Hoard of the Dragon Queen: The Road

An Elsir Vale One-Shot

The level two heroes for this session

In party order

Uta Rogue, hill dwarf rogue;
Roland Ranger, human Two-Weapon ranger;
Brother Nucliff, human Life Domain cleric

The story so far

Dauth in flames! At first the raiders seem to be renegades, perhaps from Terrelton. But why are their commanders robed, and seemingly feared? Leo, an agent of the One True Faith, and just now rescued from the camp, may have ideas.

A quick note from behind the DM’s screen

These one-shots have been for three players, playing level ones. Thus far I’ve been supporting them with a fourth, NPC party member, a knight, since none of them have front-line characters. And last episode, another possible support NPC, a faction agent, was in play too. Now the players have level two characters, it’s time to shift away from direct support. Do the players adjust their thinking accordingly? No! Ah well…

DM

Roly

As Roly guides his little flock to safety he hears cart wheels grinding ahead. He steps into shadow and waves the others in as well. He is close enough to hear a snatch of conversation:

“Any idea where we meet up with the others?”

“Terrelton maybe, but you tell anyone I said so, I call you out as a liar. Big blue won’t like that.”

Uta

Uta leaves Orisiel’s lookout post, and speeds across towards the keep. Flames lick up unexpectedly, and he is side-lit. someone calls:

“Oi mate, did Porphyry send a message? Or her nibs? We’re ready to go…”

Four renegades (normal townies) and one of those tougher types are trying to wheel a farm-wagon around on the lane. They have made the mistake of harnessing the farm ox to it. There are some beasts with the group, too.

Uta being a dwarf doesn’t seem to raise any suspicion: he comes from the direction of the camp so they assume he’s a looter like them. It gives him a chance to look carefully at the group.

The wagon is piled with winter stores, mainly sacks of grain and clay jars of preserves. Three bobby calves are on leashes, ready to be led away.

As Uta makes his excuses and heads on towards safety, they finally agree to undo the harness, wheel the cart manually, then set the ox to again. 

At the keep, in safety

It’s crowded, and the villagers are scared. Flames consume their dwellings below. At last, Orisiel shepherds Roland and his group of freed captives in, and the four can catch up on intelligence and get Leo tended properly. And rest!

Roly and Uta have a level of exhaustion each, but it is short-rest exhaustion [Dash/Chase rules] whereas Nucliff’s efforts in the fight and fleeing in armor have taken him to two levels. Jilly, the agent that alerted them to Leo’s plight and helped Uta, has two levels as well.

DM

But Esmeralda, the village priestess, is absent… and brother Nucliff has no healing miracles left. In fact he will need a good long rest to recover.

“Where is Esmeralda?” Galadan asks. He begin fretting. Surely she hasn’t slipped away to the village chapel?!

The resting heroes volunteer Orisiel to go look…

A challenge to single combat

From the darkness, a creature strides into the dim light of the dying fires around Dauth village square. Although it is shaped roughly like a human, it is at least seven feet tall, its skin is covered in blue scales, its fingers bear wicked claws, and its face has the muzzle and reptilian eyes of a dragon. The creature stops in the square, and gestures. A line of roughnecks fan out behind it. One has his fingers locked in Esmeralda’s hair, and is jerking her along with him. Then the blue dragonborn hails the keep.

“Defenders of Dauth! This has been a successful night, and I am feeling generous. Do you see this pitiful little halfling? We have no need for her, so I will trade her back to you. Send out your best warrior to fight me, and you can have her in exchange…”

Up in the keep Nucliff groans and begins getting his armor back on. The dragonborn’s mighty bellow floats once more to their ears:

“You hesitate? Haw haw. I, Cyanwrath, give my word – no breath attack shall I wield!”

Galadan is deadly pale: Esmeralda is his daughter after all! He looks at the heroes hopefully…

Then just visible thanks to his shiny armor, Sir Orisiel appears in the square to face Cyanwrath!

The fight goes exactly as the three watching on expect it to: a one-sidedly brutal demolition. With a last vicious overhand Cyanwrath crushes the prone knight’s helm and strides away, bellowing in triumph. His lackeys sneer, but one throws Esmeralda down in the dirt near Sir Orisiel. She crawls over to him…

Of course, they all hurry down (or limp down, in Nucliff’s case). Esmeralda has saved her champion’s life. Uta and Roly scan the area, ascertaining that the looters have gone. Deep wagon ruts here and there show that they did not leave empty-handed.

