5E Enhancing "Hoard of the Dragon Queen" (Practical stuff to try at your table!)

jayoungr

Adventurer
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! :)

EDIT to add: This thread is for HotDQ. I made a separate thread for Rise of Tiamat.

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!
 
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aramis erak

Explorer
First, go through and take notes on the chapter before running. Not everything is in a good location in the text for at-table use.

Second, it really helps to have printed out the supplement pages for the monsters ahead of time, or to have copied down the stats. Not having to flip really smooths it out.

Thirdly, remember that not all the encounters presented are mandatory.
 

sunrisekid

Explorer
I used a highlighter to note important references in the text. I also used a pencil to circle relevant text to read out to the players. I used a lot of little sticky notes to write reminders about how I want to run an encounter. All this really helped speed up encounters without having to read through lots of text (I don't have a photographic memory).

The blogs mentioned above are good resources.

Personally, I love DM'ing this adventure. Very original ideas and circumstances, basically legendary as far as I'm concerned.
 

Derren

Adventurer
Depending on your group there are several areas of problems you can encounter.

First there is the loads of errors because the adventure was written before the rules were finished. See the errata document for that.
Second is the lore. It simply does not make sense. Nothing much you can do about it, but unless they are FR fans they might not notice.
And third is the playstyle issues. HotDQ is a very railroady adventure which expects your players to act in a certain way. For example the entire first chapter expects the characters to be heroic stupid and charge into a town under dragon attack and even attack the dragon (although that part is not strictly necessary by the railroad). If your group plays that way or is willing to "just go with it" for the sake of the adventure you are fine.
 
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Taronkov

Explorer
You know the whole argument that going into the town with a dragon flying over it is railroading it is really old at this point. I would like to point out once and for all(ok wishful thinking) that every and I mean EVERY adventure railroads you into it, for every module ever written. If people want to argue how stupid adventurers have to be to go into a town with a dragon then it should be equally stupid to think you can go into an enemy dungeon/cave/castle/anythingelseyoucanpossiblyimagine and kill all the enemies inside when you are outnumbered 20:1 or worse. You're hero's, hero's fight against impossible odds and persevere or they fight against impossible odds and fall. That's what makes them hero's. Let's go really old school(I mean really old) David and Goliath. Man David was such a moron to fight against a giant of a man that had never lost and with a sling no less! What an idiot. Let's go with story that has some actual historical fact to it... Battle of Thermopylae. Roughly 7000 Greek soldiers against somewhere between 100 and 250 thousand Persian soldiers and they stood strong. Knowing they were being flanked on the final day Leonidas sent the bulk of the soldiers home leaving him with around 1500-2000 soldiers to hold the pass and prevent the entire force from being slaughtered.

I could go on with examples for quite a while from both fiction and history, the point is that to be a hero and be immortalized you have to stand up and take a grasp of your destiny. At the start of Greenest you can either go into the town and show you are the hero or you can walk away and find another adventure where you will still be facing mathematically impossible odds and just keep on walking till you find something else you enjoy. I hear Connect 4 and Candy Land are lovely games.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
Depending on your group there are several areas of problems you can encounter.
Okay, but I'm hoping this thread can be a spot for ideas on how to make the adventure better, and things other people have come up with to add to/improve it. Do you have any suggestions (the more concrete, the better) on how to address any of the issues you mention?
 

Derren

Adventurer
Okay, but I'm hoping this thread can be a spot for ideas on how to make the adventure better, and things other people have come up with to add to/improve it. Do you have any suggestions (the more concrete, the better) on how to address any of the issues you mention?
The PDF was already mentioned.
For the general plot problem one thing you should do is to shift the locations around the map so that the entire journey makes more sense than the round trip through the sword coast to come back right where you started. You still have the usual FR problem of "Why are the superpowers of the Realms not stopping the world threatening cult?". Although that is more a RoT problem.
As for the heroic stupid dragon charge, either leave out the dragon completely, it doesn't really add much to the encounter except for a bit of payback you can give it later or you start the raid only after the PCs are inside Greenest. That solution also helps with the first encounter in the adventure where a group of civilians insist that you escort them to safety "right into the center of fighting" instead of fleeing the town by the way you entered without trouble.
 

sunrisekid

Explorer
the heroic stupid dragon charge...
This is very subjective. Myself, and the other players in my group, all loved this encounter. There was a dissenting player who didn't like it, and he also didn't like any other encounter that wasn't obviously balanced.

I'd like to add another comment to nay-sayers: please write your criticism in a different thread, as OP is clearly requesting positive commentary.
 

Derren

Adventurer
This is very subjective. Myself, and the other players in my group, all loved this encounter. There was a dissenting player who didn't like it, and he also didn't like any other encounter that wasn't obviously balanced.

