Session 19: Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Episode 7 Hunting Lodge (**)
 
Our eighth-level heroes, dwarven cleric of life Tobias Ironaxe (my character), halfling ranger beastmaster Lektra Alderleaf (my five-year-old daughter's character), and gnome arcane trickster Elec Alderleaf (my eight-year-old son's character) exited the portal to find a hunting lodge nearby. They entered through the front door only to be assaulted by gargoyles. The PCs eventually dispatched them, making their way up the steps to be greeted by Talis the White, her bodyguards Maelgot and Sorvic, and a dragonclaw named Kusphia.

Talis made it clear she was willing to negotiate and her muscle discouraged any arguing. She offered the PCs a banner and a passphrase to reach the final destination of the treasure hoard stolen by the cult, Skyreach Castle. Never eager for a fight, Elec accepted. With directions to the nearest town, Parnast, they set off to stop Skyreach Castle before it took off.


On their way to town Lektra noticed that her loyal mount and animal companion Tablehead the pony was limping. Tablehead had been injured lifting her to the top of Castle Naerytar's tower through a combination of magic and rope pulleys, which pulled the pony's leg. The party limped into Parnast to resupply and prepare for the journey ahead.


They stayed at the Golden Tankard, where they met Eldrin Haunn. Haunn explained that he was Sir Isteval's squire and that there was important business for them in Dragonspear Castle. Two dwarves drinking nearby, Dragus Shallowvein and Evlor Bronzebender, practically spit out their drinks at mention of the castle. After asking the PCs to speak with Isteval about their plans, Haunn bid the heroes farewell.


The PCs left the Golden Tankard to meet with Sir Isteval, only to discover that Haunn was long dead. Convinced some evil impersonator was creating a trap, Sir Isteval asked the heroes to go with him to investigate Dragonspear Castle. They were joined by Reioth, a druid who was shepherding the PCs since their days in Phandalin.


Reioth agreed to take care of Tablehead and introduced Lektra to a new mount, a dire rabbit she names Cutie. Cutie is anything but cute, a medium-size rabbit with slavering fangs that only listens to her. Reioth also initiated Lektra into his druidic circle and as part of her initiation gave her a magical map and backpack for the journey ahead. Reioth explained that Skyreach Castle, parked behind Dragonspear Castle, would depart soon and urged haste.


If it wasn't clear, my daughter had recently become a fan of Dora the Explorer. We painted the Lini miniature from the Bones II Kickstarter to match Dora's color scheme and gave her a magical map of mapping and a Heward's handy haversack. You'd think she would want her animal companion to be a monkey like Boots, but we've been watching a lot of The Amazing World of Gumball, so she's become partial to rabbits. I re-based the Demon Bunny from Horrorclix. The irony of a gnome ranger/druid riding a large angry rabbit is not lost on me. The end result is what mattered most:  Her interest in playing increased considerably after these tweaks.


I combined this chapter with the final chapter of Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, which has a lot of exposition and set up. Both adventures lead the heroes by the nose: once again, the PCs are expected to pretend to be cultists, and Isteval is clearly walking into a trap with no plan or backup. The adventure punishes characters who decide to use force instead (Trespin the four-armed troll being just one example), which really railroads the scenario. It's also not particularly well-organized, which means it's easy to miss a lot of the descriptions and therefore some of the monsters.

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