Click on for the actual play of the first episode of D&D: Hoard of the Dragon Queen...but be warned that there ARE spoilers inside.
So over the last week, we did character creation in preparation for tonight's game. Everyone had a hook tying them into the Cult of the Dragon story and we got rolling with that...we just needed a reason for everyone to be together.
DON'T READ THIS IF YOU'RE GOING TO PLAY.
With The Hermit having made friends with a monk, my friend who is playing a Monk suggested that The Hermit be playing a hymn from his monastery on a bone flute while they are on the road, traveling separately. This causes the Monk to note that there is something up with this Dragonborn and they strike up a conversation. Lerissa, our Tiefling Barbarian, has been trailing the Monk at a distance, recognizing the order but not having had any dealings with them. As the three awkwardly converse, they hear what sounds like a child screaming, but as it's cut off, the rest of the scream echoes in their heads and they rush to the sound, finding a Gnoll hanging a Halfling upside down from a tree.
Shi Yan Hong attempts to talk the Gnoll down, but the Gnoll decides to eat the Halfling anyway, when Lerissa uses her thaumaturgy cantrip to cause him to hear whispers that distract him. Shi Han Yong scurries up the tree to cut him down, and The Hermit rushes the Gnoll and attacks. All three PCs get their licks in, but most of the damage is done by Lerissa - with an assist from the Halfling -, with the deciding blow coming from Shi Yan Hong. The Halfling pounced on the Gnoll and stabs him in the throat repeatedly, killing him.
Notes: Since The Hermit had Gnolls as a Ranger enemy, I was going to work them in alongside cultists from the Cult of the Dragon, until I got a load of the statblock and realized that shouldn't happen...so he showed up here. Thought it might be a decent warm-up to the combat...a bit of a gimme. I used the Halfling to show off the Help action, to provide the PCs with a broader look at the combat system.
The Halfling scurried and put on a mask, then introduced himself to the group as Finnan Thorngage. He said the Cult of the Dragon had taken everything away from him and turned him into a slave, and he now wanted revenge. Then we hung a lampshade on the fact that everyone had a mad on for the Cult and were all headed to Greenest.
Notes: With the adventure written for four, I didn't want to tinker with much yet, so I added Finnan in. The players seem to like me adding in additionals anyway.
Per the adventure, I described Greenest as being under siege and a dragon attacking the village. The party, led by The Hermit, rushed into combat as six hapless survivors were being hunted by kobolds and an ambush drake. This went very bad, very fast, with Shi Yan Hong getting taken down by the drake and a kobold due to their coordinated tactics. He actually failed his death saves pretty easily, and Lerissa against used thaumaturgy, this time for dramatic effect to gain Advantage on an Intimidation roll (she won). This caused the remaining kobolds to scatter.
Notes: At this point, I brought Shi Yan Hong - who had failed his three death saves - back at 1 HP with "Okay, this is D&D5e combat" hanging in the air for everyone.
The group came upon a family being attacked, and this time opted for ranged attacks on the unsuspecting kobolds, with Lerissa again combining thaumaturgy with Intimidation to break up the attack force. The Hermit used his Rangerly skills to guide the group through the town, and Lerissa used mystical distractions to divert attention away from the party, avoiding combat for the rest of the run to the keep at the center of town, and allowing the party to bring in a group of 21 survivors.
Notes: Bringing in a group of this size actually netted them a ton of experience points, and the party hit level 2 off of this. The Hermit gained spellcasting and immediately used cure wounds on Shi Yan Hong, bringing him back to full health.
Shi Yan Hong had to be the face man in the group, because the town was being attacked by a dragon and his party consisted of a Dragonborn, a Tiefling and a masked Halfling (he had to stop the group from attacking The Hermit due to his draconic nature). They met with the Governor and the master of the Keep (Governor Nighthill and Escobert the Red, respectively). The Governor expressed his concern that folks in town were still going to be under attack, and Escobert the Red - once he found out the party was planning to leave the Keep and bring people back - gave them a key to a tunnel under the keep. The group made haste, venturing out into the town, sending Lerissa up front with her Darkvision, and everyone else hanging back. Once they got clear of the Keep, they saw a temple to Chauntea being attacked. They approached carefully and watched the group battering the front of the temple, the group trying to set fire to the back of the temple, and the group making a circuit around the temple. Once they saw the group circling the temple was taking about 8 minutes to get there, Shi Yan Hong used his Ki (yay, 2nd level!) to lunge from the ground and up through a 2nd story window. Then he left rope down for The Hermit, who climbed up with Finnan on his back. Lerissa scurried up last and all four had snuck into the temple.
