5E Enhancing "Rise of Tiamat" (Practical stuff to try at your table!)
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  1. #1

    Enhancing "Rise of Tiamat" (Practical stuff to try at your table!)

    (A companion to the similar thread for Hoard of the Dragon Queen.)

    My players just gave me Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat for an early Christmas present, on the understanding that I'll run the adventures for them. I've seen comments around the net saying these modules can use a bit of work to make them run better at the table, so I'd really like to hear what other people have done to spice them up or smooth them out. I'd also appreciate links to any other threads discussing the matter that you know of.

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    NOTE: This is now a wiki thread. Please post favorite ideas below (or summaries, with links to the posts that explain them in detail). Thanks!

    Introduction


    Episode 1: Council of Waterdeep



    Episode 2: The Sea of Moving Ice



    Episode 3: Death to the Wyrmspeakers: Varram the White



    Episode 4: Death to the Wyrmspeakers: Neronvain

    • Populating Chuth's lair: #27
    • Neronvain's Chest: #144
    • Galin: #169


    Episode 5: The Cult Strikes Back



    Episode 6: Metallic Dragons, Arise



    Episode 7: Xonthal's Tower

    • Jorgen Pawl: #175
    • Blue Dragon Mask: #178
    • Location: #197
    • Teleportation Symbols: #200


    Episode 8: Mission to Thay

    • Alternative: Arcane Brotherhood: #13
    • Alternative: Wizards: #66
    • Expanding: #90
    • Dreams & Nightmares: #168


    Episode 9: Tiamat's Return



    Appendix A: Monsters



    Appendix B: Magic Items



    Appendix C: Council Scorecard

    Further Adventures:


    [Most recent indexed post: #212]
    Last edited by grob76; Friday, 19th January, 2018 at 06:18 PM.
    XP robus, Dax Doomslayer gave XP for this post

  2. #2

    Transitions are important

    I'll preface this post a not that I've just started on annotating and modifying RoT for my use. With that said:

    The transition from HotDQ to RoT is very poorly detailed. As written, it's basically a Shepherd's hook with a note that says "Plot begins here." (Yank!)

    Again, fixing the negative reviews' problems will give you lots of ideas for enhancements.

    Modifications I've made so far:
    I've replaced the "Sea of Moving Ice" encounter with a visit to a Red Dragon's Lair. In an adventure path dealing with chromatic dragons, as written, the players encounter a blue dragon, an (optional) black one, a white, a white, a green, and a blue (the same one as at the start). The adventure desperately needs a red.

    I've included more NPC adventuring groups; the PCs are the leading ones, but the Council has a LOT going on, so I show it. One group is looking for details on the rituals; another is exploring/scouting the Well of Dragons; another is exploring/scouting the gates at the lodge, etc. I'm trying to associate each other group with a clique on the council (e.g. Brawnanvil and Ravengard).

    This also is a setup for what I plan to do when the players reach the Well of Dragons. Each "objective" in the adventure will get a lower-level NPC group that the players will take over and run to their objective. (For instance, NPC group A must take out the Draakhorn.) I've also got a mechanism in place to let me simulate the support activities in the background, and I've modified the scorecard for degrees of success, with each degree improving the chance of success on the background task.
    XP jayoungr, sunrisekid gave XP for this post

  3. #3
    PCs went through the first council session last night. I grabbed some portraits from online and captioned them with faction banners, names, and locations. In my game, I pop all of them up on a big screen TV and zoom in on the one that's currently speaking. Thought I would share. I don't think most of these are high enough resolution for printing, but they should work swell for VTTs and computer displays.

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    Other tweaks:

    I made the Rath Modar the party killed at Skyreach a simulacrum of the true Rath Modar, whom I'm going to give Archmage stats to (the idea of an 11th level illusionist thinking he has what it takes to be a Zulkir is laughable). He uses scrying and the dream spell to communicate with the party. They believe he is playing both sides and he gave the party a magic stone for communicating with him. Little do they know, the stone also functions, essentially, as a bomb. In a future council meeting, Rath will trigger the bomb and try to wipe out as many council members as possible, implicating the PCs as assassins.

    I've completely changed the first episodes to fit better with my party's background. I won't post the details here since I'm trying to keep this to general advice that anyone can use.

