Hoard of the Dragon Queen [5e]


Wolfgang Baur & Steve Winter
D&D 5E
Levels 1-7

In an audacious bid for power the Cult of the Dragon, along with its dragon allies and the Red Wizards of Thay, seek to bring Tiamat from her prison in the Nine Hells to Faerun. To this end, they are sweeping from town to town, laying waste to all those who oppose them and gathering a hoard of riches for their dread queen. The threat of annihilation has become so dire that groups as disparate as the Harpers and Zhentarim are banding together in the fight against the cult. Never before has the need for heroes been so desperate.

This is an 8-episode adventure that is, generally, not very good. It’s not the episodic nature, that I can accept. WOTC wants to run D&D at game stores every week and to do that they need episodic content. I get that. I might quibble that they could do better at the episodic nature and making it feel less railroad, but I get it. No, the adventure is of lower quality because it feels like a 4e episodic adventure. Here’s a monster. Go fight it. Next! A potentially exciting and dynamic environment is introduced! And then they screw it up with the details … or lack thereof. As a DM & player you have a lot choices in what system you play and which of the tens of thousands of published adventures you play. There is no reason to play this except for “it’s what everyone else is playing at the game store on Wednesday night.” That’s a shame.

I see a few major issues with the adventure. First, it’s generic. It’s very non-specific, so much so that it seems like the designers are actually afraid of offering details. They will provide reams of data on the over-arching story and plot but then when you get to the actual adventure there are words like “throw a couple of encounters at the players” … with nothing else present. Or they clearly have an idea of how the adventure should proceed, like with the lizard man allies in episode 6, but are terrified of being accused of railroading. This extends to the descriptions, which are almost universally uninspiring. They feel flat and boring. The magic items are completely generic “ 1 sword”, and the titular HOARD of the Dragon Queen is actually abstracted throughout most of the adventure. The text does not inspire you, the DM, and that may be the most important sin.

It is very rare for me to complain in a review about formatting I care much more about the content and the imagination present in the adventure, but this time I feel I need to. They have chosen a very conversational style that contributes to a Wall of Text issue. There is not enough use of offsets and bullet lists and the like to allow the DM to reference important information quickly. This conversational style confusion tends to mix with some some poor choices for organization of text. In episode 8, for example, the first part involves getting in to the castle, but this information is scattered throughout the text of the first part.

Three ARE issues with railroad, with lack of player agency, with villain monologues and “pass a skill roll if you want to go on the adventure”, but these are minor and more easily fixed, both by the DM and by the designers in the next adventure.

Episode 1 – Town under Siege

While pursuing the most generic hook known to man: caravan guard. In the first 2 D&D products that’s twice now that it’s been used. Time to maybe branch out and try a hook with some life to it? And both times it’s been a complete throwaway. The hook is literally “maybe the players are caravan guards.” That’s pretty lame. So lame that it makes me think they are pushing some kind of agenda. Idle speculation is idle though; in the end the hook is lame and reflects badly … but accurately foretells what it to come. Generic Lameness. You come upon a town being looted by monsters! Mercenaries, kobolds, and a dragon zoom about through the streets! Oh’s No’s! You’re then presented with 8 little encounters to run, one of which should be done first. The first is a family being chased by kobolds. The goal is to rescue the family and then they’ll tell you to take them to the central keep, where in you can pick up the rest of the missions. The kobolds ignore you, thinking you are their allies. If you escort the family to the keep then you are the last ones through before the gate is barred right before the keep is surrounded by enemy forces. It all smacks me as a little … forced. Look, yeah, I know why. You want to give the players missions to do. But there should be LOTS of ways to do that without forcing them in to the keep and setting up some kind of EPIC MOMENT when the gates are barred behind you. What about the same thing in the church? Or a family in a cellar? Or any of a dozen other things that could have been added? But no, rather than the thing being run as a dynamic environment with brief suggestions it instead has to be run as a railroad. BULL. SHIT.

Like I said earlier, I could quibble with the nature of how the episodes are done, and make comments on how they could be less railroady … but … ok, I guess I just did. The GENERIC content though is what breaks this. There is something that quite literally looks like a skill challenge. To sneak through town you need to make stealth checks. For every two you have a random encounter. Ok, that’s not bad. It even makes sense! But then the encounters … ug! 6 kobolds. 6 cultists. 2 cultists and an acolyte. That’s what passes for CREATIVE CONTENT from Wolfgang & Winter. Seriously? You get exactly one interesting option: 1d6 townsfolk being hunted by raiders. That’s it. That’s something a DM can work with. But just a generic list of monsters? Why the hell did they even both? Give the thing some life! How about those 6 kobolds have a wagon piled high with bed frame and dressers? Of the bandits are rolling some kegs of ale down the road? It wouldn’t kill you to add a single sentence each and it would do WONDERS to help bring the scenes to life.

This same thing is the problem with the rest of the first episode. The encounters are presented as generically as possible. Yes, the DM must bring the encounter to life, we all know and accept that. But the designers job is to give the DM the tools to do that. To help them. This don’t do that. The vast majority of the text is spent on bullshit superfluous text instead of communicating an evocative and dynamic encounter. “The Cult of the Dragon led by dKJSDFKHD KDFgwkDGF the high K:WDH:KE:H of K@WGKEGKE@ is …” Ug! How about instead you tell me that the encounter with the dudes at the stream bank has them about to drown a group of townsfolk? That would be cool! That create something to work with! The issues extends to the maps, or lack thereof. The church, mill, stream bank, are all supposed to be exciting encounter locations. I can understand not want to enable the tactical miniatures boardgames crowd, but it wouldn’t kill you to provide a small map of the environment with some interesting shit on it for the players to key off of. Reeds to hide behind! Slippery bank! Steep dropoff! Pile of hay, smoldering!

If you put “the party will encounter 3 groups of kobolds on the way to the inn” in the adventure then that is exactly what is going to happen in AP. The asshat DM is going to say “ok, you encounter kobolds, Roll init” and then they are going to say it twice more. I know the rules can’t cure stupid, or a bad DM, but you can at least give the tool something to work with. “You encounter a group of kobolds rolling ale barrels down the road.” That provides SO many more options!

You get glimpses every now and then that they are trying. The Governor, wounded, trying to marshall a desperate defense … but it’s just a glimpse and then it’s gone. Rather than coming across as a desperate town under siege with a beleaguered leader instead you get generic-ville, population YOU. 🙁

I don’t get it. Standards & Practices maybe? I’m not asking for full on gore mode but there’s hardly any flavor here at all.

Oh, wait, wait, I forgot. Governor MORON gets pissy at you if you’ve done something that caused the death of one of the townsfolk. Jerk moron NPC. I suggest gutting him.

Also, what’s with the duel? You put a solo PC up against a monster that they can’t possibly win against … and then if they actually manage to do so they are rewarded by the creature just reappearing later on. “Replace him with another 1/2 dragon warrior if the party manage to defeat him.” So …. The parties actions have no consequences … is that the message you are trying to send?

Episode 2 – My, grandma, what a generic camp you have!

This has the party gathering some information about the raiders base camp, after dealing with a couple of rear-guards. The problem with the content here is much the same as the first episode … the lack of it.

The mission is not bad, just a brief synopsis from THE GOVERNOR, but then it quickly spirals down with the multi-paragraph exposition from a monk who wants you to do something for him. How they decided what to bore the players with and what to generalize is not clear. The governors paragraph is written as DM text and points out the particulars he’d like you to follow up on. But the monks text is all read-aloud. “We fought a particularly savage battle against the raiders.” Uh huh. Nobody talks like that. It’s too long and feels stilted. SHOW, don’t TELL. “I lost sight of brother Maltese while Brother Carl was being gutted by these two mercenaries in purple.” See how much better that is? The governors text is straightforward and fact-based, without ANY embellishment at all. No “sitting at his camp table, surrounded by aides” or “speaking to the players while getting gangrenous arm removed.” That’s the entire problem with this adventure. No Soul.

The first of the rear-guard action is with some stragglers. This isn’t too badly done. Cultists and kobolds cooking some stolen chickens over a fire, the humans bullying the kobolds …. So the designer tried, and does better than usual with this, adding some specificity to the encounter to allow the DM to visualize it and bring it to life for the players. But even then … “bullying.” Wouldn’t it be better if the scene was cemented more in the DM’s and players head? The humans grabbing a bird from the kobold and kicking over the stewpot, laughing while the kobolds scrambled to pick up the pieces from the dirt to eat?Look at how few words that took and how much better it is.

The actual rearguard is lame as all get out. It could use a little map and some extra life, like they chuck boulders down on people, or there’s a streamed to follow or ALMOST ANYTHING AT ALL. The content is “make a DC check based on what you know. You see the ambush from X distance away,.” Screw. That. I’m being totally serious. There is NO creative content at all in this section. It’s just presented as a boring and mundane fight with no details beyond who is fighting you. It is one of the lamest things I have ever seen from a big name publisher. They should be ashamed of themselves for asking for money for this.

The raiders camp, I hate myself for even typing something so uninspiring, has brief flash of things going on, but they quickly dissipate in a mess of WALL OF TEXT. There’s this great thing they do where every time they are communicating info that a cultist would know they say something like “the cult of dragon – blessed be her glory – is on the way to destroy the world! The whole ‘insert the crazy catchphrase” thing is fun, as is the silly cultist salute of wiggling fingers. And … that’s it. It’s clearly written to be explored exactly one way: pretend you belong there. There is a lip service sentence or two about other options, but the VAST VAST majority of the text assumes you just walked in and they don’t recognize you don’t belong. There are references to a cave with hatchlings in it … but no details. There are references to a leader … but no details. In fact YOU ARE EXPLICITLY KEPT FROM INTERESTING The leaders tent is guarded by some guards who do not let ANYONE in. They do not fall for tricks. Period. It says so EXPLICITLY. We put this totally interesting thing on the map, this thing that is totally relevant to your adventure/mission, and then explicitly do everything possible, including fiat, to keep you from it. What planet are the designers from? Again, flashes of brilliance “maybe one of the officers assigns you to a few hours of food prep”, but not NEARLY enough of it. And, “peel potatoes while carving Tiamat heads in to them” is much more fun than “food prep.”

