Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Hoard of the Dragon Queen (2014, D&D 5e) -- a Review

I've been looking at my copy of "Hoard of the Dragon Queen" (2014) again, and recently ordered "Rise of Tiamat" (also 2014 ... God help me), because my friends and I were all a little disappointed that I let the adventure peter out at Chapter 4 (and there were 8 chapters in "Hoard ..."), and I recently saw some reviews of Pathfinder "adventure paths" at Against the Wicked City (this in particular) that suggested a way to "sandbox" the Pathfinder games--and I was hoping to do the same with "Hoard ..." (and I was wondering why I let it peter out to begin with?).

I originally picked up "Hoard of the Dragon Queen" (HODQ) out of a kind of forward-looking nostalgia--I wanted to be able to say that "we had played Hoard of the Dragon Queen when 5e first came out" the same way that someone might talk about first seeing the Drow when they first appeared in the TSR "Against the Giants" modules. It was when 5e was first coming out, and I had agreed to run a game for my group (and we're still playing 5e together, just not HODQ), and this particular module seemed appealing because my own character in B/X is the originator of a different kind of dragon cult (dedicated to the Black Dragon, whose wings are the night, whose scales are the stars, and whose darkness will one day cover the earth ...).

But the game petered out less than halfway through the book ... Why?


... Surely everyone knows by now that a dragon attacking the town is the first thing that happens ("Chapter 1"); but when I ran this thing, I first sent the players on a normal dungeon crawl from town. Only on their return did I sprang the dragon-attack, because to me that felt more natural, that they were returning to town, rather than just arriving.

After the dragon attack, the players are instructed (by "important" NPCs) to go on a fact finding mission to the camp of bandits allied with the dragon ("Chapter 2"), thereby discovering that the bandits are amassing treasure to take away to help summon Tiamat, queen of dragons ... and then they're supposed to return to the camp afterwards, to find the bandits already gone and to explore a dungeon there ("Chapter 3"). But as soon as my players found out that the bandits meant to haul their stolen goods to Baldur's Gate (and beyond), they elected to try to cut the bandits off on the road, completely ignoring the dungeon in "Chapter 3" of the book.

So I made up (out of whole cloth) an overland adventure to get the players from the original town to Baldur's Gate, with their speed determining whether they catch the bandits or not. By good choices and by luck, the players arrived in town around the same time as the bandits ... and my group being who they are, they tracked the bandits down to their inn in-town and burned the building down around them!

That was the last session in the "Hoard of the Dragon Queen" that we played--not because I was at all discouraged by the PCs' actions (you better believe the authorities were going to come after them, and the dragon cult too!), but because as I read further into the book, I couldn't see how this would affect anything "up the line". (And yes, this means that we actually only played the first 2 of the 8 chapters in this book--shhh, my players don't know that!)

See, "Chapter 4" is a whole "on the road" thing about how the PCs hire themselves into the same caravan as the north-going bandits and just kind of tag along, with some filler encounters along the way--and with the bandits' and their loot already burned in a fire, this clearly wasn't going to fly!

Then "Chapter 5" is a roadhouse where the caravan stops, and under which exists a secret tunnel to a swamp-castle ("Chapter 6") through which all that treasure gets secretly ported by lizardmen ... (still not relevant to the situation as it developed) ...

And in "Chapter 6" the PCs are supposed to assault the castle to find the teleportation circle in its bowels that lead to ... a hunting lodge in some mountains ... (wait, where'd the treasure go?) ...

"Chapter 7" is a description of the hunting lodge, which is ... bypassed by the treasure the PCs are supposed to be following? (actually, by this point, the treasure for the titular hoard is an after thought ... really the PCs are just supposed to follow the crumbs to "Chapter 8" to fight some things in a floating ice castle) ...

"Chapter 8" is the floating ice-castle, which can be reached without even bothering the hunting lodge (I don't mind the sandboxiness to that, exactly, except ... why isn't the treasure just ported directly to this castle, where it's supposed to end up anyway? Why all that "on the road" crap to some other place--unless it's just level-grinding filler??).

In retrospect, clearly, I just should have made up some adventures that explain everything, and still taken the PCs to the flying ice-castle ... I guess ... except that would have defeated the purpose of buying a book with an adventure I ostensibly wanted to run, instead of just making it all up myself.

... All that said, looking at "Hoard of the Dragon Queen" again, I think I can see a way to make it into a sandbox about cutting off treasure-caravans and disrupting the Cult of the Dragon in that way ... and now I'm waiting for "Rise of Tiamat" to arrive in the mail, to see how functional or dismal my attempt at rewriting everything might be.

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