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

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 18, 2014

hoard-of-the-dragon-queen-cover-2The 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!

Rearguard

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 Camp

hotdq-map-2The 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.

half-dragonThe 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.

Thoughts

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?

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.

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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1 Joe September 18, 2014 at 9:51 am

Wow, that sounds really challenging, but it looks like you handled it well. It’ll be a couple weeks before we get to this (we’ve got one more week of episode 1 right now), but your experiences give me a good idea on how to maybe be prepared for what’s to come.

2 Vobekhan September 20, 2014 at 4:36 am

We were late starting this adventure as we had been running LMoP and wanted to finish the chapter we were on. It also was a factor that this season I’m running double sessions on a fortnightly basis for my table as the majority of them are wargamers and this allows them to get their other games in on the alternate weeks.

However, we got to start HotDQ this week and managed to tackle Seek the Keep, The Old Tunnel and Sanctuary in one 4 hour session. I had a full 7 player table which was unsurprisingly warlock heavy (the flavour text is really inviting so I couldnt fault them for choosing warlocks) which led to some interesting combat tactics – warlocks providing covering fire alongside a sacred flaming cleric while the 2 fighters and the paladin go toe to toe. This was ok until I started rolling crits like they were going out of fashion.
I dont use a DM screen and let the players see all of my die rolls, particularly fun was as the heroes led refugees from the church back to the tunnel and into a kobold ambush. The kobolds used slings, and as most of the warriors were already downed, I was randomising the shots between party and refugees (killed 4 refugees with some vicious shots) but the best was getting 2 hits on one of the warlocks only to roll them as a double crit!
The player has described her tiefling has now having a big dent between her horns.
After the session I totted up the xp and each player received 253, almost achieving the cap in a single session. They are out of everything but cantrips (including the 2 pots of healing they were gifted by Nighthill) and with the majority of the party unconscious (including the cleric) need a couple of hours to “wake up”. I plan on having a couple of the encounters occur during this time so that the non combat players get more involved (as so far the scenes have been quite combat focused) and we’ll see how it goes from there.
One other thing the players asked was why were they travelling to Greenest together, some of them had taken the optional bonds but this only gave individuals a reason – so I decided that Sir Isteval from Daggerford had sent them to investigate rumours of what he feared was further Red Wizard activity – now they know differently.

3 Joe October 9, 2014 at 10:40 am

We just ran this session last night, Oct 8, and were all over the place. I had a table of 7, and while there was some great roleplaying, there was also a lot of waiting.

The party started off taking the cultist robes from the stragglers, so they posed as new initiates. They had the tiefling paladin tied up as a prisoner, since they figured folks would recognize him from his fight with the half-dragon champion at the end of episode 1. The druid was also wildshaped into a riding horse, hoping that he’d have a chance to stealthily explore the camp after he was brought to the stables. The group successfully deceived the ambush rearguard, and the cultists who met the “newbies” that the rearguard yelled were coming.

However, the presence of a dragonborn paladin caused one of the cultists to run off & get the half-dragon champion, who invited the dragonborn back to his tent to discuss his reasons for denying his metallic heritage (he’s copper-looking) and to drink some Dragon’s Blood, a thick alcoholic mead that only dragonborn find appealing. The tiefling was taken to the high-value prisoner X-es (where the monk, Leosin was), the druid/horse was lead off to the stable area, and the other 4 were given a tent and told to go set up in the new recruits area next to the kobold section of the camp.

This left the party in 4 groups. I tried to keep things short & sweet while moving to each group. Started with the druid, who listened to kobolds mucking the stall for a bit, then popped into his elf form (which had a cloak) & moved over to the prisoners, planning to “get assigned to guard duty”. Next I moved to the prisoners, where the tiefling struggled and mocked his captors for a while, until they were joined by the druid, who “helped” them to tie up the tiefling, then said he was assigned to guard duty. Great! 2 separate players back together again!

My joy at that joining soon faded, though, as the tent group decided to split up, with 2 joining other recruits who were marching (military style, with a cultist calling out chants), one looking for leader tents, and one wandering around to look for treasure. Yeesh, so while 2 groups became 1, 1 group became 3, so I now had 5 separate groups to deal with.

I moved on to the dragonborn, who was not at all prepared (neither the player nor the character) to lie about why he wanted to serve Tiamat. He defaulted to a generic “I like to kill stuff” sort of line, which generally worked, but didn’t impress the half-dragon (whose name I shortened to LuBu – of Dynasty Warriors fame – instead of the less memorable & harder to pronounce Langdregosa Cyanwhatsit). Once LuBu saw he had little honor as a warrioir (a trait I’d played up a lot in the champion fight at the end of ep 1), he lost interest in the dragonborn, so they both sat drinking their Dragons Blood.

