D&D Encounters: Hoard of the Dragon Queen (Episode 1: Session 2)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 28, 2014

hoard-of-the-dragon-queen-cover-2The town of Greenest is under attack. Kobolds and members of the Cult of the Dragon are ransacking the town, accosting villagers, and setting building on fire. In the sky a Blue Dragon continually swoops towards the keep, blasts it with his lightning breath, and flies away. Fortunately a band of adventurers arrived in time to help the locals and fight the evil Dragon Cultists.

During our last session the PCs had their share of entanglements with the forces on the ground, but they made short work of the aggressors. When the PCs reached the keep Governor Nighthill pleaded with them to help save Greenest. The two priorities were securing the mill and capturing a cult lieutenant so they could interrogate him to learn why this attack was happening. The PCs agreed to help and used a secret tunnel to leave the keep undetected.

Our numbers for D&D Encounters continue to grow as 5e attracts more players. We had four more brand new players as well as the return of a few regulars. We had 33 players and 5 DMs this week at Hairy Tarantula North in Toronto. I ran a table with seven players; five who were at my table last week and two new players. One new player was brand new to public play but very familiar with D&D. The other brought a level 4 PC who’d already completed the Starter Set adventure Lost Mines of Phandelver. The party broke down like this: Halfling Ranger, Halfling Rogue, Human Fighter (level 4), Dragonborn Fighter, Drow Warlock, and two Tiefling Bards.

The Family on the Roof (Random Encounter)

The heroes took steps to remain undetected as the moved from the tunnel exit towards the mill. On the way they spotted a group of Kobolds and a Drake looting and destroying a nearby house. Farther down the street they could see six Cultists ransacking a house and getting ready to set it ablaze.

The Rogue and Ranger climbed on top of a nearby unoccupied house to get a better vantage point and try to determine the best course of action. Once on the roof the two PCs spotted a family of four lying flat on the roof of the building the Cultists were looting. Although the family wasn’t in immediate danger they would be if they were detected by the Cultists or trapped on the roof if their home was set on fire. The PCs needed to act quickly.

After quickly relaying the situation to the PCs hiding behind the house, the Rogue and Ranger fired at the nearest Kobolds, each attack dropping one. The rest of the PCs ran towards the Kobolds hoping to finish them off before an alarm was raised. The Human Fighter charged the Drake landing a solid blow. The Bard tried mocking the Drake but failed. The remaining Kobold inside the house ducked for cover and shouted out to the Cultists.

The Dragonborn Fighter, the Warlock, one of the Bards left the Kobold and Drake and ran towards the home where the Cultists were looting. The family hiding on the roof became aware of their would-be rescuers and felt they should let them know they were on the roof. One of them stood up, waved his arms at the heroes and called out for them to help his family. All six Cultists heard the cry – two rushed up a staircase to the roof, two took cover inside the house, and two came outside and attacked the approaching PCs.

The Ranger stayed on the roof and provided covering fire, while the Rogue descended and got into melee with the Kobold. The Kobold stabbed the Rogue, and then the Rogue returned the favour stabbing and killing the Kobold. The two Fighters had little difficulty killing the Drake.

The Cultists who rushed outside were actually Acolytes so they attacked with spells from a safe distance. The party approached the house from three different directions splitting their attackers’ attention. The two Cultists who went upstairs started climbing out onto the roof. One of the family members panicked and jumped off. He landed without taking any damage.

The PCs rushed the house engaging in melee with the two Cultists on the main floor. The Cultists inside quickly set the house on fire hoping to escape the PCs in the resulting chaos and possibly trapping the family on the roof. The Warlock and two Fighters took care of the evil spellcasters outside in just two short rounds, killing one and capturing the other. The Ranger managed to snipe one of the two Cultists, saving the family members from certain death.

Two more family members got scared and jumped off the roof. From inside the house one of the Cultists came out and tried to stab the bystanders but the Vicious Mockery he was suffering from forced disadvantage resulting in a miss. He didn’t live long enough to try that again. The Cultist on the roof was blasted by the Warlock before he could attack the last family member on the roof. She too finally jumped down to rejoin her family.

