The seventh episode of Hoard of the Dragon Queen sees the characters reach the stronghold of Talis the White, a disaffected member of the Cult of the Dragon. It details the hunting lodge in which she is staying, and has the potential to be one of the shortest episodes in the adventure.
Seriously. I’ve run two groups through this chapter, and seen another group take it on. Only in one case did the group do any significant exploration of the hunting lodge. The other two groups ended up going straight to Talis and negotiating with her; the most amusing was the group who climbed up the exterior wall of the lodge… and entered her chamber immediately. Fifteen minutes. Over.
However, despite the short amount of time that might be spent on this episode, it is key to the working of the story. Because this is where the plans of the cult get properly exposed.
Or perhaps they don’t. All the groups I’ve seen have been more than happy to talk to Talis and work with her, but what happens when you get a group of players who enjoy war-war more than jaw-jaw? The adventure doesn’t fall in a heap because of it, but it’s likely the first council meeting in The Rise of Tiamat will be quite a surprise to them as they discover what they’ve actually been working against.
Talis is potentially the childhood-friend of some of the PCs, if you’re using the bonds from the appendix, which gives a lovely frisson of the path not taken; this is a good one to bring out in the role-playing, if you can manage it.
As written, Talis is furious at Rezmir because she believes she should be the bearer of the white dragonmask. For my own game, I changed this to make Talis one of the traditionalists who believe the Cult would be better off raising dead dragons. This allowed me to explain the schism within the cult, which also gave the players a better understanding of why the cult had changed direction. However, if you use the original plan, make sure to mention the dwarf Varram the White, who will turn up in The Rise of Tiamat.
There aren’t that many combatants in the lodge, so combats will tend not to bring reinforcements from other areas (the one exception being a fight in Talis’s chambers, with the barracks right next door). One of the most dangerous combatants, the four-armed troll, Trepsin, may not even be seen by the characters – the kennel where he lives is out behind the manor; both my groups didn’t do a reconnaissance around the manor before entering it!
Storywise, this chapter is all about giving information to the players: letting them know about the cloud giant’s castle, giving them the pass phrase to sneak aboard, and giving them background on what the cult is up to. Once that’s dealt with, it’s on to the final episode!