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

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Anyway, has anyone else noticed the lack of magic items within the adventure? I know that the adventure was released prior to the official release of the rule set and I can't help but think that this had something to do with this missing aspect of loot.
Yes, Steve Winter posted on this at one point, explaining that because HotDQ was written before the release of the PHB (and even further in advance of the DMG treasure rules) they went with a very conservative approach to treasure, allowing individual DMs to add more if needed. (Unfortunately, this worked badly with its use as a D&D AL adventure!)

That said, we noticed it wasn't quite as necessary in this edition to have as many magic items.

Cheers!
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
I've found another Actual Play on YouTube, from Is It My Turn Yet?. They inserted a day of games in Elturel, with magic items as prizes. Rules for the mini-games are posted here:

http://isitmyturnyet.freeforums.net/thread/17/hotdq-contest-rules


EDIT: I'm going to cut and paste them here, just in case anything happens to the small forum where they currently reside. Everything below is from the gang at the "Is It My Turn Yet?" YouTube channel.

Adjust accordingly to players levels. This was for a lvl 4 party of 4

Archery Rules:

You must hit the target within 3 rounds, 3 tries each target.
The target becomes increasingly difficult to hit, meaning concentration is key
At the 5th and final target, you only have 2 attempts.
1st Target - AC 12
2nd Target AC 14
3rd Target AC 15,
4th Target AC 15, Disadvantage
5th Target AC 17

Strength Contest Rules:(arm wrestling)


No breaking down into poor conduct
No Stabbing, No Killing, No Biting, basically
No Poor Sportsmanship of any kind.
Basic str contest, opposed str checks.
Must win 2 times from the neutral/starting position.
So if you win one, then opponent wins one, you're back to the neutral position.

If the contest is taking too long, impose environmental factors, endurance checks, etc. Get creative!


Drinking Contest:
No puking!
You must finish the most Ale you can in 30 seconds, or drink all 10 Beers.
1 beer/round Con DC 10, +2 every subsequent round
2 Beer/Round Con DC 12, +3 Every Subsequent round
3 Beer/Round Con DC 15, +4 Every Subsequent Round

If you switch # of beers you drink each round, keep the modifiers stacking, but add on from the base DC, Example Below.

If you drink 3 beers the first round, then 1 the next, you'll make a DC of 14(+4 from your previous round then
10 from the base difficulty) Then the third round will be DC of 16, because the +2 from drinking one beer/round., Then you drink 2 beers for the 4th rounnd
Making a DC of 20 (12 for the base, 4th round so +4(1st Round),+2(2nd Rd),+2(3rd RD))


Now, this game may need some tweaking, possible lowering the BASE DC. Incorporate it as you will.


Dash for the lady in lace!


The fastest wins! There's a greased pig with a lace veil atop its head.
Catch it and win, you gotta be fast!

Have fun with this, it shouldn't be about the fastest. Add DEX checks to hold onto the pig, make the crowd interfere with the party. Afterall, it's a mass group event.
 
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vandaexpress

Visitor
Enhancing the Red Wizards...

Thayan Knights

I put two Thayan Knights with Rath Modar and Azbara Jos in skyreach. There's a brief writeup/picture of one here. Stat-wise, they're reskins of the knight, except with shields and longswords, brute attribute for an extra die of damage, and the ability to use a reaction to add 2 AC to an adjacent ally when attacked, advantage on saving throws against being charmed or frightened).

The fight with the Red Wizards was quite exciting. Rath's staff lets him lock down corridors with wall of fire between him and the party to keep from getting sniped (it blocks line of sight), then he can just lob fireball through the wall at the PCs (doesn't require line of sight). The Thayan knights were excellent bodyguards for protecting the wizards and helped them live a little longer against the haste-infused powergamey murder hobos. Unfortunately, Rath went down before he could get away, though.

I love the Red Wizards and have tried to build up their encounters a bit more. I will be using the Thayan Knights in place of the wights recommended by RoT... it didn't make sense to me that the Thayan Resurrection, fighting against the largely undead Thayan Loyalists and the Zulkir of Necromancy, would utilize undead bodyguards, especially since the majority of Thayan Necromancers remained with Szass Tam when he seized control of Thay... not to mention Wights have pretty weak attack bonuses which makes them fairly unremarkable guards against PCs of a level sufficient to face a Red Wizard.

Making Rath More Interesting
An idea I went with is making the Rath Modar in Skyreach a simulacrum and bumping his level up by two. I did a lot of playtesting on that encounter and I found that the chances are quite good that the PCs will kill him the same round they start dealing damage to him, especially if they're hasted, at least my group did. Making him a simulacrum fits his illusionist background - just make sure to leave clues and hints that he has been known to use them, so it doesn't feel like a cop-out cheat death maneuver. I'm not a fan of having him resurrected as suggested in RoT. This also allows you to award the party's mage an excellent magic item in the staff of fire.

