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26 March 2018

Engaging Your Players


It’s Friday night. My group is finishing their extermination of a Sanguine Paw hideout located beneath a popular baker’s shop. The Sanguine Paw, a cult of lycanthropes and fanatics of lycanthropy, are the main villains of the campaign thus far, and they are working with a local goblin tribe. The party is interrogating a goblin named Boarhead (formerly a wereboar) who’s been working as an ambassador to the Sanguine Paw. He’s refusing to speak all but one party member: Dani Dregon, a halfling arcane trickster and polymorphed dragon portrayed by Natalie.

At the moment, Natalie is the only girl in the group, and she’s been quiet. By introducing Boarhead, I decided to try and change that.

As the interrogation progresses, Boarhead clings to Dani, trusting in her both due to her small stature and gentle nature. Boarhead whispers answers into her ear, and eventually agrees to guide the party through the rest of the hideout... and to the lair of the Sanguine Paw’s main ally in the region: A hill giant lycanthrope.

Let’s fast forward a year. Boarhead is still alive and under Dani’s proverbial wings. The goblin has become a stout ally of the entire group and a close friend of Dani’s. In addition, he’s the main reason Natalie is attached to the campaign. As I said before, I knew Natalie wasn’t as invested in the campaign as the rest of the players, but she was not going to state that clearly. Therefore, I introduced Boarhead, a character I knew and specifically designed for her to become attached to.
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Players aren’t always engaged, and most of the time, they won’t actively try to remedy this. This could be for a myriad of reasons: They’re shy and aren’t confident in what they have to say, or they don’t want to take the spotlight from other players, or perhaps they’re bored with the game and aren’t interested in the current story.

Before I continue, let it be known that some folks who play Dungeons and Dragons enjoy observing their friends get into absurd situations while sitting quietly in their chair and taking their turn in combat. In my experience, however, this is not the majority of players. If a player is quiet or disinterested or becomes this way as the campaign continues, it needs to be fixed, lest it affects the fun of not only them but the fun of everyone at the table.


That’s bad. Our goal when playing D&D, of course, is to tell an exciting story, fight monsters, and roll dice. Thus, the unengaged and disinterested player must be engaged.

However, this is not an easy or simple task. Some D&D players need their shells cracked. They need to be prodded to engage. 

This is the job of the dungeon master.

Today, I’m going to talk about how you, the dungeon master, can engage your players when they’re showing little interest in your campaign, or even prevent the phenomena entirely.

Let’s begin.

Suddenly, Something Happens!


When you surprise an unengaged player with a sudden twist in the campaign, preferably with something created especially for them, it can quickly bring them into the fold and excite them about the future. Most of the time that D&D players seem disinterested with the current story, it’s because their character doesn’t have a stake in it, or doesn’t necessarily care about it.


Change that!

Introduce a new character into the current plot that the unengaged PC cares about, as I did with Boarhead, a lost goblin cured of a foul disease.

Have something interesting and mysterious happen to that PC. As the party sleeps, describe an epic dream that the PC has, wherein they witness something profound that foreshadows the upcoming plot points. 

Or, if the player’s mood is especially negative, approach the player and ask them what’s going on. Maybe they’re going through something in real life, and their sour demeanor has nothing to do with the campaign. If that’s not the issue, ask what they’d like to see from the campaign. This is something I often do before a campaign begins. I ask my players question such as, “What’s a monster you’d like to see?” or, “What’s your characters long and short term goals?”

If none of these attempts to engage a player from your end fail to succeed, and you’d still like to try and engage them, keep reading. Place the sword in their hands.

Loaded Questions and Character Connectedness


Inserting sudden story beats aimed at a specific player character may not always be the best idea, especially if they love to assist in the worldbuilding and storytelling process. Instead, ask them to create something related to the world around their character.
  • What lies on the other side of the wooden door with the rusty, squeaking hinges?
  • Who holds Blackrazor, the legendary weapon your party’s fighter is searching for?
  • Where does Imlerith, a vicious white dragon, hide in the Icemaw Mountains?
Asking them loaded questions about the campaign or current adventure can immediately pique their interest in the adventure. When they become a clear member of the campaign building team, their interest in the world will explode. 