The conversational style of the text also stood out in this section. I don’t usually complain about formatting issues, but the style chosen here is crazy. There are details buried all throughout the text of the sections, buried in long paragraph descriptions. You’re going to have to pull out a highlighter and ready it several times and take notes in order to run the thing effectively. I don’t see how it’s possible to refer to the text effectively during play at all. I don’t get this choice at all. It’s like they are purposefully obfuscating what’s going on in order to comply with some design directive to be “conversational.”

Episode 3 – The Return of the Suckitude

Back in town the guy you were sent to rescue (you did rescue him, didn’t you? I mean, if you didn’t then the hook is not possible, so I hope you rescued him …) wants you to go back to the camp and look around some more. He’s got some cash. Uh … are the designers even trying? It’s like they just slapped down the first thing that came to mind and didn’t give any thought to this at all. Why are you going? Because that’s the adventure we’re playing tonight and if you want to play then say “Yes.” That can be valid sometimes but there’s a spectrum here and the hook for episode 3 is WAY down at the “bad” end of it. Here’s a quote: “If the party accepts …” Uh … what if they don’t accept? It’s the combination of a lame railroad that isn’t trying at all that is asserting it’s NOT a lame railroad that’s not trying at all that is frustrating for me.

The game is generally abandoned when the party returns. There’s a neutral encounter in camp, but it’s written in such a confusing way that you don’t realize the opportunities at first. There are some SCOUTS hanging around at the abandoned camp site acting as hunters. It turns out that the evil cultists hired some woodsmen to go bring in game meat for them and they are still there, brining in game meat for the dudes in a cave. They are gruff and taciturn unless you have a ranger, etc. They are just dudes doing a job and don’t give a shit what you do to the camp. AND THAT’S IT. That’s the description. This could be a knock-it-out-of-the-park NPC encounter. The designers have introduced a faction, and factions mean social opportunities and social opportunities in D&D mean FUN! Another two sentences, with a name or a quirk, or something idiosyncratic, could have turned this in a rock-star level encounter. But instead the general trend of “no detail” is continued. I don’t get it. I don’t understand. WHY? Why is there such a lack of ANY detail that would make the adventure stand out and be memorable? I’m not asking for an epic set-piece. Those are forced and generally suck. But why not give enough to INSPIRE the DM running the encounter to greatness. That’s your job as the designer. Why aren’t you doing it?

You learn that the only people left in camp are the hunters and the dudes in the dragon hatchling cave (Ah! So that’s where it is! In episode 3! Now I know why the area was completely locked and unavailable in episode 2! Because it wasn’t on the railroad yet!) The thirteen or so encounters in the dragon hatchling cave are some of the worst that I have ever seen. Ok, maybe that’s hyperbole. Maybe it’s not factually correct. But that’s how I feel as I sit here typing this, the book next to me. I am absolutely crushed that they suck so much. I can recall one, maybe two, being interesting. “The cavern below is carpeted with a profusion of fungi ranging from a few inches high to nearly as tall as an adult human.” That’s what suffices for a description of one of the more fantastic of all D&D environment: a fungi garden. Think of all of those WONDERFULLY evocative images … and then think back to that sentence. Go ahead, do a google image search on D&D fungi garden. Then go back and read that sentence again. There is NONE of the magic from those images in that sentence. Where’s the wonder? Where’s the FANTASTIC? Where the magic of D&D and your imagination? Not here. The designers can’t be bothered to communicate that.

Oh, wait wait! Here’s a good one! You know that moron dragon warrior that killed on of your dudes in that TOTALLY set up and LAME duel in the first episode? Here’s in here again! If you killed him, then it doesn’t matter, there’s another replacement dude in here! BECAUSE YOUR ACTIONS AS A PLAYER DON’T MATTER. Oh, and let’s say you didn’t fight him. Let’s say you snuck through camp in episode 2. Dude don’t really know you at all. “You look familiar …” he says “I’ve seen you around camp” Hey! This is going well! We might be able to bluff, or get some info! Uh … no. That’s not the STUPID RAILROAD you are on charlie! “If you came looking for trouble then I am the trouble you seek!” and he attacks immediately. Yup. You’ve taken the time to be thoughtful and careful and sneak and bluff and get in good with the enemy and you’ve even gotten on the dental plan and … and you are rewarded by him attacking you outright. BECAUSE YOU ACTIONS AS A PLAYER DON’T MATTER. This is SO insulting. I am so disgusted. Et tu, Wolfgang?

Again, there are bits and pieces of greatness here. There’s he standard “swarming bat room” but this time it’s got some stirge mixed in. All Hail Discordia! Wonderful. There’s also a nice trap that seems right out of 1973: a curtain of fur strips, much as in a meatlocker, but with a lot of small fishhooks in it covered in poison. That’s AWESOME! It has started with an idea: “wouldn’t it be cool if …” and then someone has attached some mechanics to it. That’s SO much better than saying “I need a trap. How about 2d6 … let’s see, a pit with spiked in the bottom.” The imagineering is clearly coming first in the fishhook curtain and I LOVE it.

But the rest? It’s like it’s been run through the generic-izer, or that it’s been outsourced to someone else who is just going through the motions. Like the fungi cavern, it’s as if they just don’t care at all about an evocative environment. I’m not talking about reams of text being present, but rather inspirational text. The dragon hatchery is just … I don’t know … not present? “The chamber that opens at the bottom of the stairs is immense. WA wide ledge runs along the left wall and drops away in to a pit on the right. Many stalactites descend from the ceiling.” Congratulations; you’ve said nothing of consequence. You’ve stated boring and mundane facts without any inspiration or imagination behind them. Ad this is the dragon , one of the core focuses in this episode!

Episode 4 – Frustrating Potential

This episode may have more potential energy than anything I’ve seen in a great while. It’s also extremely frustrating in it’s ambiguity. And it’s outcome. At issue is the design guidelines they’ve chosen. They’ve tried to lay out a very non-specific adventure with specifics for you, the DM, to liven things up. When combined with the conversational style of the writing it comes across as “Hey, maybe you could have a farmer go to bed one night.” I think I get what they are trying to do. They are trying to lay out a general adventure and then suggest things that could happen. Kind of like the OLD MERP products. Here’s this cool awesome keep and maybe in third age the ghost of a gully dwarf attacks. But then that’s the problem. It’s like this product is trying to straddle the line between two different type of products. Is it s a module an/or guidebook? A product describing a general place very generally and then suggesting, in very grand and remote terms, some adventures that could take place there? Or is it meant to assist the DM in running a 2-hour D&D game every Wednesday night? The former implies that I, the DM, has to spend 6 hours preping the game with maps, creating monster encounters, making notes, highlighting, filling in details, and all of that. The second implies that a decent amount of the work has been done for me. Both are valid. But the product is clearly MEANT to be the second while instead doing the former … and not very well at that.

Remember that the cult was gone from the camp in episode 3? In this one the party chases the cult to track down where their wagons of stolen loot are going. You take a river journey to “catch up” with them in Baldur’s Gate and then join a massive wagon train/caravan, which happens to include the cult along with a lot of others non-cultists, on their way to the next major waypoint. There are lots of NPC’s provided and lot’s of general ideas provided on things that could happen along the way. Ultimately though, the entire point of this episode is … for an NPC to kill another NPC so the cult can think negatively of the party. Yes, it’s a movie. Nothing the party does is important. Oh, sure, you can fun watching the stuff unfold, but it’s just a Disney ride: sit in the car and watch the events unfold. THAT’S NOT D&D! How much time & effort online has been spent debunking these grand epic movies? It’s can’t be foreign to Kobold Press, Wolfgang, and Steve, that is is just about the worst possible thing that can happen in an adventure. “Oh look, the DM’s pet NPC is fighting the DM’s villain NPC. My, aren’t they awesome. YAWN” And I don’t want to hear anything about how it needs to happen to set up the encounters in the next episodes. If that’s the requirement then you’ve done a pretty piss poor job of designing an adventure, episodic or not.

This episode runs about ten pages. The first three or so are a total waste of space. They detail you coming back to town from episode 3, getting horses to ride ahead to another town, and then having a god-aweful adventure in an inn. In the inn you meet a boisterous tool who wants to test you. If he’s favorably impressed then, after day or so of this, he takes you a back room to talk to two faction bosses. This is quote from one of the faction bosses: “thanks to you we know double what we knew a tenday ago.” Yeah? Then why did we put with that NPC shits antics in the inn? You’ve been back here the entire time in your room letting us screw around with your lackey tool when you’re about to send us on a urgent & time-sensitive mission? Oh, hey, what if we didn’t partake or your reindeer games? What if we don’t favorable impress your NPC lackey? I guess he never takes us to the backroom so we can play D&D tonight? Is that it? This kind of inane design is all over the adventure, in most of the episodes. It’s written exactly one way. Again, I understand it’s episodic, but that’s no excuse for the poorly written content INSIDE of each episode. Ok, still screwing around … dude sends you downriver to Baldur’s Gate where you’re to hire on to a massive caravan that will also include the cultists, in disguise. There is reams of detail in these three pages, almost none of which contribute to an interesting adventure or an evocative environment. Just reams of intentions and why’s and histories in an attempt to explain absolutely everything that is happening. A little of that may be fine, but even better is when it’s done in such a way that the party can impact things. That is relevant to the interactions the players characters will have. Content needs to SUPPORT actual play, not be full of useless detail that or detail that will never come up. “But it could come up!” So could the dietary requirements of the present king of France, but that’s not appropriate for the designers to burn words on either.