I plan to utilize a few Red Wizards as part of the ambushes in Rise, using these portraits from Dead in Thay. I will also most likely be expanding Episode 8 in Rise to include a lot more adventuring in Thay.


Closing thoughts on Hoard
The weakest points for my group were the Roadhouse and Naerytar. I can see the caravan being a drag if we had done it. High points were episode 1, the hatchery, and so far, skyreach. Honestly, my strongest recommendation would be to echo Chris Perkins in saying "Don't be a slave to the text". There's a good story in Hoard, but it shines much more strongly when you deviate from what's written to add more flavor to the enemies and incorporate side quests for your PCs and their motivations. The weakest points for the group were when I stuck to what was written without incorporating my own twist on things, it sounds incredibly conceited, but that's not my intention. Places like the Roadhouse and the Bullywug cave beneath Naerytar are dull and boring if you don't mix it up a bit. I expect I will most likely be throwing out a lot of the stuff in Rise of Tiamat to focus on adventures that tie into character backgrounds, using the cult as a backdrop and the concluding fight with Tiamat as a capstone for the campaign.
 

vandaexpress

Visitor
Also, I'm about to run the dragon fight at skyreach and I have to say I am extremely confused about how the ice tunnels map connects with the rest of the castle. I *think* the east "porch" matches with the bottom-right exit on the side view of the castle, and I think the stairs are supposed to be linked to the stairs on the east edge of the lower courtyard, but I have no idea where the northwest passage in the ice tunnels goes. I'm assuming the southern entrance is linked to the "Cave Tunnel" in the upper courtyard? Gah, someone help me. My group is gonna be here in 3 hours and if I don't figure this out I'll have to wing it.
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
I was looking at the map and I think you have it right. I interpret the entrances and locations to be where you put them.
 

pukunui

Adventurer
Last night, the PCs began the "Save the Mill" mission. They went and observed and one PC noticed that the bad guys didn't seem to serious about burning the mill. They rightly concluded it was a trap, but rather than go and attack the cultists anyway, they decided to go back to the keep and tell the governor that it was a trap and that the mill wasn't really in danger, so he shouldn't bother splitting his forces by sending some to protect it.

I had the governor be somewhat skeptical and say that they ought to protect the mill anyway just in case. The PCs managed to convince him to give them back-up in the form of four guards.

I'm wondering: should there be some sort of consequence for the fact that the PCs saw the trap and then walked away? Would the cultists just keep hanging around in hopes that the PCs will come back? Will they decide to give up on the ambush and burn the mill down after all? How would you guys have handled this?
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
I think what you did sounds good. Sure maybe the heroes blew some time heading back for reinforcements, but I think they should be rewarded some for catching into the ruse. My party fell into that trap hard and it almost killed them.

Maybe the only thing u would change is once they saw the trap, I would have had reinforcements arrive instead of having the PCs head back. But then you probably had a cool bit of RP with the governor so... No dude... Sounds fun to me.
 

pukunui

Adventurer
OK cool. I won't change anything then, except maybe to say that the cultists pretending to set fire to the mill are starting to look bored ... ;)
 

vandaexpress

Visitor
Agreed with cmad, I think avoiding a potentially deadly encounter is an appropriate reward for spotting the ambush, screwing them over because of it would seem punitive. You'll have plenty of opportunities to spring deadly ambushes on the party down the road ;)
 

vandaexpress

Visitor
One of the things that can really enhance this module, I think, is fleshing out some of the NPCs a bit more. Langderosa Cyanwrath is a memorable villain because he's so overwhelmingly powerful when the PCs first encounter him, but most of the other fights in the module aren't as lopsided and lack NPC characteristics to make the villains memorable without some work on the DM's part.

I think I might go ahead and post some stuff for each NPC that you can feel free to use to make them more memorable:

To start with, Captain Othelstan in Parnast is kind of a throwaway villain. If you look at his stats, there's nothing too impressive or interesting about him, and if the PCs have the banner and codeword to enter Skyreach without alerting anyone in town, it's possible they may not even encounter him (this is what occurred in my playthrough) unless you do a little more.

Othelstan Remixed

In my game, I decided to make Othelstan a real tactician and strategist. Unlike most of the cult leadership the party has faced up to this point, who were more zealots than anything else, Othelstan is a soldier. I decided to make him a former Purple Dragon Knight from Cormyr who was turned from his oaths by his desire for retribution on members of the Obarskyr royal family after members of his own family, including his wife, were accused and executed for treason.

