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One of the books in my D&D collection is the Hoard of the Dragon Queen, which is the first of two adventure books within the Tyranny of Dragons series for 5th Edition. It’s a good looking book! As I talked about in my Review of 5th Edition D&D, the art and style of the book is phenomenal. But is the content within worth while? As of this posting, my group has not played a single session of the adventure, but I have read the first two acts in their entirety and looked over the rest of the book’s content and want to give you my overall first impression.
No spoilers will be revealed about the story or content, as some of my players are editors and contributors to this blog. I promise.
Why did I get the book in the first place? Simply put, after my daughter was born in April, I wasn’t sure I would have the time I needed to write adventure hooks and session notes for my players (on top of all the other hundreds of things on my plate). So my group thought, “hey, let’s let WotC do the writing for us, and Kyle can read over the adventure a few days in advance, take a couple of notes, and run this thing at game time. That will save him HOURS of prep work!”
Well, the first thing I noticed while reading through the session is that there is probably MORE prep work to do running this adventure than making my own. Why do I say that? First, the book does not provide monster stat blocks or information except for unique NPCs that are not listed in the Monster Manual. This means that I still have to go and find/familiarize myself with the monsters listed in the session. No real time savings there.
Second, the adventure, while providing lots of information, is not arranged in such a way as to be usable during gameplay. I need (want) bullet points, notes, sidebars for information that I can glance at while adjudicating rolls and PC actions, not reading through four paragraphs of text just to find the one line that says “four kobolds jump out at you from the bushes”. Presenting the content this way means that I need to go ahead of time and make usable notes for myself to be able to read from during play. No time savings there, either.
Third, if I write my own adventure, I can usually remember most of the details, or at least where I intend for the session to go (barring PC actions, of course). Using someone else’s adventure means learning and being comfortable enough with their story plans that it becomes my own. Going back to point 2, the material within isn’t arranged in a way to make that job easy. And again, no real time savings.
Fourth, there are random encounter tables all through the first session (and a few of the sessions later on). While these are awesome and provide great ideas, it still means more prep for me, making sure I find stats for all the various NPC combinations, even if they never come up during the session. Again, more work for me, not really saving any time.
Okay, I think you get my point. Now for the adventure itself, it’s actually pretty good. There is a lot of detail in here about the setting, story, etc. The world is well fleshed out with details of things going on in the background, outside of the PC’s point of view, making the world feel alive and reactive rather than static (or whatever it is I’m able to come up with).
Of course, it’s a pre-made adventure designed to carry PCs to level 15 by the end of book 2, making it (necessarily) railroady. If your players don’t much like the idea of NPCs giving them specific quests with railroad-specific objectives, then these types of adventures may not be for you.
My gut feeling is for you, the potential DM, to use this book as a guide for setting or backstory ideas rather than a “pull it out and play it” adventure. If you want to run it as is, great. After reading through the first two sessions, however, this might be better used as a source book rather than an adventure book.
We shall see how the story goes when we are finally able to play (probably in August or September). I am looking forward to seeing my players react to some of the surprises the book holds for them.