Back to the marching recruits, where one failed her Athletics check, drawing the ire of the absolutely stereotypical drill sergeant from every military movie ever. They saw a few sights marching around camp, but eventually she fell & “twisted something” while her companion stopped to help her, and this just happened to be when they were near the prisoners.

Speaking of the prisoners, Leosin shared some information with the tiefling & druid, talking about what he’d learned of the cult prior to his capture. He described the 3 leaders, mentioned that all the treasure was locked up in the cave, and otherwise gave some of the general bulleted info points in the text.

The wandering human warlock decided to see how the cultists had fun. He went over to watch them mocking & beating their slave labor. Then he saw that hunters had returned with elk, and went over to see how they prepared the meat, and to get some discarded antlers (because he wanted them). That player wasn’t really interested in “doing” things, though, so I put whatever info I could in front of him, then moved on.

The wandering human ranger was looking for leader tents. He found the wizard Rezmir’s tent, with several smaller supply tents nearby. He saw Rezmir abuse the guard outside his tent before heading towards the food, and grabbed some supplies from one of the smaller tents to lie to the guard after Rezmir had left, claiming “Lord Rezmir told me to bring these to him”. Once inside the tent, the ranger saw that (like the Weasley’s tent at the Quidditch finals) it was bigger on the inside, and there were all sorts of magical apparati set up. He didn’t know much about magic, but did see a bunch of smaller lizard eggs that had clearly been experimented on. Unfortunately, he missed the dragonling familiar that was watching him the whole time. When he finally saw it, he tried to placate it by feeding it a little, but left quickly afterwards, realizing he might have blown their cover.

Rezmir passed LuBu’s tent along the way, telling him that food would be ready soon, which was supposed to bring the dragonborn & the warlock together. However, while the dragonborn grabbed some food & went to sit with the warlock, the warlock decided to try and talk to the half-dragons. It didn’t go well, and he was soon force-pushed away after he’d said enough casually insulting things to annoy Rezmir. Eventually the dragonborn & warlock both made it back to the prisoners, but it was a long journey. The ranger also headed towards the prisoners, as most of the camp was now in the area with the food. However, before they could free them or do anything more, priestess Mondath started walking towards them, flanked by the half-dragons & many cultists, and confronted the group by saying “It appears we have some newcomers who have not been entirely honest with us.” And that’s where I left it.

While folks felt like they had some fun being their characters and acting individually, there was also a lot of waiting this session, which I could tell was boring some of the players. I hope to finish this chapter off stronger next week, with the party all together, maybe with a fight or two as they escape the camp at night, though I’ll need to rework some encounters to make it an interesting full session.

4 Chuck October 14, 2014 at 2:09 pm

I having been running this campaign lately for my group and I have been finding that they tend to feel discouraged by the power of the dragon cult. The party is led by 2 zealots of tyr, a half-elf paladin and a dragonborn cleric, which tends to lead to rushing headlong into disaster. It was especially apparent in this episode.

While I let them know that the camp was in a state of celebration and security was lax, they felt like it was unfair that the camp had a few hundred cultist. The party chose to disregard stealth and just walk straight to where the town prisoners were being held. They tried to convince the guards to let them take over watching the prisoners so they could go celebrate but after a few failed rolls they were about to call the alarm. That’s when the dragonborn demanded to be brought to Landragosa to have the guard punished for his insolence.

The dragonborn was easily recognized as the champion of Greenest. Following was a demand for a one-on-one duel to reclaim his honor and for the lives of all the prisoners. The duel ended up drawing a huge crowd since my player “had” to use Thaumaturgy to announce his challenge to the whole camp. As you can imagine a level 2 cleric didn’t stand much of a chance in another 1v1 confrontation with Langragosa.

The rest of the party ended up using this as a distraction to rescue what prisoners they could. They split up leaving the paladin to overcome the two guards left with the town prisoners. The figther and sorcerer went to go free Leosin. The paladin was able to free the prisoners and get them out in the confusion but they other party ended up failing a stealth roll and botching a few charisma checks which led to a mob of bandits and cultist capturing them.

The cleric at this point was on the brink of death when a cultist stabilized him so he could be interrogated. During the interrogation the cleric would not stop spouting insults, so Furam simply sentenced them to death and had the cleric knocked unconscious to shut him up. The fighter and sorcerer with the help of Leosin and a little magic were able to get out of their bindings and subdue the guard. They then had to use some tricky maneuvering to conceal and drag the dragonborn’s unconscious body out of the camp and to safety.

Even though my party made it out of the camp safe with information and freed prisoners my players felt like the entire event was unfair. Near the beginning I got a lot of “how are we supposed to assault a camp of hundreds?”. Up until this point all of the fights have been pretty deadly just with kobolds and bandits fighting them. And it was hard to even get them to try and sneak in. This was the first time they attempted any sort of deception. Every other encounter they just ran headlong and attacked. I’m having trouble getting them to feel like things aren’t too stacked against them.

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