Othelstan believes the charges were falsified for political reasons and was cast out of the purple dragon knights when he refused to stop verbalizing his position. Following his exile, he was consumed by grief and recruited by Rezmir. He believes that the only way to humble the elite of his homeland is through a cataclysmic event such as the return of Tiamat. He (falsely) believes that a land cleansed by Tiamat's power is preferable to one ruled by the hypocrisy and dishonesty of politicians.

As a cultist, he is an especially gifted leader of men, thanks to his training with the Purple Dragon Knights. He is both organized and disciplined, and has used his talent for soothing animals to become one of the most gifted Wyvern riders along the sword coast. He doesn't draw undue attention to himself, but has quickly risen through the ranks of the cult on account of his no-nonsense results-oriented approach. His loyalty to the cult is fatalistic but not absolute - he has become somewhat disillusioned by the upper leadership of the cult, seeing the same squabbling and maneuvering he detested in Cormyr.

He longs to lead true soldiers again, not rank and file cultists. Ultimately, he is honorable, if misguided, and can be reasoned with by those he considers to be worthy adversaries. PCs who offer to do what they can to find justice for his family, or at least conduct a more thorough investigation have a chance of persuading him to abandon his loyalties to the cult, especially if they offer him some form of redemption as a leader of men in the council's forces during the final showdown at the Well of Dragons. He is very likely to capture the PCs as POWs rather than killing them outright and PCs may observe him rebuking a lower-ranking cultist for dishonorable behavior.

Roleplaying Othelstan

Mannerisms: Paces when he's thinking, taciturn until the conversation turns to martial combat (especially mounts such as horses or wyverns), Tiamat, or nobility.

Ideals: Retribution (against politicians he believed framed his family), Honor

Interaction Traits: Honest, direct, and cautious.

Bonds: Clutches a locket he wears around his neck (containing some of the ashes of his dead wife) whenever he speaks of Tiamat, Nobility, or his homeland. He views the locket as the only thing he has left of his family. Additionally he does not approve of cruelty towards animals and is protective of his wyvern mount, Vespara.

After observing Othelstan manifest a trait, bond, or ideal, PCs may be able to correctly identify it as such with a DC 15 Wisdom (Insight) check--Persuasion and Intimidation checks which leverage one of these are made with advantage.

Potential Scorecard Impact - Recruiting Othelstan will lose the party one point of favor with Sir Isteval for welcoming a "dishonorable traitor" into their midst. However, it will gain the party a point of favor with Ontharr Frume and Ulder Ravengard, who keenly understand the value of skilled military leaders, as well as Remalia Haventree for providing the cult with a valuable source of cult tactics and intelligence.

----

I'm going to redo his statblock; I'll post it here when I have the chance.
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
Agreed with cmad, I think avoiding a potentially deadly encounter is an appropriate reward for spotting the ambush, screwing them over because of it would seem punitive. You'll have plenty of opportunities to spring deadly ambushes on the party down the road ;)
I just read this. Yeah, there will be plenty of chances to kill the heroes.
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
Ok. Encountered a bit of a problem. We've just gotten to Castle Naerytar. I've been giving xp in the standard way, not using the milestone system. However, now the heroes are 4th level and by the end of the castle they are supposed to be 6th.
Clearly I haven't given them enough encounters on the way north or scaled my granting of RP XP with their levels.

Are you guys using the milestone system? I feel like the adventure doesn't say you need to use the milestone system, but isn't designed to NOT use it.
 

Onslaught

Explorer
CMAD,

Questions:
*Have you done every encounter on Chapters 1-3?
*Did your players complete most quests that give extra XP (like leading many NPCs to the keep, saving NPCs from the Church, finding the 3 dragon eggs)?
*How many encounters / side quests have you done during the caravan travel?
*How many PCs do you have?

I did some math at home and using only what the adventure provides (but using all of it) and the players being successful at side quests, if you have 4 players they should be Lvl 4 after the Hatchery (instead of Lvl 3, which is the milestone way).

By the way, how many sessions (and how long were they) until you get to Castle Naerytar?
 

vandaexpress

Visitor
Ok. Encountered a bit of a problem. We've just gotten to Castle Naerytar. I've been giving xp in the standard way, not using the milestone system. However, now the heroes are 4th level and by the end of the castle they are supposed to be 6th.
Clearly I haven't given them enough encounters on the way north or scaled my granting of RP XP with their levels.

Are you guys using the milestone system? I feel like the adventure doesn't say you need to use the milestone system, but isn't designed to NOT use it.
I switched to milestone after the Hunting Lodge when I realized my PCs would be going into Skyreach at level 6. Knowing that they were going to be fighting a vampire and an adult white dragon, I made the transition, handwaved everyone to 7th level, and haven't looked back since.
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
You want to use the milestone system. Rise of Tiamat assumes the milestone system (unless you create a lot of extra encounters).