The Chapel

“Brother Nucliff! I left my folk hidden under the chapel! Please go there, and bring them away to the keep!”

Nucliff turns Esmeralda down. He feels if he does run into more looters, he will only die. Obligingly, Roly and Uta agree to serve in his stead.

Esmeralda looks after their departing backs doubtfully… with good reason.

Roly and Uta do find the chapel, and the hiding villagers (who are keeping very poor noise discipline) but can’t pass themselves off as noble rescuers. They return empty-handed. But at least they get to take a

Long Rest

Dauth’s plight

Meanwhile Uta recounts his near run-in with looters, and in response Roly passes on what he heard: Terrelton maybe.

Inspections around the devastated village confirm that the looters have stripped Dauth of winter supplies and almost every living thing, on two or four legs. The villagers can stay and starve, or become desperate refugees.

Counsel and a patron

The day ends with a newcomer making his way slowly up the keep hill, as though advanced years are giving him some hip and knee trouble.

Grau Seerstrom

Grau Seerstrom of the Six Blades is from Prosser, about 60 miles east. He last adventured decades ago: the journey has worn him out. But his arrival prompts the Village Council to assemble with the heroes and lay some plans. Plans that involve the heroes, and money. Grau offers to support the party, from his reserves as an ex-adventurer:

“We need people like you, who know how and when to fight, and how and when to keep their heads down and observe. We can’t promise you anything except long days filled with danger and stress — but there’s bound to be fat loot, eh?”

Grau plonks down a fat sack of gold, 250 gold coin.

Dauth is most concerned with their survival over winter. The priority as far as Galadan and his fellow councillors goes, is retrieving food. And they would like their three hard-working donkeys back too: their names are Hudweg, Knaff, and Orvell.

Leo on the other hand knows something of how the raiders were operating, having been confined, tortured, but not blindfolded. He noticed that hunters plied the camp, apparently neutral. They may know a lot more about the enemy HQ or where the village animals and wagons are being taken. And Leo’s need is for intel on who the leaders are and where they are based.

Sir Orisiel declines both Grau as patron, and Leo’s mission. Sneaking and spying are not things he can do. He will seek knightly employ, towards Brindol.

Grau’s advice, as an aging rogue to the heroes that do accept, is that they should drift along hunters’ trails and gather intelligence on the raiders’ plans and especially where that dragonborn came from. Don’t kill the hunters unless you are cornered. They are not the enemy.

Leo adds that once she is rested, Jilly will act as a blind drop contact. The heroes won’t know where she is, for her safety. But they can leave notes under logs or stones in places they spend the night. He goes over some code words.

But after the night of debate and a short sleep, Jilly is nowhere to be found.

On the road

Galadan and the others members of the Council scrape together weapons, arrows, water bottles, and scruffy clothing. The heroes can use them to dress as nondescript refugees or travelers, or hunters.

Brother Nucliff despondently removes his scale mail and dons a rather makeshift set of leather armor. He keeps his shield though! If he is going for a “vagabond looter” look, he succeeds.

By the time everyone is ready and the roads have been vaguely explained to them, it’s a couple of hours past noon. The three heroes set out west. Uta has decided that he will have the best chance of spotting trouble ahead, but Roly should walk a short distance back. That leaves Nucliff, who has an untrained but keen eye, rearguard.

In less than an hour they are beyond Dauth’s cultivations and orchards and among the rolling lands of the upland road. It winds and twists, with an occasional bridge or culvert.

Group Perception check: all DC15+

The rearguard

Porphyry has been given the responsibility of rearguard. A pursuit is expected. After all, resourceful villagers stole their kinfolk away from camp! He has two acolytes, and six initiates. Logically, he divides them into two even groups and they hide up above a convenient bend, using rocky heights and thick, autumnal bushes for advantage and concealment.

Three figures come into sight, then pause. As Porphyry attempts to gauge whether they will pull back and scout around, one darts off the trail and scales up to where four ambushers are hidden opposite his own position. With no choice in the matter Porphyry signals a general advance from his own side of the ambush, and begins drifting away along the villagers’ back-trail, just in case – so he assures himself – he needs to cut them off from retreat.

