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

KingsRule77

First Post
I ran it close to as-is, and used my hacked Savage Worlds/Army of Darkness Mass Combat rules to great effect when it all went down.

Most of the group disguised themselves as Cultists and brought their wounded Dragonborn party member in as a "prisoner", so he could heal, then they began convincing the lizard folk that he was a god, and they took to calling him "The Thunder Lizard".

Whole thing ended in the PCs leading the Lizard Folk in a full blown takeover of the castle in the early morning hours.

That's sounds rad.
 

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vandaexpress

First Post
I'm loving Hoard. I've made a lot of changes, I'll try to remember them and add those I've forgotten later:

- additional notes, backstory, and art for some of the characters and villains can be found at the WotC site, for example:
https://dnd.wizards.com/dungeons-and-dragons/story/villains/rathmodar

- Another big plug for using the bonds at the end. All my players used them and it was quite helpful

- Read through the entire module, as well as rise of Tiamat, before running so you have a good handle on what happens and can adapt to PC decisions and enable them to do whatever they want while being able to gently steer them back on course. This addresses the railroad issue for me. I read both books through twice before running the first session. Very key for me as my players went WAY off the rails at the hatchery.

- Similar to the last point, I found that making a TIMELINE was enormously helpful. In other words, where is Rezmir? What is she doing? What about Leosin? What are they up to on a given day? When are the dragon eggs expected to hatch? When is Mondath expected to rendezvous with the rest of the cult after the eggs are hatched? This helps you to keep track of what the cult is doing if the PCs get distracted or captured. You can reference dates and times in journal entries left by cultists. For example my PCs found a journal in Baldur's gate wondering where Mondath was, because "she was supposed to be here by now". It makes the players feel like their actions have an impact, even at low levels. Feel free to revise and update your timeline as the situation evolves. I chose to start my campaign on Ches 1st, 1489 DR. It is now Tarsakh the 18th.

- I put some cult documents (strategic operations stuff) in different places that the PCs could turn in to gain influence with various factions. The documents might have cover identities for cult spies and the like

- Ed Greenwood had a few articles on WotC's site with writeups on cultist NPCs and spies in various cities. Good if you need a quick operative or if the PCs go off the rails and you need to reintroduce the cult outside of the established adventure locales.

- I made Escobert a drug addict who was coked out of his mind during the siege. He was deeply ashamed the next day and committed suicide. I wanted to communicate how traumatic the experience was. I think I got this idea from one of the remixes I read.

- During the Sally port attack, my party almost died. They had to retreat into the keep, the guards tried to help but mostly got killed, they left governor Nighthill alone with the cultist he was interrogating. During the Sally port combat, the cultist broke free and tried to strangle Nighthill. This put the PCs in a tough spot as they fought a rearguard action against the oncoming forces while racing to save the governor in time from the cultist. It was very dramatic and makes the encounter much better.

- if you use minis, the Star Wars yuuzhan vong minis from wiz kids are cheap and work great for cultists (black leather armor with spikes). I changed the flavor on the cultists so that they had dragon whips and dragon staves to match the weapons on the minis. The default cultist mini can be found in the tyranny of dragons icons of the realm packs from wiz kids but the vong are way cheaper.

- Put a ballista atop the keep and have Escobert load it, one PC aim it, and another fire it. I don't know. Honestly the dragon scene fell flat for my group. I'd eliminate it if I ran it again.

- If your party doesn't have a cleric (especially for the first couple episodes), give them an NPC life cleric to run. A cleric of Bahamut is an interesting choice. I created one using the "former gold dragon" bond. She became a favorite of the party. I feel that the church of Bahamut in general can be introduced as a helpful faction in this and the following adventure.

- The artist for most of the characters is Bryan Syme, I think. You can find his deviant art account and download character portraits and images. I run a wiki on obsidian portal and like to update the portraits for NPCs when they die so they're black and white and say RIP in bright red letters. The players love seeing the body count of cult leaders rise over time.

- I found it beneficial to download lots of purple-garbed portraits to represent various wearers of purple the party might encounter. Mid level leaders and the like.

- if you run the caravan, give the cultists more personality. I made the leader of the caravan cultists an insane true believer named Ivor Marvaldi. He had a dream where Tiamat spoke to him. In reality it was a devil manipulating him to get more information on cult plans (a servant of the bone devil referenced in Rise of Tiamat). He is an insane abusive psychopath. I put him in an abusive relationship with a masochistic priestess of loviatar named Merona who always has warding bond cast on Marvaldi (share the pain). Marvaldi becomes enraged when anyone but him hurts her (he's a veteran but gains the reckless trait when she is attacked). One could use these cultists as the murder victim/veteran from the caravan. As for my group, well, they left Marvaldi floating face down, dead in the indoor pool of a whorehouse in the red light district of Baldur's gate. Long story. Give him a Russian accent and make your eyes really wide when you play him for extra crazy.

