On Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Episode II Remix: Part II

Continuing our exploration of Episode II of Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

You know what the real problem with exploring the camp is?

Exploring the Camp

So, let's say you are at your day job. Assume that your day job is a lot more chaotic then it normally is and you see different people all the time. 

Who in your office is talking about the mission statement of the company? How likely are two random employees going to be having that conversation?

You know what you're talking about? That jerkface on floor three. How other people could do their job better. That person who keeps just forwarding e-mails without changing the request text. How HR isn't doing their job. That guy who broke up with his girlfriend and is sleeping his way through the employee roster. What the new boss is going to be like. Where you are getting a drink after work. That persons new haircut. Why that person got fired.

I'd go on, but someone from work might read this someday.

You are going to be talking about absolutely everything but what this list in the book gives you. 

So today, we are going to talk about factions in the camp, what they know, and what they are talking about. 


30 minute dragon-dog sketch by me.
The Dragon-Dogs travel in packs, and are disturbingly like snakes, crawling all over each other when they talk to someone as a group. 

They have poor boundaries of personal space.

Here is what the dragon-dogs talk about:
  • Fresh meat is delicious! 'Pink worm filth suitable only for food'—meat is delectable. Huge fatty sacks on the female 'pink worm filth suitable only for food' are the best!
  • Dragons are the best!
  • Everything is terrible but Tiamat is coming and we will be the favored people over all the people.
  • Tiamat is like the best god, because she's five awesome gods. HAIL TIAMAT!
  • No, no, every egg can be favored by a certain head based on birth order and surface color.
  • I like to take things apart. We all like to take things apart. We can put them back together to hurt people and that's the best!
  • If dragons breath on your eggs, your eggs will be blessed and grow to be strong like dragons.
  • Did you see how wonderful Lennithon was? I've never been near something so awesome.
  • How does it feel knowing that your kind will be flesh eating parts for us?
  • Dragons are far superior to 'pink worm filth suitable only for food'. How does that make you feel 'pink work filth only suitable for food'?

Red Dragon Cultists (The Red Hand of Tiamat)

  • Use the Cultist Generator
  • Are blue or white dragon cultists the worst cultists?
  • No, the blood of children tastes different, somehow more pure then the blood of adults.
  • Hey, recruit, come here! Have you be through your cutting? (Hazing, there is no cutting initiates have to go through, but the cultist will certainly cut the player character if they are allowed to).
  • How did you get stuck here working for Cyanwrath and these impure blues?
  • It's like some sort of energy builds up. Murdering all those people last night was a release, but it's not nearly enough you know? Like scalping someone and then watching them die. That's satisfying in a whole different way.
  • Blood is inside you and me and everyone. That's the crazy part about it! And it's such a great lubricant. It's like She thought of everything! HAIL TIAMAT!
  • It wouldn't be nearly as bad working with those blue freaks if there weren't all these damned mercenaries around. 
  • Why are we keeping that stupid monk alive? Rezmir should just flay him alive and let his screams lead Tiamat into this world.
  • Hey! You! Have you been marked yet? If you want to join the reds, I've got your opportunity right here! (Offers the characters an opportunity to torture and kill an innocent townsperson).
  • The hunters are just killing this food, you know? And if it doesn't die when they bring it down, they just cut the jugular, wasting the blood and killing it in seconds. I don't understand what's wrong with people, you know? It could suffer so much more before I turn it into shit—we could even be keeping it alive while we eat it. It's just, I don't understand! It doesn't make any sense to me.
  • I get that we're collecting treasure for the Dragon Queen, but why can't we have some to spend in the towns before we sack them?
  • I just think Awan is so brutal, you know. It kind of makes me wonder if he's showing off, or what?

Blue Dragon Cultists (The Cobalt Claw of Tiamat)

  • Use the Cultist Generator
  • Yeah, you know, what brought me here is that I've never felt that what I am is represented by what I am, you know? I'm just driven by some force to make things the way I think they should be.
  • What's really frustrating is that you can't screw your way into a new form. If you want to crossbreed with someone you're already here, you know? You either got to mutate or, you know, wait till Tiamat gets back.
  • Frulam Mondath wears the purple, and she's the right one to do it. Anyone who can inspire the loyalty of Langedrosa Cyanwrath is someone I'm willing to follow, black wing of Tiamat or no.
  • This constant raiding communities suits the red and black, but what are they doing for us? How many creatures are we capturing to bring glory to tiamat? It's all piles of treasure. 
  • I don't think the reds really have their heart in the ritual chanting. It's the best part!
  • Working with Lennithon was a great honor.
  • I wouldn't say anything to Frulam, but I got the impression that Lennithon was less than enthusiastic to be helping.
  • Come sing with me! 
  • I'll tell you what. The best sex I ever had was with a doppleganger. This cult, what they are trying to do, it's a beautiful thing man.
  • There aren't enough prisoners any more to experiment on, even after Greenest. All the ones that are left we're just going to feed to the hatchlings. 

