Hoard of the Dragon Queen marks season 19 of D&D Encounters and it’s the first to use the new 5e D&D rules. The adventure is available in two formats. The first version is the complete adventure bound in a beautiful hardcover book that you can purchase. It brings characters from level 1 to level 7 as they play through seven chapters (each called an episode). The second version of the adventure is available as a free PDF download for DMs running this as part of the public play Adventurers League program at their FLGS. The PDF only covers the episodes 1-3. The PDF also has additional notes for how to tweak and adjust things for public play.
We had a fantastic turn out at Hairy Tarantula North in Toronto. Our attendance during the past few season was about 20 players each week. For Hoard of the Dragon Queen week 1 we had five DMs and 29 players. This was the best turnout we’ve ever had for D&D Encounters and five of our regulars were absent. It looks like we’ll need to recruit another DM fast or we may have to turn people away.
It was interesting to note that almost every player present had their own copy of the 5e Players Handbook. We’ve been telling our group that if they wanted to play a race or class not available in the free D&D Basic Rules PDF that they had to have their own copy of the PHB with them during game play. It looks like that won’t be an issue.
I ran a party of six at my table. The party consisted of a Dragonborn Fighter, Elf Rogue, Drow Warlock, Halfling Ranger, and two Tiefling Bards. Although two of the players at my table were new to D&D Encounters they’d both played previous editions of D&D and a lot of WoW so they caught on really quickly.
A new element introduced to public play for 5e D&D is the addition of factions. These are secretive organizations working towards specific goals in the Forgotten Realms. Some work openly, some covertly; some are champions for good, others less so. Characters are encouraged to join one of the five factions and as they complete adventures they earn renown within their faction. Renown doesn’t have any mechanical benefits to a character’s numbers, it’s just something to help guide the role-playing.
One important perk of joining a faction is that if your PC dies during an adventure their faction will have the PCs brought back to life at no charge. This benefit is in place until the PC reaches level 4.
For more on factions see our Faction Pack preview.
Episode 1: Greenest in Flames
The adventure begins with the PCs travelling to the sleepy town of Greenest. It’s late in the day and as the party approaches the town they see columns of black smoke rising from the buildings. In the sky a Dragon swoops down, attacks the keep, and flies off. On the ground the townsfolk try to save their town and avoid attacks from Kobolds and Human aggressors. The heroes naturally run headlong into danger hoping to help those in need.
When the PCs reach the edge of town they recognize the regalia worn by the Human attackers – they are members of the Cult of the Dragons. Without hesitation the PCs attack the first group of Kobolds and Cultists they come across. The foes posed little difficulty as the PCs caught them unaware and unready for attacks from adventurers. The heroes decided to take the Cultists robes from three of their victims and done them as disguises.
As the heroes press onward they saw the destruction first hand. The attackers had set building aflame and looted anything and everything they could get their hands on. Yet despite the Dragon’s relentless pounding of the keep, the fortress stood strong and secure. The townsfolk were trying to reach the safety of the keep before it was too late.
Seek the Keep
Suddenly five Human villagers dashed out from around a building. A father led his three children while their mother, clearly a woman with combat training, tried to fend of eight Kobolds by herself. She commands her family to keep running for the keep while she buys them time and holds off the Kobolds.
When the woman saw the PCs she looked upon them with growing fear since some of them wore the cultists robes. The Kobolds believed the PCs were their allies and it boosted their confidence. Using ranged attacks the party began killing the Kobolds, letting their actions speak for themselves. Once the eight monsters were killed they explained they were heroes here to help. With the family in tow, the growing party headed towards the keep.
Along the way they were best upon by more Cultists and more Kobolds. The PCs made sure that the townsfolk were not put in harm’s way and took the brunt of the attacks. But they gave as good as they got and defeated all comers.
With the keep in sight the group made a valiant sprint for the doors. Between them and safety were more Kobolds. The PCs decided to kill the imposing Kobolds rather than try to outrun them. The Fighter took a nasty crit for his trouble but the party finally made it into the keep. Behind them the guards closed and barred the gates.
