We very nearly finished Lost Mines of Phandelver in our previous session. Our heroes’ came to an agreement, of a sort, with The Black Spider. Nundro was rescued from the dark skinned villain and the mines mostly explored. So the question; do we return for some portion of an evening and tidy up a few loose ends? Do we set aside an entire nerd night for our little heroic narrative with premades in the 5th Edition kiddie pool?
Or, do we release our pent up desire to make our own characters and dive into Hoard of the Dragon Queen? With some careful thought and reflection, the word went out. “Fuck Nezznar – show up at the next nerd night with two fully formed characters, background descriptions and be ready to begin a great adventure!” This gave us a great ten days or so of talking about different classes and different builds and weighing the potentials. One major decision was whether to go with the standard stat-pool (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8), or go with a roll-your-own dynamic. We all agreed, it was either standard or roll-your-own *once* before the eyes of Iowe, and keep what you roll. In the end, everyone went with a 75 point straight stat point buy with a max of 15 before racial bonuses.
Here’s our new party:
To sustain us in our adventures, I provided bratwursts and toppings, buns and potato salad. I had an Octoberfest event recently and I brought the leftovers, and a leftover keg of IPA from the pig roast and said Octoberfest event. The keg of IPA would feature prominently later in the evening.
Our fresh band of 1st level heroes-to-be gathered at a little place called The Hart and Cleaver atop a low hill outside of Greenest. Their various fates and paths brought them together in this place and time. At the outset, unknown to one another, they were about to start down a common path leading into great danger, and upon whom the hopes of many will rely.
Screams and cries from the road outside disrupted their evening pint. Refugees streamed down the road, smoke and flames sprang up in distant Greenest. A great blue dragon loomed and swooped over town, breathing crackling lightning and destroying man and stone alike. No sooner did the first in the group begin to comprehend that Greenest was under attack than they were off and running toward town.
Reaching the first buildings, our heroes came upon a horrible scene. A young family fled from half a dozen leaping dragon-dog like things. The father turned to defend his family as the woman fled up the street and toward the distant keep with her three children. Raynard cut loose with a green ray. Arrows flew. Brokk, Garr, Valeriya and Himo drew blood. The dragon-dog attacking the man was the first to die! And, Donuts! The first in our quests against the Dragon Queen!
The rest of the dog-beasts were slain pretty quickly. The man, Cuth Swift, was saved by Tan Meng, Cleric of Chauntea. There was laughter around the table on the subject of the name, “Chauntea.” Sounds much like an angry black woman. Whatever, her divine energies were flowing through Tan Meng and many more innocent victims were saved by such power before the evening elapsed. More civilians were rescued, more cultists and mercenaries and dogs were killed, all as our heroes strove for the safety of the keep.
They made it through the gates with about 40 civilians in tow.
Around the keep, the weird naked casters with blue-metallic implants drove their lightning rods – encircling the fortress with a glittering crackling barrier while other cultists and mercenaries continued their rampage through Greenest.
As our heroes applied some bandages and took their first breather in the keep, Governor Tarbaw Nighthill, with broken arm in a sling and bandaged head, approached them with an urgent request. Civilians in the town were being slaughtered. “Would it be possible for you brave souls to bring some more civilians to safety?” They were to use an old secret tunnel down to the river. … The response, “absolutely.”
Single file down in the darkness to the old iron grate, Garr tried his luck on the lock. Nothing. Then he tried with a hammer – Whang! Success – but he also managed to alert a band of cultists and dragon dogs. Battle broke out across the darkened creek with desperate splashing and clubbing, punctuated by the occasional eldritch blast!
Victorious, our heroes made their way downstream, gathering a few fleeing civilians on the way. As they drew near the Temple of Chauntea, they realized it was under siege. Peering over the perimeter wall, they realized the Temple was under assault by three different groups. One sought to burn down the back door, another sought to bash down the front, and still another larger group sought to gain entry some other way – they were walking around the outside of the Temple.
In an unusual moment of strategic clarity, our heroes waited until the walking group departed the front of the Temple and then, using the outer wall to constrain the foe at the front entrance, they attacked! At first, the battle went well. Then the mixed group of cultists, dragon dogs, and some larger pig or pony sized dragon things showed up. Further, the dragon dogs could fly! They flapped, somewhat clumsily, like an oversized chicken, over the wall and began spitting their acid spit and biting and clawing at the casters behind. Soon, Reynard was incapacitated with his injuries. Then Himo. Then Garr. All the while, the numbers of the enemy continued to dwindle. Tan Meng called out for help from his fellow worshipers of Chauntea barricaded inside the Temple. None came.
Then the group of dragon dogs and cultists from the back of the temple rushed up. The dead and dying were everywhere. The dragon dogs chose to stay at some distance and spit their acid. Tan Meng managed to get Garr back in the fight with only a handful of hit points. Finally, the door to the temple creaked open and a reluctant acolyte ran out into the carnage and brought Raynard back into the fray. The two sole surviving cultists from the back door crew decided to run for it. The tide had turned.
