On a Useful Review of Rise of Tiamat

Spoilers, sweet goodness, spoilers.
My Thoughts, as I have them:

  • My daughter pointed at the cover and said "Daddy book! Dinosaur!" So that's a win. The white dragon head looks a lot like a dinosaur, more so than the others.
  • Disclaimer: Tiamat does not apologize for TPK's
  • Another if "important nonplayer characters. . . were killed or captured, simply replace them with new nonplayer characters here—or assume that they were resurrected between the previous adventure an this one"
    • Are these characters totally necessary? I don't know, but killing them should have some long term effect. I believe this type of advice is necessary for organized play, but for home play the players certainly should be able to screw up their plans.
  • Man, I'm reading the outline. I'm picturing a dog in a banana suit saying "It's evil dragon killing time, evil dragon killing with a baseball bat!" Don't click that link.
  • The bit about needing to ally with the Red Wizards against the exiles is really really good. Especially if you're combining this with Phandelver. 
  • It's explicitly called out as a open-framework adventure. "[N]ot all your game sessions need to stick to the main track of the adventure narrative". What's more is that it explicitly says in this adventure that it's big and complicated and doesn't hold the Dungeon Master's hand on purpose because it's expected that even though it's hard, that they expect you to be good at your job. I'm happy about this.
  • What's this NPC statblock?!
    • Name
    • Alignment/sex/race/class
    • Ideals:
    • Interaction traits:
    • Pledged Resources:
      • Apparently modern design visits Dungeons and Dragons! (Does something like this look familiar?)
  • For the Forgotten Realms fans, there's a description of nearly every leader or king who's a member of the Lord's Alliance. That's really cool.
  • Now that I've reached the first episode, I realize that not once have I run across anything that's raised any alarm bells. This is a player driven adventure with a time limit, objectives, and real consequences for failure. So far, this combined with the explicit statement about how this is a grown up adventure for Dungeon Master's with their big boy pants on means certainly sets it up among the better products that have been farmed out officially. Really, the "flaws" in Hoard of the Dragon Queen are that the Dungeon Master is expected to be good enough to handle the actions of the player characters, even when those actions are somewhat questionable. Should they rush into a town under attack by a blue dragon? Probably not, but most players will. Will they succeed, word is, a lot of people haven't done well. 
    • tl;dr: The presentation of this module makes me hold Hoard of the Dragon Queen in higher esteem.
  • Some people have complained that the adventure isn't laid out in a "linear" fashion. For instance, you go back to "chapter 1" several times. I have trouble understanding how anyone who makes that complaint isn't an ultramaroon. This is a sourcebook, not an adventure path. You use chapter one as the reference to run the adventure when they are in Waterdeep—it's where the waterdeep information is.
  • The Council Scorecard is awesome. But it needs to be bigger. You can really see how much they tried to get in here, when they take something like that and shrink it to half a page. 
  • The picture at the head of episode 2 is stiff and static, but expressionistic. There's an expressionistic quality to all the art that I really like. The paint has an impasto quality and is really interesting and unlike most art in gaming today. I'm a fan. 
  • The white dragon encounter is already entertaining. Having to find his moving iceberg lair? Brilliant.
  • This second tomb adventure is excellent also! The players follow in where the cultists have already gone. They see signs of where they have been and nearly every encounter has several outcomes. 
  • I still don't like boxed text, espcially boxed text that assumes player action. That is still present in this module. 
  • Goodness, adult green dragon in his lair is no pushover. This adventure is going crazy with possible total party kills. Surviving to the end of it legitimately, no matter what happens with tiamat is impressive.
  • Heh, Dragons become a regular part of the cultists strike force. Here's an example with where a ranger who has a favored enemy can make a bit situational difference. 
  • Oh, except here it notes that the character's will be raised by allies (perhaps) allowing them to continue with a possible advantage. Now that the cult thinks they are dead. . .
  • Holy crap, a boatload of good dragons. Realms fans rejoice!
    • The most frustrating thing about this adventure is that there are few encounters with good dragons—that more than anything else is what some of my players are looking forward too. I've fixed that problem in my own campaigns, but am a little sad they have to reach the Nether Mountains (and level 11+) before it occurs. I'm not saying it isn't realistic, but having the opportunity to at least see, encounter, or interact with good dragons would go a long way towards exciting players. Still, you can't have everything. And I am a skilled Dungeon Master. . .
  • What? A maze that's mythical and not tedious? The adventure encounters in the back end of the path are really good. A lot of people were hoping that this adventure would be comparable the legendary Masks of Nyarlathotep adventure for Call of Cthulhu (not to set your expectations too high). The Rise of Tiamat definitely moves towards that kind of gameplay.
  • The mission to Thay is excellent. Creepy, horrifying and overwhelming. It lives up to exactly what I think entering Thay would be like.
  • The module contains the heading "Ruthless play and high stakes" in bold. Warm feelings.
  • Oh, here's a giant super entertaining block of text about what happens when (well. . . if) Tiamat wins! Oh, man, it's awesome."[T]he age of mortals comes to an end, and the age of dragons begins." No kidding.
  • Even if you win it's a mess!
I'm excited. It's exciting. I don't think I'll need to make any changes or alterations in the second part of the module, running it as is with the background I'm building in Phandlever and Hoard is enough. Now that I know the endgame, I can start to foreshadow it in my weekly game. This is the campaign that involves Dragons and Tiamat. I'm sure Wizards of the Coast will go back to the well at some point, but this is the only time I'll be drinking from it. It will be a while (a long while) before it sees play, but I'm looking forward to it.

