Hoard of the Dragon Queen: The Story Thus Far…

Inn of the Trolls
Inn of the Trolls

We’re adding two new members to our weekly D&D campaign, so our DM wrote this “what has happened until now” to catch them up. Since I’ve been pretty inconsistent with chronicling our adventures, I got permission to repost it here :)

The party came together as hired guards for a merchant caravan that was heading through a town called Greenest. Upon reaching Greenest, the party found that the town was in the process of being sacked. The merchant wanted nothing to do with this, turned around, and left the players to either follow or to assist the town. Being good adventurers (and otherwise ending the game before it began), the party opted to sneak around the periphery to recon the area.

It seemed that Greenest was beseiged by some kind of dragon cult comprised of kobolds and humans, some in cult regalia, and many in standard armor. The party helped a family reach the town’s keep, and met Governor Nighthill and his chief of security Escobert the Red. Neither knew why they were under attack, but they tasked the players (being skilled adventurers) with venturing outside of the keep to round up as many wayward villagers as they could to bring back to the keep.

Through several forays through the village, the party A) destroyed part of a mill, B) rescued many villagers from a fortifed church, and C) found themselves with a strange case of missing time after a botched attempt to introduce some freestyle RP into the game. Ultimately, the raiders massed outside the keep and one of their leaders — a half-dragon named Langdedrosa Cyanwrath — challenged a champion to a duel before they left. Gina, the party’s dwarf fighter, accepted, and while she held her own, she was ultimately cut down, and the raiders left.

After patching up the dwarf, Nighthill presented a young monk who was in a state of panic. His friend and mentor, Leosin, had gone missing, and was suspected of having either been captured by the raiders, or had followed the raiders to their camp. These monks, it was explained, were investigating this dragon cult, and the missing monk was painted as a bit obsessed. The party was asked to track the raiders, scout the camp, find the monk, and maybe recover some of the villager’s valuables.

The party tracked the raiders to a canyon where the cultists had set up camp. During the after-raiding party, the adventurers were able to slip into undetected, but quickly blew their cover when they got a bit over-aggressive with some of the locals. Soon they found themselves captive, and held beside the elven monk that they had been sent to rescue. Thankfully, one of the party was able to slip his shackles and free the others, but as they started their escape, the elven monk opted to stay behind, promising to meet up with the party back in Greenest.

Once back in Greenest, Nighthill wanted to know exactly what the hell was going on in that camp. Back to the camp the players went. The place was now empty, but this allowed the players to investigate the mysterious cavern they had seen kobolds trucking goods into when they were here last. Ultimately, they discovered several unhatched dragon eggs, but opted to leave them alone and report back to Greenest.

Turns out that they had passed Leosin at some point, as he had returned to Greenest but had set out immediately for [I forget the name of the town!] where he wanted to meet the players once they had rested and resupplied.

Off to [I forget the name of the town!] the players rode. Upon arrival, they met with Leosin and a compatriot of his, a paladin of Torm named [Yeesh…I forgot his name too]. The Paladin was interested in carousing around the town, and dragged the players with him until it was time to get serious. He told the players that he and Leosin — who was a Harper — and others are concered about this dragon cult. They’ve been moving eastward, ransacking towns and villages and carting off their valueables to Torm knows where. A late breaking lead suggested that the Greenest cultsts were headed down-river to Baldur’s Gate, and were then establishing a caravan north to Waterdeep. Leosin and his Pal-adin (!) asked the players to take a chartered boat down the River Chionthar to Baldur’s Gate, hire themselves into whatever caravan the cultists were a part of, and find out where this treasure was headed, and why.

It was during the three day trip that the players got to relax, eat a lot, get attacked by the orchestra, and reconnect with old flames who for some reason where on this same ship headed in the same direction, but which have absolutely no relevance to the overall plot as specified in the “Hoard of the Dragon Queen” modele from Wizards of the Coast (all rights reserved).

