Tyranny of Dragons

Posted by Andrew E. on

Does it do Tiamat Justice?

The Tyranny of Dragons is a massive adventure spanning multiple books and 16 levels. Rooted in some of D&D’s earliest plots and monsters, Tyranny of Dragons has been updated for 5th edition D&D and re-released as the full adventure contained within a single massive and gorgeous tome. Is it worth picking up? Is it worth playing? Take wing and join the battle against the amassed draconic cult as we run through everything you need to know.

How do I use all these Dragon Books?

Firstly, Tyranny of Dragons is a compilation of two full adventure books: “Hoard of the Dragon Queen” and “The Rise of Tiamat”. You can technically play each of these two books individually (more on that later), starting with “Hoard of the Dragon Queen” and finishing the adventure with “The Rise of Tiamat”.

So, to play this adventure you either need:

  • Tyranny of Dragons
  • Hoard of the Dragon Queen + The Rise of Tiamat.

I should also note it’s impossible to purchase Tyranny of Dragons on DnDBeyond, and you’ll need to pick up the two-component books if you plan on using that service.

What’s in the Book?

tyranny of dragons

Tyranny of Dragons is 224 pages thick and contains all the content from its two component books plus a little extra concept art section. Most of the length is dedicated to the adventure itself (which is massive) but also contains some magic items and a monster bestiary. All told the book contains:

  • 11 new magic items.
  • 22 new monsters/NPCs with lore and stat blocks.
  • Concept Art Gallery.
  • Tyranny of Dragons adventure path, running from 1st level to 16th level.

11 New Magic Items

Most of the items in this section are extremely strong story-specific items (the dragon masks) that you’ll have a hard time fitting into other adventures. I did appreciate a couple here (mainly the endless flask that I was missing from the DM’s guide) but generally, this section is plot artifacts only.

22 New Monsters/NPCs

Mostly dragons and dragon cultists (which makes sense) but I always appreciate more stat blocks to play with. Surprisingly small considering the length of the adventure but since it relies heavily on existing monsters there wasn’t much need for new stuff. I did particularly like the guard drakes though as we’ve been missing low CR draconic monsters.

Concept Art Gallery

This is the advertised big “bonus” section added to Tyranny of Dragons that wasn’t present in the component books. It’s a nice inclusion, and if you’re picking the book up as more of a collector’s item this section is going to be the main draw. I can’t say it’s what the book really needed (more on that) but it’s a fine addition. 

Tyranny of Dragons Adventure Path

Tyranny of Dragons is very simply the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure path combined with the Rise of Tiamat adventure, and everything I’ve said about those two books remains true here. You battle your way through countless cultists as they try to stop the return of Tiamat, the 5-headed evil dragon goddess. 

The first half (Hoard of the Dragon Queen) is difficult, dull, and just plain unpleasant to play. It was designed with old edition gameplay in mind. In particular, it has a notorious 1st chapter that runs a group of 1st level adventurers through 8 encounters without an opportunity to rest (many players die here). The “remastered 1st chapter” that they advertised is identical to its original form, save that they advance the players to 2nd level partway through the ordeal and they shave a few kobolds off the encounters.

These first 8 levels are grindy, mainly puffed up with random encounters, and very nearly bereft of roleplaying opportunities and scenarios more complex than “apply weapon to random enemy”. Seriously, the first few chapters are nearly interchangeable blobs of kobold and cultist fights. I couldn’t shake the overall feeling that levels 1-8 were simply a level grind for the far more interesting second half.

The second half is by far the better part of the adventure. While the second half has many of the same problems (repetitive fights, grindy mindset, lack of roleplay), the encounters and dungeon crawling spikes in quality. You upgrade from fighting vaguely dragon-themed cult leaders to fighting actual dragons. The dungeons are far more interesting and while there’s still grindy combats they feel more like they matter.

From the beginning, the DM is tasked with tracking how well the PCs have gained the favor of various organizations. I’ve got to say that the payoff here is satisfying, as the people you did side-quests for early on coming back at the end to help you defeat Tiamat. The absolute final battle is suitably epic, and it ends on a high note. Overall, The Rise of Tiamat is worth playing, if your playgroup enjoys more tactically minded dungeon crawling and raw combat.

Re-polished   

One of the “real reasons” they delivered this updated version is that the original copies were rife with errors. The component books were riddled with errors, ranging from simple typos to full rules confusion held over from playtests prior to the official launch of 5th edition. Thankfully, Tyranny of Dragons does fix this lack of polish and integrates the extensive errata that had to be posted to make the original books work.

It’s Bad, and they Didn’t Fix it.   

They integrated errata and fixed typos, but while they advertised a “reworked 1st chapter” they didn’t do hardly enough. The adventure is still a grindy mess that will run your players through countless nearly identical bland encounters. I had really hoped with this “rerelease” they’d rework some of these sections, but everything passed through largely unchanged.

Works Better as a Whole

I’m not sure why they separated the adventure in the first place. Both halves are roughly half the size of the other official adventure paths and it couldn’t have been that hard to combine what was obviously two halves of the same adventure into the same book. I feel like this was an attempt to imitate the episodic model of Pathfinder adventure paths that failed miserably. Regardless, Tyranny of dragons as a whole adventure is far superior to either halve alone, and it’s nice to get them wrapped up in a single book (like the should have been originally).

What’s Good About the Book? 

This is, by far, what Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat should have been from the beginning. Tiamat is an iconic villain and the book feels like a classic adventure for better or worse. The adventure ingratiates the PCs with multiple organizations and the many connections they make along the way pay off in the climactic final battle. The epic-length means that players can advance all the way from tier 1 to tier 4 in a single continuous narrative containing powerful dragons and assassinations. Finally, this full edition of both halves of the adventure fixes several nagging errors and integrates the much-needed errata.

What’s Bad About the Book?  

A LOT sadly. It’s not as if the plot breaks down, but the plot just sort of meanders. The players are quickly aware that there is a dragon cult that’s up to no good, and we just sort of quash various efforts of the cult for the rest of the book. There are a few points where cleverness and ingenuity are rewarded, but they are few and far between. Largely the PCs will simply need to fight their way through seemingly endless encounters that include some combination of kobolds and cultists. Even for more combat minded playgroups the action grinds and slows down any enthusiasm with boring repetitive battles. Roleplaying opportunities are comparatively rare and are usually relegated to optional side quests rather than main plot points. No fancy cover can conceal the poor game experiences that are sure to befall its players. 

Conclusions

Tyranny of Dragons is an improvement over the sum of its parts, I still can’t recommend that you play it. ALL the other official adventure paths are more interesting, more polished, and contain better gameplay even from a basic tactical game perspective. 

All the problems contained within Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat are present here and while they did make a few edits to fix the most egregious problems they are too little too late.

The first half (Hoard of the Dragon Queen) serves mainly as a level grind to reach tier 3 so that the PCs can face the draconic central antagonists. The second half is more palatable, but not if it requires slogging through the previous levels. I could almost advise playing The Rise of Tiamat and skipping the first half, but it’s still less enjoyable than practically any other adventure path.

However, if you are set on playing through this adventure, The Tyranny of Dragons is the superior way to do it. Because this edition contains the errata fixes, I will recommend this over the base component books, especially since you can easily acquire this for about the same price. In my mind, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat are officially outmoded, and Tyranny of Dragons is the updated “correct” version. 

Still though, please consider any other adventure path before picking this one up, it’s better than the originals but only by increments.

Final Score: 2.5 out of 10 

 

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Last updated: January 27, 2019

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