The party explores the ruined town of Thundertree, meets the creator of the Forgotten Realms, and gets in way over their head. Stupid Dragons!
Before we get started, I just want to mention this incredible thing that Jim, the other Dad player, built for our game. He made an insert for his dining room table that can hold a good-sized monitor. A cable from the monitor hooks up to my phone. From the phone I can upload movable battle mats and other images to show the players. This is going to be great for wilderness and town adventures, where the line of sight is pretty far. I’ve found that for the claustrophobic dungeons or other exploration maps, it’s better to use pen and paper, but this thing is still awesome! Okay, on to the adventure.
When last we left our heroes, they had cleared the village of Phandalin of bandits plaguing the town. They have now ventured out into the wilderness of the Sword Mountain foothills, seeking some means of finding their abducted employer, Gundren Rockseeker. The party has learned that he is being held by goblins at a place called Cragmaw Castle, but they don’t know where that is. They have followed a lead to the ruined town of Thundertree, seeking a druid who might help them.
Thundertree is a small farming community nestled in the grasslands south of the volcano, Mt. Hotenow, a day’s journey east of the city of Neverwinter. Almost 30 years ago, Mt. Hotenow erupted and destroyed the village. Now Thundertree is a heap of ruined buildings. Monsters lurk in the rubble and the wilderness is reclaiming the land.
The village also has one itty-bitty issue; an enormous, Total Party Killing, Dragon smack in the middle of town. Rumors abound of this Dragon that now holds dominion over the land. The party has heard these rumors, and is eager to investigate; in fact, the pre-generated Fighter’s whole sub-plot is to rid the town of this Dragon.
But the book gives no real reason, beyond suicidal curiosity, to go anywhere near this thing. But where’s the fun in that? Worse, the book gives neither roleplaying elements for the Dragon or any way for the party to fight it. The book merely states that the Dragon flies off, abandoning its lair and treasure mind you, if the party can reduce it to half its hit points. That’s half of 136 hit points! Good luck with that.
At best, at this point in the adventure, the party is 3rd level, but they are probably still just 2nd level, when they encounter this thing. There is no way this party can defeat a dragon in legit combat. But you and I both know that every player who ever plays this game is going to try.
So, the party clears out a couple of Ash Zombies from a house and they leave Droop, their newly acquired Goblin butler, to guard the horses. This is their first, of many, mistakes.
Methodically, they begin to clear out each building of Twig Blights, which are little stick monsters. James’ character, Riandon, is intent on capturing some for his menagerie. While everyone else is trying to kill these things, James’ character is running around with a sack, trying to stuff them inside. Incredibly he manages to capture 4 of these things. Oh, don’t worry, this whole zoo thing only gets worse from here. Then they find the druid.
As written, this druid is totally irrelevant, beyond being a way to get the players to the next dungeon. Even that is poorly executed. If the party asks, he blandly just tells them where the next dungeon is. No role-play, no side quest, no tit-for-tat, nothing. Only after the druid gives the party what they want, does he ask them to remove this Dragon that has done nothing wrong or evil, for no good reason, with no help, and no reward. This won’t do at all.
First, I want the druid to play a larger role within the campaign. So I changed the name from Redoith to Edoith “the Green” Wood Elf, aka Ed Greenwood. If you don’t know who this is, then I really can’t help you. I made him a 6th level druid with full skill stats and 3rd level spells. If they decide to take on the Dragon, they are going to need this guy.
Second, the book says that he will simply tell the party where Cragmaw Castle is. Boring. I speak to the players as Edoith. “I’m not sure I, uhm, know exactly where this, uhm, Cragmaw Castle is, but I can find it for you. If you, er, help me with my, ah, little Dragon problem first.” I play Edoith as the classic forgetful scientist, who talks like he’s befuddled but actually always knows what’s going on. Sort of like Doc Brown from “Back to the Future”.
This is another tool for your DM Toolbox. I base almost all of my important NPCs on the mannerisms and speech of some character from Movies or TV that reflects who the NPC is. As another example, I based Garrick Agundar, who the players will meet next week, off of Matthew McConneghay’s whole Texas drawl shtick. Right down to the “Alright, alright, alright.”
Bear in mind, not every NPC needs to be memorable. Who should be given special care and attention? Definitely all the villains. You want the players to know these guys. They are the main force acting against the players and should be remembered. Plus the villains are always more fun to play.
I also give extra care to the NPCs that the players will meet multiple times during the campaign, such as a person who travels with the party on a mission, or a mentor who can show up at any time, or the local rulers of the land. But you don’t need to make everybody special. By only making some NPCs memorable it tells your players that this character is important, above the level of the usual shopkeeper, guard, or peasant. One other use of the tool is if a previously unremarkable NPC suddenly has a real persona, then that might be important and the players should pay more attention.
Now that the players have a mission to fight this Dragon, I need to figure out how they are gonna do it. They wisely decide to start by trying to reconnoiter the Dragon’s Tower. But then they send the thief. Alone. So, they’re gonna fight a Dragon and the first thing they do is split up the party.
