Friday, April 3, 2015

Hoard of the Dragon Queen Chapter 3 - ZzzzzZ

I've fallen way, way, waaay behind on this adventure log. In fact, at this moment of writing, we're well into half of the second book, yet I just stopped updating this stuff after the first two chapters of the first book. Why? I'll tell you. With a few exceptions towards the end, the first half of this adventure part stinks. 

It simply became such a huge lackluster that I couldn't be assed updating it anymore; for a while seriously contemplating starting out on a Paizo AP and improvise from there.


Yet, I feel I owe it to this blog and the sake of memory to complete what we started; at least so I can get started writing about the pure awesomeness that is the second book. But keep in mind that this stuff was played almost a year ago; meaning I'll have to stick to a review-format rather than a journal. Which is likely okay, anyway.

So, let's go on with chapter 3: Dragon Hatchery!


“There and back again”

As I spoke about in the last chapter, the adventure has a really strange sense of railroading in its early steps, somehow making me wonder whether the authors ever tried GM'ing that much before? In particular, I refer to the heroes arriving at the bandit camp, disguised, in chapter 2 and snooping around for the captured monk Leosin. This is all well and good, but there's an abundance of invisible walls the players really have no chance to guess are there. For example, there's a tent in which the leaders assemble and a cave mouth that's also forbidden. The fluffy explanation is “no trespassers!” - the technical explanation is “You must be THIS high of a level in order to enter”.

So what the heroes are supposed to do in the end of chapter 2, is to rescue Leosin, go back to Greenest , deliver him, which is where chapter three begins.


It starts out with Leosin sending you back to the camp to investigate the caves.

Yes. You read that right.

Those caves you were by all means interested in, that piqued your curiosity; the lesson we all know that great stuff happens in places you're not allowed to go? And after countless attempts, and likely a few deaths or bruises; you realized was not going to happen?

NOW you can. Yes, on your way.


If you're running the adventure as written, there's little way around this. You can allow the heroes to enter prematurely and likely have their ass handed to them, especially if someone manages to raise the alarm.

Ironically, the adventure doesn't include information about one of the most obvious paths: the heroes staying with the cultists, undercover, and following them as they set off? Instead, they're forced to babysit the monk back, so the setup for the rest of the road can be arranged. Again, I can't shake the feeling that this is written for people entirely new to this genre.

What I did: My heroes decided to simply kick Leosin on his way, which he of course wasn't pleased with, but he crawled his way back home. They remained behind, and to me there are two options for you as a GM if this happens.

A) The heroes are ordered to remain back at the hatchery, guarding it along with the denizens of the dungeon. They may scoop up some information about the heading of the cult and all its treasure, which is still just “North. Hail Tiamat!” - I went with this approach, and though it's still railroading, it's not a direct slap in the face with “NO! SHAME ON YOU AND YOUR SILLY IDEAS!”

B) Let the heroes travel along and skip directly to chapter 4. Fuck it, I regret not taking this route somehow, and just awarding them the full XP needed to progress and skip the stupid dungeon. Let the entire next chapter start on the road and let some other people join up with the cultists along the way. You can always introduce Frulam and the dragon guy later, if you want to. They don't get to meet Leosin and Frume, but what little roleplaying these provide is negligible anyway.

“The originality of this place has been fouled...”
But let's stay at this, as written, since this is a review after all.

The heroes return to the camp, only to realize it's been deserted. On the good side, the cave-expansion has finally arrived, and besides from a little roleplay they can do with the passing rangers or ransacking the remains of the camp, there's very little to do besides from entering.

Now, this is a dungeon. You've likely figured this out by now. I usually pride myself in being very, very forgiving about unrealistic layouts and designs of dungeons, mind you, but even this one blew me kind of away. It's not that it's bad per se (see Shackled City, for great candidates in that regard) – it's just boring. And apparently, its' very dangerous business being a cultist of the dragon around here. 

