After running the first episode of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, you may be forgiven for thinking the second episode of the adventure, Raiders’ Camp is a lot simpler. After all, it’s not like the players are at risk of certain death at every moment of the game, are they?
Well, not exactly. The camp section is a far more dangerous beast; an episode where the players have a wide variety of options available to them. If the players choose poorly, they could quite easily be captured and killed. And, although the players will choose the approach they use, it will be your DMing that will set the tone of this episode.
So, what’s actually going on in this episode? Here are the key points that need to be hit:
- The cult is better organised than it initially appeared. The cult actually wear uniforms when in camp, but didn’t for the raid on Greenest, making it seem like just a bandit raid. Emphasise that as the afternoon progresses, the cult gets more and more organised: the uniforms come out and the discipline gets better.
- Despite this, there are different factions in the cult, and they don’t all play together well. The difference between the kobolds and the cultists should be noted.
- The players need to meet (and possibly rescue) the half-elven monk, Leosin.
- The players need to learn that the cultists are storing the looted treasure in the caves (and Greenest isn’t the only place they’ve hit). They also are hatching dragon eggs there, although the cave is too well-guarded at the moment for the players to enter.
- The players need to learn who the cult leaders are, especially Rezmir, the half-black dragon.
Overall, this chapter involves a lot of getting to understand the cult better, whilst also introducing the patron character (Leosin) that moves the players onto the middle stages of the adventure.
Chasing the Cult
There are two encounters on the way to the raiders’ camp. The first is with a group of squabbling kobolds and humans and is likely a relief for the players, as the distracted nature of the cultists means they are easy prey for the group. Well, easier, at least. The nature of wilderness combat means that a party well stocked with bows should have a much, much easier time of this than a group only with melee weapons.
Although it is quite easy to avoid this encounter, it gives the group a chance to discover the ambush that the cultists have planned as the next encounter. My own group completely failed to ask these cultists anything relevant, so the ambush went undiscovered. However, if the group does interrogate them, discovering that there’s an ambush should be pretty easy; it’s the reward for the group defeating the cultists and interrogating them rather than just killing them. If I ran this adventure again, I’d likely give the players more of an opportunity to discover this information.
The ambush itself can be deadly. There’s a particular problem here with the suggested Perception checks to notice the ambushers. (One of the major rules problems throughout the adventure is the handling of Perception, and is directly due to the fact the perception and alertness rules were not finalised when the adventure was written. Indeed, I’m not sure how final they are as I write this). The use of Passive Perception or making active checks instead is something DMs need to consider when running the game. A DC 20 Perception check is tremendously difficult, and basically impossible if you use Passive Perception scores instead. I’d make this ambush easier to spot if I ran the encounter again, especially if the group specifically have someone on watch or scouting ahead. (If someone is scouting, I’d allow that character to make a Perception (Wisdom) check to discover the ambush).
Infiltrating the Camp
Sections of adventures like this always give me pause as a DM. How do you run it? There are so many things the players could do!
Conversely, as a player it is easy to get overwhelmed by the options and lack of guidance. (This has also afflicted me as a player).
Hoard of the Dragon Queen gives a number of suggestions as to how the players can infiltrate the camp and the challenges they might face. This is one of those sections where, as a DM, you should aim to help players who are struggling, but if the group are going through it without a care in the world, then throwing complications at them is going to be more fun.
However, the main focus of this section is in letting the players learn about the cult. For that reason, it’s much better to go easier on them rather than frustrating them at every turn. My own group posed as new recruits and managed to stay out of trouble… and rolled really, really well whenever they had to make a Charisma (Deception) check. The players came out of the camp feeling really happy, and I was quite content with that result.
It’s really worth emphasising that the head of this faction of the cult is Rezmir, a half-black dragon. The party are going to be chasing her (and the wagons) shortly, and it will help if you can make her memorable. The cultists are likely to be in awe of her (she’s a half-dragon, after all!), and, although Mondath and Cyanwrath are more visible in the camp, Rezmir is the one in charge of everything.
The Problem with Leosin
Leosin can make a bad impression on the party. He looks half-dead, and yet he doesn’t want to be rescued. There’s a reason for that: he’s still quite capable of escape. If the party don’t rescue him, he’ll rescue himself. Indeed, if the party get captured, he’ll rescue them!
What you want to do with Leosin is impress the group with his courage and inventiveness: he’s allowed himself to be captured so that he can spy on the cult. He’s willing to put up with a lot of punishment in pursuit of his goals. However, having the group have a tough time of reaching him only for him to say, “I don’t want to go!” makes him seem something of a jerk. I’d far rather play him as being grateful for being rescued, and allow the players their moment of glory.
Of course, if the players manage to get themselves captured, Leosin can be really impressive as he rescues them. It doesn’t do much for the self-esteem of the players, but give them a few challenges on the way out that they can overcome so that they can feel like they accomplished everything.
Leosin is really important as he’ll be their effective patron in the next part of the adventure, and the players need to feel that he’s worthy of being their patron. If he’s rescued, play up the information he’s learnt (and fill in any blanks that they players themselves have missed). If he rescues the party, he shouldn’t be nasty about it or make them feel small; let him be charming and seem a valuable ally in the fight ahead.
The other major issue to let the players know about is the cave. It’s really well guarded at this point, so much so that players should not be able to enter it. (Don’t be misled by the skeleton staff guarding it in Episode 3, this is before the cult move out and there are a lot more guards in play). The players should be rightfully curious about the cave by the time they finish this episode. This should mirror the curiosity of the regular cult members and mercenaries the players interact with here. What’s in the cave? Treasure? Dragon Eggs? More? (Feel free to have some really odd rumours, perhaps it holds a great magical device…)
The players need to be curious enough that investigate it during Episode 3. Have fun!
Errata and Clarifications
The map is a little unclear. The prisoners are at area 1 (bottom centre of the map). Area 2 (right centre) is the leader’s tent. Area 3 (bottom right) is where Leosin is being held. The cave is at area 4 (far right).
The Guards outside the Leader’s Tent (area 2) should be Veterans (who are much harder to defeat).
Well, that’s my overview of Episode 2. It can be a fairly quick episode to run (my group finished it in about 3 hours), but the information imparted during its course is very important for the ongoing plot of the adventure.