It’s a tough fight and Brother Nucliff is soon tanking up, despite his lack of armor. Fortunately (for our heroes) Uta’s use of the brush and flanking see the first group of four dealt with, in time for the second group to be faced on favorable ground. The latter four break as their numbers are whittled down, and the heroes decide to pursue the last survivor, an acolyte, taking him prisoner. Porphyry escapes in the growing gloom, off in the opposite direction.

Terry

Their prisoner is named Terence Crew.

“Righto Terry, we’ll be having quite a chat won’t we,” Uta says menacingly, and the victors now need to decide whether to camp here or push on.

Though tired, it’s best to move on, they judge. They form up once more, bind Terry’s hands and gag him, and push on towards the first crossroad west.

They receive confirmation from Terry, who thinks the wagons are going to meet up in Terrelton.

DM

They’ve been told that one way leads generally up to the dwarf holdings, and the other way leads generally down. But that either way will get eventually to Terrelton, depending on forks in the path.

I think if they had made a point of asking Leo directly, they would have a better handle on roads. At the time it applied, I explained that Dauth villagers have a fairly vague understanding of the roads west.

DM

The hunters are buyable, to a point

It is past nightfall and shades of gray are not helping Uta much, as he nears a fork in the trail. He begins scouting around. Then waves Roly forward. Roly is even less able to help, as he can’t see in the dark. But as they try to make sense of the dung and cart-tracks, they become aware of the campfire burning uphill, and a figure outlined by the glow.

These are four hunters, and they welcome peaceful types to their campfire.

Which means that Brother Nucliff nearly provokes a fight by telling them “Maybe I can make you see things my way” without having first pulled out a handful of gold. But once this misunderstanding is smoothed over, it turns out that three of the hunters really like gold! They explain:

The wagons have gone both ways. In terms of whether any one wagon could be caught, the gold-loving hunters discuss the lay of the land and decide that the steeper trail north, towards the Nimon hills and Talar, is probably the best option.

The hunters know the roads and overland paths very well, and explain the options in detail.

“They’ll be needing to cinch those wagon wheels, to make some of the grades safely,” as one puts it, and “some switchbacks down there might be too hard for a wagon,” another avizes.

Brother Nucliff (rightly) guesses that a wagon minded by a bunch of toughs is going to be hard to capture, but the hunters are definitely not interested in suddenly becoming mercs for hire. Agreeing to deliver Terry back to Dauth is one thing, actively hunting cultists is another.

The eight settle in for a

Long Rest

I have no idea here whether Jilly may intervene later, but no-one leaves a note for her, so it’s academic. I doubt they really paid any attention to Leo’s advice about notes.

DM

Switchback deathtrap

After a mere day of further pursuit down the winding northward path, the three heroes find that their choice is a good one. Below them, a wagon stands, one wheel off and one (of three) oxen down. Eight toughs or cultists are working inefficiently and grumpily at some kind of solution, supervised by an imperious purple-robed woman bearing a halberd, and a wise-looking donkey.

Uta outlines his plan: charge and stab.

Frulam Mondath

“Any other ideas…” he prompts. None come, and all vote aye. Missile weapons and packs are placed safely on the ground, and melee weapons readied. Brother Nucliff pronounces his Blessing, then the three heroes charge down the steep foot-path onto the switchback trail!

It’s not a good choice. Hudweg the wise donkey escapes using the first onslaught as a distraction, and, as the heroes have achieved surprise, three toughs are slain swiftly. But once lady Frulam activates her Spirit Guardians, the tide turns. Faced with death or retreat, the heroes choose death.

“So perish all enemies of Tiamat!” – Lady Frulam

Afterword

It was a very close fight – probably three slightly better rolls from among the heroes would have scraped at least one of them through – but on the other hand Frulam’s Spiritual Weapon missed three of four times, so Luck favored neither side. I guess the TPK leaves an obvious question:

Even if we allow the notion that an attack was advisable, why not simply use their ranged capability to harass the enemy, either driving them away from the wagon – achieving their “village” objective – or killing them from afar?

I do not know the answer. Maybe one of the players will chip in with what they had in mind at the time.

DM

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