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Tiamat Tuesdays: Closing In On the Cult

Tiamat Tuesdays: Closing In On the Cult

Tiamat TuesdaysAs I hinted in the installment of Tiamat Tuesday on July 8, episodes 5–8 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen are more open-ended than episodes 1–4. The second half of the adventure isn’t a sandbox; characters still have a mystery to unravel and an evil plot to stop. They will, however, face dilemmas that have no by-the-book solutions. The usual methods for shutting down an evil cult won’t work against the Cult of the Dragon. There is no single high priest whose assassination will cause the organization to crumble. The cult’s crucial magic relics are so well-hidden and so misunderstood by outsiders that characters can’t even locate them, let alone destroy them. The cult is too big, too organized, and too dispersed to be knocked out by any single blow or even a combination of blows. Killing this beast will take a thousand cuts, and they must be well-placed ones.

Episode 5 starts as a continuation of episode 4’s road journey, but the destination is more puzzling. In episode 4, characters knew that the great city of Waterdeep lay at the end of the trip. In episode 5, they are headed through perilous territory north of Waterdeep toward a camp where supplies are stockpiled for the workers who are rebuilding the road to Neverwinter where it skirts the Mere of Dead Men. What starts out as a straightforward guard job turns into a spy mission—a little something for the rogues in the party who never get to do enough sneaking around in the dark. Along the way, loose ends from episode 4 might also get wrapped up.

Episode 6 was my favorite chapter to write. It sends characters into a situation where they have no idea what awaits them. I can’t say much more than that about it for fear of spoiling the players’ experience. Suffice it to say that if characters follow the clues that lead them into the Mere of Dead Men, they’ll find a situation rife with both danger and opportunity. Even better, it’s a situation that demands creative improvisation. Wary characters who spend some time figuring out what’s really going on before taking any do-or-die actions will be richly rewarded, because much is not as it seems at first glance in this episode. Characters who feel up to it could simply wade in with swords drawn and spells flaring, but that approach is not recommended. Aside from the fact that a frontal assault or even an impromptu commando raid both risk ending in a TPK—a fact that should be obvious to anyone who’s paying attention—characters who don’t use their eyes and their brains in this episode will come away with more questions than answers. At this stage of the adventure, they already have plenty of questions. Answers are what they really need.

Episode 7 presents characters with a dilemma. Can they trust a hard-core, high-ranking cultist? Despite its hierarchical organization, the Cult of the Dragon is not monolithic. It’s run by people with all the same ambitions, egos, pettiness, and faults that afflict the rest of the human race. Internal rivalries could be exploited and used against the cult, but only if characters are willing to trust an insider who, under slightly different circumstances, would happily cut their throats and feed them to the guardian drakes. The decision that characters make in this episode can have repercussions all the way through to the end of book 2 of the adventure, The Rise of Tiamat.

Episode 8 is the big, cinematic finish. We couldn’t close the adventure without high drama and life-or-death combat against major foes in a setting that players will remember for years. Some people will be surprised to hear that it isn’t a foray into a dragon’s lair. In fact, it’s about as far from that setting as it’s possible to be.

Characters will do well to remember through both Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat that the enemy is not chromatic dragons at large but the Cult of the Dragon. Adult and older dragons, with their lair actions and legendary actions, are tremendously dangerous foes in the fifth edition of D&D. Trading blows with dragons is a prescription for a short career—a lesson that characters may learn to their sorrow in The Rise of Tiamat.

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.

3 thoughts on “Tiamat Tuesdays: Closing In On the Cult”

  1. Hi!
    It looks like that these adventures are going to be great. My only disapointment right now is that “The rise of Tiamat” will go only up to level 14-15. I was really expecting it to go up to the last tier of character power!
    Is there any chance of a third adventure that follows from level 14 up to 20?

  2. You’re right, it would be great to push to even higher levels, but the project was on too tight a timeline to playtest the adventure at those levels. And high-level play tends to require a fair bit of playtest.

    However, I would not be at ALL surprised if a future adventure ran all the way to 20th level, though.

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