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The Rise of Tiamat: A DM’s and Player’s Overview

Tiamat TuesdaysIdeally, players and Dungeon Masters (DMs) who sit down to tackle The Rise of Tiamat will already have played Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Rise is a continuation of Hoard’s story about the Cult of the Dragon, but they are very different adventures in style.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen is a big, sprawling adventure that spreads across hundreds of miles of territory and encompasses several distinct styles of play, from the short commando missions of “Greenest in Flames” to the dungeon crawl of “Dragon Hatchery” to the extended road trip of “On the Road” to the open-ended investigation of “Castle Naerytar.” But running through all that variety and tying it together is a unity of theme—the paired ideas that no one outside the Cult of the Dragon yet understands the full extent of the cult’s plot, and that the player characters, being brave but largely unknown, are good candidates to investigate and find out what’s up.

By the time The Rise of Tiamat kicks off, that situation is reversed. Through the player characters’ investigation and the cult’s own actions, the truth about Rezmir’s plans for the Sword Coast is revealed and the adventurers become famous heroes with well-known reputations. Those two changes lead to a noticeably different structure and tone in The Rise of Tiamat.

In Hoard, investigating the Cult of the Dragon was a sidelight for the factions, something that a few people with strong intuition (or who were just naturally suspicious) started looking into on their own initiative. With the full horror of the cult’s plan laid bare, the powers-that-be in Western Faerûn can’t ignore the danger anymore or push it toward the bottom of their priority lists. The situation becomes a matter of urgency for kings, generals, lord mayors, chief wizards, high priests, and rulers of every title. If the cult’s plan succeeds, there will be no more kingdoms, no more churches, no more merchants’ associations—there will be no power but Tiamat and her cabal of all-consuming dragons.

Faced with that threat, the movers and shakers of the Sword Coast convene a Council of Waterdeep to debate the proper response to the situation and to plan how best to oppose the cult. The council involves all five factions plus the most important rulers, nobility, and merchants of Western Faerûn. We’ll have much more to say about the council in a follow-up article. For now, it’s sufficient to state that, along with pursuing more traditional quests, player characters must also interact with the Council of Waterdeep, and that gives The Rise of Tiamat a political component seldom seen in D&D adventures.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen struck a balance between linear and nonlinear storytelling. It has a clear progression of events for characters to follow as they unravel the cult’s secret operation, but within those events, characters have enormous freedom of action. The Rise of Tiamat is structured differently. Specific events and situations are presented for characters to investigate or attack, but DMs aren’t required to run the episodes in a set order. The adventure suggests one sequence, but it’s not the only one possible. Many threats are developing at once around the Sword Coast. Characters learn about some of them through the Council of Waterdeep, some from other NPCs, some through informants or news brought by travelers, and some through their own effort. A DM who functions best when things are kept orderly can present just one or two situations at a time; a DM who’s comfortable with more chaos can present many leads and rumors and let players prioritize the risks themselves and tackle the episodes in whatever order they choose. This also means that most of the episodes are not restricted to a narrow range of character levels. Thanks to the way fifth edition D&D is built, it’s relatively easy to design situations that are just as challenging for 14th-level characters as they are for 10th-level characters.

Finally, there’s the finale—the great confrontation that everything builds toward. The situation we created for The Rise of Tiamat is not a typical boss fight. The fate of the entire Sword Coast and beyond is at stake, and it’s not up to the player characters alone to win this fight. The outcome of the final battle depends only partly on how well the characters fight that day. Equally important are how much damage they inflicted on the cult along the road to this point and how well they impressed members of the Council of Waterdeep to lend their support to the war. If the factions are feuding between themselves and the independent powers of the Sword Coast haven’t been influenced to take up the common cause, there’s every possibility that the Cult of the Dragon will win the day and bring ruin to Faerûn. If characters make their move against the cult in league with a strong alliance of powers, they have a solid shot at victory and at carving their names alongside some of the greatest heroes of the Forgotten Realms.

