This is my first post in a series on running Hoard of the Dragon Queen from a DM’s perspective, where I will be focusing on decisions I made and opinions on how the game ran from behind the screen. I’m not going to get into the PC side of things too much in these posts, so I’ll just be referring to the PC’s as Wizard, Rogue, Cleric, etc. The group consists of 8 players, which can be difficult to manage at times but we make it work.
When we began playing D&D last year, we realized that as adults with full time jobs, families, and kids, coordinating everybody’s schedules is the hardest part of D&D. At first, we tried scheduling games around when players were available, but could never get everybody in a session. We found it was much easier for everybody to make it with consistently scheduled sessions that everybody can plan around, so now we play every two weeks and we all try to be as consistent as possible. This party is 8 players large, but we have yet to have a session which more than 6 have been able to make it. We work around that. As the DM, I try my best to make the PC’s absense make sense in-game, but when I cannot we simply take it in stride and keep going.
"... as adults with full time jobs, families, and kids, coordinating everybody's schedules is the hardest part of D&D."
After we finished the Lost Mine of Phandelver starter set, I left it up to the players which campaign they wanted to do next and the group decided they wanted to play the Hoard of the Dragon Queen. One of the players was nice enough to buy the campaign book for me to start reading through far ahead of time, so I had a very good idea of what will be happening in throughout the campaign and what issues surrounded this campaign.
One thing the players were not looking forward to was starting over at level 1. Some players wanted to start new characters while others wanted to continue what they were playing already. We agreed to start new characters at level 3 and the players continuing their characters lowered their PC’s level to 3 so everybody was on the same page. I allowed 1 magic item to carry over from the LMoP campaign, and new characters got to send me their ‘wish list’ of magic items they wanted to start with.
We are using milestone levelling per chapter and we are starting at chapter 1. Because the PC’s all started at level 3, I told them they’ll just be chilling at level 3 for a while so just get comfortable there and enjoy the story as they are simply not leveling up until chapter 4. I have seen that some groups have just decided to start at chapter 4, skipping 1-3, but that’s a lot of content that we’d be skipping so we decided to do it this way.
Bonds and Backstories
I shared the page with the Bonds from the Appendix of the HotDQ book with the party and encouraged them to choose one of them for their character to help tie them into the campaign. 3 of the players chose the bond that said “The dragons destroyed everything you hold dear. They killed your family and destroyed your home. Now, with nothing but what you carry on your back and a horrid scar of the near fatal wounds you sustained in the attack, you seek revenge.” which works out well enough as it is a relatively vague bond that each player was able to uniquely weave into their characters backstory. One player took the “Apocalyptic dreams every five nights” bond, and another took the secretive “You are really a gold dragon who served Bahamut” bond, which I am excited to see how it pans out.
One player has yet to be able to join the party, but I think he is leaning towards using the Cult of the Dragon Infiltrator background feature and I’m not sure which bond he’s going to use yet.
For the PC’s that are continuing from the LMoP, I simply said that Sildar Hallwinter has asked them to investigate some goings-on with the Cult of the Dragon down south, and said to find a contact named Leosin Erlanthar. Since the party had tangled with the Cult in Thundertree, this was a pretty simple connection. What is a little odd, however, is that the town of Greenest is hundreds of miles away from Phandalin. As I mentioned in the section about scheduling up above, we took this in stride and just left it at “the party travelled for 6 months to get there”. The players also jokingly said that this could be the reason why the went down in levels – the 6 months of travel was boring and uneventful – and it sort of stuck. To make it a little more immersive, we are also saying that during their travels they were always one step behind whatever villages the Cult had raided for plunder. This sort of prepped them for what was going to happen at Greenest. I also mentioned that one of these PC’s had a childhood friend named Talis that he knew lived down in that area since nobody chose that bond, which helped connect them a little more in the story.
The Wizard and the Cleric were continuing, and they chose the Staff of Defense and the Gauntlets of Ogre Power respectively. Some new PC’s carried over items from their LMoP playthrough to their new characters in HotDQ such as Boots of Striding and Springing and the Wand of Magic Missiles. Other purely new PC’s got a magic weapon of some type. My personal favorite is the new Bard who wanted to be able shoot his Lute like a bow and arrow, so because of the creativity of the weapon I allow him to imbue his arrows with Vicious Mockery, simply adding 1d4 psychic damage as he whispers his insult into the arrow. I am changing it slightly so that the insult does not add the included disadvantage on their next attack, removing the saving throw and streamlining combat. The new Barbarian got a modified Dwarven Thrower in the form of a +1 axe that acts as a boomerang.
I am using a shared Google Document to keep track of the party’s adventures. I use this to share maps and important information as they come across it, as well as it being a place for the party to keep track of their notes.
I think that’s about it for my setup notes. We’ve already completed 2 sessions and it’s gone well so far. We’ll see where the adventure takes us!