Hoard of the Dragon Queen: The Camp

An Elsir Vale one-shot

Step behind the DM’s screen for a moment…

This version of HotDQ takes place in Elsir Vale (Red Hand of Doom) and this version of Elsir Vale is set in my version of the world of Dimgaard. The dominant religion is a big-tent one known as the One True Faith. Gods of Faerun appear in it as saints and demons. Most demi-humans are comfortable with this faith as well, but some, particularly gnomes, find themselves viewed with deep suspicion and often disguise themselves as halflings.

Our unfolding story brings in two faction agents of Elsir Vale’s One True Faith (OTF), answering ultimately to High Priestess Tredora Goldenbrow and Lord Kerden Jarmaath. The faction agents are both gnomes. Were the OTF’s Inquisition to hear of this, there would be consequences for Tredora! The agents’ brief was to assist Leille, Tredora’s priestess within the city of Terrelton. As we will learn this session, Terrelton’s treachery forced a change of plans.

The level one heroes for this session

In order of initiative

Roland Ranger, human;
Uta Rogue, hill dwarf;
Brother Nucliff, human

The story so far

Dauth in peril! Where did this horde of looters and ravagers come from and what do they plan on doing? The village council sends four adventurers to first, secure the mill against being torched; and second, to capture an enemy officer (or equivalent) and bring ’em back alive! The adventurers find the mill already overrun by looter scum led by a wily goblin boss. The mill is saved, the scum slain, and the goblin boss escapes by diving into the river – Roland’s hand-ax still buried in his back.

A call for help

Muttering darkly in his beard, Roland decides not to dive into the river after his goblin prey. He turns to Uta, who like him is poised at the loading window.

“Bah! That was a good ax! I wonder if the smith can sell me one. Well… guess I’ll head down to see if that rat comes up for air on our side of the river.”

Uta’s attention however is back in the room behind them, where Br Nucliff is examining a very dead-looking villain.

“Waste of a miracle… huh, what’s up Uta?”

“Oh, just feeling a bit beat up, wondering if you have a healing miracle, or maybe I should rest up.”

“But you have that healing potion right?”

“Figured I’d hang onto it for real emergencies.”

“So where did Roland go?”

Uta explains over his shoulder as he too heads back down to the cart-yard below. He discovers that Roland has not headed out after all: instead he’s training a bent bow on someone outside beyond Orisiel, the snooty elf they captured the mill alongside of.

Nucliff, following at a little distance, joins them as they grudgingly and suspiciously allow Jillie the “halfling” to rest and explain her plight.

Fine Insight checks from Nucliff and Roland as Jillie tells her tale. Nucliff is not a hard-liner and is fine with gnomes.

Jillie AKA Jamna

Jillie has escaped from a camp in the nearby woods, but left her senior, Leo, still captive. Leo is a church spy, who pretended to be a rebel and joined with them in Terrelton. Jillie was his cutout contact. Leo and she report, ultimately, to lord Kerden Jarmaath. Things went wrong for Leo who has been exposed and captured. Jillie was captured when she attempted to contact him, but managed to escape to seek help.

There’s no question that Leo knows a lot about the rebel plans, especially those of Frulam, a white dragonborn who is boss at the camp. There is someone above Frulam as well, but Jillie is not privy to who that is.

Nucliff tends Jillie’s more easily-treated bumps and scrapes, but what she really needs is a good bed-rest. That’s not going to happen: because she is willing to guide them back to the camp. And they are willing to let her.

“Guess I’m not gonna get that rest then,” Uta says cheerfully and swigs his healing potion.

Uta is back at full health

Equipment prep montage

The two archers set about retrieving any serviceable arrows. Orisiel remains on guard. Nucliff sets himself the trickier task of assembling enough bits of makeshift armor to allow him to shuck his noisy chain mail for the stealth mission that lies ahead.

