D&D Encounters: Hoard of the Dragon Queen (Episode 1: Session 3)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 4, 2014

hoard-of-the-dragon-queen-cover-2So far the party I’m running has defeated Kobolds who were attacking the good townsfolk of Greenest, escorted the locals safely to the keep, cleared out the old tunnel, saved the mill, captured prisoners, and had their fare share of random encounters with Dragon Cultists and more Kobolds along the way. Between the last session and this one they took a short rest, so now they’re ready to push on and drive the remaining attackers out of Greenest, including the Blue Dragon.

We had another phenomenal week in terms of participants at Hairy Tarantula North in Toronto. There were 34 players and 5 DMs. Our streak of initiating new players to 5e D&D continued as we had four newbies this week. All of them had played some D&D before so that helped them catch on quickly. By the end of this week’s session three of the five tables completed Episode 1 while the other two tables expect to complete it next week.

Six of the seven players at my table had earned more than the requisite 300 XP to level up. So everyone but our newest player did so. Two of the players decided to completely rework their characters (which is allowed). So when we finally got started the party consisted of the following PCs: Tiefling Bard, Halfling Ranger, Elf Rogue, Dragonborn Fighter, Drow Sorcerer (reworked from Warlock), Elf Rogue (reworked from Bard), and Human Paladin (our new player).

Prisoners

During the last session the PCs captured two cult Lieutenants and an Acolyte. While the PCs took their short rest they observed the interrogation by Governor Nighthill’s chief interrogator. The prisoners eventually revealed that the reason they were attacking Greenest was to collect loot for the great hoard that will usher in the reign of the Queen of Dragons. They also revealed that the cult is guarding a clutch of Dragon eggs back at their camp.

Afterward the PCs met with Governor Nighthill to discus the next steps in the siege and then afterwards. Nighthill believes that if the damned Blue Dragon would stop attacking that the cultists, especially the Kobolds, would give up and leave Greenest. He asked the PCs to go on the wall and bolster his forces. Hopefully they can figure out a way to get the Dragon to stop attacking even if it means shooting the wyrm out of the sky.

At that moment cries erupted from the gate. Kobolds managed to break through the first door of the sally port. The PCs knew they’d be needed on the ground to help shore up defenses. The Ranger and two Rogues headed up to the wall to face off against the Dragon while the rest of the PCs went to the gate to try and push back the Kobolds.

Although these are separate missions, I ran them simultaneously. I did a complete cycle of the initiative for the group at the sally port and the attacking monsters, and then I switched to the group on the wall and let them do a complete run of the initiative along with the Dragon. I felt this was a better way to do it then completing one group’s encounter while the others sat and did nothing, and then vice versa.

Dragon Attack

Each week I’ve made a point of describing how the Blue Dragon was attacking the keep. At first he was dive bombing the keep every 5 minutes or so as soon as his lightning breath recharged. As the night went on the attacks became less frequent happening about every 10 minutes or so. As they spread out the Dragon’s precisions got worse. He didn’t really seem to care where the lightning struck, as long as it hit something. By the time the PCs got to the wall the Dragon’s attacks were getting predictable so the archers could hide and avoid the brunt of the lightning.

The heroes decided to use this pattern to shoot back and try to convince the Dragon to just fly away. Unfortunately they had a hard time getting over the Dragon Fear. The Ranger made his save on the first try (natural 20), but the Rogues kept failing. I ruled that as long as they were frightened any attacks were at disadvantage. This made it tough for them to get advantage and the accompanying sneak dice when they hit.

The encounter was actually kind of boring (I blame poor design). The adventure clearly stated that if the Dragon attacked the PCs directly they’d die. So basically the PCs could shoot at the Dragon but I had to come up with an excuse for why they weren’t getting any retaliation from the beast. I tried to use narrative to make it sound cool and menacing, but I don’t think I succeeded as well as I’d hoped.

Eventually the PCs managed to score a few shots on the Dragon so I said it changed it’s attack pattern and did come after them. I allowed them to hide behind cover to avoid damage. Once they all saved against the fear (both Rogues saved in the same round) they managed to get enough damage to convince the Dragon to fly off and not return. Victory!

As a side note, two of the other tables at my FLGS had PCs that spoke Draconic on the wall for this mission and they managed to talk to the Dragon and convince it to stop attacking. I don’t think many groups will try this avenue, but I think it would make for a better encounter.

