Back in the tavern, the rest of the party was under assault from the staff who were obviously trying to delay their departure. Never one to care about public opinion, the party got up and left their (questionably) fresh meal untasted in order to exit the tavern and meet up with the ranger. They agreed that they still needed to talk to the wheelwright, so the ranger stood guard in an alcove outside the tavern while the rest of the party stealthed their…wait, while most of the party stealthed their way across the dusty road to the wheelwright’s shop. The fighter was unable to silence the shink-shink-shink of her chain-mail as she walked, so when the barkeep poked his head out the door, he immediately swiveled towards the sound, noting the party’s progress before ducking back into the tavern.
The bard knocked on the wheelwright’s door, and the door flew open to reveal the proprietor standing ready with a heavy crossbow — leveled at human height. Upon noticing that the person at his door was a gnome, he adjusted his aim accordingly before realizing that he was being an ungracious host. The party was ushered inside, and the door was quickly barred.
The wheelwright wasted no time with pleasantries. He recognized trouble when he saw it: first when the Dragon Cult forcibly took over Parnast, and then again when the party rolled into town. He gathered that the two events were in opposition, so while he couldn’t say where Blunderbuss’ castle was flying off to, he did reiterate Talis’ assertion that the giant was accommodating the wishes of the Dragon Cult for reasons he did not know. But time was short; he was sure that the barkeep had sent a runner to Captain Whoosiewhatsis to tell him that the party had returned to town, and now that the Inner Circle of the Cult had literally flown the coop, the town militia would be unshackled from any pretense of decorum. Still, the wheelwright knew a way for the party to escape and catch up with the castle: the shuttered stables were maintaining two captive wyvern that the cult frequently harnessed and used to fly to the castle once it had taken off should Parnast need to send a message or delivery personnel. If the players could get the militia out of the stable, and then get in to the stable, they might be able to saddle up and chase after the Cult…assuming the wyverns didn’t shred them in the process.
+ + +
The last chapter of HotDQ is this module’s culmination of the first half of the Dragon Cult’s plans, and it’s fitting that it should be final-act worthy.
The idea of strolling into town like they owned the place belonged entirely to the bard, and the rest of the party followed suit because she was half-way there before they realized she was gone. All in all, the results would have been the same regardless of how the party approached it. By the wheelwright’s admission, half the villagers were cultists, half the remaining villagers were cult patsies, and the remainder of the people just kept their heads down and hoped that the next time the castle took off, it would take all the cultists and would never return. Had the party skulked around the periphery and reached the tavern, the spies in the tavern would have called for the guards and the party would have been escorted out of the village anyway.
Fantasy Grounds failed us, though, because the character sheets were a bit messed, up, and because the player maps are included at a scale to allow for tactical token use, they’re supermassive in scale. That means that any players with smaller or single monitors are going to be severely pressed for real-estate. It seemed that everyone was having trouble seeing the entire map because of this, which I think lead to a misunderstanding of the scenario options available. The drawbridge to the castle is visible on the map, but is down in the lower left corner which I suspect some people could not see. Had they been able to view the whole map, their plan might have been limited to “let’s stealth through the back yards and head for the castle”, and that would have been that.
Still, the presentation of the village was taken as a sign that it was important for something, or else why would it be included? In all honesty, players gained a little more backstory by passing through the village, but because the castle’s departure is on a timer (per the module), the village provides the exciting means for the players to catch up, in the form of the wyverns in the stable. The problem is, once the castle leaves, the authority figures are out of the picture and the Captain is free to run the place as he sees fit. That includes tracking down the players in the name of the Dragon Cult.
So now it’s a race between the angry search for the party, and the party’s attempts to break into the stables, subdue and harness the wyverns, and escape Parnast in pursuit of the giant’s flying fortress. It only gets messier from here on in.