Hey Game Fans, today we’re going to cover the last component of the Tyranny of Dragons story arc for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. We’ve dealt with the Hoard of The Dragon Queen, and we’ve taken hard looks at the entire 1st season of the Adventurer’s League organized play campaign. The last book in this arc is a doozy, The Rise of Tiamat. It picks up where Hoard of the Dragon Queen left off, and i think it would be very possible if you had played the entire way through the Adventurer’s League season 1 to be able to take that character and start Rise without being under leveled compared to the book’s expectations. Let’s dig in and see what we find, shall we?
If you’ve played through either of the Options mentioned above, you are going to have either an 8th level character (Hoard of the Dragon Queen) or a 7th level/verging on 8th level character (Adventurer’s League, Season 1). After either escaping the occupied city of Phlan, or successfully assaulting a Cloud Castle, the next great adventure awaits.
Rise of Tiamat is a 98 page adventure set in the Forgotten Realms. This adventure is focused on the Sword Coast region, and the adventure will take Player Characters up and down the region. The Player Characters will have to unite disparate factions in the struggle to prevent Tiamat’s legions from overtaking the world and leaving it a giant burning hulk ruled over by Dragons and their minions. Fortunately, we know some adventurers, don’t we?
Whether by Hook or by Crook, the adventurers have been invited to the COuncil of Waterdeep by their allies to partake in a discussion about how to handle the rising threat of the Cult of the Dragon and their new draconic allies and minions. The adventure is broadly broken out into four stages, each representing a variety of challenges and behind the scenes interactions between the various factions and the forces of Tiamat. Let’s break down each stage and see what sort of trouble you can get into.
For the DM: As always, we encourage you to thoroughly read the entire adventure several times and take notes about the important details and the things that don’t make sense. Mulitple reading applications can go a long way towards getting you ready for the adventure. Make extra sure you get to know all of the factions (on both sides of the conflict) and the people in charge. Getting to know the internal conflicts and tensions within these groups can help you tell a better story, and if you have to improvise, you know the motivations behind the people who are acting outside the written framework of the story. Study Hard, it will pay off.
This stage starts with the first council of Waterdeep. Rise of Tiamat hits character levels where the PCs are actually important to the setting. Powerful groups are interested in their opinions and ideas on how to handle the looming threat. This should be a new experience for Player Characters, and take time to get to know the Councilors and their positions before you start the session.
Player interaction with the council can dramatically affect the outcome of the adventure, so i advise all of you (player and DM alike) to take these seriously. For the DM, make sure you understand the scorecard for the council in Appendix C, and meticulously track the results. This keeps you in the know on how well the Player Characters are doing in getting the factions to work together, and it helps you keep the focus on the PCs and their actions by not making them keep track of the records. Once the Player Characters have had their chances to interact with the council and make some plans, they have two episodes of adventure to deal with in this stage. The first of these episodes is tracking down one of the Wyrmspeakers of the Cult, while the other involves an adventure into the frozen North.
The Sea of Moving Ice
The Cult of the Dragon is using an ancient artifact known as the Draakhorn to make mischief and call Dragons to their assistance. The Sea of Moving Ice (an aquatic location that features in Storm King’s Thunder as well) is a frozen sea full of icebergs that many creatures have used as their lair, including an old white Dragon. It’s also the last place that anyone specifically knew the Draakhorn was located. Hopefully the Player Characters can track down a missing arcanist along with the Draakhorn while they’re out searching.
The episode (once the Player Characters are off and moving) focuses heavily on the Dragon’s personal iceberg Oyaviggaton (a name given by the local ice folk). The iceberg features a small village of local ice folk, and one of the Dragon’s secondary lairs. (he uses it for booty calls and hook ups, but currently the lady of the house is out and about). It is a bristling encounter area, once the PCs gain access to it.
Note 1: Not everything inside the lair is hostile to adventurers
Ultimately, the PCs will have to deal with the Old White Dragon that lives here if they plan to get off the iceberg with their information and hopefully the lost arcanist. Whichever way the PCs use to deal with the Dragon, they’re going to be in for one hell of a fight. This Dragon is very capable, and has an arcane aptitude not normally found in White Dragons. At the end of this episode DMs using the milestone system for levelling up should be ready to hand out a level. The Player Characters took on an Old White Dragon + minions in his house, they earned it.