The Sally Port

First of all I had to look up what a sally port was. Best I could find was that the medieval sally port is like an airlock on a submarine. There are two sets of doors. You open the first doors, send it your troops, close the doors behind them, then open the second set of doors and let them rush in. By always keeping one set of doors closed, attackers are less likely to break into the keep if the smash through the first set of doors.

The Kobolds used a battering ram to get through the first set of doors and were setting up a secure force at the second set of doors denying the defenders a chance to come in and fix the exterior doors. The PCs decided to rush the Kobolds and push them out. Once successful they’d close the broken doors and try to repair them or barricade them if that was not possible.

The few remaining defenders inside the keep agreed to close the doors behind the PCs as soon as they were through. They didn’t want any Kobolds sneaking past them and getting inside. On the count of three they opened the doors and let the PCs rush in.

In the space between the doors were two Kobolds, one Winged Kobold, and one Ambush Drake. Outside the PCs could see many Kobolds and Cultist running about try to gather themselves for some kind of assault. Three Kobold slingers saw the PCs and shot at them from a safe distance while their friends attacked up close.

For this encounter my dice were red hot. I rolled five 20s and two 19s on my first eight attacks. Slings have never been so deadly. The PCs managed to drop the two close Kobolds in the first round but the Winged Kobold and the Drake proved more difficult. After my fantastic rolls the PCs were getting ready to retreat, but they realized if they did they might not have this chance again.

The Sorcerer managed to drop a slinger with magic, but the other kept attacking and hitting. One of the Acolyte Cultists moved up and cast spells back at the Sorcerer. The PCs realized they would be killed if they didn’t get the doors closed so the Fighter risked an opportunity attack from the Drake (which missed) and managed to get one of the broken doors closed providing some cover. That was when things started going right for the PCs.

The fighting went on for a few more rounds and eventually the PCs managed to get both doors closed. The Paladin and Fighter held the doors closed while the Bard and Sorcerer called for the guards to open the inner door and help them secure the sally port. Supplies brought into the keep during the siege were just inside the doors so the heroes managed to get some barrels and crates into the sally port to reinforce the doors and ensure they couldn’t be opened.

Once the doors were secured the Sorcerer cast mending over and over again until the doors were completely repaired. The crisis was over and the PCs lived though it. However, the Paladin and Fighter both took heavy damage.

Half-Dragon Champion

half-dragonOnce the PCs regrouped and both teams came together to swap tales and determine next steps, a loud voice echoed from outside the keep. The PCs ran up to the wall to witness what was happening. A group of Kobolds led by a huge Half-Dragon man approached the keep. They had prisoners and were using them as shields.

“Defenders of Greenest!” he called out. “This has been a successful night, and I am feeling generous. Do you see these four pitiful, useless prisoners? We have no need for them, so I will trade them back to you. Send out your best warrior to fight me, and you can have these four in exchange.”

One of the guards on the wall recognized the prisoners. It was his sister and her kids. The guard immediately volunteered to go and fight the Half-Dragon. Governor Nighthill looked to the PCs, hoping one of them would step forward. The party’s Dragonborn Fighter wanted to go but was below half his maximum hit points. The Halfling Ranger immediately stepped up. As a Folk Hero he knew he had to do this even though he might die. The Paladin also stepped forward saying that this was her duty.

Neither PC backed down so the players had to role-play it out and come up with a solution. The Rogue stepped in and suggested they draw straws. Her true motive was to hold the straws and ensure the Ranger would get to fight. Eventually the character agreed to draw straws. The Rogue used Slight of Hand to fix the contest. The Paladin had no clue, the Ranger saw the cheat but said nothing.

The Ranger left the keep and advanced towards the Half-Dragon. He literally laughed at the “Champion” the people chose. But he held true to his honour and released the three kids. He agreed to release the woman when the fighting was over, regardless of the outcome.

The Ranger won initiative and managed to score a hit and wound the Half-Dragon. The Half-Dragon also scored a hit but did almost minimal damage with his greatsword. The Ranger realized he was outmatched so he decided to try and taunt and embarrass the Half-Dragon by dodging rather than attacking. It worked at first. The Half-Dragon missed. Then he told the Ranger to stay still and fight as he released his lightning breath on him. That hurt.

