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!
After a tense moment waiting for the vampire sentry to pass, our heroes decided to explore the upper courtyard in the opposite direction of her patrol. The central peak of the ice mountain around which the citadel was built loomed to their right, and a large tower was to their left. Several additional towers jutted out of the central peak. They passed by the tower* in the courtyard and found a small alcove in the side of the mountain used to store what the ogre guards passed off as ale. They marked the location as a good temporary hiding space and continued.
As they rounded the side of the peak, they found a trail carved into the ice leading up toward one of the higher towers. The door leading to the lower levels was blocked by an avalanche of snow and ice, as though the interior collapse, but our heroes spied a balcony three-quarters of the way up the side of the tower. Tobin used his levitation spell to carry himself and Zinniana up. That door worked, and inside they found a room with a solitary stone coffin… guarded by the spawn of the vampire they saw on patrol.
They fled, but the vampires followed them down, crawling down the side of the tower. Though they were peppered with arrows by the time they reached the group, the vampires proved resilient and Flint was forced to use flashy magic (remember, it’s night-time), ultimately destroying them with a Daylight** spell. Eschewing their original path, our heroes fled the battle site directly down the side of the peak, sliding on the ice back to the courtyard to evade the inevitable patrols.
Any patrol investigating the battle would likely take the path toward the tower, so they were able to move about the side of the courtyard fairly unhindered. Our heroes ducked into a cave to get out of sight. They risked some illumination for Veya and saw all manner of creatures and objects embedded in the ice***. They followed the tunnels to a large cavern under the central peak. Clinging to the ceiling, like a great, icy bat, was a white dragon. Tobin made sure his cultist robes and mask were in place and approached. It twisted its head around and demanded to know his purpose.
Tobin spoke to the dragon of treachery afoot, but the dull-witted beast was interested in two things only: food and treasure. After a few moments of trying to convince the beast it needed to know about the treachery in the cult, the dragon decided Tobin would suffice as a midnight snack. With half of the party affected by dragon fear, it made short work of Tobin and Broken Sky, despite the clever use of an immovable rod in an attempt to keep the dragon on the ceiling.
Having lost their Bag of Holding (which was NOT empty), their bard (and the Black Dragon Mask), and their monk, the rest fled into the tunnels. Without Tobin, they had no way off of Skyreach Castle (for it was he who could cast Fly, Levitate, and Feather Fall). Broken Sky was the stealthiest of them all. They were a mile in the sky, surrounded by enemies, wounded, and without hope…
Now, the Realms are likely to be plunged into a draconic apocalypse as Tiamat is brought forth from Avernus and rampages across the Sword Coast with an army of chromatic dragons. Perhaps a new group of heroes will arise to be the light in the darkness to come.
And thus ends Hoard of the Dragon Queen. In theory, they could have kept going, but the players were so disheartened by the defeat, so discouraged at their chances of surviving the next session down two PCs, they voted to call it quits; a decision I left to them. Perhaps another group of heroes happened to be assaulting Skyreach Castle at the exact same time and happened to have two survivors of their own disaster to join forces with our heroes (about the only way we’d be able to work in two more PCs before the castle reached the Well of Dragons).
But, I’m okay with the way things ended. Sometimes, the heroes fail, and by chance they passed by the key encounter that provided a safe way out of Skyreach Castle in favor of a decision that seemed logical at the time (the master of the castle would be in the tallest tower… not the shorter, fatter tower in the back). All was not lost after the vampire encounter, though, but it expended many of their resources and raised a general alarm. Fleeing towards the dragon’s lair might not have been terrible, had they encountered a dragon interested in cult politics (white dragons are historically dumb and this one really was not interested in talking to anyone who wasn’t bringing up more treasure or lots of food; Tobin’s miscalculation was in assuming a wyrmspeaker could intimidate a dragon).
I appreciate the attempt at an epic scope in Hoard of the Dragon Queen (and Rise of Tiamat), but as with many Forgotten Realms adventures, there’s an elephant in the room HotDQ does not attempt to address (or if it does, it’s only mentioned in passing): what the heck are the high-level heroes on the Sword Coast doing during this time? If the situation is truly this dire, turning to nobodies from a small village doesn’t seem wise when people like Drizzt are still running around. I know it’s addressed more in Rise of Tiamat with it’s coalition building, but there are a lot of head-scratching moments in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, many of which could have been resolved with a checklist or summary at the beginning of each chapter.
* Had they gone into this nearest tower, they would have encountered the master of Skyreach Castle, a cloud giant willing to talk. It might have radically changed the outcome.
** The wording of this spell leaves wiggle room for interpretation. With Light and Continual Flame already providing magical light, Daylight seemed very redundant (especially as a 3rd-level spell), unless it also acted like sun light on undead… which is how I chose to interpret it.
*** Had I remembered that Tobin had Draconic Lore as part of his background, I would have made him roll to see if he was clued into the fact that they were approaching a white dragon’s lair. This also would have been a good spot FOR THE FREAKING BOOK TO MAKE A NOTE OF THAT AS WELL (because I totally forgot about that aspect of that particular character).