Sunday, November 5, 2017

Shadow Post: Remaking Hoard of the Dragon Queen

Attention, my players: if ever you come across my blog and see something entitled "Shadow Post", that means it is about a campaign I am running and not to be read. I can't stop you, but you'd spoil the fun for yourself.

Anyway. The blog isn't going dark, I just went through a major life transition. Posts will probably be more infrequent.

Thanks to Power Score

Hoard of the Dragon Queen

This adventure is one of two parts that ends with the players confronting Tiamat herself (or not, if they work together) at level 15. It's intended to introduce new players and potentially new DM's to D&D. It's.....okay at that. I've run it before and I'm about to run it again, but this time I'm taking advantage of Volo's Guide to Monsters and plawt twists to improve it. 

Oh yes, major spoilers ahead. 

The adventure is divided into 8 episodes: Greenest in Flames, Raider's Camp, Dragon Hatchery, On the Road, Construction Ahead, Castle Naerytar, Hunting Lodge, and Castle in the Clouds.

From the episode titles, you can already divine the basic narrative flow: burning village to tracking down raiders, something with dragons, travel to Castle Naerytar and a hunting lodge, and a confrontation in a cloud castle. 

Greenest in Flames: A town is being destroyed by cultists! Wat do?

Raider's Camp: Follow the cultists to their camp and investigate. Try to blend in/not die.

Dragon Hatchery: A misnomer: there are no dragons here. Only a lot of dragon eggs lying around (no dragon hatchlings, even) and a lot of kobolds/cultists/monstrosities.

On the Road: Pursue the main villyan! Spy on cultists along way.

Construction Ahead: Mostly detective work and a surprisingly dangerous random encounter.

Castle Naerytar: Villyan base reached! Destroy with extreme prejudice. 

Hunting Lodge: The main villyan has escaped! Follow them!

Castle in the Clouds: Giants, dragons, and vampires, oh my. Thwart the villyan!

My new group (they haven't cohered enough to be a real group) are busy with saving Greenest right now. `

I'm going to look at the background that's provided in the game book and alter it to offer a more interesting look into the relationships between the major players. 

Background

"Severin was a young Calishite member of the Cult of the Dragon, inspired by Tiamat. Severin carefully reread the version of Maglas's Chronicle of Years to Come--translated by Sammaster as "naught will be left save shattered thrones with no rulers, but the dead dragons shall rule the world entire..."--and ultimately came to believe that the correct translation was "naught will be left save shattered thrones, with no rulers but the dead. Dragons shall rule the world entire...", a translation that many sages believed correct but heretical with respect to Sammaster's words. Thus the beings that should be the targets of their devotion were not dracoliches, but living dragons. Armed with this new conviction, Severin decided he needed to meet and speak to a living dragon.

He went to Mintarn, to the lair of the famous dragon Hoondarrh. Severin managed to befriend the terrible dragon, impressing both Tiamat and his fellow cultists. Thus Tiamat gave him a scrap of knowledge about the dragon masks. Severin discovered the whole history of the dragon masks and in long years of travel he recovered all five masks. These he gave to his most trusted friends, and saved the red dragon mask for himself. With a reputation gained from this search, Severin quickly rose through the ranks of the Cult until he became the main leader."

- Forgotten Realms Wiki

So Severin is a young man who, it's assumed, falls in with cultists and retranslates a text that had been translated by a mad wizard. His translation is the better one and he has a new purpose: conquer the world with living dragons instead of devoting vast resources and time to creating dracoliches. Sounds vastly more sensible than the proposal by a certified insane archmage. 

This is what he tells others. He's a charismatic and intelligent young man. Powerful but affable, with just the right touch of apathetic cruelty to temper his burning ambition. People tell themselves they like him because they want him to like them, because they sense the passion within him and are drawn to it as moths to a flame.

He hates all of them. Every single arrogant, sniveling, evil one. 

