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

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on October 2, 2014

hoard-of-the-dragon-queen-cover-2In Episode 2 the PCs followed the Cult of the Dragon raiders back to their camp, infiltrated the camp, and freed the captive Monk, Leosin. Unfortunately the heroes were unable to free any of the other prisoners. So Episode 3 began with Governor Nighthill pleading with the PCs to return to the camp, free any remaining prisoners, and destroy the Dragon eggs they learned about in Episode 2.

The PCs were also approached by Leosin after he’d rested and recovered from his ordeal as a captive of the Dragon Cultists. He offered the PCs 150 gp each if they would do as the Governor bade them. However, he was heading to the city of Elturel, north of Greenest, so the PCs would have to come and find him there when they’d finished at the campsite. They accepted his offer and made preparations to head back out.

This week at Hairy Tarantula North in Toronto we ran five table for D&D Encounters. Our overall numbered have dwindled a bit, but that’s to be expected as the students who make up the bulk of our participants get busier with their school work. My table was down to four PCs this week, all of them level 3 – we had a Halfling Ranger, Tiefling Warlock, Elf Rogue, and Dragonborn Fighter.

Preparing to Return

Assuming things hadn’t changed much since they left, the PCs expected any living slaves to be held in one area of the camp, together. They decided they would free the slaves first and get them out of the camp. Then they’d head back in and explore the cave.

The PCs asked Governor Nighthill for two soldiers to accompany them. Once the slaves were freed these soldiers could escort the prisoners back to Greenest safely. This would allow the PCs to stay in the camp and not have to worry about the prisoners’ safety while they adventured onward. The Governor agreed and assigned two young Rangers to join the PCs.

The journey to the camp was uneventful. The party took a deliberately different route than the one they’d taken before. They were worried about stumbling into traps or ambushes, but encountered none. They timed their trip so that they’d arrive at the camp at dusk. As they got close to the horseshoe-shaped valley, they couldn’t hear the same sounds of hustle, bustle, and partying that they’d heard the last time they were here.

They waited under cover of trees and foliage for any signs of guards and when they finally saw two they attacked them quickly and quietly. The surprise round followed by high initiative checks had the party drop the two guards fast and easily. When they examined the bodies they realized these men had already been injured before the PCs attacked them. They hid the bodies and moved to where they could see the campsite – it was abandoned.

Abandoned Camp

From what the PCs could see from their vantage-point the camp was devoid of activity. Where hundreds of Dragon Cultists had been only a few nights earlier were abandoned tents and extinguished campfires. The only signs of life were near the main tent. A few cultists remained but they seemed to be wounded and incapable of combat or travel. A few Cult woodsmen were tending to the injured Cultists, patching their wounds and bringing them fresh meat. Otherwise the camp was abandoned.

The PCs were unsure if anyone was still manning the guard towers so they tried to keep out of sight. The climbed down and approached the camp from the main entrance. Close inspection of the ground revealed to the Ranger that the Cultists left en mass recently and headed off in many directions taking everything they could carry with them.

The PCs decided to hug the south wall of the valley and avoid the hospice area where the wounded Cultists rested. Each round they took the dodge action and then moved. It was slow going but eventually they got near the cave mouth. By now it was dark so the Elf Rogue moved up by herself to scout it out. She noticed two guards standing just inside the cave. She returned to her companions to report. They agreed they would hug the cliff wall and sneak up to the entrance.

Cave Entrance (#1)

The PCs did a good job of approaching the cave mouth slowly and quietly, but once they got there they decided that stealth wasn’t needed any more. The Warlock and Rogue (the two PCs with darkvision) just walked right into the tunnel. They saw one guard at the same time he saw them so it was initiative time.

The party won initiative so the PCs with darkvision shot the Dragonclaw guard and easily dropped him before he could act. Unfortunately another Dragonclaw guard was stationed a little deeper in the dark cave and on his turn he dashed away, going deeper into the darkness.

The Fighter lit a torch so that he and the Ranger could see in the cavern. By the time the torch was light the guard was long gone. The party proceeded slowly, taking the dodge action each round as they advanced.

Concealed Nook (#2)

Ahead the PCs saw the floor drop sharply. To the south the torchlight flickered off the rocky walls of a recessed nook. They expected to find the Dragonclaw hiding here ready to ambush them, but he was not there so they continued towards the ledge.

Fungus Garden (#3)

When the PCs reached the ledge they saw that it was a 10-foot drop. To one side a crude set of steps had been carved into a stone ramp. The area below was filled with plants and fungi. The plants varied in size and shape, some small and some as tall as a man. Two paths cut through the vegetation.

