Let’s Play Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Road Trip

Played August 18th, 2016
Thaemin: 3,199
Ront: 5,194
Arvensis: 3,757
Robyn: 3,600

Cyanwrath: 6,004

After Robyn Hood and Cyanwrath finish drinking their woes away, they take the barge down to Baldur’s Gate. By the time they’ve arrived, all three of their eggs have hatched, and it’ll be a long journey to Waterdeep to find Arvensis’ contact, a draconic scholar who can deliver the hatchlings into the care of a metallic dragon willing to at least attempt to raise them properly (and kill them as young adults, after they’ve had a fair shake but before they’ve reached their full destructive potential, if raising them Good fails). They ship to Baldur’s Gate where Robyn Hood’s criminal associate Wyll Scarlet keeps an eye on everyone coming to and from Baldur’s Gate. Baldur’s Gate has worked hard to make it impossible to ship goods up the Sword Coast without passing through the city, refusing the construction of any major roads through their hinterlands that might prevent the city’s porters from being paid lucrative amounts to take goods from wagons at the south gate to wagons at the north, so there’s no way the Dragon Cult will get their hoard through the city without Wyll’s friends in the porters’ guilds from noticing.

Wyll Scarlet can also point them towards a disguise expert who changes the party’s appearance in various ways. Robyn switches her green clothes for red, Thaemin gets a wig of flowing golden hair and pretends to be a high elf, Ront has his skin colored a deeper green and pretends to be a full-blooded orc, Arvensis switches his cloak from black to deep blue (and his most distinguishing features are his horn nubs, which were covered by his mask at the camp – his tail and wings are tiny and hidden beneath his clothes), and Cyanwrath gets the most extensive makeover, getting himself recolored from blue to red, and the dragon hatchlings he’s traveling with recolored from black to silver.

Nearly two weeks later, the cult pulls into town, ports their goods through the city, and joins up with a wagon caravan heading north. The cult has split their hoard among two different caravans, and the party has decided to join the one led by Azbara Jos, who has been assessed to be less threatening than Rezmir, who is leading the other caravan (which is also more dense with cult forces).

Azbara Jos isn’t supposed to join the caravan until later, but I couldn’t find any particular reason why not.

The party finds work as mercenaries on the cult wagon, finding overall some fairly lucrative positions that will make them a fair amount of money as they crawl northward towards Waterdeep at caravan speeds.

The following is copy/pasted direct from the notes I took down to keep track of the caravan NPCs and their relationships to the PCs.

Cyanwrath is sergeant of human merchant Archreny Ulyeltin, two wagons full of uncured hides, and commands a pair of guards, Eldkin Agetul, a shield dwarf of some experience (also a girl, though you can hardly tell), and Orvustia Esseren, a tough spearwoman who’s never been outside the Baldur’s Gate hinterland in her life. Also Enom Tobun, a halfling teamster who loves to tell stories of his many decades running wagons from Neverwinter to Calimshan and back again (these stories are of questionable veracity and he does not like being challenged on them). Arvensis is brought on to be Archreny’s personal bodyguard.

Ront is hired on as the personal bodyguard for Edhelri Lewel, who kind of hates everyone and is extremely thorough and particular with her wagon. She seems to like the animals hauling it more than the guy guarding it (and her). She’s carrying wood from the Jungle of Chult, so she can’t be that much of a hippie. Also traveling with this wagon is Aldor Urnpoleshurst, a lawyer fleeing Baldur’s Gate because of a scandal he refuses to discuss.

Robyn Hood is the sergeant for Beyd Sechepol, who is hauling ale and beer for sale along the way. He sells not in Waterdeep, but to the rest of the caravan on the road. Beyd Sechepol is a friendly and easygoing sociopath who likes to express dominance over things that can’t fight back. On the road, that’s mostly horses. Under Robyn’s command are Leda Widris, an honest and adventurous mercenary, Losvius Longnose, an overpoweringly curious nuisance of a halfling, and Tyjit Skesh, a very easily provoked shield dwarf who is as defensive of others as she is of herself. Traveling with this caravan is Green Imsa, who is generally kind and pleasant except upon the subject of why she is literally green. She is traveling to Waterdeep to try and find a cure.

Thaemin has been hired as medic for Samardag the Hoper, who is eternally optimistic and hauling porcelain from Baldur’s Gate to Waterdeep. What could possibly go wrong? In addition to Thaemin, he has hired the softspoken warrior poet Werond Torohar, both under the command of the very tall, generally quiet Sulesdeg the Pole. Radecere Perethun rides on the back of the wagon, a surly rock gnome brought out of his shell only by the chance to gamble.

Lai Angesstun is an ambitious gold dwarf merchant full of greed and envy. He’s hauling scented cooking oil and perfumes from Amn up to the upper classes of Waterdeep. He travels with three dwarven guards.

