Villain Design: Hoard of the Dragon Queen 7

In the same vein as my post on Villain Design in Dust to Dust, today I’m tackling the first hardback adventure series released for 5e: Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Spoiler warning, I am going to be talking in detail about who the villains are, their motives, and the adventure’s exposition on them. If you plan to play HotDQ and Rise of Tiamat, now is a good time to pack your bags and bookmark this post for when you’re done.

Now HotDQ is broken into eight Episodes, and that seems a better way to organize this post than anything else. For each Episode, I’m going to talk about:

  • what the villains do
  • what the villains say
  • what others say about the villains
  • chances to prevent the villains’ goals
  • interactions between villains

Also, let’s get one big thing out of the way. Tiamat headlines this adventure series, and fighting Tiamat is the last encounter of the campaign… but Tiamat is not the villain. Her aims are thoroughly filtered through her servants and their conflicts with one another. The story doesn’t spend time getting PCs invested in hating Tiamat – if you’re not a chromatic dragon and you like having a place to live, you don’t need help opposing or hating her. It’s a given. The villains of record are Severin Silrajin (no personal appearances until RoT), Azbara Jos, Blagothkus, Captain Othelstan, Dralmorrer Borngray, Frulam Mondath, Langdedrosa Cyanwrath, Pharblex Spattergoo, Rath Modar, Rezmir, and Talis the White. One thing that I like about this adventure series is that their relationships with one another matter, with meaningful payoffs for figuring out how to manipulate them.


Episode 1: Greenest in Flames

Man, this is an adventure that knows how to get to the fucking monkey. Town under assault! Adult blue dragon blasting away with lightning! Insane numbers and sizes of encounters, so that PCs learn to pick their fights (or die trying)! It’s a strong narrative hook and full of scenes of pathos.

Lennithon is the first named opponent in the Episode, but he is singularly unmotivated – the goal is to do enough damage to get him to fuck off to the pub before he kills many people. It doesn’t take all that much damage, just 24 damage against AC 19 (that’s just over 10% of Lennithon’s hit points), but his breath weapon does 66 (12d10) damage, and even a successful save is instant death for any 1st-level PC. The text goes out of its way to tell the DM not to target the PCs with this. Lennithon shows up again briefly in RoT, but again leaves with plenty of hit points to spare. He’s a little-known chromatic breed known as the slack dragon.

Frulam Mondath is visible from afar, though heavily guarded. Of course, the players have no way to learn that character’s name, so to them it’s just “a woman in purple robes,” which is probably no different from any other Medium humanoid cultist in the battle. It’s possible to get her name by taking a hostage in one of the missions, but the adventure text doesn’t even suggest that.

Instead, it suggests having them mention the “dragon lady,” which is pretty singularly unhelpful in Dragonsville Grand Central Station. It’s supposed to be the first reference to Rezmir, but without a little more to go on, I think the PCs are going to get confused and assume they mean Mondath, Tiamat, or literally anyone else.

Depending on who the PCs grab, they might learn that this is about “ushering in the age of the Queen of Dragons,” but that’s barely a surprise if they learn (from the much easier target) that the Cult of the Dragon is behind this. Or if they saw the cover of the adventure. Take your pick. Really, I’d be more worried about re-selling the Cult of the Dragon to any long-term Realms fans, because prior to this, they have been intermittently presented as too stupid and misguided to pose a threat. It’s nice to see that they’ve grown up.

The serious and memorable villain of Episode 1 is Jar-Jar Binks Langdedrosa Cyanwrath, a half-blue dragon. I’ll always wonder why the text doesn’t have any dragonborn get involved in the Cult and instead uses half-dragons. Maybe it was not yet clear that dragonborn were going to be in the 5e PHB when they were writing? Anyway, LC shows up at the very end of the Episode (DMing tip: foreshadow this character by showing him at a distance, just as the text already does with Frulam Mondath) and offers one last unfair fight.

