Let's continue with our discussion of the first episode of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Since last time, Mike Shea of SlyFlourish made a compelling argument for having the Half-Dragon Champion mission be the last of the evening. I tend to agree with him, especially since there is a good chance that one of the PCs will be a bit beat up after it and may not be able to participate in any further missions, such as Save the Mill. Also, I've heard that quite a few groups had to take at least one short rest during the night, so allow them to take it if they need it.
When I have the luxury of time, I like taking a peek at how other people run the adventure. One of the nice things about living in the future is that a lot of people have slick campaign wikis on places like Obsidian Portal. For instance, Loremaster kept to the 1 hour shifts in describing what happened. WinWizard did something I had been thinking of, giving the PCs a label/reward based on the number of townspeople they saved during the course of the night.
As for me, I know one of the things I struggle with the most when running a game, especially a sandbox one, is keeping information straight, especially when the choices characters make in one encounter could affect an encounter that happens hours if not days later. Also, I dislike bogging down the game for things like XP calculation and other record keeping. As I referenced in the last post, I'm creating a bit of a playbook as I go through this adventure to help me provide a bit more structure to the information and make my job a bit easier. You can see the current version here.
The first part lays out the goals for the episode. What are the key elements to the episode that, as a DM, I want to be sure to highlight? In this case, I know I need to introduce a few important NPCs, both the PCs' main allies and some of the antagonists. In addition, we need to give them a clue that something bigger is going on. This isn't a random raid by a bunch of bandits, cultists, and in particular members of the Cult of the Dragon, are amassing quite a treasure pile. Additionally, we need to put a bit of fear into them, the typical kick down the door approach is likely to get them killed especially since the cultist group has an idea that there are adventurers afoot.
As I play through the episode, I can cross out names and check off boxes after I've addressed the goal. This helps me too in terms of pacing because I really don't want to have a big info dump at the end. If I'm 2 missions in and none of the goals have been addressed, I need to step up with info sharing. It helps in this episode that the missions are meant to help with these goals, so it shouldn't be too hard of a task.
The next section has a empty schedule on the left and the list of detailed missions on the right. While I put down the time schedule, there's no need to keep to it. My big thought here is that it would be nice to know later what order they did things in. Imagine if 6 months from now they are in a bar and hear a bard signing a song about the burning of Greenest and she gets most, but not all, of the details right.
After that I have some key information to record for each mission. This includes information that is used for generating XP or is useful later in the adventure. For instance, the PCs can get XP for each townsperson they bring back during the Seek the Keep mission or their XP might be cut in half during the Sanctuary mission if too many townspeople die. Having a quick place to note this info (and a reminder about what is important to note) can make the process of giving XP, if that's what you're group is doing, much easier.
Finally, I have the list of enemies listed in the episode at the bottom as well as room to keep a tally of the number defeated. Even if you're using the milestone based leveling instead of using XP, this can be useful for things like pulling minis or providing achievements for the group, if that's your style.
I tried to keep it to one-page, in part at Mike's suggestion. However, I could see a slightly longer version being made that helped by listing the DCs and such. So, take a look and tell me what you think. I hope to do them for all the episodes.
Ok, so we discussed the number of characters and representation by gender a bit in the adventure, but let’s get deeper into the adventure itself. One thing to know is that this adventure has a lot of characters and is character-driven. This was a driving force behind creating the index. While the majority of characters are relatively minor, keeping track of them isn’t.
During the course of the adventure, the player characters will uncover the Cult of the Dragon’s secret, they are attempting to free Tiamat from her prison in the Nine Hells. To do this, they need to gather the five dragon masks and combine them to create the Mask of the Dragon Queen. Several of these masks have already been found. In addition to masks, the cult is gathering riches to present to Tiamat upon her return.
It is this latter goal that drives the cult to raid the town of Greenest, which the player characters just happen to be near. The first episode start assumes that the players are together and outside of town. This can be tricky, since unless the DM has laid the groundwork, there isn’t necessarily a reason for the PCs to defend the town. The adventure even mentions that they may decide to not do so. The Id DM offers advice for how to tie the player characters more closely with the town, ensuring a smoother entry into the story.
