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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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Southlands Sound Cues

Abu Simbel TempleWhen you venture into the Southlands, you want the right musical cues to accompany your intrepid player characters. Here’s a short list of epic music, much of it soundtracks from motion pictures with similar themes, folk music appropriate to the region, and a few eclectic choices that will keep your magic carpet aloft.

Snakes, Why’d It Have to Be Snakes

Let’s begin with what Wolfgang Baur said was an inspiration for the setting—this is the RPG made for Indiana Jones.

A caveat: The problem with using John Williams scores is that they are so well known and iconic. Play the “Raiders March” from Raiders of the Lost Ark and the game stops faster than if someone makes a Monty Python joke.

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Eight Frightfully Eerie Pulp Fiction Adventure Hooks

Harold S Delay-  Red Nails “…what nameless shapes may even now lurk in the dark places of the world?”

—Robert E. Howard, “The Black Stone”

Well met, and welcome to my own curious little corner of the Crossroads. Here you’ll find harrowing tales of high adventure and histories of unspeakable eldritch horrors.

I’ve always been excited by strange fiction, and throughout my days as a gamemaster, I’ve found the majority of the fuel for my creative fires within the dog-eared folios of classic pulp magazines and their collected editions. An early love of Conan and Cthulhu led me to seek out other lurid yarns that sprang from the yellowed pages of such publications as Adventure, Amazing Stories, and Black Mask—but, most importantly, the inimitable Weird Tales.

Here is an octad of intriguing tales as old as time. And these plot hooks are rather meaty. With the proper bit of preparation, you’ll find a few of these tales will keep your players readily occupied for an evening, while others could very well inform the better part of a campaign.

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The Imajaghan: Blue Turban Paladins of the Desert

Southlands Teaser Image #1

Wearing indigo-colored cheche, a garment that is both veil and turban, and flowing white robes, the Tamasheq of the Crescent and Sarklan Deserts are a simple tribal people journeying endlessly from oasis to oasis while tending their herds of goats, camels, and horses. Or at least that’s what they want others to believe.

The truth, however, is that the Tamasheq have a thriving civilization that they take great pains to hide from the world. For in the Stone Desert lies the Dominion of the Wind Lords. In that inhospitable world of rocky badlands, aspects of nature and even inanimate objects have an incarnate or spirit presiding over them. These spirits are aware and conscious like any living thing and they all pay homage to the primordial beings known as the Wind Lords.

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The Southlands Come Alive: Lost Cities of Gold and Salt

Running gnoll

“Mardas Vhula-gai” is a ruined city overrun by tribes of Dabu gnolls, an outpost of the Kingdom of the Gnoll Queen, located in the arid desert wilds outside of Narumbeki. The name is Southern Goblin for “Devouring Darkness,” and the gnolls have many goblin allies amongst the ruins. The original name of the city is long lost: the city was cast into ruins by awesome powers millennia ago, perhaps during the ancient War of the Gods.

Mysterious glyphs on the oldest surviving pyramids and pillars of the city are well worn and faded, but still glow faintly at night, even after tens of thousands of years. What magic they contain or generate is unknown to current scholars. These runes are one of two reasons why this ruined city is of any interest to anyone but the humanoid raiders who lair here.

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