On Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Episode III Remix, Part I

A moment before we get into the work of remixing Episode III.

I've seen a lot of people giving Wolfgang Baur and Steven Winter a hard time for this adventure path.

I don't think it's fair to say that the module is bad or a failure simply because it compares negatively to some of the best adventure modules ever written (e.g. Masks of Nyarlathotep). This was written on a deadline as work for hire. Wolfgang has written one of the best modules ever written (Kingdom of the Ghouls from Dungeon Magazine #70). HotDQ is a huge project on a tight deadline with a rule set that is still in flux. It's not supposed to be wildly creative, it's supposed to show off the system. So my attempt at remixing it and any comments made are not designed to reflect negatively on either of the designers. Lots of people are running HotDQ as written and it's going fine.

Those people aren't me and likely aren't in the OSR. Onward with the remix.

A Dungeon

Obviously this was marked as "Party's first dungeon" and someone came in and did it by the numbers. There's an awful lot wrong with this dungeon. How many people got poisoned to death getting a sandwich?

Still, let's start from the beginning:

Assuming the characters returned from either rescuing Leosin or failing to do so, someone, Tarbaw Nighthill, Escobert the Red, Leosin, whoever, tells the character's that they need eyeballs on the camp and they are worried about whatever is being held in that cave.

If for some reason, they visited the cave when they were at the camp the first time, everything is as I've remixed it below, along with additional notes about increased troop strength. It's likely if they investigate the cave in chapter II, they will end up captured and back to the situation where they are sent back to start this chapter as chapter III.

That would confuse me, except this is meant to be run at Encounters and in game stores, hence the sharp division between chapter II and chapter III. Hell, a lot of these changes alone can double or triple the running time of these missions, which might not fit in well to 2 hour encounter sessions.

Abandoned Camp

Most of the facts here as noted in the module are fine. The issue comes that there is absolutely nothing interesting going on in the abandoned camp. Oh, except some scouts, who don't talk to anyone, unless they do, and then they say as little as possible. 

Here's a table of interesting things going on in the abandoned camp:

  • Two of the scouts are fighting over a tied up villagewoman
  • A lone Dragon-Dog is furiously digging somewhere in the rear of the camp.
  • A single cultist is painting a large wooden signboard with the phrase "Free Couch" and an arrow.
  • A group of three cultists stands on the north side of camp arguing about which way to go.
  • 1d4 of the scouts are standing around cutting meat.
None of these people are actively hostile to the players, none of them care much about what's going on in the cave. 

The Dragon Cave

"Episode 3 is familiar territory: an old-fashioned dungeon. This one is a dragon hatchery manned by a handful of cultists, some monsters, and everyone’s favorite low-level foe, kobolds. In a larger sense, it takes what players learned in episodes 1 and 2 and puts it all to the test: problem solving, risk assessment, exploration, and combat." - Steven Winter
 Obviously "make a dungeon" is a different thing than "make the best damn dungeon ever".

Aside: Let me tell you, there are some super boring and terrible one page dungeons. Making a dungeon interesting is hard, so I'm going to take what Steve Winter says above and try to merge that with the most interesting thing I can manage.

The dungeon is not strictly linear, nor is it flat, so that's excellent. Since kobolds are often skinned as trapmakers, and the dungeon is full of traps, we're going to go full on trap agency with this.

Structurally, I would add a connection between room 5 and room 9, as well as a secret path from 2 to 11.

Room 1: Cave Entrance

There are several nude corpses in this room. These are cultists who have taken the worm, unsuccessfully.
 (Edit: This previously linked to a Google+ post by Hans Chung-Otterson. The relevant quote is repeated here, without permission: "Dragons lay clutches of eggs. Any single egg swarms with a dozen or so little worms, who all vie for dominance. They devour each other until the strongest is left, which hatches as a dragon. The same thing repeats itself in the clutch--the strongest dragon kills, eats, survives, and grows.
However, a dragon's egg can be broken and opened while the worms still squirm within. A human can swallow a worm, which then infests the lower intestine. The worm, feeding off of the human, deposits jellylike sacs of eggs into the stomach, which thrive in the acid. The human periodically (and very unpleasantly) hacks up a mass of grape-sized, soft eggs, which hatch, are fed on the blood of small animals, and quickly grow into adult kobolds.
You're not a true cultist until you've taken the Worm."

Sometimes (quite frequently in fact) the kobolds burst from the gut and chest of the bearer, after eating their way out. All the players can tell is that the corpses in this room look like they have exploded from the inside out. The dragonclaw guards hide as normal.
Chapter II: In Chapter II, there are triple as many guards (6 instead of 2), and several of the cultists have yet to die, but are weakly moaning as they are eaten from the inside out. Instead of attacking, they call for reinforcements. Note that if the players a subtle, they could possibly sneak in this room and charm/sleep/alpha strike this group before an alarm is sounded.