Once they get to Greenest, they will be run through a gauntlet of missions to help save as much of the town during the night. This is one area where the organization of the book hinders the DM. Overall, the book feels like it was written to be an enjoyable read more than as a playbook for running the adventure. On my first read through, I got a great picture of what was supposed to happen that night. I could think of at least a dozen movie or book scenes to use as my mental picture of what was going on. But as I read through it again to prepare for this blog post, I realized that I didn’t understand a lot of the expectations of how to actually run the episode, but more on that later.
Greenest in Flames is meant to be run in a sandbox fashion. It has four main goals: introduce the characters to some of the people who will feature prominently over the next few episodes, establish the PCs as hero with some renown, clue the players in that their decisions will have consequences and cause the world to react to them and let the players know that this adventure is not OSHA approved, their characters can and will go through some brutal stuff.
To aid in these goals, the adventure provides example missions that the PCs can undertake. While the book presents this as a sandbox and in theory the order should not matter, the proposed structure for the episode suggests an order. The proposed structure is thus, the PCs arrive at 9 pm and need to survive the night. Sunrise is at 6 am. Most of the raiders will be gone by 4 am, with many leaving before then (leaving in waves is a nice detail to reinforce to help with episode 2 in particular). Each mission should last 1 hour. According to this plan, the PCs could participate in seven missions during the evening. Several of the missions either state that they will happen at a specific time or imply that they need to happen after other missions. For instance, the dragon attack states that it happens slightly before midnight, which would be in slot 4 if we keep to the suggested timing. The suggested reason for the attack is that Mondath knows the adventurers exist and that they are in the keep. This implies that they’ve already had time to be heroic. Likewise, the save the mill mission is a trap set specifically for the PCs. The prisoners mission makes more sense after they have done one or two missions but early enough in the night that the information might be useful. It’s also a good time to tell the PCs that leaving the keep through the front gate is out of the question. However, the mission states that it can be combined with others, so keep that in mind too.
My suggested ordering is:
Option A: keep to the midnight timeline on the Dragon attack (he’s bored and really doesn’t want to be there anyway)
1 Seek the Keep
2 Prisoners/The Old Tunnel
4 Dragon Attack
5 The Sally Port
6 Half-Dragon Champion
7 Save the Mill
Option B: Push the dragon attack back an hour to give the PCs more time to establish themselves as heroes in town
1 Seek the Keep
2 The Sally Port
3 Prisoners/The Old Tunnel
5 Dragon Attack
6 Half-Dragon Champion
7 Save the Mill
I have the half-dragon champion mission right after the dragon attack because it just feels more cinematic that way. The morale in town should be pretty low after the dragon attack. Having the call for a champion right then allows the half-dragon to really gloat. Also, the story implies a stepped withdrawal from the town. Having the mill after that would make sense as a parting blow directed at the PCs and gives them the opportunity for an up beat before the end of the episode. It all depends on how you want to tell the story of course. This is different from SlyFlourish’s suggested order, so I think there’s definitely a degree of flexibility to this.
One thing that confuses me about this episode, though, are the random encounters. They are sprinkled throughout the episode description and I’m never sure if the new ones mentioned are supposed to supersede the table at the beginning or not. So let’s explore that aspect a bit more.
The section called “Wandering Encounters” contains a table of random encounters and mechanisms for how to determine when the group encounters one. I say mechanisms because how the characters act determines which one to use.
Skill check If they are being stealthy and careful, each player makes a stealth check for their character. If they are using the stream bed for cover, they gain advantage. For every two failures in the group, the group will have one encounter.
Distance If they aren’t being stealthy, then the DM rolls a 1d8 for every 100 feet traveled. If the result is 5 or higher, then they will have an encounter and the DM rolls on the random encounter chart.
One difficulty with this system is that while there’s a map with scale, very few paths have the distance detailed in advance. So, one suggestion I’d make to DMs is to have a good idea of the distances ahead of time. However, it’s often multiple hundreds of feet between the areas on the map, so it’s clear that being stealthy has a clear advantage here since with a four PC group, the max encounters would be 2 per travel attempt, regardless of distance, where it could easily be a max of 5 or more with the distance based system.