I'd like to add another comment to nay-sayers: please write your criticism in a different thread, as OP is clearly requesting positive commentary.
The OP also doesn't want to hear that everything is fine even though it isn't.
So what did you do because of the "dissenting player"? What could have made the adventure better for him (or why was he dissatisfied in the first place)?

@OP
You might also want to follow this thread once it gets some answers.
http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?413847-Are-HotDQ-Fights-Too-Deadly
 
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sunrisekid

Explorer
So what did you do because of the "dissenting player"? What could have made the adventure better for him (or why was he dissatisfied in the first place)?
In that particular case I didn’t do anything beyond what was indicated in the episode guidelines. However, I later adjusted the remaining fights to reflect XP guidelines, effectively scaling down the fights.

(At the risk of going off-topic, we didn’t speak on the matter, but my hunch was that the player is averse to the notion that some combats should simply be retreated from. I see this as a trait of “newschool D&D”, starting in 3E, representing an important departure from earlier iterations of the game, in which retreating-or-dying was pretty common.)

While I enjoy running combats that tend to be deadly, one of my other players prefers the oppose - fighting only weak monsters for the thrill of feeling powerful. To that end, I’ve introduced more easy fights with cult minions and such.

@OP
You might also want to follow this thread once it gets some answers.
http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?413847-Are-HotDQ-Fights-Too-Deadly
Started by me, inspired by OP questions :)
 

Derren

Adventurer
In that particular case I didn’t do anything beyond what was indicated in the episode guidelines. However, I later adjusted the remaining fights to reflect XP guidelines, effectively scaling down the fights.

(At the risk of going off-topic, we didn’t speak on the matter, but my hunch was that the player is averse to the notion that some combats should simply be retreated from. I see this as a trait of “newschool D&D”, starting in 3E, representing an important departure from earlier iterations of the game, in which retreating-or-dying was pretty common.)

While I enjoy running combats that tend to be deadly, one of my other players prefers the oppose - fighting only weak monsters for the thrill of feeling powerful. To that end, I’ve introduced more easy fights with cult minions and such.
So isn't it a bit strange that most encounters in HotDQ are deadly and that some of them "should simply be retreated from" but the very start of the adventure expects you to do the exact opposite and instead go into a town under the attack by a vastly overpowering foe and even assumes (although not enforces) that the PCs attack said foe? Doesn't that send the wrong signal for the rest of the adventure?
 
The PDF was already mentioned.
For the general plot problem one thing you should do is to shift the locations around the map so that the entire journey makes more sense than the round trip through the sword coast to come back right where you started. You still have the usual FR problem of "Why are the superpowers of the Realms not stopping the world threatening cult?". Although that is more a RoT problem.
As for the heroic stupid dragon charge, either leave out the dragon completely, it doesn't really add much to the encounter except for a bit of payback you can give it later or you start the raid only after the PCs are inside Greenest. That solution also helps with the first encounter in the adventure where a group of civilians insist that you escort them to safety "right into the center of fighting" instead of fleeing the town by the way you entered without trouble.
Two of my players know nothing about Forgotten Realms and one of my players just rolls with me as DM...in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, I've had "more powerful NPCs" laugh off the threat of the Cult, in preparation for the PCs finding one of those groups having been shredded apart for going in without backup like a typical D&D party. Waterdeep is also getting completely sacked in a brutal, dragon-led assault, which is what's going to bring the various factions and nations together to finally listen to Ontharr Frume and Leosin Erlanther.

I haven't read a Forgotten Realms book in ten years. The only canon that matters to us is what happens at the table.

And the PCs in our group all had reasons to go into Greenest, dragon or no. The Monk's family was part of the Cult until they were betrayed and executed almost to a man by Rezmir, Bog Luck and Frulam Mondath. The Barbarian came from an amazon barbarian tribe that served as smugglers for the Cult, and on her death bed, the Barbarian's mother begged her to redeem the tribe for her deeds. The Dragonborn Ranger had been saved from a raging mob by Leosin, who hid him at Candlekeep. Leosin sent a messenger asking for help, so he responded. Along the way into Greenest, they picked up a Halfling Warlock who just wants to see the entire Cult murdered, no matter what. They went into town regardless. Honor or vengeance wouldn't allow them not to.

Turns out, the Monk wound up leaping from the castle and onto the dragon's back, after they figured out the dragon's heart wasn't in the fight, and he convinced the dragon to abandon the fight. The dragon agreed, abandoning the attack to sleep, not liking Frulam Mondath anyway.

This is now one of the most memorable encounters this group of players has ever had. It also set the theme for this entire campaign early on: They have been slowly weaving alliances together and forging loyalties, while exploiting seams in the supposedly united Cult's allegiances and playing factions against each other.

This has proven to be a great campaign so far, in our experience (we just finished Hoard, and we are starting Rise in two weeks).
 