The scene inside the keep was somewhat chaotic as the Dragon continued to attack. The Governor of Greenest, a Human in his sixties named Nighthill, thanked the heroes for their assistance. The side of his face and head were bandaged and his right arm was in a sling. He’d been wounded since the fighting started and wasn’t stopped to rest or receive more than cursory first aid.
Despite just meeting the PCs, Nighthill was desperate for help so he pleased with them for their continued aid. The town’s mill was the lifeblood of the community. If it were to be destroyed the town would be devastated. He asked the PCs to go to the mill and secure it. Nighthill would send reinforcements within the hour, but the PCs would need to secure the mill and hold it until then.
The PCs agreed to help however they could. He also told them he needed information. This attack makes no sense, Greenest isn’t rich nor are they located anywhere of strategic importance. Why was the Dragon attacking? If the heroes could capture a cult leader, some lieutenant perhaps, and bring him back to the keep for interrogation Nighthill would be grateful.
The Old Tunnel
A Dwarf with fiery red hair and a bushy red approached Nighthill and the PCs. He introduced himself as Escobert the Red, the master of the keep and the man in charge of its defense. Beneath the keep is an old tunnel that leads to the river. Its purpose is to allow the keep to draw fresh water in the event of a siege. The heroes could use it to get outside and get to the mill undetected.
The tunnel had never been used as the keep had never been under siege before. It’s been years since anyone was even down there. Escobert gave the PCs a key to the gate that blocked the tunnel’s exit, showed them to the entrance in the cellar and bid them good luck.
The tunnel was pitch black. Four of the six PCs had darkvision so the group decided not to use torches to light their way. Unfortunately they walked right into a giant swarm of Rats. They rodents engulfed the Rogue in the front and she fell unconscious. The Bards healed her and tried to avoid the Rats themselves.
The Ranger quickly lit a torch once the fighting began. The Fighter swiped at the swarm but his blows did far less damage than he expected. The Warlock had the most success blasting the Rats turn after turn. The Ranger pulled out a flask of oil and poured it on the Rats. He then ignited the oil burning the last of the Rats.
When the danger had subsided the party extinguished the torch and move onward. Despite being rusty, the Rogue had no trouble using the key to open the lock. The Ranger applied the last of his oil to the gates hinges allowing them to open silently. As the party slipped outside they spotted another swarm of Rats which they easily avoided.
On the riverbanks heading towards the party were two Cultists and six Kobolds, half on each side. The party attacked the group on the same side of the river that they were on, drawing them closer. As the Cultist ran ahead he unknowingly stepped into the Rat swarm and was engulfed. His three Kobold allies swam around the Rats to get closer to the PCs.
The foes on the opposite bank fired at the party with amazing accuracy, hitting with almost every attack. The party returned fire dropping the Kobold’s easily but had a tougher time of the Cultist. The swimming Kobolds tangled with the three closest PCs yet despite another devastating crit, they did relatively little damage.
The Cultist on the other side of the river saw his seven allies drop quickly and knew he should run. He almost got away but the Warlock managed to blast him before he could get too far. The PCs threw all the bodies into the Rat swarm and then headed towards the mill.
The pre-game marshalling took longer than expected but once the players were all seated and the parties formed things ran pretty smoothly. Three of our DMs and three of our players had just returned from GenCon so that familiarity with the 5e rules and the factions made things a lot easier.
The combat in 5e is usually quite fast, but it can be deadly. The players realized that multiple attacks against one PC or a untimely crit could spell death. They resorted to ranged attacks whenever possible so the monsters they did face posed them less danger.
I liked that the PCs are thrust right into the action from the outset. There is a chance to do some role-playing, but first they have to fight to help save the town. My only real criticism of the adventure so far is that it doesn’t really provide a good reason for the PCs to be heading to Greenest. It’s not a huge issue, we just hand waved it and said that the party knew each other and had adventured together before. This just happened to be where they were headed next. Still it would have been nice to have a reason for the PCs to be heading here in the first place.
How did things go during your first week? What were the numbers like at your FLGS? Did anyone have to turn people away?
Download the D&D 5e Basic Rules for free from the Wizards of the Coast website.
Looking for pre-generated characters? You can download five Pre-Generated Characters (5e) that were provided with the D&D Starter Set in one convenient PDF.
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