Bill Heron: Gaming in Edinburgh and other RPG stuff

DND 5e

Running Greenest in Flames – Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Part 2

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).

  1. The Keep (Seeking the Keep)
  2. The Old Tunnel (The Old Tunnel)
  3. The Temple to Chauntea (Sanctuary)
  4. 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 🙂

The Keep

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.

Running Away

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 –

The Dragon

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.

The Raid

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…

The Missions

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.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen – Part 1 – Preparation

Prepping and running “Hoard of the Dragon Queen,”, the first part of Tyranny of Dragons took a bit of work on my part. The campaign itself has been reviewed elsewhere on the web, so I’m not really going to comment on the actual module itself, just what I did to make things workable for me, broken across a few parts by book chapter.

Character creation

Whew, D&D 5e character creation is far more straightforward than, say, Pathfinder. However as GM you still have to do a bit of work. As the PCs are unlikely to be in Greenest (but see the Hoard of the Dragon Queen Backgrounds below) it’s a good idea to work out why a group of 1st level characters may be travelling together. For this reason the first session was pure character generation and getting the group to interface (we were in a pub so it helped!). I decided to use the 4d6 (drop the lowest) method as the points-buy system just leads to “cookie-cutter” PCs.

I created a bunch of character sheet templates in form-fillable PDF format, based on the Wizards official sheet. They’re very useful for pulling a character down for a quick build if needed. You can download them here. This helped us get started pretty quickly and brainstorming into the why and wherefores of the characters.

Factions in Hoard of the Dragon Queen

The various factions mentioned in Hoard of the Dragon Queen are initially little more than a character back story tool, if you’re not planning an D&D Adventurers League game. They do provide some interesting colour though and possible plot hooks later. You can find out more at the D&D factions page. I left it up to the players to declare their allegiances or not.


There’s quite a few ideas for why the PCs may be in Greenest given at the back of the book. I gave them to my PCs as a “lucky dip”, but you may want to allocate them to specific characters if so inclined. They’re worth a look as some are very interesting as back story, as well as some of the traits.

I also decided against running an D&D AL (“Adventurers League”) game, as I’d like to have a bit more freedom and so did the players. I also created some variant backgrounds for the PCs, as did one on my players, Alex. Here’s the variants we came up with:

Courtier, Variant Noble

You were either born to power or have risen to a position of small political power at the court or political arena of your choice. You may not have the ear of the rich and powerful but you aspire to it. Instead of the Skill Proficiencies for Noble you instead choose to replace History with either Intimidation or Insight.

Failed Paladin, Variant Soldier Rank

From an early age, you always wanted to be a Paladin. You trained hard, were properly respectful of the Gods and when the time came, you were found wanting. For whatever reason you were not elevated to the status of a Paladin. Since then you try and make up for it by training harder than the others, and retaining your Faith (or not!). You are able to access Temple Precincts where your holy symbol is recognised. Possession: You carry a holy symbol and/or prayer book as well as the basic soldier kit.

Expelled Acolyte, Variant Acolyte

You were never that attentive during lessons at the Temple and if there was any trouble you were always the prime suspect. It was a matter of time until you got kicked out or ran away. Instead of the Skill Proficiencies for Acolyte you can choose to replace Insight with Deception.

Radical, Variant Sage

The Truth is out there. Everyone’s hides it but secret organisations run everything – the Harpers, Zhentarim, you name it.. You’re convinced they’re behind everything. Instead of the Arcana Skill Proficiency, you can replace it with that of Investigation

Inventor (created by Alex)

You always were handy with tools and you liked taking things apart and putting them back together. You made a living as a tinkerer, but always spent your time on thinking of and creating new ideas.

Skill Proficiency: Intelligence (Investigation); Wisdom (Perception)

Tool Proficiency: Tinker’s Tools, Jeweler’s Tools

Equipment: Abacus, Backpack, Bedroll, Traveller’s Clothes, Iron Pot, Various bits of metal (bearings, small gears, etc)

Feature: You have a tiny animal companion that you have constructed. It is in all ways like a normal animal, except you built it from gears, pipes, steam, and fabric. Occasionally it works.

