Tyranny of Dragons | Council of Waterdeep

Our Monday night group started the second half of Tyranny of Dragons with The Rise of Tiamat.

This will be my last Tyranny of Dragons article. I do not feel like the campaign is a good space where writing about it would be beneficial to myself or the readers. I may mentioned Velkyn later in Hacks articles, mostly as an exercise in character building, not really as character development.

Hopefully, you will stick around as I begin introducing my home brew setting and campaign notes for Maelstrom and more Hacks.

But… what do I know…?

Tyranny of Dragons | Castle in the Clouds

Half-black dragon, white dragon, Red Wizards, giants, and a flying castle full of enemies… this was a generally fun session.

Without revealing too many specifics about the chapter, having multiple spellcasters able to layer down spells in a surprise round is very effective. The party snuck aboard the flying castle–and attached giant iceberg–and were able to recon around. We bypassed guards and struck directly at the leaders, taking them out one-by-one. It was nice because there was no plot armor on our targets this time. With so many enemies around, being sneaky and tactical was the only logical choice. The silence spell is great for parties, especially to disable enemy spellcasters–nearly every spell has a verbal component–but sucks for dealing thunder damage. We swept through the rooms with lethal abandon.

The session ran long–as to be expected with essentially a dungeon crawl–but instead of carrying over to next session, the DM used his board game rules to finish the rest of the combats. So he hand waved what were potentially interesting combat encounters.

As 5th level spells go, destructive wave is a particularly nice spell, especially when able to maximize the thunder damage. Sleet storm was effective as well against the low Dexterity white dragon, knocking it out of the sky. A lot of spellcasting this session…

I have some additional thoughts about the character and the campaign, but I am going to think about them more before speaking them aloud.

But… what do I know…?

 

Tyranny of Dragons | Hunting Lodge

So this session went a little… off.

The purpose of this chapter of Hoard of the Dragon Queen is for the characters to find out about the flying castle that is transporting the hoard. If you read some other reviews, likely they will mention this is just a filler chapter–yes, you can meet some interesting non-player characters, but most likely you will just kill them. So our party decided to storm this place because there was no clear direction on where else to go.

Inside, we climb to the second level and meet Talis the White, a minor villain who is willing to work with us to further her own goals. We ask questions, she tries to convince us to join forces, and we decide to leave the room and “Pharblex”–our way of saying “Jenga”. Please watch Critical Role if you do not understand that reference.

Here comes the plot armor.

In the split second it takes for us to exit the room and blanket the room in spell damage, the villains have jumped out the window, closed the door, and crossed 100 feet to the teleportation circles. Where I am expecting a stand-up fight at this point, but instead the villains will escape without so much as a scratch. So my character casts thunderwave, pushes the guard standing at the door away, and jumps out the window. I ask the DM what my character sees. He says that he does not want to tell me because it will affect the actions of the other characters. Now I have gone from annoyed to really annoyed. I told him to tell me in secret and then my character can convey what is happening to the rest of the party.

Let me stop here a moment. Some DMs get frustrated and make mistakes, however, this DM was clearly showing frustration and cheating in order to get what he wanted. I have no problems with DMs stacking the deck, making characters work for a prize, and running a challenge–but cheating? DMs can already control the entire world, not following the rules set out just annoys me–everyone play by the same rules or do not play. Go frustrate the characters, but when you do that to the players, problems arise.

Moving on. Through the previous conversation, we find out where we need to go–the village of Parnast–but on a DC 24 Survival check, we cannot find the path. The DM turns to me and says “that’s in the book”. No it is not. What is the point of cheating here? The characters need to move on from this scene since the enemies are all gone, we already got the clue that this chapters was meant to give, and no one is going to challenge the party as we move on. So finding a well-travelled path where wagons and heavily burdened pack animals carrying hoards of treasure takes a DC 25 because the DM was frustrated again? Punitive and petty. I rolled my eyes and mentally checked out. We passed the challenge because we stacked Bardic Inspiration and guidance and advantage together to roll a DC 27… and the DM said we get to move on. Yay for anti-climactic. Someone needs to listen to Gaming and BS and their GUMSHOE episode.

So any DMs out there reading this: check your ego at the door before the game. The players and characters are not against you, they are playing the story. If it affects you so much, you need to detach and play along with the game, rather than adversarial approach. I see way too many people DM in this manner, especially in public play. Shove the attitude and cheer on the players and characters, everyone has more fun that way.