However, a number of the missions have descriptions that vary from this system. For instance, “Seek the Keep” states that there should be a static three groups of raiders between them and the keep. Additionally, they will meet a group of NPCs each time they retreat. If those NPCs join their group, the group will have an additional encounter for every four townspeople. This makes some degree of sense, a large group will attract more attention. Other missions have overrides as well. For instance, the Old Tunnel has its own method for determining if there are some random encounters.
None of this is an issue, but it can make the episode a bit chaotic for the DM. In the next post, I’ll take a quick stab at creating an info sheet for the DM to help limit the chaos.
Art from WikiCommons: Paolo Uccello - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Dragon#mediaviewer/File:Paolo_Uccello_...
Along with a full character name index comes a bit of data. While not perfect (few things are), the frequency of page mentions can provide a hint into the importance of the non-player characters (NPCs) to the game. Frequently mentioned NPCs are more likely to affect the lives of the player characters (PCs). There is a greater likelihood of interaction or of the NPC either aiding or thwarting the characters.
Before I look at the data, I want to take a moment and say that talking about gender representation doesn’t mean that a work is automatically sexist or say anything about creator intent. I know both Wolfgang Bauer and Steve Winter. Wolfgang was one of the first people I did work for and both he and Steve have been supportive of me. I see things in the adventure that speak to conscious intent to be more inclusive of women. It’s actually one of the few published adventures I would run for myself. However, I’m breaking down this adventure into statistics in part because it helps me better understand our culture’s latent biases and how they might be reflected in the work we all do.
With that said, let’s start looking at the numbers. A good starting point is just looking at the number of named characters. Looking at my post yesterday, we have 53 male, 21 female, and 7 of unknown gender. That leaves us at about 26% female characters. That’s higher than the approximate 21% in the starter set adventure and in line with female representation in family movies. As that NY Times article mentions, it’s pretty common to have a Harry and a Ron for every Hermione.
Comparing the total frequencies of page mentions by gender shows that female characters were mentioned more often given their numbers than the male characters did, with approximately 35% of the total. The reason for this is easily found, one female character, Rezmir, had more than triple the number of page mentions, 35, than the highest male characters did individually, Dralmorrer Borngray and Leosin Erlanthar, 11 each. This makes sense, she is the “big bad” of this portion of the adventure.
By moving beyond the characters Rezmir, we can see how much of an outlier she is. For instance, of the 21 female characters, nearly two-thirds of them, 14, are mentioned on just one page. Compare that to about 54% of male characters being mentioned on just one page. If we break up the remaining characters into groups based on page mentions, 2-6 and 7-12 mentions, we find the ratio of male to female in the first group to be approximately 3 to 1 in each group with 17:5 and 7:2 respectively.
I think these numbers support the general feeling I had about the adventure, there are definite attempts at creating a world that is more gender equal, we still haven’t gotten to the place where gender equality in the Forgotten Realms is the norm (Caveat: My experience is by and large post 2009, earlier works may not match this impression). Also, I did leave the adventure with the continued feeling that the “dark side” is where it’s at for women still. It feels like the stereotypical “good” people tend to be more male and the others tend to be more female, but it's a good space for future investigation.
However, I’d like to take the time to talk about some of those attempts at inclusiveness in the adventure. First, as already mentioned, the “big bad” in this adventure is a female half-dragon. Her charisma is her second lowest score, with strength being her highest. She has legendary actions that she can take during her turns. The artwork for her (on page 79) does not have discernible breasts and she is not what humans would consider pretty. She’s intelligent and proactive instead of reactive. She is not fooled by Leosin Erlanthar and astutely moves the camp when he escapes.
Additionally, more than half of the episodes have at least one notable female character in them. Episodes 2 and 3 have Frulam Mondath playing a prominent role. Episode 4 has Jamna Gleamsilver. Episode 7 has Talis and 8 has Rezmir.
Throughout the book, there are sprinkled small vignettes that undercut the numbers. For instance, one of the first encounters of the adventure involves a human family, “father, mother, and three young children,” being attacked by kobolds. However, it’s the father who is injured and the mother who is protecting the family with “a round shield and a broken spear.” There are mentions in a few places reminding that the generic groups of creatures have male and female members, such ast eh mention on page 47 that “[t]he Scaly Death tribe comprises eighty lizardfolk warriors, both male and female.” Also, of the five caravan guards mentioned on pages 32-33, four of them are female.