Suggested Characteristics: There was always something more to understand about the world and how it worked. Inventors love taking things apart and putting them back together again. They have a natural curiosity and exuberance about the world.

d8 Personality
  1. I want to know what that is over there! And how this works! And how that happened!
  2. I know many secrets that I mustn’t tell, but I talk about them all the time, I just can’t tell them.
  3. I know that if I present myself in the latest fashions and present myself as a modern avant garde personality, people will take my inventions seriously.
  4. There’s no point to going out if you’re not having fun. Other people never seem to appreciate my jokes as much as I do.
  5. I don’t have a screw loose, but I might lose a screw. For my toast. I understand and they don’t.
  6. I’ll be rich, independently wealthy! Someday. I just need some investors.
  7. There’s only one way to test an invention, and that’s in the field during live fire. There’s nothing more invigorating than that!
  8. I don’t say much, ideas I keep to myself can’t be taken.
d6 Ideal
  1. Empowerment: I want to make the world a better place with my inventions. (Good)
  2. Order: There’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. (Lawful)
  3. Change: I want to change the world with my inventions. (Chaos)
  4. Stingy: I don’t want to share my secrets with anyone. My inventions are for me. (Unaligned)
  5. Tyrant: Once I’m powerful, I’ll be able to rule everyone who wronged me. (Evil)
  6. Liar: Well, if it helps you get the job done, you’ll say what needs saying. (Evil/Unaligned)
d6 Bond
  1. I know of a famous inventor out there that I’ll find someday.
  2. I once made an invention I carry, but I don’t know how to do it again. I’m afraid if I take it apart I won’t be able to figure out how to put it together again (Work with your DM to invent the device).
  3. I know that those people want their money, but they just don’t understand the difficulties with getting things done on time.
  4. One of my companions is your sibling or relative who’s looking out for me.
  5. I have a small child or baby in your charge.
  6. I’ve got an idea for the kind of laboratory I’m going to need, and so I’m travelling around looking for all the most important kinds of equipment. I’ve heard there’s a Forge of some kind near Phandelver. . .
d6 Flaw
  1. Only the results are important. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
  2. You just borrowed all that money/that energy source/that device. I’m going to return it when I’m done with it.
  3. I’ll betray my closest friends for success and fame.
  4. I’m actually really lazy and don’t like doing the work required to be a successful inventor, instead I exploit people at every turn.
  5. I have deviant and illegal tendencies.
  6. Someone stole one of your inventions and has been using it in the commission of crimes. And now they are hunting you for it.

Common & Local Knowledge

It’s not mentioned anywhere in the book but as GM, you need a little bit of background in the Forgotten Realms to bring them to life – fortunately, is a great resource for the GM and players. If it helps, there’s a map I scanned on the ORC Wiki here. I’d also make sure that your players have a working knowledge of the other factions – be they the Harpers, the Zhentarim or Red Wizards of Thay. Remember that the Sword Coast is also where the Baldur’s Gate series of PC games was set. Also, the year is 1489DR – your players will ask about this, and you’ll have to hunt around for it!

Ultimately, if your players aren’t all Realms aficionados, don’t go overboard. Keep a light touch – don’t bombard new players with too much setting information. Let them find things out for themselves.

Gearing up for 2015 Conventions!

So, sadly I’ve bit behind on my writing and other projects. I’ve finally started the Tyranny of Dragons D&D 5e campaign, so expect to see some posts about that soon. I plan to try and blog about each chapter as I go. I’m also in the last day of WFRP’s “The Power behind the Throne,” so that’ll also have a post at some point. At that point I’ve decided to end the WFRP Enemy Within game – it’s been running for over three years now, so has had a good innings. When WFRP finishes, I’ve a few playtests lined up – Corporia and Mecha vs. Kaiju. Both these games have been on my playtest list for a while and I really need to get them tested and reviewed on here 🙂

One of my New Years “achievable goals” was to try something new and different. So I joined the local Amateur dramatics group, Leitheatre. I’m now Stage Manager for the one-act play called The Long Shadow. It was a bit daunting for me at first, but it’s two nights a week where I’m not sitting watching the telly! I’ve also signed up for an Open University degree in Criminology and Psychology starting in October. I may have bitten off more than I can chew. Either way, the other writing is taking a bit of a backseat for now. NaNoWriMo just didn’t get started for me.

