The party foils the plans of a new Dragon Cult and one member turns into Hagrid. But first, it’s a Total Party Kill!
Today, I’m going to kill the whole party. Screw ‘em. These guys have had it way too easy. They’ve been mowing through goblins, low-level thugs, and the occasional bugbear like a John Deere tractor on nitrous. I need to show them just how dangerous some monsters can be.
When last we left our heroes, they had come to the ruined village of Thundertree, looking for a druid who might help them find Cragmaw Castle. They found the druid, Edoith the Greenwood Elf, and he agreed to help them. But first, Ed Greenwood, asks them to help him with a minor problem first.
A big, scary, Green Dragon has moved into town. Thundertree can never be resettled and rebuilt until that foul, pestilent, blight of nature can be driven off. Or killed, preferably killed. But how are a few low-level adventurers and a batty druid supposed to do that?
First, they had reconnoitered the dragon’s tower and discovered some potential flaws in its choice of lairs. But then they got ambushed by spiders and were severely wounded. Then the Dragon came to investigate the noise outside its tower and nearly ate the entire party, were it not for some quick thinking and brave actions by the wizard, Riandon.
Now the party is huddled inside the druid’s house, hungry, hurt and humbled. Meanwhile the Dragon is outside, bellowing with rage. She has mistaken the party for some guy named Mynoxad and claims that he stole something from her.
After the Dragon leaves, I allow the party to have a short rest. Using the resting rules, the party is able heal almost back to full and most of the used spell have been recovered.
While the party sleeps, with no guard mind you, only a meditating elven Wizard is awake. As the Wizard comes out of his trance, the roof is ripped away from the house and the Dragon rears its ugly head inside. Just as Riandon shouts a warning, the dragon breathes a noxious cloud of poisonous gas into the hut. The Thief, Callan, is killed outright and everyone else is badly injured. The cowardly Druid NPC turns into a squirrel and runs out the back through a hole in the wall. The rest of the group is not so lucky.
The Fighter, Regizar, swings his mighty sword, Talon, but the blade can’t penetrate the dragon’s thick scales. Clarissa, the Cleric, and the Wizard use their most powerful spells, but they either miss their target or do minimal damage. The Dragon is howling at them, “Where are my children?! Return them to me!”
The Dragon lays waste to the players using tooth and claw. The Cleric falls next, her chain mail torn to shreds, a gaping wound from neck to waist, her insides spilling out onto the ground. The Fighter uses his action surge, swinging wildly at the beast, to no avail. The Dragon clamps her mighty jaws down on the fighter, tearing his body in half.
Riandon casts Invisibility. The Dragon can’t see him, but it doesn’t matter, he has nowhere to hide. The Dragon spews forth her sickly-sweet poison once more. Although invisible, he has no protection from the viscous fumes that seep into his body, contorting his muscles in angry spasms, and crushing his heart until it stops beating. The warm embrace of death beckons the mage as the great green wyrm lifts his lifeless body into her gaping maw.
A white light envelops Riandon and he has a vision of his god, Oghma, resplendent in his velvet robes. In a soothing voice he speaks, “You are not destined to die at this time. You still have much work to do. Wake up.” Riandon opens his eyes. The roof is still attached, there is no terrifying dragon, and no one is dead. The others have all had the same dream.
With a renewed sense of purpose, they exit the house… Right into the clutches of the real Dragon, who is waiting for them outside the door.
“Don’t try and run, it’s so tedious. You are not the one’s I seek, so I would want to talk to you,” the dragon speaks with a hiss.
“Who are you and what do you want?” Regizar demands.
“Careful, little one. Too much bravery would be detrimental to your health. You would not be able to pronounce my name, but you may call me Venomfang. And what I want is for you to murder those foolish humans in town and return my property.”
“What have they stolen from you, good sir?” says Clarissa.
“It’s Madam. But you play the game much better than your blustering child with the toothpick. They have stolen my eggs, three of them.”
“Why” asks Riandon.
“That need not concern you. Suffice to say that they thought they could compel me with them.”
“Why, don’t you just kill them.” asks Callan. (That makes all four players role-playing with a dragon. So much for the murder-hobos of Phandalin.)
“I could reduce their hovel to rubble and rend the flesh from their bones, but I can’t risk damaging my children.”
“What’ll you give us in return?” asks Regizar with a hint of spite.
“Aside from not eating you whole, right now? What do you want?”
“We want you to leave the area,” says Regizar.
After a long pause, “Done.”
“How do we know that you won’t eat us after we get the eggs?” asks Riandon wisely.