Derren

Adventurer
Turns out, the Monk wound up leaping from the castle and onto the dragon's back, after they figured out the dragon's heart wasn't in the fight, and he convinced the dragon to abandon the fight. The dragon agreed, abandoning the attack to sleep, not liking Frulam Mondath anyway.
Imo that should have killed him. Being not totally convinced to fight is one thing, but having a mortal jump on your back? Every arrogant evil dragon would shred someone who tried something like this.
 
Imo that should have killed him. Being not totally convinced to fight is one thing, but having a mortal jump on your back? Every arrogant evil dragon would shred someone who tried something like this.
Sounds like we run different games then. My players enjoy my games. Hopefully your players enjoy yours. Not much else really matters.
 

sunrisekid

Explorer
So isn't it a bit strange that most encounters in HotDQ are deadly and that some of them "should simply be retreated from" but the very start of the adventure expects you to do the exact opposite and instead go into a town under the attack by a vastly overpowering foe and even assumes (although not enforces) that the PCs attack said foe? Doesn't that send the wrong signal for the rest of the adventure?
The deeper issue that you point to, but do not state, is finding a sufficient reason for the *players* to be motivated to go into a village under attack by a dragon. Whereas establishing motive for *characters* can be relatively trivial (backgrounds, alignment, etc), which is clearly spelled out in the text, and which is expected to inform player decisions (which seasoned DMs know better than to expect ;-)

I had the characters start out in the town, at the tavern. With the village under rapid assault they had to decide what to do (save someone nearby, race to the keep, etc). Worked out well, but one player was keen to sneak out of town and flee, which is logical.

Establishing player motive is definitely tricky, and the end fight challenge in episdoe 1 is a risky way to establish Cyanwrath as a memorable foe - a game event that may just as easily result in resentment, the ultimate buzzkill.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
The OP also doesn't want to hear that everything is fine even though it isn't.
Actually, the OP has already read lots of HotDQ-negative threads. I was hoping this would be more of a "cool practical stuff that people can try" thread than an "analyzing flaws in the adventure as written" thread.

Another potentially useful link: Help with HotDQ Chapter 4.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
The deeper issue that you point to, but do not state, is finding a sufficient reason for the *players* to be motivated to go into a village under attack by a dragon. Whereas establishing motive for *characters* can be relatively trivial (backgrounds, alignment, etc), which is clearly spelled out in the text, and which is expected to inform player decisions (which seasoned DMs know better than to expect ;-)

I had the characters start out in the town, at the tavern. With the village under rapid assault they had to decide what to do (save someone nearby, race to the keep, etc). Worked out well, but one player was keen to sneak out of town and flee, which is logical.
I've been considering a prequel sequence, maybe starting in Baldur's Gate, to set up the PCs' journey to Greenest and hopefully get them to level 3 so that the early fights won't be so tough. I'm also hoping it might motivate the players to have their characters aid in the town's defense. But I haven't decided yet what would be a good setup; it will probably depend in part on which background Bonds the party ends up with.
 
I find that a lot of the weirdness in the cult's plans gets explained away if you play up the rival factions and jockeying for power.

Why does Rezmir take the treasure waaaay out of the way? Because she takes it to *her* castle, where *she* can have oversight over the cataloging and appraisal of it. Who cares if there's a dwarf five miles from the Well of Dragons who can do it? Then the dwarf gets the glory, not Rezmir. And she justifies it by having a flying castle bring it in instead of using a ton of manpower to carry it over/through the mountains and into the Well.
 

koga305

Villager
The deeper issue that you point to, but do not state, is finding a sufficient reason for the *players* to be motivated to go into a village under attack by a dragon. Whereas establishing motive for *characters* can be relatively trivial (backgrounds, alignment, etc), which is clearly spelled out in the text, and which is expected to inform player decisions (which seasoned DMs know better than to expect ;-)

I had the characters start out in the town, at the tavern. With the village under rapid assault they had to decide what to do (save someone nearby, race to the keep, etc). Worked out well, but one player was keen to sneak out of town and flee, which is logical.

Establishing player motive is definitely tricky, and the end fight challenge in episdoe 1 is a risky way to establish Cyanwrath as a memorable foe - a game event that may just as easily result in resentment, the ultimate buzzkill.
Really? As a player, having something awesome like a dragon attack makes me more motivated to get started with an adventure. I'll trust that the DM isn't going to make it too much of a "gotcha" moment, and the chance to be heroes in this kind of situation is something you remember for quite a while.

Likewise, the Cyanwrath challenge got me really excited, because my Barbarian had been trashing everything in the adventure thusfar* and I relished the chance for a "real challenge." And it made our "rematch" in Episode 3 all the sweeter.

*Admittedly, the character was part of an Extra Life charity event and thanks to significant donations, got to start at level 2 with a set of Gauntlets of Ogre Power.
 

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