At Empire Games Encounters last night, we ran Hoard of the Dragon Queen, sessions 4 (my table) and 6 (the "level/episode 2" table).
Typically, I take the new players or new characters to run them through part of episode 1. This week, I am down a DM, so I had recruited a backup DM (known as "Dad" in the Epyllion sessions) to help out. However, my backup DM had child care responsibilities, so we also had a "Jr. DM" ("Kiddo" in the Epyllion games) who came and role-played the blue dragon monster at my table.
We also had a 7:30 PM stop time due to the blue dragon’s bedtime. That makes a 90-minute session, which is fairly short, even for Encounters.
It didn’t matter– we had fun anyway.
At my table, we had "Al," a tiefling ranger with the criminal background, and "Theron," an elven ranger with the soldier background. "Morgessa" is a reboot of a human druid who faced the Doomvault last season. They are all members of the Emerald Enclave.
I started out by describing the darkness and the chaos of the town of Greenest as they are under attack by outlaws, cultists, kobolds, and a dragon! I describe how they’ve toughed it out through this night as best they can. It’s nearing midnight and they hear the swooping of wings, the crackle of lightning on the battlements.
The Castellan, Escobert, sends them up to the walls to drive off the dragon! She swoops in, using her breath weapon of lightning on the defenders on the rooftop, and taunting the PCs as they arrive.
Kiddo had been coached in advance about her role– each round, you get to taunt the PCs and, sometimes, you will roll a d20 to scare them.
The PCs return a weak volley, and the dragon swoops off. On the next round, she uses her fear to scare them all, and two of them fail the saving throw and have disadvantage to attack her. The table is entertained as the dragon continues her taunts, telling the PCs how insignificant they are, how puny.
One of them rallies, shaking off the fear, and fires an arrow into the darkness. It misses, and the dragon is amused that they are "throwing sticks" at her.
Kiddo is a natural at this whole dragon thing….
The dragon spends about 5 rounds before her dragon breath recharges. During this time, the party is unable to roll above a 5. One player rolled a natural 1 every round for 4 rounds. It was painful for the PCs, but at least the dragon wasn’t decimating them in the meantime. So far, she has only killed one of the battlement defenders since the party’s arrival, and injured 4 others.
When her breath recharges, she swoops in again, breathing on some of the keep’s defenders (she rolled a 3– I determined that meant she didn’t hit the PCs), and doing a fly-by snatch of Theron’s hat!
She is having a great time, but that pesky Al keeps throwing sticks at her, and some of them even hit her! The audacity!
In fact, the party makes one more assault on her. Morgessa has finally shaken off her fear enough to stop cowering and maybe do something. Both rangers fire on the dragon, doing enough damage to drive her off.
"I swoop in with my claws and attack them all!"
"Are you sure? You’ll be putting yourself in danger from their swords, and you know, you could just leave now. This isn’t your fight." We had discussed the qualifications for her leaving prior to the fight.
"Yeah, I do." I look at the other players, who have taken no damage. They’re actually doing really well in this fight, and I know that this isn’t going to kill any of them (though it did knock two of them unconscious).
"Okay." Kiddo tells me she wants to claw each of the rangers and slap Morgessa with her tail.
I look at the adult blue dragon stats and see that she has a +12 to hit and can use two claws and a bite attack each round… and that she has 3 legendary actions each round (this girl has been holding back!) including a tail slap. So, mechanically, she can totally do this many attacks in one round. Her attacks do 2d6+7 and 2d8+7, so this is going to hurt. I also know we’re going to end the session shortly after this, so they will have a chance to heal up. And we’ll be moving to episode 2 very, very soon. So, again, they will very shortly be totally fine. Also, frankly, we’ve been kind of having a blast, even with rolling 1’s and being taunted by an 8 year old dragon!
However, Morgessa readied a thorn whip fairly early in the combat, and even though she’s largely been cowering, I let her get the spell off as a readied action. She could leash the dragon and let them do some damage before it breaks free!
That is, if our party could roll above a 4 on the dice.
So the dragon rampages through the party unimpeded, clawing Theron down to negative HP and bashing Morgessa into senselessness. Al takes a pot shot at her when she flies off. The party has done 31 points of damage to her– less than 15% of the dragon’s maximum hit points.
The dragon also flies off with Theron’s hat.
Theron has a new bond: "A dragon stole my hat." It’s going to become a role-playing "thing" for him. Also: "Why couldn’t my nemesis be a kobold or something easily killed?!?" I suppose rangers must all come to their favored enemy somehow!
At the other table, where Dad is substituting for Peter, the party began episode 2, where they are recruited to attend to the raiders and their camp. They have started tracking the raiders, eventually taking a kobold captive, who told them wonderful tales of the huge castle they have, and lots of humans and an unlimited supply of kobolds.
Dad is also the kind of DM who rolls a d20 when the players ask questions that have mundane answers, just so they’ll be left wondering. Good DM. I wish we could keep him, but his time is limited, and I’m just grateful to have had his help last night.