Save the Mill

The PCs escorted the family back to the abandoned house and told them to stay put while they took care of things at the mill. They left the captured Cultist Acolyte tied up and unconscious with the family.

The PCs hid behind the burning family home while they looked down the road towards the mill. They spotted four Cultists and two Acolytes getting ready to set the mill on fire. The party wanted to rush in and stop them but they decided to talk over their options. While they talked a Bard and the Warlock kept lookout, watching the Cultists. The Bard realized after a few minutes of observing that they weren’t actually trying to light the mill on fire. They were putting on a show of getting ready to light the building but they weren’t actually doing it. The party believed that this ruse was designed to lure them in, possibly for some kind of ambush.

The other Bard decided to try something totally unexpected. He’d don one of the Cultist’s cloaks they’d acquired last week, set it on fire, and run at the Cultists. The Human Fighter put on one of the other cloaks and decided to follow right behind the flaming Bard. The rest of the party would wait for the Cultists to be distracted and then they’d attack.

The plan worked perfectly. The Bard put on a good show pretending to be burning alive and screaming that adventurers were mounting a resistance. He cried out for the Cultist to run. The two nearest Cultists directed the flaming Bard towards the lake and ran after him to help. The Bard stabbed one of them before he jumped in the lake and extinguished his burning cloak.

The Human Fighter got close enough to three Cultists that he could activate the magic in his staff and cast web on them all. As they were holding torched they immediately set the web on fire making a poor man’s version of fireball and nearly killing all three.

The rest of the heroes ran out from behind the burning house and using ranged attacks dropped five of the six Cultists in one round. The Cultist ran around the barn and went inside through a door.

The heroes moved towards a door on the near side. The Human Fighter entered first. Four attackers inside had readied actions to shoot the first person who entered. Two attacks hit, two missed. He rushed in followed by the Ranger, the Bard, and eventually the Dragonborn Fighter.

The Rogue broke off from the group and took a wide arc around the barn. When a few Kobolds came streaming out to avoid the ongoing melee inside, the Rogue tried to take them on by himself. He missed and gave away his position. All three Kobolds hit him with their slings and knocked him unconscious. Fortunately one of the Bards witnessed the attack and got the Rogue back on his feet the next round.

Inside the PCs slaughtered the Cultists and Kobolds who’s been waiting to ambush them. The Ranger climbed up to the rafters where he found six more Kobolds hiding. They were supposed to join the melee but when the Cultists were killed so quickly they decided to hide instead. Fortunately the Ranger was the only PC to speak Draconic, and he easily convinced them to surrender with a Charisma (Intimidate) check.

Among the Cultists were two lieutenants when the PCs were careful not to kill. When the combat ended they tied up their hostages. The heroes managed to secure the mill and held it for about 15 minutes before Governor Nighthill sent a contingent of guards to relieve them.

On the way back to the tunnel, the PCs gathered the family and their other hostage. They got back inside the keep undetected where they handed over their prisoners. Governor Nighthill suggested they get some rest for the next hour while his interrogator began questions the Cultists.

Thoughts

We had another great week using the new 5e rules. I wasn’t wild about running a table of seven, but I didn’t want to turn anyone away. Although I’ve only played and run a few 5e sessions I think the tables should be capped at five PCs. Any more than that and things become too difficult to run. The combat may be quick but it still takes a while to get through a full round with that many people.

The up side of having so many PCs in the party was that the monsters didn’t really stand a chance. Even when I added a couple of extra creatures to the mix the party did a great job of focusing fire and dropping them one by one.

The random encounter I made up was actually the result of three separate random encounters mashed into one larger scenario. I was a bit worried that it might be too much, but it certainly made for an exciting scene. In my opinion I thought the random encounter was better than the scripted encounter. I think most of the players would agree.