The Ranger kept on dodging and managed to stay on his feet for a couple more rounds until the Half-Dragon recharged his breath weapon and shocked him again. That dropped the Ranger. The Half-Dragon stepped up to his unconscious body and stabbed him once for good measure before he turned and left with the rest of the Kobolds.

The PCs rushed out to heal their fallen ally. He awoke to cheers and admiration from all the people of Greenest. The folk hero who first scared off the Blue Dragon and then faced the Half-Dragon champion to save four people he’d never met.

So ends Episode 1. The PCs got a long rest and next week we pick up with Episode 2.

Thoughts

Although this week’s session didn’t have as many combatants as previous week’s I think it still worked pretty well. The Dragon flyby encounter was a bit dumb in my opinion but we managed. I decided to skip the one remaining mission because I knew we wouldn’t finish the episode this week if we didn’t. Knowing that six of seven PCs were essentially not earning XP this week since they’d hit the 300 XP cap I wanted to wrap up episode 1 and move on to episode 2 as quickly as possible.

The battle against the Half-Dragon champion was a lot of fun even though only one PC participated. Even the players who were just watching were having a lot of fun. It’s nice when the story gets everyone so involved that they are happy to just watch it unfold.

One thing that came up this week was the rule for hiding in 5e, specifically regarding when the Rogue can hide and attack with advantage. We talk about this in great length at the end of this week’s Recounting Encounters podcast and I’m still not sure we’ve landed on the correct answer. I’ll be writing separate blog post on hiding in 5e next week so list to the podcast, read the post on Monday and weigh in to help us get it right.

Did you group finish episode 1 this week? How did your representative do against the Half-Dragon? We’ve had two PCs die at our FLGS in the first three weeks. Have any PCs died at your FLGS? Were you one of them?

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 4, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Holy cow you guys are zipping through this. We’re purposefully slowing it so that Episode 1 takes the full 6 weeks, because we know there’s a big empty spot with no content after the 1st 3 episodes are done, and we’ll need to stretch the rest of the hardcover adventure to cover these.

We had 4 tables of 5-7 at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA last night. At my table of 7, I had one totally brand new player (played a pregen human monk modelled after Jackie Chan), a dwarf fighter, a half-elf bard, an elf druid, a dragonborn monk, and 2 tieflings… a warlock & a paladin.

Having tackled the old tunnel last week this week they headed off to stop the mill from getting set on fire, and also to look for a “leader” they could take prisoner. The party caught on pretty quickly that the “firestarters” were not actually setting fires, and mostly avoided the trap. I ran a ra, roundless combat as they each described what their characters did to take out the torch-bearers.

After that the cultists inside the mill rushed out. I threw 5 cultists & 1 guard at my party of 7 (well below the 1 cultist & 1 guard per player recommended amount) and still had 2 folks making deaths saves, 2 more at 1 HP, and everyone else at less than half HP by the time the fight was over. I am again amazed at the deadliness of 5E.

When it was all done, I had the party find some healing potions, just so that everyone didn’t die (Paladin had already used his 5 HP of hand-laying, fighter had already used his 2nd wind, most folks had already used their hit dice). They returned to the keep with the prisoner & the Miller family, and are headed to the Sanctuary next week.

2 Brian Criswell September 4, 2014 at 2:45 pm

This adventurer’s league format seems much more free form and not stuck to a rigid schedule. I like that. Does the encounters version of horde of the dragon queen bring anything significant to the table that the book does not? The tables in OP at our store are not quite as volatile, and I think the players would enjoy seeing an adventure through to the end.

3 Justin September 4, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Yea we decided that our 1st episode would last 4 weeks and I am glad we did. This week we would of hit 300 xp except for the TPK we suffered. First off after the first 2 weeks we had 275 XP each and were beaten to a pulp. Our group:
Mountain Dwarf War Cleric (me) – 8HP, no spells left, no War Cleric extra attacks left, no Hit Die
Hill Dwarf Life Cleric – 7HP, no spells left, no Hit Die
Mountain Dwarf Paladin – 3 HP, 0 Lay on Hands, no Hit Die
Tinker Gnome Wizard – Full HP, no spells left
Wood Elf Monk – 1HP, no Hit Die
Half-Elf Druid – 7HP, no spells left, no Hit Die
Mountain Dwarf Fighter, Full HP, no Hit Die, Second Wind
Half-Elf War Cleric – 2HP, no Spells, no Hit Die, 1 War Cleric Use left

