The Rise of Tiamat, revisited

Several months ago, we expanded our D&D program here in Ballarat to two nights a week. With Out of the Abyss not yet available, I decided to replay the Tyranny of Dragons adventures. Along the way, we had a TPK in Castle Naerytar, requiring the use of Lost Mine of Phandelver to get a new bunch of PCs to the proper levels. And then we returned to Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Two weeks ago, we finished Hoard. This week, we started The Rise of Tiamat.

I’ll admit that The Rise of Tiamat doesn’t have the best reputation. It requires a lot from the DM. Its play in D&D AL games is especially troublesome because it assumes the use of milestones, which AL play doesn’t use, so PCs tend to end up too weak for the final encounters. However, despite that, it’s full of great material and the epic scope of its story mean that, even with its flaws, it stands as one of my Top Five D&D Adventures of All Time.

Running it a second time is going to be a fascinating experience, not least because I know some of the things I did wrong the first time. I’m also not rushing to beat a clock, so I’ll have more of a chance to include material that I skipped the first time.

The adventure began with the characters being sent a raven with a message from Leosin, the agent of the Harpers they hadn’t helped escape the Cult of the Dragon. That was awkward. The TPK meant that the characters hadn’t played the early stages of the adventure (although the players had). I had intended that they’d rescue their old characters, raise them, then continue with the old. Unfortunately, they fell in love with the new characters. So, although the old characters were rescued, it was the new characters that are now in the heart of the story. Oh well!

However, the new characters had been sent by their factions on the mission to rescue the old (and then investigate the Cult), so it still made sense for Leosin to contact them. The raven carried a scroll that allowed them teleport them into the Temple of Mystra in Waterdeep. (I used my 1987 map of the city for illustration of where they ended up). They then made their way to the Palace of Waterdeep where they met Leosin and Onthar Frume. Onthar is a representative of the Order of the Gauntlet, and I used the pair of them to fill the players in on what had been happening while they were chasing the cult: a lot more activity with the cult raiding everywhere!

And then it was time for the Council of Waterdeep. It’s actually called something different, I think, but I can’t lay my hands on the book at present.

The Council is one of the best elements of The Rise of Tiamat. It allows the players to interact with a large number of very important people in the Realms. The initial meeting has Lord Neverember in charge, and also a number of delegates from the other Lords’ Alliance cities, plus a delegate each from the Harpers, Order of the Gauntlet and Emerald Enclave. The Zhentarim – for this initial meeting – was not represented. They’ll be along later!

The first part of the meeting was about what happened during Hoard of the Dragon Queen. It allows the chance for the players to be reminded of what they’ve done so far (and for the newer ones to catch up on the plot); the second part was about the threats facing the Realms at present. As the adventure progresses, the members of the council will have different reactions to what the players do. This time, I was determined to give each of the council members a chance to react to the players; thus, they were left in no doubt that the dwarven representative, Connerad Brawnanvil, was not happy in the least with their decision to give the hoard aboard Skyreach Castle to the giants – and to leave the castle in the hands of the giants as well. Who knows what treachery the giants were brewing?!?

(The rest of the council rather approved, but Connerad definitely made his feelings known).

Rise has the structure that a pair of threats are presented at each Council meeting, and the players decide how to deal with them.

So, they had two choices:

  • Go in search of the Draakhorn, a magical artefact linked to dragons that had just been activated, or
  • Try to capture one of the leaders of the Cult of the Dragon

The players spent some time considering the options and doing a little research before deciding to go after the Dragonspeaker first. He’d last been seen at Boareskye Bridge, so that’s where they went. The local innkeeper told them he headed off into the Serpent Hills, so they proceeded on after him.

All of this investigation and role-playing took up the bulk of the session, so I had the session end with a “random” encounter with some ogres which allowed the players to show how effective their characters were. And they were really, really effective. The ogres hardly got to attack before being slain!

Next session we’ll be continuing on the path of the Dragonspeaker, and we’ll see what trouble they can get into!

A few other details about the group…

  • Splig, the goblin. Back during early sessions of Lost Mine, they gained a goblin ally named Splig. They then also gained a second one – Droop. And a third one – Maurice. I use them as comedy relief, but Splig is actually quite competent. During this session, I revealed him to secretly be a Harper who had been letting Leosin know what was going on. It makes no real sense at all, but it played wonderfully – the players can well imagine Splig in that role, so he now has that role. (The name, Splig, I used as a tribute to Splug, from Keep on the Shadowfell. I didn’t realise that FFG’s Descent also has a goblin named Splig!)
  • Andrew’s halfling has a love of bacon. He achieved a lot of bacon this session, not least because Splig kept procuring more for him.
  • I’m going to try and make the factions even more involved with the group as we go forward, having them invite the players for private briefings and the like. It will give everyone a little more identity.
  • The core group is five players. And they have three goblins tagging along. I don’t often involve the goblins in fights, because that’s the time for the players to shine, but they can be useful for drawing attention to bits of the adventure the players have missed!


  1. tonypizzapie

    Greetings. I want to thank you a lot for “running hoard of the dragon queen” series. It helps me insanely with my group. Do you have running tips for rise of tiamat? After quick looking through it, it seems far far more complicated with all the political stuff and everything.


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