D&D Encounters: Hoard of the Dragon Queen (Episode 3, Session 2)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on October 9, 2014

hoard-of-the-dragon-queen-cover-2The PCs returned to the Dragon Cultists camp and began exploring the cave in which they believe they’d find treasure and dragon eggs. During the last session they faced Dragonclaw Guards, Violet Fungi, Kobolds, and Striges. This week they continue deeper into the caverns in search of stronger opposition and valuable treasure.

We continue to run five tables at Hairy Tarantula North in Toronto. We had one new player this week, keeping our streak of new players every week alive. One of the groups completed Episode 3 last week so they’ve decided to run some D&D Expeditions until the rest of the tables catch up.

I had six players at my table this week, all familiar faces – Halfling Rogue, Halfling Ranger, Elf Rogue, Tiefling Bard, Tiefling Warlock, and Dragonborn Fighter. All were level 3 except for the Halfling Rogue who is still level 2.

Exploring the Caves

We picked things up right after the PCs defeated the Stirges in area #4. The carven branched off in three different directions. The passage to the right led to a staircase leading downward, the passage ahead lead to a drop off, and the passage to the left led to another large open area.

Meat Locker (#6)

They decided to explore the staircase first. The Fighter and the Elf Rogue went down the stairs together. The Rogue used her quarterstaff to tap the steps before stepping on them. They were learning after last week’s incident on the stairs. As they descended the temperature dropped sharply and by the time they reached the bottom of the stairs they could see their breath when they spoke.

Before them was a curtain made from hundreds of heavy leather strips. The curtain extended from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. It was several layers thick with no gaps. The rogue plunged her quarterstaff through the leather straps and shifted them to one side. The light from the Fighter’s torch illuminated a small area inside the cold room. The foul smell of dead flesh wafted out from the room.

Inside they could see pools of blood on the floor and meat hung from chains around the room. While they stood there looking in they talked about whether or not to go in for a few minutes. As nothing emerged to attack them they felt the room was empty of combatants so they left without entering and went back up the stairs to rejoin the party.

Trash Dump (#5)

Once the party was back together they all moved ahead to the drop off. As they approached they could smell garbage and rot. Looking over the ledge they saw a shelf about 10 feet below and then beyond that was another 10 foot drop that opened into a large, foul smelling room. The party’s torches provided enough light that they could tell this was a garbage dump. The Cultists and Kobolds who attacked Greenest obviously threw anything they didn’t find valuable into this large room along with their old food scraps, human waste, and even a few dead bodies. Although the PCs saw their light reflect off the glint of some metal bits, they didn’t feel like searching through garbage for something the Cultists might have missed.

Drake Nursery (#7)

With nowhere else to go but left, the party advanced. As they rounded the bend they saw the large room lit by oil lamps hanging on the walls. Half of the room was lower than where the PCs stood, separated by a 10-foot drop off. The lower area was dark. Deeper into the room, and around a bend, the PCs could hear Kobolds and caught a glimpse of them occasionally.

The Bard was the first PC to proceed onward. He noticed that areas of the cave floor had been covered with parchment coloured to look like dirt and rocks. He alerted the party and then advanced safely. The covered holes were difficult for most of the PCs to spot so the Ranger decided to drag his torch on the floor and ignite the parchment covering the holes. That worked, now there was a clear path through.

By this time one of the Kobolds noticed something was amiss and when he peeked around the bend and spotted the PCs he shouted an alarm. Two Winged Kobolds flew down into the dark pit area. The other Kobolds armed themselves and got ready to engage.

The PCs were too far away to move and then engage in melee this round so they all moved and then readied an action to shoot at the first Kobold they saw approach. The first Kobold managed to avoid two missiles, but the third one dropped him. This leaf the path clear for his buddy to dash right up to the Bard. The Kobold Slingers then got their pack tactic advantage and easily dropped the Bard.

The Fighter advanced and tried to keep the Kobolds contained. The rest of the party attacked the Kobolds but the PCs had cold dice and were not hitting anything in the first couple of rounds. Meanwhile my attack dice were red hot as usual and I was hitting everything, often followed with a max damage roll.

The Ranger managed to force feed a Potion of Healing to the Bard and got him back into the fray quickly. The Rogue and Warlock managed to drop a couple of the Kobolds from a safe distance.

By the fourth round of combat the Winged Kobolds in the pit made a ramp-ladder which let two Guard Drakes ascend out of the pit. The Drakes attacked the closest PCs, the Fighter and the Halfling Rogue. The Rogue managed to survived for one round before the Drake dropped him and moved on to fresh meat. The other Drake faced off against the Fighter for at least six rounds. Fortunately the Fighter had a high AC, lots of hit points and a second wind which managed to keep him on his feet.