The exposition of LC, then, is box text with a physical description and a brief villain monologue, in which he challenges the defenders of Greenest to a single combat for the life of a hostage and her children. This scene makes it clear that this is solely about satisfying LC’s emotional goals, not strategic ones. The majority of the raiders are leaving, having sacked much of the town, but with no intention of holding the territory or forcing further concessions. LC just wants to poke the defenders in the eye and gain more personal glory. It’s also very unlikely that a PC could win this fight alone at 1st level, and there’s a good chance he could beat a team of four or five 1st-level characters together. I mean, 4d10 breath weapon, good game – with average damage on a failed save, that’s an instant kill on anyone with 11 maximum hit points or fewer. He even sticks around long enough to inflict one failed death save. So there’s a pretty strong chance that a PC bites it in the opening Episode, which leaves a lasting mark on PC expectations in a campaign. It also establishes LC as a major grudge target for the players. Villains who go for pure showboating? Oh yeah.

So Episode 1 strongly establishes Langdedrosa Cyanwrath and Lennithon, and lightly hints at Rezmir and Frulam Mondath. That the text doesn’t explicitly establish a familial connection or enmity between LC and Lennithon is money left on the table, from where I’m sitting. Have LC mounted on Lennithon during the early strafing run, and have LC dismount from Lennithon just before the villain monologue. The PCs are about to get their showdown with LC in Episode 3 (after one more possible appearance in Episode 2), and as I mentioned the text never gives them a final showdown with Lennithon. Some narrative force got wasted here, is what I’m saying.


Episode 2: Raiders’ Camp

This Episode sends the PCs on an infiltration run into the enemy camp, to scoop up as much exposition as they can get and rescue a prisoner (who is revealed to himself be an infiltrator, and might wind up rescuing the PCs if they blow it). There are fights that the PCs can handle, but they’re going into the lion’s den and there’s handling for what happens if they’re captured. I like the feeling of high stakes here. One fight can reveal Rezmir, Frulam Mondath, and Langdedrosa Cyanwrath as character names (the first time they could hear any of those names, unless they thought to ask LC his name before the duel).

Once the PCs get to the camp, they see that it’s a labor camp, primarily cleaning up after animals. Other prisoners have already been worked or starved to death, so that’s another Evil Deed you can mostly count on PCs to care about. This whole sequence reminds me of nothing so much as the movie Hook, the first time Peter tries to infiltrate Hook’s ships and free his kids, except that there’s no obvious Tinkerbell. Anyway, Rezmir, Frulam Mondath, and Langdedrosa are all here, cranking up the tension. One of the great missed opportunities – because the text can’t trust the PCs not to try to jump the important named villains too early – is that it doesn’t have them pretend to be junior cultists getting indoctrinated by Rezmir or Frulam, which could have been a great opportunity for further characterization. File it under “more encounters you could add.”

There’s a solid bullet-point list of exposition to deliver during the infiltration. A lot of it repeats what was revealed before (multiple paths of exposition are good), but for the most part it doesn’t open new courses of action for the players. Here I’m imagining a social challenge to peel off some of the novice cult members by talking them into giving up this whole evil conquest thing and going home. The one important piece is that the hook for Episode 4 gets dropped here: there’s a cave attached to the camp with treasure and a clutch of eggs. They can also learn that LC is directly loyal to Frulam Mondath, and that Rezmir is the one who will torture information out of the person the PCs are here to rescue.

Finally, in the back of the camp, there’s Leosin Erlanthar, the guy the PCs came to rescue. For a spy, he sure doesn’t have any information to offer. I wonder how many groups play through to this point and distrust him for his uselessness, or are my players are the only ones who think that way? Instead, releasing him sets up a lot of future contacts and gets information into the hands of the Harpers, a faction the PCs presumably haven’t joined (yet). This is another good opportunity to at least tell the story of a face-to-face encounter with Rezmir, which the PCs only get in this camp if their cover is blown and they get captured. (Which is fairly likely; with enough DC 5 Charisma checks, and especially with a -4 penalty for whoever fought LC, someone’s going to blow a roll. From there it’s just a matter of swarming the PCs.)