As you can see we were walking into the Battle already dead. The DM was nice and had a Cleric of the town offer us services for a payment. We pooled together 40gp and payed him to get the Prayer of Healing cast on us. This healed everyone to full except the Druid who was still hurt (1HP). Our group now healed we went to the walls to help defend. While at the walls a message came into the governor saying that a group of villagers were trapped in a church nearby. He did not have anyone to go there so he asked us to go rescue them. We all quickly agreed and used the hidden tunnels to get there so we would not be noticed. We quickly made it to the temple and we surprised at what we saw.

We saw smoke coming out of the back of the temple were we knew was a door. We saw a large group battering down the door of the temple and we saw a huge group of Kobolds moving around the temple and taunting it. I wanted to see how long it was taking the Kobolds to get around the temple but the others decided to attack head on. They charged the large group at the front door and quickly took down 3 of the Kobolds. The Kobolds counterattacked with unbelievable numbers. The Kobolds were attacking the Fighter, Paladin and Cleric of Life. The Fighter (with AC of 19) (0 out of 8) was able to block everything barely. The Cleric of Life (AC of 18) was hit 3 out of 4 times and taken to 4 HP. The Paladin was hit 1 out of 4 by the kobolds and knocked to 9 HP. The rest of the party cast spells and killed 3 more kobolds but there was still 12 left. What this did do was open an area for the Commander to get in the fight. He moved right next to the Paladin and hit him 1 time for 12 points of damage taking him out. Well this made him the biggest target and the Druid used Thorn Whip to pull him to the back group while the Fighter and Cleric of Life stopped the rest of the Kobolds. It took us 4 more rounds to finally clear out everyone and let us get to the front door. Luckily our Paladin rolled a Natural 20 on his first death save and he stood back up with 1 HP.

We knew we did not have much time so the Dwarf War Priest tried to get the citizens to open the doors and escape but I kept failing my persuasion rolls. The wizard said lets try the back door so the Wizard, Dwarf WP, Half Elf WP, and Druid went around the building toward the back. The Monk, Fighter, Paladin and Life Cleric decided to stay at the front door and try to get them to escape. Well the Life Cleric decided to walk around the other corner and see where the group heading around the building was. Since he was in Heavy Armor he had Disadvantage on Stealth and rolled a 19 then a 2. The Kobolds saw him and charged the group at the front door.

The other group was near the back of the building and saw more kobolds. We decided to get the others to take them out and get in the back door under the cover of smoke. Well the Dwarf WP heard fighting from where they just left and told the ones with him that the others were in trouble.

So the enemy had:
2 Ambush Drakes
20 Kobolds
5 Cultists

We went to help but there was just too many. 1 by 1 we fell and were trampled into the dirt as they stormed by us. We did manage to kill 12 of the Kobolds and 2 Cultists. After the party was knocked out we had to roll death saves. Everyone but the Half-Elf War Priest and the Dwarf Fighter succeeded so we lost 2 of our party. We woke up to see the fire on the temple out and the front door open but not broken down. We hoped the villagers escaped but had no idea. We dragged our fallen back to the keep and hope to have a miracle happen to save us from our coming doom.

NOTES:
OK everyone has 1 HP now and nothing left. I think most of us will die next week or maybe get to spend another 40 gold to get healed up. One thing I think that needs to be said is that Kobolds are WAY better then CR 1/8 I think they are at least CR 1/4 to 1/2. This is because of the ADV on attacks if an ally is next to the target. The DM was rolling 2d20s on every attack he made (almost) and managed to get 6 Critical Hits during the session. With no long rest we can not get back our spells or other skills to deal with the massive threats (Sleep has been the best spell against them). Also with the change to Spare the Dying the Clerics cant even get people back up to help stop the tide. Knowing that this was suppose to last 4-6 weeks for the first episode I don’t know how any 1st level people would survive.

I also know that our party did the temple wrong (should of gone though the smoke) but that one mistake has destroyed the group for the rest of Episode 1 (1 HP is not enough). Now I did see one thing that would be very helpful in the game and that is the Healer Feat.

