Let’s Play Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Raider’s Camp

Played July 24th, 2016
Thaemin: 113
Ront: 503
Arvensis: 406
Robyn: 331

But Arvensis died, so how can he have gained any XP? When my older brother introduced 5e to his wife back in June (she played along with myself, my younger brother, and my sister, who were all introduced to the game before the Curse of Strahd season began and the DM rewards program was introduced), he gained 1,000 XP from the DM’s Guild. Technically he gained it retroactively when I roped him into this little bit of rules manipulation. So I texted him to transfer ownership of the character to him (which it never says you can’t do) and give Arvensis back the 406 XP he missed from having died partway through this adventure. Then he gave ownership back to my younger brother.

Similarly, the rules for death state that using faction charity forfeits XP and rewards for the session, not for the whole episode, so by waiting to depict the aftermath and hand out quest rewards until the next session, Arvensis (and Thaemin) can get quest rewards. Side note: I really feel like I shouldn’t have to twist League rules into pretzels like this to set my brother up with characters he can use at stores and conventions. There’s quite a few limitations that make sense for the Adventurer’s League, like fixing everyone to the same XP schedule, restrictions on magic items and non-core chargen options, banning most of the optional rules from the DMG to keep play experiences consistent, and so on. There’s also a bunch of limitations that seem to be wholly pointless barriers to entry. Are these some kind of ill-conceived attempt to prevent gaming a system that relies on individual self-reporting to begin with?

This here is one of the less baffling decisions and more of a grey area. I think it’s a good idea to give low-level characters, who haven’t had a chance to build wealth, a free raise dead, and I don’t think the danger of adventuring without a revivification contingency plan is any less clear without losing any XP over it beyond what you would’ve lost if you were high enough level to pay for it yourself. Particularly considering that Raise Dead comes with some serious penalties of its own (Thaemin certainly felt them in the next adventure, especially since he didn’t get as many rest opportunities as the rest of the group). Mainly, though, my issue is that smacking a brand new player with a setback as strong as this makes it seriously difficult to older cousin them into the hobby. Why are Adventurer’s League rules making it harder to older cousin people into the hobby?

Lore fanatics may have been nagged by the distance between Greenest and Baldur’s Gate. The refugees get here after just a day’s travel, but Greenest is much further out from Baldur’s Gate than that. The problem here is that the 5e map of the Sword Coast I was using didn’t have Greenest on it. I thought Greenest had no specific location on the Sword Coast (not yet, anyway), and was a trade town made for Hoard of the Dragon Queen, so there wouldn’t be any big issue sticking it near enough to Baldur’s Gate that I could feature the landmark city heavily early on and help get my brother acquainted with the geography of the Sword Coast. Turns out Greenest totally does have a specific location and it’s way further away than that. Oops.

In the aftermath at Baldur’s Gate, the temple of Tyr raised Thaemin. Robyn slung Arvensis’ corpse on a cart and pulled it deep into the poorer parts of the city, down an alleyway, and into a darkened building. Upon seeing Arvensis’ corpse, the shady looking man with tiny horn-nubs brings the corpse down into a basement, a shrine to the Bhaalspawn, the one who was filled with a greater evil than any of the demon-tainted Cotula Clan, but rose above it anyway. If the Bhaalspawn can rise above destiny, why not the Cotulas?

When Arvensis revives, the man in the skull mask asks “so this is how well your search for control through forbidden lore has gone for you. Abandon this folly, Arvensis.”

“My methods bear more fruit than I share with those who oppose them,” Arvensis responds.

“As you will, but even if you have no shred of familial loyalty to us, surely you must recognize now that you are in our debt,” the man in the skull mask says, “we will collect on that debt.” Arvensis does not respond as he leaves the basement shrine, meets with Robyn, and the two depart.

The revived Thaemin takes stock. 740 of the 1200 inhabitants of Greenest have survived and made it to Baldur’s Gate. There may be a handful more survivors left behind in the ruins, or captured and carried off by the raiders. A few guards were left behind to defend the mill. Fortunately, Thaemin’s mother is among those who’ve made it to the safety of the city.

After my brother asked if Thaemin’s mother made it out, I did some calculations, rolled a percentile die, and determined that she had. This is when I realized that I should’ve generated two or three friends and neighbors amongst the commoners for each character, then rolled for each of them. The dramatic impact would be completely lost if we rolled them up now, just to immediately test for survival, but with the build-up of the entire first mission, constantly wondering “who’s made it,” never knowing for sure until the end, that could’ve been great. Chalk it up next to “should’ve run the Lost Mines of Phandelver first” along things I’d have done differently if I could do it again.