This was the first time we’ve had a PC in the party that was a different level than the rest. In this case a level 4 Fighter with three magic items. The numbers were in line as far as attack scores, AC, saves and skills, but the addition of magic items made the level 4 PC so much more powerful than the rest of the level 1 party. He had Gauntlets of Ogre Power which gave him a 19 Strength and he had a magic staff that added +1d6 poison damage to all attacks and granted limited spell casting. Although I had a lot of the monsters engage this Fighter directly, they had almost no chance against him.

The players who played at my table during weeks 1 and 2 have almost hit the 300 XP ceiling for episode 1. This means that whatever they might earn over the next week or two (depending on how long it takes to finish the episode) will be lost. One creative player decided he’s going to bring in a different PC for the rest of the episode so that the wasted XP actually goes to good use. I don’t think this is in keeping with the spirit of how public play is supposed to work, but there’s nothing that explicitly restricts him from doing this.

The other hiccup regarding XP is when to allow the PCs to actually level up. The adventure says that an PC can level up after a long rest (which they won’t get until they finish the episode) or at the end of each session. As much as I don’t want to allow levelling between sessions it explicitly say they can so I think I’ll have to allow it. Of course they still won’t earn any more XP until the start episode 2 but they’ll be able to finish episode 1 with a bit more firepower and hit points.

Which missions has your party undertaken? Has your group taken a short rest yet? Has anyone completed episode 1 in just two weeks? Has anyone had a PC die yet? Any TPKs?

Additional Resources

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.

Recounting Encounters Podcast

Listen to Derek Myers, Craig Sutherland, and Marc Talbot (from 20ft Radius) recount our weekly experience at D&D Encounters. We share the highlights from our respective tables and we talk about what worked, what didn’t and what we might have done differently. Find all episodes of Recounting Encounters on iTunes.

Note: New episodes of Recounting Encounters will be available in our D&D Encounters Archive and on iTunes every Wednesday. Now DMs can listen before they play.

Actual Play Podcasts

Each week we record our D&D Encounters session and make it available to you for download every week. These recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at times it may be difficult to hear everyone. Some language may be inappropriate for all ages, although we try to keep it as family-friendly as possible.

Regrettably, I was unable to record this week’s session.

Visit the Dungeon’s Master D&D Encounters Archive for all of our ongoing weekly coverage as well as other great D&D Encounters articles and resources.


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe August 28, 2014 at 9:51 am

We went through “The Old Tunnel” at all 4 tables last night at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA. We were down a couple folks, so it wasn’t 4 tables of 7, but every one had 4-6 players. At my table I had a tiefling warlock, tiefling paladin, elf bard, gnome bow ranger, and half-elf wild sorcerer.

Since the party was reasonably depleted of resources, they decided to take a short rest to start tonight’s session, though I warned them that this was not 4E, and every short rest took a full HOUR out of the night… an hour where civilians were dying, buildings were burning, and opportunities were being lost. I also explained, out of game, that over the course of the 8-9 hour night, there were going to be 6 sessions total, and that there would not be opportunities to rest at every session’s end. They understood, both in and out of game, and all agreed to be careful not to take actions that’d get them in too much trouble HP or spell-wise without good reason. I used it as a teaching moment for 5E play, so nobody felt like I was lecturing them… just explaining the way 5E games flowed.

I’d read Ameron’s adventures in the tunnel last week, and knew about how deadly the rat swarms could be, so I was ready to maybe pull some punches. But then, out of nowhere, our gnome ranger said “Hey, it says I can speak with small woodland creatures.” He totally bypassed the combat with the rats by convincing them to move out of the way.

Once they were outside the tunnel, some Perceptions checks told them that there were 3 groups wandering around, clearly looking for something (like the secret passage entrance they were standing in). I broke the 3 groups down thusly: 1) 6 kobolds & 1 winged kobold 2) 4 cultists 3) 4 kobolds & 1 guard drake. The party couldn’t see exactly what was in each group at that distance in the dark, but I gave them vague descriptions of sizes & appearance.

