The second part (after Hoard of the Dragon Queen) of the Tyranny of Dragons branded campaign, Rise of Tiamat takes the party from level 8-15 as the attempt to stop the titular rise of Tiamat, the five-headed goddess of the evil chromatic dragons. During the course of this part of the campaign the party will work with and for a council of notables to assemble allies in the battle against Tiamat, strip allies and resources from the Cult of the Dragon, and ultimately face off against Tiamat herself.
- Vital Stats: 94-page, full-color hardcover; MSRP around $30
The Spoiler-Free Quick Take: The Rise of Tiamat presents a fantastic framework and a several amazing ‘dungeons’ to run the PCs through, but the finale just doesn’t live up to the setup. Worth getting just to poach some of the great elements, but as a full campaign will require some tinkering by the DM to make sure that the PC’s actions really matter.
Warning: Now, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that – big surprise – the finale of this adventure involves a possible rampage by Tiamat – but be advised that the remainder of this review is not a spoiler-free zone. While I’m not going to go into the fine details of dungeon layouts or NPC motivations, don’t read ahead if you might want to go through this adventure as a PC with almost no idea what might happen.
In The Rise of Tiamat, the Cult of the Dragon, with the fractious support of the chromatic dragons and exiled Red Wizards of Thay, is attempting to physically bring the goddess Tiamat into the Forgotten Realms, where they presumably hope to usher in a new era of Dragon power that won’t involve Tiamat first eating them as an appetizer. The Cult of the Dragon is led by five Wyrmspeakers, each of whom bears an artifact known as a dragon mask, which will be used in the ritual to bring Tiamat into the world.
The individual adventures of The Rise of Tiamat are presented through the framework of the Council of Waterdeep, which includes representatives of various nations and city-states. Reminiscent (in a good way) of some recent video games, the actions of the PCs will increase or decrease their reputation with the various factions represented, with the factions that are suitably impressed pledging increased resources (mostly military units of various sorts) to aid the party in the final battle. There’s even a handy chart where the GM can track how the PC’s standing with the factions has increased or decreased. Faction standing mostly increases with being more successful, but there are also points where actions will help with one faction but cause trouble with another. I frankly just adore the presentation of these factions and how the Council sessions are affected by the PCs. It really sets a great stage for how the actions of the PCs will have bigger consequences.
The campaign is divided into four stages, with each stage kicking off with the party meeting with the Council. In the first three stages, the party will undertake two missions (in either order) to either strike at the Cult of the Dragon and its allies, or to secure additional allies of their own. Somewhere in there the Cult will launch an attack on the PCs. After the fourth Council session, the PCs must travel to the location of the Cult’s ritual, hopefully with lots of support, and prevent Tiamat from entering the Realms.
The adventures include venturing into the arctic cold to locate cold to slay a white dragon and gather allies; delving into an ancient tomb to slay one of the Wyrmspeakers; venturing into the elven woods to defeat a green dragon and uncover a sinister connection with one of the council member; negotiating with the metallic dragons to obtain their support in this effort; infiltrating a cult stronghold to obtain a dragon mask from a defector; and traveling to Thay to arrange a deal with the main body of the Red Wizards against the defectors who are helping the Cult.
A few of these adventures are pretty fantastic and deserve highlighting. The Tomb of Diderius is a delightful delve into the riddled and trap-riddled final resting place of an ancient wizard. Moving statues! A giant Indiana Jones-style rolling ball of bones! There are also multiple groups to deal with in the Tomb (the original occupants of the tomb, the Wyrmspeaker’s forces, and a group of Yuan-ti who have recently moved in), each with their own motivations, so there are big encounters where the party may want to talk or negotiate before drawing steel.
Another great one is Xonthal’s Tower. First, the party has to solve a variety of puzzles to work its way through a maze to get to the tower in the first place. The tower itself involves teleporters and an extradimensional basement.
And for something completely different, there’s the negotiation with the metallic dragons. The party must parlay with a group of representative of the five types, who each have their own quirks and prejudices. The PCs will probably be able to get somewhere based on their own charms, but full support of the dragons will require offers that may offend some members of the Council of Waterdeep. For example, Protanther the gold dragon is still somewhat upset about that time the elves created the Dracorage mythal, which made dragons go insane, and he would like an apology. The PCs can help earn his support by promising such an apology, but this just might go over poorly with the elven king on the Council.
You know it’s not a good sign when I feel the need to break out a whole section about this. As I said above, the framework of the Council is great. And some of the individual adventures are fantastic. Unfortunately, the finale of The Rise of Tiamat just wastes all of that setup. The parties have gone through all of these council sessions, they’ve recruited all of these allies, killed some dragons along the way, they bring their forces to the climactic battle, and … none of it matters. Who is or is not at the battle is essentially just presented as a descriptive device, with the GM instructed to just pair off allied units against enemy units and have them go off and fight while the PCs enter the final stronghold. Just a total waste of a great setup.
There’s also a similar, smaller-scale problem when securing the assistance of the metallic dragons. The PCs may secure the assistance of some or all of the metallic dragon types. And there are notes about getting reputations bonuses from some factions if the metallic dragons help their lands fend off attacks by chromatic dragons. But there is no connection between these two. Is there supposed to be a formula where getting the support of X types of dragon lets the PCs choose Y locations to protect?
I’ll also acknowledge that some will take issue with “railroading” of the early adventures – most notably that it’s not possible for the PCs to actually secure any of the dragon masks. No matter how well they do, the best they can accomplish is to kill of the Wyrmspeakers, which doesn’t stop the ritual from going forward. I, personally, don’t really take issue with this because it’s a necessary evil – if you’re writing a big campaign with an epic finale, you basically have to write it so that the PCs will actually get to that epic finale, rather than blow it all up halfway through. If I was running this campaign without those sorts of instructions in the book, I’d probably feel compelled to come up with something like them anyway. But, while I don’t think it’s an issue, I know that some others do, so I thought I’d mention it.
There is a lot of great material in The Rise of Tiamat. And I think the book is worth picking up even if you only want to steal some of the great adventure locations out of it. But to run it as a full campaign will require the GM to heavily re-work the finale so that what the PCs have done with the Council of Waterdeep actually matters.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.