Cheers!
 

Onslaught

Explorer
Hey MerricB, first and foremost congratulations and thanks on your articles about HotDQ - they're great!!

I don't have RoT, but I've read quite a few reviews and articles... The way characters level up seems quite fast, every chapter plus every attack from the cult. In fact it doesn't seem enought encounters to level up, even if the level up pace gets faster after lvl 11... However, the adventure doesn't give info on how to award extra XP for the roleplaay parts (council) so the DM can use normal XP instead of milestones?

I get from HOtDQ that the extra XP from side quests (rescue NPCs and stuff) are pretty high and help characters archive or surpass intended level for the chapters - at least at the adventure beginning, but I'm pretty sure this works all the way to chapter 8... I thought RoT would give similar awards to players, so the DM could keep on normal XP distribution, even if it meant reviewing some encounters (probably making them more difficult, since I have a feeling characters and end HotDQ at Lvl 9+)
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
Re RoT, the beginning section of the book does offer quite a few suggestions and hooks for side quests, so presumably someone who wanted to level characters the XP-per-monster way could use those to make sure the party gets enough XP. But it would take a lot longer than the milestone method, and it would take some extra work to flesh out the extra encounters.
 

pukunui

Adventurer
Here's something interesting: In the old AD&D 2e Cult of the Dragon sourcebook, there's a small section on the Church of Tiamat. It starts off by saying that the church (and Tiamat herself) are little known outside of the Old Empires, but that since the Time of Troubles, Tiamat has felt the need to spread her faith beyond Unther. One way in which she has begun doing that (this is circa 1370 DR) is to infiltrate and co-opt individual Cult of the Dragon cells. Her hope is that the more cultists she wins over, the stronger she'll get and the better she'll be able to take over the bigger cells.
Further to this, it would appear that Severin's divinely-inspired hunt for the dragon masks is not the first time Tiamat has meddled with a leader of the Cult of the Dragon. According to 3.5's Dragons of Faerûn, Tiamat also subtly guided Sammaster - the original founder of the cult - in his research on the ancient Dracorage mythal - the permanent epic spell that the ancient elves wove that periodically causes dragons to go berserk. Sammaster succeeded in finding the mythal's capstone (which may have been located near the North Pole, from what I've been able to gather) and corrupt the spell, sending Faerûn's dragons into an ever-intensifying, unending dracorage. His plan was to force all the mighty dragons to accept the transformation into dracoliches or become permanently insane.

At first, this seems counterintuitive to Tiamat's plans. However, I have a feeling she knew he would ultimately be defeated ... and sure enough, a band of adventurers killed Sammaster before his plans could come to fruition. However, they *also* permanently destroyed the mythal, which was no doubt Tiamat's ultimate aim ... because with that spell gone, it meant she could usher in a new Reign of Dragons (the mythal was designed to end the last one, which lasted for six millennia).

Unfortunately for Tiamat, the Spellplague struck a mere decade later. Her homebase of Unther got messed up. Her main guy on the ground, Tchazzar, got imprisoned in the Shadowfell and then got himself killed shortly after making it back to Faerûn. Meanwhile, Bahamut - whose presence in Faerûn had been almost non-existent after his Untheric avatar Marduk was slain a few millennia before - got promoted to a major deity for humanoids (in 4e).

So it was back to the drawing board for Tiamat.

Basically, the point is, the Tyranny of Dragons storyline is *not* an aberration in Realmslore. It is *not* just a copy of the War of the Lance or whatever. It is the culmination of something that's been a long time coming, the seeds of which were planted at least as far back as the publication of the 2e book, Cult of the Dragon, and which were furthered in 3e's Dragons of Faerûn.
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
[MENTION=3586]MerricB[/MENTION] [MENTION=61011]Onslaught[/MENTION] [MENTION=6790472]vandaexpress[/MENTION]

Hey guys! Thanks for the feedback. Sorry it's taken me so long to respond.

After reading your feedback I'm going to level everyone to 5(they are currently 4th and just outside caske Naerytar). Then we will be doing a milestone variant wherein at milestone points the heroes will gain as much xp as would take them from one level to the next. I feel like this will allow them to partake in actions outside of the scope of the module(personal side quests/RP/ general poop throwing that PCs get up to) and be rewarded for it too.

To do straight up classic xp style I think chapter 4 needs to be loaded with encounters( mine had some, but clearly not enough) and encounters that don't result in combat need to provide a significant amount of xp per player. I was basing my awarding of xp on some of the earlier guidelines for chapter 2(ie: 300 xp for various actions taken/RP stuff). Unfortunately by level 4 splitting 300 xp 5 ways turns into next to nothing.

I'm still shaking off the DM rust.
 

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