We finished Hoard of the Dragon Queen on Sunday, so I figured I'd run down my final thoughts on the adventure. It seems like a number of people online don't like this book much at all. While I don't think it's perfect, I certainly didn't think it was bad.
I am going to list the things I like the most about the adventure, and then follow up with the things I liked least. Overall this was a very enjoyable scenario for me and my players. My players show up every week, exactly on time or early, eager to get back into it. I think that says a lot about Hoard of the Dragon Queen.
I loved quite a few of the NPCs in this adventure. I think they could have used just one more sentence in some cases to flesh out their personalities more, but in general we had enough to go on. In particular I liked:
Linan Swift: The mother fighting off kobolds in Greenest. This was a great way to kick off the whole adventure. she is a very heroic character, and there's a lot of fun things you can do with this.
Langdedrosa Cyanwraith: A blue half-dragon who may duel/pummel a PC in episode one and then face the heroes again in episode three, this guy is actually more interesting than his boss, Frulam Mondath. You can get a lot of mileage out of this jerk. The only problem is that he is meant to die so early in the path.
The Caravan NPCs:
- Edhelri Lewel: The moon elf who loves animals and hates people.
- Green Imsa: The woman who has green skin and hair, is searching for a cure for he condition and does not want anyone to know what happened to her.
- Losvius Longnose: The halfling who wants to know everyone's business.
- Samardag the Hoper: The extremely optimistic guy with the incredibly fragile cargo.
Blagothkus: This is the giant who is flying Castle Skyreach. The place is powered by the spirit of his dead wife. His reasoning for working with the cult is pretty flimsy (he wants to summon Tiamat so that he can unite the giants to kill the dragons..?!) but I like the whole concept of this giant who can be persuaded to join the PCs' cause, aided perhaps by the spirit of his wife. There's also potential for the PCs to enrage this guy if they mess with his dead wife's bones.
This edition isn't like 4th edition, where a good encounter can be a really good encounter (Scales of War had a bunch of truly epic, memorable encounters). That said, this adventure has some good stuff:
All of Episode 1: The entire scenario is fantastic. A town is under siege by an army and a blue dragon! And you are right in the middle of it. That is really cool, what a great way to kick the whole thing off.
Roadside Hospitality: There's a number of cool encounters in episode 4. There's the growing fungi and the guy buried up to his neck in the road. But the one I liked the best is the one I didn't even run. It involves "two buxom twin sisters". I don't want to spoil it, but with the right group all sorts of hilarity could have resulted. I didn't run this one because I felt that my players were too young for anything involving the phrase "buxom twin sisters".
Certain Areas in The Lodge: For a fairly useless location, this place had a number of cool things in it. The suits of armor with magical effects were very cool, and I personally loved the magic tapestry and all of the possible outcomes that could result from it.
Castle Skyreach: The flying ice castle itself is a very cool location. I liked it, though I think it could have used one extra-magic room in it (I like random charts and I'd have liked it if Escarlotta's hidden tomb could grant magic effects/punishments or something). I think the dragon's lair in particular was very cool.
Breath of Fresh Air
I loved 4th edition. Loved it! But wow, this edition is so nice. The game is so wide open again. Combats don't take an hour. Magic items feel like "magic" rather than a math necessity. And this adventure is such a pleasure to read and run, because it feels like a sprawling story. We're back to what D&D should be - an epic saga. This adventure doesn't pull it off perfectly, but it gets us off to a very good start.
The Actual Book
I love the paper it's printed on, I love the design, and I greatly appreciate that they put a healthy amount of art in the book. I still would have liked more art, but maybe I am being greedy. The fact that they even had magic item art is a very nice touch.
The Adventure Path Concept
This makes me so happy. Paizo has a good thing going with their adventure path systems. It's a nice way to keep fresh products coming out. I like that Wizards of the Coast is following suit in their own way and tying it in to their encounters program. I love adventures and I'm very happy that there will be adventures for me to buy and run for the foreseeable future.
