The new 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is roaring ahead. Two of the “core rulebooks” – the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide – aren’t even available yet, but along with the Player’s Handbook, next week sees the wide release of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, the first of two volumes in this year’s epic Tyranny of Dragons story arc. Wizards of the Coast provided an advance copy of the adventure module for Nerdvana to review.
The adventure is set by default in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, a rich fantasy world that serves as the assumed backdrop for D&D games these days. However, it can easily be adapted to work equally well in other campaign worlds that come along, or even one of your own creation.
The Cult of the Dragon, known for venerating undead dragons called dracoliches, has mysteriously shifted focus and now aims to release the dragon queen Tiamat from imprisonment in the Nine Hells. That should be fun.
The adventure module is divided into eight “episodes,” roughly designed to last a session or so each and to carry the players through at least seventh level. This should aid in planning and also make running the game more manageable for the Dungeon Master.
I think it’s odd that the pages in Hoard of the Dragon Queen are flat and cardboard-y, not glossy like those in its launch companion, the Player’s Handbook. The flip side of this is that they are definitely sturdy and should hold up to repeated, frenzied thumb-throughs. But it feels like an inconsistent choice. The typeface used on map labels is overly decorative, and frankly it’s just hard to read. Simple is better, here.
The price is a steep one for a product like this – $29.95, which used to get you a whole core rulebook (those are now nearly $50 each), and yet Hoard of the Dragon Queen isn’t even 100 pages long. One wonders why it’s even in a hardback volume, as it seems too slight for that. Still, the book is designed to take you on adventures through seventh level before handing you off to the next volume, The Rise of Tiamat – but if you take both Tyranny of Dragons adventures together, that’s $60 plux tax for what can be seen as one super-adventure campaign. It’s not the boxed campaign settings of old, but it’s the modern equivalent. That being said, you technically don’t need the Player’s Handbook, or the forthcoming Monster Manual or Dungeon Master’s Guide, to play these adventure. The free Basic Rules PDF download and a free Hoard of the Dragon Queen Online Supplement PDF containing items, spells and monsters from the core books that are needed for this adventure, in addition to the module itself – those are all you’re supposed to need to make use of this scenario, and that’s really turning the D&D business model on its head and extending the meaning of D&D beyond the core rulebooks into a brand that supports however it is you want to play. That’s game-changing, literally; as is the fact that development of the Tyranny of Dragons modules was outsourced to Kobold Press as the D&D in-house team tries to run leaner than it has in the past.
Hoard of the Dragon Queen is an intriguing and exciting quest that won’t disappoint those looking for the iconic D&D adventure experience; the player characters will see a dragon in their very first encounter! If you don’t get the Player’s Handbook, also out now, your players will definitely need the free Basic Rules PDF to create their characters. If one or more members of the group are totally new to D&D or roleplaying games in general, it might not be the best introduction; you’ll want to check out the D&D Starter Set instead, where you’ll find a four-part module with pre-generated characters designed to take players through up to fifth level.