The maddening part is … there’s some good stuff in here! There’s an actual open-ended encounter or two in this, such as The Golden Stag , that inspires the imagination, is not forced on the party, and is open-ended. It’s one of the best encounters in the episode, and in the first four episodes. There’s something like 26 or so NPC’s presented for the party to interact with. There are a dozen or so encounter ideas for the party to have in their journey along the road. It’s all GREAT. There’s more content here than you could ever use in a 2 hour D&D encounters game session. You could easily work this shit for four or 6 or eight hours before it got old. The NPC”s are great, the encounter suggestions are great … well …. I mean … except for the fact that nothing happens. To over summarize, the NPC’s are described in some words like “taciturn but treats his horses well.” or “friendly but aloof and mistreats his draft animals.” This is then supplemented by some road events. “Someone tries to buy something from a PC at far too low a price. It goes missing that night. A third party stole it.” There’s actually a paragraph or so for each PC and a paragraph or two for each encounter. But then generalizations of the encounters are accurate: SOMEONE is interested and SOMEONE else stole it. It’s up to you to decide who. This is where the whole “here’s a bunch of parts. Enjoy putting them all together” thing comes in to play. The lack of any specific inspiration for these encounters makes them poor encounters. “It’s D&D! You can do anything!” is all fine & great, but a persons mind works better to fill in the details when you given a little constraint. IE: too much open-ended-ness does not lead to imagination but rather to generic dullness. This is further exacerbated with statements like “go ahead and insert a monster encounter or two along the way.” Hey, Wolfgang, I’m paying YOU for YOUR imagination. I could come up with own adventure if I wanted to do the work. That’s not the point of me dumping you, Kobold, and WOTC the $35 I paid for this. How about YOU use YOUR prodigious skills to add some life & flavor to things?

It’s also a bit frustrating that the cultists are portrayed as faceless villains. They are just referred to a “cultists” instead of “Bob the cultists who loves Tiamat and has a daughter in Baldur’s Gate.” This is notable in two regards. First, there are SO many naked personalities in this episode that the lack of names/personalities for the cultists really stands out. They become the faceless and generic enemy. “Kill them and take their stuff.” I’m fine with murder hobo’ing, but that’s not what this episode is. It’s one long social encounter. A mini-village on wheels. To not provide the cultists anything close to a face in an environment in which you are forced, over several weeks, to socialize with them, is a grave mistake. If I recall correctly, the cultists in … Against the Reptile Cult, all got a sentence of personality, and that’s part of what made the adventure fun. Again, it was a social adventure, in a village.

Finally, the railroad aspects are really bad. I guess they wanted some kind of epic story arc where you hit all of the wonder of continent, and thus had to get the PC’s on the road from place to place and away from the sleepy, destroyed, town they started in. But there’s no impact you can have. Two days before town is reached one of the NPC’s kills a cultists. Nothing can be proved, but the cultists believe it was one of the party members. That’s the goal of this episode. Want to kill the cultists? Want to loot their treasure wagons? Want to get friendly with them or convert? Want to do good and strike a blow and defeat the cult, like a goodey goodey adventurer? woah, Woah, WOAH! That’s not the railroad pal! A few sentences on this, and how it would fit in to the longer arc, would have been much more welcome and supported play much better than the bullshit ’test’ at the inn.

Episode 5 – Of Mice & Mensch

In contrast to the last episode this one is feels very light. It weighs in at three or so pages and details a roadhouse. Once arriving in the destination city the cultists hire on to a DIFFERENT wagon train going north to a way-station/roadhouse. It’s being used by crews rebuilding the road to Neverwinter. But the cultists are also using it to offload their treasures. They stash their loot there and in the middle of the night some lizard men sneak in to fetch it. The party is still on the “find out where the loot is going” mission, and thus they need to figure out where the is and where its going … and thus how its getting out of the roadhouse.

The introductory text here is not very strong. It’s supposed to communicate that the cultists “hire on” to another caravan going north, the Road Crew. This entire section is confusing in relating that information. That’s really just a matter of some better editing. More serious is the ten-day journey to the roadhouse. There are supposed to be a few encounters with creatures along the way, but they belong to the throw-away category of adventure design. “1 troll” or “2 ogres” or “8 giant frogs.” Stunning design guys, really stunning. “But that’s not the focus! It’s an investigation in the roadhouse!” Then why’s it in the adventure? If it’s in the adventure then it needs to contribute to the play. If it’s not doing that then it needs to be changed and/or removed. <— Period. I refuse to put up with encounters being abstracted away like this. Why not just tell them to roll on the table in the book? Why not just roll a d6 and on a 1-4 announce that the party won and had a good time? (On a 5-6 you get to re-roll.) There IS a nicely abstracted mechanism to handle the NPC guards also along for the trip. Roll 1d4-2; that’s the number of NPC guards who died in the encounter, while fighting their own batch of monsters. That’s a nice simple abstraction.

Speaking of abstraction … this is now the THIRD time the party will have seen the exact same cultists. The same nameless, faceless cultists with no personalities. Again, during another SOCIAL adventure in ANOTHER caravan during an investigation which is, by it’s very nature, SOCIAL. The height of this absurdity in design decision-making comes at one of the major events in this section: a duel. The cultist killed in episode 4 had a good friend. The good friend calls someone in the party, insults them, and attacks, out for blood. There’s supposed to be some build-up to this. Bad looks, stink eye, slights, and so on. But the villain here is just totally unnamed. A VETERAN (i.e.: use the veteran monster stats.) The pronoun used indicates it’s a woman. That’s it. No Name. No personality. NOTHING. This is what is supposed to inspire the DM to run a great encounter? And RIGHT before this encounter is listed there’s another one, a little throw-away thing, that DOES finally give one of the cultists a personality: a 1/2 elf who’s is stealing from the cult. Holy Smokes! Not all of them are blood-thirty fanatics?!? Look, I wouldn’t mind if they all were 1-dimensional, I’d just stab them in the face anyway, but if you’re going to force the party to interact with them over 6-8 hours of real time then support the DM in that endeavor. That’s your job, to support the DM.

This sort of thing is maddening. There’s a captain of the guard listed by name but with no other details. (What, there’s a captain of the guard?! Does he like the boss of the roadhouse, who’s secretly a cultist? I mean I’m certain that the players are VERY unlikely to appeal to him if they find out the boss is cultist … they’d never do that …right? Appeal to the authority who has a lot of guards at his disposal? Waaaaiiiittttt….) There’s a treasure room. Getting in to it is going to be one of the major goals of this episode. Elsewhere it EXPLICITLY says this is where ALL of the valuables in camp are stored. The rooms makes no mention of that at all. NONE. That’s not on the railroad. That’s not what the designer wants you to do. If you pay REALLY close attention you get the impression these are rough and tumble laborers in the roadhouse. Mention is made several times of how certain party actions could result in the loss of face, etc, with the people there. They “humiliate” or “treat badly” the people they think are cowards, weak, thieves, etc. But that’s all we get. No “they bump in to you at dinner, spilling your food. The cook says he’s out if you want more.” or “Someone has pissed in your bunk” or anything like that Just a few sentences like that would have made all the difference between a generic adventure and something memorable that the players will remember. Give me, the DM, a cue. One sentence: piss in your bunk. I can work with that. I can work it in. I’m inspired and my mind can fill in the rest. The EXTREME lack of specificity leaves things too open-ended, and thus too generic.

There is a good part here, better than your average bear. There is a one column bullet point list of actions/reactions. IF the party does this then this thing could happen or they can learn this. There are six or seven of these and they do wonders for this episode. It’s terse, imaginative, the reactions are more evocative than most … it’s the GUIDANCE for the DM that I’m talking about in most of the rest of this review that is generally missing. It’s perfect and fits well. Further, the bullet-list format makes it each to recognize and track down. This is in contrast to the rest of the episodes where this sort of information is generally buried in some kind of wall of test paragraph format. It conveys a lot of information, quickly, and it’s easy to recognize. The form+Function here is a perfect fit.

Episode 6 – Something good. Something bad. A bit of both.

The tunnel under the roadhouse leads to an exit near the swap where you find an obvious track taking you deeper in and leading to an old keep. From here you will somehow find out that the treasures are being taken through a portal in the basement to somewhere else. The keep, with it’s 40 or so rooms over four levels, lacks some focus. It looks like you’re supposed to sneak in and start an uprising amongst the three factions present. Given the IMPRESSIVE number of enemies present (hundreds) that’s really the only option. But they are trying to not write a railroad, so they have to present the entire scenario a little more open-ended. IF the party does this and IF the party does that.

For example, after tracking the cargo through the swamp some lizard men show up. They attack immediately. The text gives every impression, up to that point, that this is just another monster hack. And then the text goes on for at least a column about how one of the lizard men is totally looking to rebel and wants to join the party, etc. And this lizard man is referenced time and time again in the episode, assuming you’ve allied with him. It is COMPLETELY written from this point of view. And yet … they attack immediately, don’t converse with the party, etc. The designers have done something excellent here in creating factions within the dragon cult. The lizard men, the bullwugs, and the cultists. But then they’ve written the thing in exactly one way: you ally with the lizard men. Instead of doing that you could make the entire thing a little more dimensional and make the bullywugs less one-dimensional as well. The lizard man thing is REALLY good. The bullywugs are also REALLY good … even if they are not an ally. Picture lizard men going on a murderous rampage killing bullybugs at every turn while the party explores the keep, grinning at the party while they commit their slaughter. It’s a WONDERFUL opportunity. It’s just combined with some nonsense words at the beginning about how they attack on sight and how the bullywugs can never be allies.