20 comments:

  1. I agree that RoT is well written for big-boy DMs. That's fine. However, I do think they should have written HotDQ with a bit more hand holding for the DM as it should be expected to be run by noob DMs given it is the first AP for the 5e.

    I, too, though the notes about replacing dead NPCs was a bit odd given the "open design". I guess if you think of it more as a suggestion than a rule you'd be fine.

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    1. I disagree. I think the expectation is that new Dungeon masters will run Phandelver, and the AP is for experienced Dungeon Masters.

      Because clearly it's not for the inexperienced.

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    2. It is not for the inexperienced and that's my point.

      Phandelver was one module. You won't be a master DM after one module. If HotDQ was released in 2016 you'd have a point. But it is Book 1 of the first AP for 5e. It should have been written for first time DMs.

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    3. ...or at the very least provided quite a bit more guidance than it does.

      I wonder if industry shouldn't start putting a "DM Level" on modules, APs, etc. Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced. HotDQ is Intermediate, RoT is nearly Advanced.

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    4. I believe, that in the age of information, it is easy to look up or ask for advice if you are a novice DM. There are even youtube channels dedicated to DMing.

      As an experienced DM, I see a huge potential in the RoT campaign and I'm eager to tell it to my friends.

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  2. Should they rush into a town under attack by a blue dragon? Probably not, but most players will.

    "Most players"? Really? Our first thought was "no way are we going anywhere near that" and it was only when the GM explained that there was no adventure if we didn't that our characters entered the fray.

    In hindsight we should have given up then and played something else but we wanted to give it a chance.

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    1. I was uncertain about this, but I've seen several groups online in video, and IRL approach this situation, as well as reading what a lot of people have written about the game and their thought processes regarding the dragon.

      What really happens, is people are like "We've got to help." That's what it comes down too. They choose to be, for lack of a better phrase, heroic.

      YMMV.

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    2. If my lot refuse to enter town, I'll be setting the forest on fire behind them. Pick your poison shitlords!

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    3. I'd been wondering how other parties have done in this endeavor. Our party did great, but we stealthed and creeped and backstabbed our way through town. The first encounter in the campaign is the only stand-up up fight we've blundered into to date.

      What I haven't been able to find are very many session write-ups on Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Anybody point a few out to a lost, lonely traveller?

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    4. It's easy to get the players into the town. a) they're heroes, b) the dragon is not attacking the town, he is hunting down people fleeing over the fields, c) the vanguard of the raiders is in the town but the main body is behind the PCs. At this point the PCs can a) slink away in shame by going b) across the open fields which are curently the dragon's happy hunting ground c) back through the main body of the raiders or d) head for the only cover available, aka the town.

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    5. This was a very simple choice for our group. As soon as the caravan guard capitain decided to gather a force to help the town, 5 of the 6 PCs decided to help too. Only the rogue (wannabe assassin) wasn't happy with this decision. In the end, his ego took over. The party told him that without his steatlh skills, they would perish. And they were right, since the roge was essential in finding a "clear" path to the castle.

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  3. ?The bit about needing to ally with the Red Wizards against the exiles is really really good. Especially if you're combining this with Phandelver.

    Can you outline your linkage from Phandelver to this campaign? I'm doing the same thing but it would be great if my stuff didn't suck. You have a talent for not sucking at this.

