From Giant Slayer to Hoard of the Dragon Queen

Back in the day I ran a game for my work collegeues. We started with Giantslayer as a tester, to show of what D&D is to a group of people who had never even heard of a role play game before. Once we were done with the adventure, a few people wanted to carry on and so I began Hoard of the Dragon Queen (which I ultimately abandoned as being too linear, but regret that now).

Here are my notes for the sessions (these ended up being a couple of sessions worth of notes) between the two campaigns.

I quite like these notes. My aim was to have a page-per-scene. All the character names I needed, where I needed them. Any thing I’d likely have to look up – creature stats or NPC objectives. The notes are also fairly reusable and easily updateable once the characters kill someone I didn’t expect them to.

Turn left at the fragile gibbon

“I doodled this,” they said, casually.

I’ve never been in an adventure with a maze. A dungeon crawl, where the plays have dozens of rooms to clear without a map, are sort of like mazes. Those are rarely designed to get the players lost, or feel trapped, though. It could be because, like Dyson says, that sense of confusion does manifest, but not in a fun way. You’re more like to have your players blindly stumbling from room to room, with the DM grinning with a sense of false achievement.

We could take our pointers from classic text based adventure games, or even point and click adventure games, where you’re given the list of exits from the current scene. The fog of war here is the DM saying, “you’ve not been north, so you don’t quite make out anything in the darkness.” Remembering that, “you have already been south, and you remember that that’s where the gnoll hides.”

An intelligence check might help the players understand the geography of the area, without a map. “With a 13 on your Int check, you are pretty sure that the room to the south is the one you bypassed earlier, when you were travelling past the waterfall.”

Of course, if anyone chooses to be a cartographer, give them an unlabelled version of the map or quickly sketch one out. This kind of play style should be rewarded.

Another feature from a video game that I believe is important is in these situations is travelling from nethack. If a player says “I want to go back to the room with the Naga statue”, I would not make them struggle to remember the way back. I’d definitely list off the rooms they pass through to get there (giving them the opportunity to change their mind and upping the tension), but ten minutes of “okay, I’ll go left. Oh, back then. Right?” isn’t fun.

(An adventure I reviewed a while ago used a maze-as-a-challenge, which was always visible, and the players could figure out how to manipulate it.)

Quagmire Duck

The honk of a quagmire duck is the last thing any adventurer wants to hear when crossing a bog. Their territory stretches as far as they can be heard, or at least that’s what they seem to like to think. These multi-headed, tar soaked ducks are vicious and hot headed, with a recklessness that rivals a manic barbarian.

The number of heads a quagmire duck has varies between two and four, each with its own long, opposable neck.

Swamp Life

Quagmire ducks spend most of their life with all but one of their heads underground, reach down as far as they can to find any lurking fish. One of their heads is always kept above ground, as high as it can be, sweeping the surroundings for interlopers.

Their strong wings let them swim through the loose mud as if it were water. This leaves them with their distinctive brown gloss, sticking to their feathers added an impressive layer of impact absorption from any potential attackers.

Blind Rage

The most insulting compliment to pay on of these ducks is to take a step closer to it. This appears to override any sense of self-preservation, flipping a switch within the bird from its typical graceful manner into a rabid killer. For some time this was considered a defensive mechanism, but those who are able to communicate with the ducks have explained that the bird loses itself to its rage even when it knows it’s sure to die.

The ducklings do not present like this. It’s only in adulthood does this craze take over.

Flying mounts. There have been three instances in recorded history of gnomes using quagmire ducks as mounts. Each time, it was only as a result of an extended period of bonding between the two. Small creatures can use them as mounts, but keeping control of them does not seem likely.

Quagmire Duck

Medium beast, chaotic.

Armour class: 14, Hit points: 154 (28d8+28), Speed: 30ft. Fly: 20ft.

Str: +3, Dex: +3, Con: +1, Wis: 0, Int: 0, Cha: -4

Skills. Perception: +6. Senses: Dark vision. (60ft.) Passive perception: 16. Languages: none.

Challenge: 5 (1,800 XP)

Keen Sight. Has advantage of Perception checks which require sight, due to having a bunch of heads.

Multiattack. Gets an attack for each head.


Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 15 (1d12 + 2) piercing damage.

I had a dream about this guy, so I figured I’d write him up.

