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Hoard of the Dragon Queen (D&D Adventure) Hardcover – August 19, 2014
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Top Customer Reviews
Production Value - The book is indisputably high quality. Full color printing, heavy duty binding and fantastic artwork makes the book a pleasure to use.
Layout - The layout is extremely clean, with nice use of color to delineate sidebars and "read-aloud" text.
Writing - The writing is well done, by some big name pros in the industry including Wolfgang Baur and Steve Winter. It's got enough flavor to paint a picture, but is short enough to not overwhelm.
Structure - The adventure is put together in an episodic format throughout the book and each episode has sub-missions that can, generally, be done in whatever order the GM / Players choose. This may not be true for each chapter, but is certainly true for the first.
Cons (I would not actually say there are any *real* cons to this product, but I would like to address some issues other users have mentioned):
Level Range Visibility - Some users have pointed out that it does not state the level range. It does, on the back cover of the book it states that it is from 1-7.
Monsters - There are certainly monsters mentioned that are not found in the book. The reason that this was done is up for debate but you DO NOT need to wait until the Monster Manual or the Dungeon Master's Guide come out. They state in the first pages of the book that there is a free online supplement that they have released that has all of that information (and then some). That info can be found simply by googling "Hoard of the Dragon Queen Free Supplement."
This is a great product that is extremely high quality and should make for the beginning of a very awesome campaign! You would do well to pick yourself up a copy.
The adventure is heavily linear, and requires certain events to be conducted in specific chronology, or the entire thing can become derailed. This is not necessarily a horrible thing since this was the first D&D 5th edition official adventure published and therefore the obvious design decision was that new DMs need a lot of structure and guidance. But it does mean that inserting this adventure into your own campaign and running experienced players through it will require some specific railroading or a lot of improvisation to try to get things back on track.
The first episode in the adventure is the most controversial. The PCs come across a small town being ravaged by raiders and a blue dragon. Now, unless the DM provides the PCs with a very good reason to give a damn about this little town, most sensible and experienced 1st level PCs are going to say "A Dragon! No way...I am out of here!" and that pretty much is the end of the scenario.
One of the hallmarks of 5th edition was the return to old school D&D wherein not every encounter is designed to be perfectly balanced to the PCs' power level. Instead, players are supposed to act organically to such things. For example, in the old 1st edition AD&D scenario Vault of the Drow, there is a certain black tower that, if the PCs assault it, the DM is instructed to inform the players that their characters fought heroically and valiantly and slew scores of drow but eventually were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Roll up new characters. The players were expected to realize that assaulting that tower was a Bad Idea (tm).
5th edition asks players to use that same judgement instead of, in 3rd and 4th edition, simply assuming all encounters have ELs that are in the PCs' range. An example of this occurs in another official scenario where the low level PCs are tasked with driving off a green dragon. That encounter is optional and very difficult but the PCs can handle it if they are careful, or they can simply say no way.
The problem here is that 5th edition encourages the players not to metagame and assume encounters are all to be vanquished through battle, but then presents the PCs with an obviously overpowered foe and REQUIRES them to run headlong into the battle!
Basically, the DM is going to have to either break the 4th wall and inform the players if they flee then the scenario cannot start, or he is going to have to make up some contrivance, like letting the players know that the dragon has flown off into the night after making some strafing runs at the town, but the raiders are still attacking.
In any event, the entire 1st episode involves the PCs undertaking a bunch of combat heavy missions during the night of the raid to help save the town. There is no chance for a long rest and, these being 1st level characters, the entire episode is going to be extremely taxing and likely deadly to the PCs and frustrating for the players (especially new ones).
A less hairy and taxing episode might have been a better choice to kick off the first adventure in 5th edition history.
Nevertheless, if the PCs can make it through that, they embark on an investigation as to why the Cult of the Dragon, which previously invested into creating Dracoliches, is now raiding settlements, stockpiling treasure, and carting it off to the north.
The PCs must next infiltrate the battle camp of the raiders. Again there is a sequencing issue. There is a cave in the back of the camp that is clearly heavily guarded. Now, a heavily guarded cave is usually a signal to PCs that this is where they want to go. Right? Nope. This episode is designed to be a simple recon mission and the PCs are supposed to then report back to town and THEN return later, when the entire raider army has packed up and gone except for a few remnants and leader types left it he cave. But what player in his right mind is going to somehow know that the massive army is about to pack up and leave and is not going to, having gone to the trouble of infiltrating the camp, not want to get into that guarded cave and have a look around?
Technically, unless the PCs are spectacularly sneaky, the alarm will be raised and the entire camp will come on them, resulting in a TPK or PC capture (the latter possibility thankfully is addressed and can be played). But to design for the assumption that PCs will infiltrate the camp, see the cave, decide not to explore it, return to the town, and then come back later is asking a lot. Again, the DM is going to have to finesse this whole episode if the players go off the rail.
