ve leapfrogged the treasure and are trying to wreck the cultists’ shit before they arrive.
But it’s all good. They’re where they need to be to do what they have to do. There’s just some information and opportunities they’ve missed out on because the key events are behind them (geographically). After reflection and sleeping on it, I know where I went wrong and I know how to fix it.
* Sung to the tune of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”