Saturday, 21 February 2015

Starter Set Sandbox 18 - Using Red Hand of Doom to expand LMoP

I decided to post this for two reasons:

1. I was about to post something like this anyway because it's the direction that my own game is taking; and 
2. +Banesfinger posted an interesting question in the comments at the bottom of <this post>.

However, I need to add one disclaimer: I am not a fan of Tiamat. I also think she has been horribly overused as a BBEG across multiple editions of D&D and even in the execrable D&D cartoon from the 1980s. She also doesn't seem to me to be a classic FR villain but, of course, YMMV. 

But there is one major advantage of sticking with the idea of Tiamat as the BBEG of an adaptation of Red Hand of Doom: it will help tie the adventure into the wider events of the Tyranny of Dragons adventures, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat, should that be important for your game.

The Simplest Approach

In theory, the simplest approach involves simply finding a section of the regional map from Lost Mine of Phandelver and simply overlaying the regional map from Red Hand of Doom. However, I emphasise in theory as there is nowhere that is really a good match particularly when you consider the map of the Elsir Vale in Red Hand is some 320 miles (EW) by 240 miles (NS) which is larger than the regional map in Lost Mine!

In practice, you really would need to move the whole adventure further east, off the regional map from Lost Mine, and then place the key locations from Elsir Vale elsewhere. I may edit in some comments about that another time but, for now, I want to focus this post on using Red Hand to expand a campaign set in and around Phandalin.

The More Complicated Approach

This involves ditching the Elsir Vale map from Red Hand and relying instead of placing key locations, or reasonable analogues, on the regional map that came with Lost Mine

When Red Hand of Doom was first released, WotC posted the introduction and a synopsis of the five parts on their website for public consumption. I saved a copy of this and it is probably still there buried beneath the sheer incompetence that characterises any WotC attempt at using modern technology in conjunction with D&D.

What I am going to do is, beginning with the introduction, quote each section of the synopsis and provide some ideas as how to make this work in and around Phandalin.
The quoted sections will appear in this format.
Introduction
Red Hand of Doom casts the player characters in the role of heroes fighting to stem the advance of Azarr Kul's horde. There are far too many enemy warriors for the PCs to deal with them all personally. Instead, the heroes undertake vital missions that influence the outcome of the war. These missions include the following:
  • Spying out the movements of Azarr Kul's army.
  • Defeating roving bands of marauders.
  • Leading the effort to rally an elf army to meet the Red Hand horde.
  • Disrupting an alliance between the Red Hand and a powerful lich.
  • Killing important enemy commanders, champions, and monsters.
  • And, finally, infiltrating the Fane of Tiamat to defeat the Red Hand warpriests and their leader in their secret stronghold.
The adventure is divided into five parts, describing five key locations the PCs are likely to explore in the course of the adventure. Event-triggered encounters are also woven into each of the five parts. The adventure locales and events are designed to interact: Events will steer the heroes toward adventure locales, and things the heroes do in the locales will trigger events.
At this point you need to decide whether to stick with the existing BBEG or to change it to something/someone else.

In my game, the real threat is the Zhentarim but the Zhentarim are split into two factions: the more traditionalist, but smaller, Bane-worshipping faction and the newer and larger Cyric-worshipping faction. The Banites need a significant victory to return to dominance of the Zhentarim so they're the ones behind the Red Hand of Doom. And an aspect of Bane is the replacement for the aspect of Tiamat as the final "boss" monster. (It's also helpful that I have an aspect of Bane miniature, but lack an aspect of Tiamat.)

That also means that the various spawn of Tiamat that are encountered during the course of the original Red Hand of Doom don't really have a place in my adaptation. That said, there is a beast of Bane template in 3.xE to represent creatures that have been touched by the Black Lord. So, for example, rather than having those greenspawn razorfiends flying around, I will just have wyvern or manticore beasts of Bane.

Azarr Kull also does not fit into my more Zhentarim/Bane-oriented adaptation. Rather than the half-dragon, the leader of the horde is either a hobgoblin warlord (and possibly also an evil paladin) or a human Zhentarim commander (who may also be an evil paladin: if you have the 5E DMG then you will also know such things exist in 5E too!). I don't need to make a decision about his identity right away so I will leave that undetermined for now.

