5E Hoard of the Dragon Queen, looking for advice on how to draw party back on track
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  1. #1

    Hoard of the Dragon Queen, looking for advice on how to draw party back on track

    Right, first time poster here.

    I used to DM years ago for a group that eventually disbanded. I've recently started again with several work colleagues and friends after 5-6 year hiatus. We started with the Lost mines of Phandelver and moved on to Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

    I've always liked to give my players free reign to direct the story as I've never wanted to be the kind of DM to force direction onto my players. I prefer to have a living world whereby if my players choose a certain path that veers from a campaign I'll improvise and go with it.

    Needless to say all has been good up until the travelling episodes following the caravan. Basically they decided just before the stop where they meet the Harper and the Red Wizard to engineer a plot to stall the treasure wagons and force them to stay behind as the wagon train moved on. Soon after, they ambushed said wagons and looted them... They victorious headed back to Greenest to return some loot and pour money into helping the town grow.

    All well and good, except Skyreach Castle should now technically be laden with treasure and heading to the Well of Dragons. I've had several side plots going with my characters with one over arching plot.

    currently I have them doing the hidden shrine of tamochan from the tales from the yawning portal book. This was after they had returned and the reason why they headed slightly south into a more jungly vale was because the wild Mage of the group, (a hermit with no name that had come across a box in the mountains which unknowingly released a small part of the essence of the dead god of magic Mystra into his being and that's why he is a wildmage; player does not know this,) has been drawn to the temple because unknownst to him another object with a part of Mystra is hidden in there.

    The main homebrew plot is that Szass Tam has been engineering certain NPCs whom are the Chosen of the gods and has been breaking down thier essences to power a collection of vessels that Szass Tam will use to become a god. Recently he found the Chosen of Tiamat was the son of Frulam Mondath and used his powerful magic to affect her mind and install himself as the child's father. As he was posing as a Wyrmspeaker when the child reaches of age he sacrificed him to 'Tiamat' at a cult celebration. He distilled the boys essence and as it proved to be too powerful, Szass Tam took the essence to the Doomvault (Dead in Thay from yawning portal book) and has split the essence into different humanoid constructs that are alive with part of the essence of the Chosen but do not have their strength. His plan is to all these constructs to live lives and grow more powerful so that he can harvest these essences in the future. One of my player characters unknownst to them is one of these vessels. He genuinely believes that he is the son of Ethomiel (Szass Tam) and Frulam Mondath. He believes that on his dads death bed he confessed being a member of the cult and asks him to look into it. Szass Tam is using him to help spy on the cult. (I plan for a session or two in the Dead in thay adventure too)

    Plan is that Szass Tam is assisting the cult secretly to all parties and plans to steal Tiamats being or essence once she is summoned and either beaten or weakened. Thereby expanding the campaign to fighting god-like Szass Tam.

    Problem I have now.... is where do I go after they leave the shrine of tamochan and they will be level 7ish... I want them to be 9th level when they travel to Thay for Dead in Thay.
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  2. #2
    Sounds like you can just push the final chapter of Hoard of the Dragon Queen at them (Parnast, then Skyreach Castle), the only issue is dealing with the Geography i.e. where is the Shrine of Tamochan in relation to Parnast (or you just change Parnast to some other town more conveniently located). That's designed for level 7.

    Or, just take the teleportation circle in Castle Naerytar’s dungeon, and put it at the end of Tamochan - boom, they are deposited in Chapter 7 (Hunting Lodge), but that's designed for level 6.

  3. #3
    You could always just leave it a while, then jump straight to the start of Rise of Tiamat. They get summoned to Waterdeep to explain why they didn't bother finding out what was going on, meaning that Harper spies died trying to find out where the treasure was meant to go. Then, assuming they still show interest in the adventure, you begin with the Council of Waterdeep.

    In short, make it clear that they chose to ignore their mission, and that as a consequence things have gotten worse, and now the factions are scrambling to catch up to where they 'should' be.
    XP guachi, Wednesday Boy, Nemio gave XP for this post

  4. #4
    Sounds like the players missed the whole point of tracking the treasure in the first place. It was never about retrieving it to be returned to the looted towns, but rather used to determine the full scope of what what's going on, including where it's being taken and why they need it. You should probably start playing up the fact that without PC's there to actually stop the cult, it's plans are largely going uncontested. This means the horn is sounding and dragons are heading to the Well of Dragons, cult armies and mercenaries are gathering, and overall it's a pretty doomed scenario for the sword coast (because the PC's aren't there to interfere).

