Sunday, December 20, 2015

D&D Hoard of the Dragon Queen - The Finale! Also: getting ready for not being the DM

I have not been quiet about my excitement for Hoard of the Dragon Queen coming to a close. There are many reasons for that.

One of which is I feel like I'm not that great a DM. I'm not just being hard on myself - I'm really just not a good storyteller. I can design a great story, but I fail in the execution of telling it. In D&D, there is more than just explaining what happens within the story. There is a setting to be described and actions which need to be fancied-up. Instead of "18 versus AC?", it should really be "The snarling Orc swings his club in a mighty arc. Does an 18 hit your AC? The club glances off the corner of your shield. The orc yells in frustration, showering you in saliva." To me, it's very hard to get in that mind set. It takes a while to get through that when you have four party members fighting 10 enemies. And when those enemies all have multi-attack? Forget it! Glazhael the Cloudchaser - an Adult White Dragon (more to come) - has a Multi-attack consisting of "Fearful Presence", followed by a bite attack and two claw attacks. And he gets to use Legendary Actions at the end of other characters' turns to beat his wings or attack with his tail. I also like to leave up to others to imagine their surroundings, rather than completely describe them. Unfortunately, some people need help in the imagination department, and I forget that.

Glazhael snap-freezing some unfortunate adventurers, this is the cover art from HotDQ

Another thing that had me excited is that published adventures are flawed to hell! Important named NPC's making appearances, said in the text they want to stay with the party, and then never being mentioned again. Being told "This character is important. Do whatever you can to keep him/her alive for 'The Rise of Tiamat' (the next module in the series)", and then there being no mention of the character in either texts. Rampant typos. Maps being mislabeled. Giving too much information about pointless rooms and NPC's, but not enough info on obvious things PC's will ask questions about. Repeating the same information several times needlessly, and still getting it wrong most of the time. Encounters being absurdly difficult or laughably easy. The list goes on. And that makes things frustrating. Thumbing through "The Rise of Tiamat", I think things will be a bit easier in that regard. HotDQ was written and began printing before 5e's rule set had even been finalized. The Rise of Tiamat came out several months after, so proofreading and editing had a little longer to take effect.

A third reason I'm ready to stop playing my game? I am fucking burnt out on DM-ing right now. I've said before that I was a DM out of necessity. Having other players willing to DM so I get a chance to play instead of DM is great. DM-ing can be stressful as hell. Part of that is playing character personalities you're not always comfortable with playing. I love playing character that fall either within Lawful Good, Neutral Good, or Lawful Neutral; it's just what I'm comfortable with. And they're usually easy-going characters. My Lawful Good characters are not the typical "Kill evil mercilessly, donate all our money to those in need, and no torture" paladins that give LG a bad name. LG characters can still be fun-loving goofballs. My last character Tork Bronzefoot was a prime example of this. A Lawful good Cleric of Heimdall that was a Brewer. He owned his own travelling brewery which he cleverly named "Heimd-Ales". Heimdall never said no, and he was still receiving divine blessings, so Heimdall obviously has a sense of humor, too. Often times he murdered mercenaries when they would not reveal the info we needed to do, even if they hadn't sat jury yet. He also would joke and swear with his friends, and get drunk, and do all the fun things. But he was Lawful Good. It's okay to not be an uptight dickhead and still be LG. Try it sometime, it'll be fun. And back to the original reason: sometimes you just need to relax and play the game. And now our group has three DM's (assuming Felicia likes it), which means we all get the chance to RP characters with each other at some point. Dave and I have never played on the same side of the screen together, because for a while we were the only two DM's.

OK, onto the actual session.

  • The characters befriended a pair of Stone Giants, using their fear that the Cult was using them to their advantage
  • With aid of the Stone Giants, convinced the Storm Giant that owned the flying castle that the Cult was going to turn on them.
  • Were told by the Stone Giants that there was a White Dragon named Glazhael the Cloudchaser in the Main Vault of the castle which the characters had to deal with. The Giants had a hard time getting through the tunnels, and the characters seemed reasonably strong.
  • The Giants mentioned that the Cult had offered a "small folk" up as tribute to the Dragon. Whoever it was was not a willing tribute, and was even given their weapons to entertain Glazhael for a bit.
  • The tribute turned out to be the group's old friend Jacen (my Paladin from most of the adventure that I had leave the party for a bit). Jacen was killed by the Dragon's frost breath just at the characters came around the corner to the Vault. Jacen saw his friends just as the breath snap-froze him, killing him instantly. 
  • Glazhael recognized Raiann's scent as the Ancient Gold Dragon Draconobalen. She remembered her name when he said it. He also cursed Draconobalen for never fighting fair upon his death.
  • The dragon was defeated, and a very large Dragon Hoard was added to group-loot
  • Two Dozen Kobolds pledged their allegiance to the Party for defeating Glazhael
  • Two Red Wizards of Thay were on the Castle, but had escaped by jumping off the flying Castle. Even with the use of Wyverns, the party was unable to find them on the ground (their smart and sneaky). 
  • They received a raven messenger from Leosin, congratulating them asking them to return to Waterdeep by use of the Scroll of Teleportation he sent with the raven. Scene
I didn't expect my players to befriend the giants, but I'm glad they did. The Castle was infested by Ogres who worked directly for Blagothkus, the Storm Giant. Had a fight broken out between the players and the Stone Giants, the players would have died horrible deaths at the hands of these Ogres.
Stone Giant, from the 5e Monster Manual
Blagothkus, from the HotDQ Literature