However, for those of you who are sticking with the Tiamat-based storyline, unless you're running 3.xE you will need to convert the spawn of Tiamat to your preferred edition.

Part I: The Witchwood => Raid on Phandalin
The adventure begins when the player characters confront a powerful warband of raiders threatening the small town of Drellin's Ferry. Under the command of Wyrmlord Koth, the warband of hobgoblins and goblins lairs in the ruins of an old keep buried in the dense Witchwood, scouting out the surrounding lands in preparation for an attack. Soon the Wyrmlord and his warband intend to sweep down on Drellin's Ferry and slaughter its inhabitants.

In the course of their fight to drive off the marauders, the PCs learn that Koth's warband is just the tip of the spear, and that a horde of goblins, hobgoblins, and their allies is marching south. They also learn that their enemies are driven on by the fanatical warpriests of Tiamat. Drellin's Ferry can't be saved, but the heroes can give the townsfolk time to flee by wrecking a bridge on an old dwarf road the Red Hand horde needs to cross. There they confront the youngest of the Red Hand's dragon champions, a green dragon named Ozyrrandion.

By the end of this part, the war has begun. Thereafter the PCs divide their time between fighting to stem the advance of the Red Hand horde and foiling the plans of the other Wyrmlords, whose work will give the horde an irresistible advantage if left to run its course.
Firstly, the easiest thing to do is replace Drellin's Ferry with Phandalin. Sure, there are some terrain mismatches but the goal here is to make Red Hand an extension of Lost Mine: Phandalin is the only option.

There are quite a few options here, and none of them involve an area of forest: ditch the Witchwood.

Instead of destroying a bridge, there is instead a dwarf-crafted tunnel or a key pass that is facilitating the horde's access from the southern side of the Sword Mountains and the Kryptgarden Forest to this side. Collapsing the tunnel or causing an avalanche to block the key mountain pass will buy the "good guys" time to prepare for the horde's arrival.

Oh, and a green dragon may still be appropriate. Maybe it too is a follower of Bane.

Part II: The Ruins of Rhest => Ruins of Leilon
Something has cut off the Old North Road in the vicinity of the Blackfens. None can flee by that route, nor can help from more distant cities reach besieged Elsir Vale. While scouting the swamp and seeking an answer to the question of who or what has cut off the road, the PCs encounter the reclusive owl-riding wild elves known as the Tiri Kitor. From them, the PCs learn that Wyrmlord Saarvith has allied with a black dragon named Regiarax, and together they have established a hatchery of sinister dragonspawn in the ruins of the drowned city of Rhest. The PCs must defeat both the Wyrmlord and the dragon to prevent the appearance of these vicious creatures in the war. If the PCs play their cards right, they can even gain the aid of the Tiri Kitor elves against the advancing Red Hand horde.

At the end of this section, the PCs discover the threat of the Ghostlord (see Part III). Meanwhile, the Red Hand horde is striking deep all across the vale's western marches, and the war is going poorly indeed for the beleaguered humans.
The hatchery is instead in Leilon. This means a different take on Leilon compared to the version I posted earlier in this series of posts, but I would keep the enchanted tower that can paralyse those who gaze upon it.

You could also keep the Thayans if you assume that, as is the case in the 4E Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, these Thayans are followers of Bane which is, of course, the state religion of Thay thanks to The Haunted Lands trilogy of novels by Richard L Byers. Perhaps these are Thayan clerics who have been instructed by the Black Lord to prepare the wyvern or manticore beasts of Bane in support of the goblin horde. FR purists may find the idea of an alliance between the Zhentarim and the Thayans shocking but they are united by a common religious belief... and it provides further variety in terms of the encounters.