“I will leave the area, after you get me my eggs,” repeats Venomfang.
“And you won’t eat us, right?” repeats Riandon.
“Do not fail me. I’ll be waiting in my tower. Get me those eggs, now!” Venomfang demands.
As she flies back to her tower, James says, “I’m pretty sure she’s gonna eat us.”
“Probably,” adds Edoith the Druid. “But she did say she would leave the area, so that’s a win.”
When it comes to dialog like this, I don’t script it too much. I know that Venomfang will ask the party to rescue her eggs. I know that she would accept an offer to leave the area since that will satisfy the druid’s condition, but she would not offer any gold. She also would never agree to not eat the party, since I want the party to mistrust her.
Once I know what she wants, I decide her attitude, which is boastful, but in need. Everything else is ad-libbed. If the party had pushed for a fight, I would have had her flick one of them with a claw for maybe 5 damage, and then fly away saying she would continue this discussion when the party was feeling more reasonable.
The Dragon Cultists in town that the dragon referred to are horribly ill-defined. So, I fleshed them out. The leader is Mynoxad, a Sorcerer, who is particularly adept at Chromatic Orb and tends to roll on the Wild Magic chart a lot. He tried to convince Venomfang to join the newly reformed Cult of the Dragon. Venomfang’s reply was to eat two of the cultists. Mynoxad now has four cultists at her command.
I moved the Cultists’ building from #13 to #11 because I liked this layout better. The building is still standing and all of the windows are boarded up but you can still peek inside. The southern room has no windows and the players assume that the eggs are hidden there.
This time, I role-played with Jack alone with his thief sneaking around the house. I told him that both the main door and the back door were locked. I describe the 5 people he could see, sitting in the northwest corner of the main room. They did not have a line of sight to the far end of the hall which had two doors, one leading to the room with the back door and the other to the windowless room. But occasionally one member would get up and walk down the hall to the doors.
Jack goes back to the group and does a good job recapping. As soon as Jack mentions the Cult Leader and the red velvet chair he is sitting on, James says, “You know that’s mine, right?”
Here’s the plan, everyone but the fighter is at the back door. The thief unlocks back door. The fighter is at the front door, and plays “Ding-Dong-Ditch”. He pounds on the front door and runs around to the back. The fighter makes his Athletics check to get away before the door opens. The thief makes his Sleight of Hand check to unlock the door. The whole party rolls a higher Deception check than the Cultists Perception. They make it into the building without being seen.
The thief makes both Stealth checks to open the other doors silently. The party makes it into the last room where they find… a trap door with a ladder, leading into the unknown.
Entering this unexpected dungeon, they discover several cells. Inside the first cell, (it did not matter which one they picked,) they discover a handsome young man, wearing a nobleman’s finery. This is Garrick Agundar, 3rd in line of the noble Agundar house in Waterdeep. “Well, alright! It’s about time you guys got here. I think these guys were going to seriously feed me to some dragon. Did my father send you?”
“Yesss?” Riandon deftly replies.
“Great. I hope he’s paying you good coin, cause I’m worth it. Let’s get out of here.”
As I said, I expect Garrick to be a long-term ally of the party. He will be the one to introduce them to Waterdeep. Waterdeep is such a huge place that it is easy for experienced player to become overwhelmed. Waterdeep actually deserves an entire article all its own; I’ll add it to the list. There is so much to do that my inexperience players won’t even know what they can do.
So hopefully Garrick, with plenty of connections and lots of free time, can show them around. I play Garrick as a bad impersonation of Matthew McConaughey’s character, Wooderson, from Dazed and Confused. He fancies himself a bard, but he is completely useless. All he really does is sing bad limericks and cheerleader chants.
He is the epitome of the good, supportive NPC, so of course, none of the players trust him. There is something universal about role-playing games that no players trust anything that the DM puts in front of them. Even amongst 10-year-old beginner players, they think that everything is out to betray and or kill them.
Apparently, the players have assumed that the cultist have paid this guy to sit in a locked cell, just in case some pesky adventurers come around. After ten minutes of improvising honest answers to all of their questions, I finally had the players roll me a perception check with a DC 1. When they all passed, I told them they all perceive him to be honest and trustworthy. “Well, why didn’t you say so, we bring him along.”
