It’s no secret I work on this little thing called Narosia. In addition to that work, I run a regular game of it for my core group of playtesters and have been since we came up with the concept of Narosia. Death has always been an interesting challenge for any RPG campaign, and a recent death in my Narosia game got me thinking more seriously about it.
…and I am glad it is over.
The Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat are not my favorite modules. In fact, they are some of my least favorite modules ever. There are minimal spoilers below, but in general I don’t recommend you run the modules so what does it matter?
It is an epic storyline and in general I think it approaches the story well. There are grand councils, and epic dragon fights, and a generally good narrative tying it all together.
It has some episodes that are engaging and fun. My group enjoyed the Caravan episode most, with the Tomb of Diderius a close second. And that’s it I guess.
Now before I get into some of the specifics I do want to clarify a key element of my review. I spent $60 on the modules to run for my group. What I expect out of that $60 is to have an architected and executable adventure that requires only that I read it to be able to run it. Looking back, there are a number of ways I could have fixed the issues in the adventure, including the ending, but I don’t spend money on adventures to have to revise them.
I think this quote from Episode 7 of Rise of Tiamat (Xonthal’s Tower, p. 66) sums up much of the adventure design:
“The adventurers must deduce the correct path from among multiple shadows, but those solutions aren’t obvious or even fair.”
I about had a player mutiny when they discovered the puzzle maze was basically just a grind.
Go – Go – Go
The fate of the world is at hand, so there is no time to rest. Especially once the characters start engaging with the cult there is a this overriding sense that doom is on its way. You never feel like you can take time off to buy a magic item (let alone try to make one), work on scrolls, or scribe new spells into your spellbook.
Boss Fights A-Plenty
That’s pretty much it. It always seemed that everything was about the next boss fight, the exception being the Caravan, the Tomb of Diderius, and the Mission to Thay.
Density of Information
When the characters can encounter Rezmir (half-dragon) in Episode 6 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, it gives guidance that Rezmir tries to avoid combat at all cost. My group, being crafty, was able to pin her down and force her to fight. It was tough, but they defeated her. What the text doesn’t say is that the Black Dragon Mask is not supposed to be on her (even though it is listed in her stat block), so naturally the group got the mask when they weren’t supposed to. There are other examples like this where there is so much information to read, and it is spread out in different parts of the book, that it becomes challenging for a DM to run it without making continuity errors. Really, there is no reason they couldn’t have added “She is not wearing the mask in this episode – the mask is at location X” to the paragraph describing that she wants to avoid a fight.
The Final Battle
Frustrating in about every way possible. Either I am supposed to architect this grand battlefield engagement involving fiends, dragons, giants, human, elves, orcs, cultists, etc. or I just narrate through it (which I did). Then, they either find the direct path into the final battle, or they slog through one combat after another trying to work their way in.
Luckily they found a way.
So, now, we are presented with stopping the ritual or facing Tiamat. They stopped the ritual in 4 rounds. Like stop stopped. It was so anticlimactic is was stunning. They used Arcane Gate to rush Severin, killing him in a single round. They then began killing 2-3 Red Wizards per round. The ritual could not continue.
So, I decided to let Tiamat come through, weakened as per the ritual damage they had caused, and Tiamat killed them. Now, many of them ultimately survived or were raised, so the encounter with Tiamat was probably as it should have gone, but it was such a downer. It wasn’t an epic victory they had been building to over the last 6 months, or an epic defeat that showed them giving their all.
So far my read on Princes of the Apocalypse looks a lot better. However, my group is so burned out on D&D right now that we are going to play an 80’s era Champions campaign, starting with Aaron Allston’s Strike Force. That should be refreshing.