    The bigger problem I see here is that for a DM that supposedly doesn't like railroading player actions, you sure seem to have a lot of hidden agendas set in stone for your players without their knowledge, which has been determining their decisions anyway. Also, the plot for Szass Tam to become a god seems strangely simple and basic. Maybe read up on Die, Vecna, Die! to see just what kind of crazy plots are really required for such a goal.
    Laugh Stormdale laughed with this post

  5. #5
    Yeah I take the last point that it seems like I have an agendas for the characters. These are all plot points that I will/have been teasing to entice the players. Whether they go for that is up to them. I prefer to have an ongoing idea of the living world and what is happening around it so I can improvise on the go.

    Like for instance I was thinking of just carrying out the plan of the HoaDQ where skyreach is flown to the well and it will escalate matters for the sword coast and look to involve the players with the ongoing fallout and the council sessions.

    The Szass Tam idea is intentionally basic as I didn't want to over complicate that 'villains' goals so that they can potentially evolve in response to the players actions.
    XP Wednesday Boy gave XP for this post

  6. #6
    Oh yeah and to clarify these two players asked for side plots connected to their backstories and told me to have free reign with it.

    My players understood the goal of tracing the caravan back to where it was heading but with their mercenary neutral alignment attitude they thought it would be financially better for them to just loot it and parade as heros for Greenest. Metagame wise they knew the task but collectively went with their characters motivations which have evolved... slightly disturbingly evil sometimes.. taking for example the dwarf cleric whom is the only directly good character being a little too over keen to use captured people as bait.

    Side note... cleric has managed to 'convert' the kobolds at the hatchery and has now with his money from the caravan proceeded to build a keep somewhere for the kobolds to start their holy crusade. (I half expect the party to end up the villains in a future game!)
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  7. #7
    Orcus on an Off-Day (Lvl 22)

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    ° Block Caliban

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    It's apparently well known that the PC's raided the treasure caravan, so use that against them.

    Have the Cult of the Dragon raid the keep with the kobolds in retaliation. Taking any money or treasure stored there and killing or kidnapping the kobolds to turn into servants/converts.

    If possible, use similar tactics against the other PC's - steal money or magic from them and have it all end up at the castle.
    XP Hazleuth, Wednesday Boy gave XP for this post

  8. #8
    So on reflection, I think that, at best, you can only take some of the elements from Hoard of the Dragon Queen, and use them in completely different ways. I've done a bit of that in my current Storm King's Thunder campaign, where I've fleshed out and added to various little bits, making them "make sense" in terms of the evolving "plot" that's coming out of my game; for example played out the alliance between Hill Giants and Orcs, with the Hill Giant Chief trying harder to shut down the PC's.

    I think in your campaign, you are especially battling with the desire to keep a "sandbox" style of adventure, where you have a random collection of PC's with no clear unifying goal, with players attempting to create their own mini-games, but with no real glue to bind it all together. So to help it out, I'd suggest add some more glue, try and bring the threads together, and focus on Cause and Effect, i.e. the players do something, they see the results (which are probably not good), so they can easily find some motivations, if "save the region" isn't motivating them.

    Can you help make "defeat the Cult of the Dragon" a unifying goal for the group, and hence play out a modified form of the HotDQ end-game? Only you know the answer, but if you want it to be, you just need to make the conflict personal enough to all the PC's, until they can't wait to kill them all. Take your idea of skyreach threatening the sword coast, but turn it up to 11 and make it *personal* not just something that threatens NPC's that your PC's don't seem to care about. Make the conflict direct, between the antagonists and the protagonists.

    Or do the PC's end up looking, to the common folk, effectively just another "bad guy group", in which case just who are the Real Heroes that eventually turn up and save the day from your players machinations, or die trying? In other words, add some new antagonists, in direct conflict with the PCs.

  9. #9
    The Great Druid (Lvl 17)

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    It seems like you're not really looking for a track so much as a filler adventure to cover levels 7 & 8. Before they hit dead in thay. Are you really trying to stitch this into the ToD campaign at all?

    Which track are you referring to?

  10. #10
    Guide (Lvl 11)

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    If the are around level 7, I would jump right into Rise of Tiamat. Have them summoned to the Council of Waterdeep and start there. I'm sure you could find parts of of HotDQ to work back into the story - the council could send them to Parnast to investigate, giving you a chance to work chapter 7 & 8 back into the story. From there you could also use The Frozen Castle from the DM's Guild - its a chapter dealing more with giants and the ice castle that got cut from the final release.

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