The players decided to hide the entrance to the tunnel with brush. I had them each roll stealth checks (DC 10), and for everyone who failed, I let the enemies roll a Perception check (also DC 10). In the end, two players failed, and both enemy checks succeeded, so I decided that groups 1 & 2 had heard them and were advancing. Fortunately, the party heard them calling out “Hey, what was that? Let’s check it out!” and stuff like that, so they had a round to prepare.

Some of the players took the time to get weapons & spells ready, while others decided to improve their odds. A combination of throwing rocks in the opposite direction and using Thaumaturgy to make movement noises meant that group 2 was delayed, so the party took on group 1 alone for the first bit.

The kobolds weren’t too much of a problem, though there were a couple decent hits. What surprised the (mostly 4E-familiar) players was that I had group 2, having heard the sounds of combat, show up the next round, leaving no time between the fights. Group 2 was coming from the opposite direction, so the sorcerer, who had been at the back of the first fight, decided to run up the hill to shoot at group 2 before they arrived (it was a wild thing to try, and she’s a wild sorcerer)… leaving her alone on the front lines as all 4 cultists showed up.

Two of them attacked her, while the other two did a pincer move around her to hit the party from two sides. It wasn’t long before the two cultists had the paladin knocked out and making death saves. The ranger took one out with arrows before he could come down the hill, but the other was still up and ready to go. The two in melee with the rest of the party got a hit or two in before they were taken down, and most of the party got ready to rush the last one while the paladin zipped around him to lay hands on our dying sorcerer.

I say “got ready to rush” because something else happened before they could act. In the skies above, the storm clouds parted and they got their first clear view of a giant Blue Dragon in the skies above them. Actually, only about 120 feet in the sky, which meant its fear aura went off as it flew over the party (paying them little mind) towards the Keep. I wanted to use this as a pre-amble to the dragonstrike episode coming up, setting the stage for one of the many missions they’ll need to do in the future.

To help mitigate the deadliness of low levels in 5E, and because I wanted the party to feel like they had a choice not to rest, they found 5 healing potions on the bodies of the cultists (one per character). Think they’re headed to either the Old Mill or the Sanctuary next week.

2 Justin Yanta August 28, 2014 at 4:42 pm

I am going to post our battles a little later (still writing it up) but at our location we had 3 GMs and about 30-35 players. At a different location they had 6 GMs and 50 players. People are really coming out of the woodwork to play this edition.

3 Ameron (Derek Myers) August 28, 2014 at 6:03 pm

@Justin Yanta
Tell me about it! It’s great for the hobby, but we’re running out of space and DMs. It’s a nice problem to have. We’re reaching out to other FLGS in our area not currently running Encounters to see if they’ll pick up the slack.

4 T September 2, 2014 at 1:39 am

Why did you let a L4 character play with a bunch of L1 characters?

This is one element of Encounters that I’m not enjoying, nor the XP math. I prefer to have them level up at the end of a Chapter/Episode.

Am I the only one?

5 Ameron (Derek Myers) September 2, 2014 at 7:44 pm

@T
Why would I not allow a level 4 PC to play? The adventure is suitable for PCs from level 1-4. When the L4 character earns enough XP to hit level 5 they can’t play any more of this adventure tier.

6 T September 3, 2014 at 2:19 am

Why? Because of exactly that power imbalance. Feels kind of strange to me if I seat four level 1 new players and one level 4 experienced player. Is it like having a Yankee play peewee TBall? I don’t know. Seems unfair to the other players to me.

Not being snarky, just curious how that works play wise and how the other players feel.

7 Ameron (Derek Myers) September 3, 2014 at 9:51 am

@T
Regardless of my personal feelings on the balance of power in the party, the D&D public play rules allow anyone with a legal character between levels 1-4 to sit and play this season of D&D Encounters. So even though I agree that having someone so powerful in the party can be disruptive we have to follow the rules set out by the Adventurers League.

8 T September 4, 2014 at 1:21 am

Thanks for your thoughts. I find these session recaps very helpful as well as your other resources on the site.

I used your family on the roof set up tonight and was happy with the result.

Thanks again for everything you share.

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