One way or another, allied or not, the party is likely to end up in the keep. Maybe they pretend to be cultists. That’s HEAVILY implied as well, even though the party will face multiple combats outside the keep, pretending or not, so they are unlikely to believe they can pretend once INSIDE The keep. IE: patrols and guards, mostly outside, are suspicious, but inside the folks mostly assume you’re a cultists and let you go about your business. It’s just not clear that any party is going to make that leap after they’ve been attacked multiple times outside.

The inside of the keep is fairly boring. The descriptions and locations don’t lead to a lot of interesting things. There is an exception or two, like a tentacle monster in the garbage that can drag you in to his pit, or a section of rolling mist, but otherwise it’s a pretty uninteresting place. “Action shots” of fleeing bullywugs and the lizard man massacre will liven it up quite a bit.

I would like to point out that the episode does several things right, more so than in many of the others. First, there IS faction play possibilities. Faction play should be mainstay of any adventure with multiple parties. The creatures have their own goals and motivations and the party should be able to take advantage of that. The fact that they’ve included it, even in the goofy “attack but friendly” way, is a real bonus and shows a good understanding of the how’s and why’s of multiple-humanoid play in a dungeon/environment. D&D is a social game and, just as in the villages and the caravans, you must provide those opportunities for strong play to emerge.

In contrast to the many other episodes, the wandering monster encounters here are on the right track! There are 12 or so and they each have their own little paragraph expanding the one-liners in the table. A spiders web in misty fog. Frogs with sticky tongues. “the weed that walks.” and so on. They could use a little more to reach greatness. In particular, they need to be focused on PLAY. Giant frogs shooting out sticky tongues … in a cattail filled reeds? A spiders web in misty fog … along some downed trees? Or a section of destroyed cypress forest, logs floating … mixed with crocs? The Weed That Walks (which has a nice little bit if you have your lizard man ally) encountered in a bramble patch? In other words, they are all on the right track but need just a little more to ground them in your imagination … which then allows your mind to run wild.

There’s also a nice little bullet-list section on how the keep occupants react when the party invades/is finally discovered. This is a great section that allows the DM to better free-form run the adventure. It’s from this section that the the best idea comes from: “(the lizard men) then hunt the bullywugs on the castle & grounds and murder them mercilessly.” This is one of the few sections that grounds the action with strong language. It’s notable that it’s from this strong user of language that I hooked on to a great way to run this section. More of that strong language, creating evocative scenes through terse language, is what most of this product badly needs. The imagery of an ogyugh at the bottom of a destroyed tower in a pit of refuse, using its tentacles to pull people in who are trying to get past the garbage, is a strong one also, and it also is one of the few images that has stayed with me and was cemented strongly in my mind. More specifics, without going overboard in to paragraph mode. Another nice bit: you’re actually allowed to kill the NPC’s this time around. No “his brother shows up” or “his minions drag him” away nonsense.

There’s another glaring omission here: how the keep reacts. There are some VERY general guidelines in the bullet points “Bob tries to escape if it looks like the party is winning” and things like that. There are also at least two rooms that mention who else responds when they hear sounds of combat. In episode three this was a MAJOR factor. It was noted how far you could hear in the caves and how the sound traveled in the main parts of the cave. But in the keep there’s none of this. It’s very important, in any intelligent monster lair, to pay attention to how the creatures react. This is a curtesy to the DM running the adventure. The bullet list “goals” in this episode is a good start from a very general standpoint but it needs more. This could be as simple as ensuring the map is printed with the summary of who’s in the room. Is the next room full of creatures? DO you want to dig through the (conversational) text to figure out who is in that room? Maps in RPG products are not utilized very well for conveying almost anything beyond the dimensions and this sort of “intelligent monster lair” is a perfect place to note zones of hearing, or at least “which rooms have monsters in them.” This is part of what I mean when I say the adventure must support the DM in running it. It’s a play aid. So … aid the DM in play. If lizard man massacre breaks out then you can use it one way. If you are sneaking about you can use it another. If all hell breaks loose with the entire castle arrayed against you … well .. .the DM is going to need to know, EASILY, who is coming at you when.

Finally, I think there’s a leap of logic here that’s hard to make. The party sneaks in to the keep. They have to do this, and find the papers in the commanders office, in order to go to the next episode. It’s not clear to me that they WILL sneak in to the keep. I guess that’s an AP thing. The ties to the hook and plot (“find out where the treasure is going”) don’t exactly lead me to believe the party would “invade” an evil fortress to find the next part of the plot. Those could/should/need to be strengthened in the initial plot hook set up in (episode 4?) as well as in this one. Something is missing here that is needed for the party to figure out what to do. Sure, as the DM you could tell them what to do. You could also play Connect 4 instead. Or a better adventure.

Episode 7 – A Waste of Time

In this episode you are teleported from the castle in episode 6 to a hunting lodge. In that lodge you find a sub-luitenant from the the cult who, and I quote “the classic scene where the villain explains herself if the players are willing to pause.” Remember, they didn’t say it was GOOD scene, just a classic one …

The hunting lodge has 22 rooms. If you just walk in and poke around a bit you’ll face a couple of combat and then meet the lieutenant. She’ll give you directions to a cloud castle full of the cults treasure and ask that you go mess it up. It would help her out a lot by forcing one of her fellow lieutenants to fail and loose face.

The encounters here in the lodge are a bit more evocative than many of the others in the adventure. Trophy rooms, human servants with some personality that you can learn things from, prisoners to free and a weird thing tor to to deal with. But it’s mostly empty and devoid of content. Just go upstairs and listen to the monologue and hit episode 8. I will note, in another bit of excellent railroading, there is no real option for the party if they kill the lieutenant. Two sentences at the end say “if they kill her there’s no one to tell the party about the cloud castle. Consider leaving a paper trail in her personal effects.” Uh … if you can say that as, literally, the last two sentences in the episode then why can’t you put two sentences about the cloud castle paper trail in her quarters instead?

It does have something in one of the rooms that I’d like to point out. There tends in this obsession in D&D with explaining how things work. This seems common to most versions past 0E and I find it completely bizarre. In the lodge there’s a suit of black armor that is actually a helmed horror, disguised by an illusion that has an Evard’s black tentacles spell stored in it to use. I don’t understand this chaining of stuff in order to explain what’s going on. It’s magic. How about just a suit of armor that transforms and attacks with stats X and can do some power once a day? Why the need to EXPLAIN it by chaining effects together? It’s bizarre and I’ve never understood it. It turns something magical and wondrous in to something ponderous and grey and dull. I touch roses.

There’s really not a lot else to say about this section. The NPC’s could use a little more description, although they tend to get far more than usual. Again, if you’re going to interact with someone then give them a name and a quirk and maybe a motivation if you want some faction play.

The rooms are also described in the typical “expansive nothing” style that we’ve come to expect. The bathroom describes what a bathroom has in it. The pantry describes what a pantry has in it. The armory describes what it has in it. How about just saying “Armory” and “the usual weapons” or “Pantry” and then devoting your word budget to how the pantry supports play in the lodge? Note what’s cool and interesting and unique and what would support creative and interesting play, instead of telling me that the BEDROOM has BED with BLANKETS and a DRESSER with LINENS in it. Ug. I can make that up. Tell me about the black void of nothingness that pukes paisley flower, or something like that. Or just leave it blank with the word “Pantry” on the map.

This is really a nothing kind of episode, existing just to have the villain give the monologue and give the players the castle plans. In other words, filler. After all, episode 6 could have directly led to the cloud castle, eh?

Episode 8 – My only friend, the end.

You storm the cloud castle that is hauling Teh L00ts. Inside you find cultists and a second faction, the giants, that you can perhaps negotiate with. At the end, one way or another, you arrive at a site in the frozen north so you can play the next 8 episodes. Either the cloud giant in charge drives it there or it goes uncontrollable and eventually crashes there. Oh, and you didn’t escape beforehand. One the wyverns you rode there. Or through a spell. Or any of a bunch of other ways. Because then you’ll not be in the north for the next set of episodes. Errr, sorry, I forgot I’m not complaining about the episodic nature.

The beginning is a mess. You get to a village, completely controlled by the cult, and the sky castle is parked there on the ground. The cultists don’t attack you. But they do when the adventure says they do. It makes no sense. There’s this pretext about staying at the inn even though you’re not allowed and the adventure doesn’t want you to. I guess you are supposed to sneak in to the castle while it’s on the ground, but then if you don’t you could also grab some wyverns from the stables and fly to the castle. But to do that you need to make some skill checks. So, just to be clear: you need to roll high in order to go on the adventure. The adventure is clear: the castle flies off and the wyverns are trouble if you roll low. DC 15 animal handling, twice, or you don’t get to go on the adventure. This is bad bad bad design. The whole village scene and getting in to the castle is a confusing and muddled mess. It’s not clear or laid out well at all. There’s too much emphasis on a traditional keyed encounter format instead on personalities, timelines, and the objective of this part: getting in to the castle.

The castle works better as a keyed encounter, but could again use a kind of order of battle for reactions. In some of the encounters it’s explicitly mentioned who shows up and what the reactions are. A few bullet points on how the castle mobilizes to meet intruders would go a long way. There’s also a a very clearly meant to be some faction play between the cultists and the giants in the castle. Given the importance of this it seems unusual that so little attention is paid to “how to meet the cloud giant lord.” He’s got minions here, he’s got other giant allies here … but there’s not much at all on how this plays out from his standpoint … until you get to this throne room. THEN there’s words on how he talks rhetorically to his moron guards about what to do with the party. The other faction consists of a dragon, a vampire, a couple of red wizards, and the cult leadership. They are written almost totally independent of each other. Much in the same way that the cloud giant only gets significant write up in his room, the others generally only get written up in their areas. That’s too bad. This place doesn’t feel alive at all. This should be the one place where you WANT a big climax, where you could justify putting in some cool shit and forcing a few things. The players want the payoff for sitting through 8 episodes of this! I will note, however, that the threat level of the creatures in this section seems to have ratcheted up significantly.