Part III: The Ghostlord's Tower => Master of the Dread Ring/Ebondeath Mausoleum
Azarr Kul brings a deadly new ally into the battle when Red Hand agents steal the phylactery of the human druid lich known as the Ghostlord and coerce this powerful undead menace into joining the war on the Red Hand's side. After gaining possession of the stolen phylactery, the PCs travel into the Thornwaste and do battle with Wyrmlord Ulwai Stormcaller in the lich's lionshaped lair. Eventually, the PCs must confront the Ghostlord himself and either destroy him (no small task) or purchase his neutrality by returning his phylactery in exchange for peace. By the time they dissuade the lich from joining his forces to those of Azarr Kul, the Red Hand horde is bearing down on Brindol.
I don't think a lion-shaped lair fits it with the Neverwinter Wood or anywhere nearby but YMMV. Personally, I think there are at least three other options that would be better:
  1. The Dread Ring in the Neverwinter Wood can be seen on the earlier version of the regional map that was originally published in the Neverwinter Campaign Setting. Instead of a druid lich, the Dread Ring suggests the possibility of Valindra Shadowmantle who now haunts the benighted ruins of the Dread Ring cursed by Szass Tam himself.
  2. I have already covered Agatha's Lair but what if the banshee stood in for the Ghostlord? She doesn't have a phylactery but perhaps, as my post about her lair suggests, there is something else she values than can be used to manipulate her?
  3. Finally, for those who have access to Dungeon 73 and the Eye of Myrkul adventure - fifth in the first Dungeon adventure path, the Mere of Dead Men series -  what about Strongor Bonebag, a former cleric of Myrkul, as the lich that the bad guys control? On a related note, what about the black dragon Ebondoom returning as a dracolich?
Obviously, any of these changes would require a bit of work on the DM's part to create a new lair etc....

Part IV: The Enemy at the Gates => name unchanged
While the PCs have managed to counter some of the Red Hand's outlying efforts, the horde has been advancing remorselessly into human lands. Now the characters confront the main army of the enemy directly in the Battle of Brindol, in which the PCs' actions make the difference between the human city's survival or destruction. Depending on how successful the PCs were in the previous parts of the adventure, the battle can end in anything from a hard-fought draw to a catastrophic defeat. Either way, in the aftermath of the battle it becomes clear that the best chance of winning the war is for a brave band of infiltrators to strike into the heart of the hobgoblin lands and decapitate the horde by destroying the Red Hand order.
Brindol? No! This is a battle for Neverwinter itself, parts of which are still in ruins. Beyond the change of location and the use of Neverwinter's map, this section of the adventure may be largely unchanged.

That said, Neverwinter has a large band of orcs camped out in one of its districts: are they allies - and, if so, do they need to be won over? - or are they enemies? That could add an extra dimension to this section of the adventure, as could negotiations with a unit of Cyricist Zhentarim who may offer their services as mercenaries to help defend the city.

Part V: Fane of Tiamat => Fane of the Black Lord
The PCs assault the High Wyrmlord's stronghold, the Fane of Tiamat, deep in the Wyrmsmoke Mountains. Temporarily checked in the Battle of Brindol, Azarr Kul and his circle of high priests are seeking infernal aid from the Nine Hells, summoning devils and fiendish monsters, including an aspect of Tiamat herself, to break the last human resistance. The PCs fight a desperate battle in the dark temple, and ultimately confront High Wyrmlord Azarr Kul himself in the heart of the Fane of Tiamat.
Clearly I cannot call this the Fane of Bane so if I am going to stick with "fane" I suppose it has to be Fane of the Black Lord. However, I may steal one thing from Tyranny of Dragons: this picture of a temple of Tiamat could just as easily be a picture of a temple of Bane as there is nothing particularly draconic about it.

But if you want a picture that says "Bane" and "Zhentarim", you cannot beat, IMO, William O'Connor's cover art for 3.5E's Mysteries of the Moonsea:



Banite Monsters

And that picture segues nicely into another issue in the event that you're using Bane instead of Tiamat: what do you replace all the dragons with? For me, the quintessential Banite monster is the beholder: use them liberally. And if a straight-up beholder is too much of a challenge, use gauth, their weaker cousins. They have yet to be officially statted up for 5E but I ran one on the fly using a few adjustments to the spectator stat block in the 5E Monster Manual.

Otherwise, 3.xE introduced the beast of Bane template to represent a creature touched by the Black Lord. They had a barghest-like ability to devour a creature and they could produce fear by howling or roaring. It wouldn't take too much to do the same thing in either 4E or 5E and give such creatures as wolves, worgs, hellhounds, manticores, wyverns etc... a howling attack that created some sort of fear effect. And other than that, all you would need to do is change their colour to black with emerald green for their eyes, tongues, breath weapons etc.... (I rather like the imagery of a black manticore firing off bolts of baatorian green steel [that's a substance introduced in one of the 3.xE books: Arms & Equipment Guide, perhaps?].) 

