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Tabletop Review: Hoard of the Dragon Queen (Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition/D&D Next)

Hoard of the Dragon Queen (Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition/D&D Next)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast/Kobold Press
Cost: $29.99 ($23.94 at Amazon.com
Page Count: 95
Release Date: 08/19/2014
Get it Here: Amazon.com

Hoard of the Dragon Queen is the first post Sundering adventure collection for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Like previous 5e (or D&D Next as it was known then) adventures, such as Legacy of the Crystal Shard and Murder in Baldur’s Gate, Hoard of the Dragon Queen is actually the first half of a campaign containing eight “episodes” that will take characters from Levels 1-7. The second half of the campaign, The Rise of Tiamat, will be released later this year. So yes, you’ll be paying sixty dollars for a full campaign, which might sound a little pricey, but remember – both books will take your characters through 15th Level, and you will have a ton of adventures to play for the next few months. If you break things down by episode, you’re only paying about $3.75 per adventure, which is a really good price, especially when you consider this is a physical copy, complete with hardcover and high production values. So don’t let that sticker price scare you – you’re actually getting a fine deal with these two books, and by the time you and your friends have played through Hoard of the Dragon Queen, The Rise of Tiamat should be just around the corner.

There is one important note about Hoard of the Dragon Queen which may make or break the purchase for you. The physical copy of this campaign is NOT complete. Obviously you will need the D&D Starter Set or the Player’s Handbook to play Hoard of the Dragon Queen, but once you pick up the adventure collection, you will notice two things. The first is that the book is missing almost all of the monsters and magic items that will come up in the adventure. Kobolds, ropers, and everything else are mentioned as enemies that you will encounter, but no stat blocks are provided. Now, this isn’t necessarily a big deal. Sure, adventures usually have these published in them, but you can always use the Monster Manual, right? Well, that doesn’t come out until the last day of September. So how do you play the adventure until then? Well, the book directs you to this link which gives you a downloadable/printable thirty page PDF. This PDF contains all the creatures and spells you will need to run this adventure. It’s completely free, and thus open to anyone, even if they DON’T purchase Hoard of the Dragon Queen. On one hand, this is awesome, as it gives you a chance to have even more monsters if all you currently own is the D&D Starter Set. It also lets people who prefer to write their own adventures have some monsters to use for the next month and a half until the monster manual comes out. Vampires, lizardfolk, spectres, Blue Dragons and Yuan-Ti are all in here. Now, on the other hand, some people will consider this Wizards of the Coast cutting corners and costs by not putting them in the book. I can understand that argument, but the fact that this PDF is given away for free to everyone trumps that in my opinion. After all, you still have access to them, it’s just digitally. If you really want a physical copy, you can print them. Besides, these monsters will all be in the Monster Manual anyway, so you can always wait until then if you absolutely HAVE to have a dead tree version of these stat blocks. So just go download the PDF I linked to earlier in the paragraph and enjoy it. Sure, in a few years the PDF won’t be available, but if you don’t have the Monster Manual by then… I don’t know what to tell you. Get it now and you don’t have to worry about that eventual scenario. Remember, it’s free!

So what do you get in this ninety-five page hardcover collection? Well, you get ADVENTURES! Eight of them to be exact, along with a page of potential backgrounds for characters taking part in this campaign, fourteen pages of major NPC stat blocks, a page of new magic items and a teaser for The Rise of Tiamat. It’s also worth noting that you have two different methods of leveling up. Character advancement can follow the usual method of dividing up XP that you earn through an adventure (through killing and looting or what have you) and when you have enough, you level up. The other method is the “Milestone Advancement” format, where characters will level up at specific points in the campaign. Those points are at the end of episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8. This means characters will be Level 8 by the end of the collection, which should give the PCs a decent amount of power and have the players fairly attached to their alter egos. Both ways work fantastically. It just depends on what works best for you and your group. I really like the milestone option, as I’ve used it before in 2e AD&D and 3e (although it wasn’t canon back then for either game) and it’s especially great for low level characters. If you’re looking for a way for a character to advance without worrying about people’s addition skills or players that might fudge their totals so they level up faster, this is your route.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen takes place in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. The campaign will last several months (In-game, although perhaps in the real world too, depending on how often your group meets) and will take your characters from the town of Greenest to Baldur’s Gate and Waterdeep. Neverwinter and Icewind Dale are on the map as well, but you won’t be getting that far north just yet. Instead, much of this campaign acts as a primer to Toril and all the bullet points to know about the Forgotten Realms. You’ll be allying or encountering the Cult of the Dragon, the Harpers, the Red Wizards, the Zhentarim and more. Who knows? You might even join one of those groups!

