Rise of Tiamat Review – Part 1 Musings and the Council of Waterdeep

Rise of Tiamat is a weird adventure.  Let’s start there.  It is not a series of dungeons or encounters.  It is heavy politics and roleplay presented in an non-linear fashion that really is about a world shaking campaign.  This is a big epic adventure with a lot of big epic moments.  I’m going to be writing this as I read and posting where appropriate.

The first thing I wanted to check out was the description of The Hoard.  See, in the previous adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, stated repeatedly that what the players acquired in Part 1 was actually a small portion of the massive hoard (of the dragon queen) built up at the Well of Dragons.  So flip to the end, no description of the treasure hoard beyond “most of the Sword Coast’s wealth.”  Hurm.

But as I read the adventure I got why it was done this way.  At that point in the adventure it is the climax.  The PCs are level 14.  The world and the player characters have a bigger problem that goes beyond a reward.  Dragons are laying waste to cities, a god is coming into the world.  The actual GP value of the treasure hoard isn’t relevant in the same way gold isn’t relevant in the Midnight campaign setting for 2nd Edition and 3.5 D&D.  For those who don’t know, Midnight is a campaign setting that can best be described as, “What if Sauron got the One Ring?”  And in the book, it says one of the ways to sell the campaign setting is that the players find someone using diamonds as sling stones.  In Midnight, gold is worthless, food and medicine aren’t.  Having most of the Sword Coast’s gold isn’t a reward, it’s a plot hook.  One very reminiscent of the end of the Hobbit, which is actually my favorite part of the book.  Smaug is slain by Bard (spoilers) and now there are some Dwarves, Elves, and Men all arguing they deserve a portion of the wealth of Erebor.  The wealth of Tiamat is largely the same thing.  The Rise of Tiamat adventure even states that the chromatic dragons in this adventure have no incentive to pack up and go home, that they probably lay waste to cities on the Sword Coast.

By contrast, Hoard of the Dragon Queen ended with a precise count of the treasure won, with the assurance that the cult’s plans have been slowed/damaged.  It was a conventional ending.  Reward won, evil is punished.  I knew from these different endings that Rise of Tiamat is going to be a different sort of breed.  Also compare the start of these adventures.  Hoard of the Dragon Queen has a one page introduction of the setup and on page 6 the players are dumped into Greenest, which is under attack by cultists.  Rise of Tiamat’s adventure proper starts on page 18.  Before that are pages describing factions and NPCs in great detail.

At the outset with this emphasis on NPCs and their motivations, Rise of Tiamat appears much more open ended than Hoard of the Dragon Queen which would make sense with this being a high level adventure.  Hoard was a linear adventure.  You had freedom within the locations but ultimately, there is a way that leads the PCs forward and the players need to follow that way if they want to get to the next act.  When I write an adventure with a plan to improvise, I write like this adventure is written.  Put the NPCs down, their motivations.  If I know that, then no matter what the PCs want to do, I can decide what the NPCs would logically do next to pursue their goals.

One thing that always struck me as weird about this Tyranny of Dragons hook is that, the setup doesn’t seem time dependent.  By which I mean, this adventure is kicked off when Severin the cultist decides he wants to bring Tiamat into the world rather than create dracoliches.  Tiamat then tells him how, by using the Dragon Masks.  I’m sitting here thinking, bitch why didn’t you try this before?  Are there rules and where is the line?  Can one of the good gods jump down and help in retaliation?  The adventure even says she can’t act in the world like she could during the Sundering.  Why not act then?  Well, do you want to play D&D or not?  I guess what I’m getting at Is the core of my problem with the hook for Hoard and Rise.

  • The reason the party is going to stop Tiamat is because they ran into the cult sacking Greenest.
  • The reason the cult is sacking Greenest is to gather money to honor Tiamat.
  • Tiamat doesn’t want or need the money.
  • If Tiamat wanted to get out of hell, all she had to do was tell someone about the masks.