In Baldur’s Gate, the players got themselves a job as protection for a “prefers the company of animals” merchant who is one of several wagons and carts headed to Waterdeep. Three of those carts were recognized as being staffed by cultists, so the players knew they were in the right place.

After several nights of travel, they happened upon their first inn while struggling against a rather nasty rain and thunderstorm. As luck would have it, it was not crowded. As un-luck would have it, the entire place had been booked by just four men who were mightily amused at the angry faces the players were making when they tried to secure rooms for themselves and their fellow caravan mates. This ended in a bloody brawl which saw three of the mysterious men dead, and one severely wounded and begging for his life.

D&D: On the road again!

Trouble at the Inn
Trouble at the Inn

Since last I wrote of our adventures, we nearly met death in a dungeon guarded by a half dragon and a roper… which was pretty exciting. It was there that I learned that even immobile creatures will move to prevent Cloud of Daggers from hitting them. It was there I first learned that ropers — creatures that mimic stalagmites — can move, actually.

Deadly creatures. I’m even looking at kobolds with new respect. And I say that as one who uses a kobold costume as part of her famous traveling show, “The Kobold and the Kanary”. Not a misspelling — Kanaries are like canaries, except with scales instead of feathers. and they weigh three tons.

Once we’d limped back to Greenest with news as to the fate of the kobolds and cultists who’d pillaged the city, we were sent to Baldur’s Gate to join a caravan and learn more of the cultists. We opted to take a steamship down the Chionthar River on its way from Scornubel. Well, you know what they say about Scornubel. It’s nice, but it’s no Baldur’s Gate.

The steamship ride wasn’t without its own drama. My inspired hurdy-gurdy rendition of the Sacking of Greenest was getting rave reviews from the audience until the bassoon player clubbed me from behind. You know, I guess I should have expected it. Jealousy is such a terrible thing. Of course I was wearing my kobold costume — and it would have made sense if I’d been ALLOWED to continue. I imagine my adoring public was livid at not being able to appreciate the rest of my performance. But then, Gina got accosted by an old lover of hers, and her love’s family had some objections, yadda yadda yadda, long story short, we were asked to disembark.

Looking for a reason to join the caravan to Waterdeep, we attended a mercenary job fair/speed dating event. Still a little wobbly from the assault upon my person by Mister Bassoon, I wasn’t able to get us a good posting, but Gina or Zalandrin did get us a job guarding the wagons of a shrill harridan — an Elf, of course, if you needed to ask.

We were flush with cash after earning so many rewards and having so few places to spend it, before now. My cabin boy Ellryn bought a pony and a good supply of healing potions; everyone else did the same. Instead of healing potions, though, I went to the local luthier and found there a cittern which was said to be magical. A cittern? Well, of course, we did study citterns and other lute-like instruments at Bard College, but the hurdy-gurdy, the traditional music of my home in the Stripscrew Caverns… ah, what the heck. Maybe it was the bassoon talking, but I traded the hurdy-gurdy and most of my gold for this cittern.

We left early the next morning. Everyone was quiet and a little grumpy. I dozed off and felt a sudden psychic link with my cittern… a vision where I met people dying on a battlefield… I tried to help but could not, but then I did, and I understood my cittern’s charm. It was the Cittern of Mac-Fuirmidh (pronounced “furmy” as far as I can tell), and could not only act as a mean spell focus, but could cure wounds once a day. Nice!

Te road to Waterdeep wended through some pretty seriously named territory. We were trying to keep an eye on the wagon carrying cultists, some of whom we recognized from the cultist camp. We didn’t want to be recognized by them… One evening, it began to rain in sight of a large inn. Well, we just had to go see if we could get out of the rain.

Unfortunately, though the inn seemed to be nearly empty, the proprietor regretfully informed us that there were no available rooms. He gave a little side-eye at four nobles muttering insolently from one of the few tables that had any customers. Never one to be shy, I had the innkeep send them a round, on me, and dragged up a chair to join them.

