As you may know, I’ve been running the Tyranny of Dragons campaign with my home group. We left off partway through Episode 8 (Skyreach Castle) and I anticipate that we’ll wrap up Hoard of the Dragon Queen during our next session. I’m still loving D&D 5E and the campaign has been a good experience overall. The broad strokes of the storyline are interesting and it covers a lot of different areas of the Sword Coast.
Having said that, there are plenty of criticisms to be made. I have to say that I’ve had to put far more work into this published adventure than I would normally put into developing my own material. Most of the problem areas fall into one of two broad categories. First, the material was written while the 5E rules were still under development and many of the monster statistics hadn’t been finalized. This results in some of the scripted encounters being highly unbalanced if you don’t adjust accordingly. A DM running this campaign should perform a careful sanity check on the difficulty of encounters and make sure that they’re not setting themselves up for a TPK.
The second category of problem is a little more insidious. It’s the lack of continuity between episodes as well as a lack of continuity between HotDQ and Rise of Tiamat. I attribute this partially to the production timelines put on these products and partially to the requirement that they fit into the D&D Encounters 2-hour format. The episodic format seems well suited to an Encounters program where the membership of the group may shift from week to week and the inclusion of too many “callbacks” to previous episodes would prove confusing to players who weren’t there for previous events. However, while running the campaign as a home game all I can see are a lot of lost opportunities for continuity between episodes. There are lots of scenes that serve as great set-ups for future development but that never come to fruition.
Here are some of the areas that I found unsatisfying as well as my recommendations for modifying them for your home play Tyranny of Dragons game:
- Frulam Mondath: One of the first high-ranking cultists identified by the party. She’s supposed to be a cunning villain and the adventure text specifically states that Mondath doesn’t want to die for the cult. So what does she do if she manages to escape? (a likely scenario given that there are two possible exits from her quarters) The first part of Episode 4 of HotDQ is lacking in the action department, so it would be appropriate to have Mondath make her appearance there along with some additional muscle. Use her to spice up the journey from Greenest to Baldur’s Gate. Mike Shea (@slyflourish) used a disfigured (acid-scarred) Mondath as a repeat character several episodes down the road, which I think is a great idea.
- Baldur’s Gate: One of the truly iconic cities of the realm, Baldur’s Gate warranted a whopping half page of content in HotDQ. While it’s unfair to expect a full city supplement within the limited page count of an adventure, I wanted to give my players a little more here. I created a side adventure involving one of the prominent leaders of Baldur’s Gate that put the party in a position where he might owe them a favor down the line. This gives the party some attachment to Baldur’s Gate and creates an opportunity to have this same leader appear at the Councils of Waterdeep during Rise of Tiamat. Depending on how things go in Baldur’s Gate, your group may end up with an ally or enemy among the representatives of the Lords Alliance. The supplement “Murder in Baldur’s Gate” is an excellent source of information and inspiration for running an adventure in the city.
- Jamna Gleamsilver: She plays an important role in Episode 4 of HotDQ. She’s the party’s introduction and connection to the Zhentarim. She goes out of her way to ingratiate herself to the party in the “Who’s your friend scene?” She’s on essentially the same mission as the party, tracking the movement of the cultists and their treasure. When everyone arrives in Waterdeep in Episode 5, what happens to Jamna? The answer is: NOTHING. She sticks with the party through the Carnath Roadhouse and then there is *no further mention* of her in the module.You’re left with one of two options here. She can either remain with the party as a semi-permanent NPC through at least Skyreach Castle OR she can mysteriously disappear at some point to pursue her own interests. I didn’t want a long-term NPC following the group for no specific purpose, so I had her disappear in Waterdeep before the group ever left for the Carnath Roadhouse. I intend to use her again later during Rise of Tiamat as the Zhentarim’s representative at the council. I don’t see the need to introduce another Zhent when I already have a perfectly good one available to me.