Black Dragon Cultists (The Black Wing of Tiamat)

  • Use the Cultist Generator
  • All hail the great work! HAIL TIAMAT!
  • Come, we must form the spiritual temple. (Rounds characters up to perform ritual)
  • Come, let us meditate on the coming terror and the heinous fate that will befall us once her majesties returns.
  • Don't let those guys know, but I'm only here because these guys are more laid back than those other ones. Want to come do some Dreammist?
  • We have the twelve Frost Giants of hate on our side. The ancient enemies of dragons have joined our holy cause! Can their be any doubt to our worth?
  • Rezmith leads us, as the black should. Though it has been months since he has been here. 
  • We should spend less time gathering the energies of suffering for the black temple, and more time recruiting these mercenaries to our cause! Every falcon we give them is one that slips from the claw of the queen.
  • Aye, the half-elf monk lives. It's by the order of Rezmir. She wants something from him, though I don't know what and I wouldn't want to be him.
  • Greenest was our most profitable venture yet! 


  • *Weeping*
  • *lying dead*
  • Don't talk to me, you'll get me killed!
  • Don't hurt me sir!
  • They will work us till we die, and feed us to whatever monsters are in those caves. All the sooner if you keep speaking to me.
  • Take me from here! I'm a rich noble from Waterdeep! I'll pay you. *lashed by the guards*
  • *Interrupted by their attempt to talk by mercenaries assaulting the prisoners.*
  • Tell them I praise Tiamat. I want to join! It's not too late! Let me join!
  • The only way into that cave for me is as a corpse.


  • *Quiet stare*
  • I don't want any part of your sick cult.
  • Uh, I'd be interested maybe in talking some more about your majesties? 
  • Nods
  • Points
  • Shakes head
  • Scowl
  • Taciturn answers

Mercenary companies

There are several different mercenary groups, including ones active in the area, such as the Blacktalons, The order of the Blue boar, and other less well known mercenary companies.

The Blacktalons are a large and well armed group. They wear armor painted black, but badly battleworn, with a spalsh of white across the chest. 
  • I don't much care, as long as we get paid.
  • You with the Blue Boars?
  • There's no better way to make money!
  • The only thing that bothers me about this job is that we're making a name for that cult, not the Blacktalons.
  • They don't let anyone in the caves back there. Probably raising dragons or some non-sense. Who cares? It'll be a score of ten-years before they even become a problem.
  • I wouldn't recommend joining the cult. Not likely they'll be successful in their plan. Though the profit from the raid should be enough to pay for our services. 
Blue Boar
A group of veteran mercenaries that charge a high price for their services. Their badge is a grizzled razorback boar, rampant on a red, russet, or silver field. Their uniform is a dark blue shirt with gold buttons, stiff collar, dark blue trousers and black calf-high boots.
  • Why are you talking to me?!
  • You can't afford what it would cost for me to answer that question.
  • I hope your skill with arms is good enough to back up being stupid enough to bother me!
  • With what they took from the last raid, they should be able to afford us.
  • I don't care what they have in that cave and you shouldn't either. 

Leosin Erlanthar and Other Strangeness

There are other points of contention in Episode II. First, Leosin doesn't want to leave. The players are told to rescue him, and when they reach him he doesn't want to leave because, and I quote "He doesn't want to take the risk".

Do we want to present our non-player characters as idiots?

Now, doing an extraction of an unwilling target is a great plot hook. It's super fun in play. But only when it's something reasonable, e.g. I don't want to leave because Sader-Krupp is keeping my daughter alive from her degenerative bone disorder.

What possible reason does he have for staying? "Yes, I've learned everything I can, and any day I'm going to be tortured and killed, and I know I'm currently heavily wounded, exhausted, and crucified on this x-bar thing, but you know, I think I'm going to stay!"

The other problem with this is that he escapes regardless of player action. How heroic if the players can't get to him. He shows up anyway. What's weird really really weird, is that "He refuses to talk about it later." What? Why? I have thought about this, and can come up with no good reason he'd just be like "NOPE." when asked how he escaped.

It makes me think he had a really really interesting method of escape.

I think it's also important that if the character's don't rescue him that he dies. Why not? He doesn't seem important in the rest of the adventure and I doubt he'll be critical in the following book.

Unassailable Tent

The other point of contention is the unassailable tent.

The large ten (sic) at area 2 is set apart from the others by an open space. It is reserved for Rezmir, Frulam Mondath, and Langdedrosa Cyanwrath. An honor guard of four guards and four guard drakes. . . keeps watch around the tent day and night. They don't sleep at their posts, they don't fall for tricks, and they don't listen to stories and pleas. Their job is to keep everyone away from their leaders' tent, and they are fanatical about it. Only acolytes and adepts the guards know by sight and by voice are allowed to approach.

Right, I get it you know? But this leaves the impression that the characters can't get in the tent. Hogwash. Second (or third) level characters could come up with a plan, and science forbid your party be level 5 or 6.

Having this in the module is good backup when you call bullshit about the astounding competence the guards have, but it by no means the players shouldn't be able to get into the tent. The only question is what's in the tent?

For my campaign, at any given moment there's a 50% chance of each of the important people to be in the tent, as well as treasure, maps, notes, documents and more. Good luck surviving that fight. I'd assume basic precautions, such as an alarm spell, prepared defenses against invisibility (flour, dispel magic, etc.) and other normal preventative tricks. At night crossing the boundary will set off an audible alarm, as the spell.

Not that the players can't defeat those defenses also. . .


The other other point of contention is the nursery.

Again. It's off limits. It's got guards. What player character in the world is going to be stopped by this? If they approach they get turned away. If they fight the guards, there's like 100 dudes around. If they kill them stealthly or sneak in, there's a timer before the camp is on high alert.

