Hoard of the Dragon Queen

Seven truths of the world

The World is Old: This current age of man rises on the ruins of older civilizations. Ruins are everywhere.

The World is Dangerous: Bandits and Pirates prey on the trade lanes. Cults work against the established order. Beasts and monstrosities are common in less-traveled areas. Villages need defense at all times, and City-states only support the villages that send them food or other goods.

Humankind is resilient: This is the age of man, rapidly re-populating fertile regions and establishing market towns all along trade lanes. Other kindred work in company with man or are viewed as enemies.

The gods are real: But the Great Gods act through secondary forces (Temples or Orders) rather than intervening directly. Demigods and Pact-offering powers typically act through their chosen followers.

Magic is real: Wizards and Sorcerers do not depend on prime movers such as gods for their arcane power.

Rulers are not alone: Certain reasonably well-known Orders or Sects actively work to secure or advance civilization. They buttress the rule and order established by City-states, but they make their own judgment on rulers.

Dangerous cults are everywhere: Although each City-state wards and polices its people, cults with hostile aims can be found anywhere. Some amass so much power they become their own secret state.

Sword Coast environs for Tier One

Tier One adventures begin in the border area of the independent realm named Elturgard:

Sometimes called the Kingdom of Two Suns, Elturgard encompasses Elturel, Triel, Scornubel, Soubar, and Berdusk. It also claims and protects many small villages and farms strung along the roads and rivers in the Western Heartlands.

Aedyn Graymantle

This realm, which (like 10th Century England) features a religious/administrative capital Elturel and a separate and larger trade city Berdusk, lies south-east of Baldur’s Gate. The adventure begins in the village of Greenest, and progresses, by way of several excursions, out of Elturgard. The realm is primarily fertile and settled. Although not mentioned by name, many villages and hamlets are to be found spread across the land and clustered thickly along the roads and rivers. Adventurers are seldom more than a day away from some settlement.

The climate for Elturgard is equivalent to present-day inland Northern California – Oregon. Winters can be cold, and is the time normal travel halts and commoners stay out of the fields. During most of the year fields, orchards, fishing-holes and hunting preserves are actively worked. Although few commoners travel far, each settlement trades in some way with a market town.

The chief means of east-west travel is the River Chionthar, which serves both Elturel and Berdusk, and the caravan-city Scornubel. Its north tributary, the Reaching, serves Hill’s Edge to the north east.

The Trade Way could be considered to have its southern terminus at Scornubel. It is well ordered and maintained as far north as the Trielta region, then is more of a seasonal road until well north of the Winding Water crossing, Boareskyr Bridge. The Way wends below the High Moor just east, eventually to Daggerford – where a trader may take to water along the east-west Delimbyr – then on to Waterdeep. At the period the campaign takes place, Elturgard is making some efforts to connect all these together a little better. Patrols use way-point forts to maintain remounts.

Companions of Elturgard: an order of paladins of gods such as Tyr, Torm, Helm, and Amaunator. Elturgard keeps a strong detachment of Companions at Fort Tamal, Boareskyr Bridge.

Hellriders: Elturgard’s professional armed force, obedient to the Resolute Oath to uphold justice. They garrison official strongholds.

Elturgard’s Most Feared

While Baldur’s Gate is a friendly city-state just a couple of river-days west of Elturel, the realm is closely surrounded by fearsome dangers. Or at least, dangers its great and good fear.

  • Sssssssss! The serpentfolk north-east must be planning more evil!
  • Bone-covered lands that spawn undead?! That’s just as bad!
  • They say a thousand-strong Zhent army raids out of Darkhold!
  • Cyric isn’t famed for being one of the nice gods… and his Fist of the Future temple in Hill’s Edge is in league with the Zhentarim!
  • Slumbering evil characterizes spots like Fort Morninglord, to name but one of many cursed spots, and if not for Companions’ patrols, adventurers would have woken it up by now!
  • Hazards everywhere! Monsters from out of the Wood of Sharp Teeth to the south, the Trollclaws to the north, and even on the fertile grasslands, nomads turn hostile, or one of the barrows bulges and vomits forth undead!

Quick thumbnail definitions of human-dominant settlements

Lodge – one dedicated building for a noble or similar, with ancillary buildings

Fort/Fortalice – usually standalone, a fortified compound with a keep or donjon.

Hamlet – lacks a temple or common shrine

Village – has a temple or common shrine, lacks a guild hall

Town – has at least a guild hall

Market town – a regular market-day with rules of business is established

Fortress town – has a stronghold garrisoned by the nearest ruler

Cathedral town/city – replaces a secular ruler’s abode with a cathedral and priory/abbey (or something more sinister)

Trade city – markets are permanent, and caravans assemble and disperse all year

City-state – The great City-states Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate can be referenced online

Campaign World Technology

Just briefly noting a couple of the key differences between “possible generic WOTC world” and this world:

  • Some quite complicated gadgets are made by gnomes, but that does not mean they are available retail.
  • Near-perfectly-polished lenses allow simple telescopes, rather similar to C16 Renaissance Earth.
  • Tumble-polished stones of differing hardness perform the same function as “ball bearings” but the cheap item that level 1 rogues find in their standard equipment are marbles, and a couple of dozen, not 100, of them. You can choose to manually change this in your equipment or not, but that’s what it is.