But that is not to be. It’s more of the same. Generic descriptions devoid of life and interesting content. The entire place is powered by the dead wife of the cloud giant lord and even THAT is handled in the most boring way possible. The entire place is quite disappointing and continues the trend of Cloud Castles not living up to their hype. I don’t think I’ve seen a good one yet, but, then again, I actually have standards.

There’s also, finally! Some treasure here! It all belongs to the cloud giant. He’s got something like $20k in gold in one room. The stupid hoard you’ve been chasing? It’s abstracted to 500k in cp, 100k in sp and 5k in gp, along with 21 blue sapphires. Talk about anti-climactic …

The creatures here are pretty uninteresting. As a beginning adventure using the data published for free, I guess that’s to be expected. It’s all standard monsters presented in a pretty boring fashion. I’m particularly disappointed the imagery used to portray them. I want descriptions and imagery used that make them interesting and exciting in your mind, so you can portray that to the players. I don’t want to tell the players “its a ghoul”, I want to DESCRIBE it to the players. SHOW, don’t TELL. I want the adventure as a play aid, to assist in that, to help bring it to life for me so I can do that for the players.

ARGGGG!!!!! THIS STINKS! SUCKS! SUCKS! SUCKS! SUCKS! SUCKS! The vast majority of the treasure in this adventure is some of the most boring and uninspiring I have ever seen. Too much of the treasure is abstracted out, although not to the horrendous degree of “a treasure parcel worth 250gp.” The name is HOARD of the Dragon Queen, but nothing is done to bring to life those treasure. Recall that for most of the adventure you are chasing the treasure, with many opportunities to view it, steal it, etc. In all of those cases the hoard is merely abstracted. It’s like you are playing a computer RPG and find an object titled “massive treasure hoard” … But you can’t actually spend it or do anything with it. In fact too many cases, the overwhelming majority, the treasure is glossed over, or non-existant.

The magic items may, possibly, be worse. There are only a handful of interesting ones presented, and I would argue that even those are not actually interesting. There is a magic great sword, unique, that is wonderful. It’s sentient & NE and therefore deserves to have a personality and goals, which are completely absent, but the tradition of unique swords is at least alive. Other than that, the only real magic I recall are a couple of very generic +1 sword type items and several other, book items, in the same vein. And there’s really not much of that for a party at 8th level. It’s all boring and uninspiring, generic and not conducive to the type of D&D I want to play. I want magic that is ALIVE and FANTASTIC, that doesn’t just mirror effect mechanically but that seems WONDROUS.Ready for this? One of the largest concentrations is: +1 longsword, +1 longbow, +1 leather armor, bracers of defense. You feel like you live in a world of wonder and imagination yet? No? In some adventure I reviewed I recall a bag of holding that was actually a toad who’s mouth opened WIIIIIIIIDDDDDEEEEE, and you needed a little magic fly to activate. That’s a magic item. The stuff in this adventure ain’t nothing but mechanistic garbage.

In spite of the general lameness, there is a decent hook or two for the players, just as there was with the rogue in Phandelver. Most of the suggested player hooks are the usual moralistic and tripe nonsense, but one or two are great. “You were once a gold dragon serving Bahamut.” Cool! Or, you used to be a cult member with your family until another cult faction wiped you out. Now your out for vengeance, with only three names on lips to go on. Or, grandchild of a renowned dragons layer, you’ve been hounded by ruffians beating you. You flee to the starting village looking for a little rest … Those are great. That’s the kind of non-generic and specific thing I’m looking for in an adventure. Any player can work with that and create some magical RPG moments.

A good DM could …
Inevitably someone will comment “Yes, but a good DM could …” or perhaps “but it’s the job of the DM to add …” Both statements are correct, and meaningless in this context. You’re right, a good DM could, and will, fix it. But we’re also looking for the designer to INSPIRE the DM to greatness. To give them little bits of flavor seeds that can explode in their minds to full fledged sensory scenes to be communicated to the players ad-hoc and ad-lib. Likewise some folks seem to confuse my statements around flavor and INSPIRATION to mean “a lot of text.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Those long & lengthy descriptions rob the DM of their imagination. We’re looking for JUST. A LITTLE. MORE than bare bones. We need to know what’s SPECIAL about this person, place, thing. The thing that makes the NPC or encounter come alive. The imagination is a powerful thing. You just need to suggest something and it will do the rest.

Hrumph. I edited my liberal use of profanity out of this for eventual posting on ENworld. I feel the review has now far less impact. That was a mistake. 🙁

This is available on Amazon.


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91 Responses to Hoard of the Dragon Queen [5e]

  1. joelastowski says:

    Don’t forget that the only way to get most of the monster stats you’ll need for the adventure is to download their “Free supplement” off their web site (which you have to dig for), then print it yourself, because god forbid WotC fail to reduce page counts. The DMs will do the extra work and pay for the extra 30 pages of paper & ink… that’s what they’re there for, right?

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Nah … that’s a false criticism. I saw that criticism and I don’t buy in to it.

      … but I would have loved to have had a tear sheet with all of the monster stats, Judges Guild Ready Reference style.

      • joelastowski says:

        Just saying it’s false doesn’t make it so, Bryce. In what way is it false? Have you found a way to use the hardcover (or the Encounters version) without the supplement? Please enlighten me.

        I simply feel that if I pay for a printed product, I should not then have to print more on my own in order to use that printed product.

        • I agree with this point only to this extent.

          I would rather the word count was spent on printing monsters I need, rather than describing bullshit I don’t.

          But beyond that specific version of the criticism, whatever. The book says it requires the use of the monster manual and DMG. The web supplement stands in for those books temporarily.

          I would have liked it if it said on the back cover that it requires those books OR the web supplement, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it.

          • joelastowski says:

            Good points. I’m not losing sleep over it, but it upsets me (beyond the issue of printer ink costs) that they’re already asking so much from DMs, and they’re then making it even less convenient for us by requiring us to flip through other products (be they the supplement or the eventual MM & DMG when they’re released) to find the stats we need at the table. That only makes more work for DMs, and slows things down more for players.

    • Mark Aksel says:

      Why do you feel a need to print them? You can have a laptop (I haven’t seen a DM yet in recent years that doesn’t use one). Do you print your book? I agree, it probably should have been included, and I am under the assumption they will be in the MM and DM books. Which why would you want to have all these printed in multiple places? Do you want to have the same kobold stats under every section that there are kobolds present? Or do you do what any good DM does anyway and create a monster tear sheet.

      Who would print this ENTIRE online supplement out just to have it? This site seems to be full of DnD haters (I personally don’t play DnD, as I have been in Pathfinder as of late and they have their own set of problems).

      • Bryce Lynch says:

        Yeah, i don’t buy it either. However, to illustrate once more the concept of supporting play: a REFERENCE sheet for the creatures, to assist during the play, would have been nice.

        • Mark Aksel says:

          There is A LOT of ‘would have been nice’ in EVERY book I have purchased, from anyone. To that, I think we can both agree.

          However, you went into this with which seems with the mindset of hating it, right off the bat. I bought the book, just to read through and see if it’s worth giving the new DND a go rather than pathfinder. I’m finding that this review was extremely biased to a point where you expected WotC to write in every little thing. I personally find it is up to the DM to make these modules more exciting, and this is just a framework to do so.

          It is what it is. If you’re trying to write an article about ‘I buy this stuff so you don’t have to’, try to write from a non-biased stand point. It will help the editorial aspect of the read. *Oh well*.

  2. Rob Conley says:

    Informative review! I plan to run Scouge of the Demon Wolf using 5e at the Con on the Cob convention. We will see how that goes. I hope Wizards will have a decent 3pp program for publishing so there is more than one source for 5e content.

  3. Hannes says:

    Thank you for another great review. An enjoyable read and I won’t have to check it out myself.

  4. Derek says:

    Fantastic review. I have no idea whether it’s a fair criticism of the module. The value in the review is how it describes really, really well what you think a module writer should provide for a DM. I don’t think any of your other reviews have done such a good job of that. Every module writer and publisher should be forced to read this review before releasing material on the public. The numerous specific examples you gave helped me see much more clearly why I am usually detached and bored running modules for my players. If more module writers would just stick in those inspirational details (a disrespectful NPC pisses in a PC’s bed, etc.), I would LOVE running modules instead of or in conjunction with my own stuff. Hell, this review points out a lot of the boring, uninspired crap I create and inflict on my own players. I need to step my game up, too.

    • Camila says:

      I completely agree with Derek. I have the HotDQ adventure module, and while your criticism is spot on, the really amazing thing about this review is the insight you provide about what separates great modules from mediocre ones. I have a huge pleasure reading books on adventure writing and game running in order to know and absorb the points of view from seasoned DMs, and this review opened my eyes to many small things that add flavor and personality to an adventure while making them easier to play at the table! Thank you for the great read!

  5. Gus L. says:

    You take the piss out of this module, but I’ll say it’s convincing, and quite unfortunate – the basic idea is great “Cult almost ready to summon great evil dragon deity, engaging in millenarian carnival of pillage – stop them.”

    It’s unfortunate because it sounds like a real poor module. I can’t help but wonder if some of these WOTC writers have read any of the various, ongoing and interminable debates in the OSR or larger D&D blogs about scenario design? I’m not saying we’re geniuses, I’m just saying that thinking about your prior reviews, or some well know ideas in the OSR blog scene offer solutions to all these painful errors. I mean I like 5E, and I want 5E to make a mess of folks happy and willing to play tabletop games. Modelling video game conflicts (as it sounds like Dragon Queen does) doesn’t do that, because it abandons everything that tabletop does well. Oh well, maybe it was just page and time constraints.

  6. Bryce Lynch says:

    Here’s an excellent “Cultist Generator” for Hoard of the Dragon Queen. It helps solve one of the issues.