Finally, while I haven’t had a chance to do a similar break down based on fantasy race and skin tone of the human characters, I really wanted to point out this artwork of Talis the White.
I’m not well-versed enough yet in the ethnic groups of the Realms to know where she is from but she does not look like a stereotypical fantasy European to me. Likewise, I love this illustration of Captain Othelstan.
Wait, this is a gaming site, why talk about online security? Well, over the past few months, there have been a number of hacking attempts of people in the gaming community, whether it’s indie video game developers like Zoe Quinn or tabletop RPG designers like David Hill. Given this atmosphere, it doesn’t hurt to shore up security where one can, especially passwords. One of my friends recently posted with questions on how to do this and I thought I’d write up what I did. This is meant to be an introduction to these concepts and as such, is not meant to be exhaustive.
One of the first things you can do is pick strong, unique passwords for each site and rotate them regularly. This isn’t particularly revolutionary advice, but many people don’t follow it (including myself at times).
How to pick passwords:
Random common words
Probably best known from to this xkcd comic, four random common words that you can use to tell a story is easy to create and remember but difficult to brute force due to the number of combinations. No remembering which “i” character is now a “1” or where exactly you put that punctuation character.
The downside? Many sites require passwords that contain upper and lower case letters along with numerals and punctuation. For those sites, I suggest a tool to create random passwords. For instance, LastPass has a handy extension for browsers such as Chrome that will generate a password for you.
Now that you have all these fancy new passwords, it’s likely that you’ll need somewhere to store them. Three non-OS-based password safes I hear about on a regular basis are:
I haven’t had as much experience with 1Password, but with LastPass you can easily share passwords between your computers by setting up a passphrase. If you forget that password, you have to use a computer that had been successfully used with LastPass in the past in order to reset it. It also supports a number of browsers, filling out login forms for you and recognizing when the password on the account has changed and saving it for you. It will also give you warnings when it notices password reuse.
A potential downside to both 1Password and LastPass is that the information is stored in the cloud and, thus, while decryption tends to happen on a local machine, if you don’t change your passwords that often and someone were to get the encrypted version of your password, they can brute force it at their leisure.
KeePass, on the other hand, only does local storage. Authentication can happen through either a password or with a special file called a key. This puts you in more control of how and where the data is stored but at the price of usability. KeePass doesn’t have browser integration built in although some third-parties evidently have helped there. If you use multiple computers, you will have to find your own way of sharing between them, such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and the like.
At the most basic level, when you log into most sites, you present two items that help validate that you are who you claim to be. The first is usually your username or email address. On many sites, this is something that others either know or could guess about you. The second is a password, something that, in theory, should be known only to you. However, it’s static and over time can either be guessed or, if you reuse the same password, obtained from elsewhere.
One way to increase security is to have you present a second secret token that is not static. That’s where multi-factor authentication comes in. I’ve seen two main methods of providing these tokens:
SMS - The site will send you a text message with the token to use, e.g. Google and PayPal.
Passcode Generator - Either a hardware- or software-based token generator that you need to have with you in order to generate the token.
A few weeks ago when I first heard of some game devs accounts being hacked, I went through and hardened up a bunch of the sites I use. I found a great site, Two Factor Auth, that details what sites allow for multi-factor authentication along with how they implement it and links on info for how to do it. It took a couple of hours, but I worked my way through the list.
Many sites use a software-based token generator, most notably Google Authenticator. I found the process pretty simple. You download Google Authenticator to your device(s). The site presents a QR code that you scan with the camera on your device and the authenticator app handles the rest of it for you. I didn’t know it at the time, but you can only set up multiple devices if you do it at the same time or if you save the QR code to someplace safe and scan it later.
A downside to two-factor authentication is that you then need to have one of those devices with you in order to log in. Many sites offer a way around this by giving you backup codes you can use in case your authenticator or its data ever gets lost. Care should be taken when storing these codes (and the QR codes if you decide to save them as well). Sites that use SMS authentication often ask for a backup phone. I’ve found that Google Voice can work for this.