Notes: The temple was not described as being a two story building, but it was described as being one of the tallest buildings in town...so why not?
Shi Yan Hong says he will go down first, remembering the panic from the Keep, and despite his low Charisma score, rolled well enough to get the crowd calmed down. He met Eadyan Falconmoon, a Cleric of Chauntea, and informed the survivors that he had a very...unusual...group upstairs. The battering ram was breaking down the front door, so the group had to put together a plan, quickly. They went to the back door, where Lerissa used thaumaturgy to blow open the back door (waiting until the circling group was at the front door - and blowing burning brush and hay at the attackers), then The Hermit spewed lightning out the back door at the attackers. He followed that up with a fog cloud, and with the party surrounding the townsfolk, they used the distractions and thick cover to guide the crowd out of the temple and down to the riverbed.
Notes: That whole thing was a very lovely and very improvised plan that was not written as an option in the adventure module, but is just the kind of thing I'll roll with. Ki powered leaps into a second story window, lightning and fog distractions, etc. I forced a Charisma check from the Hermit to ensure that they kept the survivors on track in the fog, and they didn't wander out into the waiting hands of Kobolds or something.
The group managed to return to the Keep via stream bed and tunnels, and had a conversation with The Governor, who stated he would like some prisoners to speak with. While the party started working on a plan for that, The Governor was informed that a group was now trying to set fire to the town mill! As the party headed into action, they ran face to face with four cultists and a mercenary, who had just discovered the tunnel! The party sprang into action, with The Hermit twirling twin hand axes, Shi Yan Hong alternating staff strikes with big kicks, Finnan using the cover of the tunnel to blast eldritch blasts and Lerissa swinging her Greataxe. They decided to leave one of these alive, and focused on the one elf cultist in the lot. They took him hostage, and dragged the bodies of the rest inside the keep, and left the elf to be interrogated as the headed back to the mill...but not before Lerissa stripped one of its robes.
They approached the mill cautiously and scouted it out, with Lerissa and Shi Yan Hong realizing that the group "setting fire" to the mill were actually faking it. Shi Yan Hong went into the water and latched onto the mill wheel and rode it up into the mill, while The Hermit and Lerissa heard the group specificially referencing The Hermit being in town. Lerissa slipped on the cultist robe and used her acting skills and her Cult of the Dragon cover identity to get close to the group and press them for information.
Notes: She was alarmed at how good their intelligence was, and actually became concerned that there was a traitor in the town, but the party as a whole backed off of it once they realized that some folks HAD seen them and ran away.
Realizing the whole thing was a trap, the party simply withdrew and intercepted the defending force.
Notes: The Cult of the Dragon wasn't likely to set the barn on fire with their people inside...and shortly after returning to the keep, the Cult had its attention drawn in, when the Blue Dragon attacked...
The group felt the Fearful Presence of an adult blue dragon wash over the keep as they re-entered via the tunnel. Finnan and Shi Yan Hong shook it off, but The Hermit and Lerissa were rattled by it. The keep was in a panic as the dragon began swooping close, blasting with lightning and buzzing the castle with ferocity. The Hermit, though shaken, headed to the parapets with bow drawn, and Finnan joined him, launching an eldritch blast that actually did strike the dragon. Shi Yan Hong had other ideas, however. His observations of the dragon made it apparent that the dragon did not want to be here, so he used a ki-powered leap to jump on the dragon as it swooped in, and when he was unable to "steer" it, he decided to talk to it. The dragon went back and forth, calling out the eldritch blast as being dark stuff that insignificant little people shouldn't be dealing with and ordering Shi Yan Hong to get off of him. Shi Yan Hong held his cool and argued that the dragon needed to just cut out and go home, because he was too good for attacking a tiny little town like this anyway. The dragon said that Frulam Mondath (a name on Shi Yan Hong's list!) would be pissed if he left...but he never liked her anyway! He deposited Shi Yan Hong roughly and flew away!