This is also when everyone got their quest XP and Greenest in Flames formally ended. Ront got to level 3, while Thaemin isn’t even at level 2 yet.

Governor Nighthill offers a gold reward to anyone who can bring him information on the raiders: where they’re based out of, what their goal is, who their leaders are, how many of them there are, and where they’ll strike next. He wants this information as soon as possible, as he doesn’t want Greenest to be subject to another raid as soon as they’ve finished rebuilding. Thaemin and Ront share his concern for Greenest specifically, Arvensis wants to track down the apocalypse cult of the week just in case they’re onto something, and Robyn is equal parts interested in the reward and wants to return the stolen loot to its rightful owners (while possibly taking a certain percentage for herself, since after all about a third of the village is dead so if she ends up with about a third of the recovered loot, everything still ended up with its rightful owners, right?).

On their way out of the camp, the party is asked by a wounded monk to find his master, Leosin Erianthar. The two of them have been tracking the cult for months and had determined that their next target was Greenest. They arrived at the town to try and warn them of the incoming attack, but the attack began soon after they arrived and before they had been able to get audience with anyone important. They both helped in the defense of the town, but Leosin went missing. His student has been unable to find him amongst the living or the dead, and asks the party to look for him in the enemy camp.

So, if Leosin was at Greenest, how come he wasn’t in Greenest in Flames? I’ve edited his story here a bit, since originally he got caught intentionally and wasn’t even trying to warn Greenest of the incoming attack, since he intended to get captured during it. Not only does this mean that he threw the safety of Greenest aside for the sake of an information gathering mission, it also means that he decided the best way to gather up a bunch of information that the party may or may not be about to get just by being sneaky and following tracks was to get himself captured and subject himself to the tortures of a sinister enemy, quite possibly resulting in a swift (or agonizingly slow) execution. As it happens, everything turns up bully for Leosin no matter what the party does, but his plan is still way riskier than it needs to be. Leosin will not resist party efforts to rescue him later on, also because it makes no sense.

I probably should’ve had him and his student show up at some point during Greenest in Flames, though, especially early on when the party was scattered.

The party returns to Greenest. About two dozen villagers have survived the attack, and a pair of guards holed up in the mill and defended it from any further raiders. Fortunately, by the time the party left, most of the raiders had left, and those who hadn’t were a small contingent led by Cyanwrath looting the castle treasury, uninterested in pointless cruelty. At one point a pack of eight kobolds did come by, but the guards bluffed like they had quite a few more men waiting inside than they actually did and the kobolds ran off.

The tracks from Greenest are easy to spot, deep grooves dug in the earth by wagons heavily laden with treasure. Robyn Hood completely fails to glean anything at all from the tracks other than the general direction in which they are moving, and that there are bunches of people making them. They spot some stragglers along the road, a few cultists and kobolds squabbling over how to cook a bird they’ve hunted. This is when Arvensis and Ront put on a brief cooking show demonstrating how to cut up and roast a kobold-and-cultist buffet.

With the lone surviving cultist taken prisoner and the runaway kobolds hunted down to prevent them reporting back, the party considers their interrogation approach. Arvensis sits down across from the bound cultist and begins fiddling with a knife, his short horns in plain view. “Your queen has been trapped in Hell for centuries,” he says, “I could bring you closer to her, if you like.”

“Do your worst!” the cultist sneers. Then Ront punches him. “Okay, I’ll talk, I’ll talk!” he says.

Arvensis is trained in Intimidation, but Ront got a much better roll.

From the cultist, they learn that the enemy camp is located in a horseshoe shaped plateau about three miles on. When questioned about their leaders, he knows of three. Langdredosa Cyanwrath is a blue dragonborn and therefore better than the others, but he’s not in charge anymore ever since Rezmir showed up. Rezmir is a black half-dragon and has some special mask that makes her more important somehow. Frulam Mondath is leader of the camp’s reds, and she’s not even a dragonborn, just a regular human with maybe some dragon ancestry way back. The cultist confirms that they’re assembling a hoard to summon Tiamat from whatever Hell she’s been trapped in (it’s actually kind of a point of contention amongst some of the cultists where exactly she is). The cultist has no idea who the next target is, however, which is perhaps the most important piece of information they need.

