Tyranny of Dragons
Someone recently called me one of Edinburgh’s gaming celebrities. I’m kind of amused by that: I certainly don’t consider myself that way! Yes, I run a blog and may be fairly well-known around town, and I do try and keep the various gaming communities in the loop. I see myself as fulfilling more of a function than any aspiration to fame. I do have some aptitude for self-promotion though, it appears.
It’s no easy task being something of a local RPG pundit and organiser, and occupies quite a bit of time and effort on my part. Sometimes it feels like putting leashes on Tiamat and taking her for walkies. You can get caught up in things and it becomes very easy for others to expect you to maintain a certain “level of service”. There’s also a certain amount of information overload too, and trying to keep track of everything can be exhausting…
So. This something of a “place holder” post for me for the months ahead. August is a time when it’s fairly quiet at ORC, so I’ve a free weekend. With the Festival on I usually use the time to “recharge my batteries”. I’ve started to get the feeling I’m taking on too much and need to try and focus on achievable goals. So what I’m going to do below is list my current goals and priorities. They’re not all gaming-related, but it all helps. This might also be what I need to get galvanised into action (not in order of importance)…
- Actually write the damn novel I’ve been planning for years. More of a long-term goal really, but could do with outlining the plot in Scrivener.
- Finish the three Cthulhu stories I’ve outlined. They’re laid out in Scrivener.
- Begin my Open University degree – the BSc in Criminology & Psychology I planned on doing starts very soon.
- Get the bathroom of the flat redone – that’s going to hurt the cash flow a bit.
- To attempt to catch up old friends more often.
- Get the oathofshadows.net website live.
- Get the FB and Twitter feeds for Oath of Shadows online.
- Create content for oathofshadows.net.
- Get some of the more useful articles of the blog anthologised in a PDF with bookmarks.
- Get in more regular exercise. I occasionally walk for 30 minutes (about 1.5 miles) every lunchtime, do 30 minutes of weights and cycle 5km in 15 minutes. I should be doing that every day, really.
- Participating in more boardgames at [ELG] on Wednesday nights, although this may be scaled back a bit if I’m too busy.
- Participate in a game of Descent every fortnight. We start our first game tonight.
- Plan my next Achtung! Cthulhu game. Most likely Assault on the Mountains of Madness.
- Finish the Tyranny of Dragons D&D campaign. I’m uncertain if I’ll go to the second volume. I’m distinctly underwhelmed so far.
- Run Horror on the Orient Express – likely after ToD finishes. Will incorporate some Achtung! Cthulhu into it, but will be a bit of work.
- Write some new adventures for demo at Dragonmeet. I already have one for Conan…
- Research the Infinity universe. It does look interesting.
- Spend my store credit at 6s2Hit, the local wargames shop and actually play a few games there.
- Look at doing more demos of the Mutant Chronicles, Achtung! Cthulhu, Mutant: Year 0, and DUST Adventures at cons. I’m really looking forward to getting the books for MC and DUST.
- Create a Mutant: Year 0 Edinburgh setting and Ark. I’ll likely post it up here when I do.
- Be more active in playtests of the Infinity RPG, Conan, and John Carter for Modiphius Entertainment.
- Have a chat with the Conpulsion organisers after my recent review sparked their interest.
- Try and get to Dragonmeet, UK Games Expo and Q-CON over the next year, as well as Conpulsion, but to participate in more than just running games.
- Try and develop some more interests outside gaming. e.g. photography etc.
- Maintain the ORC Edinburgh site, get more folk to the pub meets.
- If needed (and given a product), playtest and write some more game reviews!
- Keep blogging – I must try and get more specific posts organised.
- Get in a demo of Firestorm Armada.
- Try to strengthen links with other Edinburgh gaming communities. This may be harder than it looks due to time.
- Get some more RPG freelance work (I’ve a few things possibly coming up.).
- Get “Special Projects” organised! I’m keeping quiet about these until they become a little more certain. One of them is a pretty big deal.
I think it might be worth checking back on this post in six months. I doubt if I’ll hit all of these goals, but I’m interested to see how I get on.
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.
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.
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.
- I want to know what that is over there! And how this works! And how that happened!
- I know many secrets that I mustn’t tell, but I talk about them all the time, I just can’t tell them.
- 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.
- 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.
- I don’t have a screw loose, but I might lose a screw. For my toast. I understand and they don’t.
- I’ll be rich, independently wealthy! Someday. I just need some investors.
- 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!
- I don’t say much, ideas I keep to myself can’t be taken.
- Empowerment: I want to make the world a better place with my inventions. (Good)
- Order: There’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. (Lawful)
- Change: I want to change the world with my inventions. (Chaos)
- Stingy: I don’t want to share my secrets with anyone. My inventions are for me. (Unaligned)
- Tyrant: Once I’m powerful, I’ll be able to rule everyone who wronged me. (Evil)
- Liar: Well, if it helps you get the job done, you’ll say what needs saying. (Evil/Unaligned)
- I know of a famous inventor out there that I’ll find someday.
- 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).
- I know that those people want their money, but they just don’t understand the difficulties with getting things done on time.
- One of my companions is your sibling or relative who’s looking out for me.
- I have a small child or baby in your charge.
- 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. . .
- Only the results are important. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
- You just borrowed all that money/that energy source/that device. I’m going to return it when I’m done with it.
- I’ll betray my closest friends for success and fame.
- 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.
- I have deviant and illegal tendencies.
- 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, http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/ 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.
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.
- Conpulsion 3rd-5th April 2015
- UK Games Expo 2015 29th-31st May 2015
- Q-Con 2015 19th-21th June 2015
- Dragonmeet ?December? 2015
I’ll see some of you there I reckon!