Tyranny of Dragons

In just a couple of days, our players in Ballarat are going to begin on the Tyranny of Dragons campaign through the D&D Encounters program. It’s going to be a fascinating journey, made more so by the fact that most of the players are likely to continue past Encounters as we continue running through to 15th level. This could be a journey of about a year or more.

I’m tremendously excited about this (as a few of my friends have noticed). I’ve been going through my miniatures and working out which ones I need for the first few sessions of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. You can see what I’ve gathered here:

Incidentally, the Player’s Handbook managed to arrive on the release day in Ballarat (which is better than a few other places in Australia and New Zealand). Good Games Ballarat got in 24 copies, all of which were presold. They got in another 8 copies yesterday, of which 4 have now vanished… and the distributor is now out of Player’s Handbooks. It will be a wait before we get more. And the PHB reached #1 on Amazon!

I’ve been doing my research before running Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Of particular interest to DMs are the series of articles by Kobold Press under the banner of “Tiamat Tuesday” and the Tome Show recording of their presentation at GenCon is really, really interesting. If you’re going to DM this adventure, you should avail yourselves of those resources.

Here’s one thing you should absolutely know before starting to run Hoard:

Episode 1 is really, really dangerous!

I mean, there’s every chance of several TPKs – that’s Total Party Kills – in this section of the adventure. There’s a theory that some people have come up with that it’s because of Organised Play: those playing D&D Encounters will reset HP and rests and powers between sessions. Thus it isn’t as deadly for them, and it was written with that in mind. Based on what I’ve read and heard, this is just not the case. There are two basic reasons that Episode 1 is really difficult.

The first is that Steve Winter and Wolfgang Baur were working with playtest versions of the monsters. So, if a monster got tougher after the version they used in the adventure, then the encounters also got tougher. (They mentioned one monster became significantly tougher – so all the play-testers were wondering why it was included! That’s the reason… monster stats were fluid). So, while an encounter with 6 cultists and 6 kobolds may have been fine in one version of the rules, in the final version of the rules it’s quite a bit more dangerous. So you’ve got that to consider.

The second is rather more important: This is meant to be tough. It goes a lot back to the Old School method of players needing to pick their battles carefully (and, if they die, well they haven’t spent that long with the characters anyway, so it’s not that great a loss). It also emphasises exactly how dangerous the opponents really are. The players are meant to feel overwhelmed. Things are going to keep coming at them, early in the adventure, and surviving is its own victory.

The biggest piece of advice I took away from the articles and interviews is this: the adventure is only a guide to what may occur. A lot of 4E adventures (and adventures throughout the history of D&D) have been very prescriptive, trying to cover every eventuality to make the DM’s job as simple as possible. This is not the way Hoard of the Dragon Queen works. It is far better considered a toolbox, or a rough plan that the DM can spindle, fold and mutilate to best serve the needs of his or her group.

Steel Wind talks about how his DM ran the first section of the adventure in this post on EN World. This is absolutely what a DM should do with Hoard of the Dragon Queen! The adventure can be run “as-is”, but it works best when the DM modifies it, adds stuff, removes material, and makes it their own.

This is also true for DMs running it as part of the D&D Encounters season. To quote Mike Mearls on the Adventurers League:

The Adventurers League specifically gives DMs permission to adjust the story, the threat posed by monsters, and anything else in the adventure. The only things you need to stick to are the treasure rewards, primarily to keep things fair between players. Especially if you’re DMing for the same group of players, you can add in NPCs, plot lines, allies, and anything else you want.

As the DMs at GenCon can tell you, the only rule to follow is to run a good game. The adventure is there as a tool to that end.

I know that in the past many organized play programs for RPGs emphasized that the DM needed to follow the module as written, but that’s not the case for Adventurers League.

So, if you’re going to be playing or DMing Hoard of the Dragon Queen over the next few months, I hope you have a great time with it. I’ll be posting reports on our progress with the adventure. I’ll try and identify any problems or alterations we make to make it run better… and we’ll see if a TPK comes along in the first few sessions.

The dragons are coming!

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