Doing this before the campaign begins is a way to avoid player disinterestedness completely. Ensuring each player in your group has a chance to connect their character to the world they’ll be playing in is the source of fantastic stories. 


For example, I worked with each member of my home group to connect their characters to the campaign’s story. Let’s go back to Dani. Dani is a prismatic dragon stripped of all her draconic powers and polymorphed into a halfling. She’s on the search for her two stolen children. Throughout the campaign, she slowly learns that the party’s patron kidnapped her wyrmlings and traded them to the antagonist. Natalie, the player of Dani, helped create the patron as well as the unique prismatic dragons of my world. As a result of her baby plot becoming a bigger part of the story and her involvement with a goblin ally, she’s become incredibly invested in the campaign, and my campaign’s story has been elevated to a new level because of her creativity.

In short: Asking players to create pieces of the world or campaign and heavily connecting their characters to the campaign’s story will ensure they are engaged in the game.

And Your Opinion Is?


This last piece of advice is useful for quickly engaging players in the game. 

While you’re portraying a nonplayer character, turn and ask the quiet PC a question. Perhaps the NPC wants their input on the situation or needs something only that character can do. The goal here is to get the player talking as their character. Once a conversation starts to heat up, you’ll quickly see the player’s eyes light up.

This tactic is not always as effective as the strategies described above, but it might work on folks who are having a bad day and need some nudging to get back into the fray of D&D.

In Summary


As the dungeon master, one of your primary tasks is to engage your players. Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative storytelling game where everyone fights monsters and delves into dungeons, after all, so everyone at the table should be involved! Remember the tactics I discussed to engage or re-engage players at the table:
  1. Suddenly, something happens to their character that piques their interest and/or increases their character’s stake in the story.
  2. Ask your players to create pieces of the world or adventure on the spot, or connect their characters to the story before or during the campaign to ensure they are engaged in the game.
  3. If a player seems unusually quiet or down, have a nonplayer character turn to their character and start or bring them into a conversation.

That’s it for this week’s article, folks. Make sure to like and share the article if you enjoyed it or thought it contained useful information.

Changing the subject for a bit, I’ve been doing some work on other aspects of RJD20, particularly my YouTube channel.

For the past week, I’ve been posting YouTube videos in response to Absolute Tabletop’s #My30DayWorld challenge. In these videos, I answer questions about my homegrown world of Aelonis, and gradually get better in front of the camera and at editing videos. It’s a process, but I’m enjoying the challenge. I suggest you take a look at my YouTube channel here: RJD20 YouTube.

In addition to the #My30DayWorld videos, I’ll start doing videos about my blog topics and session prep. It should be fun!

Well, that’s it, just a quick update on my videos. Of course, articles will be going up weekly forevermore…

Until the next encounter, farewell!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

19 March 2018

Evolving Encounters


Friday night. My group confidently strides into the sizzling, green portal leading to Ozus, the third layer of the Ten Hells in my world. Awaiting them is their patron-turned-enemy, a master of ooze and warlock of Juiblex, Magus Sint. As they arrive on Ozus, the portal shuts behind them, and they’re able to view the immense landscape around them: Sint’s fortress is built onto the side of a massive emerald embedded into the ground and set beside a river of glowing ooze. The river ends in a turbulent cascade of slime that feeds the ocean of bubbling ooze below.

The party, unfortunately for them, teleported onto a bridge built on this river. The bridge leads to the reinforced gates of Sint’s stronghold. Above the entrance rests a magic mouth, in front of the door, a hulking devil with metal plates bolted directly onto its flesh and maggots crawling in the cracks between the body armor. 