  4. #4
    Thanks for the pictures! I'll definitely be borrowing those when I run this for my group. (We're just starting chapter 4 of HotDQ at the moment, so that will be a little while, though!)
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  5. #5
    I found this Reddit with some cool ideas on how to handle the transition between HotDQ and RoT:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/dndnext/com...ut_the_giants/

    It's discussing ideas based on this map, which was apparently cut from RoT (probably for space reasons).

    I'm copying some of the more interesting comments below:

    1. Orc Tribe at war with the Frost Giant Jarl
    2. Ancient Dwarven Hall, everyone dead? Classic fantasy trope of the dwarves that dug too deep? Maybe a dwarven clan under siege from the Frost Giant Jarl?
    3. Hall of the Frost Giant Jarl
    4. Road leading to civilized lands
    5. Maybe the encampment of scouts from more civilized lands? Dwarven clansmen from Mirabar who wants to free their beleaguered clansmen, and have provoked war between the orcs and giants?
    6. Sacred orc or giant ground, which the dwarves from Mirabar have despoiled and made to look like the others did it, to provoke a bloody war between the factions, relieving the pressure on the besieged dwarves in 2.
    7. No idea
    8. Ground seems scorched. Home of a Giant Remorhaz?
    9. Crashed castle - of course
    I'm thinking of doing the old trick from the Slavers Stockade modules and having the PC's wake up after the crash - bound as prisoners with no gear in area 1, an Orc camp. They fight their way back to the ruins of the castle where they can reunite with Blagothkus and he shows them a hidden teleportation circle in the ruins of Skyreach to get to ... Waterdeep.
    I think I want to set it up like a giant moot, where Blackgothkus and the PCs are trying to convince the Giants to unify against Tiamat. The various Giants may have tasks for the PCs to prove their strength as allies and maybe there is a double agent within the Giants keep working for Tiamat and trying to sabotage the PCs efforts. I got an ogre mage model I want to utilize so I may include him as the BBEG for this section. There is some potential for utilizing the old. Double against the Giants here as well.

    I want this section to feel like the PCs are stranded in a frozen mountainous region and until they figure things out they won't have a chance to get back to civilization. When they return to waterdeep I want them to be hairy and unkempt like they just hiked out of a survivor movie.
    More at the site.

  6. #6
    Transition from HotDQ to RoT:
    My group befriended the cloud giant and asked him to drop them off at Waterdeep. There may be reasons why he's not supposed to do that, but I figured the mental picture of a flying castle hovering over the city trumped that. They'd just finished a long module, and it was time to let them be awesome and celebrate.

    I tracked time loosely during HotDQ, which had started in late summer for our group, and I figured that it was well into winter by the time the adventure ended. So I decided the cult had a few weeks' setback caused by losing the castle, meaning the group was able to spend a few peaceful weeks in Waterdeep. I filled in most of the time with roleplaying stuff drawn from previous character interactions. This also gave me time to describe how delegates from far-off lands were arriving for the council and how refugees were coming in from up and down the Sword Coast with reports of increased lawlessness and dragon sightings. I had the first cult attack on the party happen as they were returning from the theater on the night before the first council session, coinciding with the assassination of Remalia Haventree's husband. The draakhorn also started blowing shortly before the council meeting. I made it happen on the same morning, but that was a mistake; I'd make it a day or two earlier if I were running this again.

    ***

    @Vandaexpress, your pictures were very useful to me when running the council of Waterdeep! Did you by any chance make one for Rian Nightshade of the Zhentarim as well?

    ***

    My group went for Varram the White first, and they're now heading off toward Oyaviggoton. I found this picture which seems like a pretty good match for the berg as seen from the longboat. All it needs is some large bones, etc., on the ice shelf to the right.

    Last edited by jayoungr; Wednesday, 21st October, 2015 at 09:28 PM. Reason: add missing word

  7. #7
    Biggest Issues:
    The adventure was written before 5e rules were really finalized, so you'll see some weird issues with rules being mentioned that don't exist, or encounters that aren't balanced.

    Example: There's a random encounter early on, when the players are probably going to be level 4 or 5, that pits them against something like 4 assassins from the MM. Problem is, those assassins turned out to be CR 9 each.

