How does 5e’s First Adventure Fare?
Hoard of the Dragon Queen is the first official (discounting the beginner box adventure) adventure path released for 5th edition D&D. Is this first step a good one? Or is it a toddler’s comical face-plant? Let’s go investigate some dragon cults as we run through everything you need to know.
What’s in the Book?
Hoard of the Dragon Queen clocks in at 96 pages, which is about half of most of their typical adventure path releases (you’ll see why in a minute). The vast bulk of the book is devoted to the adventure path itself
- 11 new magic items.
- 22 new monsters/NPCs with lore and stat blocks.
- Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure path, running from 1st level to 8th level.
11 New Magic Items
While Hoard of the Dragon Queen is a tad light on extras, these magic items are a welcome addition. Most of these are quest-specific items but there are also some ubiquitous items that you’ll end up using all over the place in your own campaigns. I was particularly surprised to find the endless ale flask in here, as I’d been missing it from the other publications.
22 New Monsters/NPCs
This is a decent collection of largely dragon-themed cultists, lesser drakes, and big ole’ mama Tiamat herself. There’s nothing here that’s much of a surprise but I always like to collect more stat blocks and useful monsters. In particular, the drakes fill a low CR draconic need that was lacking from the usual rogue’s gallery.
Hoard of the Dragon Queen Adventure Path
Hoard of the Dragon Queen takes place primarily on the Sword Coast in the Forgotten Realms, which will be very familiar to a lot of players. Fundamentally, the plot is driven by an evil dragon cult who are terrorizing countless communities up and down the coast as they hoard treasure and sacrificial captives to bring the return of Tiamat, a dragon goddess. All of this, Tiamat especially, is so tied into the core of D&D and is so iconic to the game, that it really hurts to say this: It’s bad.
I can’t beat around the bush with this one, it’s just bad. This was a stumble right out of the gate for 5e adventures and It’s obvious that they learned from their mistakes with later publications.
But rather than leave it at “bad”, let’s go through the glaring issues one by one. Just like Wizards of the Coast learned from this trash fire, you too can learn from these mistakes for constructing your own adventures.
It’s Half of an Adventure
This is probably the most forgivable sin this adventure committed but it’s still a problem. “Hoard of the Dragon Queen” is the first half of the “Tyranny of Dragons” arc that concludes with the second half “The Rise of Tiamat”. This means that even the “climactic battle” is really just the midpoint of the overall story. There’s nothing wrong with doing adventures episodically or in parts, but don’t expect a satisfying conclusion or complete plot from this book alone.
All Fighting, No Roleplay
This book is a callback to much earlier writing styles for adventures and it shows in the worst ways. I was confused at first seeing that such a short book was covering levels 1 through 8, because I was used to seeing interesting encounters and role-playing opportunities amongst the dungeon crawls. Every chapter is just… combat. Not even interesting dungeons or traps for the most part. I’d say about 90% of the time you’ll spend in this adventure is in plain straightforward combat. Not important or exciting combat, not interesting and unique combat, just plain vanilla time-filling combat against random cultists and mercenaries.
If you’re a part of a more strategic and combat-minded playgroup you MIGHT get some enjoyment out of this, but only if you’re nostalgic for more classic encounters. Even then there’s only so much joy one can derive from yet another wave of generic cultists or ANOTHER squad of identical kobolds. The game has grown from the days of early D&D and most players are going to be absolutely bored by these repetitive and lackluster encounters.
The few real roleplaying encounters are extremely open-ended and not in a good way, they’re unsatisfying and feel like token inclusions. There’s an emphasis on gaining favor with the major Sword Coast factions but it almost always just takes the form of doing minor quests for them rather than meaningful interaction. It’s sad, this book makes me sad.
Reliant on Random Encounters
It’s all well and good to have some areas of wilderness with random encounter tables, in fact they can be a great way to interject some action when things get slow. But they really shouldn’t be something you’re relying on heavily for content. In multiple places, the book seems to just rely on a few random encounters to fill in the sections, and they’re bland and boring random encounters at that. There are situations where I’d expect some planned interactions and dungeon crawling, and instead I’m just expected to run the players through a few more random fights.
I can forgive a lot of sins if the setting is interesting if I like the monsters or there’s something unique about the story. Hoard of the Dragon Queen is painfully generic and soulless. It seems like every opportunity for creative content has been stifled with bone dry bland sensibilities. Ok we just finished this super interesting fight against 3 generic cultists and 8 kobolds, what could ever top it? Gasp, a fight against 4 generic cultists and 10 kobolds? OH BOY! What will they think of next? Quite frankly the damn intro adventure in the beginner box was more interesting than half of this entire book.
Other than the final chapter, you could shuffle the encounters together and hide the names and I’d have a hard time picking them out. So much of this book is just slowly increasing the difficulty fighting essentially the same enemies over and over again.
I found typos. There wasn’t anything extremely wrong with it, but I should not be spotting typos without looking for them in a book published by Wizards of the Coast. This more than anything tells me that the current team was fresh and still finding their feet. This is all in retrospect, I know they later solved these problems since I haven’t found errors like these in later books. You probably won’t have issues with these typos, but it really speaks volumes about the lack of oversight and polish that his book received.
What’s Good About the Book?
Ok, I’ve been very harsh on this book, but it is genuinely hard to find points in its favor. I appreciated the guard drake stats and some of the magic items. It’s formatted well I suppose. I’m grasping at straws here. If you’re nostalgic for the early days of D&D it could be a fun way to test character builds? It’s bound to be better than some really bad homebrews? The plot hooks do actually push the players forward (found something) and your players shouldn’t flounder to connect the major plot sections.
What’s Bad About the Book?
The book is the bad part of the book. I can’t tell you how disappointed and unimpressed I was with this adventure path. I wanted to ride drakes, battle with powerful dragons, or at the very least do something interesting. If I wanted to play through a bunch of random encounters, I could have made my own damn random encounters. It relies way too much on the DM to fill in all the interesting bits that it should really have put together for them. Endless fights are backed up by nothing, and roleplay is placed in as an afterthought. I struggled to find a single good thing to say about this book, and that’s depressingly sad for an official Wizards of the Coast publication.
It’s terrible. I cannot and will not recommend this book to anyone. You should not play through this adventure and I will implicitly warn players to avoid it like the plague. It would not surprise me if many new players were soured on role-playing entirely by trying this adventure path. It’s not just that it has problems that sour it, it didn’t have anything good to sour in the first place.
It’s technically sound, and that’s all I can say about it. Some adventures will flounder between connections and leave players stranded if the DM can’t fill in the gaps. This adventure at least fully holds together so that bumped up the score, barely.
It’s actually kind of helpful to me as a critic, I have this book now as a baseline for just how terrible an adventure path can be. This is the ground floor of terrible upon which all my future reviews will be founded, and I hope nothing ever pushes it lower.
Final Score: 1.5 out of 10
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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