But the main reason to run Red Hand of Doom is to fight goblins and lots of them. And that doesn't change whether the BBEG is Bane or Tiamat.
 
Summing Up

Speaking selfishly, I now have the outline for the rest of my campaign following on from events in Phandalin and possibly a side-trip to the Caves of Chaos. That aside, I think there's a fairly logical progression from Lost Mine of Phandelver to Red Hand of Doom with a penultimate confrontation against the goblin horde around the walls and within the gates of Neverwinter, followed by a final battle in a temple of either Bane or Tiamat with an aspect of the appropriate deity.

While there it doesn't then allow an easy segue into Hoard of the Dragon Queen or Rise of Tiamat because of the level of the PCs, if you were to skip Part V: Fane of Tiamat/Fane of the Black Lord as detailed here then Rise of Tiamat does become a possibility. However, a few more easter eggs may be required to better link it into Rise.

But for my game this is nearly perfect. It's an outline based on a tried and tested adventure and it allows me to continue to feature the Zhentarim as the BBEGs of my first foray into 5E. And that to me feels more like the Realms than trying to stop Tiamat from being freed....

27 comments:

  1. Part I: I had been struggling on where to put that bridge. Your idea of a tunnel in the sword mountains is brilliant. Consider the idea stolen.

    Part II: Yup - we think alike: Leilon (partially submerged). Check.

    Part III: again - Valindra in Dread Ring (non-lion shaped). Check. Will have to do some 5e adjustments: as Valindra should be about level 10, the original adventure places the Ghostlord at CR13, but the 5e Monster Manual has lich's at CR21 (22 in lair).

    Part IV: battle for Neverwinter. Check

    Part V: Fane. Check

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  2. Thanks for your prompt feedback, +Banesfinger. I'm glad you liked the tunnel idea. For once I thought of something original! (Hehe... I don't believe in original ideas in D&D: I have bought too much stuff over the past 34+ years so I want to keep using it! :) ) I may go back and edit in a bit more detail (I'll tag you if I do) but I wanted to get the damn thing posted.

    And now to finish up last year's actual play reports so I can start on this year's! :)

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  3. My other concern with this adventure is that the opening few encounters are almost identical with those in Lost Mine of Phandelver, and Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

    For example, the Red Hand's Vraath Keep is very close to Phandelver's Cragmaw Castle - both in atmosphere and purpose.

    For those who have played Lost Mine (which sounds like both of our existing campaigns), this "repetition" could be tedious for players. Unless the PCs need the XP, I'd suggest leading them straight to the Skull Gorge Bridge section (perhaps leaving all the notes/clues from previous encounters there).

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  4. Good points, +Banesfinger. Maybe I should attack each chapter in more detail to address these sorts of issues?

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  5. Unless you have a lot of requests for it (e.g. convert Red Hand to 5e), I would assume you are pretty busy writing this year's play reports?
    However, I'd be happy to exchange any conversion notes:
    I'm just reading over the adventure now, and will by attacking it chapter-by-chapter over the next few weeks. I'd be happy to exchange notes with you.
    nphilis (at) gmail (dot) com

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  6. I don't think I will be getting requests - my 5E-fu is pretty shoddy - but it does look like my 5E group are going to be playing it. However, happy to share the work with you (scrivenerofdoom [in full] and also at gmail) if you're going to be doing it anyway.

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  7. Great stuff, thansk for sharing. i was wondering if you had any ideas how to introduce return of Black spider from lost mines to this adventure. It says in lost mine that if he is captured and delivered to jail, halia(zhentarim agent), rescues him and delivers to zhentarim to be questioned about wave echo cave. He could then help zhentarim as a way to get revenge. Maybe running a zhentarim assault on wave echo cave as part of this adventure would fit?

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  8. FYI:
    The Red Hand of Doom pdf is available on dndclassics.com for under $10 (Canadian).