    Example: At the end of the second module, the players will encounter a Roper, which is way out of their league. The book (and later author clarification) talks about this encounter being a check for players to know that not all encounters can be won in combat. Problem with this is that the very first adventure that happened right before it opens up with "you come across a town under attack by an army of cultists and a blue dragon..." and expects you to dive right in. If anything, the players will have been conditioned to ignore potential warning flags for the sake of story based on previous events, which makes the roper encounter kind of bad. Secondly, there really aren't any other similar encounters to it down the road, where the players are encouraged to think carefully about what they can attack. They'll end up in one situation where they pretty much fight a vampire and white dragon back to back, and possibly a few giants unless they do some suspiciously metagaming roleplaying.

    Recommendations:
    Try and introduce some of the NPC's involved with the council of waterdeep in the second book, during the earlier adventures in the first book. Nothing crazy, but maybe have someone like Remalia meeting with Ontharr when they first meet him, and brief introductions can be made before she excuses herself. Or perhaps convert one of the random encounters that happen when traveling with the caravan to include a chance meeting with Delaan Winterhound (the one involving a stag is a decent choice, and could even be tied into the exiled elf prince story in book 2). It will make it a little smoother with the second module starts and the players are randomly thrust into a series of political meetings with important people that probably mean little to them.

    Skip the random encounters during the trip from Baldur's gate along the trade way. Instead, pick a few that look cool to you, and maybe pull up an unrelated adventure that can take place during a few nights rest (wagon wheel breaks or something), and give the section some actual focus. See, the writers basically dump a bunch of NPC ideas on you, and say "these are the people that the characters can interact with" except they failed to provide encounters with enough context to support RP. So what happens in you struggle to paraphrase long stretches of boring travel time with a random encounter, and then you remember that the players probably need to RP a little and so you have some weird in-character conversations over a campfire with NPC that serve no real purpose. This is also a great place to introduce an NPC who travels with the players for a bit, and is really a metallic dragon in humanoid form. Perhaps he/she goes on one o the side quests with them (again, while a wagon wheel breaks or something), and gives the impression of being more than he/she seems; like royalty or something. The person is obviously a righteous character, and make it plain that he/she seems to be judging the PC's actions. The point is to set this NPC up as a tie-in to one of several random-but-really-shouldn't-be-random adventures that happens late in the second book, involving the players trying to gain the support of metallic dragons for the upcoming battle.

    Take your time planning for the Castle Nayatar (or whatever the name is) adventure, because it has a ton of really fun potential built in. Yeah, they can straight up raid the place, but they can also incite a riot or pit rival factions against each other and use the chaos as a cover for infiltration. There's also a duo of black dragons in the area that the section mentions and immediately forgets about. Give them a purpose and maybe have an RP encounter with him (they pretend to be a single black dragon, but it's really two) to bargain for something, or maybe recover some item looted by cultist or who knows; just make sure you try and introduce the dragon(s) if for no other reason than to give them a presence in the AP. You can make it obvious that attacking them is stupid (probably is for their level), but it could also be fun to have them somehow successfully slay the dragon only to later find out it "didn't die" (due to it really being a duo) and now they have a hated enemy later on. Something like that. Remember, at this point in the AP, dragons aren't just mind controlled by the cult to do its bidding; they are vain and proud and selfish and probably don't think what the cult is doing to be very realistic, so it's not like they are throwing their weight behind it or anything.

    Castle Nayatar is also the best place to really hammer home the point that some Red Wizards are helping the cult out, but the arrangement is obviously strange. I personally found Azbara Joss makes for an interesting 'double agent' who's sent to keep tabs on Rath Modar, get close to him and find out his plans, and -- if possible -- kill him if those plans work against the Lich King of Thay (can't remember his name spelling). To this end, Azbara could be a good future contact or interrogation target for information that becomes much more important in the next book, including the split Thayan faction things. Without this kind of change, the Thayan aspect of the story is largely peripheral until a single adventure late in the second book that kind of happens out of the blue and without much context.

    Skip the vampire encounter on the cloud giant castle entirely. It's superfluous to that part of the story, and really doesn't make much sense at all to have a vampire essentially being on guard duty like that. I'd also pull the white dragon out because not only will you be fighting another white dragon a few adventures later, but it almost feels like the writers just included it because they felt like they needed a dragon fight *somewhere* in the first book rather than it enhancing the story. Instead, play up the danger posed by the cultist on the castle, and consider using Rezmir and Rath Modar together for a boss fight, supported with several waves of ogres and cultists to dispatch every few rounds. There's still the opportunity to RP with the giants, or fight them.