Continuing their search, they discovered three large eggs. They are the size of a man’s head and covered in motley green scales. Riandon, eyes them greedily. The group deduces that these are the eggs that Venomfang wants. The party is very smart. But not that smart, you see…
When they entered the house, they forgot to relock the back door, so when they exited the building, the cultists were waiting. This was a really fun combat. The four generic cultists were able to keep the party tied up long enough to really show off Mynoxad’s sorcerous magic. By combining Chromatic Orb with the Twinning ability, Mynoxad was a whirlwind of color and elemental damage, lightning, fire, acid; no one was safe from his primordial fury. I was sad to see this one die. I’ll have to have the Cult of the Dragon have another go at the party sometime in the future.
With the Cultist threat eliminated, they searched their house, where they discovered a scroll of Flying, and a scroll of Mass Protection from Poison, which I added to the game and is absolutely necessary if you expect the party to fight the dragon, which I did. They also found a page of Mynoxad’s Journal which described various rumors of other dragons in the Sword Coast. I used the various dragons found in Tales of the Yawning Portal to tease the players of things to come.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time for the main event. In the black corner, weighing in at 2350 pound, wearing green scale and poisonous grin, it’s a mom just trying to make a home for her children, I mean, it’s the Scourge of Thundertree, Venomfang! And in the white corner, with a combined weight of 630 pounds, the Saviors of Phandalin, it’s the Heroes with No Names.
I was really happy with how this turned out. Until now the group has been just a hack and slash, but here they put together a good plan using the info and tools I gave them. First the party uses the Mass Poison Protection scroll. This will give them advantages on saves and resistance (half damage) to the dragon’s breath weapon. Callan, the thief, will use the dragon-inaccessible door to return the dragon eggs. Clarissa, the cleric, will use the flying potion to get up to the roof of the tower, while Riandon, the mage, uses Misty Step to teleport up to the roof. Regizar, the fighter, and Edoith the Green stand ready to fight. Garrick will stand way over here, cheering the heroes on. “No. No. You boys have fun, I’ll stand over here and record your exploits for posterity.”
In the surprise twist of the century, Venomfang betrays the party. She will move on as agreed, after she’s had a little hero sandwich first, starting with a Halfling appetizer.
The players spring their trap. Using oil and torch, Clarissa lights the tower roof on fire. Riandon casts Thunderwave, blasting the roof off to fall onto the dragon. I have no idea no idea how much damage falling, flaming debris will do. James says he’s got flaming dice. I say drop ‘em on the dragon. 56 points of damage! They might just survive this.
Oh, it is on! The dragon breathes poison on Clarissa and Riandon. Riandon saves, Clarissa does not. The next round, the dragon attacks Clarissa and knocks her unconscious and dying. Again. She falls to the roof, takes more damage and Riandon has to make Dexterity and Strength checks to save her from falling off the roof.
Venomfang attempts to land on Regizar to fight him Mano y Draco. Regizar rolls out of the way and charges. Ed Greenwood casts Call Lightning and actually manages to hit just his target. The Dragon breathes again, and Regizar brushes it off, laughing. Garrick cheers from the bleachers, “Reggie, Reggie, he’s our man. If he can’t do it, we’re all dead!”
Regizar swings and connects. This attack should have dropped Venomfang down to half her hit points, at which point, she would have flown away (according to the book). But Regizar rolls a critical hit for quadruple damage! Venomfang is down to 30 hit points. Enraged she fights to the death.
The battle goes back and forth for a few more rounds. In the end, Callan, the tiny Halfling thief, comes leaping out of the shadows and drives the killing blow, right through the belly of the beast. Venomfang lies dead. Our heroes have vanquished another impossible foe.
Immediately, James, the animal whisperer, who is sitting next to me, whispers in my ear, “I steal a dragon egg.” My reply, “I know you do.” James tells me later, that he will name the dragon, Norbert. Of course, he will.
Ed the Green thanks the party profusely, adding, “That went better than I expected. I thought we were all going to die.” He tells them that he will find out from his forest sources where Cragmaw Castle is and he will meet them in Phandalin on Greengrass with the information. Hurray, the plot can move forward.
As for the dragon eggs, the druid states that he will take these two eggs to the Enclave’s top men. Top… Men. No one else realizes that James stole an egg, and worse, none of them recognized my Raider of the Lost Ark reference. I’m working with Philistines!
The party loots and dragon’s tower and the rest of the town, including their new purple velvet chair. When they return for the horses, they find everyone is missing. They initially think that the stupid goblin stole them. But then they find an unconscious Droop out back with a horseshoe-shaped dent in his head. They find the horses nearby in a field and one of them has a suspicious goblin-sized bite mark on its rump.
Next week, the group travels back to Phandalin, where they discover that all is not as it appears.
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, goblins make horrible guards, and Game On!
So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings. – J.R.R. Tolkien