The Healer Feat allows you to spend 1 use of the Healer’s Kit to give someone dying 1 hp or if that person has not been healed yet since their last short rest you can spend 1 use of the Healer’s Kit to give the 1d6+4+(max amount of Hit Die they have). This would of saved our group as a dedicated healer would of been able to keep us up. Still overall I think the Kobolds/Drakes/Commanders are a lot higher CR with the ADV on Attacks trait.

4 Dan September 5, 2014 at 4:03 pm

This week, 2 players at my table were unable to make it, but we got 2 new players, so it evened out. We were made up of a high elf rogue, a human warlock, a dwarf (I can’t remember his class), a half-elf cleric of life, and my half-elf wild sorcerer.
We left off last week in the old tunnel, having just slain a crew of kobolds. We advanced to the end of the tunnel, and decided to be paranoid about the grate. It opened without a hitch and we began to move along the stream. There was a splash ahead, and I was startled by it, casting firebolt at the source of the noise. I fried a trout, but the fire was reflected briefly in several pairs of eyes. The kobolds must have seen me as a threat with my fire, as I was attacked 4 times, nearly falling unconscious before I managed to bring 3 down with a use of sleep. The rest of the party joined the fight, and we finished them off without dying. We retrieved the 3 sleeping kobolds and tied them IP to bring back to the lords interrogator.
We then moved on to the sanctuary, where we could tell our foes were near breaching. We his in the foliage just as a patrol rounded the corner. There were 10 kobolds, 2 ambush drakes, and 2 human cultists. Our rogue shot one of the drakes while our warlock used telepathy to sow discord amongst the ranks. The way they positioned themselves was perfect for burning hands, killing all of the kobolds and the injured drake. The other was badly injured, and the cultists were only singed. The dwarf threw his axe at the remaining drake and I cast sleep again, eliminating the rest of the foes. We tied up the humans and finished off the drake. At this point, we had no more time to continue, so we left off.
As far as gameplay goes, it has been a lot of debate, often arguing the same point, along with horrible rolls, causing combat to take longer. When we have the ability to prep tactically, we do very well, but there are still large groups of foes.
I am unclear about the XP cap, as I have heard different things from different DMs. So to clarify, we should be capped at 300 correct? Also, is it possible that the XP cap is only found in the encounters version and not in the hard cover published version?

5 Joe September 11, 2014 at 10:03 am

Ep 1-4 for us (our FLGS decided to go 6 weeks on ep 1) brought us to the Sanctuary.

This week my table of 7 managed to have a mostly roleplaying & dramatically-narrated combat session (very few dice rolls). The party went through the woods to get to the temple, trying to avoid random encounters with raiders. Instead, they found a single ambush drake eating the freshly-killed corpse of a dire wolf (since I knew I have a druid in my party who’ll need to have “seen” a dire wolf to wildshape into one once he hits level 2), with the 1-day-old puppy of said dire wolf injured nearby. I did a quick round of “everybody make one attack”, which took out the drake very quickly, then our paladin used his last HP of Lay on Hands to heal the puppy, which endeared it to him. I know there are no “pet” rules for 5E (unless you take 3 levels of Ranger), but since it’s super young, the player was just happy to have the idea of a dire wolf puppy that’d be his (he’s a big Game of Thrones fan).

They got to the temple & saw the 3 groups of enemies. I had the roving band of cultists actually casting a ritual to Tiamat, chanting the names of famous dragons of each color head with each orbit they made, trying to destroy any Chauntea wards on the temple. This added an additional time concern, on top of the battering ram dramatic element.

They took out Group C at the back door pretty spectacularly (I allowed a combination of cantrips to make bigger flames that ignited the tar the cultists were trying to use to burn through the back door), and then convinced a commoner on the other side of the door to let them in. They found maybe 20-30 scared parishioners huddled in the church, afraid to leave because Father Falconwood was locked away in the balcony.

Here’s where things got awesome. See, as written, Father Falconwood isn’t that interesting of an NPC. He’s a half-elf priest of Chauntea, the “Great Mother” goddess of farming, life, & a balance between civilization & nature. But he doesn’t have much of a personality. I decided to give him one. At my table, Fr Falconwood had decided that the attack on the town was a sign that Chauntea had left him, and was having a crisis of faith. He had no access to divine magic (I drew on some really old-school cleric/paladin tropes for this), and felt that the success the cultists were having was a direct result of his failure to serve his goddess properly. I then went around the table & let everyone in the party try their best to convince him to get his “groove” back/restore his faith.

