The first adventure written for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, Tyranny of Dragons was released right alongside the first publications of the core rulebooks. Hoard of the Dragon Queen was published the same day as the Player’s Handbook on Aug. 19, 2014, and The Rise of Tiamat on Nov. 4, 2014, less than two months after the Monster Manual on Sept. 17, 2014. This put them all before the first official publication of the Dungeon Master’s Guide on Dec. 9, 2014. With the launch of 5e, Wizards of the Coast was eager to have a full length adventure available from day one. It was supplemented somewhat by the publication of Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide in late 2015, added as a limited resource for a campaign set in the Sword Coast region of Faerun. Early editions had online supplemental resources to reference, such as spell lists and stat blocks for monsters and NPCs not listed in the adventure bestiaries, though many would later be added to the Monster Manual.
While not as well received as subsequent 5th Edition adventures, a lack of understanding the material might have been the cause of much of the dissatisfaction from the community. The very different style of adventuring and mechanics of 5th Edition compared to 4th Edition and Pathfinder were put on display in this adventure for the first time, and trying to strike the balance was unlikely to please everyone. The level of commitment it requires as Dungeon Masters to take the adventure books and build it out into an expansive campaign is daunting. Adventures and sourcebooks cannot provide all the necessary resources for an adventure from 1st through 15th level, even across two published adventure books. The levels of investment necessary, as well as the sheer amount of time the campaign covers, I imagine came as a surprise to many who first attempted to run Tyranny of Dragons without grasping the weight of the task, especially for those new to 5th Edition.
This Adventure Review will be written through the lens of Tyranny of Dragons as the complete adventure, referenced from the Tyranny of Dragons campaign book published by Wizards of the Coast and Kobold Press in 2019, though the adventure remains the same as it did as when it was first published in 2014. The two adventures, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat were written as two parts of a larger campaign. The combined adventure book has some written content to reflect that in order to better tie the two adventures together, along with other additional content such as a reworked opening chapter and errata. Not all comments may accurately represent the individually published adventures, but the campaign as a whole will instead be the focus.
Running the Campaign
Tyranny of Dragons is written as an extensive campaign, with The Rise of Tiamat specifically written as “an open-framework adventure designed for higher-level characters.” The adventure begins with clear progression and a comparatively straight forward story, but as the adventure progresses and the threats grow, players have more freedom to be creative, as does the Dungeon Master. The introductory text gives Dungeon Masters the flexibility to not have to strictly adhere to the main track of the adventure, as well as recommending events and encounters be added as necessary or wanted as side quests, distractions, and extensions to the main adventure. The campaign takes characters from 1st to 15th level, and is written narratively to take place over months in-game. Portions can be expedited, such as overland travel, with a series of rolls and not fully roleplayed. The extent of the campaign is that of learning the world of Faerun and the Sword Coast, and then defending it from the greatest threat it has faced, perhaps ever.
Reading ahead might be more important for Dungeon Masters in this adventure than most, because of the nature of the full progression of the story being narratively tied together. Things tie together in specific ways that have an impact on the end of the adventure, so they have to be properly positioned and presented for the integrity of the adventure to endure. Understanding where and when the rises in tension and lulls in the narrative happen are important for the pacing of the adventure. It also helps to know when a side quest might be necessary, or even when a necessary one can be introduced. The more a Dungeon Master can understand the greater story, the better prepared they will be to properly lay threads for building anticipation or raising the stakes of the narrative. Knowing the story also gives insight on the important characters. Almost more than any other adventure in 5th Edition, NPCs and Factions play a large role in the progression of the adventure, and any amount of success will hinge on allies the players can make, not just the enemies they defeat. The key for the Dungeon Master is to make them feel distinct and significant for the party to properly roleplay against, as well as having to weigh which alliances are worth preserving, while others might have to be sacrificed and walked away from.
Hoard of the Dragon Queen
The initial adventure takes characters from 1st to 8th level for games using milestone progression. It starts with a novel beginning to an adventure, as opposed to a tavern, the players find themselves on the road as hired mercenaries or guards. This makes for an easy introduction for characters already on the road and in a pseudo-adventuring situation, without needing to suspend disbelief. There is no need to create a hook or introduction, it’s a party of adventurers already known to each other, at least to some extent.
The adventure begins with the characters intervening to save a village under attack by a dragon and its allies. While trying to rescue a scholar taken hostage by the raiders, they reveal the identity of the attackers, the Cult of the Dragon, and uncover clues about the cult’s operation. Following those events, the adventure turns north, arriving in Waterdeep, the City of Splendors, and then beyond as they work to resist the progress made by the cult. Hoard of the Dragon Queen follows a largely linear path, with some allowances for supplemental content. It covers a lot of ground, and gives players many varied encounters and challenges before its climax at Skyreach Castle.
The Rise of Tiamat
In the follow up adventure, characters progress from 7th or 8th level to at least 15th by the end. The adventure is written with the key events as the chapters, but the events that transpire between or lead up to those key points are less detailed. Those events are either given as options, with points of inspiration or written summaries for suggestions, or completely left up to the Dungeon Master. Those are the aspects of the later campaign that flesh out the full scope of the adventure. It takes a creative and dedicated Dungeon Master that is able to keep track of multiple narrative threads. The Rise of Tiamat specifically is not written for casual or inexperienced Dungeon Masters.
The Rise of Tiamat begins with the Council of Waterdeep, when the players join the powerful figures and rulers of the Sword Coast to mount a defense against the Cult of the Dragon. Throughout the adventure, the players must play politics with kingdoms and powers in order to allocate resources to defend the Sword Coast from annihilation. Multiple representatives from concerned parties, groups, and factions gather to discuss the rising threat of the Cult of the Dragon, and then to form a response. Over the course of The Rise of Tiamat, a series of tasks and encounters are presented to give the party opportunities to resist the efforts of the Cult of the Dragon, or remove the necessary components to prematurely foil and end their goal of seeing Tiamat returned to the Material Plane. Over the course of the adventure, the party face cultists, Wyrmspeakers, and dragons as they journey across Faerun, from Waterdeep to the Sea of Moving Ice, and even to the far-off land of Thay in their journey to save their world from the destruction of the Dragon Queen.
Tyranny of Dragons is an expansive, extensive, and ambitious campaign worthy of 5th Edition D&D. For prospective Dungeon Masters, it should be understood that it is not as finely detailed as other adventures, even those that progress to higher levels, and require more work to fill about events between the adventure milestones. It is not a campaign to be undertaken by a casual party, nor by a casual or inexperienced Dungeon Master. It has the potential to be a campaign of epic proportions, with the conclusion being the sort that can make the heroes legendary. Be warned of the work that such an adventure will inevitably require, both in preparation with the material, and the originality of supplementing the adventure to make it feel authentic, original, and continuously evolving and engaging for the players. For the ambitious and powerful Dungeon Masters, there is no better campaign to undertake, with ordinary characters rising from humble beginnings to eventually being the ones to resist a god.
Tyranny of Dragons, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, and The Rise of Tiamat are published by Wizards of the Coast.
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Tyranny of Dragons Alternate Cover – complete adventure.