The adventure manages to justify some of the lethal elements, such as the cultists knowing the right path through a garden of dangerous fungi, but others are just hard to believe. Such as the only road into the food-storage is through a huge cavern full of bats and a swarm of hungry stirges. Apparently, whenever the cultist wish to fetch more food, they need to succeed on a DC10 Dex check? Also, the “door” inside is trapped, and several places on the floor as well by Kobold design. I can accept that strongholds and lairs are guarded and dangerous, but you have to believe someone could live here. 

And this is stretching it a lot.

"I enter the cavern and make a Perception check!"
On top of that, there's no original element to this dungeon. This gets progressively better as the adventure path moves on, I must add, but holy damn; they set the bar low. Most of the rooms are simple encounters, and while they're challenging for a party at that level, they're far from memorable.

The main antagonist is the cultist, Frulam Mondath and perhaps her right hand; the half-dragon, Langdedrosa (again reminding us that the writers used a bag of Scrabble when making names for this adventure path). I'm strongly empathizing “PERHAPS” here.

You remember Langdedrosa? The big, blue half-dragon that appeared at the end of chapter one and actually made for the first memorable villain? And likely the one who splattered some party member, seeing how he's several power levels above him or her?
It's not, however, entirely impossible that some player managed to roll 'that roll' against him and perhaps even splattered the scaly abomination across the streets of Greenest. Highly unlikely, but not impossible. Good for you.

 Only, the adventure doesn't want it to be that way. In fact it writes, that if Langdedrosa is slain, another half-dragon takes his place in the dungeon. But wait, the madness doesn't end there. In fact, no matter whether the heroes disguise themselves or run in, guns blazing, he attacks when he spots them. Talk about no room for improvisation, no feeling of accomplishment, no rewards for thinking outside the box.


 What I did:
If the heroes manage to kill him off, Landedrosa is gone. Period.

You can greatly speed up the dungeon by simply leaving out the boring encounters. If you want to make it more interesting, throw in a troll or an ogre-cook, like I did, who stayed behind in the meat chamber. Allow the heroes to interact with the cultist and Frulam if they remain undercover, but stress that the eggs will hatch within a month or so, after which they will have further instructions.

You can present them with the information that 'everyone is going north to the usual meeting place' – even players should be wise enough not to pry further for information than that.

Allow the heroes to witness the dragon hatchery and the eggs; maybe one of the eggs has gone into early hatching and the heroes have the chance to acquire their own black dragon whelpling? Think of the possibilities of that.

“Now, isn't this a surprise?”
My heroes stormed through the dungeon without much issue. Once they'd smashed the heads of the leaders, they found documents on her table, describing how the cultists journey north to an unknown destination. A note describes some place called Nerytar, however, and while the adventure doesn't say much about making knowledge checks for that name.

What I did:
Allow the heroes to make knowledge checks about that name; history is obvious.
If they succeed on a DC 10, they know it's the name of a long abandoned castle out in the swampy areas north of Waterdeep.
If they succeed on a DC 15 or higher, you can pretty much tell them about how the castle was originally built by a half-elf wizard, on the edge of the Mere of Dead Men. He later abandoned it, though, and a group of stargazers moved on. This group hasn't been heard from in several years, and to this day, people assume the castle is empty.
If they suceed on a DC 20 or higher, you can pretty much relate as much of the story as you wish from page 45 in the adventure. The heroes won't arrive at the castle till much later, though, so they may want to take notes.

This ends the chapter, again with some railroading, since the heroes are now supposed to go back to Greenest and talk to Leosin, who will then send them on to another town to meet with his paladin friend. Yet, what if the players decide to make haste and set after the cult? Wouldn't this seem wise? What if they want to track them; after all – such a huge group can't be that hard to follow?

I suggest you allow this to happen, if you want. The meeting in the beginning of the next chapter has next to zero significance for the heroes and the story; instead let the players track down the cultist caravan, infiltrate it or simply join up in whatever ways they can think of, and move on with Chapter 4: On the Road.

Summing up:
Chapter three is likely the worst chapter in the entire adventure path. It's boring, unoriginal, uninspiring and unrewarding towards creative thinking. Move on with it and hurry on to chapter four, which is at least a bit more creative.

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