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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  1. nice. i'm gonna do some of this my own self.

  2. This is great. I start running this tomorrow for my group so it could not have come at a better time.

    One question. It looks like (based on your encounter table) you have just all together removed Kobolds from the attacking force. Is that true or am I missing something?

    1. The Dragon-Dogs are literally kobolds. They speak, set traps, etc. I'm using them as something more interesting than kobolds.

  3. Really useful stuff, thanks! I'll be borrowing some of this stuff for my own campaign ... though I'm aiming at a less gritty tone than you seem to be, so I'll probably skip the stuff about rape and eating bodies. :-D

  4. Replies
    1. Are the passive perception scores you listed above noted with the disadvantage they'd have in Greenest, or is that their base score?

  5. Why did you remove the kobolds from the adventure? I will play this adventure to my friends who never played D&D, so the kobolds are perfectly fit. But I would like to add some spice to them.


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