Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Hoard of the Dragon Queen - Castle Naerytar
I realized over the week that I should be using the new minis for this game. I should have bought a bunch of cultists from the new set for the early episodes, as well as a few guard drakes (which are very cool minis). I picked up 3 minis tonight - a drake, a red wizard (to use for Azbara Jos and Rath Modar) and the Rezmir mini.
I plan on grabbing the dragons to use as they appear in this storyline.
A lot of characters hit level 5 last week (thanks to me overloading them with XP). There is a big difference between level 4 and level 5. The rogue can take half damage from one attack each round, and the paladin now has 2 attacks per round.
My goal for tonight was to get the PCs to Castle Naerytar and to begin playing out that scenario. I also wanted to inject some of the cool Mere of Dead Men concepts I came upon in this article by Ed Greenwood.
The heroes came upon a resting area with lean-tos used by the lizardfolk, who are transporting all of this treasure to the Castle. The adventurers decided to lurk in the swamp and watch the place. This paid off. Nine lizardfolk showed up in canoes to camp for the night.
The deal here is that one lizardfolk named Snapjaw begs to be spared. He wants to recruit the heroes for a sort of civil war in Castle Naerytar. I wondered going in if the group would just kill him or not.
They slaughtered the lizardfolk in a well-executed ambush and then they heard Snapjaw out and let him live. He told them about the situation at Castle Naerytar...
Sweet fancy moses, it took a long time to prepare this episode. A full castle with 3 floors and a basement dungeon, 4 major NPC villains and multiple factions. I will add more thoughts and cautionary tales in my Guide to Tyranny of Dragons.
But basically, as a DM you need to know this place like the back of your hand to run it the way they want you to. It's meant to be a location that the PCs can deal with how they wish - sneak/infiltrate, create friction, or hack through. The true goal here is that there's a portal in the basement that the PCs need to go through.
A lot of times as a DM I am just not up to the challenge when it comes to these kind of scenarios involving factions and a large locale. Often I kind of bail out and only really allow one route - usually hack and slash.
So what happened was that I showed the players the map as Snapjaw told them all about Castle Naerytar, and how the bullywugs were lording it over them and blah blah blah. He answered their questions about the layout of the castle.
The group, mostly kids, loved this. They seemed to be genuinely shocked that they could deal with the castle in any way they choose. They started comparing it to video games (Assassin's Creed, I think).
One of them got up and asked the store to photocopy my map so each player could have one. I was really not prepared for that. Then they put their heads together and excitedly plotted various routes.
I highly recommend adding this encounter in. I placed some swamp islands on the map and the heroes were in three separate canoes. The PCs had to decide if they wanted to spend an action rowing their canoe to dry land, or to try to fight on their shaky canoes.
It was a very good battle. The players were still consumed with the castle map, and plotted when it wasn't their turn to go.
There was a moment when Sparky the baby dragon was hit by a spear and attacked by a leech. The group freaked out.
The Baby Dragon
I made sure to play up how she fears one PC (Dark's dad, who at one time almost killed Sparky..!) and likes Dark and another rogue who treat him nice. Now the group sees that how they treat the dragon has consequences, and they're all trying to get Sparky to like them... except Dark's dad, who just wants it dead.
When Dark's player showed up tonight (she's a 4th grader), she showed me two drawings she did. One was of some chicken-person from some cartoon she likes. The other was of Sparky. She colored it grey, but the wings were multi-colored.
Recruiting the Lizardfolk
From there, the heroes met with some lizardfolk at a guard station on the way to the Castle. Snapjaw made his charisma roll and the lizardfolk signed on to this plan.
The group went to the castle and made their way to the lizardfolk lodges outside the Castle. The rolls were poor. The lizardfolk were not convinced that the heroes could help them defeat the bullywugs and their hated villain with the great name: Pharblex Splattergoo.
Then the PCs (with a bit of a hint from me) showed them the baby black dragon. The lizardfolk were in awe. They agreed to the plan.
Next week, the heroes are going to set the lizardfolk loose on the bullywugs in Castle Naerytar. They don't know it, but they'll have the opportunity to interact with the main villain Rezmir and/or Azbara Jos.
Overall it was another classic night. Every time I show up, everyone is already sitting at the table waiting for me politely. They pay attention and genuinely enjoy the game. I am hoping we can get all the way through this storyline before the next one starts.