Room 2: Concealed Passage

Other than the detritus of the dragonclaws "readiness", this area is unchanged. The DC 20 perception check should be made into a DC 20 passive perception check and should be automatic (as noted) for anyone who actually walks into the darkness.

Room 3: Fungus Garden 

Oh, you keep the violet fungi, but on a successful attack or if the characters fall into the fungus patch, require DC 10 Constitution saves. On a failure, the character begins to hallucinate

  1. Everyone the character sees turns melty and then is replaced by a reptillian doppelganger.
  2. Bugs start swarming out of the walls and floor and are covering the character's hands and arms. 
  3. The walls and room catch fire and you are unbearably hot, willing to do anything to cool off.
  4. A monkey ran up and stole you Macguffin, and then hid in random team-mates backpack. Once you find him he only steals something else and runs away. If anyone tries to reassure you, they must be in on it.
  5. You feel sick and the walls are closing in and you know you are going to die any minute.
  6. Everything is just, really, really, funny. Laugh out loud funny. Ringing echoing laughs.
Also, there is now a halfling named Tom Haverford who is naked and hanging upside down from the ceiling. He's lazy and obsessed with looking dapper. Rescuing Tom puts you in range of the fungus. He is awake or unconscious as you desire.   
Traps: Stair Trap: Passive Wisdom (perception) 20, Active Wisdom (Perception) 15. Automatic if inspecting the stairs before going down. 
Violet Fungus: Intelligence (Investigation) DC 15 to spot the correct path through the fungus or Intelligence (Nature) 15 to spot the fungus.  

Avoidance: Cultists know where not to walk.

Room 4: Stirge Lair

So, you have to avoid cat-sized deadly mosquitoes to get something to eat? No. Just no.

The bat storm is a nice idea, but the thought of every cultist needing to make a DC 10 Dexterity (Stealth) check just to eat or go get a lizard is a bit far-fetched. What is this room now?

Empty. A big, creepy, empty room that echos and casts shadows everywhere. It's hollow and it echos and it's a bit creepy, and every time the players enter it, you roll a random encounter check because it's the center of the complex.

Be sure to mention the spears leaning against the east exit by the stairs.

Room 5: Troglodyte Incursion

A real opportunity is missed here. The room setup and the player skill focus is good. Troglodytes attack is dull. Here are some other options for Troglodyte interactions.

  1. Busy inscribing religious pictograms on the wall, plenty eager and polite to acquire new worshipers, centered around sexual acts and giving birth. 
  2. Torturing an unlucky cultist, who is eager to be rescued. Troglodytes not hostile to party, believe that they are making him very happy due to his mouth noises.
  3. Room seems like a convenient place for sexual activity.
  4. Busy holding off an underdark invasion of driders
  5. Trying to scrape together enough dope for a second bowl
  6. Just looking to hang out and have a beer like excellent dudebros. All around good guys, just waiting for their dark god to destroy the world. 
No matter what happens, they think the party is a bunch of real jerks and aggressive pricks if they attack them. During the fight they constantly complain about how mean they are and want to know why they are so hostile.

Room 6: Meat Locker 

So the trap is foreshadowed well by the placement of the spears above.  Them leaning against the staircase provides the clue and explanation needed for the larder trap. The room is empty otherwise, which is fine, though I'm a fan of rot grubs being around in old meats.
Traps: Poisoned Hooks: Passive Wisdom (Perception) 20, Intelligence (Investigation) DC 15; The book makes it sound as if the hooks aren't visible, leading to the conclusion that it can't be perceived, but it can be investigated. Of course, specifically inspecting the curtain for traps will automatically discover the hooks.
Avoidance: Planting one of the spears in the ground to push the curtain aside. 

Tune in for Part II of the Episode III remix later this week, for the other 7 rooms. 

Hack & Slash 
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  1. Dudebro Pervy Troglodytes. Incisive social commentary. Top shelf.

  2. Pleased as punch to stumble across my worm-cultist idea here. These are great; learning a lot about D&D and ready to run this sucker!

  3. Waaaaiiit a second, these troglodytes sound veeery familiar.
    I felt bad about killing one of their spiritual amphibious forebears until that lightning spear.

  4. In our game, that "Free Couch" is the group's most beloved treasure find, despite the stains. The hippy character has been using it as the centerpiece of their wagon HQ to swank the place up.

    Of course, they did have to abandon the wagon to follow the cult through Baldur's Gate... But the couch was rescued and they hired porters at remarkable expense to carry it through town to the other side, where they intend to get a new wagon for it.

    At this point, I'm thinking it's the couch itself that will be recognized in On The Road later.

  5. I'm confused about Passive Perception 20. Doesn't that make it extremely difficult to get? You need to have a feat (alert?) and high Wisdom plus proficiency (unless you have 20 Wis) or you have to be a Rogue with expertise and still need high Wisdom.

    I'm also curious as to what constitutes investigation. If someone says they investigate the hallway is that good enough to include the curtains? How broad is too broad?


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