We had our weekly Dungeons & Dragons night last night, and I will admit that was concerned in the run-up. My plan had been to retcon the previous session’s disaster, returning the monk to life and converting the failed mercenary sub-plot to the resolution of “The Prisoner” section from the first chapter of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen. We’ve been in this chapter for several weeks now, and personally I was looking for a way to just end it. I had planned on running the final scenario, but things took an exciting turn.
First off, I reiterated what happened before the things that happened last: the players had “saved” half the mill, and had taken a prisoner back to the keep for interrogation. They took a short rest, and that’s where things needed the change. This time, Escobert and Nighthill approached the players camp to keep with information, to them in the loop.
Nighthill expressed his appreciation to the players, telling them that he knows that they got caught up in this dreadful situation, and have been awesome by putting their lives on the line to help out. Most importantly, he assured them that they’d be compensated for their time and effort.
Escobert relayed the tactical situation. The prisoner revealed that the cult’s plan was essentially to drive all the people from their homes to the keep through a “shock and awe” campaign of numbers and terror, which would allow them to ransack the village for all valuables they could carry. The soldier didn’t know why, exactly, the cult needed these valuables, except that it had something to do with a ritual they were planning. Escobert expressed his discomfort with this, because the cult had a camp only a day’s march away, and if this ritual needed an entire town’s worth of valuables to complete, chances are it wasn’t going to be limited to a local tea party. It could have dire ramifications for the whole region. On the bright side, they all learned that the cult would be moving on once they collected as much as they could, which could be anywhere from an hour to eight hours from that point. There was a light on the horizon, so they had a few options at this point. They could sit tight in the keep, wait it out, and hope that any villagers who weren’t inside the keep had found safety, or they could continue to attempt search and rescue missions in the town to bring people back to the fortress.
The players opted to keep fighting the good fight. Escobert mentioned that villagers might be holed up in basements, barns, or the temple to the southeast, since it’s the second largest building and also the second strongest building in town. I was super excited that the players picked the temple to go to out of other potential sorties because the temple is actually one of the missions in the first chapter! It’s also the most difficult mission in the first chapter.
The temple is surrounded by a low fence which only demarcates the property, so the players approached from the southwest to find the temple surrounded. At the front, a contingent of cultists and kobolds were trying to use a battering ram to knock down the front door. At the back, another set of cultists and kobolds were trying to smoke the villagers out by burning the back of the building, but were only successful in creating a large, low lying cloud of dark smoke. The worst part, however, was the massive parade of kobolds and cultists that were circling the temple like some kind of Forgotten Realms Mardi Gras, barking and hollering and rough-housing in either celebration of intimidation. With them were two squat, muscular attack drakes on harnesses…really nasty.
Shit got real when the players opted to wait until the procession moved to the far side of the building, at which point the party quickly and silently moved in, one by one, using the smoke to conceal their presence. The rolls had never been hotter, as I think only a single attack missed, and the kobolds and cultists in the smoke were cut down before they could get their bearings to mount a counter-attack.
Unfortunately, we had lost one player due to fatigue and technical difficulties, and another player had to leave the fray early. I was exceedingly pleased with how everything went, from the organic progression of the plot, to the rolls, to the speed with which the encounter was resolved (we didn’t use tactical this time), to the decision making process the players went though to quickly and decisively start what is certainly the most difficult encounter in the first chapter. I was sad that we had to close up shop so early, but it’ll give me a week to think on the rest of this encounter, because now the players have to find a way to get the villagers OUT of the temple while avoiding the literally dozens of cult members that are mere moments from bashing down the front doors.