Despite Sint’s threats lobbed through the magic mouth, the party engages the devil, an orthon named Legionnaire Gonarzus. Before they reach him, Gonarzus slams his lance of ever-shifting black ooze onto the bridge, and it begins to sink into the ooze, and other ‘islands’ rise above the river’s surface. The encounter evolves.

As various party members leap from platform to platform while battling the constantly teleporting Legionnaire Gonarzus, the river of ooze begins to shift the platforms downstream. They’re now heading toward the enormous falls that plummet into a bubbling ocean of emerald-green ooze below. The encounter evolves.
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Similar to all great stories, encounters in Dungeons and Dragons have a beginning, middle, and end. The battle begins or the conversation coalesces, but what happens after that? You might say it’s obvious: They continue. The party succeeds or their enemies overcome them. The conversation goes awry or both sides gain something valuable. The rogue discovers the lever’s location, or the door stays shut.

Yes, that’s what happens. But most encounters encompass a mini-journey. They have beginnings, middles, and ends that should be fleshed out.

Perhaps your group is facing off against a nalfeshnee, the pig-faced demon antagonist of the campaign: You need that encounter to amp up the drama, difficulty, and potential for disaster constantly! Or maybe your group is parlaying with a potential ally that can turn the tide of the campaign in their favor. You need everyone to understand what's going on and what the stakes are!




In both of those situations, you need to give your group great encounters that change dramatically but organically as they progress.

You need encounters that evolve. And for that, you’ll need to know how to build and run evolving encounters.

Last week, we discussed how to build better battles. This week, we’re talking about how to build and run encounters that evolve over time.

Specifically, we’ll be discussing HOW to run encounters, as I believe that’s one of the most powerful weapons in a dungeon master’s arsenal. First, though, let’s discuss encounters in D&D.

Dynamic, Not Static


You might necessarily realize this, but every single D&D encounter evolves naturally. Enemies are injured in combat, PCs add new information to a conversation in social interactions, and new aspects of the environment are discovered in exploration. But the evolution doesn’t end there.

As dungeon masters, whether we know it or not, we strive to add drama, tension, and excitement when designing encounters. Thus, we naturally build encounters to evolve!

In combat encounters, we add new elements to the battle, seek to challenge the PCs, and set them in fantastical locations. In social interactions, we react to the PCs words and actions as dynamic NPCs, add in juicy bits of valuable information, and mold flamboyant personalities to portray. In exploration locales, we purposely put interesting locations and objects to discover into the area and litter the region with monsters or NPCs.


Whether we know it or not, we are always creating evolving encounters in D&D! Therefore, since we already build encounters that evolve, all we need to know is how to run them correctly.

Of course, that’s the difficult part.

Running Encounters


Encounters aren’t static. They’re dynamic situations that can completely change on a whim. Most people have a grasp on this. However, to run them well, understanding a few more concepts is key.

Three fundamental tips I’ve learned over the years are pacing, foreshadowing, and recapping. They’re not discussed as much as other encounter tips such as balancing and strategizing in the many circles of D&D, but they’re just as important when running encounters.

Let’s begin.

1. Pace encounters according to your group's interest.


Encounters can turn into a slog if they’re too slow or too fast. You must run them at a pace your players enjoy. 

Do they love interacting with an NPC for a few minutes, or a few seconds? If the former, disperse important information throughout the conversation. If the latter, frontload the key points and allow them to continue the conversation if they’d like. These two conversations will evolve at completely different rates and are completely different encounters. 

Learning how to pace your encounters will immediately improve the table’s enjoyment of them, and has the plus of letting you know how you should prepare specific encounters.

2: Foreshadow upcoming twists.


Giving hints to what’s coming is a fantastic way to build tension and give your players something to think about when they’re not acting. It also makes players feel great when they see a twist coming.