One thing I have thought about doing, but haven’t tried yet, is taking advantage of plus addressing. Gmail and Google Apps for Business both offer this. What happens is that you can take your normal email and add in extra information. For instance, if I have a netflix account, I could set my email as email@example.com (assuming they also support plus addressing). Then I would have three factors that are likely to be known only to me when I log in. By the way, this can be useful in dealing with spam. I know some people also have a separate email account that they use for accounts as another way to obscure the email from people guessing or brute forcing.
So, if you’re looking into hardening your online accounts, I hope this post pointed you in the right directions. If you want to improve security further, I might suggest reviewing what apps you have given permissions to access your various social media accounts (such as twitter and facebook) and see if you are still using them and are comfortable with their level of access. Happy interwebbing!
Art: "Smuggler" © 2013 Kaitlynn Peavler and Cheeky Mountain Parrot Games, created for Conquering Corsairs, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
This past week we recorded The Tome Show review of Tyranny of Dragons: Hoard of the Dragon Queen. During that review, we talked about how information dense the book can be and I know in preparing for it, I wished that there was an index of named NPCs. So, I decided to spend some time this afternoon creating one. (By the way, I was fortunate enough to get a free copy from Wizards of the Coast for review.)
|Azbara Jos||31, 37, 38, 39, 48, 54, 62, 77, 80|
|Blagothkus||75, 77, 78, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85|
|Bog Luck||40,41, 42|
|Captain Othelstan||63, 72, 73, 75|
|Castellan Escobert the Red||7, 8, 9, 12|
|Craggnor the Dwarf||66|
|Dralmorrer Borngray||45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 52, 53, 55, 56, 58, 61|
|Esclarotta||75, 82, 83, 84|
|Frulam Mondath||9, 10, 15, 17, 18, 21, 25, 26, 27, 30|
|Galvan the Blue||68|
|Glazhael the Cloudchaser||68, 77, 83, 85, 86|
|Governor Tarbaw Nighthill||7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 19, 28|
|Gundalin the Wheelwright||73, 75|
|Hulde||77, 78, 79|
|Jamna Gleamsilver||31, 37, 38, 39, 40, 42|
|Langdedrosa Cyanwrath||12, 15, 17, 18, 21, 24, 27|
|Lasfelro the Silent||32|
|Leosin Erlanthar||6, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 27, 28, 29, 30, 80|
|Lord Marsten||67, 74|
|Neronvain the Green||68|
|Nesim Waladra||13, 14|
|Ontharr Frume||20, 27, 28, 29, 30, 80|
|Pharblex Spattergoo||46, 47, 48, 49, 52, 53, 55, 59, 60, 61|
|Rath Modar||5, 48, 64, 77, 80, 83|
|Rezmir||10, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 27, 31, 33, 34, 39, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 62, 63, 68, 72, 73, 77, 78, 79, 80|
|Samardag the Hoper||33|
|Sandesyl Morgia||77, 81, 82|
|Severin the Red Silrajin||5, 68, 80, 81|
|Snapjaw||44, 45, 47, 49, 53|
|Sulesdeg the Pole||33|
|Szass Tam||5, 31|
|Talis the White||5, 48, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 71, 72|
|Trespin the Troll||63, 64, 67, 69|
|Varram the White||62, 66, 68|
|Voaraghamanthar||45, 46, 47, 48, 58|
|Wessic the Wizened||69|
|Wigluf||77, 78, 79|
Named Characters by Gender
|Female NPCs (21)
Talis the White
Male NPCs (52)
Castellan Escobert the Red
Craggnor the Dwarf
Glazhael the Cloudchaser
Governor Tarbaw Nighthill
Gundalin the Wheelwright
Lasfelro the Silent
Samardag the Hoper
Severin the Red Silrajin
Sulesdeg the Pole
Trespin the Troll
Varram the White
Wessic the Wizened
Galvan the Blue
Neronvain the Green
The raw data, along with information about the NPCs' race and background (e.g. veteran, merchant, etc) as well as an index to illustrations can be found here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1e-S_GU0ihGHuSb7-McU9rwS4esD2WBsG...
Also, be sure to grab the pdf supplement from Wizards of the Coast here: https://dnd.wizards.com/products/tabletop-games/rpg-products/hoard-drago...
You can buy Hoard of the Dragon Queen from Amazon.
- Tim Eagon pointed out that Sammaster is an NPC in the Forgotten Realms and is male.