Episode 4 in HotDQ is an interesting journey. The PCs travel to Elturel, meet some members of a couple factions that encourage them to continue “tracking” the Cult’s wagons of loot, and move on to Baldur’s Gate and beyond. It’s a traveling episode.
The bulk of the Episode centers on a caravan wagon in which the PC’s find employment as a cover to keep spying on the Cult’s activities. Their goal is to find where this stuff is going. And find out what exactly the Cult is doing.
In preparation for running this episode, I had to figure out several things:
1) Was it necessary to “flesh out” Elturel if they were only going to be there for a short time?
2) What might the PCs potentially need Baldur’s Gate information for? As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, this is my first foray into the wold of Faerun and the Forgotten Realms. I had a lot of learning to do.
3) How much did I want to develop the NPCs that the PCs might interact with?
4) What might be the logistics of managing combat in a caravan? What does one even look like? How does one operate?
5) What do I need to know about the area they’re going to be traveling through?
Fortunately, there is a wonderful tool available online that has proven incredibly helpful: The Forgotten Realms Wiki. I’ve been using this a lot to try to help me learn more about each area. Through the wiki, I was able to determine that the PCs would be going through an area that had already been outlined in different resources, so I was able to purchase them to help me understand the “lay of the land”: Scourge of the Sword Coast. While this particular adventure ins’t completely necessary, it does outline one particular town the PCs will necessarily pass through: Daggerford. It is a town on the Trade Way between Baldur’s Gate and Waterdeep, where the PCs are headed. I felt it was important to know what this area was like so I could provide descriptive detail that implies a depth and richness to the table experience of the setting.
I decided early on that Elturel was such a short stop in the PCs journey that I probably wouldn’t need to extrapolate too much on that particular location. And my instincts were correct–we blew threw that area at my table and headed out to Baldur’s Gate very quickly. My table finished their first session of Episode 4 following the Cult to one of their “safe houses” in the city, and staying at an inn nearby. They found their contact, who facilitated finding employment for the Cult’s caravan journey north, and we left it at that. After the fact, I did find an entry on the Faerun Wiki that could have potentially provided some assistance if needed, and a map through a Google search using Elturel as the term.
I told my table I would have a conflict that would prevent me from DMing the following session as scheduled. I told them they were more than welcome to join another table at our store for that week. They all decided to wait a week, but honestly I didn’t want to just leave them high and dry and not able to play because of me. Instead, I worked on fleshing out the NPCs they found employment with, and sent them each personal emails with descriptive details and images of their particular NPCs that had hired them. In so doing I learned I had to be particular about a lot of things, so I created a whole panoply of personalities for the journey northward.
I also learned that I need to figure out just exactly what the caravan looked like, and how they might be set up for each evening.So I created a couple images in photoshop to help me make that happen.
And that made me realized I had to figure out when these adventures might be happening. Their order. Ack–nightmare. I had 6 sessions to break things up into (as prescribed by my Store Organizer) and I created an order so we could play all the little random encounter scenarios that the players have to deal with in Episode 4. I started by going backwards–figuring out which random encounters needed to happen when because there were specifics encounters that had to happen in a specific order and time in the Episode.
I started with those, backed the rest of them up, and figured out when each one would happen in the order that I desired. I outlined it on a spreadsheet for easy reference, and dove in. I tried to make certain encounters make sense in conjunction with other encounters.
I also learned that the tone of what happens in the caravan when the PCs are not actually engaged in one of these random scenarios is honestly the bulk of what this Episode is about. In order for some of the scenarios to make sense, there needs to be a sense of place and climate established early on. It is not outlined in the adventure. The table atmosphere is, in part, what will make the later required encounters really work. If your style as a DM means that you aren’t really describing how all the NPCs react around each other, the behavior of the Cultists, the impact of some of these scenarios on the caravan, it can be hard to then whip the final encounters into fruition without making the PCs feel “railroaded”. I would suggest DMs ponder ways to describe the climate, describe the quality of the journey, take time to create NPC banter and characterization, put the PCs in positions where they have to interact with the NPCs in order to, in the end, assume a sense of authority in the caravan that will be important for Episode 5’s NPC conflicts.
In Episode 4 there is a major editing error in the adventure as it was published. A stat block was changed after some monsters were selected, making one particular random encounter a real death-fest. There has been some thick debate on how to deal with it. I decided to run the scenario as written. I warned my players. They performed AWESOMELY! Charm Person, Crown of Thorns, Hold Person. It was incredible. I was so proud of them for taking down/”dealing with” 4 CR8 creatures (that kept failing their saving throws) so deftly. I was proud to award them the XP they deserved.
I will continue describing the events as the game progresses. Currently, I’m getting ready for Session 4 of this adventure, when they all go through Daggerford. I have a lot of reading to do in prep.