by Mike Shea on 15 December 2014
This article continues our look at running Hoard of the Dragon Queen.
You can read all of our Hoard of the Dragon Queen articles here:
In this article we look at the second part of episode 4, a chapter called "On the Road". In the first part, our heroes traveled from the Dragon Hatchery back to Greenest, than Eltruel, and finally to Baldur's Gate. At this point, our band of adventurers has joined (or started) a caravan headed north from Baldur's Gate, up the Coast Way, past Dragonspear Castle, through Daggerford, and finally to the city of Waterdeep.
Like previous articles, this article is packed with spoilers so if you're planning to play this chapter or this adventure, please skip it.
Typical storytelling would have us describe every connection from scene to scene in this adventure but sometimes it's fun to just take a big jump in the timeline. We don't even need to stick in a montage.
For example, at the next session after the PCs have left Baldur's Gate, jump a ten-day ahead. The PCs already know the NPCs in the caravan. They've already had some adventures, friction, and clashes of personality. Instead of introducing NPCs, describe what the PCs already know about the NPCs. Who has proven annoying? Who has proven helpful? What else has already happened along the way?
Start each session in this chapter right in the action. Roll a perception check and, based on the result, the PCs already picked out the hobgoblin ambushers ahead or, on a failure, the ambush has already begun. Skip the boring parts and go right into the action.
This chapter is packed with NPCs. There's a list of twenty side characters in addition to the two main NPCs for this chapter. You certainly don't want to introduce them all but you can pick a few that you think will resonate with the PCs and the journey. Keep a handy reference of these NPCs so you don't constantly have to refer back to the book to remember their names. Here's an example list:
You should develop your own list of NPCs and alter them to fit what fits best in your own game.
While there is a good list of small events that take place in this episode, you might instead use this opportunity to run your own side quests. Does your group like to do a bit of dungeon exploring? Maybe the hobgoblin raiders in "Stranded" are actually part of a bigger band of the "Gray Spear" hobgoblin tribe who currently resides in an abandoned mine once ruled by a cruel human warlord who enslaved goblins to dig for silver.
This is a great way to add in some personal quests of the PCs. Build side-adventures that work off of their backgrounds and drives. Introduce some character-defining magic items. This part of the adventure is wide-open to put in your own stories, even if it means skipping the encounters listed in the adventure itself.
Good table props can add some fun to our game and for this game we can do so on the cheap to make some covered wagons to represent the caravan in which the PCs travel. All you need is a 3x5 card and some tape or a rubber band. Bow the 3x5 card into a U shape and then affix the tape or wrap it in the rubber band to keep it in that shape. When you set it on the table, you have a loose representation of a covered wagon.
At Gencon 2014, Steve Winter, one of the authors of Hoard of the Dragon Queen described a scene that has since been removed from the final adventure. Steve describes the event in this Tome Show podcast. You can hear it at the 43 minute mark. It was a favorite of theirs and even though it didn't make it into the final adventure, you could choose to run it yourself.
Here's the scene:
The road is completely blocked by 200 cultists of Loviatar, stripped to the waist and flogging themselves with whips and thorns in worship to the Maiden of Pain. They walk extremely slowly which could slow the caravan's passage along the coast way or the trade way. If the PCs threaten the cultists, they embrace the opportunity to be beaten, cut, and burned by them. The leaders of the cult, not quite fully embracing the desire for pain themselves, can be bargained with to lead their flock into a nearby thorn patch where they can roll around in servitude to their goddess or the PCs might convince them to head back into the viscious Troll Claw hills where great pain no doubt waits for them.
This chapter covers a ton of fantastic locations for the PCs to visit along the way. Consider using these locations as the base for your side adventures as the PCs make the journey. Here are a few suggestions:
The Fields of the Dead: This wasteland of former wars is a great place to host your hobgoblin attack. A nearby warren, mine, or ruined fortress could make for a great hobgoblin headquarters. Load it up with lore about the Fields of the Dead.
The Troll Claws: This swamp once held a watchtower controlled by an adventuring band known as the High Helms. The ghosts of the High Helms along with their serpent-bodied attackers may still reside there. Oh yeah, and don't forget the trolls!
Dragonspear Castle: If you've played Ghost of Dragonspear Castle, this is a great time to weave in some of the results of that campaign into this one. If not, use this ruined castle to give a hint of a massive megadungeon riddled with portals to dark worlds. The PCs might have an adventure rescuing an attacked family of farmers from the clutches of demon-worshipping gnolls in an old Dragonspear graveyard.
Daggerford: Like Dragonspear, this is a great time to reintroduce some characters from the Scourge of the Swordcoast adventure. Is the body of the Red Wizard, Arvik Zaltos, still hanging in the town square? How is Sir Istival these days? Sir Istival plays a part in the next half of the Tyranny of Dragons adventure, Rise of Tiamat, so it's not a bad time to introduce him.
Waterdeep: The adventure ends in the mega-city of Waterdeep. This city will also play a big part in the next adventure so don't worry about too much of an introduction here but the party might get a good glimpse of it as they continue their journey on into Episode 4.
This chapter is, by far, the longest chapter in the adventure. Plan ahead and make it your own and your group can have a great time as they make their two month journey north. Keep an eye out for our next guide on running Episode 5: The Carnath Roadhouse!