Sir Orisiel

Longbow arrows are not available within the mill; Roland only regathers one from the number he loosed. Uta replenishes all the hunting arrows he needs from looter gear. A very generous DM rules that Nucliff’s armor is now Leather-equivalent.

The trio agree with Orisiel a signal if he has to abandon the mill, and a signal from them as they approach. They also agree that as stealth is paramount, Jillie can move at her pace and they will follow her.

Jillie’s exhaustion means that she moves at 72 feet per minute, which is “toddler diverted by shiny” speed, 0.8 mph. It’s gonna be a long walk.

Scouting the camp

Jillie leads them not into the deep wood beyond the river, but up the nearby wooded rise, into the villagers common forest. The trail is well beaten by locals and woodcutters, and wide enough and leveled enough for a normal charcoal-burner’s handcart to be trundled along.

There, in a shallow box-canyon, lies a secluded glade popular with charcoal-burners. The raiders have set up many tents of all shapes and sizes, and a fine bonfire blazes. The local vegetation around the camp is thick, movement-resistant stuff, offering excellent concealment to the three adventurers. Jillie is back a little way on the trail, in hiding. The trio are in the 5-o’clock position relative to the bonfire, in thick, coarse brush.

Immediately on the other side of the thick brush they are in, a villain approaches, opens flaps and pees noisily. Not far away, counter-clockwise, straining bowels suggest this corner of the camp is the rudimentary latrines.

Roland, who is in best position to peer through the foliage, studies the layout and tries to guess which ‘big tent’ it is that Jillie referred to: that’s the one Leo and other prisoners is in. There’s enough canvas to shelter as many as 200 raider scum, though Jillie’s opinion and the evidence of looting and burning in Dauth says most of the raiders are absent.

I dislike “roll until you fail” approaches to scouting and try to avoid them. Unfortunately it’s somewhat unavoidable here, since moving around stealthily is hard, and acting like raider scum calls for Performance.

DM

Roland inches back to Nucliff and Uta.

“There are definitely prisoners here but there are two sets of guards around two different big tents. I’m gonna move up…” – here he motions counter-clockwise, behind the lines of pup-tents – “and see what the far one is like.”

Uta squeezes left to take post at the hidey-hole Roland vacates. Winces as Roland is spotted nearly immediately! But Roland makes a fine hand of pretending to be just another raider who has been in the bushes for a crap.

As Uta listens to a pair of spear-armed raiders who are standing nearby, he realizes that the big tent just beyond them is the prisoner tent. But Roland is now out of whisper range and steadily makes his way to the 2-o’clock position, spying on the other big tent. Then he clambers away up the slope and makes a wide loop around and back to the others.

All the while, scum are fetching and bringing in billets of wood for the bonfire. It looks as though they plan to keep it bright all night. This gives the adventurers an option for rescue: they could mingle as fetchers and hewers, and walk in.

Roland now rejoins the other two: they put their heads together: a great plan is conceived!

The Plan As the DM hears it

Uta, who can see in the dark woods, causes a distraction, eg sending an arrow into a firewood-hewer.

The whole camp gets in an uproar.

Uta runs away.

The whole camp, or most of it, runs after Uta.

Meanwhile Roland and Nucliff sneak out, tap any remaining guards on the head, and remove the prisoners.

They lead/carry the prisoners away by cautious means, since Leo at least has limited mobility.

DM Comments: It’s necessary to say that both Roland and Nucliff are strong enough and tall enough to carry prisoners. And that while Uta is no woodsman, he can see the trail and follow it easily. Roles make sense once those points are granted. Though I think personally I see Nucliff as a better distraction and Uta as a better sneaker. A lot of it depends how a player guesses the DM visualizing the trail difficulties, so that’s very difficult to predict. I would have cheerfully answered a few questions, such as “can Uta Dash Action all the way back or will he become exhausted?” and “if a cleric shines a light in the forest is there anyone to see it?”

