Let’s get down to the basics: The Cult of the Dragon is one of the longer-running and more interesting villain organizations in the Forgotten Realms, and I was delighted to hear that Wizards of the Coast wanted the first big adventures for the new edition of D&D to feature these bad guys. My first thought was, “Dracoliches. Cool!”
Well, my first thought was wrong. The Cult of the Dragon is interesting because its members mean to bring dragons to rule the world (while, of course, standing right beside them and reaping some of the benefits of draconic power!), but the cult itself hasn’t always agreed on what’s what. In the case of the Cult of the Dragon, there’s an inner circle and a cult leadership, and sometimes the people at the top are killed off by adventuring parties or by disappointed dragons. When that happens, the cult might take on a new direction. The phrase “under new management” possibly leaps to mind.
This new cult is less about creating dracoliches and more about seizing power in the Realms with living dragons. In addition, the new Cult of the Dragon has a decidedly more religious bent to it: the people at the top of the cult hierarchy are devoted fans of Tiamat, the Queen of Dragons, currently imprisoned in the top layer of the Nine Hells in the D&D cosmology. It seems that some of Tiamat’s worshipers think that releasing her from imprisonment and bringing her bodily into the Realms would increase the power of dragons overall. Her imprisonment, to the cult’s way of thinking, is the reason why the cult has never really prospered. Fix that, and the natural order (with the draconic species on top) would reassert itself.
That’s a heck of an ambitious plan—as you would expect from villains of this pedigree. It’s not at all clear that it’s a good plan (okay, if you aren’t a crazy-evil cultist, it probably sounds like a terrible, terrible plan), but it’s the plan they have. The details of how they intend to make it happen will be revealed in Hoard of the Dragon Queen and the follow-up adventure The Rise of Tiamat, but the point to notice here is that this is some fairly recent new ideology. The people at the top certainly believe in the new plan (or at least, they pretend to for fear of being ousted). But the Cult of the Dragon also has some old-guard types who have been at this cult business for a long time, and it’s possible that some are rather conservative and devoted to the old way of doing things. Might the adventurers find some common ground with old-line dracolich cultists? Maybe, though then again, it’s hard to choose your friends among two different flavors of evil and crazy.
The other thing that’s worth noting, though, is that the new Cult of the Dragon is a lot less about lurking in the shadows and a lot more about being comfortable with laying waste to the entire Sword Coast to get what it wants. That’s certainly not going to be a secret to the players: Hoard of the Dragon Queen players can figure that out pretty much from the word “go” at 1st level. Whether they survive this new, more aggressive cult is another matter, but then they’re heroes. You gotta root for the good guys.
Wolfgang Baur 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.