Episode 3: Dragon Hatchery

This adventure sends the PCs back to the raiders’ camp, this time to explore the cave. There’s some faffing around with giving the PCs bad information so they won’t hurry (another reason to mistrust Leosin), and thus the DM can justify the raiders leaving and taking most of the treasure with them. On the other hand, you get your showdown with two of the four villains you know about so far – Frulam Mondath and Langdedrosa Cyanwrath.

LC is stationed in the Dragon Shrine along with some berserkers. If they come into this low on resources, this fight could go badly for them; LC’s hit points aren’t out of reach, but his damage output is still prodigious. He has some dialogue acknowledging a previous encounter, but no exit strategy or goal beyond “kill everyone.” He does go for another single combat, at least, but if he wins… then what? Does he keep challenging PCs to single combat until they’re all dead? Does he use it to bargain for safe-passage or anything else? DMs should probably present this as a climactic encounter, since this is the first villain the PCs know enough to really hate. There’s also an acid trap in the room that the NPCs can’t use to gain an edge in the fight (because it damages everyone and they don’t have acid resistance).

Frulam Mondath is here too, in a chamber connected to LC’s by a concealed vertical passage. These two encounters could interact; depending on how the PCs approach this room, Frulam Mondath runs and tries to make a clean escape. She has nothing to protect in  this room except for a map (so very, very portable) and her cult regalia (both portable and replaceable). To change this up, consider having her gather up what forces she can, when she learns about the PCs’ presence, and making a push toward the nursery to collect the eggs and escape with them.

One way or another she should link up with the guards in the adjoining chamber to fight the PCs. She’s nowhere near the personal threat that LC is, but with a band of guards to support, she could get somewhere, possibly. The staging of the fight itself is still very straightforward, but then there’s not a lot of narrative force making her compelling either. The low-cost way to build up her narrative force would be to have the people of Greenest and any freed prisoners talk about her, describing her cruelty, treachery, or… anything, really.

Once Mondath is dead, the PCs learn the next detail of the plan, though not one that says anything new about the cult’s villainy – just a specific new lead to follow up on.


Episode 4: On the Road

The previous Episode killed off two of the four named villains the PCs have heard, forming an early narrative peak. The scope of the adventure now shifts to a larger area with a lengthy travelogue, which introduces a lot more named NPCs – including Azbara Jos, one of our longer-term villains.

The weird thing about this Episode is that it has a very detailed day-by-day progress track for Rezmir, but it seldom suggests any way for the PCs to learn about those events, much less influence them. There are frequent rumors of her presence – maybe it should have been called Where in the World is Wyrmspeaker Rezmir? (Rockapella. Reunion. Tour.) The NPCs directing the PCs to undertake this mission could be a lot clearer about what the PCs are supposed to accomplish – or maybe the text just buries the lede in a section I’m skimming. Most PCs, if they know they’re traveling alongside the enemy’s treasure-wagons, will conclude that they should steal that treasure, but that’s a bad idea here. They’d be blocking a drop in the bucket of the Cult’s treasure-gathering, and losing out on a source of information.

A lot of side-quest content takes place here, as well as introducing three of the five factions. I still don’t quite get how the Zhentarim aren’t villains in 5e, but whatever. Like I said, the PCs meet Azbara Jos, and with a skill check they can figure out that he is a Red Wizard. He says almost nothing, keeping to himself up until the last scene of this Episode. At that point, he gets involved in calming people after a murder, though it’s not at all clear why he does even that much. His traveling arrangements imply that he might be involved with the Cult, which of course he is.

In other encounters during this Episode, cultists interfere with the PCs in various ways, including an attempted assassination that the PCs might or might not be able to pin on them. Overall, this Episode is more about showcasing day-to-day life in the Realms and the kinds of threats that standard adventuring turns up.

As a side note, I feel like this Episode wants to build a lot of tension with unresolved questions, but it underestimates the potential information-gathering strength of PCs. Be prepared to do a lot of ad-libbing here, if your PCs are nobles, mystics (good lord, but a telepath can waltz through a lot of this), anyone with detect thoughts, and so on. I wouldn’t exactly call these encounters red herrings, but I see a lot of potential for them to expand to fill whole sessions, if the DM doesn’t step in early to redirect the PCs.


