by Mike Shea on 11 September 2014
Taking the spot as the first officially published Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition adventure (excluding Lost Mines of Phandelver included in the the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set), Hoard of the Dragon Queen has a lot of pressure on it. Designed as a series of open-ended sandbox chapters, Hoard requires a lot from the DMs who run it. This article is the first in a series to offer suggestions for running Hoard of the Dragon Queen for your own group either at home or as part of the D&D Encounters program. This article will offer tips for running the first chapter of the adventure, Greenest in Flames.
You can read all of our Hoard of the Dragon Queen articles here:
Greenest in Flames has a series of interconnected missions the PCs undertake throughout the long night. The authors of the adventure chose not to assign a specific order to these missions but, if ran in the wrong order, they could cause some confusion. Consider writing up your own loose outline of events and and let it evolve as the PCs undertake the missions. Here's an example order:
You might move or skip some of these missions depending on the choices of the PCs. As the Id DM mentions the adventure specifically mentions that you should pick and choose which missions you want to run. You can also add in some random encounters to keep PCs busy in between other bigger missions.
Greenest in Flames is one long series of encounters with no full rests in between. You'll want to make it clear to your players early on that they have a long night ahead of them and will want to conserve resources. You might also give them access to healers and healing potions inside of the keep. This will give them the much-needed hit points to face so many waves of foes.
Your players should feel like the PCs have been through a long night of constant and continual battles. They shouldn't feel like they are getting punished or you, as the DM, are purposefully holding them away from a long rest. Make sure you reinforce this wearing down as part of the story and clarify the risks of the invaders killing and capturing more townsfolk if they choose to rest.
The Greenest in Flames scenario is very difficult for level 1 PCs. With only a small handful of spells at their disposal, few hit points, and only one hit die for recoveries, the PCs might find it hard to last the night. You can handle this in a couple of ways. First, you can have them level up to 2 during the night which gives them some extra hit points, extra spells, and an extra hit die of recovery. You might also simply choose to start them at level 2 instead of level 1. Given the difficulty of the scenario, this won't make them too powerful. If they appear to have an easy time, add a couple of extra monsters or random encounters to the scenario. You'll find it won't take much to tax the PCs even if they are level 2.
Of all the encounters in Greenest in Flames, few are as difficult and memorable as the rat swarms in the tunnels. With high hit points, heavy damage resistances, and the potential for 4d6 damage on a critical hit, many share stories of the horrors of the rats.
These stories are the sorts that players will remember years later so don't nerf the rats too much. Just keep in mind that the rats can be quite lethal. Give your players a chance to experience the pain but still make their way out if things go poorly.
With such a big raid on the village, there's plenty of opportunities for random encounters. Even if the PCs avoid an encounter by rolling less than a 4 on the random encounter check, you can roll on the list to determine what recently traveled past here or what the PCs might hear happening nearby. For example, they might have avoided an encounter but might hear a group of villagers being perused by a number of cultists nearby. The PCs can try to help in a number of ways, through brute force or subterfuge or might decide to ignore it completely. Rolling to see what they would have run into is almost as much fun as an actual random encounter.
As you run Greenest in Flames, there are certain points you want to reinforce. You can read these points in the section called "Prisoners" but this might not be the only time the PCs may hear of them. They might come up as bits of conversation overheard between kobolds, mercenaries, and cultists for example. Read over these bits of knowledge early and give hints of them throughout the night.
You will also want to introduce both Langdedrosa Cyanwrath and Frulam Mondath. The party should get a glimpse of them surrounded by a large force of cultists and kobolds as they command the raid. The PCs might also overhear kobolds, cultists, or mercenaries discussing these key NPCs.
Besides killer rat swarms, there are two scenes in Greenest in Flames in which the PCs are placed in nearly unbeatable situations. The first occurs when the adult blue dragon, Lennithon, attacks the keep during "Dragon Attack". Lennithon is lethal. A single breath attack can drop and likely kill any level 1 or 2 PC it hits, even on a successful saving throw. You'll want to make this clear to your players before any of them decide to be superheros and rush the dragon. Its fear aura alone might shake the resolve of the PCs. If you choose to have Lennithon land and confront the PCs directly, consider having it use its lightning breath on an NPC such as Castellan Escobert the Red. This way, if the PCs do engage, they're only likely to get knocked down with claws and bites.
Negotiating with Lennithon is a much more likely solution to the problem. In order to negotiate, though, we DMs must know more about this blue dragon. Why is it here? What does it want? As written, the adventure doesn't give us much to work with. If we put our own minds to it, though, we can come up with some answers on our own. Here are a few thoughts about Lennithon's motivations:
This work is beneath Lennithon. Raiding a village isn't fun. This attack, frankly, is bullshit as far as Lennithon is concerned.
This battle has been going on for a while and Lennithon is getting tired of it.
Lennithon, like other blue dragons, is always on the lookout for a future thrall. Maybe it takes to the wizard or scholar in the group and demands a favor to be determined later.
Maybe Lennithon has an egg of its own in the hatchery that it wants back. It's not crazy about these cultists handling its eggs.
Maybe Frulam Mondath promised Lennithon a white sapphire called the Winter's Heart to engage in this attack but Lennithon believes Mondath will continue to hold the gem over Lennithon and Lennithon recruits the PCs to recover this gem.
Turning Lennithon from a villain into a quest NPC is a great way to potentially change the story around.
At the end of the attack, a half-dragon powerhouse named Cyanwrath demands a duel with a champion of Greenest. Assuming one of the PCs faces him, they're not likely to succeed. It's not a lethal encounter but it is a bit unheroic to be stomped into the mud by a blue half-dragon champion. There are two important points to reinforce as this duel takes place. First, Cyanwrath is likely to cut down any PC who stands up against him. Second, the PC who chooses to undertake it is a hero regardless of the outcome. You can clarify this by the somber thanks of Governor Nighthill as the PC steps out alone from the gates of the keep. They can see the effect of their heroic actions as the NPC family is released back to the keep unharmed. Choosing to face Cyanwrath is a worthy sacrifice, make sure to sell it as one.
Greenest in Flames is a great example of an open-ended series of events during a time of great conflict. Use the opportunity to let your players choose their courses of action and reinforce the constant threat of the cult of the dragon to fuel them up for the adventures to come.