Let the players enter the nursery if they can. Flip right to chapter three and start exploring, keeping in mind that there's guards all over the place. If they can get in and get some treasure out, more power to them.


The part I don't understand is the need to make people do things or present things in such a way that makes a Dungeon Master interpret it as an excuse to say no. 

Doing the things the adventure tells you you can't do (i.e. get into the tent, nursery, etc.) are stupid. There are literally hundreds of guards around. There is no way an adventuring group can fight that many people. 

If you let the players know that there's risk, and the players know that they can die and there isn't any kind of plot armor protecting them, then there is no reason not to attempt or let them do stupid things. Who knows? Maybe they have a good plan and can pull it off. A few paragraphs added describing how to handle those situations when (not if) the players attempt them, would go a long way towards people feeling like this adventure was more free rather than such a series on rails. 

Hack & Slash 
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On Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Episode II Remix: Part I

The Mystery

The central idea behind Horde of the Dragon Queen is that it's a mystery why these raid occur, and the factions have a vested interest in finding out why.

Steve Winters says:

"Episode 2 is structured entirely differently. Characters are given a long-range reconnaissance mission where they’ll be on their own for days in enemy territory. No friendly NPC is standing by in this episode to tell the characters what to do. The situation is fraught with danger, but it’s all up to the players to decide how much of that danger they tackle. If they simply watch from a distance for a few days and then report, they’ll fulfill the minimum requirements of their mission. But how many players can resist the urge to take a closer look inside the enemy camp? This episode is all about learning how D&D lets players assess risk, solve problems, and interact with complex situations, possibly without ever needing to unsheathe a sword or roll a damage die."

Some of the most enjoyable sessions for players are those that involve them making a plan to infiltrate a place. This is a good idea!

The problem is, that for the structure of the 'episodic' adventure it requires that the characters restrict themselves to the primary mission. The characters want to sneak in and kill Cyanwrath? Too bad. Want to steal back the treasure? Nope.

The pressures on the design side of this are huge. Everyone has to have the same experience. These bullet points have to occur for the adventure to continue. The players have to have a good time.

How do you solve this as a designer? Let's take a look.


Questman (Governor Nighthill) wants to pay 250 gold apiece for the players to accomplish these goals.

  • Where is the camp
  • How many raiders are there
  • Who their leaders are
  • Why are they attacking
  • Where is their next target
    • Also, recover treasures
Then we get two paragraphs of boxed text to get you to go after Leosin Erianthar, a monk who is some sort of dragon expert. 

There are a ton of real world logistical issues in a home campaign from this. In an Encounters session, everyone shows up fully ready and takes the quest. 

In a home game, the raid ended about 5 am. An hour or two (short rest) later, Nighthill is asking you to track down the bandits. If you start this adventure at first level, there is no question that the characters are going to need a long rest. Does that mean they are tracking the bandits in the late afternoon? Why can't they heal the monk to come with them? As a Dungeon Master; don't many of those goals explicitly ask them to do things they can't actually accomplish in Chapter 2? 

It's not that these questions are particularly difficult. It's that they come up as issue while reading the adventure. Set loose a group of real world players on the situation and there's no telling what kind of ideas they will have. I haven't run this part yet, so I actually don't know. 

My personal answers to the questions is when the characters reach level 2, they feel tremendously refreshed and don't need a long rest, that the monk has several (3+) levels of fatigue, and needs more time to recover then the players can wait, and finally, that we'll burn those particular bridges when we come to them. 

Tracking the Raiders 

There are no issues with this! Good use of skill checks and informing the Dungeon Master of how to handle the upcoming information. The layout isn't designed for reference during play, but for a read through it's great. 

The straggler encounter is fine. Players have the option to avoid, engage, etc. They may also end up with more prisoners which creates a bit of a logistics/moral issue. This isn't a bad thing, making these kinds of choices is what Dungeons and Dragons is about. As noted later, if the characters arrive after Sundown, it becomes more difficult to enter the camp. 

The rearguard encounter is really good! The best solution is to not engage the group. They have an ambush plan. It uses terrain to good effect. It takes into account player knowledge. 

For my personal campaign, it's important to note that these cultists are from the Black Wing of Tiamat, concerned with darkness, night, travel, and temples of worship.

The Camp

The biggest issue with the camp is that the confusion the cultists have over who's a cultist and who isn't a cultist isn't communicated very clearly by the text. The cultists have hired mercenaries, who have no association with the cult and yet move around the camp free. 

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Most players will spend a lot of time debating over what to do, which is made much more difficult being that the players don't have your insight into the setup and reactions to the cultists. I'd directly say something like this:

"From what you can see, the camp appears disorganized and chaotic. Morale seems high and security lax. If you wanted, you could probably just walk into the camp and nobody would bother you. If you did that there's a risk someone might remember you from the fighting in Greenest. You could also wait till nightfall and try to enter the camp then, but if you're spotted that will be even harder to explain."

The other thing I'd be sure to mention is this.

"The camp has a lot of people in it. If you are discovered or captured, you are free to fight against those overwhelming odds. Your best chance if that happens is trying to escape after they capture you before they execute you."

See, when a player approaches this problem, It is safe to assume the player thinks several things. 
  1. There's no way for me walk into camp.
  2. You'll never take me alive!
The gameplay is in the camp. Bypass the part where the players have confusion over what the situation in the camp is, and get back to the interesting choices.
  1. Walk right in with a (very low) chance of being recognized.
  2. Sneak in at night with a chance of getting caught.
  3. Understanding that if you're caught, you'll have to escape, not fight. 
As always, letting these choices be explicit doesn't limit any other options they come up with, nor does it guarantee success. Player skill can still be used in full force ("We use disguise to alter our appearance!" or "We surveil the entire camp so we know where things are!")