  7. I love your reviews. I am the DM for this in D&D Encounters at my FLGS and I am taking your criticism (and your suggestions!) as a call to action to do what shouldn’t need to be done and make it better and rework it. If this throws my players “out of the shared experience” and causes problems with D&D Encounters then the store can “fire” me. But I’m going to be playing D&D not reading it to my players!!

  8. Paul Cunningham says:

    Thanks for this detailed review. I especially appreciate you suggestions to fix broken parts.

  9. anonynos says:

    This is an incredibly useful review (even if I’ve already gotten the module) because it will help me use the book like I always use modules… as a resource I plunder for ideas and useful bits.

  10. Having got the book and started running it last week, I very much agree with this review. The adventure module is *ok* but it could have been much better. Nearly every aspect needs more detail, in both crunch and fluff. It just makes more work for the DM.

  11. Lance Kepner says:

    Thank you for the scathing review. While I bought it before i read the review, and maybe wouldve bought it anyways regardless of the review, as others have already said, your suggestions are what actually sell this for me.

    I like an adventure that I can make my own,but totally get and agree that it shouldnt be all up to me, the design should be there for my inspiration. It is a shame its not. I hope part2 is better in this regard.

    In part I like where these AP’s are going vs the current Pathfinder APs. While 5E’s seem to be general, and allow flexibility, PFRPG’s tend to be very structured and just as railroady… but Pathfinders does give tremendous detail…. unfortunately what I’ve found is that 99% of that detail the party will never know.. oh look this assassin as half a page of background text… but attacks the pcs until dead… oh look, a super cool back story for a magic longsword for a 2nd level party but they’ll never know any of it unless they cast Legend Lore in 9 levels.

    But gripes aside, i’ll use your review’s advise to make it my own adventure.

  12. Bryce Lynch says:

    This is a monster tear sheet for HDQ:

    This is a (draft) version of a respin for Episode 1. It’s not up to my standards yet, however it’s much better than the published episode 1:

    • Nightfall says:

      Thanks for the draft! This is some good work. I really hope you continue to work on it, for all our sakes. 🙂

    • Caoimhe Snow says:

      Oh, wow, I really like this, Bryce, as a first shot at a rewrite.

    • Pontisser Winterbottom says:


      “FUN FACT: When cultists meet each other, end conversations, etc, they place the back of their hand to their forehead and wiggle their fingers while shouting HAIL TIAMAT!”

      **Please** write more of these as they add such a great flavor that is missing from the adventure.

      • Pontisser Winterbottom says:

        And by “more of these” what I mean is the full episodic respin you wrote here for Ep 1. Have you done this for Eps 2-8? Are you willing to share them?

        I bought the HoTDQ adventure prior to reading your review and was disappointed to find the problems you detail so well. I am a fairly new DM and while I don’t need everything spelled out, your evocative flavor text brings these scenes to life in a wonderful way.

    • Leandro says:

      This is really good! Makes me want to run the adventure now. Short and flavorful, with cool and helpful ideas throughout. Makes me wish every adventure was written that way. And the first one is one of the best of the eight.

      By the way, I miss your reviews, Bryce! You write the best kind of reviews, ones that’s useful and I enjoy reading even when I don’t agree with the views.

    • Cookie says:

      I’m beginning DM and after reading HotDQ i didn’t really feel confident about running this campaign. What I needed was your version with more hints on how the scene looks. I am so looking for the rest episodes fixed by you. Is there any chance you will post them somewhere?

    • Thank you for this. Amazing work.

  13. Oz says:

    Thank you for such an amazingly thorough review and for the in-depth analysis. I’ve been *trying* to like this module since the announcment of its creation, but once I had it in my hands I was fairly disappointed. I know there are a few gold nuggets in the adventure, but I hate having to dig so hard or the fact that right off I knew I was going to have to re-write half the module to make it easier (and more senisible) to run. I’m two weeks from starting my campaign and I’m strongly considering putting my effort into something else or maybe just rolling my own from scratch.

  14. Ben Fletcher says:

    “Hrumph. I edited my liberal use of profanity out of this for eventual posting on ENworld. I feel the review has now far less impact. That was a mistake. ”

    You edited this? It’s full of mistakes… They do far more to soften your blow than not cursing!

    “The stupid hoard you’ve been chasing? It’s abstracted to 500k in cp, 100k in sp and 5k in gp, along with 21 blue sapphires. Talk about anti-climactic …”

    “Abstracted”? No… It’s actually made quite specific and concrete.

    (1. consider (something) theoretically or separately from something else.
    “to abstract science and religion from their historical context can lead to anachronism”
    2. extract or remove (something).)

    One is forced to ask: “If dude is wrong about what “abstract” means, what else is he wrong about?”

    • Camila Acolide says:

      Actually, it’s my personal opinion that he is not wrong about the abstraction in this case. Based on his review, what I get is that the Hoard should be the ultimate reward of the adventure, mainly composed of very interesting things like lost paintings, ornate golden goblets, decorative emerald armor sets, diamond dust in moonsilk bags, tomes of ancient poetry and some valuable unique trinkets. Instead, all this fascination and amusement about the Hoard is “abstracted away” into its coin value. Even if the end result (the value of the treasure) is the same, going through all this just to find a big pile of everyday coins and 21 sapphires is falling very short of its potential.

    • Dave T. says:

      Dude has some typos in his review, but so do you in your post, Ben. We can assume that you intended for your post to be taken seriously despite the typos, so why not show the same generosity of spirit to the review?

      If we’re going to make insinuations, then what can we infer about your doubt regarding the substance of such a lengthy review because of typos and one misused word? Are you more concerned with style than substance?

  15. Anonymous says:

    Ben: If you look at definitions of abstracted, making a summary is also a definition. The module lists the total number of coins not breaking it down it by ages or nations or anything else that might make it more interesting. You get the same summary that the Dragon Queen’s accountant provides to the tax collector of the Kingom. The usage of abstracted is correct.

  16. Mark Aksel says:

    I feel like after reading just the first two paragraphs, that you came into this with a complete sense of bias and were trying to hate it from the get go. You first tear into the plot hooks reeks of you not actually READING the Appendix A section (which it clearly sends you to). They provide 10 more plot hooks, and encourage you to create your own.

    In short, it seems if you wanted your hand held in a cookie cutter pattern (which it seems you do), then this book is NOT for you, as they left it open ended in several spots to allow you to meld to your group, as opposed to your group to you. They call out several scenarios that can happen, heck in Episode 2, I counted at least 5 different scenarios presented, with ideas behind more of how your group gets into the camp and what happens if/when they get noticed.

    As far as the loot goes, you DID read that Green was the first of the towns to be hit right? Which makes sense for the loot they were able to steal. What did you want? A legitimate hoard of treasure at level 3? Be realistic.

    Overall I stopped reading as you seems to be desperate to hate the book, and I’ll just leave it at that.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      BS. There is no contention between “Supporting play” and “open ended.” It is entirely possible to support play and yet still be open-ended. Or, perhaps, you’d like to pay $50 for my randomly generated dungeon from the back of the 1E DMG? I suggest that most folks are not acquainted with successful products and thus have far lower expectations than they should.

    • Dave T. says:


      You DID read on pg. 18 that “[t]he cultists have been ranging far and wide on small raids to collect treasure. Greenest was the closest target to the camp, the biggest of all the towns they’ve attacked, and the most profitable…praise Tiamat’s glory!”, right?

  17. Mark Aksel says:

    Ugh, I just read your next review of chapter 3. You LITERALLY want everything spelled out for you in a fashion that they cover ever single possibility that a group can come up with. Seriously? Get your head out of your ass. If they didn’t rescue him, his daughter/son/wife is in town and found a diary he had containing notes for the hook. You have a website dedicated to DnD, yet you can’t seem to think for yourself? Do the world a favor and delete your website, you offer nothing but criticisms based upon being intellectually inferior in a sense you can’t even think for yourself.

    • joelastowski says:

      Let’s not get so dramatic here. Nobody needs to go deleting web sites. That’s just silly. There are plenty of valid criticisms in this post. There are also some decent parts of the book that leave okay hooks for home campaigns to latch onto. However, I would not call HoDQ a “great” product for any DM, whether you like railroaded text blocks or open-ended sandboxy stuff.

      The biggest issue I saw with HoDQ is that it’s not supposed to be just a random adventure path to throw into your game. It is THE adventure path upon which WotC is basing the launch of their new system. There’s not enough hand-holding for new DMs & new players who might buy it to get to learn the new system. Even in the parsed-out D&D Encounters version, there’s lots that’s just sort of left up in the air, with a few random side adventures that are in no way tied to the larger plot. They tell DMs to handle it, but don’t give us the background tools to do that. And the few times they do describe players doing something truly heroic or great that might have a larger impact on the plot (like killing the Champion in episode 1), they tell you to just replace him with a carbon copy later on.

      If you want to read a GOOD open-ended book, look at the 4E Underdark book (the setting one, not the later one with playable Kobold stats). Lots of options, lots of paths, and well-thought-out consequences in later levels if you do certain things. HoDQ gives you none of that.

      HoDQ feels (as does much of the published 5E stuff so far) like a haphazard, thrown-together product based on many decent ideas that got spliced together and changed a little (or a lot) along the way. It’s not the worst D&D product I’ve ever purchased, but I certainly don’t feel like I got a good value for my money, either. I was disappointed because I’ve seen so much better from Kobold Press, but it is what it is, so we’ll use it till something better comes out.

      • Caoimhe Snow says:

        I totally second your comments about the 4e Underdark book. I had always hated (in any version) the UD, and I never had much use for most setting books in 4e, but that particular one was awesome.

    • Dave T. says:

      I find it hard to believe you’ve read Bryce’s review when you suggest that he should learn to think for himself. The review is dense with counter-examples from Bryce indicating that he can, in fact, think for himself. Bryce’s complaint isn’t that he can’t he needs every possibility spelled out, but that he can think of better ways of presenting the possibilities that are given in the text.

