D&D Encounters – Hoard of the Dragon Queen, session 5

This was the first session where we split the Encounters groups so that five of the groups played at 5.30 pm, and the final group played at 7.30 pm. It worked pretty well, and Kris was glad to be able to hear his DM in the later session. Overall, we were a little down on numbers, but that still meant there were 36 people participating.

My own group are mid-way through Episode 3, which means they’re investigating the cave at the cultist’s camp. After the trouble with the stirges last week, the group came to an intersection that allowed three ways forward: Down some ledges straight ahead to where bits of parchment and metal could be seen amongst bits of wood and cloth, to the right where a steep set of stairs led down, or to the left where the corridor widened and curved out of sight. After considering their options, the party went left.

(My friend, Sarah, once designed a dungeon based on the fact that the group we were playing with always turned left, and so if you went right straight-away, you got to the end boss without the other encounters. What she didn’t count on was that I’d be playing for once, and I took the party leader role… and turned right at the first intersection!)

This choice wasn’t so portentous, and Lewis’s ranger, scouting ahead, discovered a number of young guard drakes being kept in a pen where the corridor dropped down to a cavern on its right. The drakes couldn’t get to him, but he wasn’t sanguine about the ability of the party to sneak past them. They tried, and failed, the drakes giving off loud cries of alarm as the party crept up to his position. The group started to pacify them, with Danielle’s sorceress talking to them in Draconic.

This was an interesting interaction to DM; Guard Drakes understand Draconic, but they can’t speak it. And they aren’t very intelligent. Danielle was saying the right things, and rolling well on her Charisma checks, so I allowed her to pacify the drakes. The party started getting all excited about taking the drakes with them, but, as a DM, this made me very worried. Let’s face it – they’re guard drakes, and it would take a lot more time to train them properly than the party had available. Animal Handling might make them passive, but it wouldn’t allow the group to just gain control of them. Eventually, the group threw them some kobold meat to keep them quiet and moved onwards.

Hang on a moment? Kobold meat? Where did that come from?

In fact, while Danielle was engaged with pacifying the drakes, the group had been attacked by kobolds who had been alerted by the noise of the drakes. The kobolds got a couple of hits in, but were mostly outclassed by the third level party. So, with a small number of dead kobolds, the drakes had more food.

Michael’s eldritch knight took the lead as the group continued to explore, and they found the kobold barracks along with twelve angry kobolds who were annoyed they hadn’t gotten enough sleep!

At this point, Michael started to demonstrate the power of the Blade Ward cantrip. It gave him resistance to weapon attacks at the cost of his action. The tunnel leading down was narrow, so the kobolds couldn’t get past him. He just stood there with his Heavy Armour Mastery feat, and took the kobold attacks. 5 damage from each one, which was halved to two due to Blade Ward, then reduced to nothing thanks to his armour feat. Meanwhile, the rest of the group stood twenty feet behind him (or thereabouts) and hit the kobolds with ranged attacks and spells. One of the kobolds ran off to alert the rest of the lair, but Michael was basically unharmed after the combat – only critical hits could harm him, and I wasn’t rolling many of them! A few kobolds tried to attack the back ranks of the party, but were doing so at long range and with cover (Michael) in the way, were very ineffective at doing so.

The last encounter for the evening saw the group descend further into the cave and discover Cyanwrath waiting for them in a temple dedicated to Tiamat. The half-dragon warrior was somewhat pleased to see Michael’s character, who had fought him in the duel that closed off the first episode of the adventure. Cyanwrath once again challenged Michael, but was horrified when the party showed themselves to be honourless and did not follow the rules of single combat.

He started to beat down on Michael, and Michael was very glad to have the effects of his armour mastery preventing some of the damage. Meanwhile, Cyanwrath’s bodyguard – two berserkers – attacked the rest of the party. The rest of the party were really hurting. And then Cyanwrath got really mad, as spells were cast on him from the back ranks of the party.

So he furiously moved away from Michael. Michael made an attack of opportunity, and rolled a critical hit, but it wasn’t quite enough to take down Cyanwrath. And then Cyanwrath used his breath weapon on the party, including his two allies. Shortly thereafter, three of the party were down as well as one of the berserkers. Michael was able to slay Cyanwrath, but the characters that were left were badly hurt and there was still an almost undamaged berserker attacking…

And then two of the downed characters rolled natural 20s on their Death saving throws, and rejoined the fray. Soon enough the last berserker was down, and the group – after noting that the treasure chest was likely trapped – retired to rest for an hour or so.

Yes, a rather tough encounter there – and it isn’t the last in this episode. The party will probably be able to grab a short rest, but not much longer before the remaining cultists realise they’re there…

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