Arvensis is in favor of killing the cultist now they have what they need. It’s not usually beneficial to kill prisoners since that discourages surrender, but in this case they have no easy way to keep him imprisoned (if they tie him to a tree, he’ll probably be eaten by wolves come nightfall). Thaemin’s moral code is adamantly opposed to killing any captured enemies without a proper trial in full view of Tyr’s law and the public eye. Robyn sides with Arvensis mostly because dragging this guy all the way back to Greenest would be a huge pain, and Ront sides with Thaemin, but he’s not especially concerned either way. “Looks like the vote’s tied,” Robyn says, “rock-paper-scissors?” Thaemin only glares in response.

Arvensis lets Thaemin have his way, though, as he doesn’t think it’s worth splitting the party over. Although it does literally result in the party splitting while Thaemin takes the cultist back to Greenest for holding and everyone else benefits from a short rest (several times over).

The party spots an ambush further down the road.

I cheated slightly here. I gave the party the DC 15 as though the cultist told them about the rearguard but not exactly where they were, under the reasoning that we’ve already established that Arvensis is very calculating and also suspicious to the point of paranoia and he’s had several hours to figure out what might be waiting for them on the road ahead while Thaemin ferries the prisoner back to Greenest. An ambush is one of the first things he’d think of. By the time Thaemin got back, Arvensis had probably wargamed every sane situation already, and was now figuring out how to wring victory out of a confrontation with thirty red dragons expertly hidden behind shrubs by Ursarkar Creed.

Robyn scouts out the ambush site, weaving through boulders and expertly remaining hidden from view, but she can’t actually find the ambush. She comes back and tells Arvensis that he’s jumping at shadows, but Arvensis insists on going around the site anyway. This is when the party runs smack into the ambushing team, taking both sides by surprise.

The front line is overwhelmed by the sheer number of enemy forces, and while Thaemin and especially Ront hold their own, the kobolds flow around them to attack the back line. Robyn had the presence of mind to climb atop a boulder where she’s hard to reach, but Arvensis is forced to cast False Life to keep himself standing. Even then, it is only briefly effective before he is gutted by a kobold’s curved dagger stabbing up from below.

Little bastard got a lucky crit.

Thaemin heals Arvensis, but goes down shortly thereafter. The cultists and kobolds swarm Ront, and he quickly follows. Pressed into a corner, Arvensis again unleashes the full might of his demonic ancestry, consuming the enemy in flames. One enemy survives the blast, and Robyn quickly finishes him.

When Thaemin revives, he’s able to spread enough healing around the team to get everyone but Ront in good condition. The black dragon cult seems to be in charge of the camp according to the cultist they’d earlier interrogated, and the rearguard wore black dragon masks instead of blue. Thaemin and Arvensis both speak Draconic, so they take the masks and head for the camp. Robyn will sneak in later, and Ront’s going to be easily recognizable to Cyanwrath, so his job is to stay and watch and if they don’t come out after 24 hours, head back to Greenest to let Governor Nighthill know they’ve failed.

They could all just walk right in if they’d stayed right on the enemy’s heels (my geography bending detour to Baldur’s Gate notwithstanding), but Thaemin’s honor means the camp is now more organized and they’ll need to bluff their way in.

Thaemin and Arvensis bluff like they’re just returning from an attack. The blue mask guards tell them that the black cult hasn’t been on the attack for nearly a week. Thaemin explains that they were just, like, really slow getting back. The blue masks mutter something about how the black masks are slackers cruising on Rezmir’s position, but let them into the camp.

In order to get in without speaking Draconic, Robyn’s going to need to scale the plateau on one side and then sneak in under cover of night. The scaling will take a while and night is still an hour or two off, so Thaemin and Arvensis are on their own in the cult’s camp for a while. They decide to get their bearings, first, looking for any prisoners in the camp, especially Leosin. It didn’t take them long to find eight prisoners kept in a cage near the camp entrance, and further back there was a man fitting Leosin’s description, chained to a X-shaped crucifix. In between the two they find a foundry where pots and pans are melted down into iron ingots, and nearby a bazaar where a few unscrupulous merchants exchange stolen goods and tools of low value for gold, often buying entire wagonloads for just ten or twenty gold pieces. The two heroes also get a good look at the number of total raiders. It looks to be somewhere close to five hundred.