My point is that the adventure revolves around Tiamat’s caprice.  She doesn’t give a fuck about anything.  Getting out of hell is something Tiamat’s doing out of boredom.  And that’s a weird hook.

 

All right time to get into the adventure proper.  Right away this adventure starts with a problem.  Its not a big one, but it worries me about what’s to come.  This adventure starts in Waterdeep.  And then it gives a few different ways to get the players back to Waterdeep.  The easiest way is Leosin, the Harper from Hoard sends the players an animal messenger and a teleport scroll asking them to come.  Consider these two things.

1) Hoard of the Dragon Queen begins with the players rolling into Greenest under attack.  It doesn’t ask you if you wanted to go to Greenest.  If the players didn’t want to go there, everyone might as well go home.  The players need their own reason to be on that caravan and the adventure supplies a few reasons.

2) Hoard of the Dragon Queen just kinda ended after Glazhael the dragon’s death.  The Sky Castle is either captured or crashed with all foes dead or the bad guys win and the players are dead.  That was it, the end.

What I’m getting at is, if you want me in Waterdeep, motherfucker, put me in Waterdeep.  After the start of Act 4 in Hoard, Leosin is nowhere in sight.  How about he followed up and asked the players to meet him in Waterdeep?  This is a nitpick.  The players need to get to Waterdeep, this adventure provides a perfect contrivance to get them there.  I’m just wondering why Hoard didn’t give the players a reason or motivation to get their asses to Waterdeep after that adventure.  Sorry if this sounds like I’m really picking at a particular nit, but this just baffles me.  If the adventure wanted me to go to Waterdeep, why the hell didn’t they have that in the last adventure?  It must not’ve been written by the time Hoard was released, that’s all I can think of.

But I rant.  Here now I finally get into what actually happens in the adventure.  What kicks off the entire thing is when the PCs arrive in Waterdeep, the Draakhorn is blown.  This is a magical warhorn that can be felt the world over even where it can’t be heard.  I like this, it’s a suitably epic sign that some shit is going down.  After this, its kinda ruined by an NPC named Dala Silmerhelve who instantly explains what happened.  Boooo.  Leave some mystery in it dammit.  After this, Leosin informs the party that they have been invited to a great council which is a meeting of the five factions featured prominently in the setup to the new Organized Play: The Emerald Enclave, the Harpers, the Zhentarim, the Order of the Gauntlet, and most prominently, the Lords’ Alliance who is the largest contributor and has the most named NPCs.  The lead Harper is named Remi Haventree.  I pondered why they didn’t just use Leosin, but I think it makes sense.  The characterization of Leosin given previously is someone action oriented, headstrong, eager to be in the thick of things, in other words, an NPC that could overshadow the PCs.

At this Great Council of Waterdeep, the DM is encouraged to explain everything from Hoard of the Dragon Queen that might need more detail and argue about the plot points from that adventure.  In particular, they argue about the fate of Skyreach Castle and the Dragon Eggs.  Not gonna lie, I’m really disappointed there’s no mention of 1)the army the cult had in episodes 1 & 2 of Hoard or 2) the frickin’ Hoard itself.  I’m putting that stuff in there if I ever DM this.  If the PCs spend four months trying to find the Hoard of the Dragon Queen, someone should acknowledge this.  Anyways, the point here is to set up the next two episodes of the adventure.  One has the players going North to seek out the Draakhorn, the other has the players in pursuit of one of the leaders of the cult, Varram the White Wyrmspeaker who will be familiar as the NPC hated by Talis the White from the Hoard Episode 6.

I like the epicness of this.  It’s tries and succeeds in evoking the Council of Elrond.  Trouble is, this thing is two pages.  There are nine NPCs and multiple factions each with their own interest.  It’s not enough room to get into enough detail.  I’m going to post this for now.  The next entry will get into the next acts of the adventure.