    PS. Oh look, a Patreon! *click* Already have your books ;)

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    1. Sure. Venomfang and the cult is already there. Also, the faction alliances. Also, the non-faction people (red wizards). I set this two years before the start of HotDQ, and am just going to let it spool out organically from there.

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    2. Ah, I see. I'm trying to jump them straight from Phandelver into Greenrest. Mostly because they keep talking about setting down roots in Phandalin. Adventures over. Gah!

      The Black Spider is actually a Wearer of Purple (can't remember where I got that idea from). He's here for the Forge of Souls and any other magical tidbits for Tiamats hoard.

      To cut a long plan short, he's got an escape portal, he activates it to escape death at the final battle or if he wins he plans to step through with all the magic items. The portal or the Spectator messes up the spell and everyone gets blinked into the middle of Greenrest, in media res. The Black Spider gets splinched in the process.

      The way everyone has been playing I think we'll get there. Otherwise I've got a long road trip to write out to get everyone south.

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    3. Making the Spider a wearer of Purple is a great idea! I might steal that.

      I'm going to let the two years pass after the campaign ends, allow them to set up some roots, and then head to greenrest overland. They will likely be level 5 or 6 at the start of greenrest, which should be fun.

      People have suggested starting at rise of tiamat directly, but I'm not in a hurry, and it's only 10 sessions or so to get through Hoard.

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    4. Yep, there's actually some really good bit in Hoard not worth skipping over.

      Also, the Spectator has been huffing the Forge of Spells unmolested for some centuries now. He kinda looks like Slimer from Ghostbusters, with a big glowing green gut of magic potential hanging off his eyeball. Comedy relief!

      I know I am shoehorning them into Greenrest, but I suck at writing my own material :)

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  4. Sounds much better than HotDQ. I'm glad I pre-ordered both now. Knowing it gets better gives me the incentive to rewrite the first few chapters to what I need and want it to be.

    (my biggest problem with HotDQ is how scant the description is for major NPCs - the background NPCs in the wagon train are better drawn than the supposedly memorable villains).

    Thanks for all the inspiration you have been giving me with that, by the way!

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    1. The whole introduction section of RoT should have been in Hoard. It's an all you can eat backstory buffet. Very much in Sourcebook/Adventure territory. Just like good old WFRP.

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  5. Thanks for this - your posts have been a huge help in running HotDQ.

    I'm really happy with Rise of Tiamat - my one concern, and one I'm hoping you might have some input on, is that there aren't really any negative consequences for not getting the support of all the Lords' Alliance members - the PCs' final mission will play out the same way regardless.

    Any ideas on better ways to make the players feel the effects of their decisions? More enemies in the warrens if they didn't secure all of the possible troops from the council? Maybe rewrite the "weakening Tiamat" section to factor in the council scorecard?

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    1. Agreed. I thought this was a major story and motivation problem. Ok, you've won the support of various factions, now what, as a DM, am I supposed to do with those troop resources? Break out my 2E Battlesystems rules and have a giant battle? Play out massive aerial dragon combat? The characters are off to the temple no matter what. So it happens off screen or I'm expected to set up a massive 175 character bunk house brawl? Neither are very appealing options. Essentially the entire second part of Tyranny of Dragons is treading water until the characters are leveled up and strong enough to face off against Tiamat. Winning the favor of the Lords' Alliance doesn't matter and the missions the PCs are sent on are bait and switches. Go get this dragon mask - woops, it's not here. Go get this one - woops it's fake.

      As usual with these sorts of things where the fuck are the good dragons and the champions of Bahumut? The Lords' Alliance are powerful and rich but they have to depend on a group of misfit PCs? I know we want to put the PCs at the center of it but it really was a stretch. Even my players were laughing at the situation. The old Dragonlance campaign path adventures, while flawed, did a much better job of making the characters feel they were swept up in a larger global conflict. Come to think of it, Tyranny of Dragons is just an inferior rip off of that Dragonlance concept.

      And don't get me started on the massive amount of extra work I was required to do as a DM in this adventure path. Sorry, telling the DM the characters travel from Greenest to Elturel and then on to Baldur's Gate and nothing happens is NOT D&D, that's a video game cut scene. Also, the 50 day trip to Waterdeep from Baldur's Gate was skimpy on actual adventure and had me spending hours writing side quests and trying to make a road trip fun and interesting. I had to break out old 2E resources and scour the internet for details and maps on geographical locations and Sword Coast cities to actually make this part of the adventure fun and passable.

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