- Waterdeep: Similar to Baldur’s Gate, Episode 5 fails to capitalize on a visit to one of the major cities of the Realms. Episode 4 was a long slog up the Sword Coast, both for the characters and their players. They were excited to finally reach their destination only to be rewarded by… more traveling to the north after a very brief stay in Waterdeep. In this instance I hustled my group through the city as written in the adventure (because *I* was ready for the whole traveling segment of the campaign to be over with) but the disappointment was palpable.I will again refer you to @slyfloush in this instance. Mike writes here about this episodes and proposes a miniature Council of Waterdeep to set up the second half of HotDQ. I think that this is a great lead-in to the events of Rise of Tiamat. It’s also a good opportunity to clarify the party’s goals as they continue to pursue the cultists up the Sword Coast and give them a little bit of a break from a very long stretch on the road. This would also be a good opportunity for a side adventure involving Jamna Gleamsilver that would explain her removal from the party.
- Voaraghamanthar: There is some great lore available about this deadly black dragon. A hidden lair in a swamp? Clues about the dragon’s true nature left at Castle Naerytar? A magical observatory that can be used to find the dragon’s lair? Awesome! So where does Tyranny of Dragons go with this material? Well, nowhere. After dropping some great hints, there’s no payoff.I plan on adding a mission to Rise of Tiamat whereupon we return to the Mere of Dead Men and have some “up close and personal” time with one or both of the dragon brothers. Should Rezmir happen to survive Castle Skyreach, this seems like a perfectly rational place for her to run and hide.
- Talis the White: I love how Talis is used to illustrate the internal divide among the different factions of the Cult of the Dragon. One of my players used the optional background for his PC that involved arriving at Greenest in search of Talis, his lost childhood friend. He’s playing a goodly character, so it was a pretty dramatic moment when he realized that she hadn’t been *taken* but the cult but was *part of* the cult. In any case, let’s take a look at what happens with Talis if the party strikes a bargain with her at the Hunting Lodge. That’s right: nothing! Her name doesn’t even *appear* in Rise of Tiamat.Making a deal with Talis should feel like making a deal with the devil. She’s clearly not a good person. She doesn’t have the party’s best interests in mind. If they decide to accept the benefit of working with her, they should eventually have to make some hard decisions related to that choice. I haven’t decided yet how I’m going to use her in Rise of Tiamat, but I’m sure as hell going to use her. You could consider her and her allies within the cult as a possible addition to the list of potential allies at the Well of Dragons. That’d be pretty damn cool if the white dragons suddenly turned on the rest at the final moment.
- Glazhael / Aurathator: One of the culminating encounters of HotDQ is a confrontation with Glazhael, an adult white dragon. That’s a pretty cool moment in your campaign. One of the first big moments in Rise of Tiamat is a fight with… an adult white dragon. “What, *another* fight with a white dragon?” isn’t something that I ever expected to find myself saying, but here we are.In my campaign I decided that Glazhael and Aurathator are in fact one and the same. Having a party of 7th level characters fight a CR 13 dragon seems like quite the stretch anyway, so I had Glazhael go a little easy on them by being dumb and cocky. She also wasn’t so thrilled about dying to protect someone else’s horde, so she headed for the hills once reaching about 50% of her total hit points. This was still a great victory for the party, but it lets me use that dragon again in Rise of Tiamat. Next time she’ll be better prepared and she’s going to be *pissed*.
If you really want to use two different dragons, establish a relationship between the two. Allies, cousins, rivals, etc. Just don’t make it two completely arbitrary encounters with the exact same solo monster within the spam of a couple sessions.
- The Longest Road: By the time you reach the end of HotDQ, most astute players will realize that the Cult just transported their treasure a couple thousand miles north only to bring it almost exactly back where they started from. Why? Probably because the Well of Dragons was an existing place and the authors wanted to use it. This doesn’t exactly make a ton of sense to rational characters, so set the stage early with the idea that the Cult is heavily into misdirection. That and the general inaccessibility of the Well of Dragons area are the only possible theories for why they cart their stuff all over the Sword Coast only to have it end up back at the beginning. Either that or just move the Well of Dragons scene somewhere else in the north that makes more sense.
If you *are* going to keep the finale at the Well of Dragons, it may be fun to create a little prologue where the party returns to Greenest to save it one more time. Imagine a wounded Tiamat and some of her dragons fleeing the onslaught at the Well of Dragons and the heroes in hot pursuit mounted on the backs of their allied metallic dragons. The final conflict just *happens* to occur in or near the newly rebuilt Greenest where it all began. Now *that* is a finale.
Have another idea for expanding on the ideas in Tyranny of Dragons? Leave a comment or tweet me @dungeonleft.