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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Rise of Tiamat - Tiamat's Return

Tonight we finished The Rise of Tiamat at the game store and had the big battle with one of the most famous D&D villains - The five-headed dragon, Tiamat.

Going in, I was keenly aware that even with reduced stats, Tiamat might be too much for my group which is comprised of 8th graders, a 9-year-old and a few adults. I had a bunch of fail-safes ready as I wasn't interested in running a slaughter (although sometimes fate just doles out a TPK due to dice rolls and player decisions). It turned out to be an incredibly deadly final battle.

I modified the final chapter greatly. I tossed out the entire lava tube dungeon from the book in favor of a bunch of mass combat encounters. I also completely overhauled Tiamat's Temple.

In the book, Tiamat's Temple is quite odd. There are red wizards enacting the ritual in 5 areas, each pertaining to a different chromatic dragon (red, blue, green, etc.). More red wizards are hovering 50 feet in the air above them, also enacting the ritual. Floating even higher still is their leader, Severin. I switched it up completely and used one of my favorite maps from the 4e Book of Vile Darkness.

Vorpal Squirrel?

I got to the store early and was given a most warm welcome by other players from other groups. They told me about their games (They are in episode 1 of Rise, about to battle Arauthator). They have a "vorpal squirrel" (??). It sounds pretty fun.

When the fighter's dad showed up, he had a gift for me - a massive stein depicting a knight battling a dragon. It is incredibly awesome.

I also picked up some Elemental Evil minis, just to see what they are like out of the box and to get the Neverwinter code (I am still playing the game quite a bit). The minis are OK. I enjoy using "official" things but it's hard to say that the 4 minis are worth $16. There's something about getting a duergar mini in a box that makes me never want to buy a box again.

The Rise of Tiamat: LeBron's Mix

For a Limited Time Only!
A player at the table was drinking Sprite: Lebron's Mix. I can only assume Lebron James spent months locked away in a laboratory with flavor-ologists to concoct a drink that truly tasted like Lebron. I really hope that the future will bring us more celebrity-flavored drinks. How about Charles Manson Premium Choice flavored Cherry Pepsi? Maybe some iced tea with a twist of Kim Kardashian?

The Party

  •     (Harper) Elf Sorcerer: Played by a 4th grader, she is Dark the Dragon Sorceress   
  •     (Zhentarim) Elf Rogue: In real life, played by Dark's dad.
  •     (Zhentarim) Gnome Rogue: Middle Schooler. We joke that his character lives in a garbage can.
  •     (Zhentarim) Elf Rogue: Middle Schooler. Often does "combo moves" with the gnome, throwing him at stuff to get Inspiration.
  •     (Order of the Gauntlet) Half-Elf Paladin: Middle Schooler. Oath of the Ancients.
  •     (Order of the Gauntlet) Half-Elf Fighter: The player is about 25 years old, knows the rules pretty well. 
  •     Mezzoloth: Played by the fighter's dad, who played old D&D and is new to 5e.
The Well of Dragons
Tiamat's Temple
We jumped right into it. Last time, the heroes had killed Rath Modar and acquired the Draakhorn. A silver dragon tried to bring it to Skyreach Castle, which was hovering above the battlefield, but a red dragon attacked her. The heroes fended off the dragon with ranged attacks and even avoided being pushed off a cliff by zombie Azbara Jos.

The adventurers led a force of dwarves through the lava tubes, encountering a lone prisoner and some drakes fighting over humanoid meat. They emerged in the caldera. There were dragon bones everywhere. In the center of the area was Tiamat's Temple, freshly risen from hell. The picture I use here seems to be official, but never got used in the Neverwinter MMO or in The Rise of Tiamat (perhaps due to space issues?). 

Cultists and devils lurked here, the final line of defense. Chromatic dragons were in the air. The heroes charged in, accompanied by a host of dwarves, a frost giant, Music the tiefling bard, Leosin the Harper monk and a limping Sir Isteval (wielding Lawflame).

The heroes made quick work of some dragonfangs and devils, with the aid of a brass dragon. They entered Tiamat's Temple.

There, five red wizards were working altars to summon Tiamat. Tiamat's heads were not quite tangible yet, but she was becoming solid in a prismatic whorl. The deal here was that the PCs needed to shut down the altars, destroying the orbs on each one. Severin, his aide Galvan, and the red wizards tried to stop them.

Who is Galvan?

I added Galvan in. Galvan seems to be something of an odd trivia note in Tyranny of Dragons history. From what I understand, he's an NPC that had art made for him, but he got cut from the book. But just a week or two ago, wizards posted this blurb about him as if he is part of the storyline. This article series also called Varram (the white dragonspeaker) "Varramzord".

This battle worked out fine. The heroes tried to spread out, which didn't go so well. They messed with the altars and killed wizards.

Scaling Tiamat
They shut down the altars but Tiamat tried to force her way through the portal before it fizzled out. The idea here was to run a battle where the PCs need to keep Tiamat at bay until the portal peters out.

