Hoard of Dragon Queen 1: Phandelin in Flames

I’ve begun a new campaign: Hoard of Dragon Queen. This was the first adventure module released for 5e, and a fairly straight-forward campaign, so it seemed like a good next step from my starter set adventure. It’s designed to be run from 1st level, but I did a bit of tweaking to let the players keep the same characters from before.


SPOILERS!

Hoard of the Dragon Queen spoilers throughout, obviously. Although I’ve probably pulled it apart enough to not totally ruin the adventure for you.


The adventure is designed for Lv1 adventurers, but (most of) my group were keen to keep their characters from the starter set. This wasn’t actually too bad: the adventure begins with the ‘Cult of the Dragon’ attacking a town, with a big blue dragon helping out. It was fairly straightforward to translate that to Phandelin -the town from the Starter Set- and scale up some of the encounters for a tougher party. I mean, an adult blue dragon attack is horrifying at any level!

Letting the Days Go By

I’ve set the campaign nearly 3 years after the starter set. It gave the characters chance to settle down, spend some of their loot, and have some effect on the fortunes of the town they’re in. Good old Gary Slaughterballs decided to set himself up as the ruler of the town (and as a large man with an axe, who was going to argue with him?).

Since the discovery of the magic mine, Phandelin was thriving. Miners, scholars and explorers had come in droves, and with the gold they brought the town grew and prospered. Gary had ordered a wall to be built (only a wooden pallisade for now, but better than nothing), a militia was formed, and the old manor had been fortified and turned into a castle worthy of the name Slaghterballs. Phandelin was, for the first time, civilised and the Lord’s Alliance were pleased with its progress.

Phandalin Improved (1)
Credit to Rob for just going crazy on the backstory for his character and the town. Definitely saved me some work!

Which made it an ideal target for the Cult of the Dragon, looking to loot and pillage as much as they could.

They Mostly Come at Night

The attack came almost without warning. The group (Gary, and his friends Grimlock the half-orc barbarian and Edmonar an old school friend, now a warlock) were travelling, touring the surrounding countryside and checking on the mine. Returning to town, they found most of it was in flames as the sounds of fighting rang out.

Immediately the party came across a beleagured family, being harrassed by a group of Kobolds. The group immediately sprang to their aid, and made short work of the kobolds. They found out that a small army had attacked the town, quickly overwhelming it, while any survivors were taking shelter in the castle. The group made contact with the townsfolk and the remaining militia, and were briefed on the situation: it seemed the attackers had control of the town, and a lot needed doing:

  • They needed a way to/from the castle. The attackers had now lain siege to the front door, but maybe a small force could go the long way round through the castle’s underground tunnels?
  • The barracks and mill were both on fire, threatening the town’s grain and weapon supplies respectively. Which was a bigger priority?
  • A small group of townsfolk had barricaded themselves in a house near the town’s shrine. It couldn’t be long until the attackers got to them.
  • The few shops in the town were being looted, and it appeared the attackers were loading carts just outside the town gates.
  • There was the small issue of a dragon…

I really liked the way the adventure handled the attack – a series of missions that the players can take on, each of which take time and may affect other missions.

I decided to take the idea and add to it, mapping out a timeline for the attack (e.g. the dragon will attack location x at time y, the store will burn down after z hours, etc), let the players decide what they would prioritise, and see how that affected things.

Take the Power Back

b65dd454dce87b36cfc476e4804a7fd1
This season’s look in the ‘cultist’ collection.

The group decided against sneaking out of the back door of the castle, and instead decided to take a group of the militia and smash their way out, directly through the front door and the cult forces massed there. It was…actually pretty effective! I think I underestimated how much arse a lv5 party could kick, so they cut through the cult quite quickly.

They then decided their first priority would be the survivors barricaded in the house, followed by the town store. Meanwhile a small group of the militia were to investigate the mill, save it if they could, but make their back to the party and report back.

The civilian rescue went swimmingly, the militia found the trap at the mill and retreated back to town, and a little bit of invisibility and sneakiness helped the party deal with the looters at the gate too. There they met an old friend (Quietus the halfling rogue) and new one (Magnus the tiefling paladin). There was just time to run back to the castle to stop the cult’s final assault through the tunnels.

This was all pretty annoying! The mill was meant to be a time-wasting trap (the cult had no interest in grain, or in burning buildings down), and the barracks were destroyed by the dragon about an hour after the party left the castle. I assumed they’d be inside, trying to save the place.

It had been a long night, and the characters were knackered, so when the dragon started ripping the roof off the castle, they were in no mood to fight it. They instead negotiated with it, handing over all the treasure they had in return for the cult leaving town and -most of all- the dragon leaving them alive.

Again: what the hell!? I wanted to kill at least one of them with a dragon!

Follow the Money

The attack was over, the town was in shambles (although it could have been a lot worse), and the cult were carrying off all the treasure. But rather than just watch it happen, the two sneaky members of the group Quietus and Magnus (yep, the paladin is a bit sneaky, it’s awesome) decided to follow the cult. However they both employed very different tactics: Quietus got into a crate and stowed away with the treasure; Magnus did a Skywalker and stole a cultist’s uniform and infiltrated their camp in plain sight.

half-dragon
They also skipped a fight with this guy. But I’m sure he’ll be around…

The cult and the treasure travelled for a day or so, and eventually reached their camp in some old ruins the forest (Thundertree, for those that have played the starter set). The camp was being dismantled, and the treasure was being re-packed and moved out. Which is where it all started to go wrong for our sneaks.

Someone opened Quietus’ crate and got stabbed in the eye. However the stabbing was witnessed by…basically everyone, and so the rogue was about to have a bad time. Thinking quickly, Magnus (still in disguise as a cultist) arrested Quietus, set the cultists looking for ‘spys’ and marched off with the prisoner. A few more quiet murders, and the paladin and rogue were anonymous in the camp once again.

Realised they were seriously outnumbered, the sneaky pair decided to gather what information they could and slip out quietly. A bit of good sneaking, investigating and a few more murders where necessary, and they had found out a rough sketch of the cult’s plans. It seemed they were to split up, transport the treasure in several separate wagons/caravans/whatever, and meet at Neverwinter some time later, taking different routes to avoid suspicion.

If the party wanted to track the cult (and their treasure), they’d need to pick up the trail in the big city…

My real plan was to have the players follow the cult a few days later, find the camp, and have the place be mostly abandoned, with a small dragon hatchery defended by a young dragon. A bit of investigation would let the players discover what the cult was up to, and set them on their way tracking them down.

The players had a better idea. I went with it. It also means they’ve chapters 2 and 3 of the book, which I’m ok with – they’re a nice way to challenge a low-level party (and give them some experience), but not really important to the plot.

 

 

 

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