Tyranny of Dragons is nothing if not epic. It starts out fairly small, as a tale of unknown raiders attacking towns and caravans along the Sword Coast for loot and ransom. Before it’s done, those raiders will be rounding up prisoners to sacrifice in their dark rituals, dragons will gather in numbers not seen for generations, and every political and military force on the Sword Coast will need to unite against the threat if they hope to stave off an unimaginable evil.
The Forgotten Realms is big enough to allow that kind of story—to absorb the devastating blows that these amassed evil forces deliver and survive. But with so much going on everywhere, we had a big task just deciding what to focus on. The player characters are clearly the heroes of the tale, but by the beginning of The Rise of Tiamat, the Cult of the Dragon is operating across a region that spans thousands of miles. A handful of heroes can’t be everywhere at once.
Deciding where and when to focus our attention in the first half of the adventure was relatively easy. In Hoard of the Dragon Queen, characters are mainly trying to unravel the mystery of who the raiders are, where they’re stockpiling their loot, and what they’re ultimately trying to achieve. As in any mystery, we lay down a trail of breadcrumbs and let the characters follow them. Players have many options about how they collect and pursue the clues, but those clues always lead them geographically to a handful of key locations where the cult has important operations going on.
Choosing those sites in the Forgotten Realms is quite a bit of fun by itself, because there’s such a wealth of options. Most places have a rich history of Realms lore that can be leveraged into new adventures. Castle Naerytar, which plays a pivotal role in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, is a perfect example of that. It’s been occupied at least twice before the events of Tyranny of Dragons—once by its builder and once by a coven of mystical stargazers—and both of those residents left their imprint on the structure in ways that is still felt during Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Being something of a historian at heart, I enjoy working that history into the “current events” of the Realms.
Sometimes the lore works against you, too. Our outline underwent numerous changes in details because roads that we wanted characters to follow don’t exist, or tribes of people we wanted to use in certain locales haven’t extended their territory as far as we thought, or social upheaval described in the 4th Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide turned out differently from how we expected it to. Fortunately, Matt Sernett at Wizards of the Coast was always available to answer our lore questions at the drop of a hat. We didn’t always get the answers we wanted—that’s the price you pay for working in a long-standing campaign world with such rich history—but we always got answers we could work with.
By the time characters step into part 2 of the adventure, The Rise of Tiamat, it’s a whole different ballgame. The mystery is solved, there’s no question anymore about what’s going on or how serious the threat is, and characters are faced with the overwhelming task of how to stop it. This isn’t the sort of adventure where a handful of heroes can prevent catastrophe with a single, well-timed commando raid that disrupts the bad guys’ ritual. That’s still a possibility here—probably a necessity, even—but it won’t succeed unless a host of other things happen first AND characters have pulled together a major military operation to keep the cult and its army of dragons and other allies busy while the characters go about their hero-work.
That means forging an alliance between many Sword Coast leaders who don’t like cooperating with each other. The Rise of Tiamat has a political angle that’s almost never been seen before in D&D. I think the way we handled it will make it fun for players to engage with. The most important thing they can do to win support is to act like heroes. The more daring and heroic they are, the more support they’ll garner—for the most part. Every committee has a few contrarians who won’t be pleased until they get special treatment, and the Council of Waterdeep is no different.
Steve Winter is one of the designers of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. This adventure is available in an exclusive autographed collector’s edition with a Queen of Dragons unit patch available only through Kobold Press.
1 thought on “Tiamat Tuesdays: Maintaining Focus”
I’ve always wanted to see more politics in the Realms, but if you knew me you’d understand. I think Game of Thrones made the idea plausible whereas, in the past, such a topic would’ve been generally avoided.