Spoiler Alert! This article contains spoilers for Chapter 2 of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen campaign. If you are planning on running or playing in these adventures and you wish to remain surprised, you will want to play through that chapter first and then return here to read this article.
While our erstwhile adventurers were licking their wounds from the recent ambush, I had some accountancy to do. Life outside of gaming caught up with one of our play-test group, which meant we were down one fighter. That is always a bummer, but I am lucky enough to have a deep network of gaming friends in Pittsburgh; one was there to fill the void. We replaced our elegant speaking elven fighter with a brash dwarven barbarian.
This would add another "tank" to the party, increasing their overall durability. If you remember from previous articles in this series, our party's paladin took the Heavy Armor Master feat. This allows her to reduce any damage done by piercing, slashing, and blugeoning (basically all "normal" damage) attacks by 3 (a big advantage at low levels). Barbarians gain Resistance to these same attacks when they use their Rage class feature. Resistance means you halve the damage. The two frontline fighters were essentially damage sponges; they were in a better position to handle some of the tougher combats ahead
I wanted to find a plot contrivance to allow us to explain the party shuffle. By chance, I had been speed painting some dwarf civilian models to spice up the racial mix of my fantasy town scenes. One figure was a brewer from the awesome Stonehaven Miniatures Dwarven Adventurers Box Set line (their first Kickstarter project). We decided that he was a Clan Hammerfish (the new PC's clan) brewer, captured in the raid on Greenest. Snorri the barbarian was on a mission to rescue him, and that's how Snorri Hammerfish joined our campaign.
When barbarians rage, watch out!
As an aside, I have not had a chance to write about this in any detail, but Stonehaven Miniatures ran an excellent Kickstarter project. The miniatures came as advertised, there were lots of great little perks and add-ons, and the figures arrived relatively close to on time. I haven't bought into their other projects, but that has more to do with interest (dwarfs are my favorite fantasy race) than anything else. They're a miniature company worth checking out.
Let's Split Up
The next step for the party was to infiltrate the raiders' camp. This was mostly done via roleplaying, but there were some relevant tests. For example, the heroes had to make DC 5 (easy) charisma checks to pass themselves off as mercenaries. Kobold Press also included some options for having the party be recognized, upping the difficulty. There were a large number of rumors that could be learned by interacting with the mercenaries, cultists, and camp followers.
The adventurers mostly rubbed elbows with the mercenaries, who were the easiest to blend in with. They gathered some information on the size of the cult's forces and the general idea of where prisoners were held. I wanted to drop some additional hints of what was to come, so I embellished some of the clues involving dragon eggs. This would come back to bite me later.
In the end, Aldrek, the party's dwarven wizard, would not be swayed and went to investigate the clutch alone.
The party had to make a decision - they knew the location of the missing monk - they had a vague idea of where the cult had hidden a clutch of dragon eggs. Which would they choose? A brief party discussion revealed that all but one party member wished to free the monk and leave as quickly as possible. In the end, Aldrek, the party's dwarven wizard, would not be swayed and went to investigate the clutch alone. The rest of the party spent their time tracking down Leosin and the dwarven brewer.
The PCs eventually located Leosin (the NPC they were sent to rescue) in a stockade area. Waiting until nightfall, they set fire to a number of tents in the center of camp. They used this distraction to reduce the number of guards they would have to fight, overwhelming them, and freeing the noble monk.
Yeah, We Can Do More Damage That Way
Aldrek's decision had put me in a tight spot. Exploring the caves was not supposed to happen until the next chapter - a chapter I had only skimmed at that point. The caverns would still pose a terrible threat, but at least the outer defences would be significantly diminished in the 3rd chapter. I knew that party members wanting to explore the eggs prematurely could be an issue. I planned ahead, createing a small sub-cavern with an additional clutch of dragon eggs. This was kept simple; the cavern consisted of a narrow passage leading to a more open circular, rough hewn, stone room. I placed a mix of 10 ambush and guard drakes there.
My thought process was that if anyone choose to investigate, they would see these formidable defenders (the party had tangled with a small number of these before and was aware of their strength and durability) and rightly leave with important intelligence and added storyline fodder for the next chapter.
It didn't exactly go that way...
It is likely he relied too heavily on his Dwarven Combat and Armor Training to carry the day.
Aldrek had been reckless from day one, a trait that was manifest in one of his backgrounds. In the previous chapter, he had almost died ambushing a swarm of kobolds. It is likely he relied too heavily on his Dwarven Combat and Armor Training to carry the day. 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons has seen the return of abilities such as these, that allow players to utilize certain non-standard equipment pieces due to a common racial upbringing.
I'm glad to see these types of rules in 5E. It's anecdotal, but I've never found these sort of abilities unbalancing (so long as they are part of a race package or require another resource to be spent on them), and though it likely makes the OSR crowd cringe, I think having them helps flesh out a more detailed and diverse fantasy world. A dwarven evoker like Aldrek, would likely be useful, as a walking artillery piece, to a military-minded dwarf clan. Why wouldn't they want him in armor and wielding a battle axe? If he trained with the soldiers, wouldn't he know the basics?
Unfortunately, all the armor in the world wasn't going to help Aldrek in the fight he chose. Having slipped passed the guards using a cult disguise, he quickly located the clutch of eggs and the scaled sentinels protecting them. Then he made a very brave but very foolish decision. Realizing the eggs were bunched together and within range of his Thunderwave spell, Aldrek unleashed his elemental fury upon the drakes and the clutch. The eggs were shattered, ruining a vital military resource in the dragon cults arsenal, but only half the drakes were knocked prone, and none were seriously injured.
Nom! Nom! Nom!
5E eschews much of the spell system of its predecessor for one more similar to 3E and 3.5. Thunderwave is a good example of this. It's Vancian (meaning it takes up a "slot" and is expired when used) and does not require a to-hit roll. It affects all targets in a 15 foot cube beginning in contact with the caster.
If you are in the area-of-effect, you make a constitution Saving Throw. Saving Throws allow you to avoid or lessen the effect of anything from a magical attacks to simple fatigue. They are much more complex in this addition. You have different types of Saving Throws and you use different attributes and abilities to generate your bonus. When a PC casts a spell, the NPC or monster might have to make a Saving Throw. The difficulty of that Saving Throw is 8 + your spellcasting ability modifier + your proficiency bonus + any other modifiers.
This is a departure from the streamlined system in 4E. It certainly works, and it is fun to use as a PC. But, as the game master, I could already see how complicated this could be when creating or running spellcasting NPCs. I had a feeling that I would soon be longing for simplified enemy abilities with all the relevant information included in one place.
What of Aldrek, brave scholar and companion? Poor Aldrek was run down and eaten by a pack of raging drakes - another PC death, and this one was essentially all on me. I made up this part of the adventure.
The worst part was that the whole point of putting this encounter in as a possibility, was to give a preview of what was to come and get the players thinking about how they would infiltrate the camp a second time. Aldrek was the only one who checked it out, and he didn't live to tell anyone! The party did not have time to even go looking for him. Tents were in flames - cultists, kobolds, and mercenaries were scrambling in all directions. It was time for a hasty retreat under cover of chaos. The adventurers had escaped, but sadly, one character's glorious death would go unmarked by all.
Are you playing D&D 5th Edition? Tell us about your campaign. Leave a comment below!