After finally finishing reading the first part of Tyranny of Dragons, I had the urge to talk about it. This will contain heavy spoilers, so everyone who actually wants to play it as a player should ignore this post. Even though I doubt that without the context it might be hard to follow certain parts.
First my overall impression: I kinda like it. I see some problems here and there, but I wanted to play it for my first real 5e campaign and I’ll stick to it, even though there is one inexperienced player (to any kind of roleplay-system) at my table. But before I explain why I like it, I get through the cons first:
- Very basic storyline: There is so far no interesting twist, the plot is more generic and is much about: Evil do stuff, so interfere! – I don’t mind much, but for players it might get boring at some point, since everything is as it seems and there is no questioning about motives or considerations about the real greater good (even though there is some hint to it for Rise of Tiamat). If your players are more about character development, this will be hard work.
- Repetitiveness: The book suggest infiltration at a standard procedure. Even though it’s refreshing to not have all combat, it makes you wonder, if the cultists are actually somewhat dumb. – Here I plan to shift the feeling bit by bit, first by actual infiltration, the caravan is good as it is, later more of sneaking around undetected while having a lizardman friend (or simply charging the castle), etc.
- Railroading: To follow the storyline is not bad in itself, but since there are a lot of NPCs which says ‘Go here’, ‘Infiltrate this’ and similar, the players might actually feel railroaded. Especially since their decisions doesn’t change much at the first part of this campaign. – Hard to come by, but if you play out the NPCs with some feeling, it’s at least less obvious.
- Errors here and there: Since the adventure was written during the development process, there are wrong things written there. Like the fact, that a wizard should flee by casting invisibility and use the fly spell afterwards (which is impossible to combine due the concentration check; use a potion of flying instead). – You can handle it, but it’s still more work.
- Few DM-advice: DMs are practically almost on their own, only getting maps (which aren’t as accurate as you might think), stats (which shouldn’t be used in some cases, like the assassins), and very open-minded NPC-descriptions, which are spread around the whole book. Rezmir just couldn’t get her personality and personal goals written down on a single page, what a diva! – Only few sentences are better for me, since I flesh out NPCs about a minute before they enter the game. The more my players are interested, the more I make up details, which goes faster if you don’t need to remember/re-read the actual NPC descriptions. Pointers are enough for me, but even though: Couldn’t they simply make a NPC part to have it all organized?
- Hard start: If combat and charging is the best your players have to offer, then they better have some characters ready, to save Greenest, since there will be some causalities. For 1st level the first part is hard and I think even former Phandelver characters might get their ass kicked by too many enemies. – It fits the beginning of the story, even though I plan to soften it up a bit. More Potions of Healing, more chances to ambush, the opportunity to evade combats.
- Few Magic Items: The Magic Items are sparse and most of them seems to have no personality and the rest only a shade of character. – Since I have still the testplay packages, I can use these to make the items more likable. That most of them are at the end of HotDQ is no problem for me, since it’s kinda the best opportunity: When claiming the Hoard!
- Big Cities, no time there: You visit places like Waterdeep and nothing is there in for the characters? – I’ll add some mini-episodes between some points, so my players can level up, get a decent item at that time and finally have some sweet time in the iconic Forgotten Realms places.
- The spread source material: Like I said in my post Too unfocused, it’s kinda annoying to have all the needed material in different media. Wouldn’t it be better to insert even the named NPCs in the supplement-.pdf? Or all monsters into the book? Seriously.
As long as you’re a experienced DM you shouldn’t have problems in dealing with these problems. Since it’s the first official campaign in the new edition, there won’t be too few new DMs and I pity them, because this will be an overwhelming massacre. Everyone starts a beginner and even I was horrible at DMing first, I would mercilessly have made one mistake after another in my beginner phase. 😉
After seeing the problems, here are the things I actually like:
- The greatness of the quest: You’re actually trying to foil the plan to bring the Dragon Queen into the Realms, that’s friggin’ awesome. You start as a nobody and afterwards earned your place as one of the most legendary adventurers, since you just don’t do something like this more than once a lifetime!
- The classic: Evil cults, castles in swamps, dungeons and dragons, cloud giant castles, so many classic elements are interwoven into the story, that nostalgia is crying in joy.
- Balance of the pillars: The three pillars of adventuring/D&D (combat, exploration, social interaction) are pretty good balanced, since combat will only bring certain dead at times, you have to get through with social interaction, while exploration benefits from having information beforehand (social interaction) or to fight smartly (combat).
- Expandable: Since you’re pretty alone with some basic stats and means, you can easily step in and flesh things out, like prescripted events between certain NPCs (like Snapjaw and Pharblex), details about Talis (especially if a player has her as a childhood friend), etc. The openness of the adventure is an advantage in adapting it to your style without interfering the general flow.
I hope that Rise of Tiamat will bring more optional flair and finally the feeling for the players to make their own decisions (even though they actually won’t probably). If the next book is similar, I won’t be too mad, but after playing some real well-written adventures, I always look forward something I wouldn’t come up with on my own and brings some seriously good entertainment on the table. HotDQ is just decent in that regard, even though it might be the core-essence of a typical Dungeons & Dragons long-term campaign: A single enemy (the Cult of Dragons) which you have to fight with multiple times while fending off the allies and coax the rivals for your cause.
As long as the next part becomes more interesting and uses more stuff from this book, HotDQ might get a great first part, which actually enhances the climax of the story by using resources of the past. But somehow I just get the feeling it won’t…
I’ll try to make game reports when playing this thing and explain some decisions and own ideas I made up then. Maybe I might get some inspirations before and share them on my (up to now still daily [in my timezone]) post. 😉