I'm very happy with this section. There's no shenanigans. Frulam Mondath will sentence some people to execution, which might actually happen. No Deux Ex, no fancy contortions to keep the players alive. The biggest gift here is a single hidden knife if all other plans fail. The players are stripped of all their gear and sentenced to die.

There should be plenty of opportunities for real failure and here is one. They have to be both smart and lucky to escape with their lives. 

Check back tomorrow when we talk about exploring the camp and wrap up chapter two.

Hack & Slash 
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On Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Episode I Remix: Part III

Continued from Parts I and II.

Dragon Attack

Picture of Lennithon
The Adult Blue Dragon Lennithon, as far as I can tell, has no pre-existing history in the realms. Here is everything we know about him:
  • He is not an enthusiastic participant in the raid.
  • He doesn't want to fight adventurers.
This encounter showcases bounded accuracy and enemies that are much more powerful than you. 

There's a wall, see? The players don't know what's in the module. When they reach this encounter, they will assume that if they engage the creature, they will all die. The only way to not think that is to have some sort of meta-knowledge about the game. So what's this choice like as a player, hm?

Either run and hide or die.

So that's frustrating. 

The solution, or at least the only one I can see, is to be forthright about the situation.
"The (insert dramatic description of) dragon is (insert graphic depiction of) murdering guards on the parapets. You feel waves of fear come over you (make DC 17 wisdom saves). Those of you not terrified can act. Watching, you can tell that the dragon is only reluctantly attacking the towers and can likely be driven off with a good hit or two, unwilling to risk his own skin. However, any successful attack that doesn't drive him off is likely to focus his quite lethal attention on you. Driving him off now would save hundreds of lives and the surviving guards would make life that much more difficult for the cultists. What do you want to do?
Then track 1 minute of real world time, having a round pass if no one takes an action, with the dragon killing more guards.


Providing a bonus for capturing cultists (and only cultists) means that there's a choice between more difficult movement for a reward. For new players, this also teaches them that they can choose to knock out opponents with melee attacks instead of killing them. 

The information on other ways to leave the keep is also buried here, inside the text. 

Save the Mill

Charisma (Performance)? Well, whatever. 

This encounter straddles the line of character skill and player skill on the wrong side. If the player's take the time to stop and look, they still are likely to fail to determine that it's a trap. 

In addition to the "go save the mill" speech given, I'd give clues in the description of the scene. "A cultist looks around into the night waving his torch back and forth, cackling evilly as Dragon-Dogs stack kindling up against the door. He moves towards it for a second, and then back, waving his torch around! What do you do?"

Then, I'd grant the mechanical check in either case. The DC should be higher if they don't stop to look or ask questions (DC 20). Being suspicious and stopping to look should either grant advantage (at DC 15) or lower the DC (to 10). The players can ask questions about the description until they make up their own mind to attack. Obviously they won't set it on fire with the force inside, so after enough time it should become obvious it's a trap with no roll needed.


No complaints. No changes necessary. Well done. 

I'd like to call out the "let the players make their own plan" and "pressure the players based on your group makeup" as excellent techniques and it's awesome to see them in published materials. 

I once had a player complain when I held up a timer for some time limited event, crying out "It's not fair!" This is something players in a pressure situation who don't deal well with pressure (or who might think they can remove the pressure through argument or discussions) might do. I said to that player "You are absolutely right, it isn't fair." and then just waited. Acknowledging when players complain that things aren't going their way goes a long way to having them accept that sometimes bad things happen in games. 

Half-Dragon Champion

You know, I have no real major problem with this section, except for this statement:
"If by some mischance Cyanwrath is killed or captured, his place in the dragon hatchery is taken by another half-dragon."
No. No it isn't.

Other quibbles have to do with presentation. Do characters know how much more powerful than them this creature is? Is that presented in a way that the player can get that information? The answer is no. It needs to be.

The whole "fair fight" thing is also ridiculous. The replacement of "I'll execute one townsperson I've got every minute until someone comes to face me or I run out of townspeople" is a much better solution. Tell them he wants to fight a single opponent. If they all come out, let them all fight the 15 dragon dogs, Cyanwrath, and a half dozen cultists. Let them fight him one on one. Let them try to cheat and plan. Let them do whatever they want.

If they do kill him, then they should kill him. He won't be in episode 3 or any other episode, because he will be a corpse.


Why have Cyanwrath kill (or almost kill) a party member at all? 

The idea is to take something from the players. Not just have something bad for them as characters, but for them to become invested as players in seeing this person go down.

In Phandelver, I achieved conversion when I had Yeemick jump down and say "You'll never catch me!". Suddenly my players were very interested in catching Yeemick. Not their characters—the players. 

They weren't bothered or as invested in his unsurprising and ultimately inevitable betrayal. But telling them they couldn't catch him, had the 9 hit point party wizard jump down 20' off a ledge (taking 2d6 damage) and run outside to hunt him down by himself, alone.


The problem is that what's printed in the module doesn't cause that. Just fighting a dude you can't beat and one that knocks you down doesn't do that. It's the way in which he kills you that's important. 

