5E Help me run four published adventures (spoilers)

Ymdar

Explorer
So the first section of my 5e campaign soon closes. I have 3 PCs all are level 5. I never touched any published adventures but I thought it was time for a change:
The PCs are conveniently traveling from Cormyr to the west it makes sense to start with Hoard of the Dragon Queen. My plan is to follow the adventure (with the many tweaks suggested by other posters) until Waterdeep where I plan to do the Dragon Heist. As HotDQ has a questionable way to move PCs from Waterdeep anyway, contacts will usher them toward Goldenfields for a Storm King's Thunder adventure arguing the giants' rise is imminent and the cultists will be watched by other groups. After finishing SKT they'll return to HotDQ and commence with Rise of Tiamat once they finish it.
This is a special campaign for me as this time I don't give xp for roleplaying or anything else than combat. I have questions:

I read every module can be quite deadly if ran on the intended levels. As the PCs are already level 5 I don't expect them to have any real trouble during the first part of HotDQ or DH and I assume they won't advance very quickly from killed enemies. However I do not plan a super lot of combat in either adventure unless PCs initiate it and don't think I'll run an excessive number of random encounters. If I keep combat at a low to medium level will the PCs gain enough xp to advance to a level required to defeat the final encounter of RoT especially if Tiamat does come through the portal? I know SKT can have a lot of combat in the middle of the adventure with the PCs raiding barbarian tribes and defeating at least one giant lord.

Second question: DH begins with Neverember embezzling money and subsequently being removed as a Lord of Waterdeep. Any recommendations on how to play the out RoT Council storyline? I think in this case I could play out the first session it RoT just like as it is in the second part of the adventure, Lady Laeral represents Waterdeep, Neverember is somewhat distrusted and thus it would make more sense of him to bring a Zhentarim agent to the table.

Does anyone see any pitfalls in my plan? Any particularly dangerous combat encounters (as per written in the adventure) I should be mindful? I don't want the game to be super deadly.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
SKT and ToD fit together really well, in my campaign Iymrith was sowing chaos in the Ordning to keep the giants from helping out the Sword Coast and potentially stopping the plan to rise Tiamat. My group sorted that out as one of the missions for the Council. Certainly having Dragon Heist fit into this could work well. For example perhaps Neverwinter had suffered a bad attack from the dragon cult and Neverember needed the funds to rebuild, (perhaps he thought he'd pay it back over time and no one would be the wiser (or quickly pay it back with interest from the hoard at the Well of Dragons?)

As far as deadliness is concerned, starting your players off at level 5 should work well with HotDQ - the first part of that adventure is known to be super deadly to level 1 PCs, especially with DMs who don't recognize the challenge mismatch. My concern would be keeping the challenge up in Dragon Heist and SKT, but using the encounter guidelines in Xanathar's should help, it's some quick tables for checking the expected challenge level.

My group connected these adventures in a similar way: LMoP -> HotDQ 2nd half -> ToD intro -> SKT 2nd half -> ToD finale. Dragon Heist could easily fit in, especially when the council wants to draw funds in order to raise troops for the assault on the well of Dragons and finds the cash is missing. In fact the council could specifically ask the PCs to investigate it as one of their missions.

My advice to you: don't try to follow the adventures as written, develop your own meta-story that connects all these things and know why the various major NPCs are doing what they're doing. Why did Neverember steal the dragons? Why is Iymrith causing trouble for the giants? Etc etc. If you try and use the motivations as written in the books things will work against you and you'll be scrambling to cover the logical inconsistencies.

Finally, Dragon Heist is an odd duck. Use it with care! In fact I'd recommend throwing out its entire story and reworking it to suit your needs.
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
Ok...
Rule 1 of running published adventures:
They are a source book NOT a road map. Don’t hew too closely to the book if it doesn’t fit. Use the resources just don’t feel constricted by the book itself.

I ran HoTDQ ‘by the book’ because it had been years since I played/ran a game of any kind. Major error.
When we continued RoT I used the material as a sourcebook and we had an epic 2nd half of the adventure.

Deadliness... eh... they’ll be fine. You’ve probably already made a few concession given that the party is 3 players. I imagine you have a good feel for your group.

DH: well.. whoever stole the money is ‘clearly’ in cahoots with the Cult of Dragons... right?
 

jayoungr

Explorer
When do you plan to start the new campaign? Because a revised version of Tyranny of Dragons, with a new opening chapter, is due to be released on October 22.
 

Ymdar

Explorer
Thank you for the responses. It will take a considerable time to get the characters from the Dalelands to Cormyr and then Greenest so I don't think I'll be able to start before 22 October. I like to plan way in advance.

I didn't mind any of the HotDQ starting scenes especially since I didn't want to show the dragon at the start - only mentioning they can hear and see some "dry lightning" on the "other side of town".

However I am still struggling with tying DH with the rest of the camaign.