The killing of Jacen felt necessary. It was something I had planned since I decided he needed to leave the party. Originally I wanted Lianna or Rezmir to kill him. Lianna would have been tremendous justice in her eyes, and given the party even more of a reason to hate her. After doing some research on other DM's experience with the adventure, I found Glazhael was absurdly powerful, and many groups struggled to take him down. A very large percentage fell to him on round 1 or 2. He is a Challenge rating 13. For those not in the know, a Challenge Rating should be about equal to the average level of the party, and Wizards of the Coast plans all this with a party of 5. So a party of 5 with an average level of 5 should be fighting groups of monsters who's CR's equal about 5. A very hard fight would be 7, a very easy fight would be 3. I had a party of 4, and their levels were all 7 at the time of fighting Glazhael. His frost breath did 12d8 cold damage in a 60-foot cone. The Dex Save DC to take half damage from it was a 19. It also has a chance of refreshing a the start of each of his turns (roll a d6, on a 5 or 6 it recharges). So the average damage from the breathe weapon deals 48 cold damage. That has wiped many parties on round 1, from my research. So using Jacen as a scapegoat gave me a way to save the party from an absurd wipe right here. I wanted them to have a challenge, of course, but killing everyone in one go was not fun for anyone. When I rolled the damage on Jacen, I stopped counting after 56, as Jacen only had 44 hp total, and I had him at critical hp levels already. Again for those not in the know, taking damage from one attack that would put you at negative your hit point maximum kills you out-right. 

Wyrmspeaker Rezmir placating the dim-witted Glazhael the Cloudchaser, from the HotDQ literature
 I wasn't sure I would pick this game back up, but I received feedback from my players that they really would like to in the future. One of my players even said that his character is his favorite character he's ever played. That makes it mandatory that we return to my game eventually. That's the reason I ended with starting the next adventure (Leosin sending a raven) rather than just saying "Hey guys, good job! We're done!" After a bit of a break, I might get my DM-muse back.

Speaking of break, the game we will be going to (as I've said several times) will be run by a brand-spanking-new DM. The world is intentionally small to start with. The idea is, we're on an Island that for as long as anyone can remember has been surrounded by mist. Anyone who has ever ventured into the mist has never been seen again. The world is ruled by the god Davlos - a Solar Angel. No one has ever known of any other deity, or heard of any.

We are all starting in a coliseum. It's easy for our new DM Felicia to get the hang of things. I'm not a fan of straight-up combat. I much prefer roleplaying, story, and flavor. I could go several sessions in a row without combat and be perfectly content with a game. I'm also in a minority on this. I know it already. I won't be upset with a coliseum for a little. And I know it will only be for a short while, so I can suck it up.

I will be playing Jor-tal, Captain of the Pirate ship The Leviathan, known as 'Cap' to . . . well, everyone! Cap is a half-aquatic elf starting off with one level Fighter and two levels of Rogue, with the Pirate background. He'll be dual-wielding a handaxe and a short sword, eventually graduating to a battleaxe and longsword. He is Neutral Good, and very friendly with everyone. Basically his inspiration comes from Sinbad in the Dreamworks Animated movie "Sinbad of the Seven Seas". He believes that a ship operates best with mutual respect between captain and crew - he would never ask a crewman to do something he wouldn't do himself. He is in love with his ship, and loves to spin a good yarn - even stretching the truth to make a story sound better. One of his personality flaws is he won't back down from a challenge, which I interpret to be like Marty McFly in "Back to the Future". That will actually be the reason he's in the coliseum to begin with - his first mate dared him to enter, promising he will keep watch on the ship while Cap is gone. Unbeknownst to Cap, his first mate actually stole the ship and is a complete ass to the crew, treating them like slaves. This is a story I worked-out with Felicia ahead of time.

Cap's Inspiration, Sinbad. 

So game terms. At 3rd level of both Rogue and Fighter, I get to take an archetype from each. For Rogue, which I will be achieving first, is Swashbuckler. I will get to add my Charisma mod to my initiative, and also any enemy I make an attack at cannot make opportunity attacks on me until the start of my next turn. My Fighter archetype will be the Battlemaster, which will give me some really cool techniques to use. As a dual-wielder I can attack two enemies every round if I need to, and just keep moving around the battlefield. With Fighter levels comes extra attacks, meaning attacking more enemies every turn, making them unable to provoke opportunity attacks. Some of the techniques will grant me the ability to move enemies and allies, as well as hitting multiple enemies with one attack, or bolstering allies. I never realized when constructing this character that these two archetypes had so much synergy. It should be a lot of fun. Our group doesn't have a healer, and is comprised mostly of single-target strikers, so Cap having some element of control over combat will be insanely helpful.

We're taking a few weeks off because of the holidays. Sometime mid-January we'll start, and you guys will definitely hear about the first session. I might go back to a full-on story recap. Not sure, but we'll see.

Thank you everyone for reading!

~John