If you fight this dude, he will kill you. If you don't he will kill these women and children. This is Sophie's choice—it just makes players feel bad and is unfun. 

However, if he toys with the players and they see the encounter is winnable (even if ridiculously difficult) and he taunts them and gets away with it, then he'll be hated by the players. 

This isn't a mechanical thing. It's a personal thing, which means that it requires the Dungeon Master to be skilled at pushing buttons. You can't just write this encounter without calling this out, because a bunch of the people running it are going to make it frustrating for the players, and not something that makes them, personally, as players, hate your opponent.

Hack & Slash 
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On Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Episode I Remix: Part II


The only rational action when seeing a dragon destroying a city is to NOPE yourself somewhere else as quickly as possible.

The best way to start the campaign is to ask the players this question.

"Are you a bad enough dude to kill Tiamat?"

If the answer to that question is no, play a different campaign. If the answer is yes, then you've invested the players.

Investing the characters is easier. There are good backgrounds in the back of the book. Any of the Dragon Features would let them know that the Cult of the Dragon is either about bringing back Tiamat or have the world toil under the wrath of Dracoliches. Either way, the world is the place where the characters keep all their stuff. Also, there's a Hoard. Or there will be one by the time we're done.

In any case, the players are free to make whatever choices they wish. If they want to steal all the treasure for themselves or join the cultists, very little needs to change. At some point, when they realize that the arrival of Tiamat will result in the destruction of the entire world, they can fight the cult, or you know, not.

My characters will be between 4th and 6th level, and I'll be adjusting the difficulty towards that end. I have to change very little, the players will just end up more capable. Spoilers, obviously. Both for Hoard of the Dragon Queen and for my home group.

Entering the town

Several changes need to be made directly to support a freer, more open exploration of the town. The original structure of "Do this, go here." is explicitly called out by the writers as providing guidance for new players and Dungeon Masters.
  • Instead of having an abstract mechanic for encounters, have a more specific one.
    • Currently the module calls for two failed stealth checks to equal an encounter.
    • Replace with make stealth checks as a group to move 50 feet on the map. On two failures, have an encounter, per the table in Part I.
  • Sneaking and bluffing are at advantage when the party is moving through town, unless they are escorting townsfolk to the keep. If the party is travelling with townsfolk, captured cultists, or other encumbrances, sneaking and bluffing are at disadvantage.
    • A party that is first level or less experienced should grant advantage on all checks. 
The first encounter is Seek the Keep with the family.

Having my kobold replacement, the winged Dragon-Dog (see Remix: Part I) land on and kill the man by ripping out his throat and the woman turn to defend her children is a good opener (as suggested by +Bryce Lynch).

The players are free to skip the encounter and take any actions they want. If they head to a different fortified area (such as the mill or the church) run that encounter and have a priest or a miller have taken command of the local forces, and have that person give quests to the characters. (again as suggested by +Bryce Lynch).

There is a mechanic designed to give the players experience if they run from encounters, involving townsfolk. This is a very fourth edition type mechanic, trying to ensure that the players are at the "correct" experience point level. I'm keeping it, but adding difficult in exchange for the extra experience.

After making it to the keep, (or church or mill), the Cobalt Cultists surround it, jamming lightning rods into the ground and surrounding it with troops.

There is some question as to why players would bring townsfolk to the place that is being attacked by the dragon. The best answer to this is to make a note that the keep (church/mill) are defensible structures. The worst the dragon can do is some damage to the walls and currently he's loose flying around town trying to kill people.

Assigning Missions:
Upon reaching the keep/church/mill, the characters are brought to the general/priest/miller. The characters reach the town at 2100. They have until 0400 to run missions. That's seven hours for missions and resting. Reaching the keep takes the first hour, leaving six more hours to complete missions. There are six missions. Assuming the characters rest, some missions will have to be missed. What isn't listed in the book is what the consequences for failing each mission is.

Three of the missions (Sally Port, Dragon Attack, and Half-Dragon Champion) happen at/to the keep. The others involve leaving the keep.

Though presented as being able to complete missions in any order, realistically, you must complete the Old Tunnel first and the Half-Dragon Champion last. Of the remaining five, two of them happen at the keep.

The timeline happens below
2100: Characters reach town
2200: Characters are in the keep/church/mill and are given the Old Tunnel Quest
2300: Once the old tunnel is open, the characters may choose any hour to rest or leave the keep to rescue townsfolk or capture prisoners.
0000: Dragon Attack
0100: Invasion of the Sally Port
0200: Save the Mill
0300: Sanctuary
0400: Half-Dragon Champion

For the events between midnight and three in the morning, if the characters are resting, they will have the request for help occur just after they begin their rest. They then have the option of taking on the activity or finishing the rest. If they have sallied forth, they become aware of the activity while out in the town and can continue to the site of the activity.

Theory: Why am I doing this? Because if the players can accomplish all the encounters they are not being forced to make any meaningful choices. I'm also going to add consequences for failed missions, meaning that they will feel responsible for not being able to stop the actions of the Dragon Cult. This is conversion, which I'll talk about later. There is no way they can string all these encounters together without a short rest. I certainly believe this is the intent with the setup in the module—a first level party certainly needs a short rest between some of these. The penalty of "not getting experience", isn't really.


Each of the missions will have consequences for failure or bonuses for success. They are listed below. Changes, theory, and issues with the actual missions are listed following that.