Characters arrive to Waterdeep following the cultists. That's fine. Their pre-established faction then tells them to stand down and help solve a heist? Then they would be asked to go to Goldenfields? Then after they save the Sword Coast from giants they are asked to resume on the dragon lead? How to tie all of this together? Apologies for the wall of text that follows.

Adventure plan (rant?):

My idea is that regardless of their level or their achievements in Greenest and the rest of the previous homebrew campaign the factions and the proto-Council (who might already know how dangerous the Cult of the Dragon is) regards the characters as small fry and incapable of solving the "Draconic incident". Told to hold back for a day or two the characters go to the Yawning Portal and get the Volo hook (or whatever other hooks I can find that is suitable).

I have only began to read DH but the PCs will get through the module somehow. I will certainly make a change that Lord Neverember didn't embezzle the money but instead made a deal with a Cult of the Dragon member -likely Severin- in disguise for a "risky but high yield" business venture that will enable him to "fund both cities". So after he gambled the money away, Jarlaxle (who is an established anti-hero in my campaign appearing several times before) stole it from the Cult. Not sure if the previous will really impact the adventure or not? Also I know the adventure recommends DMs not to give PCs 500k gp but I'll eventually get around reading reviews on what's advised. I'm sure Waterdeep would want the money back but since the city is so rich I think most of the factions would settle for a - or a -/- in RoT if the PCs stole the money.

Meanwhile one or more elite SWAT team of Force Gray is sent after the Hoard and are promptly and silently eaten by the dragon or the lizardfolk before raising any alarms inside Castle Naerytar.

PCs are recognised as capable heroes or individuals to be watched and are given the Goldenfields mission from SKT maybe asking them to investigate further attacks in the Sword Coast. They progress on missions given by NPCs of Goldenfields (or something better once I read reviews) but this part of the adventure is certainly less high profile than the previous parts of this campaign. How to tackle this? I mean epic dragon villagefight, epic caravan ride, epic heist, epic giant attack all the while being acknowledged by the biggest factions in the coast now an ... innkeeper asks them to deliver a message the his brother? I'm sure I'd get a lot of raised eyebrows if I gave the PCs such hooks with the obvious: "And what about the evil cult?" question would follow. How should I sell them the change of pace and focus? Their faction contacts could tell them to pursue the giant lead and investigate more as this threat could be even larger than the Dragon thing which was in all honesty some brigands attacking a village or two (or thirty-five but I guess the Lords Alliance doesn't share everything with each other). And the factions have their best people on the leads of Dragons too!
Aaanyway the PCs travel aimlessly from one location to another and eventually the Giant appears and gives them more hooks. I really need to read up on how to fix this. Eventually they find out more and are encouraged by the increasingly occupied proto-council to pursue on the giant lead as they have the most clues. Finally adventure is concluded either as written or somehow else. i will certainly involve Blagothkus at least as per written in the book.

Meanwhile, all elite Force Gray swats fail the swamp mission. Dragon cult attacks are ever more happening. The PCs are finally entrusted with this delicate mission to go to a ... repair shop in the middle of the swamp? Ooookay. By this time the black dragon realises if it eats even more Waterdeep units, it will be exterminated so retreats back to the swamp appearing only if the PCs take a lot of wrong turns. The dragon tells Snapjaw to make a deal with the next group of adventurers who come along and get rid of his enemies. HotDQ concludes as normal. In the meantime there is a lenghty audit investigation on Lord Neverember's Waterdeep accounts and he is increasingly distrusted in the city even if the PCs returned the money in DH.

RoT proceeds as normal or with suggestions from all the forums and articles I have already saved.

Does the above wall of text make sense? If I only give XP for combat and PCs clear out only one or two giant strongholds will they get enough XP to advance to a level they can successfully conclude RoT? With 3 PCs of which two are multiclass I assume they would need at least level 16-17 to have a chance to succeed.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
I still recommend just using the 2nd half of SKT and make it into one of the missions for the Council. Forget the giants raids on the small people, you don't need two big bads laying waste to the Sword Coast! :) Something like:
We need the Giants on our side, but our diplomatic channels have failed. The Ordning has been broken and the Storm King is missing. Restore the Storm King to his throne and forge an alliance!
 

Ymdar

Explorer
I get you However regardless of being seemingly distasteful of the first part of SKT I want it to work. :)

I always liked to run Indiana Jones type adventures: Characters traveling from point A to B on the map and see interesting parts of the Realms. This is especially important in my current game where the players don't know much about the world, none have played with any computer games set in the Forgotten Realms.
I want them to see the Mithral Hall or Gauntlgrym, climb up to the top of the Spine of the World and see the Ten Towns. I want them to at least hear the story of how the Children of Bhaal wrecked the region. Eventually I want to Cowled Wizards of Amn actually offer the sorcerer PC a permit because they would not dare to oppose a level 15 character.
 

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