Hoard of the Dragon Queen: WotC & Kobold Press Team Up for the Inaugural Campaign Arc of D&D 5th Edi

This week marked the “official” release of the new 5th Edition D&D Player’s Handbook in all retail venues. And if last weekend’s GENCON was any indication, the fan interest in “D&D Next” is exuberant to say the least! The Wizards of the Coast gaming area in Hall D seemed packed almost constantly, and the Ready, Set, Play D&D Events introducing players to the D&D Adventurers League Organized Play were running at nearly full capacity all convention long.

But right now, with only the D&D Player’s Handbook released so far, Dungeon Masters are left with few resources to start campaigns of their own. The new D&D Monster Manual is scheduled for release in more than a month or so, and the new D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide won’t be available until November!

However, it appears that there is an adventure option ready for play. Wizards of the Coast has teamed up with designers Wolfgang Baur and Steve Winter at Kobold Press to publish the very first adventure series of the new 5th Edition D&D rule set. Hoard of the Dragon Queen is poised to take a party of neophyte heroes from their humblest beginnings on a path to face down deadly dragons threatening the Sword Coast!


Hoard of the Dragon Queen (5th Edition D&D)

  • Designer: Wolfgang Baur & Steve Winter
  • Adventure Contributors: Mike Mearls, Christopher Perkins, Matthew Sernett, Chris Sims, Rodney Thompson
  • Illustrators: Raymond Swanland (cover); Aaron Hubrich, Tyler Jacobson, Guido Kuip, Marcel Marcado, Bryan Syme (interior)
  • Cartography: Jared Blando
  • Publisher: Kobold Press / Wizards of the Coast
  • Year: 2014
  • Media: Hardbound (96 pages)
  • Price: $29.95 (Available from Amazon.com in Hardbound for only $18.28)


Hoard of the Dragon Queen
is the first campaign adventure series released for use with the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The adventure arc is designed for four 1st Level characters, allowing them to progress in level over a series of eight episodes to achieve up to 8th Level by the end of this book. The campaign episodes contain all the information required to run the adventures, including plot descriptions and read-aloud text, full-color maps, monster stat blocks, NPC backgrounds, experience point rewards, and treasure.


Production Quality

The production quality of Hoard of the Dragon Queen is excellent, containing some excellent writing and a superb layout which is very user-friendly for the DM. Wolfgang Baur and Steve Winter both have decades of experience with Dungeons & Dragons between them, and their ability to weave an intricate and detailed adventure is clearly demonstrated in this book.

The book itself is of sturdy hardbound design with a glossy cover and solid binding. Hoard of the Dragon Queen is a full sized book, but lightweight at only about 20 ounces, so it is easily held open in one hand without strain. The pages are fairly heavy weight paper, but with a standard finish unlike the glossy pages of the D&D Player’s Handbook. The book has a well-appointed table of contents with references to not only major plot sections but to maps and rewards as well.

And the artwork in Hoard of the Dragon Queen is fantastic! From the cover scene of a white dragon flash freezing her prey into a grisly ice sculpture to the interior illustrations of vistas, action scenes, creatures and NPC portraits, the artwork really enhance the Readers experience with the book. Much of the artwork could also be useful to relay scenes and NPC appearances during game play. Likewise, the maps for Hoard of the Dragon Queen are gorgeous renderings with strong fantasy artwork embellishing the work, and nearly all would be suitable for framing if blown up and printed.


Hey, it is called Dungeons & “DRAGONS”, right?!

Hoard of the Dragon Queen
is a complete adventure arc broken into eight episodes which lead heroes on a quest up and down the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms. The first episode of the adventure is designed for a four-person party of 1st Level D&D heroes, although encounters can be rebalanced for more characters as needed. The heroes will gain approximately one level per episode, and the designers recommend a milestone system for leveling the characters instead of tallying experience points.

Steven Winter and Wolfgang Baur were on hand during this past weekend’s GENCON, and chaired a panel entitled Tyranny of Dragons: When The Kobolds Met Tiamat. The Kobold Press designers offered some insights about the adventure and the process of working with Wizards of the Coast - quotes from their panel will be part of this review.

***Spoiler Alert*** Although spoilers for this adventure arc will be kept to a minimum while discussing the product, those planning on playing Hoard of the Dragon Queen might wish to skip directly to the bottom for the conclusions and scoring.

It should be noted that with the D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide and D&D Monster Manual still as yet unpublished, Wizards of the Coast have offered supplemental material free-for-download from their site here. This additional material contains magic item descriptions and power, along with a quick reference of spells that are most often used by monsters and NPCs during the adventure.

Overall, the adventure arc is designed to be quite sandbox-y, or more aptly, a series of mini-sandboxes right from the first episode. Wolfgang made mention of the fact that as designers who have played D&D through multiple editions, they “were drawn toward an older style of play” for Hoard of the Dragon Queen, where not every encounter is fought, but some are resolved through trickery, negotiation, or simply avoided altogether.