The nobles weren’t having any of it. I guess we amused them, somehow. Every time we tried to get a conversation going, they just got nastier and nastier. Eventually Mom came in (Mom is what we call our Elf boss) and started yelling at us for not properly caring for her horse, not believing us when we said our imaginary druid was in fact taking care of all our horses right then! After a couple more remarks from the noble peanut gallery, she started yelling at them, too! Other caravaneers started filtering in, also unable to get rooms, and just stood around smirking at this display.

Something Zalandrin said struck a nerve with the nobles, and the nobles pulled out their swords. Zalandrin drew his, and I guess the time for words was over.

Zalandrin went all elf on the nobles as only elves can. Gina swung her beard and axe with deadly purpose. Ellryn exploited his ability to get several attacks in per round to do some deadly damage. Me, I cast Sleep (to no effect), Cloud of Daggers (to no effect), and eventually just fell back to casting the occasional heal while plinking away with my crossbow. Ellryn and I got poisoned for our troubles; we both nearly died. Gina wasn’t looking too good, either. Zalandrin — I think he was okay. Somehow, we pulled through — narrowly.

Me, I just wanted a place to sleep. I was all for just going up and taking the first empty room we came to — and if the nasty nobles objected, well, that was on them. But I guess they just saw us as easy kills.

Hey, we’ve been killed by better than you, guys.

D&D 5e — Death Without Succor

Incident at the Barn
Incident at the Barn

It was an odd chain of coincidences, we thought — Escobert sends us through a secret tunnel, straight into a kobold and cultist ambush. Then he sends us to a mill — straight into a cultist and mercenary, this time, ambush.

————-

The burning mill behind us tossed our shadows at our feet as we dragged the prisoner to the edge of the forest. Losing the mill wasn’t really part of our plan, but … at least we were all still alive. And now we had a prisoner who could tell us… everything!

“I can’t tell you anything,” said the prisoner, as we stopped for a moment to let him catch his breath without a gag. He smiled as if finding himself dragged along a forest path was the most natural thing in the world. “I don’t know anything! They just hired us to…”

“They?” snarled Zalandrin. The wood elf ranger continued sharpening an arrowhead as he spoke. “They — who?”

“Toomi never told us! Why would he tell us anything? Benoro Toomi is the boss, he’s the only one that talks to clients. Nobody tells Korma Rham anything. That’s me. Rham the toad. Guard this. Kill that. Eat this. I’m only a mushroom in this outfit. Kept in the dark with my feet covered with shit.” The mercenary — Rham — seemed desperate to please. And to keep breathing.

Zalandrin stayed silent. Eager to please, Rham continued. “Look. We’re supposed to collect all the pillage. I can show you where. And introduce you to Toomi.”

Errwyn coughed. The forest gnome had been trying to get the prisoner’s attention for some time. “I’m sure you would like to introduce us to Toomi,” piped the gnome. “And his dozen closest friends. Like the ones with you at the mill.”

Rham shrugged as best he could, caught in Gina’s iron grip. “A job’s a job. Toomi tells us to sit around in a mill until some adventurers come calling, that’s what we do. We all gotta do what we all gotta do, right?”

“Riiiiight,” agreed Zalandrin. “Gag him.”

Gina gagged him. Rham winced as the dwarf pulled the gag tight, but made no further sound.

As we headed through the forest toward the sewer grate, we happened upon a patrol — three human guards and a cultist. Gina dropped Rham, who scurried to the safety of the nearest tree.

Gina smiled as she unlimbered her axe and swung it in a smooth circle through the collarbone of the nearest guard. I drew my rapier and finished the job. Bards can do some harm with words, but sometimes steel sings more sweetly. Errwyn leaped up and smashed a guard upside his head. Zalandin took the arrow he had sharpened and planted it through the neck of the cultist. Gina gave a guard and his arm a quickie divorce; he then felt a stabbing pain in his heart and fell. As I pulled my rapier free, I wondered is that’s all heart attacks really were; gnomes with long knives. Just trying to get home. The last guard made to run, but Errwyn changed his mind for him.