While there were rolls associated with this, it was really more about what tactic they used, so I just made the DCs for less-great tactics incredibly high. For instance, when the tiefling paladin & the druid tried to Intimidate/Persuade the priest into believing again by saying “Look, we’re here to save the day, so your prayers have been answered,” it failed because the focus was on the party, not on showing the priest that he had any worth of his own. When other players tried to game the system by “spamming Guidance onto the rolls” (seriously, that’s the words the player used) of “a Religion check to see what I know about making the magic work again,” I made even more clear the fact that this was more about the ideas and less about the numbers, and that the priest needed to find his faith again.

Finally (and this was perfect), our tiefling warlock looked at her sheet & saw that the random trinket she got at character gen was a clockwork fish in a little bowl. She decided to Deceive the priest into believing in himself again, so she began a story about the ancient Chauntean priest who’d given her the trinket years ago, claiming that she’d know when a truly holy person needed reminding of the good path he was on. She had initially intended to trick him into thinking the mechanical fish was real, but it was such a clever & dramatic thing that I had a flash of divine magic return, turning the fish into a living fish when the priest held it.

There were actual tears of joy in my players’ eyes as this happened. THAT is why I do this DMing thing. Once the priest was up & moving, it was an easy enough time to time the escape of the people out the back to avoid the roving raiders, and of course the battering ram people came through at the dramatically appropriate moment, but more clever use of utility cantrips made distracting noises of coins up in the balcony, distracting them as everyone else escaped out the back door.

When they got back to the keep, the priest was able to provide healing to everyone (since nobody has had any hit dice or healing spells of their own left after the first session or two). Next week (week 5) they’ll deal with the Dragon Attack & the Sally Port, followed by the Half-Dragon Champion & whatever roleplaying for the end of the night in week 6. But for me, as a DM, I’m all set after tonight’s session. I could fail a save-or-die check right now and be fine, after that awesome moment with my table last night.

6 Joe September 18, 2014 at 10:07 am

Episode 1-5 was much awesomer for me than I expected. We were scheduled to run both the Dragon Attack & the Sally Port. Having read how bored everyone was with the Dragon Attack design, I decided to alter it a bit.

First, I had to write up 20 or so soldiers. I ripped a bunch of index cards in half, and on each one wrote a name and a single quirk. Things like “Wants to be governor some day”, “father is the town blacksmith”, “comes from a family line of wizards, but has no magic ability”, etc. I varied the names to roughly even numbers of male-sounding & female-sounding names. Then, as the PCs arrived on the tower, I had each one pick a card at random. Then I randomly gave them additional cards, one per point of Cha bonus (so everyone had a minimum of 1). These were minion soldiers under the command of each player. The soldiers could: 1. give advantage on a skill check or fear save, 2. add 1 damage (per soldier) to ranged attacks the character made, or 3. sacrifice themselves to halve the damage a PC took from the dragon.

In addition, I added two platforms, accessible by long bridges on either side of the main tower, but without stone crenellations to hide behind. On one was a broken Ballista, and on the other was a broken Catapult. What followed was a somewhat complex but still quite fun encounter with the party spread all over the several locations.

I also greatly reduced the dragon’s damage. When even a successful save would still do enough damage to outright 1-shot a PC (33 damage with a save, 66 on a fail), I figured this was a bit much. I dropped the damage to 20, with the option of using their soldiers to decrease this further. Taking cover behind the stone bits in the main tower gave them advantage on the Dex save.

Eventually the party, after losing several of their charges, repaired both the catapult and the ballista, and did enough “dramatic” damage to drive the dragon off (those who understood draconic heard it saying “Screw this noise, I’m out of here!”).

What I DIDN’T count on, though, was the fact that my players actually cared about their minion soldiers. They took the little I’d given them and came up with complex relationships & backgrounds. The dwarven fighter even chose to let the dragon drop him to 0 HP rather than let his two underlings sacrifice themselves for him (I decided they could give him advantage on the Death saves while they tried to do CPR and whatnot afterward). But they really got into it. Afterwards, everyone was a bit crestfallen when the surviving soldiers had to stay in the tower and couldn’t come with them.