Page layout and single page encounters

I want to write an interesting encounter – an antithesis of “roll on this table for a random encounter”. My problem with those kinds of encounters is that they often have very little imagination to them, and by their nature the DM can’t prep for them to add more colour. I know they gap they’re trying to fill: sometimes players dawdle and if they hang around the forest or make too much noise in a dungeon, something should turn up to teach them a lesson and get them moving.

I don’t think that problem needs to be solved by having a table to roll on which says “3 bears, 2 liches.” Why can’t there just be half a dozen generic, but well thought out, encounters at the back of the adventure?

I’ve been working on writing one of those. Laying it out on an A5 page is tricky though.

I’ve got one page of text which the DM should read at their leisure, explaining the environment. And then the cast list for the combat. The idea is that this is all they need open for the encounter, and can doodle on the page as needed.

I’ve only managed to fit 4 of the bad guys on this, so it doesn’t really scale. As I’m writing this, it occures to me that I’ll actually have two pages of A5 content I can fill for the DM to see at once.

Here’s the aims:

  • Give the bad guys descriptions. If you’re playing theatre of the mind this is super important, but hard to think up something unique on the spot. I promise your players will refer to them by their descriptions rather than “the one I just hit” or “which one is closer again?”.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: fleshless mobs. The goblin has a locket around his neck and suddenly you’ve got the players thinking of his loved ones back home.
  • Give the bad guys tactics. Read their actions from top to bottom on their turn. Do the top most possible one, skipping if it sounds boring right now. This gives them a personality which the players can come to expect during the fight.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: The bad guy has a d4 dagger and a d6 shortsword. Why would you ever chose the dagger? Many creatures in the MM have redundant weapons, leaving them as one-trick ponies.
  • Initiative has already been rolled. It was random, trust me. Just pencil in the characters around.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: Why bother rolling for this at the table? It takes ages to do this, meanwhile your players are already yelling their initiative at you.
  • Fleeing should be at the front of the DM’s mind.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: Why does ever bad guy fight to the death? How often to bar fights end up with body bags? At some point, even in a war people give up. The bad guys here must have a limit of some kind. The flee condition turns the end of the battle from a slog to a race, before they get away.
  • Loot is relevant, more interesting than just money, and already written down.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: “Can I loot the corpses?” “Uh, sure. They’re got shitty clothes and weapons that aren’t worth taking… They’ve got six gold though, I guess.”

A third of an idea: Goldenkind

I got thinking about race-classes and wanted to make one. The cool part about making it so that an elf can’t play your class is that you can go kind buckwild and not have to think about how each race works with the class.

So here’s the idea: the goldenkind are a race who come from the Outerplanes. There are only 16 of them alive at any one time, and each one comes from a different plane. There being only sixteen alive at any time I think makes a fun opportunity for the DM to have their player bump into other goldenkind; with it being quite rare and the personalities never aligned, I figure it might make for some interesting roleplay bits.

The plane they come from determines their alignment, of course. The fluff is that the leader of that plane has sent out an emissary to the Material Plane to further the cause. As time is a bit hand wavey for the gods that hang out there, the goldenkind is in no rush and is free to follow pursuits like saving the blacksmith’s son.

The gimick of the class is that they have almost no ways to do damage themselves. They have their normal Attack action, if they wanna use it but at higher levels (3rd?) they can swap their Attack action for addition Reactions. Reactions are what they thrive off of where they play a support role in the pack.

Their alignment decides their “spell list”.

  • Evil. Focuses on prividing additional damage. Example reaction: Painful Echo. Use after a target takes damage. At the end of the target’s next turn, the take an additional 1d6 damage.
  • Good. Increases the usefulness of boons. Example reaction: Resplednant Life. Use after a target is healed. They gain an extra 1d4 health.
  • Lawful. Forces compliance or returns to the natural order of things. Example reaction: Obligation. Use when target is making a saving throw against a Charmed affect. That save must be made with disadvantage.
  • Chaotic. Bends a rule. Example reaction: No Harm Done. Use on a target if their prepared spell fails to trigger. The spell slot expended is recovered.
  • Neutral. Advantages or disadvantages everyone equally. Example reaction: Glistening Light. As a new source of light is being created, you can target it. The light source gives off a further 20 feet of light until it is douted. This additional light has no other special properties.

The problem is that some of them are really difficult to write reactions for. I’m not sure I could write a whole list of spells for them whilst staying true to the domain.

Back in the day, it’s worth noting that spells did come with alignments. They don’t anymore which must have been a deliberate choice.