Episode 5: Construction Ahead

This brief Episode is the conclusion of Episode 4’s travels, covering the last leg of the caravan’s journey from Waterdeep to a roadhouse some distance from Castle Naerytar. There aren’t a lot of new developments here on the villain front, but there’s an investigation sequence and a partial payoff for the final scene of Episode 4.

It’s well off-topic for this post, but I want to mention how delicate the information dependencies are in this Episode. The whole adventure could get derailed and shut down hard if things go wrong for the PCs here – if they get caught breaking into the storage room or if they miss that the treasure-crates go to the strong room in the roadhouse. Sure, they might think to look there on general principle, and if something does go off-course, the DM should probably nudge them in that direction. Failing that, the PCs could hexcrawl their way into meeting the lizardmen in the Mere of Dead Men, and getting directions to Castle Naerytar from them.


Episode 6: Castle Naerytar

This Episode deals with Rezmir, introduces several more named villains, and throws the PCs into the midst of an unstable three-way conflict. Sounds promising! The Cult is one, here led by Dralmorrer Borngray; incidentally, he also has the strongest villain-motivation writeup of the text so far. His plan is based on one assumption that might or might not hold up, but otherwise it’s pretty reasonable. A- for you, Borngray. Well done. The bullywugs – now as always characterized by a depth of stupidity rivaled only by gully dwarves and our 45th president* – are led by Pharblex Spattergoo, whose stupidity is such that he doesn’t understand how good his plan is. That is, if the PCs did nothing, his plan would proceed even more cleanly than he hopes, because his prospective opponent doesn’t care about opposing him, except possibly out of spite and elven hauteur. Finally, there are lizardmen, who have no named leader, but get used as muscle by Rezmir, Borngray, and the adult black dragon Voaraghamanthar. Much like Lennithon, Voaraghamanthar wants as little as possible to do with the conflict at hand, and PCs probably only find out that he is even here by accident. Finally, Azbara Jos is here as well, and gets a modest expansion to his motivations.

The villains also have a super handy general script of actions when they learn of the PCs’ presence. Unfortunately, that script keeps Rezmir on the run from the PCs; it’s possible to kill her here, but she heads for the teleporter at the first sign of trouble. The same goes for Azbara Jos. I think there’s a pretty good chance that this occurs completely out of view of the PCs, if played for naturalism rather than narrative impact. Engineering a chance to trade barbs with the PCs might be difficult, but that kind of thing is always worthwhile.

Borngray and Pharblex Spattergoo are here to fight it out with the PCs. They may prolong the PCs’ initial encounter with them through hit-and-run or fighting-retreat tactics, but they’re still going to die in their first encounter with the PCs. The story can advance with both of them alive, since Castle Naerytar’s only lasting importance is its teleportation circle to Episode 7. This casts considerable doubt, in my mind, on whether the PCs ever learn Borngray’s story. The characters are well-written, but it’s left entirely to the DM to implement them. There’s a whole lot of dungeon-crawling and creature-bashing to do in a three-level castle with an additional cavern beneath, which also means that this might get spread out over several sessions of play and cause your players to forget any tidbits you throw out there.

Borngray’s chambers offer no further clues about him, while Spattergoo’s chambers include a strange little way that Borngray gets in digs against him… that he doesn’t understand. Short of capturing Borngray and bothering to ask him about Spattergoo’s apparent taste for feminine hand mirrors and jewelry (hint: even dedicated players are unlikely to do this), it’s hard to imagine how this would ever get explained.

The overall style of Episode 6 contrasts pretty strongly with the rest of the book so far. The villain motivations are a lot clearer, but it’s all too likely that they’re part of the game that only lives in the DM’s head. There are a lot of unimportant filler encounters here, in marked contrast to the rest of the adventure – even the Episode 3 dungeon crawl. A whole lot of the treasure is designed to be hard-to-impossible to transport. I’m not saying this can’t be a great Episode – just that the text is leaning harder on the DM to come up with a sound game-plan for the villains that brings the whole place to life.