For example, in the first round of combat encounter with the orthon, Legionnaire Gonzarzus, I described the maggots crawling all over his body as follows: “The fidgeting maggots stick to the hulking devil like they’re one with the creature as if they were extensions of his being.” Some of the players thought nothing of it, but one of them latched onto that, believing the maggots were connected somehow to the encounter, that they could be interacted with as a bonus option. Sadly, the party didn’t agree and the maggots were mostly ignored until Gonarzus was finally hit and the maggots rapidly crawled to the wound. I never directly said they healed it, I simply described the insects immediately moving to the wound, and then the table turned to the player who called this surprise and apologized.

As an aside, foreshadowing doesn’t have to occur during the encounter. Set up twists and turns in an upcoming combat, social interaction, or delve hours or sessions in advance! Hint at the powers of the while the group speaks with them, or show the party an NPCs social characteristics and ideals during a combat encounter. 

You’ll be surprised how quickly they start speculating and latching onto different bits and pieces of your foreshadowing once you start doing it. The whole act is highly entertaining, and can even give you original and exotic ideas you’d never think of.

3: Briefly recap what’s happened.


While an encounters ongoing, try to concisely state what’s happened in the past few moments every so often. Usually, I have a set time to do this depending on the type of encounter.

  1. Combat: At the beginning of every round.
  2. Conversation: At the end of the conversation. Usually, I have the other players give recaps if necessary, and only interject if they get something majorly messed up (and I think it’s my fault).
  3. Exploration: Every 2-3 minutes of exploration.
This is easily demonstrated using a direct example. Using the Legionnaire Gonarzus encounter, I’d recap the opening round as follows:

Finished with your insolence, the orthon slammed his lance onto the bridge, causing it to sink and other platforms to rise above the slime. As you all maneuvered to solid ground and launched a barrage of missiles at Gonarzus, he teleported directly on top of Aku! Aku, what do you do?
Then the next round begins.

This is a surprisingly simple yet effective tactic to ensure everyone at the table understands what’s going on. Try using brief recaps, and I think you’ll find everyone at the table has a much better grasp of the situation.

In Summary


As you’ve probably realized, encounters in Dungeons and Dragons are almost always evolving. The dynamic nature of the game, the limitless options the PCs have at their disposal, and the creativity of the DM is the reason for this. And it’s why D&D is the best game in the world.

Running encounters is a fine art, and arguably the most valuable skill you can have as a DM. To do this, remember:
  1. All encounters evolve! They’re dynamic, not static, and can be influenced by everyone at the table.
  2. Pacing encounters can drastically raise the overall enjoyment of everyone at the table.
  3. Foreshadowing surprises before and during an encounter give players both a sense of satisfaction when they see the twist coming, and something to think about when they’re not acting during an encounter.
  4. Brief but frequent recaps can help everyone cement the encounter’s image in their minds, as well as reinforce the fundamentals of the encounter. Remember, though, that when to recap depends on the type of encounter.
Let me see your comments and critiques, dungeoneers and masters of the dungeon. I’ve had absolutely wonderful discussions with the folks of https://www.reddit.com/r/dndnext/ and the D&D 5E Facebook group the past few weeks. Let’s keep the momentum going.

I’ve truly enjoyed writing these articles/blogs/musings for the past few months, and I have no intention of stopping. When I started, I didn’t believe I’d get many readers, but I’ve already had 30,000 unique page views from yall! It may not be much for some, but it’s a tarrasque for me.

Remember to bookmark this website, subscribe to the blog, or just check back every Monday for a new article. If you’d like to see my musings more regularly, follow me on Twitter @richardjcompton.As a little aside: In addition to the long form content I’m creating here, you may see some short form creations on another popular website...and it may involve videos. More on that when it’s ready and I’m confident in the project.

Until next time, farewell, my friends.

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

12 March 2018

Building Better Battles


When playing or dungeon mastering battles in Dungeons and Dragons, it’s easy to fall into a rhythm or formula. However, it’s integral that you don't do this. Ideally, combat encounters in D&D should never be formulaic, which can often cause them to turn into a slog. To avoid this, all you need to do is add a few different aspects to a battle, to think about the components that compose the fight, and make sure they coalesce to form a fantastic combat encounter.