Characters will start out as little more than Caravan Guards for merchants bringing a shipment of goods to the town of Greenest. As they approach, they will notice the town being ransacked by the Cult of the Dragon and a large blue dragon. If you’re a long time D&D fan you might be asking yourself, “Isn’t the Cult of the Dragon usually all about Dracoliches?” You’d be right, but here is a live and in its prime blue dragon helping the cult attack this little town for whatever reason. This revelation alone is a big part of the story that will unfurl as you go through all eight episodes of this campaign. From a collection of mini adventures where you’ll be defending the town and repelling cultists in episode one to long multi-level dungeons crawls in episodes six through eight, Hoard of the Dragon Queen will give you a wide array of experiences and obstacles for your party to overcome. The campaign isn’t all hack and slash though. There are some episodes that are primarily talking or sleuthing based, so characters will high intellect, charisma and wisdom can shine along with the combat oriented characters. Each adventure is short enough to be played in one or two sessions, but they can also be expanded based on the DM’s whims or how slow and plodding/careful the PCs are. The adventures are very newcomer friendly, so you can stick someone who is completely new to D&D at the same table with someone who has been playing since the original White Box and they’ll be able to co-exist just fine. By the end of the collection, the PCs should have put a big dent in the Cult of the Dragon’s plan, but not enough to squelch them entirely. Can the Cult of the Dragon successfully summon Tiamat from the Nine Hells into Toril proper? That will have to be seen in The Rise of Tiamat… which sounds awfully spoilerific, doesn’t it?

I’m very happy with this joint product by WOtC and Kobold Press. There are only two minor quibbles I have with the collection. The first is the use of half-dragons as the mid and end bosses. The adventure talks about how they are rare and quite feared, but it doesn’t give enough information about what they are and how they differ from Dragonborn, which are a selectable race in the D&D 5e Player’s Handbook. New gamers, or those from a time when the Forgotten Realms didn’t have half-dragons, won’t have any idea what the difference is, and from the artwork in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, there really isn’t much to be had. A Sidebar or aside about the differences between these two races would have been great for those not in the know or if a player decides to make a Dragonborn for his or her PC. The other minor issue I have is with the humanoid art. While the maps, background and monster art are all really nicely done, the humanoid figures leave a lot to be desired. A gnome ally looks more like a Halfling, for example, and a half elf ally who eventually hires you looks more like a female dwarf in the first picture showing them (trussed up in almost crucifixion fashion). That was awkward. Of course, art is purely subjective, where you might like these and I don’t. Still, the heads and the body shape of all the humanoids just don’t look right, save for the half dragons. I’d prefer a different artist going forward, but hey, the art doesn’t impact the playing of the adventure.

Overall, Horde for the Dragon Queen is a great co-release to go with the Player’s Handbook. The adventures are fun, they are well written and well balanced, and with eight different episodes in this campaign, you’re really getting a fantastic deal for your thirty dollars. I do personally like the first two Sundering adventures/campaigns better, but as the first part of the Tyranny of Dragons campaign and the first post D&D Next adventure for Fifth Edition, Hoard of Dragons is a wonderful edition to any gaming collection, even if you’re just going to read it. If this is the level of quality we can expect from future 5e adventures/campaigns, that Wizards of the Coast and their Dungeons & Dragons line is going to be especially hard to beat this time around. Whether you’re a longtime fan of D&D, someone that stopped playing the game because you strongly prefer a previous edition or someone who is new to the brand, the one two punch of Horde of the Dragon Queen and the Player’s Handbook makes this the perfect time to pick up Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. I’m really happy with what is here and even though you won’t be able to get your hands on The Rise of Tiamat for a few months, I can say without spoilers, that it too will be worth the wait. Great job by everyone involved and 5e is off to an awesome start!