One of the Flying Kobolds tried to drop rocks on the PCs but after missing with the first stone he was picked out of the air by the Elf Rogue. The Drake looking for new targets pounced upon the Warlock. The Warlock decided to run away and the Drake perused him. After a few rounds of running, the Warlock turned back and hoped that some of the PCs would shoot at the Drake before it caught him.

In the meantime, the other PCs revived the unconscious Halfling Rogue and ganged up on the remaining Kobolds and the Drake attacking the Fighter. When only one Kobold remained he disengaged and ran down the nearby staircase to another room, shouting for help all the way down. The Warlock spotted the felling Kobold and just kept on running down the stairs after him.

The second Winged Kobold whom the PCs had completely lost track of remained in the darkened pit. He managed to unlock the gate and let the third Drake up the wooden stairs so it could join the fight.

The Drake battling the Fighter managed to drop the Ranger before it was killed. It took a couple of rounds before the Bard could disengage from the final Drake and revived his fallen comrade. The Ranger than managed to get the Halfling Rogue back into the fight.

Suddenly more Kobolds came bounding up the stairs and engaged in the melee. Their pack tactics were deadly and they ate through the PCs hit points. Solid teamwork and focused fire killed all the Kobolds soon enough. During the melee, the Elf Rogue slipped past everyone and went looking for the Warlock.

Kobold Barracks (#8)

When the Warlock ran after the fleeing Kobold he found himself alone and facing many Kobold reinforcement at the bottom of the stairs. With one hit (my 8th crit of the night) the Warlock dropped unconscious. Two Kobolds started looting the 250 gp from the unconscious PC while the others ran up the stairs to join the fighting.

Four Kobolds greedily divided the loot, unaware of the Elf Rogue who was creeping down the stairs towards them. She cast Sleep and got all four. Four rounds later she’d slit their throats and stabilized her unconscious ally.

When the fighting upstairs ended the PCs came looking for the Warlock and Rogue. They found them in the Kobold Barracks, now devoid of living Kobolds. They party decided to take a short rest before proceeding. They managed to revived the Warlock before the rest began allowing him to spend hit dice. A search of the barracks turned up some money (about 10 gp each in various coins) and five hand carved Dragon talismans and amulets.

Thoughts

This week’s battle in the Drake Nursery was the longest 5e combat encounter I’ve run to date. I really thought it was going to end in a TPK with the way my dice were rolling at the beginning. Fortunately the party worked really well together and made smart decisions to do things other than just attack the monsters every round.

One thing I really miss from 4e is the idea that every combat encounter should take place in some kind of interesting location with terrain features. In 4e the PCs seemed more willing to look for these oddities and use them during the combat. This week the PCs fought on a ledge, but no one tried to push anyone off of it. There were flying monsters and no one tried to jump onto them. Maybe I’m just more a free spirited player, but I kept thinking that these were things I would do if I was in this same situation.

The only terrain that PCs seem to want to interact with now are objects large enough to hide behind. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I encourage players to get creative!

Once again this week we learned the value of taking the Dodge action. When you Dodge, any attacks made against you are at disadvantage until the beginning of your next turn. This turned out to be more useful than Disengaging. Sure you avoid the one or two opportunity attacks when you Disengage, but then the monsters get their normal attacks against you on their turn, assuming they can catch you. By Dodging you have a greater chance of surviving longer, especially when monsters make multiple attacks each round.

Now that the PCs have taken a short rest they’re in better shape to continue onward through the cavern during the next session. I suspect they’ll need two more sessions to complete this Episode. After that we’ll decide if we want to move on to Episode 4, play some D&D Expeditions, or take some time off before the next session of D&D Encounters begins.

Note: We’ll be taking next week off for Canadian Thanksgiving. The following week I’m unable to play because I’ll be on vacation. So we’ll resume with this adventure summary in three weeks (October 30). Until then we’ll have some new articles about our experiences playing and running D&D Expeditions, and the D&D Epic we played at GenCon and FanExpo.

Has anyone completed Episode 3 yet? For those in the caverns now, how is it going? Any PC deaths? DMs how many more sessions do you think you’ll need to finish Episodes 1-3?

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 ramanan October 9, 2014 at 9:54 am

I think being creative in combat is less about the edition and more about players realizing they don’t need to be confined to doing the things on their character sheet. I think once you have a player do something crazy, other people pick up on it and start looking for anything that can give them an edge in a fight. (I found 4e was actually bad for that sort of thing, because it was often not “optimal” compared to using one of your powers.)

2 Fire Brand October 9, 2014 at 12:18 pm

There’s a lot of things that come to mind in this comment.

