The MysteryThe central idea behind Horde of the Dragon Queen is that it's a mystery why these raid occur, and the factions have a vested interest in finding out why.
Steve Winters says:
"Episode 2 is structured entirely differently. Characters are given a long-range reconnaissance mission where they’ll be on their own for days in enemy territory. No friendly NPC is standing by in this episode to tell the characters what to do. The situation is fraught with danger, but it’s all up to the players to decide how much of that danger they tackle. If they simply watch from a distance for a few days and then report, they’ll fulfill the minimum requirements of their mission. But how many players can resist the urge to take a closer look inside the enemy camp? This episode is all about learning how D&D lets players assess risk, solve problems, and interact with complex situations, possibly without ever needing to unsheathe a sword or roll a damage die."
Some of the most enjoyable sessions for players are those that involve them making a plan to infiltrate a place. This is a good idea!
The problem is, that for the structure of the 'episodic' adventure it requires that the characters restrict themselves to the primary mission. The characters want to sneak in and kill Cyanwrath? Too bad. Want to steal back the treasure? Nope.
The pressures on the design side of this are huge. Everyone has to have the same experience. These bullet points have to occur for the adventure to continue. The players have to have a good time.
How do you solve this as a designer? Let's take a look.
IntroductionQuestman (Governor Nighthill) wants to pay 250 gold apiece for the players to accomplish these goals.
- Where is the camp
- How many raiders are there
- Who their leaders are
- Why are they attacking
- Where is their next target
- Also, recover treasures
Then we get two paragraphs of boxed text to get you to go after Leosin Erianthar, a monk who is some sort of dragon expert.
There are a ton of real world logistical issues in a home campaign from this. In an Encounters session, everyone shows up fully ready and takes the quest.
In a home game, the raid ended about 5 am. An hour or two (short rest) later, Nighthill is asking you to track down the bandits. If you start this adventure at first level, there is no question that the characters are going to need a long rest. Does that mean they are tracking the bandits in the late afternoon? Why can't they heal the monk to come with them? As a Dungeon Master; don't many of those goals explicitly ask them to do things they can't actually accomplish in Chapter 2?
It's not that these questions are particularly difficult. It's that they come up as issue while reading the adventure. Set loose a group of real world players on the situation and there's no telling what kind of ideas they will have. I haven't run this part yet, so I actually don't know.
My personal answers to the questions is when the characters reach level 2, they feel tremendously refreshed and don't need a long rest, that the monk has several (3+) levels of fatigue, and needs more time to recover then the players can wait, and finally, that we'll burn those particular bridges when we come to them.
Tracking the Raiders
There are no issues with this! Good use of skill checks and informing the Dungeon Master of how to handle the upcoming information. The layout isn't designed for reference during play, but for a read through it's great.
The straggler encounter is fine. Players have the option to avoid, engage, etc. They may also end up with more prisoners which creates a bit of a logistics/moral issue. This isn't a bad thing, making these kinds of choices is what Dungeons and Dragons is about. As noted later, if the characters arrive after Sundown, it becomes more difficult to enter the camp.
The rearguard encounter is really good! The best solution is to not engage the group. They have an ambush plan. It uses terrain to good effect. It takes into account player knowledge.
For my personal campaign, it's important to note that these cultists are from the Black Wing of Tiamat, concerned with darkness, night, travel, and temples of worship.
The biggest issue with the camp is that the confusion the cultists have over who's a cultist and who isn't a cultist isn't communicated very clearly by the text. The cultists have hired mercenaries, who have no association with the cult and yet move around the camp free.
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Most players will spend a lot of time debating over what to do, which is made much more difficult being that the players don't have your insight into the setup and reactions to the cultists. I'd directly say something like this:
"From what you can see, the camp appears disorganized and chaotic. Morale seems high and security lax. If you wanted, you could probably just walk into the camp and nobody would bother you. If you did that there's a risk someone might remember you from the fighting in Greenest. You could also wait till nightfall and try to enter the camp then, but if you're spotted that will be even harder to explain."
The other thing I'd be sure to mention is this.
"The camp has a lot of people in it. If you are discovered or captured, you are free to fight against those overwhelming odds. Your best chance if that happens is trying to escape after they capture you before they execute you."
See, when a player approaches this problem, It is safe to assume the player thinks several things.
- There's no way for me walk into camp.
- You'll never take me alive!
The gameplay is in the camp. Bypass the part where the players have confusion over what the situation in the camp is, and get back to the interesting choices.
- Walk right in with a (very low) chance of being recognized.
- Sneak in at night with a chance of getting caught.
- Understanding that if you're caught, you'll have to escape, not fight.
As always, letting these choices be explicit doesn't limit any other options they come up with, nor does it guarantee success. Player skill can still be used in full force ("We use disguise to alter our appearance!" or "We surveil the entire camp so we know where things are!")
I'm very happy with this section. There's no shenanigans. Frulam Mondath will sentence some people to execution, which might actually happen. No Deux Ex, no fancy contortions to keep the players alive. The biggest gift here is a single hidden knife if all other plans fail. The players are stripped of all their gear and sentenced to die.
There should be plenty of opportunities for real failure and here is one. They have to be both smart and lucky to escape with their lives.
Check back tomorrow when we talk about exploring the camp and wrap up chapter two.