  • Old Tunnel: Failing to open the old tunnel will not allow the players to leave the keep. +200 survivors if opened.
  • Invasion of the Sally Port: The two level 3 clerics in the keep (which I just added) die, and can no longer heal the party. +60 survivors.
  • Dragon Attack: Succeeding in driving off the dragon before 10 defenders are killed, causes Langdedrosa Cyanwrath to have 10 fewer hit points. Driving him off after 10 guards are killed does nothing. Skipping the encounter grants Langdedrosa Cyanwrath +10 temporary hit points. +200 survivors minus guards killed.
  • Save the Mill: Successfully taking out the raiders removes 5 hit points from Langdedrosa Cyanwrath. Recognizing the trap grants the character who fights him +10 temporary hit points in the champion fight. +30 survivors
  • Prisoners: In addition to the bonus experience, every prisoner successfully returned alive and interrogated grants any character in the party one automatic success on a future social interaction roll with the cult during this adventure path.
  • Sanctuary: Successfully rescuing the temple with less than 10 people dying allows Eadyan Falconmoon to return to the keep as a level 5 cleric to cast Protection From Energy (Electricity) against a character in the final fight, in addition to his services as a level 5 cleric. Having more than 5 townspeople die provides no extra bonus or penalty. Ignoring the church grants Langdedrosa Cyanwrath +10 temporary hit points. +50 survivors.
  • Half-Dragon Champion: In addition to the listed bonuses, winning this fight grants an extra share of experience to the person fighting it. (He's worth 1,100. If defeated, the party gets 275, and the person killing him gets 550.) -1 survivor per execution.
Thus, if the players are successful at the missions, the final fight and success at the rest of the adventure becomes more likely. Failing a lot of the missions just returns you to the default state of auto-losing the final battle. This way, players can affect their fates. 


Greenrest, being a small town, has a population of between 901-2,000. The map provided shows about 100 houses. You can assume an equal amount to that in the surrounding area. Being a fairly wealthy area, we can estimate between 5-7 people on average, per household, for a total of about 1,200 people. With no intervention 1,000 die. Each cultist/kobold/mercenary killed saves 5 people, each ambush drake/urd/dragonclaw killed saves 10 people, each mission saves the amount listed above. Each townsfolk rescued saves another person. Grant an additional 1 experience at the end for every one of the 1,000 dead that is saved by the party to each player character. It is totally possible to save the entire town if the party is heroic & violent enough!

Old Tunnel

The major issue is opening the gate. If the DC to unlock it fails, unlocking it can become impossible. Here is a check with a consequence. This is a non-trivial chance. You need a DC 10 Dexterity check to open it with the key, and even with an 18 Dexterity, that still means a 5% chance of permanently ruining the lock by failing by more than 5. All that is fine. 

After that only a successful DC 15 Strength check can open the door. Either the check can be retried (ad infinitum) in which case why make the players roll the check. Or the intent is, once the check is failed, too bad, you can't leave the keep by this route, completely eliminating all the external quest options, then you are playing "roll X or higher to play the game". In a path, this is terrible. In a home game, it can be a nightmarish consequence.

Note that if a strength check is made at all, the raiders notice the players, eliminating that as a possible consequence to succeeding at the first try versus retrying. Is this nitpicking? I paid 30 bucks for a hardcover adventure that was designed for use. I do not believe that the intent was to eliminate the ability to exit the keep. I welcome an explanation or defense of this requested Strength check. If my group fails their Strength check to open the gate, then the gate will not open. Taking steps to aid and provide advantage on this check is probably a good idea.

They can leave through the front gate, in which case they are attacked by 2 hostile forces in the encounter table, and encounters are rolled from there as normal. Other stealthy options for leaving are noted in the Prisoner section, with their own caveats. 

The other parts of this encounter are nice: The characters or cultists automatically noticing the other based on player choice, the chances to be detected moving in and out of the tunnel.

The Sally Port

An attack in the keep, during the night. The characters are requested to repair the breach and face a combat with reinforcements.

The biggest issue with this is that it's a boring combat. Let's address that.
  • Round 1: The characters enter and see a Acolyte and two Dragon-Dogs.
  • Round 2: The Acolyte says, "RELEASE THE DRACO-GOD SPAWN!!". The other two Dragon-Dogs bring in the Ambush Drake
  • Round 3-6: Nothing. If the players win combat, ask them what they are doing. Barricading the door can prevent the second ambush. Allow them to take 1 substantial action per round they end the combat early (i.e. don't enforce-six second rounds).
  • Round 7: Reinforcements arrive. If the opening is blocked off, they can't get through.
  • Round 8: The parapets shake and debris falls in the room.
    • If the characters are in combat in the room with cultists, have everyone make a DC 10 Dexterity Check or take 2d6 damage. The sally port can then be sealed after the combat.
    • If the Cultists are outside the door, have the sally port collapse on them, killing them instantly and smashing the door, closing off the tunnel entrance.
Isn't that more exciting, random, and deadly?

Note that I make the consequences of choices explicit (but not specific) before the players make them. 

Continued in Part III

Hack & Slash 
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On Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Episode I Remix: Part I

People have already covered at length the problems with Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

I'm going to run it, which means, I'm going to fix it. I'm not going to do it alone -- I'm going to blatantly steal from +Daniel Davis, writer of Detect Magic, +Bryce Lynch, writer of tenfootpole and premier reviewer, and pretty much anyone else who comes up with a half-good idea. It's for my home campaign, you should do this too.

