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My party just did the encounter in Hoard of the Dragon Queen with the 4 guard drakes and a major NPC. Is this fight meant to be extremely deadly? I'm a player in this campaign, so I don't have access to the adventure itself.

The encounter is the one where

you enter the dragon cult camp and then get into the cave at the back of it.

The encounter is made up of several guards, 4 guard drakes, and the cult leader Frulam Mondath, who has the hold person spell.

Each guard drake has in excess of 35 hit points.

Is this an appropriate encounter for four level 3 characters?

I ask because at our current damage output it'll take us about 12 rounds to defeat four drakes.

Were there any errata or changes made since printing?

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I have the hardcover version of Hoard, and Frulam is in a room by herself. By herself she is an easy encounter (XP 450 x1 multiplier = 450 threshold).

There is a nearby room of 8 cultists and 3 guards that is near a hard encounter all by themselves (XP 25 x11 enemies x3 multiplier = 825 threshold).

If Frulam runs to that room for backup, we're talking a very deadly encounter (XP 825 from before + 450 x3 multiplier = 2,175 threshold). When I run this combined encounter, I make sure to resolve this combat in waves (6 at a time using the doorway as a choke point) otherwise PCs are going to die.

For a party of 4 level 3 characters, I'm using the scale from the Dungeon Master's guide (page 82) easy = 300, medium = 600, hard = 900 and deadly = 1600 XP.

Deadly. A deadly encounter could be lethal for one or more player characters. Survival often requires good tactics and quick thinking, and the party risks defeat.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ By the way, Frulam plus 4 guard drakes has a threshold of 4,500 (which would be deadly for a party of 4-level 5 characters) \$\endgroup\$ – LeHill Mar 18 '16 at 1:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is chapter 3. Are the guard drakes in the hard cover or have they been removed? I don't know whether the DM is running the hardcover version or not. After I asked the question I went back and calculated the encounter and it came out with the same numbers you provided with the exception that there were 4 guards in the room in addition to the G. Drakes and Frulam. So I'm getting 3x deadly encounter or more. \$\endgroup\$ – Lokiare Mar 18 '16 at 2:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ The encounter is supposed to be deadly. However, in the hardcover print there are no Guard Drakes but Guards, one for each three players if my memory serves me right! The encounter is less hard but still quite challenging. \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Mar 18 '16 at 9:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Lokiare In chapter 3 of the hardcover, there are no guard drakes in that encounter. \$\endgroup\$ – LeHill Mar 18 '16 at 16:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Lokiare That does sound like the same encounter to me. That room with guards and cultists is listed as a barracks in the book. \$\endgroup\$ – LeHill Mar 18 '16 at 20:30
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The encounter you describe is extremely deadly.

However, Hoard of the Dragon Queen is not designed as a series of static encounters. Rather, the book generally describes adventure areas and the behaviors of their inhabitants. To quote designer Steve Winter:

We didn't want to script NPCs' locations or motions. Guidance is given in certain cases; where nothing is said, it's up to the DM. ... is meant to be a site in motion, not a store window display where everything and everyone is frozen in place until PCs come to attack them.

The adventure presents several situations that could be "extremely deadly", and expects players to use discretion when choosing their battles. This could mean finding a way to balance the odds, or finding a way to achieve their goals without resorting to bloodshed at all.

That said, the encounter you describe is not in the book. I see two likely possibilities here:

  1. Your DM is running the adventure as intended. This style of play can be jarring for a group that is only used to facing well-balanced, challenging-but-winnable combat encounters. If this is the case, you should have an open discussion with your group about which style of play is right for you.
  2. Your DM scaled up the "boss battle" to make it more epic but still winnable, and just overdid it. In this case, your DM should follow the encounter-building guidance on page 82 of the Dungeon Master's Guide to avoid overdoing it again.

Anecdotally, when I ran this encounter it was deadly without any guard drakes:

The party was four 3rd-level characters, and Mondath was encountered with just a few guards. The party knocked out all the guards, but two of them fell unconscious in the process. In the next round Mondath cast Mass Healing Word on her allies and Hold Person on the third PC, who watched frozen in horror as the fourth PC threw down her bow and pledged her life to the Queen of Dragons. It was incredibly entertaining for all, despite the total failure. Things got off track for a bit, but the party came back later and ambushed her alone in her sleep. That was a much easier encounter, despite still being level 3.

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Technically, anything is an appropriate encounter for any level of PC

It may be unwinnable, however, especially if the party charges in and tries to punch the enemies to death with their swords instead of using tactics or strategy of any kind.

Without tactics, that encounter is deadly (as in, TPK) for 4 level-3 PCs.

If you have a GM willing, however, to introduce situations that can outright kill their party, then either you have a GM who is confident in their skills, or one who has made an error. The best stories are told in situations where encounters cannot purely be solved by hitting them with swords, but also campaigns disintegrate around GMs who are unable to accurately identify threat level - or manage situations with powerful foes without killing off all their PCs.

Given the general 5e adventure design paradigm, the fight is vastly too powerful, and likely was not intended to be that powerful or have that form.

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