Notes: Shi Yan Hong's player really made a great argument and his Insight roll had him coming from a position of confidence. I did opposed Persuasion vs Insight checks, with Shi Yan Hong having Advantage (for good roleplaying and for attacking from the angle that preyed on the dragon's thoughts) and the dragon having Disadvantage (due to REALLY not wanting to be there anyway)...and Shi Yan Hong won out.
There was some disbelief in the entire town, raider and townsfolk alike, and it set the Cult back on its heels. The Governor informed the party that their interrogation had gotten them information: The Cult is simply trying to amass a hoard...because they want to bring Tiamat, The Dragon Queen, back to the Realms! The Hermit knew this...for his insight in his meditation told him Tiamat was returning...and he was destined to thwart her return! They also learned that the Cult has a clutch of dragon eggs nearby as well!
The Cult did not give up yet, however, and breached the sally port of the Keep, sending the party rushing once more to its defense. They encountered an Acolyte, an Ambush Drake and four Kobolds, and the Acolyte sneered at The Hermit and ordered him to "grovel" (the command spell), but The Hermit shrugged it off. In fact, the Acolyte's spellcasting against The Hermit did little, while his lightning breath ripped through both the Acolyte and the Ambush Drake. Shi Yan Hong, late in the fight, flipped over a Kobold but stayed close, to avoid an opportunity attack, but used the reach of his staff to strike the Ambush Drake and finish him off. As the party cleaned up the attack, Shi Yan Hong used his carpentry background to get to work on fixing the sally port door, while Finnan ran off and grabbed the cleric from the temple, who used mending in conjunction with Shi Yan Hong's skills to seal the port.
As the light was beginning to down and exhaustion was overtaking everything...a large, blue half-dragon came forward with prisoners...a woman and three children...and issued a challenge to the "defenders of Greenest" to send their best warrior out to face him. Everyone hesitated...and a guard inside the keep recognized the family as his own and prepared to march to his death...but The Hermit stopped him. He knew he wasn't the greatest warrior in the Keep, but he would square off with this beast, Dragonborn to Half-Dragon. Shi Yan Hong, who is bound by his nature to look after his people, told The Hermit to stand down...and went out to face Langdedrosa Cyanwrath. The Half-Dragon released the children and announced that the woman would go free, win or lose. Shi Yan Hong andd Langedrosa squared off...and the Half-Dragon struck quickly, brutally and finally, cutting the Monk down with one strike, and digging his sword in once more for good measure. He sneered at the Keep and ordered the woman to be released, then stalked away.
The Governor ordered healers to get Shi Yan Hong stabilized, and even scraped together a pair of potions of healing in order to get the Monk back on his feet...and the people of Greenest gathered around their unlikely champions!
Notes: Shi Yan Hong's player immediately commented that it would be better with exploding dice, bennies, the Wild Die, etc...basically, if we were playing this in Savage Worlds, it would be perfect. Obviously, we have a hard time NOT comparing it to Savage Worlds around here.
He did ultimately say he "didn't hate it". Everyone else seemed on board. Once they got the feel for how combat works in 5e, things ran smoothly, and I do love the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. Also, hitting 2nd level really seemed to help as well, with the extra hit points and the extra class features.
For my part, I don't miss tracking monster HP, vastly preferring the Savage Worlds method. I do miss exploding dice, and combat feels just as swingy, rolling with a d20. We scored one critical hit throughout the session, in contrast with the constant explosion of dice in SW. I'm still not convinced that the game doesn't become a slog when everyone gets higher level and you have buckets of HP, but we'll see.
The Inspiration mechanic was fun, and I handed out purple dice from the Hercules and Xena RPG to serve as a physical reminder of Inspiration. Might need something bigger next time, though.
Everyone slipped right into character very well, and seem pretty invested in things. All in all, definitely the most fun I've had with D&D in YEARS.