At the end, Errwyn was the only one who’d taken damage, but he was determined to continue.

“Who knows how many more of them we’ll find before we get back to the keep,” said Zalandrin. He glanced at me. “I could use a little help to find out.”

I nodded, took out my hurdy-gurdy and gave him a couple notes of inspiration. Refreshed, the elf faded into the dark. A moment later he dropped from a tree. “One more patrol, looking for the ones we slew outside the tunnel.”

I stood outside their torchlight and shouted some curses at them. This kept them mad enough that they almost missed Gina killing a couple while Zalandrin finished them off. I snapped my fingers and set the last guard’s hair afire. He went screaming for the river.

Our drunken cleric roused himself just enough to unlock the sewer grate that led back into the keep before he returned to his somnolent state.

Gagged, and with his head covered with a spare sack we had fished out of the mill, the prisoner stumbled before us into the keep’s cellars and up the stairs and ladders until we were standing once more before the red-bearded dwarf, Escobert.

“The mill?” asked Escobert, as he ripped the sack harshly off the prisoner’s head and let him have the full force of his stone stare.

“Blowed up, sir,” replied Zalandrin. “The cultists got there before us. It was all we could do to chase them away, and capture this one.”

“Well. I guess that ended as well as it could have. We’ll have words with our guest, shall we?”

Gina’s blood ran cold for a second. Rham will tell them what really happened, she thought. As if following her thoughts, Rham looked at the fighter and gave her a slow, obvious wink.

We sat down for a short rest. I took out my baubles and bits and made a little wind-up rat. I felt better. I get restless when my hands aren’t working the hurdy or fixing something broken.

The cleric found a bottle somewhere and soon had it emptied. He fell into a drunken slumber with his back against a wall, and refused to be awoken when Rham, Escobert in tow, walked up to us, a catlike smile plastered across his somewhat bruised face.

“He’s what he seems to be,” said Escobert, nodding at the mercenary. “He couldn’t tell us what the cult wants with Greenest. I’ve had scouts reporting back with tales that the mercenaries are collecting their pillage in a barn on the northern side of town. Rham here says he can get you there. I know we have no call to send you back into danger, but we could all die if we don’t get some answers, and soon. That dragon isn’t going to hold back forever.”

Zalandin snorted with disdain. “Bring that snake with us? I think not. How many innocents have you killed — Sir Snake?”

Rham’s eyes widened. “Why, none. We’ve killed nobody. We’re not here to kill. We’re here to …. to loot. Cause a little fuss. That’s all.”

Gina shrugged. “We’ll do it,” she said. “Right after we deal with this killer. We saw your cultist friends trying to slice up a family — that’s them over there. They’d be dead if we hadn’t come by. Kill this murderer, and then we’ll get your mercenary lieutenant for you.”

Gina didn’t fight too much when the rest of us urged her to let him live. Killing on the battlefield is one thing — but the gods don’t react kindly to outright murder. There was no possible way we’d be taking the prisoner back to his friends, though. That would be worse than wrong — that would be stupid.

Rham shrugged and went to find something to eat as we descended again into the sub-basement, and through the tunnel to the sewer grate. We circled the town toward the north and soon came to the barn.

It was well guarded, with three mercenaries in front, clearly on the lookout for some adventuring party not unlike ourselves. Around back, two more guards stand near a rear door. Zalandrin asked me to make a distraction for him. I snapped my fingers, and a stream of gold coins dropped from a tree branch and piled themselves on the ground.

The guards didn’t miss this odd sight. One pounded on the door. A guard inside stuck out his head, the guards exchanged quiet words, the guard pulled his head back and shut the door.

The other guard waited a moment, then unslung a crossbow, lit a bolt from a wall torch, and fired it into the forest. It struck a nearby tree, which immediately began to burn. I extinguished it with a word.

Gina and Errwyn spotted the other guard sneaking around to the west. Screaming a challenge, they startled the guard and soon had him dead. Zalandrin shot the other. Wounded, the other guard fled into the barn.