Steve Winter is one of the designers of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat adventures for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat are available in exclusive autographed collector’s editions with a patch available only through Kobold Press.

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Tiamat Tuesdays: So You’re Running Tyranny of Dragons . . .

Tiamat TuesdaysTyranny of Dragons is an immense, sprawling adventure filled with epic encounters, plot twists, and numerous NPCs with their own agendas. Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat allow (some might say demand) Dungeon Masters to really stretch their wings and put their creativity to the test. Things start out straightforward enough in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, as you’d expect in a low-level adventure, but by halfway through, the Dungeon Master is making almost as many crucial decisions as the players are. The Rise of Tiamat asks a lot from DMs right from the beginning, with its immense background events, political component, and multitude of paths for characters to follow to their goal. It asks a lot of players, too, because they are free to chart their own course through events to a greater extent than in most adventures.

Because of that, this week’s column is devoted to offering advice to Dungeon Masters on how to maximize everyone’s enjoyment of these adventures and to keep their game tables humming like well-oiled machines.

We begin with a warning to potential players—this article makes direct mention of certain events from the adventure. If you plan to play in a Tyranny of Dragons campaign and you’d rather not have any hints about what terrors await, now would be a good time to flip to a different article (such as The Story So Far… as presented on the Wizards of the Coast site).

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Tiamat Tuesdays: Closing In On the Cult

Tiamat TuesdaysAs I hinted in the installment of Tiamat Tuesday on July 8, episodes 5–8 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen are more open-ended than episodes 1–4. The second half of the adventure isn’t a sandbox; characters still have a mystery to unravel and an evil plot to stop. They will, however, face dilemmas that have no by-the-book solutions. The usual methods for shutting down an evil cult won’t work against the Cult of the Dragon. There is no single high priest whose assassination will cause the organization to crumble. The cult’s crucial magic relics are so well-hidden and so misunderstood by outsiders that characters can’t even locate them, let alone destroy them. The cult is too big, too organized, and too dispersed to be knocked out by any single blow or even a combination of blows. Killing this beast will take a thousand cuts, and they must be well-placed ones.

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Tiamat Tuesdays: Tiers of Tiamat

Tiamat TuesdaysFor the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game, the story told in Tyranny of Dragons is spread across two separate adventure products: Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat. Hoard begins with fledgling, level 1 characters and follows them to level 7 or 8. Rise picks up right where Hoard leaves off and continues on to level 14 or 15. But while these form one continuous story, they are very, very different adventures, and not only because of the difference in tiers—although that plays into it.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen gets characters through the first experience tier and well into the second. The Player’s Handbook states “In the second tier (levels 5-10), characters come into their own,” and that’s certainly the case in Hoard. Each episode in the adventure corresponds roughly to a level: characters should be level 1 when they play episode 1, level 2 when they play episode 2, and so on.

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Tiamat Tuesdays: Behind the Scenes of the Dragon Attack Art

2 BW RoughWorking on the Tyranny of Dragons project has been something of a dream come true for me. Like a great many folks playing RPGs today, I grew up playing D&D. As an 11- or 12-year-old avid D&D player and aspiring artist, I used to spend hours marveling at all the adventures and rulebooks, daydreaming about how cool it would be to actually work at TSR when I grew up. Well, I’m all grown up now and I’m lucky enough to work in the RPG industry for some amazing companies and people, Kobold Press and Wolfgang Baur obviously heading up that list! However, for the 12-year-old D&D fan still very much inside of me, getting to work on an official D&D product, not to mention the very first adventure for the new D&D rules, is positively surreal!

As the primary person choosing the artists, assigning the art, and then working with the artists, I was determined that the art in these books would be as awesome as possible. One of the artists I knew we had to get involved was Guido Kuip. Guido had done lots of work for us in the past and I’ve always enjoyed working with him so I was confident he could deliver. And deliver he did!

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