Lasfelro the Silent is a human merchant leading one of the wagons. He’s mostly silent and sullen, but he occasionally breaks into rather spectacular song. His wagon is guarded only by a gargoyle tied to the wagon by a slim, silver chain.

Nyerhite Verther is a dragon cultist hauling Calimshite silk to Waterdeep. Only the topmost chests of his wagon are actually loaded with Calimshite silk, and it’s all worm-eaten rubbish that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny (he bought it on the cheap for his cover story). His wagon is guarded by three dragon cultists.

Oyn Evenmor is a dragon cultist hauling a few exotic birds atop an otherwise unknown cargo. He’s stubborn and argumentative and generally speaking thinks the entire world is corrupt and in need of a serious shaking up. His only generosity is in pouring drinks for those willing to argue with him. His wagon is guarded by two dragon cultists.

The cult’s final wagon is headed by Azbara Jos and guarded by three cultists and a cultist knight and mage serving as Azbara’s bodyguards.

End copy/paste.

Lai Angesstun introduces himself to Cyanwrath the very first day by admiring those dragon hatchlings he’s caring for, and then offering to buy one, saying he’ll find “a good home” with a high-paying buyer somewhere in Waterdeep. Cyanwrath explains to Lai that he is not going to sell a baby. Lai insists. Cyanwrath begins pummeling him. The rest of the caravan intervenes to pull the two apart, and Lai attempts to have Cyanwrath thrown out of the caravan, but after both sides tell their story the caravaneers in general come to the conclusion that this is a problem best solved by these two just keeping their distance from one another and leaving it at that.

That night, Robyn Hood spots a short figure making off with one of the hatchlings. She pursues him through the camp and corners him with the help of Thaemin, to whose wagon the figure had been fleeing, and they discover Losvius Longnose, doing a poor job of pretending he doesn’t have an angry dragon hatchling nibbling on his back. “I wasn’t kidnapping him,” Longnose explains indignantly, “I just wanted to see a dragon hatchling up close, that’s all.” Robyn warns him that if any of these dragon hatchlings go missing, she’ll know who to put an arrow through, and takes the hatchling back to Cyanwrath’s wagon before it’s missed.

The loss of the “valuable item” in this encounter is supposed to be automatic, but I felt the PCs were entitled to notice it going missing. Robyn Hood has pretty solid Perception and the Acrobatics to chase down a thief before he can get away, so it’s not especially surprising she caught Longnose.

Over the next few days, the party attempts to eavesdrop on and otherwise investigate the dragon cult wagons. Robyn ends up in an awkward conversation with Oyn Evermoor, in which she asks where he’s headed, and Oyn explains that his bird trade is going to make him very wealthy, and also she is very pretty and where is she from? Robyn explains that she is from Baldur’s Gate and took this expedition to try and help her husband pay to have a maimed hand regenerated. Oyn suggests she might be better off starting a life with someone whose prospects are brighter, Robyn suggests that maybe no, that should definitely not ever happen, and Oyn launches into a rant about how one day soon there’s going to be a reckoning and all the selfish people like Robyn will be swept away. Robyn walks away halfway through and it’s nearly a full minute before Oyn notices.

By the fifth day into the journey, a few days into the Fields of the Dead, Beyd Sechapol’s horse is beginning to give out under his abuse. One of the poor animals finally collapses altogether. Beyd starts laying into it again, apparently trying to kill it just because, and leaves it not-quite-dead in the road before hitching his entire wagon to just one horse and continuing on. Everyone but Edhelri, the anti-social elf hauling wood from Chult, like Beyd, and Edhelri doesn’t like anyone, so most people shrug this off. Thaemin lags behind the caravan to heal the wounded beast and quietly see it off before catching up. That night, Robyn tries to steal some extra feed from Samardag the Hoper to keep Beyd’s one remaining horse well fed in hopes of preventing this from happening again. She’s caught in the act by Samardag, but when Robyn explains the situation, he’s sympathetic. “Golly, no wonder that poor horse of his died!” Samardag says, and marks one of the feed bags, “I’ll go ahead and leave this feed bag for you to feed the horse with. I’m sure he’ll pull through the journey with a bit of tender loving care!” Samardag’s eternal optimism neglects to consider that Robyn probably can’t covertly feed the animal for too long before Beyd notices, and that the horse might buckle under the beatings even if well-fed, and besides he probably doesn’t have enough feed to feed not only his own wagon, but also help feed another. Beyd’s abuses are going to continue to be an issue for so long as he’s leading a wagon.

The next day, Beyd is eaten by perytons.

