Five Heads Are Better Than One: The Rise of Tiamat D&D Module Review

Posted December 10, 2014 by Chris Lincoln in Nerdy Bits

Hello, and welcome to the second part of The Tyranny of Dragons D&D Campaign! I didn’t get much experience with part one, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, outside of the D&D Encounters version so I was very excited to get my hands on this and it did not disappoint.

I’ll begin with the production values, which are predictably high. The book has the same glossy front cover and glossy/matte back cover as the Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual, which I love. As I’ve said before, they didn’t need to do that, but it’s a nice touch that gives the book some style and class, even before you crack it open. Also back is the single black page between the covers and the full color pages, another nice touch.

Rise of Tiamat Cover

She will return!

The art is high quality stuff, but what struck me most was how hefty the paper is. This is great, as the book is going to get flipped through a lot, but it’s also nice because it gives the slim volume a great feel to it, like an ancient tome. All the printing is as good as you’d expect compared to the other D&D books. Full marks all around.

Rise of Tiamat Paper

Ooooh, those feels.

Now, on to the meat of the adventure. This module picks up right after Hoard of the Dragon Queen ended. Without spoiling too much, a cult is trying to bring back Tiamat, the 5-headed queen of the chromatic dragons, and at the end a battle was fought in a castle in the sky. That’s a pretty high bar to meet, let alone exceed, but I think Rise of Tiamat manages to pull it off. For one, the module continues to take you on a tour of the Sword Coast region as well as having you travel further inland now and then. You get to see a lot of fantastic, and sometimes well known, locales throughout the adventure. You’ll spend some time in The Sea of Moving Ice, the Mysty Forest, even visit Thay for a short while. That last one really blew me away, as Thay is well east of the main story’s locations.

Rise of Tiamat Cultists Wrecking

I hope you like fighting cultists, because they are all over this module.

You see, this module is framed by a series of councils and diplomatic encounters. Chief amongst these are the 4 councils held at Waterdeep, the first of which opens the adventure and is influenced primarily by what the characters did in the previous module.

Rise of Tiamat First Council

That’s a pretty dramatic way to start a council.

From there each council begins a new stage of the module and is influenced by the previous stage. Throughout these councils the DM will be keeping track of the factions’ attitudes towards the party via a scorecard. The party loses and gains favor depending on the choices made during a few key events, but not all factions react the same. Killing a villain might gain you favor with a few factions, but others might be upset that you didn’t question him first. The level of favor the party has with a faction comes into play during the entire adventure, but is most strongly felt during the final stage when you need allies and armies the most. I really like the favor scorecard, not just for making the DM’s job easier, but for how it makes the players think more about their actions as staying favorable in the factions’ eyes becomes increasingly more important. Anything that helps inform roleplaying at the table is alright by me.

Rise of Tiamat Scorecard

I’m also a fan of charts and tables, so this is right up my alley.

That isn’t to say the module is just politics and diplomacy. There’s plenty of questing and adventure all over this book. There are various mapped out dungeons that should take several sessions each to complete as well as appropriate encounters for every adventure stage and region. You’ll battle ice toads, yuan-ti, a metric ton of cultits and, of course, a few dragons. The dungeons presented you are all over the place. Inside an iceberg, deep within a forest, even a TARDIS-like evil tower.

Rise of Tiamat Tower and Maze

The village in the background is just their gardening staff.

The locations alone have me excited to run this for a group. Along with planned dungeons and, of course, random encouters there are also a set of optional encounters meant to be peppered throughout as you see fit. These are there primarily to set the mood for the campaign. At this point the cultists’ actions have really shaken up the Sword Coast. There are more roving bandits than usual, people often see the sillouhet of a dragon soaring across the sky, and so much more to really set the chaotic mood the book is going for.
And that brings me to possibly my favorite part of the book, the freedom they keep reminding you of. The module has several points where it tells you it’s OK to improvise. The intro makes a point of telling you that this book is not a rigid document meant to be run exactly as written. They tell you, right from the get-go, that players will and often do go far off the rails. And they encourage this! The module clearly wants you to improvise when you need to, even suggesting you make up small adventures should the party have a great idea. “This is not…a script to be read aloud with stage directions that must be followed.”

Rise of Tiamat Improvise

Improvisation is one of the most important skills a Dungeon Master can have.

I don’t know how to put that sentiment any better. The book is a guide, a framework, a robust skeleton to build your adventure around. Because D&D is, at it’s core, about the unexpected. The players aren’t aware of the plans of the DM and I can surely guarantee you that the DM has no earthly idea what the party is going to do. Seriously, you guys are like animals sometimes.

See you on the Sword Coast.

About the Author

Chris Lincoln

A gamer through and through. A first class nerd. All games are his realm, but the tabletop is where he sits upon his throne.