The Ranger went down the steps first, still dodging. When the Fighter, also still dodging, followed, he stepped on a loose rock, slipped and fell. He managed to slide onto the path to the left. The Warlock also fell and ended up next to the Fighter. The Rogue decided to just drop down and not use the steps.

Before the party could act, vines from two of the larger plants lashed out at the prone PCs. The heroes fought back against the Violet Fungi but then realized that two sneaky little Kobolds were hiding among the plants. One ran up and stabbed the prone Warlock while the other took flight and dropped a heavy rock on the Rogue’s head (doing 15 damage on my maxed crit).

The Rogue was seeing stars but still managed to easily shoot the Winged Kobold and kill the little sucker before he could attack a second time. The Fighter stood up from prone and stabbed the other Kobold, easily killing him.

The Warlock stood and disengaged so that the next round he could blast the plants. He didn’t realize that the plants had reach and was again struck by the lashing vines.

The Ranger moved into melee and together with the Fighter they destroyed the first plant. When they killed it spores shot out in all directions, but the two heroes made their Con saves.

The Warlock and Rogue attacked from a safe distance, but it was again the melee combatants who dealt the killing blow. And again the spores exploded. This time they did not make their saves and both fell into coughing fits.

With all the immediate threats gone the PCs moved onward. The Rogue took a quick look behind them and in the cave near the entrance she saw four Dragonclaw guards. They were blocking the exit.

Stirge Lair (#4)

When the fungus cleared the PCs saw and smelled bat guano. A quick look up and they saw hundreds of small bats hanging from the ceiling. The PCs dodged and moved as quietly as possible. Going so slow required that they make two Stealth checks. The first ones were great. The second ones were also great, except for the Warlock who failed by a lot. This awoke the slumbering bats.

When the bats began to swarm the PCs noticed a few other creatures hanging from the roof with the bats. These creatures were the size of a beach ball, had wings and a long pointed snout. The players recognized them as Stirges, the PCs however, failed their knowledge checks and had no idea what these were.

The bat swarm effectively blinded the PCs to anything more than 5 feet away. Four Stirges tried to latch on to the PCs but failed as the PCs killed them easily. The next four Stirges were a lot more successful draining a lot of blood and hit point from the PCs.

While in the bat swarm the Stirges got an AC boost making them incredibly hard to hit and kill. Eventually the Ranger, who had drawn three Stirge attackers, just dodged while the other PCs attacked the blood-suckers. As the bats dissipated and the party was better able to see again, they finally destroyed the remaining Stirges.

One they battle ended they looked around. To the south a stone staircase descended. On the floor near the top of the stairs was a spear with a pitted blade. The Rogue lifted it with Mage Hand and examined it. The Fighter grabbed it and realized that it was very poor quality and would likely break if used in combat so he dropped the useless weapon.

Next week the PCs will have to decide where to go next as there are three possible routes to take from where they are currently.

Thoughts

This was a good week, made better by the smaller party. Although 5e can work with a party of seven, it certainly works better with a party of four or five. The session moved a lot faster so I had to be mindful of pacing. There are about 15 rooms in the dungeon so I didn’t want the party to get too far on any one session.

DMs who read this article may realize I made some changes to room #2. I felt that the map didn’t exactly match the descriptive text so I took some liberties. I don’t want to spoil things for groups who may not have played through this yet so I’m being intentionally vague now. I’ll talk about this in more detail when we complete the episode.

I added Kobolds to room #3 because I wanted to insert some variety. The plant creatures were a nice change from the norm, but they had low AC and could only move 5 feet. By adding Kobolds it forced the PCs to continue moving and not assume that they could just attack safely from afar.

My d20s started off the night ice cold rolling five 1s in a row. They eventually warmed up scoring a few crits before the night was over. However, my damage dice were red hot rolling the max or near max every time I hit. I gave the PCs the opportunity to take a short rest, but they decided that with some buffs still active they’d rather press on. We’ll see if that was a good idea next week.

For those groups who are into Episode 3, how do you find the dungeon crawl? One of the tables at my FLGS finished the who dungeon in two sessions. Has anyone else finished Episode 3 yet? Does anyone have a PCs who’s played some D&D Expeditions as well as some D&D Encounters and has levelled out of this adventure yet?

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 Fire Brand October 4, 2014 at 11:21 pm

I liked the idea that the PC’s had to identify what monsters the Stirges were. That was something I was talking to others about. Monster Id and what it does ro how it can be combated/neutralized/killed and what it’s immunities or resistances might be. How often they use checks and what kind to determine what a creature was? When you say ‘Knowledge’ checks did you use Wisdom (Insight)? I guess that’s the only one that matches. And if they would have guessed what they were. Would you have described that the PC’s know a Stirge is known for being a bloodsucker? I wonder if that really changes tactics or just adds to RPG lavor(?)

