Session two of Hoard of the Dragon Queen went swimmingly. As usual, There Will Be Spoilers.
The players had just arrived in the keep, and were immediately asked by Escobert the Red to help out with their efforts. Being significantly more capable than the rank and file garrison soldier (even at level one), the adventurers were asked to head out and harass the raiders and/or bring back as many townspeople as they could to the (relative safety) of the keep.
Before they got their gear on, however, a scout reported to Escobert that the town mill was under assault. Being the slaves to carbohydrates that they are, this would strike a devastating blow for Greenest’s nascent toast industry, so Escobert re-routed the players to go save the mill (and bring back some bagels).
Problem: There’s a nasty hoard of cultists outside the front gates. Solution: The builders of the keep thoughtfully created a secret tunnel beneath the keep that runs south to the river. It was built to allow people inside the keep to get fresh water, should the keep be under siege. This seemed like one of those times, so Escobert gave the players two keys: one for the door in the basement on the keep-end, and one for the grate at the river end of the tunnel. He left them with one bit of advice: don’t let anyone see you using that tunnel, or everyone in the keep would be screwed.
What’s funnier than a party of five in which four members have Darkvision, but the drunken cleric doesn’t? Not much. The players leapfrogged through the single-file tunnel until they met up with a Swarm of Rats, who turned out to be nothing more than a speed bump on the way to the rusted grate at the end of the tunnel.
Someone decided that the dwarven fighter would be the one who had the best chance of using the delicate key in the rusted lock. Murphy, god of hilarious outcomes, was on duty that night, as the dwarf applied just a bit too much pressure and snapped the key in the lock. Cue the sad trombone.
In one of those moments that makes a DM proud, the Bard used Prestidigitation to remove the rust from the grate, and the Cleric used Mending to repair the key. This allowed the party to open the grate silently (no more rusty hinges!) and surprise a cultist party that was scouting the riverbanks.
Sadly, the distance between the party and the raiders was pretty large. The elven ranger managed to snipe a few kobolds as the monk — hitherto refered to as “some random guy who’s been following the party this whole time, but otherwise not really doing much” — was the second one out of the tunnel. Seeing an opportunity to show he was one of the guys, he Dashed into the fray, only to be the first semi-casualty of the campaign. The dwarven fighter took time out of her busy schedule of cutting humans in half with her battleaxe to stabilize him, and the Cleric eventually helped him get his groove back. The bard — know nicknamed “Pottymouth” — spent the night debuffing the enemies with Disadvantage through Vicious Mockery, calling into question everyone’s parentage, and generally harshing the cultist’s mellow.
The problem, though, is that after the battle the party realized that this wasn’t even their main mission. Spells were spent. Damage was taken. And they still needed to get to the mill and stop the raiders from burning it to the ground.
Quote of the night: After the Cleric announced his intention to use Blessing of the Trickster on the Ranger (which required a laying on of hands): “Show us on the character sheet where the Cleric touched you.”
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This was a good session. I could see that folks were getting into the situation and contemplating the potential outcomes. The cleaning of the grate and the repairing of the key took me by surprise, but both were well within the parameters of ability and saved the party from noisily destroying the grate, which would have allowed the cultists in the river to gain Surprise to ambush the players. One bullet dodged!
Before the session, I was in Roll20 setting up some maps. Nothing fancy: I’ve started relying on R20’s drawing options to create the scene, which is totally 1/2 assed. It’s not optimal, but I realized that I didn’t have a tunnel map, nor did I have time to make one. I also spent time setting up the mill using the drawing tools, but with another week to prepare, I’ll revisit that and see if I can’t make something better looking.
Two things of concern from the DM side: The river encounter included 2 cultists and 6 kobolds. Ideally, we would have winged it like we did with the first kobold encounter, but there were too many enemies to keep track of. I placed them on the map intending to just use them for reference, but the encounter instantly morphed into tactical combat. It took a while to complete, leaving us no time to actually get to the mill scenario — the actual point of leaving the keep. The second issue is that of scale. I’ve been playing fast and loose with this, starting on the map of Greenest at 30′ per square, which makes sense for a town map. In actuality as I write this, I remember that in the settings for the map in Roll20, there’s actually a scale setting — and each square represents 5′ by default. This would have SIGNIFICANT effect on all kinds of things movement and distance related, and I’ve dropped the ball in keeping this consistent. I’ve built the mill map with the 5′ square standard, but I treated the river encounter squares are 30′, which is total BS on my part. Going forward, all encounter map squares will default to 5′. Larger overland maps will need to have their scale adjusted to simulate travel time.
And finally, I have to say, Realm Works paid for itself last night. Having the mission in bullet point form allowed me to skim quickly for information, and the hyperlinks to monster stats was a godsend. I’m totally sold on Realm Works as a gaming tool.