If there’s not one, but several mercenary companies in the camp, plus multiple distinct colors of dragon cult, and if there is, as the book says, only 80 mercenaries and cultists, that gives something like fifteen to twenty in each group. That seemed kind of tiny to me, so I doubled the size of both the kobold and cultist/mercenary armies. There was no way the PCs would be able to defeat them in a straight fight either way.

Arvensis is able to subtly use his Message cantrip to converse with Leosin and find out what he knows. The cult has been raiding the countryside near Baldur’s Gate for months, building up a hoard to summon Tiamat. Leosin doesn’t know all the details of the ritual, but he knows that in addition to the hoard it requires five masks of Tiamat, one for each color of chromatic dragon. Rezmir, the leader of this camp, has one already, and Leosin doesn’t know how many more other cultists have. There is more to the cult than just what’s in the camp, and other leaders may be mask-bearers – called wyrmspeakers – with other masks. Leosin also confirms that Rezmir leads the black dragon cult, Cyanwrath leads the blues, and a human sorceress named Frulam Mondath is the leader of the reds. There’s also a representative of the Red Wizards of Thay here, an ally of the cult, but not a member.

Sneaking the prisoners out of the camp is going to require Robyn’s skills, so Arvensis tells Leosin to try not to draw any attention to himself for a few hours while they assemble their team. He and Thaemin begin wandering the camp, trying to be as cult-y as possible without actually engaging in any cultism. Some black dragon cultists rope them into some kind of prayer circle and some red dragon cultists try to trick them into letting their faces get carved up for “ritual purposes,” but Thaemin guesses (correctly) that no such actual ritual exists

On their way out of the red dragon area of the camp they come across a pair of red dragon cultists arguing over whether the blue or white dragon cultists are the worst. Since black dragon cultists are presumed neutral in the dispute, Thaemin and Arvensis are asked to help resolve the dispute. One red cultist explains that the blues are the worst, always trying to assert themselves like they should be leading, when obviously reds should be leading. They won’t shut up about how Cyanwrath set up the camp, so he should be in charge. The other cultist fires back that whites are the worst, because they’re the weakest of all the dragons and they’re always going on about “draconic unity” to try and sweep that under the rug. Arvensis sides against the whites, figuring that there’s none of them around to offend, and the two spend the rest of their time in the black dragon camp. They seem the most laid back of the group.

As night falls, Robyn meets up with the others, and they plan their escape. Robyn sneaks off to start a fire near the entrance and the nearby prisoners, and Arvensis uses his thaumaturgy to create the sound of horrific screaming coming from nearby. The guards on the prisoners are scared off, and Robyn is able to pick the lock on the cage and sneak all of them through the confused camp to a hidden cave up the slope. Under cover of night, she sneaks Leosin out as well. The camp is alarmed almost immediately, but they already were, so no big deal. The characters hide out in their hidden cave, preparing to scale the cliff walls, still under cover of darkness, and escape.

Before they leave, however, they see Cyanwrath confronting Rezmir in the camp. “I refuse to be placed under the command of someone whose draconic heritage is so thin!” Cyanwrath says.

“It’s not up for discussion,” Rezmir responds.

“This is an insult! I demand a duel!” Cyanwrath says.

“Fine,” Rezmir says, and immediately turns on him and breathes acid in his face.

Cyanwrath retaliates, and the two duel for a while. Cyanwrath’s weapon, Hazirawn, gives him a powerful advantage. It crackles with lightning that sears the flesh of anyone struck with it, but Rezmir’s Mask of the Black Dragon allows her to cloak the battlefield in darkness. Cloaked in shadow, she can hide and then strike from the darkness, and she is an expert in making such strikes count. The mask also grants her blinding speed, more than enough to keep up with Cyanwrath’s skill-at-arms. Beaten and bleeding, Cyanwrath drops to the ground and the magic darkness is dispelled. A cultist heals Cyanwrath before he bleeds out, while Rezmir pulls Hazirawn from his unwilling claws. “Your impudence has caused me more than inconvenience tonight,” she says, “I’ll take this as penalty.” The sword’s lightning dies and it instead runs black with acid in her grip. Rezmir departs, and Cyanwrath staggers a few steps after her, but is much too badly hurt to even pursue, let alone somehow win a rematch. All he can do is howl with impudent rage.

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