Episode 7: Hunting Lodge

The PCs continue to chase Rezmir and Azbara Jos, though they still don’t exactly know why they’re chasing the latter. Talis the White also comes onto the scene, with an opportunity for the PCs to strike a deal and drive a wedge into the Cult’s ranks. For Rezmir, this is still just another waypoint in her travel plans. As with every previous step in the chase, DMs can increase player engagement with the villain by having her personally responsible for throwing roadblocks in their way. Finally, there’s a four-armed troll named Trepsin that is a brute fighter working for Talis. Trepsin probably dies in his first appearance, but as a particularly powerful troll, DMs can do more with him by having him go for hit-and-run attacks whenever the PCs get tied down by other fights. This amounts to using him like a slasher-movie villain. It’s unlikely that he’d manage to isolate any PCs for proper slasher-movie style, but that would be preferable.

This is as good a time as any to mention that every named NPC in the book has far fewer hit points than the DMG recommends for their CR. This is a fairly common trend-line in 5e statting – let’s talk about the death knight real fast, m’kay? – but it’s especially egregious here. Especially for enemies like Rezmir that the plot wants to see survive to the last Episode, or even into RoT, consider doubling their hit points outright.

It’s a little unclear in the text, but it sounds like Rezmir doesn’t delay at the Hunting Lodge at all – after all, the person in charge here is a personal enemy. She also doesn’t seem to have most of the treasure that she spent all of that effort transporting from Episode 1 to Episode 6 – that just gets dropped, as far as I can tell. I think the text assumes the PCs captured it in Episode 6, but I’m not sure, and if so it throws the logic of her plan so far into question. She heads directly for Parnast… which the PCs could nominally do also, especially if they have information-gathering skills (tracking) or spells available.

The PCs don’t actually need any information they would learn in the Hunting Lodge, and Talis the White is untrustworthy in the extreme. Allying with her would only make a later fight a lot worse with her sudden but inevitable betrayal. If the PCs do stop to explore and slaughter their way through the Hunting Lodge, the whole course of the adventure is at risk – they might miss chance to board Skyreach Castle. At best, they learn that a sect of the Red Wizards sent a liaison, Azbara Jos (and Rath Modar, but Talis doesn’t mention him); and they learn the names of all of the Wyrmspeakers.

In principle, Talis is how they learn about Skyreach Castle. But let’s stop a second. Flying castles are usually pretty big. The PCs are in the mountains, while the village of Parnast lies five miles away at a lower elevation. What I’m saying is, if they can find even one clear mountainside vista (fly spell, anyone?) on a clear day, they’ll see it for themselves, and literally every PC in the history of gaming is going to assume that the flying castle is where the next cool thing happens. The adventure text even realizes that the PCs could lose the trail of the whole adventure here, and suggests additional clues to backstop this.

Okay, back on point about the villains themselves. Talis is a pretty well-sketched character, with understandable motives that the PCs will nonetheless find utterly unsympathetic. She’s still on board with “summon Tiamat, murder everyone, profit,” which the PCs have probably known about in detail for most of the adventure series to date. Anyway, she wants to screw over higher-ranking cult members to secure her own advancement. If this encounter works and the PCs form an alliance (but don’t force Talis to come with them to Skyreach), she stands to be a recurring villain on into RoT. If the PCs refuse, she can potentially present a decent climactic fight, but with her tiny number of hit points (58? Seriously?) and only three guards in the room at the start of the encounter, she’s probably dead before the rest of the adds shows up to support her. She might be dead before taking a turn, given the damage output I’ve seen from 6th level PCs – to say nothing of what a good silence could do.

Another digression for which I beg your forbearance: this Episode also includes a lot of extremely heavy treasure that the PCs have no way to transport back to a place they could sell it. Expect your players to come back here after Episode 8 and methodically loot everything, because they’ll be annoyed as hell about leaving multiple thousands of gold pieces behind.