Rescue and flight

A fresh distraction emerges towards the end of the planning time.

“Oi! Where’s that O*&^* that was on guard?”

There has been one scum-level raider standing at the 6-o’clock all the while, watching the fetchers and hewers go in and out. But at some point, he’s gone out with them.

The pair of oiks guarding the prisoner tent refuse to be drawn into the hubbub, as a properly-armed man [an Initiate] rushes to a tent to snitch to someone he calls “lord Porphyry.” But “lord” is not the correct term, as the cultist, Tiamat-sigil berobed, emerges and snarls at the initiate. Who is going to take the risk of escalating to her ladyship? And what is anyone about to do, to find the AWOL guard?

Random rolls now decide what happens when.

DM
  • Percentile for how alert the camp becomes
  • d10 for which way individuals move (9 or 10 means they stand still)
  • d10 for how many feet they move.

With a quick “let’s go!” Uta slides back away from camp and Roland carefully works his way through the brush, stepping through the latrine area daintily and getting to the least-visible corner of the prisoner tent.

Uta sends an arrow into one of the hewers and fetchers!

“Ye bain’t niver gonna get oi – Oi be orf” he yells in full yokel, and runs away.

Roland uses his skinning knife to slice through the thick canvas. He whispers reassuringly to those within, once he’s pretty sure they are all prisoners.

Excellent Persuasion check!

Meanwhile recriminations escalate to the point where rival cultists begin running to get to her ladyship’s tent first, each trying to get their version of the story in before the other.

It would be hilarious had not, perhaps seeing a shadow, the initiate on the scene run past the pair of guards and right into Nucliff, who is attempting to get round the latrines to the tent without being seen and without stepping in anything. The initiate draws his scimitar with an oath and the fight is on!

Meanwhile Uta runs slap into the AWOL guard who has (as suspected) been taking an unauthorized nap. Killing the dolt delays Uta and the three fetchers chasing him manage to catch him up! He easily dodges their makeshift cudgels, puts one down with a shrewd stab, then sees a second fall dead as Jillie appears behind him. The third is slain swiftly and Uta grabs Jillie, puts her up piggyback style, and runs away again!

Leo AKA Leosin of the Ninth Order

As Nucliff defends himself as best he can Roland is quickly cutting Leo and the only other prisoner to be bound, free.

Excellent Sleight of Hand to chop the ropes quickly

Outside, one of the two spear-armed guards responds to the initiate’s orders and reluctantly joins the fight. His cut-down pike stabs Nucliff, who is now in poor health. The guard’s mate ignores the fight, determined not to get his head beaten in by the big man with the mace.

Things have gone so close to “the plan” I award Inspiration all round right here, and it is soon needed!

DM

Roland picks up Leo and the lone woman among the prisoners carries her daughter, and they all squeeze back out and begin the task of mounting the slope up out of the canyon.

Exit stage left!

Nucliff is beginning to run out of options. He uses the Shove action to get room to run, blinds the opposition momentarily with a Light miracle called on his mace, and runs!

I make this an Athletics matter rather than Disengage, since Nucliff is running through multiple zones, not away from them.

DM

Things have not quite gone to plan but Nucliff has plenty of grit and puts his head down, tail up, and just keeps Dashing until he is well past the small pile of corpses that mark the point where any other pursuers lose interest.

Nucliff has one level of Exhaustion.

Roland and his little flock make the mill by dawn. Orisiel is expecting him: the other two got here ages ago!

Whatever her ladyship thought of the attack and whatever she did to the guards, no pursuers come boiling out of the woods. The rescuers quickly retire across the main bridge and through the village – mostly burnt out now – and into the keep where they and Leo can report.

They reach level two!

Inspiration recovered all round!

Thanks to inspiration and sharing it, the players were able to make use of all three nat 20s rolled at different stages. They make a huge difference at this level of play. Another very enjoyable session!

DM

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