On a Hoard of the Dragon Queen Coda

Coda of the Dragon Queen

We finished Horde of the Dragon Queen last weekend.  (Spoilers)

I dropped five out of six party members!
There were children running around. That's not a spoiler. That's chaos and noise and kids happy to be playing with each other and slightly miffed that the adults aren't paying attention to them. My wife ran out of insulin and had to leave for an hour. This was a minimal disruption due to the complexity of Skyreach Castle. Everyone was tired, because there's not enough time in life and there are too many things to do.

Going with my dad to play with the other kids while he played D&D are some of my best memories of childhood. I watched and helped sometimes. We played with minis and the Dungeon (TM) board game. We watched fantasy films like Conan and Willow.

I asked my players, "Was that 30 dollars worth of fun?"

My wife sort of half-grimaced, in a way that communicated that asking the question about the value of a role playing game project was silly. As far as money goes, there's no better investment than role-playing games for fun per dollar spent. We certainly don't buy new games all the time because we don't have a game to play.

She said, "Yeah, it was ok. I didn't like the fact that we had to stick to the story instead of doing what we want. I would have rather played in one of your games."

For her, it isn't the value of the dollar. It's the value of the quantum reality that isn't.

Dragons and Vampires

The encounter construction section of the Dungeon Masters Guide is f----d.

There are two CR 13 encounters, one worth 27,200 "adjusted" experience, the other worth 10,000 adjusted down to 5,000 for being a single adult white dragon. For my party, the threshold for a deadly encounter is 5,200 experience. The encounter with the vampires (27,200 adjusted experience) was less difficult than the encounter with a single dragon (5,000 adjusted experience) in his lair. 

They lived. Only one person was standing at the end of the fight with the white dragon. The barbarian choked the life out of the vampire with her bare hands after the warlock blasted open one of the windows to let in the sunlight. A Raging Barbarian squeezing the vampire to death in the sunlight as the rest of the charmed party tried to pull her off the him was fun.

The game is good. 5th edition is a great system. It makes players feel things are much worse then they are. There's a huge boundary between having a rough encounter and actually being in real danger. The options for the characters are both limited and interesting. The classes are well designed. I was able to level my players both at the start of the session and then end. The first time only took 5 minutes. 

It is not different then most games I've been playing. 5th edition is like the english language. There's a pile of games that have been ransacked and roughed up in the corner, dragging themselves after work to a 12 step meeting about dealing with their grief at being robbed, because they know if they don't it's going to eat them up inside and they will yell at their kids. 

On April 16 in 2013 I wrote the Villain Force. It's a small house rule that allows single opponents to engage against the overwhelming action economy of players. 5e has lair actions and legendary actions. I get to just point out the little section in the book when my players whine. See? It says right here about lair actions and right here about legendary. Yes, The dragon does get to act 3-5 times in a single round! And yes, anytime an encounter doesn't go their way the grumpy faces start, and they complain. 

It's a good thing legendary actions and lair actions exist, because without it, single large opponents are meat. That isn't a condemnation. I was using that rule, and as the comments show, other people were using their own variations of that rule because it's a good rule. 2nd edition promised us that it would match the way we were actually playing Dungeons and Dragons. 5th edition finally fulfilled that promise. Right down to the eyeballed bulls--t encounter difficulty.

Greenest and Skyreach

These are without question the best of the book. Characters are in a situation and invested, and free to engage with it however they want. Echos of their success in Greenest carried them through a very long and very unexciting middle of the module. It's long and tedious and requires the players waiting so they can do whatever comes up next. It's possible the entire adventure is a shaggy dog joke itself. After all, they track this treasure across nearly a quarter of the world to find it it's going a hop, skip, and a jump from where they started. 

I'm certain there is a way to run a caravan "scenic" adventure enjoyably. I'm also pretty certain it isn't the way Horde of the Dragon Queen does it. I think it at the least involves the characters manning the caravan and having some choice in where they go. This isn't the fault of the module, of course. Page count is a bitch. I've never had to keep it, and mine always triples. 

