Many of my fellow Dungeon Masters have complained that the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure is less than appealing. When I picked up the book myself, I noticed that it was not the standard module adventure that is common with Dungeons & Dragons. And it certainly wasn’t the same format for those folks who liked the layout of 4th edition’s modules. It is more of an Adventure Path than an actual adventure. It is eight episodes of sprawling adventure sites with a loose, common thread that links them together. Therefore, I deduced that it would best serve as a sourcebook than an actual adventure.
Now I have to admit up front that I don’t like to “run” modules. I’ve been playing D&D for about 27 years now, and most of that time was spent acting as the Dungeon Master, Storyteller, and Gamemaster. I’ve collected many modules over the years and found that the best way to use them was to pick out the juicy bits that slot them into a story that I have made up. Best of all, I make up the story as we go and have those juicy bits stolen from modules to drop in at a moment that seems right.
THE GOOD STUFF
But first, let’s talk about a few of the awesome things about Hoard of the Dragon Queen. As an Adventure Path, the book is well written. It boasts the input of Wolfgang Baur who had his hand in a lot of excellent articles for Dragon Magazine. Next, it takes place in the Forgotten Realms. That’s a big plus for me. Also, it can used by downloading the Free Basic Rules from the Wizards of the Coast website. That’s pretty awesome because it means that folks who don’t want to buy the core books simply don’t have to do so. You can download the various free PDF supplements and still play D&D. Third, the artwork is great. And lastly, I like the fact that the book is hardcover and it has the thick stock paper.
Now, if you read through the entire adventure, you’ll find that the common thread of the story is that the Cult of the Dragon is amassing a huge treasure hoard in honor of the Dark Queen, Tiamat. As the Cult amasses wealth, they are also searching for the Dragon Masks which can be joined together to forge the Mask of the Dragon Queen. After the Masks are recovered, the Cult plans to initiate the second part of their plan, releasing Tiamat back into the Prime Plane.
Okay so right away, many of you are thinking the same thing I did: “Oh great, another one of those stories where the bad guys want to summon a monster from another Plane. The good guys stop it at the last minute and then everyone is happy.” But that’s not really the case.
THE CASE OF FORGOTTEN REALMS
See, the Forgotten Realms storyline is currently in a state of flux. Wizards of the Coast has finally woken up from their drug-induced stupor where they screwed up the Forgotten Realms, and now they are in the middle of a huge palinode trying to fix what they messed up in the first place. Their first step was to use the Spellplauge to change some things, and now they are just wrapping up the Sundering which fixes some of their other mistakes. In the simplest terms, they are finally going to finish what they started with the Time of Troubles back in 1989.
But before that, we have to hate on D&D 4th Edition and Wizards of the Coast a little. So let’s talk about how Wizards of the Coast ruined Forgotten Realms with 4th edition D&D.
In 2006 when the 4th Edition changes to the Forgotten Realms were being revealed, the authors (of Forgotten Realms books) were called in and informed what the changes were going to be; they weren’t consulted at all. So it was a major shock. They were told, “Hey guess what, we’re advancing the world 100 years! That way we can make major changes to the game world without having to explain anything!”
From what I understand, Mr. Salvatore was upset. I know this because I have listened to his discussions on Youtube where he makes it plain that he was not happy. Since over half his main characters were human, he basically didn’t see how it could work for him. In his words, “140 year old humans don’t fight very well.” Salvatore wrote a really long letter to several Senior Editors at WotC pleading with them to reconsider the 4E changes.
Wizards of the Coast didn’t bother to listen.
Presumably many other authors were also upset, and more specifically Ed Greenwood. Salvatore talks about coming out of that 2006 meeting where the changes were revealed with Ed Greenwood, and Ed was so upset he was supposedly about to cry.
Ed turned to Salvatore and asked, “What are we going to do?” It seemed that they couldn’t stop it or change their minds. So Salvatore responded to Ed, “We’re going to be smarter than them. We’re going to think long term.”
That’s when Greenwood and Salvatore got together secretly and started brainstorming on how to fix the Realms when WotC realized how much it was going to be despised by most of the fans.
NEXT THEN 5E
Fast forward to a couple of years ago at Gen Con when 5E was announced. James Wyatt pulls Salvatore aside after he’s done a seminar, and begins bringing up 5E Forgotten Realms. At that time WotC hadn’t planned on what to do, but according to Salvatore, James Wyatt said that 4E FR had “gone off the rails” and then started outlining everything that needed to be done to fix it. That’s when he took James aside and for over twenty minutes outlined everything they had been planning for years.