1) Wow your dice are loaded or tipping themselves lol Beginners probably would never last because they wouldn’t know how to react to that. They’d get extremely frustrated. A TPK can be made to be fun. I’ve seen it happen. but in this case that would be a bad thing. They would need coaching, maybe some leniency with less monsters or minimal fudging by a good DM. A new DM could have a problem. Which goes against WotC putting a lot of effort or decisions into the DM’s hands in 5e. imho. I have read of new people being frustrated even in the Starter Set adventure or trying to figure out what to do for half-an-hour.

2) If I’m following it reading thru once–you do have the best recaps–Luckily it sounds like you had veteran players who did play previous editions especially 4e–the giveaway for me is the discipline and patience of focused fire. The ‘buffing’ each other usually present in 4e combat sounded like it was replaced in this 5e combat by a focus on helping each other by stabilizing, reviving, healing. Maybe that’s a product of low HP and no healing surges and no defined powers(?) Really when a bard has a 20th level max of 22(!) spells known a lot of those are enounter/daily powers imho As an aside why does a Bard have that many spells known lagging only behind a Wizard or Cleirc by about 1 if using average +3 +4 modifiers if I’m reading the PHB correctly? (I only bring up the Bard because there’s one at your table and I never played one–but yes that is an aside)

3) Iinteresting how much Dodging has come into play at least for your table. Sounds like Sugar Ray Leonard-style boxing which I don’t know if I’d like a lot of the time especially if everyone’s doing it. It sounds like the Kobolds Shifty trait (5e Goblins act like that now don’t they). I haven’t actually played at a 5e table and haven’t played 4e for a while fwiw.

4) The players not using terrain could have to do with theater-of-the-mind-no-mins vs. no gridded map & minis for real combat visualization (I assume you played without a grid and minis). Ironically 5e sounds like it encourages a looser combat and RPG to get player’s to do more creative things vs push button powers (I like 4e powers and their flavor btw). Could you as a DM drop hints to encourage creative combat? It would probably slow things down.

5) There’s still no reason to use Factions packs nor the backgrounds 5e is supposed to be pushing(?)

6) I seem to agree with some people that a 5e encounters series might be forced when it’s starting off with the first chapters of a published adventure just to try to get people to buy that book. It makes sense in that sales regard. But do you get a sense it’s really working in the Encounters format? (or Adventurer’s League or whatever Pathfinder-type of name they’re trying to give it ; )

7) Why did the other table breeze thru it so fast to date?

8) Overall you make 5e sound exciting than it might actually be–but maybe not fair for me to to say ;

9) I have access to the adventure (or should I call them chapters) but I haven’t asked to go back and look at the book to compare your recaps to get a better sense of how it’s playing out. Chances are yours are playing out more interesting than most(?).

10) Those are just my stream-of-conscience thoughts reading along to excellent detailed recaps with out actually playing it. And trying to make sense of what I know about 5e to date while ironically trying hard to not be playing 4e in my theater-of-the mind when I read or listen to 5e play lol!

3 Ameron (Derek Myers) October 9, 2014 at 3:29 pm

@ramanan
I absolutely agree with your comment. This is why I try to lead by example when I play and do things that are cool or fun, even if they’re not optimal for combat.

@Fire Brand
Wow, that’s a long comment with plenty of good stuff. Let me do my best to address them.

1) I don’t use a screen so everyone sees all rolls I make. It’s good for trust and transparency, but it’s harder for me to fudge numbers when things are just not going well for the players – or when I keep rolling crits. In situations like the one this week I will often have monsters flee, shave monster hp to make them easier to kill, or award a healing potion or two in the treasure to restore all those hp I destroyed with the crits. I am mindful of new players having a good time so my goal is never to kill the PCs or the party outright.

2) I am fortunate to have so very strong and experienced players at my table this season. As far as the progression of the Bard spells, I assume it is slower than the Wizard & Sorcerer since Bards get other cool powers along the way. Spellcasting is just party of a Bard’s repertoire so it shouldn’t be as good as the other classes where all they can do is cast spells.

3) Dodge is a good mechanic and I like it better than “full defensive” from previous editions. I like that PCs can still move while dodging.

4) We actually use minis and grids most of the time. I’ll admit I don’t often draw the features of the room on the map but I certainly describe them. And I often have the monsters use them if the PCs don’t. Perhaps the players would use them more if they have the visual cues.

5) There is nothing in Hoard of the dragon Queen about factions (except to award renown at the end of each episode). I think HotDQ was finished before WotC decided how the Factions would work and therefore it wasn’t included. However, the D&D Expeditions all seem to have them so that’s good. Backgrounds are up to the players and DMs to incorporate.