The three guards from the front ran up on the west side of the barn. Gina and Errwyn stood ready. Three other guards snuck up from the east, taking Zalandrin by surprise.

Zalandrin emptied his quiver, then dropped his bow and drew his swords. As they fought, I did what I could, darting in with a strike, setting hair on fire when I had a breath, but it was clear things were not going well. Zalandrin is a deadly fighter, but three at once is much even for him.

There was yelling from the barn. I left Zalandrin to check it out — as Zalandrin fell, I entered the barn and saw it empty except for three people tied to a pillar, screaming as their flesh was ripped away by flames. Flames which had spread to engulf the entire interior. Of the guard leader and the loot, nothing remained. I ran out of the fully open front door as I heard Zalandrin’s last attacker enter the barn behind me.

As I ran to help Errwyn and Gina, the barn collapsed, killing that guard.

Errwyn staggered as I arrived, falling dead on the ground. Gina managed to kill the last guard. Bleeding freely from a dozen cuts, she still stood, grinning for a moment before remembering Errwyn’s sacrifice. It was too late for the forest gnome — he was dead. He’d fought bravely, and died bravely.

Gina tenderly lifted Errwyn’s small body, and we ran to find Zalandrin. He was unconscious — but alive. We suddenly remembered that Escobert had given us health potions and used one on the elf. Coughing, he spit out some blood and managed to stand. He looked at Errwyn’s body and said nothing.

“Back to the keep,” he said. We headed back, devastated at our failure and loss.

D&D 5e: Grist for the Mill

Mill map
Mill map

Spend enough time in a kobold suit, and you begin to understand them, a little. The sideways sneers from those who don’t understand. All the gnomes in the lab calling you a “scaly”. But you need to really know your enemy in order to truly ridicule them.

Honor them, I mean.

Really, two sides of the same cognozzle, right?

We’d snuck up to a mill, the mill that the red-bearded dwarf had sent us to protect moments ago, though it seemed like weeks since we’d left the keep and battled the cultists outside the tunnel grate.

Human cultists lurked outside the mill, waving torches around but being careful not to singe the mill itself. We thought that was slightly strange.

Ellwyn, the shadow that walks like a forest gnome, suggested he cast a minor illusion to … but, he had no fleece. The drunken cleric, Dan Cain, smiles, whispered a prayer, and in his place suddenly stood the twin to one of the cultists we’d killed by the river. He asked someone to light his torch; I lit it with a word and a gesture with prestidigitation.

The Cain Cultist walked down the hill to a cultist guarding the east side of the mill. The cultist seemed a little shocked to see Cain Cultist. Cain Cultist learned from the real cultist that the whole mill was an elaborate trap designed to lure in and destroy a rogue band of adventurers. The three cultists outside are a decoy; within the mill are ten cultists and warriors. Any adventurer who steps inside… is dead.

Cultist Cain nodded, held up his hand, and charmed the real cultist. He ordered him to go inside and let the ambush folks know that the new cultist outside had been ordered here by the commander, Althorn, without any explanation as to what to do once here.

Meanwhile, the drunken cleric doused his torch and returned to the rest of us, still on the hill, by the light of his glowing gate key.

Well, Cain Cultist is clearly inspired by the cultist’s news: We should burn the mill and go soothe our parched throats at the nearest tavern. I think that Escobert set up this overly elaborate ruse to trap and kill us all, far from sight of the townfolk.

Zalandrin, our woody ranger, implored the drunken cleric to let him talk to the real cultist, who’d by this time finished in the mill and was back at his post. Down they went. The ranger looked in a window, saw nothing unusual — except a suspicious ladder leading up to a loft, on which he could dimly see, at the limits of his darkvision, some shadowy forms.

The charmed cultist helpfully explained all the death waiting in those lofts. Zalandrin’s prehensile ears suddenly lean toward the river. What is that… noise? The cultist ran to see, unable to stop Zalandrin’s sword from spitting his heart from behind.

The cultist’s last words were: Dude. That’s low.