Robyn is able to get herself rehired by cultist wagon leader Verther, the one hauling Calimshit silk (and also a dragon hoard), who is somewhat suspicious of her, but figures having her guarding his wagon will make her easier to keep an eye on. She’s taking a pay cut as she’s been demoted from sergeant to regular guard. A few days after that, the caravan comes across another wagon turned aside on the road, surrounded by hobgoblins. The hobgoblins are besieging the wagon, and by nightfall the wagon’s survivors (blocked from view from the caravan’s current perspective, but surely the hobgoblins are besieging something, since the wagon is clearly not empty, its contents having spilled out to the sides when it tipped). The caravan holds a conference as to what to do about the issue.

Cyanwrath and Arvensis’ boss Archreny Ulyeltin proposes that merchants need to stick together, just like in this caravan, and that fellow over there is a merchant just the same as anyone. Edhelri Lewel, Ront’s boss, says that his problems are his problems, and while she wishes the stranded merchant the best and all, she’s not getting involved. Samardag the Hoper says they can’t possibly just leave someone at the mercy of brigands. Lai Angesstun says that they totally can and it would in fact be more profitable to do so. Nyerhite Verther, Robyn’s new boss, suggests that the caravan would be that much stronger with an extra wagon and whatever guards are keeping those hobgoblins at bay, but Oyn Evenmoor and Azbara Jos think it’s not worth the risk of a fight, and Verther ultimately sides with them.

Thaemin decides he’s going to try and save the wagon alone if he has to, and Cyanwrath leads Archreny’s guards Orvustia and Eldkin to help, and Arvensis comes to join them (with the blessing of his sympathetic boss Archreny, whom Arvensis is normally supposed to remain besides at all times). Robyn brings her friends Leda Widris and Tyjit Skesh, and Ront walks away from Edhelri over her threats to fire him if he gets involved instead of guarding her body like he’s being paid to. Ront ignores her.

The fray with the hobgoblins is over fairly quickly. The captain puts up a fight, but Ront overpowers him, and while the hobgoblins are well-coordinated, they are sorely outnumbered. After their captain is felled, they attempt a retreat, but the last survivors are picked off by arrows from the caravan’s guards. The besieged caravan buys horses from Thaemin and Arvensis to hitch their wagon up and joins the caravan. Thaemin keeps all the wounded in good health, especially Tyjit and Orvussia, who went down in the combat and may have led out if not for him.

Ront is able to find work for Samardag the Hoper, albeit as a regular guard and thus taking a pay cut. The caravan goes on through pouring rain. In order to help stay off the muddy ground, everyone sleeps on the wagons, and as some wagons are much better suited to being slept upon than others, some end up being all but completely unguarded. While Ront and Cyanwrath make some attempts at sneaking over to a cult wagon during the nights in the rain, and are able to partly deflect suspicion by claiming to be paranoid about hobgoblin attack, Robyn is finally forced to take a stab at it, even though it might compromise her infiltration if she’s caught. She’s able to make off with one of the chests in the wagon eventually, sneaking into the night to break it open with her crowbar, and taking the contents: 293 gold pieces, a malachite, and a chalcydon. Then she replaces the chest a few layers deep in the wagon so that it’s covered up by the others and the cult won’t notice it’s broken until they’ve arrived at their destination and begun unloading.

The treasure here was yoinked from the hoard at the end.

At the end of the pouring rain, the caravan finds itself surrounded by rapidly growing fungus. Cyanwrath and Thaemin recognize the fungus as a poisonous variety, releasing toxic spores when damaged, but can’t remember exactly what the poison does. They’re growing at an alarming rate, almost visibly reaching upwards to the sun. Ultimately, this problem is solved by having Arvensis use burning hands to torch a path through the middle wide enough for wagons to follow. He grows a faceful of tentacles amongst other side effects, and the manifestations of his demonic heritage brought about when he lets the bubbling magic underneath himself off its leash are actually becoming somewhat predictable. Oh, the tentacles again? Yeah, they rot off in about an hour. One of the less helpful side effects, on the whole. Still better than that one time I spread slippery black ooze across the floor and everyone slipped and fell, though. The mushrooms let out an ungodly shrieking when set ablaze, and Arvensis ends up getting some of the black spores on him, but it’s nothing Thaemin’s powers of healing can’t cure.

Specifically we’re talking about his lay on hands here, which can cure illnesses and poisons for five HP’s worth of healing. The crazy-making toxic spores of the Fungus Humongous seems to fall into that category.

Within a few days of the encounter with the mushrooms, the caravan has made it clear of the Fields of the Dead and into the equally dangerous troll country. They pass over Troll Claw Ford, where sits the ruins of a village founded in a gap between the Troll Claws, with the Fields of the Dead on one end and the Troll Hills on the other, and weeks of travel between them and the nearest friendly face. It’s not all that surprising they ended up a ruins, really.