Salvatore sees all of this as an attempt to try and fix “Ed’s Realms” – that’s how everyone seems to be looking at it. He said that he’s willing to take personal responsibility for 5E FR because he had a direct hand in it, but he also said that he’s “very proud” of what they’ve come up with for fixing the Realms.
So we have to remember that this is the first real 5E book featuring the Forgotten Realms. It is attempting to lead up to what will be the release of the 5th edition Forgotten Realms campaign book. Also, I’m fairly certain that this Tyranny of Dragons storyline is somehow going to link into Dragonlance, as well, since Tiamat and Takhisis were announced to be the same being, not just a same aspect of the same being.
So part of the reason this book drags the characters all over the Sword Coast is because they want to present all kinds of information about Forgotten Realms following the Spellplauge and Sundering. That’s my opinion, anyway.
IT’S JUST A PEEP SHOW
Yes, my friends, this book is simply a teaser for the soon coming Forgotten Realms setting. And it all links back to Ao, the Tablets of Faith, and all that jazz from 1989. And honestly, it’s a good story. You just have to work a little bit to make it playable for your group. If you expect that the book is written to lead you aloing by your little hand from start to finish, it’s just not going to work for you.
BIG BAD FIVE HEADED DRAGON
And best of all, they are bringing back Tiamat … in a big way.
It makes use of the Cult of the Dragon which has been in the Forgotten Realms (and Dragonlance) from the beginning. The Cult has evolved a bit, and has some radical new ideas under their new leader. But that’s cool. I like it.
In the wake of the Sundering, the gods have stepped back and left their mortal worshipers to govern their own destinies. This has opened the door to Tiamat’s return. Brought together by the cult, the evil dragons forge a powerful alliance. The leaders of the Cult view Tiamat as the unstoppable weapon they need to achieve total dragon supremacy and forge a powerful draconic empire, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in millennia.
So basically, Tiamat could be freed from the Nine Hells, and she could return to Eastern Faerûn and reclaim her old domain of Unther, Mulhorand, or Chessenta . Since both these lands were completely wiped out by the Spellplague, Tiamat would have a clean slate to begin her kingdom anew. Although there would be opposition from the dragonborn nation of Tymanther, Tiamat could still return to the Prime Plane and renew her empire.
That said, the story of Tiamat is not one where the heroes stop her from entering the world at the last minute. In fact, they very well could die trying to fight her one on one.
And this time they don’t have to be 30th level like in Dungeon Magazine #175.
IT’S A PATH – MAKE IT YOUR OWN
So after realizing that Tiamat does not have to be stopped, I had a little different outlook on the adventure. So, back to the way I dealt with Hoard of the Dragon Queen. I didn’t view this as a single adventure. As I said before, I viewed it as an Adventure Path. This term was introduced by Paizo Publishing back in 2007. It is simply a series of adventures with a common theme that sprawls out to one huge story. Examples of these would be The Shackled City, The Age of Worms, and Savage Tide.
If you played the adventure as written, you would be dragging your characters through a railroad slog. They would start in Greenest at the far south of the Sword Coast, then chase the Cult back and forth through the Sword Coast trying to head off the caravan that is carrying the cache of treasure meant for Tiamat. I didn’t really want to do that because I didn’t think it would sit well with my players. I might have been wrong, but it was the decision I made. You can read how the story has transformed by checking out this page: Tyranny of Dragons.
If I were back in high school, gaming every weekend full steam with my buddies, we would probably play the adventure as written and plow through the plot train. But my gaming group doesn’t have that kind of time. So I knew we had to hit the high points.
Therefore, I broke down the adventure into different locations rather than Episodes. Doing this broke the story down into different locations including:
- The Raider Camp (generic location)
- The Dragon Hatchery (generic location)
- Baldur’s Gate
- Castle Naerytar
- The Hunting Lodge
- Skyreach Castle
I customized elements of the story to my own. For example, I used the Black Spider from the Starter Set adventure and put him in charge of a Hatchery that I named “Karst Caves.” I used elements of the Greenest attack during my siege of Neverwinter. I just pulled out small details and Non-Playing Characters that I liked to add to my own story.
Since I had read the entire story, and took note of the major events that would be happening within the storyline, I was able to allow my players to make decisions on where they would go and what they would do based on the situations their characters faced. A lot of our story has taken place in Neverwinter, but I was still able to use elements from the story. Therefore, the Hoard of the Dragon Queen became a sourcebook for material, not a module.
The story took on a life of it’s own. And that’s the way it should be. My players seemed to enjoy themselves, and that’s what counts, right? We’re still playing through the storyline. The characters are 7th level, and they are currently in Waterdeep.
How about you? What did you do to change Hoard of the Dragon Queen?