Campaign World Magic

The only notes I have here are

  • If you are of a class that uses a spell focus, you must discuss the spell focus with me, and we need to agree on how it gets used.
  • If you use intend to use a spell that comes from Tasha’s, assume that you can’t, unless you discuss it with me in advance.

Backgrounds problematic for the campaign

5e backgrounds can be very specific, too specific for easy use within the campaign. Moreover, I would like every player to share character creation and know at least one other character, which means that “secret agenda” backgrounds can be hard to work with. The backgrounds NOT welcome are:

  • All setting- or world-specific backgrounds outside of the Sword Coast
  • Faceless
  • Hermit
  • Knight, except Knight of the Gauntlet based in Elturgard, or Knight of the Order of Tye, or any Elturgard Order
  • Noble, except Backwoods (Impoverished) Noble
  • Pirate
  • Uthgard barbarian (High Moors offers your basic barbarian, or you may choose a grasslands nomad)

Backgrounds linked to Classes

The Order of the Gauntlet is an overtly- active agency for civilization. Characters with a focus on finding evil and punching it in its ugly face may be welcomed by this order.

The Harpers society is tightly connected to the plot, but is secretive. If you choose to focus on infiltration or disguise, this society is for you. If you have a personal connection to Leosin, the half-elf, you might consider being an intern in the society.

The Emerald Order is also interested in the plot. If your character loves the wilds or preserves nature, you should adopt a background that fits with this Order.

Kindreds NOT suited to HotDQ

The PHB playable races are all notionally on offer. They are Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human, Dragonborn, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, and Tiefling. For the campaign the following changes or restrictions apply:

Dragonborn: They are rare in my version of the Sword Coast. NPCs of long and good standing may appear in some settlements but not as PCs.

Drow: At this particular juncture of the spheres and times the drow are directing all of their energies elsewhere.

Tiefling: There are no tieflings and never have been.

Other playable races: No.

Prejudice

If the course of adventures takes the characters to the coast, and a half-orc is with them, expect prejudice. Half-orcs are prime recruits for the Storm cult of Talos.

Orcs are openly blamed for pretty much all wars across time by Elves, who wrote most of the histories. They are viewed as Evil.

Other “evil” races: Elturgard fears serpentfolk and says they are evil. Pretty much everyone says bugbears, bullywugs, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, ogres and trolls are evil, and you’ll be hard put to find any good word for lizardfolk or most giants.

Sources accepted

Unless specifically forbidden:

PHB, SCAG, XGTE

Sub-class choices

Everything in PHB SCAG or XGTE is OK unless specified. Everything in Tasha’s is up for discussion with the DM. Everything else is out.

Warlock patrons NOT welcome for HotDQ

The Great Old One: As the campaign can run up to Tier Three, this patron is problematic.

House Rules (Under Construction)

Attuned Items

Attuning and de-attuning

A short rest is required for each and these cannot be taken in one “go” – but if a long rest can be taken, both operations can be considered achieved.

Running a Familiar or beast companion

Your own maximum of three attuned items includes those you assign to a familiar or companion.

Unless you are a beastmaster, having a beast companion takes an attunement slot.

Having a familiar (under the normal conditions for doing so) does not require an attunement slot, UNLESS you use your familiar for both features and to take actions with.

Owning a Pet

Provided it makes sense (ie the intended pet is domesticated) a character may try to bond with a pet and keep it around. This takes one attunement slot of the 3 allowed. In return, the pet has plot armor provided its owner does not tempt the DM’s wrath by trying to use it as a tool/combat-adjacent device. The player is expected to role-play owning the pet, but not to the point of annoying the other players. Annoying another character must be by mutual consent.

Checks – reductile instead of 4e

The principle of reductile checks is that a result of 1 or 2 means a fail and a drop to the next dice size down. Failing on a d4 is final failure.

The initial dice size relates to skill base, including features and ability bonuses.

  • 13+, d12
  • 9+, d10
  • 5+, d8
  • 1+, d6
  • Worse, d4

Where the challenge requires three successes, rather than just one, and it still makes sense to ask for that, the three need to be in a row.

Initiative

The DM may choose to operate in order of appearance. Examples include single file into a restricted view, or plunging one at a time down a chute.

At the rolling phase of normal initiative, a player can choose to REDUCE their PC’s initiative down to next after any one other PC. Let your DM know, then your place in the order will be changed manually.

PCs or NPCs operating something in unison act at the same initiative. Unless something suggests contrary, the lower initiative of those acting together applies.

Inspiration

Inspiration works exactly like a benny or fate point: a player can choose to spend it after seeing the initial roll result. On Roll20, that means being able to spend Inspiration (or have it donated, see below) to use the best of the two autorolls.