Not too far into troll country, the caravan encounters a pair of beautiful twins, Arietta and Zelina Innevar, bedding down for the night in the middle of troll country. All alone. Unarmored and barely armed. And looking about as hardened as pasta that’s ready to stick to a wall. To say that Arvensis is suspicious is like saying Gruumsh is not a fan of elves. The caravan in general is happy to have more people to travel with, however, as there is safety in numbers and it doesn’t hurt that they look stunning.

It’s 21 days into the journey, now, and the at the end of each week the wagons rest the animals to prevent overworking them. While everyone’s resting, the twins decide to throw a party. Cyanwrath gets drunk, mistakes a wagon for a monster, and attacks it with his sword. Thaemin guides him away from the wagon and pays 10 gold to the wagon’s owner (it happens to be Edhelri Lewel, the elf carrying Chult wood who hates people and loves animals) to cover the damages. Arietta attaches herself to Thaemin, talking about how wise and generous and heroic he is, and how he’s practically a literal knight in shining armor, and he’s just so amazing. Thaemin knows he’s being played for something here, but the past month has been crazy and he really needs to hear some words of appreciation right now, so he ignores the feeling.

Ront ends up wrestling just about every other guard in the caravan, sometimes taking two at once. Zelina has attached herself to him, and she makes a few bets on him, and then some more, and then some more. By the end of the day she’s bilked a hundred gold out of the other merchants, and hands it off to Ront. “You did all the work anyway,” she says, “maybe you could find it in you to buy me something shiny when we get to Waterdeep?” Ront grunts in a non-committal way. He knows how this ends: With some wealthy elf sweeping the girl away. Ront’s only the favorite now because, for now and the next couple of weeks, being a big strong orc means he’s the richest man around, because there’s nothing to buy on the caravan (beer’s free ever since Beyd bit it) but there’s lots of nasties that need to have their faces great sworded off.

During the festivities, Robyn attempts to rob Oyn Evermore’s wagon, but ends up getting caught by a cultist guard. “Stop! Thief!” he shouts.

“Thief?” Robyn says, slurring her words together, “I’m not a thief, you’re a thie-oh,” and she collapses from mock drunkenness. She manages not to get herself fired in the morning, mostly banking on her raw charisma, but her employer Verther has always been suspicious of her, and his desire to keep her close enough to keep an eye on is as strong as ever. Besides, if she’s acting suspicious because she’s a regular thief, that is actually rather a lot less distressing than if she’s a dedicated enemy of the cult, as Verther had feared.

Whilst passing by the Trollbark Forest, the caravan comes across a roadside inn. The innkeeper apologizes, but the entire inn is full. A single nobleman inside has rented all of it for himself. “I like to be able to stretch my legs through all eight rooms upstairs,” he explains with a smug grin when Thaemin, Arvensis, and Arvensis’ boss Ulyeltin come in to try and make some arrangements.

“I’m sure we can come to some kind of arrangement,” Thaemin says.

“Oh, but the looks on your faces are truly priceless,” the noble says.

“I wasn’t really planning on a monetary arrangement,” Arvensis says, with a demonic glint in his eye. The nobleman glares back at Arvensis and turns into a giant frog.

The two of them flee the inn and the green slaad follows. The guards rush to fight the aberration, and while its initial fireball straight-up kills poor Tyjit, it otherwise finds itself quite overwhelmed by the firepower of the caravan’s combined guard force, which, even with the cultists keeping themselves in reserve, comes out to over a dozen people. The slaad is quickly worn down and slain.

This was originally a green slaad, got changed to an assassin when the green slaad was removed from the Monster Manual, then the green slaad got put back into the Monster Manual after this adventure went to print, at which point I changed it back into a green slaad. Originally it’s supposed to be four green slaadi (or assassins), each of which is a decent match for a level 8 party on their own. Even with the extra firepower afforded by the other caravan guards, a single green slaad made for a decent mini-boss on its own. I probably could’ve gotten away with one more, but three? It would’ve been a TPK.

It’s a similar story when, in a patch of the road with the Trollbark Forest has inconveniently grown over, the caravan is attacked by ettercaps and their giant spider pets. The ettercaps seek to make off with some horses before they can be fully engaged in melee, but they are quickly swarmed by the well-guarded caravan as guards come pouring in from the other wagons. Though their lethal poison claims several guards (all cultists guarding Nyerhite Verther’s wagon, the one which they are actually hoping to steal horses from), by the time they have the horses free they’re completely surrounded and rapidly overwhelmed.

This encounter, and possibly also the hobgoblin one earlier, seems clearly intended for a single party. It’s completely pulped if you add in a half-dozen guards and friendly teamsters.

The caravan comes to a halt a few days later in the shadow of Dragonspear Castle. While a less than friendly place since it fell to fiendish invasion (again) some time ago, the castle now stands abandoned but still marks the border between the relatively secure sphere of influence of Waterdeep and the Misty Forest, and the hostile troll country. The worst of the journey is over.

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