Hoard of the Dragon Queen: e4, On the Road

Things are warming up now. Don’t let the uninspiring title mislead you, this is a serious turn for the better.

(Spoilers, as usual…)

The party now have to infiltrate the caravan of goods wagons that the Cult have joined, taking them overland for the next few weeks of travel. Their mission, to find out there they’re headed, and what they’re doing. This is all at the behest of an NPC, or two, and their respective factions.

Now then, factions. I first saw these get a quick mention in Lost Mine of Phandelver from the Starter Set where membership was offered as a mini reward. Here the ties are a bit stronger. In the Adventurers League Organised Play the factions are a big thing with mechanical heft. I do wish there was a central reference document for the factions. As a relative Realms newb, a lot of this stuff goes over my head. For me, this is another candidate for a decent overview at the start of the book (or in the appendices).

The party can do what they like to get on board the caravan: hiring out as guards seems simplest. There’s always a danger that their faces will be recognised by now, and the episode reflects that risk. Where the adventure really starts to shine is in the details. So far each episode could generously be described as a mini sandbox. This one is more like a little bucket of Lego pieces. The DM gets everything laid out, and it’s then a task of assembly to suit. For instance, there are two main NPCs to introduce. There are then 20 minor NPCs to interact with. Each of these gets a paragraph of description, along with name, race, sex, profession. There’s a hook for each one. Any of them could spin off into a good chunk of interaction, and by blending a couple together there’s some intriguing conflicts built in.

Then there’s 12 events to either pick from, or roll up. Plenty of variety, and by adding in the NPC relationships each flowers into something unique. Then there’s the mandatory events, just four, each of which develop the overall plot. In this otherwise mundane part of the campaign you see all three pillars of D&D addressed: exploration, interaction and combat. The only area where I think more could have been done is with exploration. The overland journey through the wilderness needs locales and vistas to help me give the players a sense of movement and time. I’m left to my own devices for that.

One other fly in the ointment: I can see parties wanting to be aggressive with the cultists. There’s enough provocation, and plenty of opportunity for an all out assault to develop. If that happens, covers are blown and the adventure really comes to an end. It’s going to be tricky to keep everyone’s swords in their scabbards at times. There’s a fine line here for the group to walk, they need to be proactive, but not too much so.

The thing that really elevates this section is that it’s a good read. As I went through it the potential scenes started coming to life in my head. I could hear what I would say, I could see what the players might do, and I wanted to know how it would all turn out. That’s what any published adventure has to do, get me on board. This section did.

Next: Construction Ahead

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