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  9. +malys85: I can imagine a drow would be really useful when it came to keeping humanoids in line on behalf of the Zhentarim. A particularly tough band of orcs might think a Zhentarim spellslinger is just another weak human to be broken over a knee but a drow wizard? They probably have tales of just how evil the drow are.

    I could see him as one of the mini-bosses during the course of Red Hand quite easily or exactly as you suggest.

    +Banesfinger: Thanks for mentioning that. Fortunately I have both the original adventure and a scanned copy, something that is perfectly legal where I live.:)

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  10. +malys85: I was thinking about your idea of a Zhentarim assault on Wave Echo Cave and I really like that idea. Imagine the PCs have cleared the place out only to hear that others have arrived to lay claim. They then have to fight their way back out through the Zhentarim OR escape via an underground river and then fight their way back in.

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  11. Glad you like it. Thanks for the tips. You have given me lots of good ideas, i'm currently running a 5th edition game on 4th edition timeline in neverwinter area, and i'm using lot's of your blog posts as inspiration.

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  12. Thanks for your feedback, +malys85. I'm happy to read that you're getting some use from these posts. :)

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  13. +malys85: on page 196 of Volo's Guide to the North, it says the gnomes who dwell near Waterdeep consider Wave Echo Cave their rightful home. Perhaps they have hired/teamed with the Zhentarim to get it back?

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    1. yeah, i thought about that. The phandelver pact was alliance of humans, gnomes and dwarves. The gnomes are probably descendant of the gnomes who lived and worked in wave echo caves before it was lost. It's equally possible that the gnomes form a new pact with the rockseeker brothers now that the mine is found, so they could be potential allies. Of course if they are rejected they could very well be teaming with zhentarim to get the mine back also.

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  14. I am a brand new DM with 5e and currently running the Lost Mine of Phandelver. You have given me a lot of great ideas, but I would like to ask you which of your ideas to continue past Phandelver would be recommended to me, as a new DM.

    Best Regards

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    1. As a new DM I'm assuming you'll probably want to continue with a published adventure. That being the case, it would be easy to segue over to Princes of the Apocalypse which begins about 50 miles away. But, personally, I would grab Red Hand of Doom and convert it along the lines of what I have posted above and run with that. It has a much better mix of encounters - but Princes is great! - which I think will really help a new DM master a bigger range of encounters/adventures than offered by Princes. Of course, that also presupposes that you're comfortable converting monsters and whatnot but that should be pretty easy. (And most D&D messageboards will have people able to help you with advice.)

      Thanks for your post.

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  15. Do you think it'd work to have the BBEG be Old Gnawbone instead of Bane or Tiamat? Then Venomfang can be his child and be overseeing the Orcs who are attempting to restore Uruth Ukrypt.

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    1. That can turn Thundertree into a staging area which explains what Venomfang is doing there. Replace the cultists with Zhentarim?

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    2. On third thought, then both Cragmaw hideout and Cragmaw keep can be staging areas where they're building supplies for a big push under Venomfang's direction.

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  16. When I first saw your comments my initial reaction was "Nahhh..." and then I thought about it some more.

    I actually laughed when I realised Old Gnawbone might be thinking, "I like the taste of orcs but my arthritis makes flying north to devour them a bit painful. Maybe I should set up an orc farm? They can restart that kingdom of theirs and, when I am hungry, I can just pop over the Sword Mountains and enjoy an all-you-can-eat orc buffet. Plus they'll keep the annoying dragon slayers away."

    I'm in the middle of a campaign with beholders setting up their human farms so that's where the idea came from. However, it may be too silly for some.... ;)

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  17. An orc farm is a funny thought, but here's where I saw her motive (from "Wyrms of the North"):

    "The Dragon of Kryptgarden Forest dwells too near Waterdeep ever to be truly safe, and if civilization grows in the North as most sages expect it to, and settlement spreads up the coast or (more likely) up the Long Road, Claugiyliamatar is likely to be discovered with increasing regularity and tested by band after band of adventurers. Eventually one will be too strong for her, or too lucky -- or her continuing slaughter of them will bring a foe she can't defeat to her door."

    It goes on to explain why she can't relocate, and she isn't powerful enough to achieve undeath or true polymorph while keeping her draconic powers...