The Sally Port was a quick fight afterward, where everyone who was frustrated that they couldn’t hit the dragon’s 19 AC with their normal attacks got to let loose on some kobolds. They sealed the door (not with the mending spell, because nobody had it and I felt like introducing an NPC to do the ONE THING listed as a possibility was anti-climactic). After a short rest (in which the cleric they saved at the Sanctuary healed them up to full HP), we ended on a cliffhanger as the half-dragon champion yelled out at the keep, challenging any true hero to come out and face him.

7 Joe September 25, 2014 at 11:43 am

Last night (week 6) we finally finished off episode 1 at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA. We had 3 tables of 6-7, so it was a pretty full house.

My table had 3 monks, a brother/sister tiefling pair of diametrically opposed paladin & warlock, a bard, and druid (all still at level 1). They began by debating how to handle the half-dragon calling out for someone to duel him. Many didn’t believe he could be trusted, but when it was seen he had hostages, they realized they couldn’t just ignore him or kill him from afar. One of the monks did go up to the repaired Ballista (from the dragon attack) to man as a last resort, and the druid also went up on the walls in case he needed to sneak down outside of the circle of cultists surrounding the Champion.

The tiefling paladin (of vengeance) stood as the group’s Champion, taking some time to lecture the half-dragon on “true honor” and how cowardly it was to take hostages. His intimidation techniques failed, though, and soon the battle was on.

Because I wanted to make this more interesting than it was as-written, I allowed the other PCs to encourage the paladin (giving him advantage), make taunts at the half-dragon (giving him disadvantage) or try to intimidate the 30 or so cultists gathered around (making them less likely to kill the hostages). With the distraction of the combat, I also allowed the wood elf members of the party (of which there were several) to sneak away, since they get that “you can’t see me because my ankles are covered by leaves” sneaky hiding ability. So the druid snuck down the wall outside the combat circle, and the other two monks slipped away to eventually come up behind the cultists and start quietly ninja-killing them one-by-one (they’d both played plenty of Assassin’s Creed type games, so they really got into this).

Meanwhile, I did fudge the numbers a little on the half-dragon to make the fight a little less crazy. For instance, when the paladin closed in, I had him draw a sword that clearly didn’t match the pro-Tiamat look of the rest of his attire… it was clearly a claimed trophy from a previous combat. It also bore the markings of Torm (the Paladin’s god), so when it hit him, it actually did no damage to him. This played out into some interesting interactions, because this was really about the story of the fight, not the numbers.

Meanwhile, on the “let’s freak out the cultists” front, the warlock called upon her fiendish patron (whom we’re envisioning as Lasciel from the Dresden Files books) to aid her in using Thaumaturgy to impersonate Tiamat’s voice coming from the clouds above. The bard assisted, and soon the cultists believed that Tiamat herself thought the half-dragon was an unworthy servant (despite how well he was doing in the combat). This caused many to flee, and allowed the rest of the party to get the hostages to safety, even as the half-dragon cried out in rage “I’LL SHOW YOU WHO’S WORTHY!!!” while knocking out the paladin with a blast of lightning breath.

Things got even crazier after that, with the monk on the wall firing the ballista at the half-dragon, the warlock hitting him with burning hands, and another of the monks embedding a dart in his neck. He was still fine HP-wise, but it was clear the combat was over. As the just-healed paladin looked up at the champion standing over him, the half-dragon pulled the dart from his neck, patted out the bits of him that were on fire, and stripped off his now-damaged splint mail, spitefully telling the paladin “Don’t you EVER speak to me of honor if this is how your allies honor duels.” He then turned his back & walked away, almost daring the party to prove themselves more dishonorable by continuing to attack him. They did not, to their credit.

Because I’ve been really itching to give out anything this chapter, the Torm-sword (which the half-dragon also discarded) turned out to be a +1 sword that cannot harm true servants of Torm. The party also acquired the half-dragon’s (easily repaired) splint mail, though were loathe to use it, since it’s covered in pro-Tiamat iconography. Dawn broke, and everyone got to rest and level-up to lvl 2.

8 aramis November 10, 2014 at 9:12 pm

@Brian Criswell – The Encounters version only adds an XP limit per episode for episodes I to III… by which point the characters are probably leveled out of Encounters (which is levels 1-3 only, per the Encounters version). Those limits are just enough to level up…
Oh, and the Encounters version is available in PDF (but not for sale).

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