If the character already has advantage, Inspiration can be spent on a third d20 roll.

Just like RAW, a player can choose to donate their character’s Inspiration to another character. It’s supposed to be role-played in the same manner as bardic inspiration.

Persuasion and reputation

HotDQ and its sister campaign Rise of Tiamat feature Reputation heavily, but in a table-of-points manner. I shall try this. If I decide it’s not working well I will replace it with one or other Reputation mechanic. Be aware that Reputation is really important, either way.

The stink test: Persuasion checks will usually include an extra dice to match Reputation. Rolling a 1 or 2 on this side-dice means that you fail Persuasion, regardless of the main d20 result.

No, you can’t borrow my throne/wife/army: Regardless of what you think a DC30+ Persuasion check means, the DM is the sole judge of what it means.

Saves – progression avoided if possible

I really dislike inflicting a sequence of saving throw rolls on players and look to “one roll” options.

Example: the DMG outlines the chase sequence where characters run away from/in pursuit of some other agent. One a character uses 3+CON modifier dash actions, it’s a DC10 CON check (not SV) or gain one level of “temporary” exhaustion. All levels recover on a short rest, though for preference if someone hits five levels and simply can’t go on, that sounds like one “real” level to me.

I would rather assign one resistance SV after a prolonged burst. “Make a DC12 CON SV” – “made it!” “Great! OK your lungs are burning but you haven’t lost any speed.”

I use this approach on forced march and similar efforts too. Carrying heavy gear in poor conditions is the life of many a medieval soldier and yes, such soldiers did fall out of the line of march and collapse or simply get left behind. But why would you want to do that SV (not check) each hour? Wouldn’t the weaker character signal that not all is well, or the more perceptive character figure that the weaker is going to need help? I look to one SV and then to supplementary information that makes the team pull together, or else fall apart. That’s part of the exploration pillar.

Fatigue and temporary exhaustion

A related mechanism that I’ve used in espionage/social elements is stress from attempting a task under speed or from attempting to outwit a social adversary. I believe it would be possible to harmonize with the above chase and march check/SV but have not fully thought it through.

Under this approach the character attempts the DC, or makes a resisted check for social adversaries. If they win, fine. If they do not but are close, they have the option of “upping the ante” at the cost of temporary exhaustion. So far as I’ve tested, a d6 on top of the original roll has sufficed. But one could look at a d4 for momentary inspiration (like a Bless effect) a d8 for high levels of risk (like a bardic effect) and so on.

Easy recovery

The recovery from stabilized rule isn’t in line with other rest and recovery rules. This house rule has two parts:

  1. Stable but unconscious recovers 1hp after 1d4 minutes or when the DM finds convenient.
  2. If the player of the stable character wishes, they can keep rolling their Death Save.

Not A House Rule!

I have preferences for certain rules that some or most DMs don’t use. Most are things that involve better suspension of disbelief. They become less relevant when characters get higher powered. While Session Zero will canvass these, I intend to apply these rules at Tier One.

Encumbrance is a thing!

  • Not just in rules terms but in the sim sense that you can’t just load up like a video rpg. And at low levels there’s no magic that lets a polearm hover at your back.
  • Minimum STR to use heavy armor applies.

Ammo tracking on!

  • What it says. Roll20 isn’t very good with ammo but it will be monitored as best the system can.

Action required

  • Equipping or unequipping a shield
  • Readying a healing potion or similar gadget

Combat Options are Go!

The DMG contains a list of action options, of which I am fairly keen on including:

  • Climb onto [larger creature]
  • Disarm
  • Mark
  • Overrun
  • Shove [aside]
  • Tumble [through]

Rules of thumb

Lacking proficiency…

  • You don’t get to mount just using half your movement
  • You become exhausted controlling transport

You must be this tall to

Wield a standard one-handed weapon with one hand. There is a simple way to check if your short character is going to need both hands to swing that shortsword, warhammer, or mace:

  • Divide the weapon damage dice by 2. For example a shortsword is a d6, so 3.
  • If your character is not that tall in feet, the weapon drags along the ground tripping them and giving them Disadvantage with any maneuver, and requires both hands to wield.

You can’t have it both ways/Culturally appropriate armaments

I am very willing to go along with a default “armed to the teeth” in the wilds. You don’t have to explain what you are armed and armored with. Every so often, I will check what you have ready in your hands.

However you can’t have it both ways. If a character always wears armor and is always ready to fight, exhaustion builds up. Downtime in towns and cities is a necessity.

To put it another way, if you have made it clear that your character is always geared up to a certain extent, you can’t claim otherwise – you must state that you changed, at the relevant time.

By contrast with the wilds, towns and cities have a code of arms and armor. Heavy arms and armor are typically stored at an inn during your sojourn. Be prepared for your character to put some thought and coin into city gear.

Rules as Written for checks and saves

A nat 20 gets you nothing extra, and a nat 1 loses you nothing extra, on normal checks and saves.

The only exception to this is the death “save” which I generally call a death roll, as it is not modified by any character feature.