    The tomb of Diderius is *very* interesting and although a bit random, can go a long way to providing a way for you to hint at (or even explain) how devils are involved in this whole thing (basically the major players in the nine-hells wants tiamat out and are willing to help in the ways they can). It's not built to explain the nine-hells thing, but it does include an out of place encounter with some bearded devils that came with Varen, and might seem a little odd to the characters. With some fun RP, you can use this as a chance to fill in whatever blanks you feel the players are having with the story.

    I found the Sear of Moving Ice adventure to be pretty fun as-written. The only thing I didn't like was the Arcane Brotherhood being introduced as yet another faction in an AP that's already overflowing with factions. Make her a renegade harper or just part of some Waterdeep Research Academy or something, rather than hinting at more important people that ultimately will have little impact after that adventure.

    Lastly, make good use of the "Cult strikes back" things, where the cult starts sending hit squads against the players. I'd probably not go the route of using dragons as part of the encounter, but maybe that would be fun in your campaign. Also remember that the cult isn't stupid, and they should probably know that hitting the PC's head-on isn't the best action (at least after the first failed attempt). The book lays it out in a way that it means they just throw more assassins and dragons at you, but I don't see why they could instead choose to start targeting people that the PC's care about; people that would be easier to kill.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by discosoc View Post
    Biggest Issues:
    The adventure was written before 5e rules were really finalized, so you'll see some weird issues with rules being mentioned that don't exist, or encounters that aren't balanced.
    Your examples from HotDQ are well-documented. The only one I've noticed in RoT is Rath being able to concentrate on both fly and invisibility at the same time.

    Try and introduce some of the NPC's involved with the council of waterdeep in the second book, during the earlier adventures in the first book.
    I'll second this. My PCs are currently in Baldur's Gate, so I'm going to present them with the chance to meet with Ulder Ravengard (and he will extend an invitation to join the Lords' Alliance as well; I thought it was odd that the adventure specifically gives the PCs the chance to join the Harpers and the Order of the Gauntlet fairly early on, but doesn't have anyone do the same for the other three factions at any point).

    Skip the vampire encounter on the cloud giant castle entirely.
    I'd actually suggest keeping the vampire but making it more of a non-combat encounter. Sandesyl could be a good source of cult lore. One thing that isn't really played up enough in the campaign is the fact that not everyone in the cult is happy about the new focus on Tiamat (which has, believe it or not, been in the works since the 2e days - the old Cult of the Dragon sourcebook talks about how the church of Tiamat in Chessenta has been trying to infiltrate and take over the Cult of the Dragon almost since its inception.)

    The only thing I didn't like was the Arcane Brotherhood being introduced as yet another faction in an AP that's already overflowing with factions. Make her a renegade harper or just part of some Waterdeep Research Academy or something, rather than hinting at more important people that ultimately will have little impact after that adventure.
    I think keeping her as a member of the Arcane Brotherhood is fine. It helps illustrate that there are a) a lot of different power groups in the Realms and b) that they're all finally starting to sit up and take notice of what the Cult of the Dragon is doing.

    Lastly, make good use of the "Cult strikes back" things, where the cult starts sending hit squads against the players. I'd probably not go the route of using dragons as part of the encounter, but maybe that would be fun in your campaign.
    As written, that's the only way to include a red dragon in the campaign. Personally, I'm thinking about swapping out the white dragon in the flying castle for a red one (who acts as a sort of furnace and central heating system for the castle).
    Last edited by pukunui; Thursday, 22nd October, 2015 at 04:40 AM.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by pukunui View Post
    EDIT
    I mention them here because the first book so closely effect the second book.. Any fixes to the second will either involve the first, because due to the way the second book is written there's very little standalone stuff going on. As evident by the lack of responses to this thread after nearly a year.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by discosoc View Post
    I mention them here because the first book so closely effect the second book.. Any fixes to the second will either involve the first, because due to the way the second book is written there's very little standalone stuff going on. As evident by the lack of responses to this thread after nearly a year.
    Dammit. I was hoping to edit my post before you responded, but EN World kept giving me bad gateway error messages. I've commented on your comments in my previous post.

    I think that the second module *can* be run without having run the first just fine. As for the lack of responses, that's probably because most groups playing Tyranny of Dragons are still on the first module. I'll certainly start contributing to this thread once I get to RoT. My group's only in Baldur's Gate (Episode 4) of HotDQ, though, so it'll be a while ...

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