The heroes were asked to follow the Dragon Cultists who’d attacked Greenest and then made off with ill-gotten gains and captives from the town. During the last session the PCs caught up to a band of Human and Kobold stragglers and tricked them into fighting each other. When the combat ended the PCs captured the Humans and convinced one of them to lead the party back to the camp. On the way the Rogue spotted two sentries hiding atop a rocky outcropping.
We were back down to five tables this week at Hairy Tarantula North in Toronto as one of our DMs was out with illness. However, we still had 28 players bringing most groups to capacity. My table had the following PCs: Halfling Rogue (1), Tiefling Bard (2), Drow Sorcerer (2), Tiefling Warlock (2), Elf Rogue (3), Dragonborn Fighter (3). We’ve been running some D&D Expeditions on the weekend so two of the PCs are now level 3 adding versatility, firepower and hit points to the party.
Before we got started this week, the owner of our FLGS asked us if we’d be willing to poll the players and see if some of them would be willing to play on a different night. He felt that D&D Encounters had grown too large to accommodate the all the D&D players and the Magic players. He was concerned that we’d have to turn away players looking to play with either group. If we could move a table or two to another night it would serve to better accommodate new players. We’ll see if anyone wants to play on another night and go from there. We certainly don’t want to turn anyone away!
Upon spotting the lookouts, the Rogue informed the party and called a halt. None of the PCs could see the hidden enemies, but they trusted her judgement. She asked the Cultist leader to call out to his brethren and tell them we were ok to pass. He did as instructed even though he couldn’t see anyone either.
The group proceeded between the bluffs expecting treachery, but nothing happened and they passed. Around the next bend five Cultists were on guard and ready for them. The captured Cultist gave the appropriate greeting and said these were new recruits who helped during the raid on Greenest. The treasure they were all carrying (acquired last week from the Kobolds) and the Cultist robes some were wearing (acquired in episode 1) helped sell the story. The PCs were allowed to pass without incident.
Meanwhile the Halfling Rogue who had remained out of sight didn’t want to pass between the rocky bluffs. He couldn’t see any danger, but noticed the party stop and heard them call out. He took the long way around and remained undetected.
The Cultists’ camp was located in the hollow of a rocky plateau shaped roughly like a horseshoe. The PCs could hear the noise from the camp long before they could actually see it. When the rounded the bend and saw it they were surprised to see at least 200 or more Dragon Cultists. Their Cultist ally led them to a large tend deep within the camp. Many of the Cultists were partying and celebrating the successful raid of Greenest. Some slept, some were passed out, some were in various states of inebriated bliss, but many were still awake and alert. Those Cultists stared at the PCs as they were marched through the camp.
When they reached a tent larger than the others the Cultist ally said the PCs needed to wait outside while he entered and reported to his commander. He would then put in a good word for the heroes and explain that they were new recruits looking to join the Cult. Flanking the entrance to the tent were two guards.
The PCs strained to hear what was being said but it was difficult through the entry flap and over the other noises in the camp. The Dragonborn was closest to the tent and was the only one to make his perception check (DC 20). He heard the Cult ally explaining that he’d brought powerful slaves and that they were convinced they’d been brought into the camp to become members of the Dragon Cult. He quietly informed the other PCs what he’d heard. When the Cultist ally emerged and invited them into the tent the PCs made no indication that they’d heard what was said inside.
Inside the tent were six Cultists, plus the two guards from the door, the Cultist ally and the Half-Dragon that the PCs faced at the gates of the keep in Greenest. Fortunately the PC who they’d chosen as champion was not with them (he was promoted to DM another table). The heroes realized they were outnumbered and outmatched so they played along.
The Half-Dragon welcomed them to the Cult of the Dragon. He said new initiates had to spend 24 hours humbling themselves before they could be granted membership. The PCs would have to agree to perform all manner of slave labour for one day before they’d get to do anything more important or noteworthy. Their ally nodded that this was the way of the Cult. All PCs were asked to drop all of their weapons on the ground. Once they did, Kobolds were called in and each PC was affixed with a metal shackle around their leg. A long chain was looped through the shackles.
The Dragonborn Fighter objected to this task and demanded better treatment since he was of Dragon blood. The Half-Dragon agreed. The rest of the PCs were led away while the Half-Dragon spoke with the Fighter alone.
The Dragonborn’s Path
The guards and Cultists were dismissed and the Cultist ally was dismissed. The Half-Dragon told the Fighter that he could rise quickly through the ranks if he proved his superiority quickly. The Cultist who brought the PCs to the camp needed to been killed. He’d allowed 10 Kobolds – also of Dragon blood – to be slain after the raid. That was unacceptable. If the Fighter could kill the Cultist before daybreak and not be caught he’d be granted an immediate position in the Cult; he’d be made a leader over other members. The Fighter agreed.