2 Coreyartus October 5, 2014 at 2:37 am

Hey, I just found your website thanks to ENWorld, and I have to compliment you on your podcasts. Talk about helpful. Hearing your experiences DMing HotDQ has been invaluable for me. I don’t get to sit and talk with other DMs to hear how their experiences are going in AL, and your podcast has been a really validating experience. Hearing the details of your tables experiences is very useful. Thanks for doing that, guys. Keep it up!

3 Ameron (Derek Myers) October 8, 2014 at 9:58 am

@Fire Brand
Monster Knowledge checks are a carry-over mechanic from 4e that players liked and I’m happy to keep using into 5e. In this particular example the Ranger used Wisdom (Survival) to try and identify the monsters. Unfortunately he rolled poorly. We agreed that none of these adventurers recognized the Stirges for what they were and the players did a good job of keeping their real-life understanding out of the decision-making during combat.

When it comes to monster identification I’d likely allow any reasonable Wisdom or Intelligence based skills to be used if the player can justify it. Otherwise I’d likely default to the 4e guidelines or a straight-up Intelligence check.

@Coreyartus
Thanks for checking us out. I’m glad you enjoyed our podcast. We’ll be talking about some of the Expeditions in upcoming episodes, so stay tuned.

4 Joe October 30, 2014 at 10:20 am

We’re stretching this out to the full 9 weeks at my store, so week 3-1 (which we ran 10/22) featured the party going back to the (mostly abandoned) camp, dealing with the scouts & guards there, and eventually fighting with the kobolds just inside the first room. We’re also running the rooms linearly, instead of sandbox-style, as it’s easier for us to keep every table parallel, since sometimes players end up at different tables.

I was pleased to see the ingenuity of the party when they met the cultists, using a Charm Person spell to befriend one of the scouts (while wearing the fake cult robes) so that he’d vouch for them to the others. They had seen the locked bars in front of the main cave entrance, but also knew (from the monk, Leosin” that there was a secret, hidden entrance nearby on the cliff face. They set up their tent against the cliff (“We’re totally just camping with you guys while we wait for our next orders”) and went through the secret door at night, though it unfortunately let out right in the middle of a room full of sleeping kobolds. The party did some sleep-murdering before the kobolds woke up, then fought the rest of them without too much trouble.

Week 2 was supposed to be just the purple fungus room. I turned it into a large cavern full of large mushrooms, and the purple fungus were just the first line of defense. I was pleasantly surprised to see my party flee from the fungus instead of fighting it, though eventually a large mushroom man stepped into the path, blocking their way (a CR 2 Myconid), though the party did not immediately engage it in combat. Though they shared no language, they eventually communicated enough with it that they saw it was in distress. They followed it to a portion of the cave that was dry, where an empty concavity in the floor, next to a sort of fissure-like pathway, indicated to them that a water supply had been removed, and that mushrooms were dying as a result. They decided to help this mushroom man, eventually climbing a cliff to where it looked like the water should be coming from. They saw a large rock sitting in the way, blocking the stream.

This turned out to be a Galeb Duhr (which is way out of their league at CR 6, but I hoped combat would not happen). Again lacking a shared language, they had to pantomime and guess quite a bit, until eventually they realized that the creature was hungry, and that it ate gems (thank you, Final Fantasy 1, for the plot point). Thank the gods for the dwarf wizard in the party, whom I allowed to make History checks – with his dwarven stonework knowledge – to figure out stuff about Galeb Duhrs and get this gem knowledge. The only gem they had was the amulet the party paladin’s church had given him… but he sacrificed this to get the rock monster to move.

The water restored, they returned to the Myconid, who gratefully healed them, though in a disturbing, mushroomy kind of way “Mold grows rapidly over your wounds, then eventually breaks off, revealing healed flesh underneath”. They then were able to sort of ask a few questions, and they got some hints about the acid power that Frulam Mondath had at her disposal.

Leaving the Myconid, they headed towards a set of stairs carved into the side of a wall, apparently leading to the next room… only they failed to detect that the stairs were trapped, and that 4 flying kobolds were waiting in ambush. The combat wasn’t long, but the party did manage to get some rocks dropped on their heads.

Next week is the stirges, though I plan on changing this into several narrow rock bridges over an area with some peril below (maybe a high-acidity river, or a trapped bear, or something.

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