- Introduce the Lord's Alliance when the party hits Baldur's Gate. I used a polite and well-spoken female half-Orc bounty hunter (Hagatha) who works for the Patriars. They aren't too serious about the cult, but they may have one operative who is monitoring the situation for national security purposes. The PCs may run into her as early as Greenest and she keeps popping up with her partner, a silent Dwarven diviner named Glimmer (a joke, since the dwarf is perpetually scowling and grumpy). She is aloof and never discloses too much information. She seems to be tracking Rezmir as well, and I found my party's curiosity about Hagatha was enough to give them additional motive to track the cult. I used the pathfinder portrait for a character named Imrijka to represent her. You can google it.

- Put a loved one or close friend in the dungeon at Naerytar. If a player is searching for them, drop hints as early as greenest in journal entries etc that hint about where the loved one is.

- I put another Harper in Baldur's gate, Bianca, Leosin's former lover. I felt it was useful to show the organization was large and had agents everywhere, especially in big cities.

- If any of your players are barbarians, I made a hook that one of them came from the Icewind Dale region, a reghed barbarian of the elk tribe, and unbeknownst to him, his family and tribe has been enslaved by a rival tribe that's in cahoots with the cult. The berserkers encountered with Cyanwrath in the hatchery are from the rival tribe, which should confuse the PC since they're far from home. The rival tribe helped the cult locate a dragon mask up north. The PC will have the opportunity to discover the fate of his tribe and save them in Rise of Tiamat when the party goes north.

- it was helpful for me to hex out the map of the sword coast to help with constructing a timeline.

- I put a merchant in the keep in greenest with healing potions. He turns out to have ties to the Zhents and allowed me to introduce that faction early on. He offers to pay the players or somehow reward them if they bring him a dragon egg from the hatchery. Zhent-aligned PCs get discounts on goods. Enough to make other chars seriously think about working for this shady organization. ;) His name was Lysander and I used the turban guy portrait from the cover of dead in thay (the portrait is available for download in the gallery section of the Wizards website)

- Level 2 is a great place to start the first episode, as suggested by slyflourish.

- Rezmir makes a good baddie to tie into a char background (murdered a lover or something) since so much of the adventure is spent chasing her. This is a good bond for neutral or evil aligned characters (revenge) since fulfilling it makes the character a major enemy of the cult and puts them in opposition for the rest of the campaign when they might otherwise say "screw it, I'm out of here, not my fight"

- My group got TPK'd in the hatchery when one pc was an idiot and ran off by himself, Mondath captured them. I gave her the ideal of greed based on her brief description. As a result, the PCs were able to convince her to leave the hatchery and take them to Baldur's gate where one of the PC's parents paid a ransom. This ended up turning into a big mini arc, I ended up running an abbreviated version of Murder in Baldur's Gate, and I put a secret cult safe house beneath wyrm's rock that was controlled by a dragon wing named Lazaro. He had messages and letters from Rezmir and a map to the roadhouse/Naerytar. The adventure in Baldur's gate wound up replacing the traveling chapters and worked really well. It introduced power players from the LA for use later in RoT

- Mondath is hated by the PCs since she TPK'd them, but she got captured by slavers while trying to evade them. Long story. I decided she was sold to the red wizard renegades and when they found out who she was, Rezmir demoted her and left her as property of Azbara Jos. She has basically been humiliated and experimented on with magic. She will return later on as a vampire, replacing sandesyl.

- I gave Azbara Jos a sister using the portrait of phaia from dead in Thay. She is a loyalist with szass tam and is looking for her brother. The pcs can either help her or kill her or ignore her. She becomes the liaison to the loyalists for the Thay section in RoT. This seemed appropriate since the text describes AJ as being curious about the PCs opinion of the splinter group's plan, telling me he has doubts.

- Use Rise of Tiamat style cult reprisals on the party if they are known to the cult, especially in large urban areas like BG or Waterdeep. This may not work well if the PCs did a good job maintaining cover. Mine didn't.

- Jared Blando's maps are available online at very affordable prices in high res for printing or use with VTT software.
 

vandaexpress

First Post
Other stuff:

- If your party has more than 5 people or less than 4, take the time to rebalance the encounters by plugging the enemy CRs for each encounter into the table in the Dungeonmaster Guide to figure out the xp budget that was used. Adjust the budget based on your party size. In my case, this meant adding a few more enemies for some encounters.