Lack of Magic Items
I think they should have included more treasure in this adventure. They were extremely stingy throughout. Basically, some of your PCs will get their first +1 item at 7th level after they kill a white dragon. Maybe the idea in this edition is to scale back on items in general, but that feels very jarring. I do like that +1 and +2 items are more of a big deal and don't feel like "trash" in this edition, but I think players might get a bit frustrated by the lack of rewards.
Let's go on a little tangent, here. I am a little perplexed by the inclusion of the evil sentient sword, Hazirawn. Any PC would want to keep this thing. But I am having a hard time figuring out how to play the sword. It's sentient. It's evil. It has detection powers. Would it want to trick it's good owner into a suicidal situation? Is it loyal to the cult's cause?
The party fighter is doing some serious damage with this thing. Check this out:
- 2d6 damage (because it is a greatsword)
- +2d6 necrotic damage (a property of Hazirawn)
- +2 damage (Hazirawn is a +2 weapon)
- +4 damage (the PC has an 18 strength, I believe)
- +d8 superiority die (the fighter can spend a superiority die to feint, which means he gets advantage on his attack roll and if he hits, he does +d8 damage)
He can only use his superiority die 4 times, then he has to rest, but even without that die he is doing a lot of damage. And he attacks twice per round!
Consider that the white dragon had 200 hit points. This fighter rolled a critical hit, which means he rolled 8d6 +2d8 +6! You can see going in why I was worried that the dragon would end up being too easy.
But I followed the adventure's advice and kept the dragon in the air, at least in the beginning. Frightful presence absolutely decimated the party, as did the breath weapon. If I had rolled one more recharge, I'm pretty sure the entire party would have been dead.
The Scale of the Maps
In this edition, the maps are not to scale. Sometimes a square equals 15 feet. I could still blow these maps up and make poster maps, but it will lead to a lot of confusing situations. A character moving 25 feet on a map with 15 foot squares might be more trouble than it's worth.
The overall idea is good - an army is attacking and looting settlements and stealing people's stuff. But somehow this adventure almost entirely involves the heroes following the trail of the loot, and that trail is completely ridiculous. The bad guys are putting the loot in a flying castle. Why are they spending two months transporting it in carts? Why not just have the castle hover above the army as they attack, then lower it to the ground and fill it with treasure?
I think this adventure would have been much better off if more episodes dealt with the cult's attacks. There could have been a whole episode where the PCs went to a town in advance and helped fortify it against an attack. There could have been another episode where the PCs are part of a small ragtag army that makes a counter-attack. I always wanted to see an adventure where the PCs are on a battlefield in the middle of a mass combat.
Sometimes a scenario that looks bad on paper ends up coming off great when you run it. That was not the case here. While there are cool things in this building, it can't overcome the fact that the lodge is one stopover too many on the journey to Castle Skyreach. I think they'd have been better off making this episode all about Parnast, with the castle hidden up in the clouds. We could have gotten a whole episode out of stealing wyvern mounts and flying up into the castle.
This and the roadhouse were the low points of the adventure.
The Lack of Detail
This whole adventure felt too sparse. I think this was done for space considerations. The authors had to cram 8 scenarios into 94 pages! But certain things could have been done. For example, during the journey in episode 4, why were none of the cultists given any personality, names or details? The tension with the cultists was supposed to be the focus of the whole chapter, and the DM could have used some help making it happen.
So there you go. I think over the course of these last few months I have really gotten my money's worth out of this adventure. I suspect subsequent adventures will be much better, just as Age of Worms improved on The Shackled City. Hoard of the Dragon Queen isn't perfect, but on the whole it is a good way to kick off the new edition.
Thanks for reading! Check out my Guide to Tyranny of Dragons, which contains helpful DM notes and ideas on each episode of Hoard and Rise of Tiamat.