It isn't a problem though. You know, you don't have to do it just cause someone tells you. Are you free? The book dictates nothing to you. Mine is marked and highlighted and things were added and removed. You are free. You're only limited when you forget that. Skip chapter four if you like. Whatever you come up with will be just as or more fun.

It's entirely possible to run the adventure as inspiration. Daniel Davis on his blog Detect Magic has written a phenomenal series on how to turn the raids on the sword coast into a campaign that's entirely player drive with minimal preparation. In his words do less

The problem is, of course, He didn't need a 30$ product in order to come up with the idea that the Cult of the Dragon is trying to summon Tiamat. I ran the adventure closely as written because I'm interested in the product they put out. This is a field of interest and study and they are the market leader. It is of interest what they choose to do. 

Is it a good product? I'd answer that by saying that it's a commercial product, produced to appeal to a wide spectrum of players and support their corporate profit motive. That carries a negative connotation. An exceptional product is Red and Pleasant Land. An artistic project is Fire on the Velvet Horizon. That's where the Old School Renaissance is, ironically. We are Nouve. We are Avant Garde.

But Greenest is good. Skyreach is good. There are spots of brilliance in it. From a wider lens, Phandelver is an objectively good sandbox, better than a lot of Old School Renaissance sandboxes. The OSR produces its fair share of crap. It's also important to note, that for the first time in, well, twenty plus years, the design aesthetic on the ground is "give players options about how they tackle adventures". Although the links are railroaded, approaching the camp, exploring the hatchery, dealing with Naerytar, and the opening and ending encounters are all jaquayed environments, providing multiple avenues of exploration and resolution.

Without it, without the module, we would not have all come together with threads, resources, ideas and more. There is value in that also. I'm still upset about things even my extensive research missed, like making the drum in Naerytar 25+ feet long and having the bullywugs sound it by jumping up and down on it. There's a rich tapestry of material and resources that can keep you gaming for years, without even worrying about a path or a rail. 

It would be nice if they could be bothered to release faction downtime activities. 


The strange unfathomable reason
It was time, ripe for revisiting the realms. We will probably even finish out Rise of Tiamat, not because of any great investment in the fate of the realms, but because of the investment of the characters. 5th edition got that part right for sure.

But I wonder. Princes of the Apocalypse is set on the sword coast. And then, Rage of Demons is coming along with the Marty Sue wunderkind, and I've already had it with the Realms. I'm leaving the Realms after Rise of Tiamat and really really not going to want to come back for another decade or longer. And when I do, it'll most likely be as a background for my own adventures, sometime in 1350 DR. 

It's nice that there's a nod to setting Princes in Greyhawk. My gut says that's where the elemental evil adventure belongs for some strange unfathomable reason. At least Rage of Demons doesn't take place on the Sword Coast, for a third time. The underdark is a change of scenery. But it's not enough.

The new publishing schedule of Dungeons and Dragons is excellent for all the reasons that anyone who isn't a die hard modern gamer can instantly see. Real people with families and lives are just now finishing up or entering Rise of Tiamat. People outside of organized play are interested in checking out new material. If you've got kids and two jobs, you don't have time to read a new gaming book every month, much less play through the content. And it's not like content isn't sitting out there ready to be consumed. 5th edition is remarkably compatible with a wide body of material. They are releasing books at a pace for the large majority of lapsed gamers. Not the much smaller subsection that's active in league play.

With a nod that 5e is the second most successful launch of Dungeons & Dragons to date, they must be doing something right. (Mentzer's Red Box sold 1.1 million units. 3e sold somewhere in the range of 300-500,000). I don't regret running Hoard of the Dragon Queen. I might have even enjoyed it.

Hack & Slash 
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  1. See, now I actually want to play it. I want a deep 5e experience, too, just to round out my sense of DM perspective.

  2. I will say this. Princes is a very good sandbox.

    Drizzt is not as much of a Sue as most people think he is however and he is stated to have a minor role in Out of the Abyss

  3. I am about to run HotDQ in a few months. Do you have a writeup for Rise of Tiamat?


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