On Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Episode 5

There is a missed opportunities here.

Considering the importance that Waterdeep plays in Rise of Tiamat, you would think that they would take the short jaunt through the city to foreshadow some of those events.

Of course, Waterdeep is a complicated beast, and we are already at the page count for the product. I don't know what I'd cut to do it justice. In a home campaign, I'd certainly consider integrating at least a description of the cosmopolitan city, as well as perhaps an encounter or two to foreshadow the events in Rise of Tiamat. Maybe meet a nobleman on the road. Perhaps a run-in with Mirt.

What is in the Waterdeep section is a confusing data dump that explains why the characters are headed north to a road that doesn't go anywhere. There are no choices to be made here, and no time available for the characters to do much, so the best solution is to check with your players that their goal is still following the treasure, and then just narrating the sequence of events, rather than forcing them to jump through hoops, such as "Making them ask if there are any jobs on the caravans heading north." and "Asking around about a half-dragon".

If this isn't done, you're going to have an expectation problem. Even if you don't know that Waterdeep is one of the most populated and richest cities in the realms, you know that it is a city, and characters are going to expect to have a ton of options. But the reality is, the adventure doesn't provide any decision points till you actually reach the construction outpost. If you present the characters with a "What do you do once you reach the city?" you'll only generate bad-will if you then reply, "Well, if you do anything but follow the cultist wagons, you'll lose them."

Now, you have more options in a home game, of course. This isn't the only caravan the cultists are using to move north. It's perfectly acceptable to let this caravan go, now that you know they are meeting in Waterdeep to head north, and follow the next caravan up, giving the characters time to enjoy the splendors of Waterdeep, complete side quests, go shopping, and do what have you.

The important thing here during this sequence is to communicate and manage expectations.

Northbound, Again

There's a lot here that baffles me a little bit. 

First, Ardred Briferhew seems to be a non-entity in the course of the adventure. It's just a name for a boss guy, and doesn't even represent any sort of trope or archtype. Let's make him Garrulous and a Risk-taker, and he happens to be a living saint of Lathander. He doesn't want anything to do with the saint bussiness, but that doesn't mean he can avoid it. 

This way, when the players talk to him, he'll mention all the history about the road, area, and how even though its raining, greatly increasing their chance of encountering hydra and swamp wyrms, not to mention the supposed lair of the black dragon Voaraghamanthar, they should leave now in poor visibility to save time. 

Second, I can't see having time to use the random encounter table north of Waterdeep at an actual public-play session of encounters. I mean, you've got two hours for the whole thing to play out. For a home campaign, it's a decent wandering encounter list—excepting the fact that it's a wandering fight list, not encounter list. 

Here's a modified list of encounter possibilities:
  • 1-14 No Encounter 
  • 15 Twelve Human Bandits
    • 1 Looting a group of Bullywug corpses
    • 2 Hauling treasure back to a lair
    • 3 Lying in ambush
    • 4 Setting up camp
  • 16 One Troll
  • 17 Four Orcs and an Ogre
    • 1 Arguing over food
    • 2 Playing keep away from the ogre with a goblin head
    • 3 Lecturing the ogre about Orc religion
    • 4 Fighting Lizard-folk/Lizards (encounter 19)
  • 18 Two Ogres
  • 19 Three lizardfolk and giant lizards
    • 1 Lost, looking for the way back to the swamp
    • 2 Having some bullywug trinkets for sale
    • 3 Looking to sell some human slaves
    • 4 Lying in ambush
    • 5 Totally chill, just moving through.
    • 6 Engaged in a religious ritual
  • 20 Six Lizardfolk (as encounter 19)
  • 21 Eight giant frogs
  • 22 Twelve Bullywugs
    • 1 Arguing over who the best Bullywug is. Wants the humans to decide.
    • 2 Ambushing lizardfolk
    • 3 Eating/Molesting slaves
    • 4 Offering to buy slaves from caravan, betrays if any offer is made.
    • 5-6 Attacks
Also, note the small nod to the rules in flux where "Assume the monsters and the travelers are at high readiness before these encounters".

Carnath Roadhouse

Episode 5 starts as a continuation of episode 4’s road journey, but the destination is more puzzling. In episode 4, characters knew that the great city of Waterdeep lay at the end of the trip. In episode 5, they are headed through perilous territory north of Waterdeep toward a camp where supplies are stockpiled for the workers who are rebuilding the road to Neverwinter where it skirts the Mere of Dead Men. What starts out as a straightforward guard job turns into a spy mission—a little something for the rogues in the party who never get to do enough sneaking around in the dark. Along the way, loose ends from episode 4 might also get wrapped up.—Tiamat Tuesdays, Steve Winter
It's interesting because this is a puzzle to be solved and there are a lot of ways to go about it. The problem is, that if those ways fail, what happens next?

This is not the most challenging issue in this adventure. For instance, even if they fail to pick the lock on the door (a 1 in 400 chance), they can still try to steal the key (or even break the door down). The question is what if they do fail.

This section of the module also has formatting issues. Who are the non-player characters involved? Once the goods are delivered, what purpose do the characters have for staying more than one night? You're entering sub-arctic/arctic territory, what time of year is it? (Waterdeep, now 200 miles to the south, is literally Ontario.)

Here's an NPC reference:

  • Ardred Briferhew—Human leader of caravan
  • Bog Luck—Half-orc camp superintendent
  • Wump—one of four stableboys
  • Three unnamed stable boys
  • Gristle Pete—Human cook
  • Cult of the Dragon—Likely the same ones that traveled north with the players
    • Larion Keenblade—cultist and thief from cultist
  • Other Escorts and Wagon Drivers
A good way to handle this whole section is to frame it as what it is. Where are the goods headed? Make it clear that that's the goal. Then, you can take some time to characterize the various NPC's, have some nasty weather to justify the players staying for a night or two, and play it out, letting the players take whatever action they want to continue to try and track the goods, so they can get onto the next section of the module. 

In a worst case scenario, more cultists and cult goods should be showing up in another ten-day or so, allowing the characters to sneak into the encampment at night.

If the goal is stated clearly ("Where do the goods go?"), then the Dungeon Master should be able to follow up on the players ideas to make the session as engaging as possible. Several encounter ideas are suggested by the module itself, and based on the non-player character interactions or the Dungeon Master's creativity, several more should present themselves. 

Hack & Slash 
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