  18. Hannes says:

    Bryce is not only pinpointing the module’s problems but – time and again – he offers concrete and convincing examples of what the authors could have done. That’s criticism par excellence.

  19. Fred says:

    A number of your complaints seem to be based more on your expectation of what the product should be (primarily that there shoul be a lot more instruction/”hand holding”) than what the product actually is. The writers have said in interviews (e.g. http://io9.com/the-new-d-d-adventures-will-include-all-the-dragons-1583844915) that the adventure is meant to be more of a framework that the GM builds upon (which hopefully should be reiterated in the intro to the adventure but possibly isnt) than an A->b->c type affair.

    That aside it feels in a lot of places you’ve let your dislike for the product colour your review, several times you present outre and unsatisfying results that the adventure in no way prescribes and which even a novice GM would circumvent simply to build your “case” that the adventure is flawed. Which might at times make for entertaining reading but gets a little tiresome and lessens the usefullness of the review.

    • Dave T. says:

      If the published book is meant to be a framework, Fred, then it’s not a very good one. It fulfills a very impoverished idea of “framework” in that it is an ordered series of events that the DM can move PCs through. But it often falls apart in the details and it can’t even properly keep track of its major moving pieces. For example:

      – The PCs have the option of joining the Harpers or the Order of the Gaunlet. On pg. 29, it says that “[c]haracters don’t need to join either faction, but there are advantages to doing so and no real drawbacks.” Where in the rest of the adventure are the advantages? HoDQ has a habit of raising points like these and dropping them just as fast.

      – Why is the Black Dragon Mask detailed? There’s an allusion in the introduction to the scheme to assemble the five Dragon Masks, but there are no black dragons in HoDQ (Episode 5 strongly discourages the DM from introducing the black dragons in the Mere). Why not have the WHITE Dragon Mask in the adventure, since the PCs may fight a white dragon? Plus, the likelihood of the PCs getting their hands on the Black Dragon Mask are remote, since it could teleport out of Rezmir’s treasure chest in Episode 8. But that’s also an inconsistency in the text because Rezmir’s stats in Appendix B clearly indicate that she’s wearing the Mask. Her stat block includes the Mask’s Legendary Resistance, Draconic Majesty, Damage Absorption (immunity to acid), and Water Breathing. So why does it say in Episode 8 that the Black Dragon Mask is in the chest when Rezmir’s stats show that she’s wearing it?

      – Take a look at the map of the Sword Coast. Rezmir’s plan is to bring treasure from the southern Sword Coast all the way to the Mere of Dead Men north of Waterdeep. Where does it go from there? Parnast, a village technically SOUTH of Waterdeep and a good distance to the east. Why doesn’t Rezmir just take the treasure directly to Parnast, a much shorter trip from Greenest. In the Overview on pg. 5, it states that a goal of HoDQ is for the characters to “prevent [the cloud giant’s flying citadel]” from reaching its destination at the Well of Dragons.” The Well of Dragons is *even closer* to Greenest than Parnast. Rezmir is a wyrmspeaker, one of the top five highest-ranking members of the Cult of the Dragon. She must know where the treasure is going to end up, i.e. The Well of Dragons. So instead of just bringing it directly to the Well or hiding it nearby, she arranges for the Hoard to travel over hundreds (thousands?) of miles of the Sword Coast where it could be intercepted by bandits or foes of the Cult?

      HoDQ’s framework and episodes are each riddled with weaknesses. If a DM, novice or otherwise, has to make changes to the fundamental assumptions and elements of HoDQ’s framework in order for the adventure to make sense, then that’s a failure of the authors.

  20. Bryce Lynch says:

    Maybe, however I don’t think so. Both my review and HDQ are involved and both resist being painted in too simple terms.

    My review IS based on my expectations. I have review standards and I follow them. I think I know what makes a good adventure and I compare & contrast product to those standards. It is far too simple to say I want hand-holding. I don’t. I encourage you again to read the last paragraph of my review. I’m looking for an adventure that supports a DM in creative play. This explicitly does NOT mean pages of text for simple ideas. This means I expect the designer to communicate an evocative image to the DM expected to run the thing. If the adventure _requires_ pages of notes, highlighter, and many readings then the designer has failed. Every adventure is implicitly a framework. It’s how it goes about it that is at issue here.

    A good DM and a great group of players can have fun doing anything; that’s no rebuttal to this being a poorly designed adventure. The adventure must support creative and interesting play. This adventure does not. It is boring.

  21. joelastowski says:

    With regards to hand-holding vs. DM support, I’ve felt in a lot of ways that 5th Edition has over-corrected from what many felt was the too-rules-heavy, often railroaded nature of 4E, and now 5E answers most all of its potential issues with “let your DM decide”. That holds true for the adventures as well as the basic rules/PHB. Many experienced DMs like having this “freedom”, though it’s awful for new DMs trying to learn the system. And for organized play, it can be nightmarish as players go from one table to another, getting different rulings on how their powers work at each table. The HoDQ adventure feels like it takes this approach with the meat of the adventure (the descriptions, the personalities of the people, the things to draw folks in)… don’t worry, your DM will come up with all of that.

  22. Can we all just agree that the book was both poorly written, poorly conceived, poorly edited, and that we should be expecting better from the leader of the RPG industry? Especially in light of the veteran authors who understood the project?

    • Kristian says:

      This is what I do not understand. Wolfgang Baur knows how to do good adventures and sandbox settings (e.g. Empire of Ghouls). This was the chance for his Kobold Press to shine and get more publicity. Then why did he and WInter produce this crap? Or did they send something different to WoC who edited it to death?

  23. Proof is in the pudding and as I’m running this for my group, so far so good. You just have to inject some of your own encounters into it and build on top of what’s there, which if you’re any good as a DM, you do with everything you pick up anyway. Or, if you’re not, you take to a blog and moan.

    • Bryce Lynch says:


      From the review:
      A good DM could …
      Inevitably someone will comment “Yes, but a good DM could …” or perhaps “but it’s the job of the DM to add …” Both statements are correct, and meaningless in this context. You’re right, a good DM could, and will, fix it. But we’re also looking for the designer to INSPIRE the DM to greatness. To give them little bits of flavor seeds that can explode in their minds to full fledged sensory scenes to be communicated to the players ad-hoc and ad-lib. Likewise some folks seem to confuse my statements around flavor and INSPIRATION to mean “a lot of text.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Those long & lengthy descriptions rob the DM of their imagination. We’re looking for JUST. A LITTLE. MORE than bare bones. We need to know what’s SPECIAL about this person, place, thing. The thing that makes the NPC or encounter come alive. The imagination is a powerful thing. You just need to suggest something and it will do the rest.

    • I completely disagree with that comment.

      People are charging money for an adventure product that customers expect to be well-written, free of errors, AND not require additional input, preparation, or troubleshooting n order to make it work. That’s what we have here.

      Moaning should never be confused with legitimate gripes and criticism. Maybe the style of the complaints aren’t to your liking, but that doesn’t make the author’s points any less valid. What you’re personally doing is making lemonade out of lemons, and his point is you shouldn’t be forced to have to be using lemons in the first place when it’s advertised as oranges.

      Maybe the problem is too many customers hold their standards so low. Just because it’s WotC doesn’t mean they can’t do any wrong. If anything, they should be setting the bar much higher. One only has to read the recent Steve Winter’s Q&A article on enworld.org to understand how low of a bar was set. Mr. Winter seems to blame everything on a changing rules set. That may be the case, but that was his assignment. It doesn’t excuse the slew of errors that the product shipped with. The product is still the product, no matter the conditions it was made in. Everyone involved should have taken more time to proof it before it went out the door.

      Lastly — and I think this is what rubs me the wrong way the most — is that poor products get a free pass whenever someone waves the flag that “if you’re any good as a DM, you do with everything you pick up anyway.” So, what if you’re not a good DM? What if you’re a first-timer or still learning to be good with improvisation? There’s no warning on the cover that says, “Hey, this product requires experienced DMs because we didn’t edit this book very well.” That kind of rebuttal is a shallow attempt to invalidate a legitimate criticism. By logical extension, only bad DMs won’t be able to use the product. Or worse, good DMs are required to make the module succeed.

      So, there’s really two ways you can go with reviewing the product: you could be like Mike Shea and discuss the (many) ways to overcome the product’s failings, OR, you could hold the writers accountable and point out the flaws. I’m up for BOTH. WotC needs to hear what a stinker of a product this is. They need to be shamed from multiple fronts so that they don’t release a product like this again. Otherwise, customers are just coddling them.

      If the only kind of adventure products customers are going to be able to buy are those for their in-store support program, then at the very least they can be good. Getting people into the game isn’t just about getting more players, it’s also about getting more DMs. So the objective is for WotC to put out quality products that attract both.

      As Mr. Lynch pointed out in detail, this isn’t it.

  24. EB says:

    Excellent review, mirroring exactly the underwhelming disappointment I felt when I first opened my book up. Flavourless, bland and generic, 4/10 wizards.

  25. Bryce: Just thought I’d stop by and say that I miss your reviews. I know that a lot of Enworld folks were pretty nasty in their response to this article, but I sincerely hope that doesn’t discourage you from continuing to provide insight on future products.

    • Camila Acolide says:

      I want to +1 on that. I really miss your reviews and your style Bryce.

    • Alan Skinner says:

      Make that a +2. I find your reviews to be the best RPG reviews on the internet. I’m eagerly awaiting your next one!

    • Absolutely, I hope the absence of posts isnt a reflection of the crap thrown your way. You reviews cut to the bone, but as is often repeated, valid criticism, however difficult for the writers or fanboys to stomach, can help improve things by bringing a greater critical eye to the development of these products.

      Your reviews are much anticipated and when you say its “better than the average” I know its high praise.