- The Hatchery's meat locker or empty vault might make a good place for the party to take a rest if needed. I put a sleeping cultist in the meat locker (like they did with the vault) to help illustrate the fact that the PCs can probably get away with resting there. If they get TPK'd in the hatchery or the camp, these also make good places for them to wake up as prisoners and escape. Put their weapons one of the rooms or something and sprinkle some CR 1/8 guards in between in small numbers. Or better yet, put their weapons ON the guards.

- Remember the raid on Greenest takes place in dim lighting and to apply the necessary penalties to creatures without darkvision. Remember most of the cultists do not have darkvision, which should enable easier sneaking for the PCs.

- Don't stress too much about including the caravan chapters if they don't seem to be interesting to you or your group. You can easily substitute pretty much any kind of challenge in the interim and then have Leosin contact the party and say he's got a lead to the Carnath roadhouse once they're ready, level wise.

- I implemented the spellcasting as a service table from the adventurer league's handout, this provides the party with access to raise dead for 1,200gp, among other things, so long as they're in a major city. Given the chance of PC death, this seems smart.

- I put a Kobold boss in the Hatchery (in the barracks) named Wyrmnugget. He's a wyrmpriest (basically a kobold with eldritch blast and bless). I wanted there to be a hierarchy amongst that portion of the cultist presence. Wyrmnugget can be encountered when infilitrating the raiders and can be manipulated into turning on the other cultists who have a tendency to abuse the Kobolds. Appealing to his delusions of grandeur is the way to do this. That being said, he is a coward. He might just take a simple bribe (or "offering") to leave the PCs alone.

- I supplemented the raiders with Orc Mercenaries called the "Pale Ravagers", a minor faction. Use them to provide additional variety in the enemies at low levels. The Pale Ravagers are cooperating with the cult because the cult lets them get slaves during the raids on the towns. By the time the raider camp mission comes around, though, they've made a big nuisance of themselves with constant squabbles with the humanoid cultists. They can be used to create a distraction (brawl) during the infiltration mission. The Ravagers can continue to harry the party on the road to Baldur's Gate before the party squares off with their leader as an encounter on the road to Waterdeep. Use the Orc Warchief stats for the leader, eye of gruumsh or Orog for lieutenants.

- If you use minis and have the coin, Gale Force 9 has produced excellent unpainted figs for some of the cult leaders, sandesyl, pharblex spattergoo, naergoth bladelord and Rath Modar. I purchased them and had them professionally painted for about $25 a piece. It's pricey, but worth it if you have the coin and want to bring maximum production value to the table. Alternatively, you can paint them yourself if you're handy with a brush (I'm not).

- Consider throwing Galvan the Blue Wyrmspeaker into the adventure somewhere. Reskin Talis for his stats. Maybe give him some features from the blue dragon mask. He's got a picture and a background online, I'm guessing he was cut, which is a shame. You can never have too many villains. He has ties to the Red Wizards, so you can include him as part of the Azbara Jos or Rath Modar encounters if you think your party can handle it.

- The stats for each of the dragon masks was posted online somewhere. Probably more relevant for RoT than HotDQ but you never know, especially if your PCs go off the rails.

- I've read that Borngrey and Pharblex are underpowered (I'm just getting to Naerytar, so I haven't run them, but eyeballing the stats, I agree). Slyflourish recommends maxing up their HP and giving them an 18 or two to keep them from being pushovers. I agree with this decision and will implement it.

- If the PCs botch the infiltration mission in the camp, set up a delayed timer where enemies show up really far away at the beginning of each round, with Mondath and Cyanwrath eventually arriving. This might allow the PCs enough time to free a few of the prisoners before booking it. Most of the cultists are confused about who is a spy and who is supposed to be there, lots of chaos means that rolling a natural one isn't going to automatically result in party capture immediately.

- If you do the caravan mission, pick a few of the NPCs included and develop them to be long-term allies for the PCs. Consider including members of the Emerald Enclave, Lord's Alliance, etc. There is a noticeable paucity of allies after a certain point in HotDQ. It's helpful to fill out those ranks with friendlies, especially with faction allegiances, who can help advise and point the PCs in the right direction.

- You can do what you want, but I chose to restrict the PCs from picking dragonborn as the module states that Rezmir causes quite a stir as a half-dragon. It seemed like the players would logically wonder why their dragonborn companion wasn't causing a similar stir. A DB would stand out on infiltration missions as well, which can be problematic or beneficial if the PCs develop the DB char as a major cultist. They'd be quick to accept him for his draconic bloodline, I'm sure.