The Fighter left the tent and went to the area where most of the Cultists were celebrating. He had a few interactions with other Cultists who challenged his presence in the camp, but each time he convinced his accuser he was supposed to be here. One time a Cultist got into a fist fight with the Fighter. When the Cultist couldn’t damage the Fighter through his armor, he pulled a knife. The Fighter drew his greatsword. One intimidate check later and the fight was over.
Eventually the Fighter found his Cult ally and played friendly. He ate with him, drank with him, exchanged tales of the attack on Greenest with him, and gambled with him. However, he couldn’t get him alone and didn’t want to kill him in front of the other Cultists. Finally the Fighter asked where he could sleep and the Cultist showed him to a nearby tent. Inside another man was already asleep. The Fighter didn’t think he’d get a better opportunity so he quickly drew his weapon and impaled the Cultist he’d been sent to kill. He whispered “This is for letting the Kobolds die.”
The sleeping man was awaken by the Cultist’s last gurgles of breath and the pools of blood flowing on the ground. The Dragonborn told him to go back to sleep and quickly left the dark tent.
The Party’s Path
The four chained PCs were led to an area of the camp where they were chained up with other prisoners. These men were in bad shape and some had clearly been slaves for longer than one day. None of them was Leosin, the Monk the PCs were trying to find and rescue. The prisoners begged for the PCs to free them. They said that other prisoners had already died. The Cultists worked them so hard they couldn’t live long under these conditions. The PCs decided to lay low and observe for a while.
After an hour or so the PCs realized the Fighter wasn’t coming for them. The Rogue called one of the guards over and tried to convince him that she knew were there was more treasure, easy pickings. If he released he they could share the loot. He wasn’t interested.
At the same time the Sorcerer blasted the chains and freed the PCs. The Rogue pulled a hidden dagger and stabbed the unsuspecting guard, killing him. The other two guard who were nearby drew short swords. Fortunately the captive PCs had magic and ranged powers that required no weapons. The Warlock and Sorcerer targeted the guards and the Bard mocked them. In one round the fighting was over. The PCs grabbed the swords and crept away quietly. They promised the other captives they return for them soon.
When the PCs rounded the nearest group of tents a dozen Cultists were gathered around a campfire celebrating. The PCs were spotted and challenged. The quickly thinking PCs said they were entertainers. A few successful Deception and Perform checks later and the Cultists were completely convinced of the lie.
The dead guards would be discovered soon and the PCs hadn’t really gone that far. They wrapped up their act quickly and started heading towards the area where they noticed a lone bound prisoner. As they did someone approached them from the shadows.
The Halfling’s Path
While the rest of the PCs were in the camp the Halfling Rogue remained hidden. He’d managed to climb to the top of the plateau where he could get a bird’s eye view of the whole camp. He managed to avoid being spotted by the guard tower of the wandering patrols for a while.
He saw the PCs go into the Half-Dragon’s tent and emerge in chains. He watched them march to the area where other prisoners were already chained up. He saw the Dragonborn Fighter leave the leader’s tent and go in a different direction. He saw a lone captive bound to an X-shaped post. And he saw an entrance to a cave that was very heavily guarded. This was where all the Cultists seem to bring their treasure.
The Rogue’s luck eventually turned as two Kobold scouts happened upon him. He managed to use misdirection to deflect their attention from his position but eventually they found him. He managed to kill them both before either could raise an alarm, but he took a sling bullet to the head during the encounter.
When he noticed the chained PCs free themselves he decided it was time to join his friends and help them get out of the camp. He bound down the steep embankment, jumping and leaping from rock to ledge to precious. He was ready to light a fire and create a distraction so his allies could run, but they managed to talk their way out of immediate danger and as they headed off he joined them.
Next week we’ll see if the party can free Leosin, recover any treasure, gather all the information they came for, and escape the camp without raising too much suspicion or getting killed.
This was a tough session for me as the DM. I wanted to give the PCs as much freedom to do what they wanted and play to their strengths. Unfortunately some of the players were relatively inexperienced and weren’t sure what to do. Others didn’t feel that fighting was the best options (and rightly so) so they just went along with the group’s plan.
As much as I like the idea of completely open-ended sessions like this one, it can be grueling when the players can’t figure out what to do. As the DM I want to give them choices and freedom to decide for themselves, but eventually things need to advance. It’s a fine line between giving the players enough information to do cool things and making sure they accomplish what the adventure expects them to do.
I found that once the Dragonborn Fighter and Halfling Rogue were both off doing their own thing the game actually got more interesting. When a character is by himself he only has to worry about himself. They can do what they want to and not have to discuss it or defend a crazy or wild idea.
At the end of the session there wasn’t a lot of XP to award. Only a few creatures were actually fought, and the few social interactions the PCs didn’t award them a lot of XP because there wasn’t really any consequence for failure. Next session they can earn a lot more XP as they accomplish more of the episode objectives.
Did your group find the Dragon Cultists’ camp yet? Did you try to bluff your any into the group and hide in plain sight? Did you stay in the shadows and remain hidden? Did any parties try and fight all the Cultists?
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