After that, the PCs must join a caravan heading north with the treasure. The majority of the caravaners are not affiliated with the Cult and are travelling on their own business. This is a great episode for role playing a lot like those classic movies that take place on a train where the good guys are tailing the bad guys on the same train. However, this episode requires a lot of roleplaying and preparation or improvisation by the DM, and DMs and players not suited for role playing will find this part of the adventure tedious.
Once they travel with the caravan, the PCs must follow the trail into a swamp to a crumbling castle where the treasure is collected and transported via a magical gate to a hunting lodge. The crumbling swamp castle is well done, with some interesting role playing possibilities amongst the lizardman and bullywug factions to complement the door kicking aspect of this dungeon crawl.
The hunting lodge is a bit of a throw away, as the entire episode is really designed around the PCs realizing the treasure trail leads past the lodge to a small town where a cloud giant's floating castle has landed. All the PCs technically need to do in the lodge is figure out where the small town is. The rest is sort of throwaway.
The cloud giant's castle is a unique set piece, especially as it will generally take off and float through the sky while the PCs are on it. There are some interesting factional aspects here, pitting the giants against the Cult and its dragon, and the setting is unique enough to provide a nice climax to the scenario.
Overall the scenario should be enjoyable if you can get past the railroading aspects. There are a lot of typos and map issues, however, and some out and out mistakes, some of which resulted from the scenario being issued before the 5th edition rules were finalized. For example, in one instance the PCs are attacked by 4 ASSASSINS. Unfortunately, between the time the adventure was written and the 5th edition rules were finalizes, ASSASSINS were upped in power quite a bit. The result is likely a TPK unless the DM substitutes a lower level opponent to substitute.
In conclusion, while flawed and railroad-y, the scenario provides a suitable prequel that sets the stage for the more epic pursuits in Rise of Tiamat.
The first 3-5 chapters are detailed and fun, but the rest of the book is a bit disorganized, suffers from glaring errors, contains boring mechanical magic items, is very linear and suffers from pacing issues.
Ok, I have waited a while to submit my review in order to give a fair assessment of this module. I will try to omit as many spoilers as I can. Let's discuss some of the nicer parts of this campaign book. It is a hardcover, and the artwork is nice. The first three-to-five chapters of the book are very good. Paths that the adventurers can take are covered in fairly good detail, meaning there is little scrambling the DM has to do.
However, the adventure quickly begins to fall apart once the "caravan" chapter comes into focus. We are introduced to a bunch of NPCs, many of which you may never use, and two semi-important NPCs that aren't fully detailed. Personally, I would like to know the description of the NPC, what their ultimate goals are, and what they are wanting in the immediate. This is not fully explained, but even more disappointing is that there are very few NPCs that "stick around" to be memorable.
Also, while I understand it is now "theater of the mind", could we at least get some player-friendly maps? The kind that don't reveal every treasure, secret and door? A page I can open to and show my players and say, "Before you stands this...". I digress.
The book also contains a litany of errors; some are minor, some are actually fairly major. There is a major name change/omission in a random encounters section, and there is one encounter that WILL kill your party if read-as-written. This was apparently an oversight by WotC as the encounter was written before the stat blocks were, making the encounter much more deadly than it was designed to be. New DMs won't necessarily know that, and it could prematurely end up killing your party.
Magic items are scarce, but when they do exist the majority of them are boiled down into mechanical basics. I.e. "+1 longsword". Seriously, WotC? After hyping up the "three pillars of adventure" and magic item rarity your answer to an exciting magical item is that? Not, "You pull aside the sackcloth that covers this oddly-colored blade. Strange runes have been stamped into this hilt of this blade, and run down the length of its fuller. They glow faintly as you grasp the leather-wrapped handle."
Nope. +1 Longsword. It seems even in a pre-published adventure, they want DMs to make up whatever details they want. To me, that is laziness on the part of WotC. If DMs want to change the description, let them - but give them something to start with if they aren't prepared to answer the question of, "what does it look like?".
Finally, the pacing of some of the fights can be very pitched. There are some parts that force the party to press onward, but other times there is nothing to say they can't make camp in the middle of a cave or forest or wherever. This means some fights can be more balanced as the party is "worn down" a bit, but other fights become too easy for the PCs as they just roll over the villains with reckless abandon at full strength. The first few chapters do a good job at this, the later ones not so much.
Overall, this module is "OK" it is better than nothing at all, and will give an introduction to D&D, but it doesn't highlight the things that can make D&D great. There are only a few traps, and nearly no puzzles. Very few skill/social challenges. The overall plot/story is pretty cookie-cutter, but is not terrible either. It is a hold-over until the Dungeon Master's guide is available with details on traps, treasure, etc. If you can wait until then, I would pass on this.
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