|art by Dave Allsop|
Confronted with so great a danger, I didn't know if the group would choose to run, negotiate, or fight ...
... turns out, at least initially, they chose not to do any of those things, and instead froze like rabbits.
For about three rounds they stared in terrified shock as the dragon, in no particular hurry, idly plucked up, chewed, and swallowed several giant spiders that were lurking nearby. In proper comedic form, each time the dragon would shift positions or blink an eye the party would push each other and jostle a bit to avoid being the nearest one to it (as if the distance of three or four feet would make any great difference).
"Should we try diplomacy first?"
"If we push the cleric forward, he'll just attack it and get us all killed."
"If you want me to talk to it, then you have to talk first!"
Finally, the greedy elven death-cleric (who was probably the most to blame for the current predicament) cast Sanctuary upon himself and dared to dash out of the ruined cottage where the explorers cowered. Without the least pause for thought, like a multi-ton house cat, the dragon pounced ... and missed its saving throw! The potent defensive spell forced it to waste time or shift its attention elsewhere and the elf scurried away as fast as his heavy armor and bag full of gold would allow, leaving his comrades to their own fates.
Even then, the remainder of the group clung to the scant protection offered by the crumbling walls where they crouched (even when a stray tail-swipe from the beast toppled half of the structure).
Finally, Lefty, the one-armed human fighter, dared to make a dash for freedom, and the dragon began a spirited pursuit -- everyone was sure that Lefty was a goner-- but amazingly the dragon missed on each of its attack rolls!
Perhaps inevitably, the dice finally caught up with Lefty, and the players seemed a bit shocked when the dragon snatched him up, tossed him skyward, and caught him in its mouth, biting the stout fighter neatly in two.
Seeing their friend being overtaken finally shook the group loose from their stupor and the remainder of the adventurers dashed in several different directions.
There was no time to mourn (or loot the body), however, for with a few powerful wing beats the dragon was aloft and ready to enjoy the sport of chasing them down one-by-one. I handed off dice-rolling duties for the dragon to the fighter's player to keep him in the mix, and he seemed happy enough.
The elven thief used his "mask of the wild" and natural speed to make the most headway, while the halfling-turned-stick waddled in among the bushes and wisely chose to use camouflage rather than trusting his now-pitiful speed. The wizards ran in opposite directions and I assigned a number to each fleeing character to see where the dragon would turn its attention next.
Sprinting out from behind another derelict house, the female wizard felt a shadow fall across her as the dragon began an attack run. In an amazing show of pluck, she stood her ground and caught the creature squarely on the nose with a Thunderwave as it dove upon her! The dragon again failed a saving throw and, given an odds-or-evens toss of the dice, I ruled that it was shaken off course and plowed directly into the nearby house with a thunderous crash!
I thought that the wizard would take to her heels at this point, but she instead stood her ground and hit the dragon with three Magic Missiles, bring the total damage inflicted to 26 hit points. Enraged, the dragon used its breath weapon while still entangled in the wreck of the house, filling the twisting paths of Thundertree with a stinging toxic fog. Eventually it was able to free itself, murder in its heart, and when the female wizard finally turned to run again it plunged upon her full of stomping, clawing fury and she met her end in an instant.
"Dragons are jerks."
Taking to the air once again, I allowed each of the surviving characters a reasonable chance of escaping the dragon's notice (75% +), taking stealth, armor type, speed and special abilities into consideration:
- The surviving wizard went unnoticed.
- The wooden halfling wasn't spotted (though it was a very near thing).
- The stealthy elven archer was overlooked entirely.
- At last, however, a metallic flash caught the monster's eye and it spied the armored elven cleric, still jogging as fast as he could, bag of gold in hand, along the trail leading away from Thundertree.
A quick roll of the dice meant that the angry beast chose to unleash its recharged breath weapon on the fleeing form and 12D6 resulted in 40-some points of damage ... the black-hearted cleric choked out his last breath and dropped stone dead.
"Maybe we should have tried talking to it."
Curiously, none of the three survivors had been the ones so keen on gathering up gold last session -- in fact two of them didn't come away with so much as a single coin! So it was that they returned to Phandalin not much richer, but certainly a good deal wiser for their trouble, and now with quite a tale to tell!