Tyranny of Dragons: A Review

Revising Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat into one book, Tyranny of Dragons (which was always the name for the unified adventure) makes sense for the fifth anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons' 5th Edition. If you didn't buy the original versions, picking up Tyranny is an easy choice if you like this sort of adventure (more on that in a minute), but a more complicated decision if you've already bought, played or DM'd the originals. The trick partially lies in your expectations for the word “revised.” Wizards of the Coast PR mentioned incorporating feedback from players. Since even people who really enjoyed the original version of the adventure talked about things like it being rather railroad-y, it's not surprising that some fans (myself included) hoped for significant revamping. That was not the case.

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Basically, Tyranny of Dragons reorganizes the set-up and introductory information from both Hoard and Rise, and adds the concept art as supplemental material. The errata noted here has been incorporated, but that's mostly just map notations and references to the maps.

Structurally and in terms of the plot, nothing has changed from Hoard and Rise to Tyranny, which is a disappointment if you wanted the adventure to be less linear or less hand holding to the players. So if you liked the original version the only reason to pick up Tyranny is if you want the new cover and supplemental material or if you're a completest. If you liked the idea of Hoard and Rise but had issues with its execution there's even less reasons to buy Tyranny – nothing you disliked has changed.

The feedback that led to the changes were all made in relation to adventure balance. For example, the governor of Greenest will give the adventurers four healing potions after they've proved themselves by helping. Since the characters are first level when the events in Greenest begin, those potions are essential.

Similarly the number of kobolds in the “Seek the Keep” section of Episode 1 changed. These changes are unfortunately few and far between. They make the combats more survivable but don't really change the adventure. Also, the Sanctuary scenario in Episode 1 changes the enemies in Group C from 2 cultists and 6 kobolds to 4 and 4. Since that's the option most likely to work for the players, the change especially matters.

Whether referred to as Tyranny or Hoard and Rise, the adventure accomplishes what it clearly intended – to be a “big” adventure with the game's namesake dragons – and serves as an introduction to Faerun for anyone new to D&D, lapsed players, or players who had previously focused on homebrew adventures. It does that well, but when compared to later adventures like Storm King's Thunder, Curse of Strahd and Waterdeep: Dragon Heist that are more sandbox-y than linear, Tyranny pales by comparison. Similarly, on page 10 it says that the adventure doesn't hold your hand and guide you, meaning the players. But it does. A few times in the adventure, such as Leosin Erlanthar in the Raider's Camp section and Jamma Gleamsilver later will both just volunteer anything they missed. That does serve a purpose but feels overbearing.

What really disappoints me is that the introduction material wasn't reworked better for the unified adventure. For example, Rise had an outline of episodes, which is handy. Hoard did not. When revamping and merging the books into one they included that overview for Rise without creating a matching one for the first part. It's especially disappointing since the more recent adventures have included adventure trees/paths to make it easier for DMs. It's a small thing and would require extra work but would make it more cohesive and useful.

Hoard also included comments about how to adapt the adventure to other locations but Rise did not. That was probably an oversight in the original version. Adding it to Tyranny would have been nice but they didn't.

One benefit from the unification of material is that the villain overview from Rise is included. That material really should have been in Hoard. Having it in Rise felt more like a filler for the slim volume. Two other things I wish they had changed involved NPCs. The appendix with NPCs is confined to stat blocks, unlike later adventures where those appendices have both stat blocks and at least a few paragraphs on the background, personality, history, etc. of the creature or NPC.

The NPCs in the faction overviews do not have stat blocks, which is a huge disappointment. If you own Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, though, you have Laral Silverhand's stat block there. Also, if you own but haven't yet run Dragon Heist, Tyranny provides what can be useful background material on Lord Dagult Neverember, the person whose actions triggered Dragon Heist, but still no stat block.

I really wish Tyranny had an index. The lack of one in all of the adventures is annoying, especially since background material is often split up among various locations in Tyranny. For example references to Naergoth Bladelord on pages 12 and 186 don't really explain why he thinks Tiamat is playing Severin. An index would make it easier to find all references to a person, though it still wouldn't solve this particular issue. Since references to, say, the Dungeon Master's Guide in all of the books tend to only add reference notes to sections, not pages, it seems that the lack of indices and page numbers in references is a conscious effort to avoid mistakes. That's understandable but disappointing.