Often during a solo mission like this, I will pull the player out of the room and role-play just with that player, so that he can go back and give his own version of the events, but this time, I want everyone to know the same information to help them decide what to do.
Jack’s Thief makes all his stealth checks. Callan peeks into an arrow slit within the tower. The Dragon does not seem as large as the stories tell, maybe twenty feet long and he seems young. The Dragon is sleeping on a pile of gold. The Dragon is a Green Dragon and noxious green smoke billows from his mouth when he snores. Even from this distance, the smoke reeks of hemlock.
I describe the layout of the tower. I tell them that there is a door within the house that connects to the tower and that the door is too small for the Dragon to go through. I detail the roof of the tower that the Dragon uses to enter. The roof is partially collapsed, but more than half still remains; timber and brick and mortar, barely attached to the tower, just waiting for a stiff breeze.
The rest of the group is cowering in the trees about 90 feet away. But they made no effort to be stealthy and they haven’t had any action in a while, so I have the spiders from area 6 come to investigate. Whoo boy, these spiders were lethal, and I did not intend them to be.
They surprised the party and instantly trapped two of them in webs. The druid begins casting crazy area effect spells like Call Lightning and Sleet Storm. These hit the party as much as spiders. The Druid does not discriminate. Jack’s character run back to the party. The battle goes back and forth. One player breaks free of the webs and slips on the sleet. Another kills a spider and is then poisoned by another one. The battle lasts far longer than I expected and almost every player is near death.
In fact, Jim’s cleric, Clarissa, went unconscious and was dying. This was the first time anyone went down, so we got to use the Dying rules, which are fine, but they are also kind of lame. I get it, no one wants to die, but I don’t really like it. We use the rules for now, but I got to figure out how to put the fear of death into these players.
Finally, Andrew’s fighter, Regizar, kills the last spider. I have them roll to see if all this combat wakes up the Dragon. It does. I let out a huge, loud roar that legitimately scares the players. The players panic. They can’t decide what to do. So I help them. The Druid turns tail and runs away toward his house. The party follows. I roll to see if the Dragon sees them. He does.
The Dragon is bearing down on them. The party is running for the Druid’s house but they’re not going to make it. Everyone is going to die.
James tells me that his wizard casts Misty Step to a point 30’ away from the party and then taunts the Dragon. I have him make an Intimidation check (CHR) to see if it works. It does. The Dragon is now bearing down on Riandon, the wizard. The party escapes to the “safety” of the house.
Having saved the party, James’ Riandon casts his last spell, Invisibility, and dives out of the way. Having lost his target, the Dragon breathes poison into the entire area.
I have James roll a Dexterity check to see if he dives out of the way in time. James fails this roll and a cloud of poison envelops the invisible Riandon.
Fortunately, James makes his saving throw versus poison, which is a hard DC 14 by the way, and takes only half damage. Unfortunately, a Young Green Dragon breathes up to 72 points of damage, and poisons the player! That’s 12d6 damage. This is nuts! Seriously, a 2nd level wizard with maximum hit points has only 16 to 20 HP. Even using the flat math of the book and saying that the Dragon breathes 42 Damage + poison, a successful save still equals 21 points of damage! What the hell were they thinking, putting this thing in the adventure?
But alas, Riandon Moonwhisper, the bookworm elf with boundless courage, who bravely put himself at risk to save the others, makes his saving throw and takes only 27 points of damage (half of 54!). Tragically, after the battle with the spiders, he only had 13 hp. Riandon Moonwhisper lies cold, dead, and invisible, never to be seen again with only his twig blights to mourn him.
Are you insane! I can’t do that to a 10-year-old who performed an epic heroic action versus a vastly overpowered foe who should not even be in the book! Instead, I tell him that I rolled a 22, but since he made his save, Riandon only takes 11 points of damage. He is still alive with just 2 hit points left.
By the way, I always try to keep track of each PCs hit points like I do any monster for this very reason. As the DM, I can kill anyone I want, whenever I want, but it is more dramatic, and more fun, to have the character barely survive and live to fight another day. If the player does something blatantly stupid or reckless, I’ll let the dice roll where they may, but heroic action like this always deserves a second chance.
James makes a stealth roll to sneak back, invisibly, to the druid’s house. Outside the Dragon is roaring, “Come back here Myoxad! You can’t hide forever. Return what you’ve stolen, and I’ll just kill you quick!”
We end the session here. The players are breathless, as if they had really been chased by a dragon. Another reason why D&D is the greatest game ever, we know it is fantasy, but when it works, it feels real.
Who is this Myoxad? What has he stolen? Will the players survive to find out? Will Droop eat the horses? Find out next week, when I kill the entire party.
To further help your campaign, I’ve linked to my D&D Campaign Resources page, where I’ve placed all the stuff I use to run each campaign. DM and Player maps, handouts, and word files. Hopefully, you will find this useful.
As always, never let the dice get in the way of having fun, and Game On!
“Sorry! So sorry. I was aiming for the spiders!” – Edoith the Green – Wood Elf.