Next session is a board game again.

Not much to say about my character at this point. I do not really get to play him as intended–he has turned more into a spellcaster than a self-healing tank. We are entering the flying castle, so hopefully we get to cross swords and spells at some point. Dragon, storm giant, an army of Cultists–I am of the mind to start a huge melee and see what happens.

Bleh.

But… what do I know…?

Tyranny of Dragons | Castle Naerytar

So this week  our characters walked into a grinder dungeon crawl of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Castle Naerytar out in the swamp. This chapter has tons of enemies and adversaries, level upon level of rooms and doors, overly complex design, and unclear and badly-written descriptions–all-in-all, a potential death trap… Continue reading “Tyranny of Dragons | Castle Naerytar”

Tyranny of Dragons | On the Road

Two weeks and two levels later, we are back around the table to play Tyranny of Dragons–that is, to play D&D.

Leaving behind the board game debacle–until next time–we dove back into our personas and continued the story. It is incredible how this group has really developed into their roleplaying in such a short period of time. It was only last November this group got dumped unceremoniously into the Underdark and forced to work together. Now, everyone is comfortable taking on the mantle of character. I admit I was stunned being on the player’s side of the DM screen, I withdrew a bit just to admire everyone play. When I DM, I do not have the luxury of sitting back and watching the interaction. I am either interacting with the characters or I am mentally reviewing what happens next. Our Tyranny of Dragons DM is very good with the social interaction portion of the game. His characters have life and personalities. He also creates sidebar quests or mini-games which are amusing, but generally serve no purpose to move the narrative forward. I think he is trying to instill a particular memory or experience for our characters, I just do not know what exactly we are supposed to get out of it. Regardless, it is D&D and it is fun, so I guess the story can wait.

I take full credit for derailing the DM when I asked to purchase magic items. Part of my character’s backstory is to constant search for items or powers that do with flight. While those items did not appear, we got to go shopping for uncommon items. My ulterior motive was to see if the DM gave into requests to purchase magic items in the guise of my character’s quest. We spent a good chunk of the session dabbling in the shops.

During certain parts of the session, I felt as though we should have the opportunity to roll our skills and use our characters–try the luck of the d20–but the DM is not always as consistent with that. Even if we roll well, it might not mean anything where things are a bit more arbitrary. Only time will tell how things go. We ended the session midway through On the Road, chapter 4 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, so next week will need to make up for lost time.

Being as this is the first time I have played my character since 1st level, I cannot say there was much change since we had no combat and little in the way of skill challenges or things to do. Also, my character is not the chatty one, so Persuasion or Deception are not his strong suits. He plays around to reinforce others, usually with spells. Next level is the big boost in power, increased proficiency bonus, 3rd level spells, etc.

(The article is a bit shorter this week because it was written during a very busy week and completed a week after the actual session. My memory is not what it used to be.)

But… what do I know…?

Tyranny of Dragons | Raider’s Camp and Dragon Hatchery

Warning: I am particularly brutal in my analysis this week about the home campaign we are playing. If you are a player or are associated with the game, I recommend you turn around and go away. I take my D&D very seriously…

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition was a great game–but it was not D&D.

Some of you may have already heard me say that over and over again, and others of you might be wondering where I am going with this. Let’s get into this week analysis of Tyranny of Dragons to stop the speculation.

Last time, I spoke about the opening scene and the cast of characters for our Tyranny of Dragons campaign. The session played out really well and our characters advanced to 2nd level based on session-based advancement (DMG 260). The week following that inaugural session the DM was unavailable. So instead, he sent us a board game based loosely on episode 2 and 3 of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

board game.

This board game takes our “character” on a solo quest, adds a cohort which we have no story attachment to for backup, and a random track that pits them against an arbitrary damage mechanic. The only d20 rolls are for trivial skill checks or take arbitrary damage. No attack or damage rolls, no way to play your character, and no correlation to anything in the game. No explanation of mine can properly convey my utter confusion and disappointment about having the game rules butchered so haphazardly. At least 4th Edition tried to emulate D&D. I mentioned before that the DM has a rather tenuous grasp on the rules of D&D, but this is beyond strange.