    In her long years of idleness, she's worried on this problem like a bone, and she's come to the conclusion that she has just one way out: Destroy civilization in the North. If she can unite the orcish, goblinoid, and other maligned races, she can muster an army strong enough to leave the North in ruins. Perhaps she can even steal the magic that Waterdeep has so long denied her. Perhaps she can even find the magic she desires most of all. This will at least buy her many more centuries to find it.

    So she had another wyrmling, Venomfang, and raised him to this purpose. He would be her captain - and if he ever strayed, it would be a long time before he could challenge her.

    In this case, Venomfang is overseeing the preparation of locations along the Triboar Trail and of Thundertree. The Zhentarim think they're working with organized crime in Waterdeep and Neverwinter, but it's the Gnawbones by another name. They're the ones loading beginning to load Thundertree's ruined basements with supplies. Meanwhile, The Black Spider, is another agent of the Gnawbones, and when he learns of Phandelver's Pact sees an opportunity for a possibly powerful resource in the war.

    This version would have LMoP have Orcs, Goblins, Hobgoblins, and ?

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    1. Oh yeah, that really is much better, and not just because it builds off extant Realmslore.

      3.5E's MMIV mentions the verdant prince Lord Witchthorn as dwelling in the Kryptgarden Forest. He could be an ally of Old Gnawbone because evil fey like himself would also like to see civilisation fall in the North. So that would be orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, and evil fey. Heck, even the Eldreth Veluuthra might be inclined to participate up to a point.

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    1. Good question.

      The good dragons would, in the main, oppose this but so might some of the other evil dragons who would find it disrupts their schemes as well as making Old Gnawbone an even graver threat to them.

      It would be an interesting thought experiment to go through all the Wyrms of the North articles and consider how each would respond.

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    2. I ended up deleting the question "what would the other dragons in the area think of this" because I figured I could use "Wyrms of the North" to answer it myself and then post my findings.

      So over the last couple of days, I read the article for every dragon in the Northern Sword Coast. To put it bluntly, you can easily see why this hasn't happened already. There are a number of formidable dragons who would oppose the destruction of Waterdeep, at least one who lives in and protects Neverwinter, and a few more who don't care about the cities, but would be happy to use this as an opportunity to kill some of their brethren.

      Ultimately, this means that pulling of a scheme like this would be hard, but maybe not impossible, and in my reading, I found a variety of secondary objectives that Old Gnawbone would be happy to carry out along the way.

      One twist that vastly simplifies the situation is if Waterdeep is not a target. That probably removes Palarandusk (ancient gold), Nymmyrh (ancient bronze), Jalanvaloss (adult steel), and Eldenser (ancient amethyst, who possesses swords) from the conflict.

      Another possibility is if Waterdeep was attacked by a few evil nearby dragons such as Daurgothoth (dracolich), Voaraghamanthar and his twin brother Waervaerendor (adult black), Nurvureem (adult Drow Dragon) at once. Convincing these suspicious, cagey dragons to do such a thing seems unlikely.

      Something that's confused me a bit in my reading is how a single ancient dragon is reported to slaughter literally hundreds or even a thousand orcs at a time. Just doing some combat math: 500 orc javelins should result in about 25 critical hits per turn. That's 50d6+75 before resistances or immunities. That's about 250 damage per round.

      This leads me to believe that a couple thousand ranged units could take down even the mightiest dragon. I wonder how many orcs and goblinoids the Northern Sword Coast can muster.

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    3. OK, here's a third option. Gnawbone has long been worrying on this problem, and has set several plans in motion. Each piece thinks itself independent, but each are unwittingly working together. So perhaps, there IS a demonic cult that will open a portal to the Abyss in Undermountain or Thundertree, while the Eldreth Veluuthra sabotage the walls from within, while the army bears down....?

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    4. You're looking at the 5E maths: If you look at other editions, the numbers are not in the orcs' favour. (I don't run 5E.)

      But I presume that 5E also has a low-level protection from normal missiles spell. That being the case, I'm sure it's something a smart great wyrm would learn before taking on any sort of horde.... ;)

      For me, I don't see a green dragon, despite being an arch-manipulator, as being the ultimate BBEG. Their goals are treasure, treasure, treasure, and, um, food.

      Unless, of course, it's a green dragon warlock that owes its allegiance elssewhere....

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