Episode 8: Castle in the Clouds

The final Episode of HotDQ ends the PCs’ pursuit of Rezmir, and introduces Captain Othelstan, Blagothkus, and Rath Modar as additional named villains, along with a collection of other foes that have names but not a lot else going on. Captain Othelstan is a quasi-political opponent (as he controls the village of Parnast) and brute who tries to block access to Skyreach Castle. Of course, if he succeeds, the whole adventure gets derailed unless the PCs trust the right person and find out about the wyverns. (Let’s hope the PCs don’t attack the wyverns when they find them.)

Blagothkus is one of the more interesting not-exactly-villains, as he’s supporting the Cult only up to the moment of Tiamat’s arrival, at which point he plans to inspire and unite the giants to fight her. He can’t know this, but this is a really stupid plan – as RoT is going to show in detail that the giants aren’t nearly powerful enough on their own to defeat the massed forces of the dragons, much less Tiamat herself. He’s open to helping the PCs prepare for the eventual fight against Tiamat, but not to stop her summoning. I expect most PCs to make a lot of arguments about the phenomenal number of people and giants who will die as part of Tiamat’s summoning, so Blagothkus looks a lot more villainous when he dismisses these as acceptable losses. On the other hand, if anyone kills Blagothkus, he crashes the castle. (The text promises that the consequences of a crash are in RoT. Political consequences, yes, in the sense that a payoff scene fails to occur; physical consequences, no.) All together, he’s a best-effort Morrolan e’Drien, and I can respect that. I’d lean hard into borrowing from Morrolan’s characterization while playing him.

The PCs fight Rezmir in one of two different locations. There’s no particular character development here, just a showdown. Rezmir offers no information if captured, she automagically dies if reduced to 0 hit points through any means, and the PCs know everything Rezmir does through other channels at this point, in case they use magical interrogation. If killed – and there’s no reason the PCs would guess this – all of the treasure in her chest teleports away, including the Black Dragon Mask that for some reason she isn’t wearing. All the PCs find is an empty chest, which is such a screwjob. She’s painfully underpowered, considering that she’s the villain of this whole book, if she’s not wearing the mask.

I would strongly recommend that DMs spend time developing a social encounter with Rezmir. Off the top of my head, have her in Blagothkus’s chambers when they first meet him, arguing hotly over something. She then tries to persuade Blagothkus to fight or at least send away the PCs. Maybe he does that, maybe he doesn’t; the PCs’ success or failure in this adventure is completely irrelevant to the beginning of Rise of Tiamat, as the start of that book is basically a non sequitur from the end of HotDQ. Mostly they just miss out on a bunch of treasure and XP, and on a chance to kill Rezmir and Rath Modar… who Rise of Tiamat assumes survived the adventure.

Rath Modar and Azbara Jos are a single encounter, unless Azbara Jos is already dead, in which case the PCs might get to talk to Rath Modar. Rath Modar does have an escape plan, though it wouldn’t take much (like one good counterspell or dispel magic) to put a hard stop to it. Killing Rath Modar here might make a lasting difference in RoT, but I haven’t dug into that text yet to find out. He does leave useful information behind about the exact size, shape, and weight of the Red Wizards’ alliance with the cult. There’s also a book that gives the clearest picture yet of what the summoning of Tiamat looks like.

The minor named villains present, Sandesyl Morgia and Glazhael, have personality and dialogue notes, but no actionable agenda to speak of. Killing Glazhael or driving him off allows the PCs to seize the treasure that I guess is supposed to be the same as the treasure they started tracking back in Episode 1, but it’s hard to see how Rezmir got it through Episode 6. The text encourages the DM to keep Rezmir alive if possible, but it’s awfully hard to see how she might get away short of leaving before making contact with the PCs. What’s worse, fleeing is a catastrophic failure for her, and worse for the cult than if she fights and dies (because they lose the Black Dragon Mask).



First off, let me say – as I’ve been suggesting throughout the text – that a dedicated DM can patch everything that I regard as a problem in this adventure. Rezmir is the number-one problem: she’s the main villain, but we know less about why she joined the cult and wants to bring about Tiamat’s rise than any other major character. Is “because she’s a half-dragon” enough? I hope not. The other thing she needs is more actual villainy. She’s responsible for – though not present at – the attack on Greenest, and the rest of the adventure she’s just trying to get her filthy lucre back to her base.