Varram the White
Varram the White is a Wyrmspeaker for the Cult of the Dragon, one of its highest ranking members. A sensible plan of action for the Player Characters to take would be the removal of as many of these high ranking members as possible from being alive. This eliminates both leadership and magical ability, and can deplete the ranks of the Cult, short circuiting their plan of action. The Harpers have located Varram, and the Player Characters are asked to capture/fetch/end/destroy/manage him in some capacity.
Varram has managed to get himself captured by a large colony/gathering/tribe of Yuan-ti living in the Serpent Hills, and in order to locate and retrieve him, the Player Characters are going to have to explore an old, haunted tomb and deal with serpent folk. Player Characters who’ve been missing a traditional dungeon crawl will feel right at home here. The haunted tomb is an interesting variation on a dungeon crawl, as there are at least two distinct ways of handling the entire region and Player Characters can choose how they want to do this. Acquiring Varram from the Serpent folk has similar possibilities, and once he’s been located, he can be a useful source of information about the Cult and its inner workings. His particular Dragon Mask has all ready been reclaimed by the Cult, but his value is still quite high. Returning him to the council can win a lot of brownie points with the various factions involved. It also earns the PCs another level using the milestone method.
Once Varram has been returned to Waterdeep (or dumped into a shallow grave, we’re equal opportunity) Stage one has ended, and it’s time to plan out stage 2.
Like Stage 1, Stage 2 starts off with a council meeting where 3 primary things occur. (Remember to track your points from Stage 1). First, depending on how the Player Characters handled the Sea of Moving Ice situation, they could have made a powerful ally in addition to finding out where the Draakhorn isn’t. Second and third, it sets up the episodes for Neronvain, and mischief with Metallic Dragons.
Neronvain is a Wyrmspeaker for the Cult of the Dragon, and has been using his local knowledge, minions, and his green dragon ally to sow terror and hide within the elven realm inside the Misty Forest. One of the councilors asks the Player Characters to visit the survivors of one of the cult’s ambushes inside the forest to track down and deal with the threat. Once the Player Characters are off to investigate the rumors, the hunt for Neronvain begins.
This is an investigation heavy episode where the Player Characters will have to suss out the details of what’s going on if they’re going to track down Neronvain. There are a lot of details about Neronvain and his machinations that Player Characters can discover before confronting the Wyrmspeaker in his lair. It’s a tricky assault, and Player Characters should think their way through the lair rather than just kicking down doors and trying kill everything that moves. Remember, Neronvain has a green dragon companion who is certainly lethal in its own right. However this episode ends, Player Characters should gain a level from the milestone method.
In case you were concerned that the Cult of the Dragon isn’t taking the Player Characters seriously, they arrange an attempted assassination/headhunting mission to take them out. The upside of this encounter interaction is that it gives the DM full control of what monsters are going to attack the PCs, when the encounter is going to occur, and a full creative control of the encounter. For a first time DM, this gives you some practice building your own encounters. By the way, the Cult wants all of the PCs dead, and probably aren’t keen to stop wanting them dead. Surviving the Encounter should net the PCs a level
Metallic Dragons Arise
This encounter is a social one, as the good aligned dragons have summoned the Player Characters to a Council of Wyrms (Look it up). Each of the Dragons has a different rationale and desire for what they want and how they see Dragons helping out the smaller races. This serves as an excellent role-playing opportunity and should give the Player Characters a welcome break from the getting stabbed, breathed on, or murder that has dominated the last few episodes. The party has to deal with the Dragons and can convince them to lend assistance and increase available options, but they have to make some heavy promises to win over all of the Dragons to their cause, which can cause some very interesting discussions at the start of the council of Waterdeep in Stage 3
Because the Cult of the Dragon is well known for their giving up the first time something fails, it should come as a complete shock that they’re going to try and kill the Player Characters again. There hitting harder, and having encountered the player characters before, are ready to give them a serious beating. If the PCs survive, they’ll gain a level from getting past this second round of assassins.