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  • Saul

    Thanks for the write-up. You don’t actually need the PHB or Starter Set to run it – the free Basic Rules will do!

  • Alexander Lucard

    Well, the Basic rules won’t have some of the character classes, 2nd/3rd level path diversions, PC races, monster stats, fleshing out information or feats so they can only go so far. You are right that you can more or less run Hoard of the Dragon Queen with the free basic rules, but you won’t get the full complete experience.

  • Saul

    Well they have stated that the adventure can be used as a stand alone product, so I just wanted to point out that possibility. Obviously it’ll be richer with the PHB.

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  • JAFA

    Our party is level 4 and we are nearly to the cloud castle, even random encounters are almost total party wipes! Seems like we should be higher level?

  • Alexander Lucard

    It sounds like DM issues. You should level up at certain points in the adventure if you’re not using traditional experiencing and by the castle you should indeed be higher than Level 5.

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  • Christopher John Boillot

    [New DM/Player] What do you suggest a DM to do, if his group has gone thru the starter set and then moves to this with the same characters?

  • Alexander Lucard

    Unfortunately the 5e campaigns are designed specifically for entirely new parties to go through from Level 1 through the beginning. You might want to go for D&D Encounters instead if you want to use the same characters. Either that or homebrew your own. A lot of third party companies make stand alone adventures to that you can purchase.

  • Daniel Kneeland

    Hoard of the Dragon Queen might not be the best adventure to move into, or even play at all in my opinion- however, the Princes of the Apocalypse Adventure is excellent and even has a page containing information on how to move characters finishing the starter set adventure into this one, which might be exactly what you need. You can also find a lot of other information on how to move Lost Mine characters into other published 5e adventures. Have fun gaming!

  • Daniel Kneeland

    I respect your opinion and I read your post, but I have to disagree.

    Hoard of the Dragon Queen falls prey to one of the biggest problems of tabletop campaigns- railroading. This adventure is extremely linear, with little to no diversion, and little option for party choice. They go from point A to point B, from point B to point C, etc. There is a lack of the “sandbox” feel that really makes a D&D adventure shine. Both Lost Mine of Phandelver and Princes of the Apocalypse, a couple of the other official 5th edition adventure releases, are amazing and are among my favorites. With Lost Mine, you hear a bunch of rumors and quest leads and the party Decides where they want to go and what they want to do, with multiple paths to uncover the story and defeat the villain. I find this engages my players much more, as they are creatively trying to unveil the story of the adventure and making conscious decisions of where they want to go and how they want to do things. I feel that Hoard of the Dragon Queen fails to accomplish this as its a simple “move along” adventure where the characters are told the story and they fight the fights they are supposed to. That is not to say I don’t enjoy the new 5th edition content- Hoard is the only product I am displeased with thus far and I find that 5th edition takes the advantages of all previous editions to create, quite arguably, the best tabletop RPG period. I simply feel that they skipped a beat on Hoard, but they definitely learned from their mistakes and continued on to create some of the best adventures I’ve ever seen. Thanks for reading and considering my opinion.

  • Christopher John Boillot

    All of my players have never played before. I was thinking of running Lost Mines with the in the box characters to give them a taste of how the game plays. When we get done with that, then have them roll their own characters and start from the beginning.

  • Christopher John Boillot

    All of my players have never played before. I was thinking of running Lost Mines with the in the box characters to give them a taste of how the game plays. When we get done with that, then have them roll their own characters and start Dragon Queen.

  • Alexander Lucard

    That’s probably best. That way if someone’s character dies in the campaign, you can always take their previous character, level them up if need be, and find a way to slot them so they can keep playing.

  • Daniel Kneeland

    Lost Mine is a fantastic adventure for newer players and the pregen backgrounds pull them into the adventure very well. I hope you have a blast running it!