But the dragon dogs stayed locked in ferocious combat over the bodies of their fallen kin. They fought until the last. At the end of the fight, Garr and Himo were both down. Many had only a hit point or two left. Bravely, Terredon set off in search of the cultists who had fled – they sprang from some bushes and ambushed Terredon! But, Raynard was there with an eldritch blast. The first cultist fell quickly. The last ran for the wall and took a great leap to climb to safety – but rolled a one! The heroes fell on him – but kept him alive to bring back to the keep for interrogation.
Carrying their wounded and leading the civilians from the Temple back to the Keep, our heroes made their way to safety. On the way, they stumbled on a scene of six cultists surrounding one semi-naked and wounded woman. The figures chanted out some sort of ritual and were about to execute the lady when The Heroes of the Hart and Cleaver fell upon them.
Back in The Keep, parched throats were quenched, wounds were bandaged, some small healing was had. Moments after their return, the characters were summoned to the battlements – The Keep was once again under attack by the great blue dragon. Our heroes hesitated in the topmost tower as the dragon’s breath wrought ruin on six guards who stood behind the parapet. Bravely, as the dragon departed, they stepped out and readied their weapons. The dragon approached and all loosed their attacks. Several hit home hard, two criticals, and those on the wall sought cover – but the dragon let loose with its breath weapon and slew four more guards as it passed away and into the night.
Later, but still without a chance for any kind of reasonable rest, there was an incursion into the keep through an ancient gateway from some cultists and a couple of the dragon-ponies. This was dealt with rather quickly – except there was a moment when Terredon, in his battle frenzy, rushed out of the gate and outside the keep. He was followed by Garr, at least…and there was a quiet moment as more and more attackers approached them…before they went back inside and closed the stone portal. More bandages were applied to accumulating injuries. Sgt. Markguth, a heroic figure from the ramparts and a captain of the guard, quietly handed Brokk a small healing potion. “Take this, you’ll make better use of it than I.”
The next moment of urgency arrived as Escobert The Red, a Shield Dwarf, called from the battlements that the enemy was laying fire and siege to the mill. Governor Nighthill asked our heroes if they could hurry to save the town’s grain stores. Reinforcements would follow. Never to say no, our wounded and battered heroes set out through the tunnel and off to the mill. Some careful stealthing got them safely there, but they realized from a distance that the fires were fake somehow. They were set before the mill, but not actually in such a way as to burn the mill down. Some smelled a trap!
At this point I should remind you of the presence of the keg of IPA. Tan Meng, in particular, sought refreshment from its healing nectar. When the fire wasn’t actually burning the Mill, Tan Meng looked around and, as if slipping uncontrollably down a cognitive water slide, looked to me and asked with near panicked concern, “what does it mean?”!
Quickly, the rest of the group deduced Escobert must have misled them, or perhaps Nighthill – they nearly ran back to the keep (killed a couple of cultists on the way) and confronted a bewildered Escobert and Nighthill… Moments of accusations and confusion passed. Our tired and bloodied heroes showed restraint in listening to what Escobert had to say in his defense – he appeared innocent.
As recriminations passed back and forth and our heroes began to re-orient toward what to do next – a great booming voice commanded their attention from the grounds before the keep.
“Defenders of Greenest! This has been a great joy and I’m feeling generous. Send out your champion, send out your best warrior, and I will spare this family in return…It should make for a bit of good sport.”
Hesitation. Then a deathly scream as someone was killed outside. Valeriya ran for the gate. An 8 foot tall half-dragon humanoid stood before a host of cultists, dragon dogs, and mercenaries. A villager lay dead behind the dragon-man-thing. Four more villagers, a woman and three children, stood restrained and at sword tip behind him.
Valeriya closed with the villain.
Remember the IPA? The cognitive slide? Suddenly, Tan Meng came running out of the gate and let loose with a cantrip against the dragon-captain. The foe rolled his save, and in that moment the cultists cut loose with four eldritch blasts and Tan Meng fell in a heap. The woman and children were executed. Others from our group of heroes let loose with arrows and eldritch fire. Valeriya took her best swings at the scaled beast, hit hard and heroically, but he returned the favor and cut her down with two hits from his three swings.
Silence settled on the field.
“That was your champion?”
The scaled foe gave a condescending chuckle.
The remainder of our heroes thought to attack – but didn’t. The dragon-dogs, cultists, and mercenaries gathered around their leader – cheering and celebrating his greatness.
“Let’s go – we’ve got what we came for.”
Cackling and laughing, they departed from the field, taking the bodies of Tan Meng and Valeriya with them.
Why did the cultists attack? Why Greenest? Who was that half-dragon thing? What were they seeking? What will they do with Tan Meng and Valeriya? Are there other prisoners?
(Many thanks to Courtney C. Campbell for his excellent supplemental works for the HotDQ campaign. I usually borrow material rapaciously when I run a game, but Courtney’s contributions over at Hack & Slash helped to elevate HotDQ toward being one of the best games I’ve ever run.)