Well. If we’re killing cultists, I wanted to play. I followed the shadows down the hill, and walked up beside the wall. The poor light, the flickering torches and the idiocy of the cultists let me get close enough to summon a quick breeze to extinguish the torch held by the nearest cultist.

Jig was up. Not my favorite kind of jig. The cultist dropped his darkened torch, yelled THEY’RE HERE! at the top of his formidable lungs, and ran off, taking his partner with him.

Taking that as a signal, Ellryn (the forest gnome monk) and Gina (the dwarf fighter) ran down the hill and joined Cultist Cain by the side of the mill, as Zalandrin passed them going back up the hill, ready to snipe any cultist that dared showed its head outside the mill.

The front of the mill, where I am, was unornamented, except for a dutch, er, dwarf, door. I snuck up and opened just the bottom half of the door, stuck my head inside — incredibly noisy. I heard nothing but the slow grinding of the mill stone. I set a fire burning brightly on a crate near the door. Was the creaking suddenly more creakingly? But… nothing. I stepped back out of the mill.

I really had no idea what I could do that wouldn’t get me turned into a particularly lovely gnome-cushion, but I needn’t have worried. The drunken cleric was on point. He used one of his torches to smash a windo, yelled that any ambushers that might or might not be lurking about leave or be set on fire, and tossed the torch through the window

The torch rolled around on the floor for a moment before igniting the flour dust in the air.

The resulting explosion… why, it reminded me of Introduction to Chemistry back at the gnome-versity. Brought tears and shards of stone to my eye.

The drunken cleric staggered out from the wreckage still largely intact, aside from his eyebrows.

Half the rear of the mill was blown away. The waterwheel collapsed into the river. The mill wheel shuddered to a stop as its mechanism was turned to tinder. Three dead humans fell from the destroyed loft, dead, and there was a hue and cry as the others jumped from the loft to the floor and started running for the river, through the new hole in the mill where the back wall once was.

One clever guard who tried for the front door, didn’t notice that only the bottom half was open and slammed into it, knocking himself out.

While Gina and Ellryn joined me at the door, Cultist Cain tried to douse the flames with flasks full of river water. Those guards that are neither dead nor unconscious made it to the river and floated or swam away. I hoped they took a moment to remove their heavy armor.

Finally, the cavalry came! Except, not really cavalry, because none of them had horses. A guard commander, a squad of militiamen and a patrol of archers showed up from nobody knew where, alarmed and aghast. We were supposed to PRESERVE the mill, not blow it up!

Zalandrin explained how the cultists had, faced with certain death at this band of first level adventurers, had blown up the mill themselves to cover their cowardly escape.

The militiamen form a bucket brigade with their helmets as they try to extinguish the still-burning mill. I do my part and extinguish the small crate fire I started.

The guard commander cursed the dark fate that left him no cultists to question. Well… as it happened… we had a guard knocked out in the mill, still, only a little worse for wear.

Finally, the guard captain said, a bright spot! We should rush the cultist back to the keep while the militia stays behind to save the mill.

Cultist Cain seems reluctant, until we remind him that if there’s going to be ale anywhere in this town, it would be at the keep.

That does the trick.

Cultist Cain took a look at me still in my kobold costume and promised to burn it off me. I promised that if he did, every ale he drank would taste like piss. And that would not be a metaphor.

——

I’d worried how we were going to handle such a superior force. None of us really wanted to burn down the inn — since the mission objectives were pretty explicit about not burning it down. In the end, though, it worked out. The mill is damaged, but most of the supplies they’d had stored there survived. Luckily for us, the militia were all too willing to believe that the cultists would try to destroy the mill.

It’s clear we’re not going to be a lawful good group :-)

After the adventure, we discussed choosing a leader for the group and settled upon Zalandrin as the best choice. We succeeded tonight, but everyone was still pretty much acting on their own. In a roleplay sense, perhaps it’s understandable that we are only now coming to know and trust each other and to understand what each of us brings to the group. But, now it’s time to coordinate.