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D&D Hoard of the Dragon Queen Review - The Cracks Begin to Show

Jonathan Bolding | 2 Oct 2014 18:45
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Creating NPCs that really matter is a problem endemic to this type of adventure, where heroes go on a fantastical tour of many locations in a fantasy world. Since players are constantly changing locations, only friends that come along with them are going to really matter. The first half of the adventure provides NPCs like these- and those are interesting characters - but the second half doesn't. There are a few great enemies that really give spice and have longevity - given their ability to escape most encounters with the PCs, but a DM who has particularly clever players can't rely on those enemies to survive without imposing some DM fiat or improvising changes to the adventure locations.

The realism of the long travel times and the interesting encounters that the adventure provides on them are cool for those groups who care about vignette-style interesting moments in the game, and who really only care about having clever conversations with one-off NPCs. There's not that much written into Hoard to motivate the hardcore roleplayers or those players who really take a shine to particular characters. That said, the variety and constant change in encounters with monsters and enemies really cater to those players who like interesting tactical situations or want to match their characters against the most dangerous foes around.

By far the best parts of the adventure are the kickoff and the resolution. Using 5th Edition D&D's early level deadliness as a way to ratchet up the tension by surrounding the players with enemies, the beginning of the adventure - especially the cult camp infiltration and subsequent egg hatchery dungeon - do a good job of providing clear paths for progression while constantly upping the stakes. The adventure's climactic battles and social encounters, first in the hunting lodge high in the mountains and then in a flying castle, provide a delicious mix of factional politics among enemies and potential allies. The encounters with a dragon in cramped tunnels or gargoyles among the clouds are a blast to play as well.

Spoilers end here.

Bottom Line: While a few parts of the play experience are a major drag, Hoard of the Dragon Queen has plenty of top-tier play.

Recommendation: DMs who like to cannibalize a good adventure for parts will find a lot to love inside Hoard. Groups that focus on big action and big excitement will also find a lot to enjoy, but those who want a lot of characterization might be left out in the cold.

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