I also spent an industrious few minutes at lunchtime putting together a bunch of the dates I’ll be away to game at RPG conventions… Currently I’m thinking of running Cliché The Roleplaying Game of Making Movies by my good friend Marc Farrimond, and also The Mutant Chronicles, Achtung! Cthulhu, and Mutant: Year 0 from MODIPHIUS at the following events.

I’ll see some of you there I reckon!

D&D 5e Demo Games: Edinburgh

D&D 5e (Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition) came out in July with both the Starter Pack and the Player’s Handbook (PHB) released at the same time. The D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) and Monster Manual (MM) will shortly follow over the next couple of months. This probably isn’t news to most RPG fans, but what isn’t necessarily known is this: there are an amazing amount of new folk taking up the hobby as a result. D&D 5e is doing the same as 3rd and 4th editions of the popular game. Love it or hate it, D&D is by far the most popular point of entry. I suspect Dragon Age is a close second as its very accessible to video gamers – the third part of the RPG is due out soon. Compared to maybe twenty years ago, it’s probably a lot easier to understand RPGs and to get into the hobby. Video games have made RPGs popular (if not cool in some cases) and social media have opened up the hobby to a lot of people.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to this. Games fill up quickly and not everyone gets the chance to play regularly. Nor are they sure they can play or run a game. So, with that in mind, I’ve decided to team up with Edinburgh’s Black Lion Games to run some demo games of the D&D 5e Starter Set. Previous demo games, like Star Wars: Edge of Empire, were popular. It’ll probably be two slots of three hours length: 11am-2pm, 3pm-6pm. It would be running in Black Lion Games shop and it’s likely to fill up quickly. There’s a certain symbiosis to running a demo game: it brings more people into the hobby, Black Lion gain some sales, and ORC Edinburgh may gain a few new members. It will give people the chance to see the game in play even if they’re only interested in watching a game in session. As such, it should be an interesting experiment and could turn into a regular event for new RPGs. It’s a win all round.

To summarise:

  • What: Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, The Lost Mines of Phandelver
  • Who: 4-6 players, first come first served – audience participation may be permitted!
  • When: Two separate sessions – 11am-2pm, 3-6pm. 20th September 2014
  • Where: Black Lion Games, 90 Buccleuch Street, EH8 9NH, Edinburgh.

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Plans for 2013

My work life is pretty much leaving me with very little spare time. Working the hours I am right now, I’m pretty tired when I get back. I’m still able run RPGs, and play in them, but some of my other projects are going to have to be shelved for the time being.

The Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom RPG is a casualty of this, unfortunately. I just can’t find the time right now, nor the energy. With the success of the FATE Core Kickstarter, that could be for the best: if I wait for that to come out, then I might not need to come up with the necessary stresses, aspects, etc. I’ll come back to it at a later date.

I’m definitely going to try and write my short story though, in November, featuring Kayle Wynter. It should be an interesting exercise. It’s going to be a sort of espionage whodunit, set in the world of Ashes of Freedom. I’ve not participated in NaNoWriMo before, so it should be an interesting experience.

I’d also planned to return to D&D and to the Ashes of Freedom world, possibly using some of the DNDnext rules. Again this looks unlikely. There just won’t be enough time. However, its quite likely that I will be running some one-off games at ORC – its a good way for folk to get to know other people outside of what can be a small gaming group. They’re quick and easy and fun to run, plus they give everyone  a chance to try some systems that they may not have otherwise tried. My D&D 4e Watch upon the Border mini-campaign (and drop-in game for ORC Edinburgh) will finish shortly.

I’d also thought about running my Necroscope game at Conpulsion , the Edinburgh University RPG convention. I was going to run the New Forest game (the one that had the burning orphanage – yes, that one!). The game is usually is a blast for those players who’ve never experienced that kind of game… Although it is still some way off in April its probably best if I prioritize my time right now.

I’m also still planning on running a number of wh40k-themed games, as part of wh40kforty. Although I may have mentioned this elsewhere, a number of my friends are hitting 40 this year. The idea behind wh40kforty is to run a number of games, both 40k battles and also the RPGs (Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Death Watch, and Only War – plus Black Crusade!). I have some interesting ideas, as do a number of the other folks involved. The real trick will be forging it into coherent whole.

And finally: I’ve a couple of posts that I need to get underway with: one relates to Shadows over Bogenhafen, the WFRP adventure I recently ran; the other to “magic as technology” that is still sitting as draft from December…