I'm also going to talk about what's wrong design wise, why it's wrong, and what I'm doing to fix it. I'm not saying these are the right things to do -- I'm saying what I'm going to do for my campaign. I'm going to leverage as much of the Realms-lore as I can to make my job easier.

An Announcement

On the list of things I would absolutely not want to do; Write an adventure without a complete ruleset, monster manual, or guide that is to be the premier adventure of a new game, having Dragons showcased, not as just another creature you fight, but as majestic powerful god-like beings, that's for 1st level characters, working in all five factions of organized play, that has to work equally as well for 2 hour D&D encounter sessions as well as home games and meets the needs of new Dungeon Masters as their first campaign but keeps people who have been playing for 30 years happy on a super-tight deadline, in a world with 30 years of written history without being able to work with or contact the creator of that world, as work for hire for a division of a company that consistently under-performs in the eyes of their corporate leaders is waaaayyyyyyyy up near the top of the list. 

Man, my heart goes out to them. 

Let's fix the hell out of this thing. 

The Premise

" In episode 1, characters are entirely swept along by events. They start in a town under attack by raiders—a situation that demands rapid action. Throughout the course of a long night, they are assigned missions by the town’s leader to rescue villagers who are surrounded in isolated buildings, to capture prisoners for questioning, to seal a breach in the keep’s defenses, to drive away a blue dragon, and so forth. Characters could branch off on their own, but there’s no reason to. The keep’s commander is a capable leader, he knows the town, his plans are tactically sound, and the things he asks characters to do probably are what they’d wind up doing if they struck out on their own anyway.The episode is structured this way to make it easy for first-time players and DMs to pick up. In the big picture, players have a minimum of choice, in that their characters are mostly following orders. They have leeway in how they follow those orders, because each mission leads them into a situation where they need to assess risks, choose a course of action, and probably win a short combat. New players (including players who are old hands at D&D but new to the 5th Edition) will learn the system in easy bites. " -Tiamat Tuesdays: Tiers of Tiamat

Fixing Episode I

The episode starts with a half-page illustration and a quarter-page of Dungeon Master facing information that can't be accessed by the players. This information needs to be related in-play to the characters by the Non-Player Characters to be of any interest. 

The character hooks provided are acceptable, with some creativity evident.

You get thrown into a city under siege, attacked by a dragon and dragon cultists. This adventure is very hard for starting first level characters -- I'm personally running it straight after Phandelver, and you would not be remiss starting the players at level 3. Level one characters will have a high mortality rate. However the keep provides an opportunity to have other adventurers "step-up" in the event of a player fatality. 

Before we get into specifics of improving this adventure, I'd like to say I'm very pleased with the fact that there are very deadly threats in this adventure. I don't consider TPK's or unbeatable opponents a problem, nor do I have any issue with the players failing at the tasks that are set before them. 

General Features

Of note is that the town is in dim light, which means players (and opponents without scent or other sensory features) have disadvantage on perception checks. This is by design: Disadvantage imposes a penalty of -5 on passive perception checks, meaning that players will usually have the option of avoiding fights. This is how 1st level characters should avoid dying. 

Important People

Govern Tarbaw Nighthill: 60 years of age. Wounded->(Broken Right arm, bleeding from face). Adding the trait of "Swears Dramatically" and the personality of calm and pontificating. Short list of swears:
  • "By the shadows of Mask's ass!"
  • "By the black hand of Bane!
  • "What in the ass of the abyss are/is. . . "
  • "I'll be smacked with the c*&k of Tempus!"
  • "By the hairy pair of Moradian. . ."
  • "Great stinking balls of Tempus!"
  • "By Mystara's ice-cold brass tits!"
  • Explitives
    • "Tymora's Tits!
    • "Orcsucker!"
    • "Smoke and ashes!"
He says these in a completely calm conversational tone (calm) and goes on about the greatness of the players and his plan and the need for their help (Pontificating)

Castellan Escobert the Red Red Haired Shield Dwarf. His noted Iron Ring is eight inches in circumference and nearly three feet tall, worn on his back. The Keys are also consipicuously large and stubby. Adding the trait of "Charismatic, well liked, severe drug problem". He's addicted to traveler's dust, having bright red in his eyes. While talking with the players, he pulls out a few grains and doses himself.

Wandering Encounters

Encounter Table is very plain. Using the Pendragon hack noted by +Zak Sabbath, roll 1d4 on the table for each encounter. The next encounter is rolled from where the last one left off. (So, if you roll a 2 for the first one, you're at two. If your next roll is a 4, you look at entry 6 on the table). 

Encounters marked as unique with ( ) are crossed off if killed. If they are rolled as reinforcements, treat them as more opponents, and don't eliminate the encounter. Unmodified Passive Perception values are noted for characters using stealth to bypass encounters. Remember that disadvantage apples to these passive perception values.

Check on this table when called for (once for every 2 failed stealth checks) and during combat. If the average player level is less than 3, roll every fourth round of combat. If the average player level is 3 or 4, roll every third round. If the average player level is 5+, roll every even round. If not using stealth, have 1 encounter per party member on the way to the destination.

The other thing is Kobolds, cultists, guards, and townsfolk are super boring! Let's look at some more stuff +Zak Sabbath did for the blue head dragon worshipers for the Cult of Tiamat: The Cobalt Claw of Tiamat. The cultists are about electricity, mechanical grafts and amplifications, lightning, storms, mutations, vandalism, and the destruction of order.

