The Saving Throw
Hoard of the Dragon Queen 2014
How are you not going to show your scar?

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Overall Review
published by Wizards of the Coast reviewed by Scott Wachter
96 pages, 2014, $29.95 Print
Game Setting 1.5
Art 4
Story 1.5
Game Rules 3
Intelligibility 2
Review Scoring

This is the first full-sized adventure for a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. It is also the first product in a new partnership between Wizards of the Coast and Kobold Press, and every indication is this is a match made in boredom and repetition for characters level one through seven.

The story of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, such that it is, is centred on a scheme by the Cult of the Dragon to free Tiamat, the five-headed queen of evil dragons, from her prison in the Abyss and also recruit mortal dragon allies to rampage across the land. To accomplish this they need massive amounts of loot. This plan doesn't get much in the way of justification in the Game Master's section. In theory they just need enough magical mojo to bust Tiamat out; then they have all the leverage they need (i.e. their god) to recruit dragons in rampage-y goodness. Instead they need to assemble a huge mercenary army to raid small towns of all their wealth to bribe the draconic community into something they probably already want anyhow. The background information also glosses over the cult's previous appearances in the setting as a circle of necromancers obsessed with turning dragons into undead monstrosities because of some cryptic prophecies, this reboot of the organization feels out of place.

The adventure opens strong with a city under siege by the aforementioned mercenaries, with a wide variety of smaller encounters with different objectives and interesting locales related to that one night time raid. After that, however, the game devolves into alternately walking north or storming an underground facility to fight the same mercenary goons backed up by a new generic bad guy race to fill out the oh-so-very-many rooms of the dungeon. Players also have the option of posing as bad guy goons, which does not even require stealing uniforms (players may be asked to remember the secret handshake, which is waving) until they bump into the one named character who has an agenda outside of the villain group at which point they are free to do whatever they say instead. Lather, rinse, and repeat for eight to twelve sessions. No hyperbole - there is one chapter of the adventure that consists of nothing but walking north and waiting for the encounter table to throw out something tangentially plot related. Partway through this slog that is this adventure players will encounter a number of the game’s good guy factions who provide some intel and well wishes, but it doesn’t introduce the various faction mechanics from the game, so these moments feel like extremely forced points of exposition.

Non-player characters are not so much fleshed out as they are a series of bullet points - never more than five, one of which is always a physical appearance, and maybe a relation to another NPC. Everyone is a cardboard cut-out to one degree or another, mostly with fingers pointing north. To help players buy into the adventure itself there are new bonds and backgrounds related to the plot, which is handy for gamers looking for buy-in to the premise.

Not only are the scripted encounters repetitive (oh hey another small stone room full of cultist fighters and their guard drake pals), but the random encounter tables only seem to feature twelve different creatures, some of which are higher-level re-skins of creatures from earlier scripted encounters. The environments alternate between castle and cave with some variation, eg. the climax is in a flying castle with it's own ice cave basement, but be prepared to use every descriptor for stone in the english language.

This module is the newest on the list of reasons why many gamers deride pre-written adventures. It is unengaging, shallow, and uninspired. It doesn't even come with the benefit of interesting combat encounters to recycle for your own story. More like Bored of the Dragon Queen, just skip it.

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