By the way, the frost giant Harshnag, who is featured in Storm King's Thunder, can show up in Tyranny. He's mentioned in the section on giants on page 14. Speaking of giants, the adventure stumbles in a few easily corrected ways that make it all the more disappointing for having been carried over without correction or adjustment. For example, in that same giant section on page 14 there's a reference to the players possibly recognizing the apocalyptic resonance of giants and dragons working together. A DM and/or players who know the longer history of Faerun or who have played Storm King's Thunder realize that's a reference to the ancient war between dragons and giants, but Tyranny doesn't give DMs enough material to set the stage properly, much less foreshadow SKT.

Tyranny seems an anniversary product created for 5th Edition with the intention of changing as little as possible. That's such a missed opportunity. As someone who has worked in publishing for years, I understand the reasons but a more substantial revamp would have created a much stronger adventure.

On a more technical level, things like a reference on page 30 to a “surprise round” really should have been corrected or rephrased. Fifth Edition doesn't have a surprise round. As Jeremy Crawford explained in Sage Advice, “...combat is always ordered by initiative, whether or not someone is surprised...” so a person may be surprised and therefore not act but technically there is no surprise round. You can argue it's a small point but correcting the sloppy phrasing in Hoard, which was understandable at the time of its original release, would have been good for Tyranny.

Structurally, Tyranny is a fairly straightforward story. A dragon cultist has set in a motion a plan to summon Tiamat from the hell plane to which she has been banished. He's being helped by a rogue faction of the Red Wizards of Thay, plus some other groups with varying agendas. The players stumble into the situation when they arrive at a town under attack by the cult and are drawn in deeper and deeper.

The final fight, centered around the summoning of Tiamat, is a gigantic brawl, of course. Regardless of whether Tiamat appears or not – and really, who doesn't want to see five-headed Tiamat appear – the scale of the fight is a handful for DMs because there are so many moving parts. Tyranny's final battle features the cult, devils, evil mercenaries, chromatic dragons, giants, members of Tiamat's temple and the splinter group from the Red Wizards of Thay versus the players, all of the factions (Emerald Enclave, Harpers, etc.), metallic dragons, giants, other devils, and the Arcane Brotherhood. It's epic, big and potentially tricky for a DM to manage.

I still think Tyranny of Dragons has a good story that allows players to explore Faerun, learn about major players such as the Red Wizards of Thay, dragon and giant factions, humanoid factions like the Harpers, etc. The fighting and exploration is balanced by role-playing opportunities such as the council meetings in Waterdeep and the Council of Dragons (you can download a council scorecard for ease of tracking).

More than any other adventure Tyranny would benefit from a revamp that would allow players to start at somewhere between third and fifth levels to make it more likely that the characters would be willing to charge into a crisis involve creatures as daunting as dragons. It would also benefit from story tweaks like better addressing the agendas of the vying factions, whether good or evil.

If you want a really big adventure, don't mind tweaking stories and don't already own Hoard and Rise, Tyranny can be a good choice. If you do already own it, I wouldn't bother purchasing Tyranny unless you're a completest or love Hydro74's covers. Overall, I'm disappointed but shouldn't be. From a business standpoint, Tyranny makes perfect sense. I just wish the execution served the story better.
 
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Beth Rimmels

Comments

Nebulous

Adventurer
The final fight, centered around the summoning of Tiamat, is a gigantic brawl, of course. Regardless of whether Tiamat appears or not – and really, who doesn't want to see five-headed Tiamat appear – the scale of the fight is a handful for DMs because there are so many moving parts. Tyranny's final battle features the cult, devils, evil mercenaries, chromatic dragons, giants, members of Tiamat's temple and the splinter group from the Red Wizards of Thay versus the players, all of the factions (Emerald Enclave, Harpers, etc.), metallic dragons, giants, other devils, and the Arcane Brotherhood. It's epic, big and potentially tricky for a DM to manage.