6) After the past few seasons of D&D Encounters being very open-ended and sandbox-y I think this adventure is working just fine. I have no issue with WotC only providing episodes 1-3 for free. If you want to play the rest, buy the book. That’s fair. If you want free stuff, try D&D Expeditions after episode 3 ends.

7) Two of the other tables at my FLGS are done or almost done episodes 1-3. There are many contributing factors. One group had a party full of stealthy PCs so they avoided a lot of the random encounters in episode 1 and they did all of episode 2 in one night. There was no combat, just sneaking and talking. Some DMs would have come up with other filler materials to slow things down; these DMs chose to move ahead. The other issue is that the map for the caverns in Episode 3 describes a hidden/secret passage that is clearly visible on the map. Some DMs just printed that map and handed it to the party. These parties marched through the concealed passage and beat the boss in the first session. This is why I’m redrawing the maps for Episode 3 after just handing them out for Episodes 1 and 2.

8) I think you get out of it what you put into it. If your DM and the players are excited about playing you’ll have a good time. I’ve found this to be this of all editions and all games.

9) I wouldn’t say it’s more interesting, but I’ve been DMing a long time so I’d like to think I’ve come up with some clever add-ons and modifications that rookie DMs may not have thought to try in their sessions.

10) I’m glad you’re enjoying the write-ups. The actual play podcasts may offer you additional insight, but I realize some sessions are not very lively to listen to. You may want to listen to our DM podcast, Recounting Encounters as well.

Thanks for reading our blog and thanks for commenting.

4 Merric Blackman October 9, 2014 at 8:15 pm

We’ve finished Episode 3 now – well, my group has; the other Encounters groups are taking longer. With my sessions typically running 90-120 minutes, we’ve been able to get through this season very, very quickly. (6 sessions in total… wow!)

No deaths so far, although it has been close on occasion. (OTOH, one of my groups playing through Lost Mine had a TPK in the final encounter…)

We’ll be continuing through the entire series in our Encounters slot, though I guess it won’t be “Encounters” any more…

5 Joe November 6, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Okay, so at my store we’re really stretching things out to hit the projected 9 week mark mentioned in the Encounters PDF. We ran the fungus room as a full session on 10/29, then ran the stirges as a full session yesterday on 11/5. Here’s our results:

3. FUNGUS ROOM
I expanded this by making it much bigger… like a football-field sized room of fungus & over-sized mushrooms, with a single-file path to follow. The party were surprised by the purple fungus, which they actually ran from (first time I’ve had 5E players not stay & fight… which was refreshing). Then a large mushroom man (the CR2 version of a Myconid) stepped out into the path in front of them. Again, my party did not go straight to fighting, but tried to communicate with it (though myconids have no language listed, so I decided they communicate w/ smells/spores). They got the general idea that the creature needed their help, and followed it as it lead them off the path to an area where a pool had clearly once been, but had dried up. There were dead mushrooms all around the once-pool. The party decided to see if they could turn the water back on, and followed the path in the stone, up a cliff, to a place where a large boulder was blocking the flow of water. It turned out to be a Galeb Duhr (CR 6), which the party decided not to attack. Instead, they spent some time trying to interact with it, until they realized that it wanted something to eat… which turned out to be gems. Sacrificing a gem to the creature, it was coaxed from moving, which restored the water, & allowed the mushrooms to regrow. The party then returned to the grateful myconid (who healed their Purple Fungus wounds in a disturbing way, casting Cure Wounds at 2nd level, but with the flavor of “moss & mold grows over your flesh, eventually forming skin again, though you can’t shake the idea of mold inside your body.” They then went to the trapped stairs, where they fought some winged kobolds.

4. STIRGE ROOM
I also made this room much bigger. It was now a 150 ft x 150 ft (ish) room with narrow stone bridges over 10-15 ft drops. Some of the drops appeared to have pools of mildly acidic liquid in them. And, of course, there was bat guano over EVERYTHING, making it quite slippery. The Acrobatics checks not to fall prone & the Dex saves not to fall off a bridge were both DC 10, but I still had folks on multiple levels. Because my druid player has been hounding me (pun intended) to see more animal forms (and add to his druid wildshape library), I also put a couple grizzlies (brown bears) down below, which had been eating the various dead bats that fell. I really love the “ceiling full of bats” idea, and having been to Austin & seen the sky blacken as the half a million bats fly out from the Congress St bridge at night, I was well prepared to describe the situation when the party inevitably disturbed the bats. This was a great scenario for stirges, and I added a required Acro check if they got hit by a stirge while on a guano-covered bridge. Dynamic environment lead to an interesting combat. And to represent the mild acidity of the liquid (I’ve been putting in lots of acid references to prep for the black dragon eggs later), I had it do 1d4 acid damage if they fell into it. Not deadly, but still annoying & threatening enough that they paid attention to it.

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