See after the table for (newish) monster descriptions.

Encounter Table
  1. A lightning bolt from the surrounding storm strikes near the characters! There is a 1 in 6 chance of it striking near a randomly determined character. If so, the PC takes 4d6 damage and is knocked prone. On a successful DC 10 Dexterity Save they take 1/2 damage and remain standing. Characters in metal medium or heavy armor save at disadvantage. 
  2. ( ) 2 Dragon-Dogs eating a small child (PP 8)
  3. ( ) 1-6 Townsfolk Hiding (or running through the combat).
  4. 2 Cultists and 4 hired mercenaries (with stats as Guard from Supplement) committing vandalism (PP 12)
  5. 5 Dragon-Dogs rushing to take down 1-4 townsfolk. (PP 8)
  6. ( ) 3 Dragon-Dogs & an Ambush Drake (as Supplement) breaking into a house. (PP 14)
  7. 1-6 Townsfolk Hiding (or running through the combat).
  8. A 10 foot radius (if in combat) or 40 foot radius (if out of combat) corrupting blue cloud rolls in. Anyone within the cloud must make a DC 10 Constitution Saving throw or take 1d4 damage and lose their action from coughing and choking. (they can still move and take bonus actions/reactions), it moves at 20 feet a round using grenade scatter.
  9. 6 Cobalt Cultists chanting while walking through towns. (PP 10)
  10. 1d4 Townsfolk crying, with the wailing and gnashing of teeth.
  11. ( ) An Armored Thrall Wizard, Directing 3 Dragon-Dogs to loot a structure.  (PP 10)
  12. ( ) 4 hired mercenaries raping and torturing 2 townsfolk, under the direction of a Cultist. (PP 12, checks made at disadvantage)
  13. ( ) An Armored Thrall Wizard and 2 Dragon-Dogs fighting 2 town soldiers. (PP 10)
  14. Lennithon Flies overhead! He knocks over a stone building and debris rains down on the players. DC 10 Dexterity check or take 1d6 damage from falling debris. (Eliminated if the dragon is driven off).
  15. 1d4 Keep Defenders (as Guard from Supplement) trying to figure out how to bypass a second encounter roll.
  16. ( ) 4 Cobalt Cultists looting the bodies of townsfolk and then moving them to a pile of about 40 bodies. (PP 10)
  17. 2 Cobalt Cultists and 3 Dragon-Dogs looting treasure from a house. (PP 10)
  18. A Cobalt Cultist, 2 Dragon-Dogs and an Ambush Drake looking for something to do (PP 14)
  19. 4 Cobalt Cultists/Guards hiding and drinking (PP 12, checks made at disadvantage)
  20. 1-6 Townsfolk Hiding (or running through the combat).
  21. An Armored Thrall Wizard and 4 Cultists executing 1-6 townsfolk (PP 10)
  22. ( ) An Armored Thrall Wizard leading a wagon filled with treasure pulled by an ambush drake, with 2 Cobalt Cultists and 2 Dragon-Dogs as escorts. (PP 10)
  23. ( ) 2d4 Keep Defenders (as Guard from Supplement) fighting 2 Dragon Dogs. (PP 8)
  24. ( ) 1d6 Townsfolk Hiding (or running through the combat).
  25. ( ) A pack of 14 Hunting Dogs (as Mastiff in PHB) chasing 3 Cobalt Cultists (PP 10)
Armored Thrall Wizard: These heinous nude creatures have heavy metals bolted into their skin, and have their eyes as often or not replaced with telescoping lenses.
AC 15, HD 1d8+1 (9), Speed 20, -2/+1/+1' | +3/0/-3'
Darkvision PP 10, Common, Chondathan, Draconic, CR 1 (200 XP)
Cobalt Theft: Dropping an opponent to 0 hit points gains 5 temporary hit points.
Chain +1/1d4+1 10 foot reach
Eldritch Blast +3/1d10 (120 feet)

Cobalt Cultist: as supplement, except they attack with Lightning Rods that are +3/1d4 bludgeoning +2 Lightning damage, that attack with advantage against metal armored opponents.  Cobalt cultists are human or dragonborn. Many have metal bolted on their bodies or deformities.

Dragon-Dogs: Quadrupedal Dinosaur like reptiles, with an arched back, and long legs. From the side they appear triangle shaped. Their heads extend on long necks from the upper middle of their front back. They can stand on two legs, using their claws to set devious traps and manipulate tools. When they do so, their serpentine long necks swivel to either side of their body. They can spit caustic acid. (Reskinned Kobolds)
AC 12, HD 2d6-2 (5), Speed 30, -2'/+2'/-1' | -1/-2'/-1;
Darkvision, PP 8, Common, Draconic, CR 1/8 (25 XP)
Pack Tactics (Adv on attack rolls if allies in combat)
Dagger +4/1d4+2
Acid Spit +4/1d4+2 (30/120)

Reading the statline. The stats are split Strength/Dexterity/Constitution | Intelligence/Wisdom/Charisma. The bonuses are listed. The stats that are odd numbers are indicated by a ' symbol following the bonuses. Characters and monsters that are Proficient at their saves are indicated with a * preceding the stat.

If you find this useful, you can check out some other things I wrote. Or you could throw a buck my way so I can keep doing this.

Hack & Slash 
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