In general, no two battles in your campaign should ever be the same. What do I mean? Let’s take a look!

1: Enemies



My premiere tip is to use different types of enemies in every combat. Ensure that the group isn’t simply bashing their heads against a simple hill giant wielding a greatclub with wolf pets, or fighting four spear-wielding goblins in an open field. Instead, spice it up!

The hill giant with a club and wolf allies? He now wields a huge net and greatclub, and he has two wolf pets and one dire hawk pet. The giant attempts to march into the middle of the fray and scoop up unlucky characters with his net, rendering them restrained, while the wolves double team and flank restrained or weak characters. Meanwhile, the dire hawk acts as a sniper, diving at vulnerable ranged characters with its vicious talons. That’s a quality encounter!

How about the spear-wielding goblins? They’re now varying in type and fighting style. Two goblins still wield spears but ride giant spiders that are able to restrain characters and climb around on objects. In addition, there’s a goblin shaman that wields a few cantrips to harass the characters and has a rabbit he can sacrifice to cast the cure wounds spell on an ally. The fourth goblin is larger than the rest, both in height and girth, and wears cracked bone armor. He fights with his fists and attempts to garner the attention of as many characters as possible either with insults or crazy gestures.

Both are these encounters are now far better than their counterparts, and I only shifted the enemies around, added some flavor, and thought about their tactics. Doing this doesn’t take a lot of time, and it vastly improves the feel and effect of an encounter.

2: Environments


My second tip is to utilize the environment the battle takes place in! Setting battles in flat and grassy open fields or 20x20 square, empty rooms are boring, but it happens more often than many people think.

Instead, set your encounters in interesting locations that both act as an evocative battlefield and part of the encounter itself.

Let’s expand on one of the two encounters from earlier: The hill giant and his pets.

Say the hill giant fight occurs in a forest clearing around a small field of jagged rocks. Now the party can run into the dense forest for cover or maneuver around the rocks to trip up the giant. The enemy group, composed of the giant, two wolves, and dire hawk, can also use the environment to their advantage (for flavor or mechanical purposes, your choice). The wolves can leap onto the jagged rocks for a high ground advantage, the giant can forgo his club by uprooting a tree trunk, and the dire hawk can easily fly out of sight of the party.

Now the fight is even more interesting. Both sides can use the environment to their benefit in an abundance of untold ways, whether it's trying to lobby for a mechanical advantage, or simply adding to the story. And that was a rather bland set piece; I love using far more fantastical environments, such as cliffside battles, encounters on frozen lakes, or the always dramatic rope bridge fights.

3: Surprises!


To end my trio of tips to build a better battle, let’s discuss adding twists and turns into a combat encounter. This is a big topic and will be the main point of next week’s blog post. However, the advice is simple: Surprise your players and their characters during a battle. Change the battlefield in some way. What that means is variable. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Reinforcements arrive! Perhaps the foe summons a slew of minions, or zombies crawl up from beneath the ground, or a dragon swoops in from the sky above. Maybe allied forces show up to assist the party in their time of need!
  2. The environment suddenly shifts! The ground beneath the party’s feet begins to crack and break apart into disparate pieces, or the bubbling dirt holes near the battlefield turn out to be geysers that start to burst.
  3. A secondary mechanic appears! Maybe the big bad evil guy begins to channel a ritual in the room’s center which causes a portal to the Ten Hells to manifest, or the caged prisoners start to be focused and killed by the party’s enemies.
  4. The foe reveals a vital piece of information! While fighting the campaign’s antagonist, they shout out a missing piece of the story puzzle the party has been searching for, or they find out a patron they’ve been working for is actually an enemy.
This list continues on, folks. The key is to surprise your group mid-combat, and that can be accomplished in a myriad of ways (both mentioned and not mentioned).