The Council Session for Stage 3 ties up loose ends from Stage 2, Including Neronvain, and the myriad of promises the players may have made to bring the Dragons into the alliance. It also sets up the Xonthal’s Tower episode and the Mission to Thay episode.
Xonthal’s Tower is a well known, magically defended fortress along the Sword Coast. The Cult of the Dragon has recently taken it as a fortress while a sect of the cult uses it to study one of the Dragon Masks. An insider has given the Council of Waterdeep an idea of what’s going on inside the tower, and the player characters have to investigate the tower and find out what’s going on.
This episode shows off a lot interesting interactions with higher level dungeon crawling. There are teleportation traps, bound creatures, and a whole menagerie of interesting things to bump into and try to kill. It’s also got another one of those dragon things (i think that brings the total so far up to 3), and a variety of traps and interactions for players to figure out. Completing this stage and returning to Waterdeep should net the player characters one more level.
Mission to Thay
Primarily a Role-playing episode, the Player Characters are off on a mission to try and pull the Thayan wizards out of their current alliance with the Cult of the Dragon. The success (or failure) of this mission will affect the final outcome of Stage 4 and the completion of this adventure. Take your time with this one, and make sure you read through the Thayans and their interactions. PCs can gain a level at the end of this episode, if the DM is willing to grant them one.
On their way home from Thay, the Cult makes their final, deadliest strike to attempt to take out the characters. This one’s as brutal as your DM decides to make it, because he or she is going to build this encounter. By this point, the Cult is extremely aware of your party’s capabilities and are going to go for the throat to try and take you out of play. Be Ready for trouble. If you somehow manage to survive this encounter, you’ll gain another level.
The council session has to deal with the raid on Xonthal’s Tower (which could net the PCs some resources) and the Mission to Thay, and it sets up the Final battle of the Campaign. Thay can be a powerful ally in the fight against the Cult of the Dragon, and some of the factions are more willing to believe that than others. At this point as a DM, you should make sure you’ve scored all of the council sessions and get your ducks in a row. Tiamat’s Return isn’t going to pull any punches, so make sure the players can focus on their characters and gear up for that battle.
This is it, the final episode of the campaign. Everything the PCs have done to this point has been preparing them to take the fight directly to the Cult of the Dragon and their allies. The final battle takes place in the caldera of a volcano that houses an ancient temple of Tiamat. The PCs have their work cut out for them, fighting their way through the defenses and bringing this story to its potentially cataclysmic end. If the Ritual is completed, the PCs will have to fight the Queen of Dragons herself.
Give your players plenty of time to figure out how they want to approach this episode. There are a lot of potential matchups and interactions to work their way through, so make sure they have the opportunity to go in prepared. That said, Pull no punches. Tiamat is a God, and anyone fighting her has to understand that she’s the meanest, nastiest dragon to ever exist, and she’s ready for a fight. The PCs should feel like Legendary Heroes if they successfully stop Tiamat from completing her plan. Make them earn it.
What the players opt to do after defeating Tiamat is entirely up to them. They can spend their days helping to rebuild the rubble and wreckage of the Sword Coast, return stolen treasure to lost heirs, or hunt down the survivors of Tiamat’s allies. If they fail to stop the ritual or destroy Tiamat, and survive, they may have to find a way to kill a Goddess of Evil Dragons on the ascent, a task for epic heroes.
This is an excellent book end to both the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure, and season 1 of the Adventurer’s League organized play campaign. Starting with the singular focus on 1 location, and finding ways to be heroes in the darkest times is a time honored tradition for Dungeons and Dragons, and Rise of Tiamat pays off that heroism by pushing the characters forward as the exemplars of good and the champions who will save the day. There are tons of background characters and interactions, but the action is always character focused, and the camera never stays off of them for very long. That’s a wonderful introduction to the world of Dungeons and Dragons.
That’s our wrap for Season 1 and its two adventures. We’ll start season 2 in the middle of November. Game on Game Fans.