This sounds fantastically epic. In my mind, I'm trying to imagine what this would even look like laid out with miniatures. I think I would need triple the game space :unsure:
 

stadi

Villager
I am really disappointed in this release. All your points are valid. My biggest gripes are the missing flowcharts and that they did not convert the encounters to scale according to player number (like the Essentials Set).
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
The final fight, centered around the summoning of Tiamat, is a gigantic brawl, of course. Regardless of whether Tiamat appears or not – and really, who doesn't want to see five-headed Tiamat appear – the scale of the fight is a handful for DMs because there are so many moving parts. Tyranny's final battle features the cult, devils, evil mercenaries, chromatic dragons, giants, members of Tiamat's temple and the splinter group from the Red Wizards of Thay versus the players, all of the factions (Emerald Enclave, Harpers, etc.), metallic dragons, giants, other devils, and the Arcane Brotherhood. It's epic, big and potentially tricky for a DM to manage.

This sounds fantastically epic. In my mind, I'm trying to imagine what this would even look like laid out with miniatures. I think I would need triple the game space :unsure:
I didn’t use minis really and yes it was an epic finale.
 

lordabdul

Villager
Thanks for the review! I don’t own the original books so I figure I will still buy Tyranny — it might come handy as a first campaign to run for my kid and his friends. It’s going to be their first big campaign after a couple of one-shots, so the railroading aspect might actually be a plus when you consider newbie 10-year-old kids (unless someone has a better recommendation?). Maybe that’s the angle WOTC had all along for this product.
 

talien

Community Supporter
The final fight, centered around the summoning of Tiamat, is a gigantic brawl, of course. Regardless of whether Tiamat appears or not – and really, who doesn't want to see five-headed Tiamat appear – the scale of the fight is a handful for DMs because there are so many moving parts. Tyranny's final battle features the cult, devils, evil mercenaries, chromatic dragons, giants, members of Tiamat's temple and the splinter group from the Red Wizards of Thay versus the players, all of the factions (Emerald Enclave, Harpers, etc.), metallic dragons, giants, other devils, and the Arcane Brotherhood. It's epic, big and potentially tricky for a DM to manage.

This sounds fantastically epic. In my mind, I'm trying to imagine what this would even look like laid out with miniatures. I think I would need triple the game space :unsure:
Like this: Session 37: Rise of Tiamat: Episode 9 - Tiamat's Return (*****) | Michael J. Tresca on Patreon :)
 

darjr

I crit!
I ran the final battle with minis on the Sunday of a convention. It took all day and we closed the convention. I have many of the large dragons WotC used to sell and used them all. Tiamat wasn’t going to fit. We had THREE tables to do the whole thing. It was amazing, very epic, exhausting, and so very satisfying. My players were very good and had AL characters that were very strong, and I almost had a TPK. But when the tide turned against the bad guys things crumbled VERY fast for them.

So fun!
 

Mercador

Explorer
Even if I really love Hydro74 covers, I don't like this one. It feels like a draft, maybe because of the red dragon black border thickness. Thanks for the review, way better than the Baldur's Gate in my opinion.
 

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
THIS is a solid review. Actually specifies what the changes were. I think this is very useful, especially to those that purchased the previous books. Well done - very informative.
 

Wraith Form

Explorer
Great review. Thanks.

I haven't cracked the cover on mine yet, so I'll wait 36 - 48 months and sell it for 20x the price I paid. :cautious:
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Great review! Disappointed that they didn't take the opportunity to smooth things out, but I never bought the original versions, so I was thinking of picking this up. But it would be more just because I like the cover and just to have it. I don't know when I'd have time to play it. I have so many other adventures to run and from everything I've read, including this excellent review, I don't see any reason to bump this campaign up in priority.
 

talien

Community Supporter
Thanks for the review! I don’t own the original books so I figure I will still buy Tyranny — it might come handy as a first campaign to run for my kid and his friends. It’s going to be their first big campaign after a couple of one-shots, so the railroading aspect might actually be a plus when you consider newbie 10-year-old kids (unless someone has a better recommendation?). Maybe that’s the angle WOTC had all along for this product.
That was the age range of my kids when we ran it. It worked out fine, but there were some aspects that weren't railroady enough (the caravan sequence is a bit all over the place). See my play summaries here: The Complete Tyranny of Dragons Campaign Log | Michael J. Tresca on Patreon
 

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