Encounter Philosophy


As a quick aside: Every encounter, especially every combat encounter, should progress the story of your campaign or adventure. This is a philosophy I adopted a year into my DMing career. Every encounter, especially those involving combat, should be meaningful. Fights must not hinder the pace of your campaign, they must enhance it!


This doesn’t mean you should not use random encounters. Use them, but do so sparingly, and ensure that they’re connected to the overall story in some way OR they grow the world. For example, don’t just throw a wagon of bandits at your party. Instead, give these bandits a reason to be in the area. Maybe they’re on the road because the price of food has risen in the nearby village because of a foul plague destroying all the crops. Perhaps they’re working for a powerful NPC that the characters know, or are working for as well!

As a consequence, I rarely use random encounters. The combat encounters in my games are carefully prepared (or improvised!) because our time to tell our story is limited, and I want every moment to matter or impact the campaign as a whole.

In Summary


Battles that have one aspect to them can become repetitive and even boring. Thus, it’s the job of the players and the dungeon master to spice them up. On the players' end, they should be trying new and creative things with their characters. The dungeon master should be designing battles that make sense and progress the story or broaden the world. To summarize:
  1. Don’t fall into the trap of designing formulaic battles.
  2. Create exciting combat encounters by changing up enemies, setting the battle in fantastical locations, or throwing in twists for the PCs.
  3. Make every combat encounter matter or progress the campaign. Every moment in your D&D campaign should be impactful; our time is limited.
Until next time, farewell!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

03 March 2018

5E's Premiere Adventure Book: What's Up With Hoard of the Dragon Queen?


Friday night. A group of adventurers approaches the farming village of Greenest, prepared to stay at the local inn for a night of merry-making. But alas, as they crest an especially high hill, they spot Greenest under attack! From the dark, cloudy skies above, a terrifying blue dragon swoops low, breathing electric death upon the village’s militia. In the village’s streets, vagabonds dressed like devout cultists defile any building they see, steal any materials they find, and kill anyone they happen upon. Knowing this is their time to become heroes of the Sword Coast, to become Saviors of Greenest, the adventuring party charges down the hillside and into the devastated village.
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Wizards of the Coast’s first fifth edition adventure book was Hoard of the Dragon Queen. The adventure assumes the characters wish to be heroes of the Sword Coast and Faerun as a whole, as they fight to stop the vile Cult of the Dragon and their plan to release Tiamat from her prison in the Nine Hells.

The above description is how the adventure opens; the party is walking down a road when they happen upon a village under attack. They’re expected to help these poor villagers, which kick starts their quest against the Cult of the Dragon.


I hold the opinion that HOTDQ was a lackluster premiere adventure book. It assumed too much, preferring players to follow the direct narrative and NOT roam the Sword Coast, as players often have their characters do. Thus, following the adventure as written leads to a poor experience for both the dungeon master and the players. However, there is a fantastic story buried beneath the book’s sturdy rails.

Today, we’re briefly discussing HOTDQ, how to run it well, and four amazing pieces from fifth edition D&D’s first adventure that can be utilized in your own campaigns!

Reskinning the Adventure


HOTDQ has the potential to be an incredible adventure that takes a group of adventurers from the farmlands surrounding Greenest to the floating Skyreach Castle. However, it assumes they’ll follow a format.

As anyone who’s played D&D knows, the players rarely do this.

If you would like to run HOTDQ, I suggest that you read through the adventure, and then use the basic storyline to inspire you to mold your own adventure. If you want to run a published Wizards of the Coast adventure by the book, I’d run Curse of Strahd, Storm King’s Thunder, or Tomb of Annihilation instead (we’ll talk about these soon enough). Each of these are far better adventures than HOTDQ and set up absolutely amazing adventures for your group to go on.

Back to HOTDQ. So, how can we fix this adventure’s issues?

For example, HOTDQ’s beginning is jarring. The adventure assumes that the PCs happen upon Greenest under attack by the Cult of the Dragon and their blue dragon ally. I find that regular players will not be too attached to Greenest, and will not want to step in to save these poor people. Thus, I suggest starting the adventure off in a different way.

