Chapter 1: Greenest in Flames
First a bit of background info – the first chapter of Hoard of the Dragon Queen sees the party arriving in Greenest in time to see the Cult of the Dragon and their allies attack the town. I’ve made the town affiliated with the Caravan city Scornubel, which is itself part of Elturgard (both are too far away to give aid to Greenest obviously!).
Reading through this chapter was not a good start for me. The map of Greenest is missing the key, which would have been useful – I was able to figure this out to a certain extent later, but it wouldn’t have hurt. So here’s the key, according to my understanding of the Missions (see below).
- The Keep (Seeking the Keep)
- The Old Tunnel (The Old Tunnel)
- The Temple to Chauntea (Sanctuary)
- The Mill (Save the Mill)
Another thing the GM needs to be aware of is possession of the Monster Manual. Despite evidence to the contrary in the text, you will need it. The first time I ran it, you have to constantly keep referring back to the stats of Cultists, Acolytes, Kobolds etc. And they’re not detailed in the book, whereas the Dragonclaws and Drakes are.
Completion of Greenest in flames took two sessions of four hours. However, I decided to dispense with the missions to a certain extent so depending on the GM, the sessions could be shorter. See below for my thoughts on the missions part of the chapter.
Ideally one of the PCs should be friends or have a close relationship with Sergeant Markguth – perhaps he’s a lover/brother/father – and his family. As GM, weave in whatever soap-opera threads you can 🙂
For a start the keep is pretty heavily fortified in my game, and is pretty much keeping the town safe from the Dragon attacks by the fact that there’s quite a few ballistae mounted on its battlements, and Lennithon (the Dragon) is now wary of such things (see The Dragon below). They’re also pretty organised – given where they are, it’s not unknown for them to be attacked by monsters, Orc hordes, etc.
Okay. The PCs see Lennithon (and possibly the Cult forces) and think “Screw that!” and leg it. All is not lost: they either discover the camp in Chapter 2, or (more likely) blunder into it and get captured. Obviously they won’t get Chapter 1’s XP or milestone, but its a good way to get them on track –
Lennithon, the Blue Dragon is less than enthused about the raid itself. As a female blue Dragon mother, her eggs are currently sitting securely in the Dragon Hatchery (Episode 3). At least, until the PCs turn up… She’s young, cautious, and isn’t really all that interested in risking herself unnecessarily – she’s not getting any treasure or any real benefit from the raid. She already been badly scared by a ballista bolt that stung her quite painfully. If she takes 24 HP damage, she’ll retreat – in my game the PCs loaded a ballista with dwarf spirits 😉
Most of the time she’s using her breath weapon and frightful presence to terrify the Greenest defenders and distract them from the Cult’s raid. Her breath weapon is enough to kill a PC she hits so you may want to apply the Reign of Fire approach to a Dragon attack. While the dragons concerned breathe fire, the whole movie has some great ideas for staging dragon encounters (although the film features them as semi-intelligent beasts, albeit cunning ones).
Essentially, the Cult of the Dragon have “air superiority” in Greenest in Flames. The PCs would be wise to keep a low profile (see The Raid, below). If they don’t there’s a good chance some of the party won’t make it. That breath weapon is hard damage, and the dragon herself can easily pick up a PC and drop ’em. Even at higher levels a dragon attack is a terrifying event – there’s a huge variety of ways to kill incautious PCs.
To the Cult, this is a raid: a quick strike to seize valuables and retreat back to camp for the “Greater Glory” of Tiamat. They’re trying to cause as much chaos as possible to cover the fact that this is a grand larceny – it’s possible your players will figure this out on their own. Either way, throughout Greenest in Flames the Cult is going for “shock and awe” (or rapid dominance) – they’ve got a sodding Dragon! What they can’t steal they’ll burn, which will lead to a fair bit of “fog of war”. It’s chaotic, and the PCs may be able to “acquire” some cult outfits with a bit of stealth. If all else fails, when the group are sneaking through the smoke, Lennithon’s frightful presence suddenly looms out of the murk ahead…
Give all the players a chance to shine in the missions, or better yet, ignore the book and use the Missions as guidelines. Don’t get bogged down in running every encounter – let the PCs come up with their own ideas, then run with it – don’t railroad them. Use whatever plot hooks you’ve already got as leverage to get the PCs to engage the Cult (and avoid Lennithon!), perhaps in a heroic fashion.
I would have found the missions something useful if I was a new GM – but I chose to ignore them. The party had a vested interest in Greenest already, and interrogated a Cult of the Dragon member before they even got to the keep.
I bungled this somewhat, and let the PCs kill Cyanwrath (although its was hard-fought!). This guy (we’ll call Cyanwrath male for this) is an utter bastard. He’s tough, he’s a Half-Dragon and he’s a much higher level than the PCs. The PCs may not volunteer to fight him, but Sergeant Markuth definitely will. His breath weapon causes 4d10 damage and he won’t fight fair – although in my game, the Blue Dragonborn Paladin started it! – and cue the Star Wars duel moment when Markuth dies… I played Cyanwrath as a vicious sod who doesn’t really care about anyone or anything. He’s bored, and really wants to kill something slowly by degrees. He can very easily open a world of hurt on the PCs – if you don’t think your PCs are up to it (if they volunteer!), he offers to take on two or more of them…
Based on Chapter 1, I’m starting to understand some of the criticism – I’d have preferred a more gradual lead-in, especially given that some of the backgrounds enmesh you in certain plots (not just the Cult of the Dragons). As GM, it’s best to try and get the measure of your players: intrigue versus combat etc. So far though my players have enjoyed themselves when I winged it.