I had used the de-leveling guide in the book, but I had to further modify her stats to give the PCs a chance:
  • I gave her 3 legendary actions instead of 5, so she could only breathe once per round.
  • My Tiamat had 315 hit points, which seemed low (a pit fiend has 300) but this was almost too much.
  • I dropped the static damage of the fire breath to 56 damage.
  • +14 to hit is plenty! I was worried it was too low (for the big bad guy) but I don't think I missed a PC once.
Once the fight started, Tiamat dropped the fighter right away with three attacks. Then, at the end of the gnome's turn, Tiamat breathed on the party (who were mostly clumped together) and dropped the mezzoloth and the paladin.

For the rest of the battle, the players hid behind altars and frantically healed each other with potions. The frightening presence royally messed them up, as the save DC is so high (even when scaled down). The paladin's ability to handle that probably saved the whole party.

Dark decided to have Sparky fly up and breathe on Tiamat. Tiamat took one look at Sparky,  a baby black dragon infused with positive energy/blessed by Bahamut and was enraged at the sight of this "abomination".

Tiamat breathed poison gas on Dark and Sparky. Dark's dad is a rogue. He originally wanted to kill Sparky when the party found him. Over time, the heroes taught Sparky to share and freely give treasure to those in need. A few sessions ago, Sparky was able to impress the metallic dragons by giving them his "hoard" of beer coasters and trinkets.

Dark's dad ran over, jumped on Sparky, and took the poison damage, saving Sparky's life.

The fighter had been dropped right at the start of the battle, and since then had been healed with a measly potion of healing. He spent a few rounds huddled behind an altar, quaffing potions. Then he charged Tiamat and unloaded on her... and rolled at least one natural 20! He did a pile of damage, crossing the 315 hit point threshold, and thus forcing Tiamat to retreat into Hell.

The players cheered! They'd survived a ridiculously deadly battle. I read to them things that happened after it was all over. The hoard had to be divided up with the metallic dragons. The chromatic dragons fled, but tried to take some treasure with them.

I asked each of them to tell me what became of their heroes after this was all over. Here's what they said:
  • The Fighter: Established a manor for his family. I think he is going to make other characters related to this one.
  • The Gnome: He moved in to the hunting lodge from Hoard and retired.
  • Daring Elf Rogue: He and Music the tiefling bard became mercenaries. They also stole some items from Tiamat's hoard and fled.
  • The Paladin: He returned to his home village. He had been made fun of a lot while growing up. Now he wanted them to see who he'd become and rub it in their face a little. Then he wanted to sleep for a long time.
  • The Mezzoloth: He went to live in a sewer (??) and ditched his tridents. He hated using those things.
  • Dark: She went on a quest to find her parents (she told me Dark's secret origin!).
  • Dark's Dad: After Tiamat died, he slipped away and left the party for good. He left behind one thing - a trinket that was all that he had left from his tragic family past. He put it in Sparky's hoard.
Pretty awesome, right?

The Secret Origin of Dark the Dragon Sorceress

Remember, Dark's player is 9 years old. This is her character's story: Dark's parents were named Jason and Allison. One day, they were riding horses in the woods with Dark (who was 4 years old at the time). There was "something in the bushes, wiggling". It scared the horses, who ran off. Dark was separated from her parents and was lost. A black dragon found her, and decided to raise her (maybe he sensed her dragon sorcerer blood?). Years later, a band of adventurers came and killed the black dragon, thinking Dark was it's prisoner. These adventurers might be Harpers. They took Dark in and raised her as their own.

I think that's a pretty well thought out backstory, if I do say so myself!

It was a great final session with a great group. We're starting Elemental Evil next week. I'll try and finish up my guide to Tyranny of Dragons, now that I have run the whole thing,


Timothy Brannan said...


I have been wanting to run this myself (with heavy modifications) but I wanted to know how the final battle was going to go.

Thanks for posting these.

Sean said...

Timothy: Thanks! Final battle is very, very deadly. Tiamat does so much damage with those breath weapons, and she is supposed to get two per round outside her turn. I guess some groups could survive but the really need to be on their game.

Unknown said...

Well I believe the Hope in the actual adventure is that you knock Severin out of his sanctuary or kill more then Half of the Red Wizards before she fully emerges and have to fight her at all.

Sean said...

Unknown: To me, you have to fight Tiamat in the final encounter. If I was a player I'd be so disappointed if the ritual just shut down and that was the end. Maybe some DMs could make that work as a satisfying conclusion but I don't think I could.

rpotor said...

I'm using your Guide to the Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat post as inspiration for running my group through Tyranny of Dragons (we just started Rise). Just wanted to say thanks very much for writing these posts, do continue :-)

I just noticed that you have on this blog actual session summaries as well. They're absolutely awesome and an additional source of inspiration.

So thanks again for sharing these stories.