Instead of travelers, all of the PCs are residents of Greenest or have been in the village for a few weeks. They’re attached to certain people and places. They understand the layout of the village. Thus, when Greenest is attacked by the cult, they are bound to leap into the action and actually care about the destruction wrought by the evildoers.

That’s all it takes to make HOTDQ a good adventure. Take the main story beats and slightly alter them to make the adventure better and less on the rails. In the end, you’ll have a far more interesting adventure and far more invested players.

Reusing Awesome Ideas


A myriad of awesome ideas populate the pages of Hoard of the Dragon Queen that can be used in campaigns around the globe.

I’m not afraid to say it: The main reason I pick up Wizards of the Coast adventure books is to lift ideas from them. Therefore, as I pored over HOTDQ, I made notes of the best encounters, villains, and story beats I saw, and am sharing them with you all in this article.

1: The antagonist is a group, not a singular entity.


It’s quite common to use a singular antagonist throughout the course of a campaign. Whether you’re pitting a cold, calculated vampire lord, or a maniacal, bloodthirsty demon prince against the party, having a single villain that everything in the campaign leads up to is usual. It’s expected. However, HOTDQ surprises us. The adventure sets up the big bad evil folks to be the Cult of the Dragon as a whole, from their lowest warlord to the greatest wyrmspeaker among them.

This is a great idea. In your own campaigns, pit the party against a cult or other organization with many different moving parts and ranks. At first level, the fight low-ranking members of the faction over menial matters, but by eight, ninth, or tenth level, they’re on the verge of breaking the organization apart or seriously shaking its foundations.

It allows the players to slowly build antagonism against not just the individual villainous characters, but an organization as a whole.

2: The villains are unique.


This isn’t the craziest revelation, but most of the villains in HOTDQ are distinctly different from each other. This should be the standard in D&D.

It’s not too fun to fight the same villain archetype twice in a campaign. Going against the vengeful daughter of a nobleman who’s pursuit for power has gone awry is interesting the first time, but then fighting her brother who is EXACTLY the same might put some dents in your campaign.

The villains of HOTDQ, while most are a part of the Cult of the Dragon, do not have this issue. Each villain has unique characteristics, a distinct personality, and individual motivations.

Make sure this is the same in your campaign. Each villain, and even NPC should be unique. I’m a strong believer that characters are the greatest part of D&D, not the plot. The players will care about the plot somewhat, but they’re far more likely to become attached and invested in individual NPCs, whether they’re allies or enemies.

3: Skyreach Castle is a great base.


Including the absolutely incredible Skyreach Castle was a fantastic idea, especially since it can be used to the party’s advantage in the next adventure book, Rise of Tiamat, and all future adventures that they go on. In general, there needs to be more floating fortresses in D&D.

4: All facets of D&D are explored.


Being the first D&D adventure book, Wizards did ensure that the adventure hits every major pillar of the game, something I believe most campaigns, especially those with first-time players, should do.

HOTDQ provides big battle scenes, dungeon delves, stealth missions, iconic locations, and interesting antagonists. Everything that makes a great D&D campaign is in the adventure.

However, as I stated before, the book relies on the PCs going from quest to quest, with no room for roaming or changing up the story. The book provides a skeleton for you, the dungeon master, to explore and use. It’s up to you to make a compelling campaign uses these various pieces.

In Summary


Wizard of the Coast’s premiere adventure book, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, was a lackluster adventure, but:

Once a bit of work is done to reskin the adventure, HOTDQ can turn into a compelling story for everyone involved.

The adventure contains a plethora of great ideas that can be used in your own D&D campaigns, such as the floating fortress of Skyreach Castle, or the fact that the villain of a campaign can be an entire organization.

That’s it for this week, folks. I hope you enjoyed this little discussion about Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

I’m not sure what’s in store for everyone next week, but I’ll talk to you all then. Cheers!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

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