The closest thing you can get to playing D&D without actually playing D&D is to read a D&D novel, even then your mileage may vary. However, this “board game”–and it is a stretch of game design to even consider it that–is unrecognizable as D&D. Senda and Phil mentioned this on Talking Games: if you want the play experience the author intended–and I assumed we were playing D&D–then use the rules. Am I upset because I am some D&D purist? Probably. But the unwritten social contract I signed did not include derivative hacks in my D&D. House rules that alter the game drastically–like making D&D into a nonsensical and arbitrary board game–should be discussed with everyone. By the way, each run through of the board game representing an episode also leveled up our characters. Effectively, I missed playing 2nd and 3rd level with my cleric.

As for my 4th level character, Velkyn has not changed overly much except for Channel Divinity and 2nd level spell slots. A very overlooked spell, aid, is really useful at lower levels. 5 or more hit point increase to 3 characters’ maximum hit point total for 8 hours without concentration is nothing to scoff at. Equipment and character layout is unchanged since 1st level. Until 5th–or the additional of magic items–the character works as intended, tank and self-heal, I guess. My final decision is between the ability score increase or a feat.

Next time, you can see what a difference one level makes…

But… what do I know…?

Tyranny of Dragons | Greenest in Flames

For the third time in Dungeons & Dragons, a character of mine has stepped into the fiery town of Greenest to begin his destiny. I bet the that town is getting pretty sick of rebuilding houses and shovelling kobold feces out of the stream–amongst the other bodies we keep throwing in there–just so another adventuring troupe can get their start. Hoard of the Dragon Queen–often misspelled “Horde”–is the first adventure module released by Wizards of the Coast for the newest edition of D&D, all the way back in the fall of 2014. I say “third time” because I have played through this sequence before and even run parts of the module as a Dungeon Master for D&D Adventurers League when it launched.

Why play it again? Before I killed all the player characters off in Out of the Abyss the previous week, one of the players was prepared to take over the DM chair already when the campaign wrapped up. Real life timelines got moved up three months or so from expectations–I was stepping down in the summer in anticipation of baby. While planning for the campaign, he asked us our opinions on what to run: Tyranny of Dragons or a home brew campaign? I can tell you that my preference is always home brew, especially with this DM. However, I had a concern: this DM is not very well versed in the rules. Leaving aside the system mastery and “it’s not about the rules” arguments, I wanted to play D&D and not a vaguely similar game where the rules were not in-line with expectations. In the end, we encouraged him to run Tyranny of Dragons to get familiar with the rules, encounter building, and appropriate monsters.

With that off my chest, how about more information about the game? For the first time in a long time, we have a party name–rather than just “those guys” or “that adventuring party”. Winds of Change consists of: nominal party leader and pathological liar, Tephim, human wizard; screeching and extremely effective flyer, Erreek, aarakocra warlock; sly tongued and resents that human women are not hitting on him, Ceoltoir, tiefling bard; blood-filled artillery piece and tragic backstory, Dael, human blood hunter; and finally, tactical planner but very easily bored, Velkyn, moon elf cleric. The group and the characters had a great chemistry, everyone threw themselves into telling their encounters before the Greenest, and everyone was comfortable roleplaying.

My character is Velkyn Stormsoul, moon elf cleric of Akadi and Aerdrie Faenya. In a non-traditional turn of events, he is the light armor tank and primary healer in a party of ranged support characters. I am also playing him as a battlefield tactician. His shtick is destructive thunder and lightning damage–specifically booming blade in combination with Destructive Wrath and other Tempest Domain abilities. His motivation and flaw is that he obsessed with flight–he willingly runs towards danger of he can study creatures with wings or magic items that grant flying. And he gets bored easily. As I was creating and refining this character, I realized that he would have fit really well into Princes of the ApocalypseWindvane and its faux avariel bearer would make perfect story elements for Velkyn–oh well. Mechanically, I like how the character is built and we will see how it works out as he levels up. Conceptually, I love the combination of tactical thinking and quickly bored reactions.

What is the point of this series of articles? You will see episode summaries from the point of view of Dael written by cle4ves–just like his Draekhill stories. I think his opinion is vitally important for readers and DMs, to see how the games come through a new player’s eyes. I will write about certain elements and nuances–mostly commentary as the campaign unfolds, rules and mechanics, story, and other fiddly things as they come up. Enjoy the ride!

But… what do I know…?