Her route for doing this is also inexplicable. Look at the regional map on p. 4 of HotDQ. She travels from Greenest at the bottom of the map to Parnath on the eastern edge of the map by traveling to the western coastline, following it for most of its length northward, revealing several major cult strongholds, and using them to teleport from the western edge of the region map to the eastern edge. Now, for reasons of having interesting adventures and a lot of wilderness to see, the book legitimately needs to drag the PCs all over the map. Sure, there’s plenty of interesting shit on the shortest possible path between Greenest and Parnast, but let’s assume you’re not eager to rewrite the whole book. Instead, just give Rezmir something evil to do at each stop along the way, so that she’s killing, stealing, or causing meaningful property damage along the way. Wrecking shit in Baldur’s Gate and Waterdeep – and adding cash or magic items to her haul – would be great additions. If those formed an XP reward to replace a lot of the filler encounters in Castle Naerytar and the Hunting Lodge, so much the better. Hell, if I start feeling motivated, maybe I’ll write them myself and put them on the DM’s Guild.

Langdedrosa Cyanwrath has the best emotional hook of any villain in this adventure, hands down. His villainous action affects the players and people the players instinctively care about. He is active, aggressive, and distinctive. His end is fairly ignominious, though I wouldn’t rule out replacing him with Rezmir in Episode 1 (so Rezmir is the one who challenges them at the end) and then filling in a fairly unimportant half-dragon named Langdedrosa Cyanwrath in Episode 3’s Dragon Temple.

Dralmorrer Borngray takes home the prize for the most plausible motivation and most workable plan, with Rath Modar and Azbara Jos sharing a fairly close second place. He needs a more organized game plan for defense of the castle. A chance to scream curses and/or slurs at the PCs, preferably outside of the fight against him, would help to communicate that story.

The three – secretly four, whatever – adult dragons in the adventure help to keep focus on it being a story about dragons. I’m glad that they aren’t suicidally committed to fighting the PCs, but there’s not a lot of opportunity for closure with Lennithon, and you probably completely miss Voarghamanthar.

The other thing DMs can do to help sell these villains is to give some of them personal connections to the PCs. If you have a dragonborn PC in your game, gentle encouragement to be blue or black would be cool, because maybe you can trace a connection back to Langdedrosa Cyanwrath’s or Rezmir’s draconic parents. Inasmuch as it’s up to me, you instead make LC and Rezmir dragonborn that got blessed by Tiamat, rather than half-dragons, so they can be a PC’s sibling or other relation. Dralmorrer Borngray could be a sun elf PC’s racist uncle. Likewise for Frulam Mondath or Captain Othelstan, I guess. Since the adventure’s expressed stakes are almost completely irrelevant to the eventual summoning of Tiamat, the conclusion will be a whole lot more memorable if you make it personal.

When I can, I’ll continue this study into Rise of Tiamat. I hope this kind of character analysis is helpful, whether you’re a DM planning to run the adventure or an adventure writer thinking about awkward spots in other works. It’s also entirely possible that I’ve missed important pieces of character exposition for any of these villains – just make sure you’re clear on whether you’re talking about what’s in the text or changes you made.

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7 thoughts on “Villain Design: Hoard of the Dragon Queen

  • Tim

    If you were to write scenes involving Rezmir’s treacherous deeds along the route, and put them up on the DM’s Guild, I’d certainly be interested in them.

  • Max

    Funny. I’m running HotDQ and reconstructing it from the ground up using Volo’s and some major PLAWT TWISTS. This has always been a favorite adventure of mine because it was so easy to build on, but it always had holes. I’m looking forwards to seeing your take on this.

    • Brandes Stoddard Post author

      I’m interested in the changes and additions you’ve made! Obviously I wouldn’t ask you to post spoilers that your players might run across, but I am curious all the same. If you wind up posting about it in detail anywhere, let me know?