- Throw in as much dragon stuff in the character backgrounds as you want. Any character that has an interest in or a background relating to dragons will be MUCH easier to steer along the campaign, as they will want to learn more about all things dragon.

- I gave one of the characters a draconic research guide as a treasure (it was made for him by the scribes he saved from the temple of bahamut). It makes a great piece of flavor for a wizard or sorcerer that likes dragons. Among other things, it allows the owner to reroll any failed intelligence check relating to dragons with advantage if he has at least 10 minutes to consult the book. Additionally, it gives him access to the dragon statblocks in the MM. It's resistant to the various elements used by dragons and functions as a scroll case. This is great flavor, but also really helps the PCs to draw interesting conclusions and learn things based on various draconic iconography that they might encounter in various cult lairs. You can combine it with another uncommon magic item if you choose. In my case, I made it function as a pearl of power when it's attuned, allow it to function as a spell focus, and have it radiate dim light for 10 feet when opened and delivers a small elemental shock when someone other than the owner tries to open it. Mechanically it's a pearl of power/scroll case/focus/skill enhancer. Not game breaking at all, but it's that player's favorite item in the game.
 

cmad1977

Hero
I'm currently preparing for chapter 4. My intention is to make the wagon train function kind of like a small town. 9 wagons, three of which are cult wagons using the business as a front. With cult guards secretly sprinkled throughout the rest of the train and the heroes hiring on with whoever they can I hope to have some interesting/unexpected conflicts to arise.
I'm looking forward to the 'assassins in the inn' part as I'm re-skinning that to be a group of monks from a rival school of one of the PCs. 'Oh... Your shadow style... Is no match... for... fire dragon fist!'
 

pukunui

Legend
Has anyone got any resources to share? I mean things like pictures and handouts they've used during their sessions and stuff.
 

cmad1977

Hero
Has anyone got any resources to share? I mean things like pictures and handouts they've used during their sessions and stuff.

I don't really have anything off hand. I out together an index card for each wagon in the train with a brief description of cargo and personality of the owner. I'll use them to randomly determine what wagons are involved in whatever goes on. Hopefully that provides the heroes with a few NPCs to remember.
 


pukunui

Legend
It seems to me like a lot of people got hung up on the idea that the adventure starts with a dragon attacking a village. I know that the read-aloud text actually says that, but I got the impression from the "Dragon Attack" section that Lennithon has spent most of the raid just flying overhead, weakening the town's defence by merely being present. Hence why that mission is labelled "Dragon Attack" - it represents when he changes from "support" mode to "attack" mode.

Just a thought.


EDIT: Another thing people seem to get stuck on is the whole "Why is the cult taking the loot all over the Sword Coast only to end up back where they started?" Steve Winter's answer is twofold: 1) Going straight from Greenest to the Well of Dragons would leave too obvious a trail, and 2) The caravan carrying the loot from Greenest is just one of many.

With that in mind, I think it would be cool to have more cultists (with more loot taken from other parts of the Sword Coast) join the caravan on its journey. Maybe another wagonload of cultists could join up just south of Dragonspear, where those two roads meet, and another could join up at Daggerford, having come down the Delimbiyr Route from Secomber and around there. Maybe there could even be a wagon or two at the Roadhouse that had come down from the north. This way you can *show* the players that the caravan they've been following is but one of many.
 
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YourSwordIsMine

First Post
I bought HotDQ when it first came out in hopes of running it after Phandelver. I was a little annoyed that it started so far away, so I looked at it as running it as a start to a campaign. And that's where I began to run into problems.

The more I read of the module one thing stuck out above all else. I kept having this nagging feeling that the whole module was written with a higher level party than levels 1-8. Every encounter and scene seemed to be written one way and then changed to be Level 1-8 last minute without really changing the base assumptions of the encounters. I know I am not describing this feeling very well, but this was the impression I got as I was reading it. Its why I set it aside eventually and figured I'd never get to use it.

But, I think I might look at it again with a new perspective. I'm thinking about still running Phandelver, and then moving from there into PotA. This would bring the party up to L15 or so. At this point I think I will rework Tyranny of Dragons to be the culmination of my campaign. Starting HotDQ at L15 seems to be about right with the assumptions of the story (stopping army of cultists and dragons from raising Tiamat). It just feels right compared to using it for lower level characters...

IMHO anyway.
 

vandaexpress

First Post
Random tip: Google the names of the illustrators from the credits—many of them have online galleries that include artwork from HOTDQ. I know I already mentioned Bryan Syme, but I was able to do this to grab a shot of castle Naerytar from the chapter info for setting the stage when my party arrives.

Also, there are stats for all of the dragon masks out there somewhere, in case your party comes across more.
 

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