A good example of this is the first episode itself, where the heroes are faced with a dragon and members of the Cult of the Dragon sacking a small town which they have just entered as part of a caravan. The challenge here is not to defeat the Cultists or the dragon, which en masse are too powerful for a group of 1st Level heroes. Instead to succeed, as Steve Winter put it, the heroes can “win a whole lot of small victories” by rescuing parts of the town and townspeople. But it was also pointed out that the encounter can be a bit unforgiving if handled foolishly, although Steve rather cavalierly believes that for 1st Level characters, “if a few of them die, it’s no big deal.”

Most of the episodes are of this ilk, with the characters finding themselves in situations where straightforward combat might not be the best option, and in some cases is most definitely the wrong option. Episode 2 and Episode 3 involve dealing with more Cultists, and can be handled as frontal assaults, but stealth and trickery are likely to have a higher success rate for the player-characters. And it’s worth noting that the designers made sure to include a great story and a mystery slowly unfolding around the characters, so combat might not get you all the clues you need to fully understand the epic scope of this adventure.

However, there are a few solid dungeon crawls in Hoard of the Dragon Queen as well, and Episode 6 and Episode 8 definitely fall into this category - although given the adventurers’ levels and resources, expecting to “clean out” the dungeon and face every encounter will likely end in a TPK. And there is plenty of travel and random encounters between sandboxes, including a long road journey with a string of potential encounters – should the heroes decide to deal with the situations they happen across. Mr. Winter made it a point to say that these on-the-road encounters were designed to “bring in the mystic wonder” of the Forgotten Realms, and the heroes might do well to stop and poke around in the events they see along the way.

Obviously, with a title like Hoard of the Dragon Queen, there has to be a dragon – or two? – wandering around the adventure. And the heroes do have the opportunity to make their first dragon kill of their adventuring careers during this adventure arc. Wolfgang pointed out during the panel at GENCON that, as designers, they wanted “as spooky and interesting a dragon’s lair as we could possibly create.” Given the location of the dragon’s lair, and the surrounding area, the designers may well have succeeded all too well in their design goals.

The designers made sure to include side trek hooks which can be developed by DMs at their discretion. And many encounters and episodes discuss how the storyline might develop based upon the accomplishments or alternative actions of the heroes. No two adventuring groups will have the same experience in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, and their adventures are merely a lead up to the second campaign arc release later this year – The Rise of Tiamat!


Overall Score: 8.6 out of 10.0


Conclusions

Hoard of the Dragon Queen
is a spectacular first campaign release for the new edition of D&D - and if this is indicative of future releases, 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is off to a grand start. The adventure series is well written and presented, and balanced to offer multiple resolutions to encounters. The art and maps are lovely, and the illustrations are totally evocative of scenes and personages found in the adventure.

Given that this campaign arc is designed to take place over eight levels of D&D play, there are a goodly number of sessions and hours of play in these adventures. The price for the content and quality are more than reasonable, and Hoard of the Dragon Queen has definitely gotten the launch of the new D&D with a mighty dragon’s roar!


Editorial Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary playtest copy of the product in hardbound format from which the review was written.


Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 10)

  • Presentation: 9.0
  • - Design: 9.0 (Great writing; awesome layout; lovely book)
  • - Illustrations: 9.0 (Gorgeous artwork; beautifully rendered maps!)
  • Content: 8.25
  • - Crunch: 8.0 (Well-balanced encounters; excellent use of mechanics)
  • - Fluff: 8.5 (Exciting and epic storyline; draws characters into the plot)
  • Value: 8.5 (Very good price for a lot of adventure!)
 

Comments

An excellent and informative review. Thanks!

However...

Price: $29.95 (Available from Amazon.com in Hardbound for only $18.28)
I'm afraid I don't like this. That discounted price cannot be guaranteed - either from other suppliers, from other branches of Amazon (it's full-price in the UK), or even from Amazon itself over time.

Surely an impartial review should stick to objective measures, which in this case means the RRP? Otherwise, isn't this advertising, at least for Amazon, if not for WotC's product itself? Or will future reviews likewise give the best discounted price the reviewer has been able to find?

Please don't get me wrong - this is a pretty minor nitpick in an otherwise excellent review, and one that has confirmed my intent to buy this product when I can find it. It's just one thing, out of all that, that seemed out of place.
 

callinostros

Explorer
I'll disagree on some points...

I did not like the maps that much. The coloring blurred together making it harder to differentiate areas. Also on some the numbers for locations were too close to the background color and hard to find.

Some of the editing seemed sloppy. There were locations on maps that were never listed in the adventure. For example in the opening encounters #3 and 4 in the village were on the map but never mentioned in the text (I am assuming it was the Temple and Mill).

To me there seemed like a lot of running from one dungeon level to another. Once you left the town and did the "travel with the bad guys" you entered the 4 level Castle which led to the 3 level Lodge (for which you could role-play but really - killing is the natural default for that location) to be rushed into the cloud castle before it takes off...and its multi- levels. Sure they wrote in scenes for role-play but they also wrote the adventure so that you really didn't have time for that.

To me it seemed rushed.
 

eric.kiser

Visitor
I am really not enjoying all the non-dragon dragon creatures. It seems to diminish the concept. I had the same problem with Red Hand of Doom.
 

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