  • Nathan

    I’m currently running Hoard with some friends (group of 5-6, depends on player availability).
    Given how much chapter 1 plays up LC, I’ve kept him around as a recurring villain. In his fight in chapter 1, he rolled a nat 1 on his first attack. I played this off as him throwing his spear at a Kobold that was trying to sneak up on the PC he was fighting, leaving him without a weapon for a round (he gave the PC a choice of which weapon he’d use and he tossed away the other one at the start).

    He ended up retreating during the fight at the hatchery in chapter 3 and I plan on him showing up later in RoT, with buffed stats. He has very light plot armor, so the players have had the chance to kill him, but he smartly tries to escape when things get too risky for him.

    For Lennithon, I had him give a quest to the players. When he shows up at Greenest, he uses his breath weapon to wipe out a group of cultists and civilians fighting, so he isn’t really tied to either side. Instead of attacking the PCs on sight, he instead tells them that he’s only attacking the town at the behest of Frulam Mondath, who has an item dear to him. The item is a Blue Orb of Dragonkind, which holds the soul of his mother, Ismas. He tells the PCs that he’ll let them go if they will retrieve it from Mondath, since Lennithon doesn’t know where it’s hidden. The Orb ends up being in the treasure hoard in Skyreach Castle and the players will have another encounter with Lennithon later in RoT.

      • M Whyatt

        Thank you Brandes this was helpful. To any any newbie GMs reading this post I’ve summarized below something of my experiences and successes running HoDQ. If you’ve already begun ToD/HoDQ please be assured any problems you’ve had with it aren’t your fault.

        As a first-time GM and having played an RPG for only a few months previous to being asked to GM, I can say ToD has been a challenge. I realized I might have a problem in Episode 3 when my players refused to even enter the cave after a PC was killed by Cyanwrath in nearly the very first session. I began reading GMs’ posts about ToD and learned (too late) that ToD is NOT the campaign to start for a D&D/GM newbie, especially one mastering game mechanics and an online TTRPG platform (thanks Corona virus pandemic) at the same time.

        I’ve since pretty much gone off the reservation; feverishly re-balancing some encounters, home brewing others that my players wouldn’t freak out and run away from, simply to get them leveled up (which ToD reviewers seem to agree is the main purpose of the lengthy caravan trip — 1,130 miles, 84 days — that eventually leaves them at the Roadhouse north of Waterdeep anyway).

        As written, ToD gives NOTHING for the players to care about, unless they’re just after loot, fame, and power (my players are mature adults, not adolescent boys, so that isn’t enough for them). So along the way and to keep my players engaged, I’ve created backstories for the villains to make them understandable as players and approachable as characters. For example I’ve cast Azbara, the exiled Red Wizard, as a freedom fighter, rebuilding him as a Human Variant war wizard and given him the Spell Sniper Feat (school of evocation, graduate of the Thayan War College, accustomed to the battlefield and living rough). Azbara is trained in battle strategy and tactics (including guerrilla warfare). Now exiled, he is fighting to locate and rescue recent refugees escaping the increasing totalitarianism of the tyrant lich (Tzass Tam) now ruling Thay (think North Korea). I’ve made Azbara desperate to save what remains of his House, and set up the situation so the PCs have a good chance of peeling him away (eventually) from the Dragon Cult and Rath Modar (who have thus far provided needed resources and the freedom to leave and go rescue refugees), but only if the PC’s can engineer a better way for him to save and permanently relocate his rescued charges. At this point my players actually CARE about Azbara.

        Anyway, with all that behind us, I and my players finally hit our stride at Castle Naerytar (Episode 6). We’re about to conclude HoDQ (Episode 8), and since we’re at the half-way mark, I gave them the option to discontinue ToD. To my surprise they all want to keep going. So I guess my advice to a GM who wants to take on HoDQ is: be prepared to use it as a scaffolding on which to build what you need to keep all at your Table entertained and engaged. If you’re like me you’ll have fun reading the rich histories of Faerûn, its countries, cities, and peoples. Lucky for us the canon provides a deep well of knowledge upon which we can all draw.