Severin is a Amnian, who grew up in the nation of Amn. As a child, he eked out a paltry existence with his mother and father, walking miles for water that did not carry a toll or a barely affordable education under a distant wizard. His mother, the strong one, worked the blacksmith shop and kept the family coffers soluble. His father, a crippled soldier, was a storyteller, who recited and memorized epics on the local stage and secretly worked on a poem of his own, a story of life, love, and acceptance after humiliating injury. 

The local village council, never competent, forgot to pay the garrison one month. The soldiers shrugged, packed up their kits, and left, taking a couple of children with them as currency. 

A local group of bandits, recently subjugated by a blue dragon, ambushed and killed most of the garrison. The survivors agreed to join the bandits and the children were fed to the dragon as a goodwill offering. 

Several days later, the soldiers returned to the town. They understood that the town had fallen on hard times, and laughed away the payment offered. They'd stay for good now, especially considering what happened to those poor children. What happened to their captain? Oh, he had been killed by some bandits. 

That night, the soldiers let the bandits in, and the calm starlight was rent by lightning. Howling bandits adorned with shed sapphic scales and crude wooden dragon masks stalked the villagers, killing the adults and netting the children as the dragon Lennithon soared above, toppling buildings and pinning resisters down with dragonfear. 

Severin watched this all from the balcony of the wizard's house, several miles away, and when the old woman refused to help him, pushed her down a flight of stairs, breaking her neck.

Severin sifted through the ashes of his town, recovering his father's cane and half-finished poem and his mother's blackened skull. He tracked the bandits back to their rough huts outside Lennithon's warrens and was captured by a patrol. He killed two of them before they trapped him in a net. The young man woke up staring into the eyes of a dragon, as food. He begged for his life, demonstrating his limited magical capabilities, and the dragon spared him.

Severin began to work his way into the dragon's trust and started to plan out his revenge when Lennithon revealed to him the existence of a larger body - the Cult of the Dragon. He swore a blood oath over his mother's bones and his father's cane that very night to destroy both the cult that killed his family and the callous mercenaries that abandoned his town. 

On his first raid, he found another boy, slightly older, who nearly skewered him. Severin spared him and his parents, and explained what he was trying to do. Tarbaw Nighthill agreed to plot an elaborate revenge against the depredations of the cult and the evils of money.

Over the years, he carefully crafted a cover identity, and after seeing the poverty and corruption of the cities, decided to destroy chromatic dragons and all mercantile oligarchy. He learned that the god of greed and chromatic dragons was trapped in the Nine Hells.

Now he seeks to free her so she can crush and loot the richest cities in the world, and then destroy her along a powerful force of heroes, Tarbaw, and metallic dragons. The world is better off without greed, he reasons, and he needs a champion to act as a foil to his projected grand evil.

Tarbaw is grateful to Severin for sparing him and also for letting him play the hero. He also believes the cities are horrid, filthy places, and rationalizes that the utter destruction of decadence is worth a few thousand innocent lives, as so many more will be saved from the addiction of gold and meaningless pursuit of grandiloquence.

Tarbaw seeks out small to middling to communities and gains their leadership through even means if he can. Then Severin has a detachment of cultists attack, and Tarbaw rallies the residents against the evil dragons and cruel mercenaries. He takes a grim pleasure in personally killing for-hire soldiers and slavers. 

Their search for an appropriate place has led them to the old base of the Cult of the Dragon: the Well of Dragons. With the Greenfields so close to the Well of Dragons and Amn, Tarbaw has decided to convert the region while Severin quietly subjugates the rest of the cult, assassinating the old guard that intractably believes in Sammaster's words and fending off challenges to his power. 

To this end, Tarbaw rose to become the village elder of a small town named Arkady. After fending off some cultists, he leveraged his victory to become a provincial governor after the old one passed away. Proctor Themberchaud runs the entire pastoral region under the nominal authority of Elturel, and Severin has ensured that the most terrifying raid yet will take place when Themberchaud visits. If Themberchaud dies in the conflict, perhaps Tarbaw can assume his place...

That's both an oddly specific and incredibly vague backstory, but more compelling than the "evil guy", I think. On the next post I'll cover how this will affect the specifics of HotDQ: Greenest in Flames and Raiders' Camp.

Ezcocotli

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