  26. heridfel says:

    My group just played through Episode 3 last night. We apparently went the “wrong way” (not going through the fungi gardens), so we had two and a half fights’ worth of monsters all waiting for us after we climbed down a rope, including four monsters with double attacks and another three berserkers who have more than twice as many hit points as any of our characters. We thought they had to be raging to have that many – nope, no way around doing around 200 points of damage to take out nameless, faceless NPCs on top of the important ones.

  27. Dragonsdoom says:

    Looking forward to my next Bryce fix. Love the reviews dude!

  28. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, me too. Hope you come back

  29. Anonymous says:

    Time to come back, Mr. Lynch. A lot of awful stuff is being published these days! =P

  30. Jake Parker says:

    Can’t wait to see more of your work Bryce!

  31. Anonymous says:


  32. Devin says:

    Just read your review and wanted to chime in with others in saying that this was a fantastic review. Harsh, but absolutely fair, and not only does it point out the flaws of HotDQ, it makes many, many useful and inspiring suggestions on how to “patch” it. I haven’t bought HotDQ – and based on your review and that of others, I have no plans to – but I’ve been experiencing it as a player in my D&D Encounters sessions. Your criticisms have definitely proven true from the other side of the DM screen. Dull encounters, no-win situations and a feeling of vagueness about everything contribute to make a poorer experience of this new edition than should be. And our DM has been running games for decades! He’s made positive changes (for example, Leosin was like, “Get me out of here!”) but it’s still a bit of a slog.

    Thanks again!

  33. Bill Barsh says:

    It pains me to think that Bryce is not posting away. This is one of the few blogs I visit. I get a great resource of OSR stuff all in one place. And I like Bryce’s reviews. Good or bad, he is consistent in his expectations. I could care less if he has typos. I am not reading this for that. He has reviewed many of my modules and he has always been consistent – that is important!

    On to the subject of this thread, though. I finally finished reading the entire adventure. And to be fair, I will freely admit my expectations were high. D&D Next is supposed to be THE reboot of the classic game. And I think it is an excellent product. That said, I was looking for the first adventure to be one that is…well…classic! The game deserves its own Keep on the Borderlands. An adventure that people will talk about fondly for years to come. I just don’t see anything like that with this adventure.

    I am a very big Steve Winter fan. I have played in several of his games at conventions and it does not get much better. And I am not saying this is a bad adventure. It just is not what I was looking for. I am not a fan of the broad spectrum adventure that is a “framework.” When I buy an adventure module, I want a tight package that runs itself. If I want to make changes, great. But the thing should stand on its own.

    Equally as painful is the presentation. Sure the art is really cool. The book is nice (although I would much prefer a box with multiple soft cover modules instead). But for the DM looking to sit down and run an adventure, this is not it. Stat blocks are missing. That just sucks. If there are monsters at a location, I want the stat blocks in the same place. I do not want to refer to general listings it the back of the book. The maps barely work or make sense. They are horrifically enumerated. I have to go back and look but I think some are just missing locations or just numbered incorrectly. If I have to search things out on a map, it failed.

    All of that said, I will go pick up the sequel this weekend. This time, I just don’t expect too much.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Bryce- Happy Thanksgiving! Have you thought about coming up for air?

  35. Keith Sloan says:

    I’m thinking this last review did him in!

  36. Chomy says:

    Hey, Bryce! You alright?

    Just wanted you to know that ever since I first stumbled upon it, your blog has been my starting point when I needed to find a good adventure for one of my gaming groups. Your work is incredibly helpful, so please, don’t stop!

    Also, it’d be high time to take a look at Rise of Tiamat, if I may suggest. 🙂

    • Leandro says:

      I’m really missing this blog lately… Rise of Tiamat would certainly be pretty cool review, I’d be in for another mega-review like this one, specially of a book I’ve read (I like to compare Bryce’s reviews with my own thoughts, pretty cool to see him point out what I missed). Some people embrace things so passionately they are unable to handle justified criticism. Also, a lot of RPG players are dolts, and the internet is full of trolls.

  37. David says:

    Hi Bryce, I check back regularly for your reviews… I’ve always enjoyed them, whether the material is good, bad, or meh. Please keep reviewing and posting 🙂

  38. Bryce, I know you copped a lot of hate for this review, both here and on ENWorld, but I really appreciate your reviews, and I think your strong opinions are a bonus. Don’t be down, keep going with reviews!

  39. Cynidician says:

    I just want to add one more voice saying “I miss your reviews so much!” When you were updating regularly I would constantly be checking back and waiting for the next module or Dungeon issue review. I especially love the Dungeon reviews. I loved those magazines so much back then (starting around issue 10). Looking back in hindsight, I agree with almost everything you have said about them. Even when I don’t agree with you I always enjoy reading your thoughts, Bryce.

    Looking back and thinking back over the old Dungeon material through your eyes and with your commentary has made me a better GM, a better gamer, and a better writer/communicator. It has made me less reliant on store-bought material and more likely to try new things and with less preparation.

    I am not playing 5th edition yet but reading your unbelievably in-depth review was worth every minute. Thanks.

    I do hope to hear more on these and other topics. Best to you.

  40. Jake Parker says:

    Merry Christmas, Bryce. You are missed in this space!

  41. Anonymous says:

    Bryce, I started reading your reviews on Dragonsfoot a few years back. They are fun and engaging and informative, and your criteria for judging a module are right on the money. Good stuff!

  42. thekarmikbob says:

    I, too enjoyed this review. Albeit a bit long, i understand and share the angst with this setting/module/arc whatever. I’ve been DMing my group thru this for a couple of months now – your description of this feeling like a locked-in Disney ride is spot-on. I can see why Wizards cranked it out – they need material like this to make the Adventures League et. Al. work. I suspect much of the dissonance is the result of the two authors working apart, rather than in tandem – it feels very much like 2 (or more) people wrote different pieces of it, hence the changes in content, depth, textwall, and so on. I just got turned on to your reviews, so as above, I hope you start blogging again – sounds like you know what you’re talking about.
    The module is too long for such a structured story arc. Player decisions don’t matter much, and if there is a wrong turn (whether intentional or not), there’s a lot of work to recover and get the party back on track – which both feels forced, as well as being a PITA.
    Give us world resource books, yes! Give us short modules with the key work the DM would otherwise have to do, so its useful to us. At this point, I’m spinning my homebrew 5e world up, and am going to try to transfer my players there so we don’t have to finish this awful module.

  43. Sandra says:

    5e = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_September
    Come back, Bryce! You’re a great reviewer

  44. I really like this blog. Please don’t be gone for good!

  45. Perilous Pitt says:


  46. Joshua Rodman says:

    Hope all is well and you’re enjoying what you’re up to these days.

  47. Meagain says:

    This is one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had on the Internet. Please return.

  48. flexi says:

    Please come back Bryce. Your firebrand opinion is much needed. Your acerbic reviews are always interesting to read. Who else can fill your shoes and slay the cumbersome OSR dragons of mediocrity in your absence? !? 🙂

  49. Simon says:

    This was a great review and honestly if this is how you end you blogging career it’s a great way to go out.
    Fanboys and apologists will always pour scorn, however you have made a huge list of suggestions that would dramatically improve this module. If we can’t share criticism how will things get better?

    I’ve been away from the scene for 8 years or so and was excited to come back to 5e. However I wanted a roleplaying game not an instance from an MMORPG.

    Anyway, so much of what you said echoed my experiences and completely selfishly it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my expectations and wants when it comes to adventures.

    I hope you are smiling about all of this by now?

  50. Yo says:

    It just dawned on me. Everyone who is pouring hate on you for the fact that “any competent GM could wah wah wah wah” is just proving you are right that this module has problems by admitting that things need fixing.

    They are also flexing their pathetic nerd needs to prove that *they* are great enough to make these fixes without doing anything as needless as sharing the fixes they put in or offering feedback to the designers. We all know that suffering in silence makes them some kind of super human DM right, right? Guys? Ummmm guys, I need you to know about how great I am for pretending to suffer in silence.”

  51. A concerned reader says:

    Are you alive?

  52. Dean W Kimes says:

    This was the first review of Bryce’s I ever read…and it was spot on, so much so that I bookmarked it and have come back several times to read comments. I hope Bryce comes back some day, seems like we have similar opinions on what a module should look like.

  53. vividantivirus says:

    “This is one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had on the Internet. Please return.” Agreed! I check back at least once a week to see if there’s any movement. Tenfootpole is one of the most invaluable, unfiltered sources of adventure reviews to be had on the internet.

  54. Chomy says:

    Okay, honestly I can only think of two possible scenarios going on here:
    – Bryce has been abducted by WotC’s ninjas, and getting re-educated as we speak
    – Bryce has been asked by WotC to write the best adventure module ever, thus being way too busy to react to our comments 😉

    So… which one is it?

  55. Baphomet69 says:

    I’m not going to defend the module, it is certainly flawed, but wow. How about an introductory paragraph laying out the problems you have with it and then paragraphs detailing your suggestions on how to fix it without all your ‘local color’? Your suggestions for improvement, minus all the vitriol, were great. As it stands, your caustic review was a tougher slog than the module. And you’re writing for public consumption. Make at least one edit pass before posting, please.

  56. Great review. I read it the day you wrote it.

    I’m still running Hoard. I’ve taken your constructive criticisms and am running a good game with them.

    Regardless, I’m ashamed I paid as much as I did for this product. Reading “Princes of the Apocalypse” on the side makes me want to burn the “Hoard” game (and book) to the ground and start “Elemental Evil” instead, but we are having fun in “Hoard” despite the best attempt by Kobold Press to make it impossible.

  57. Dale Burden says:

    I could not read this the writing was so bad

  58. The Anonymizer says:

    Sorry to necro this thread, but: Doors reference. Nice one, Bryce.

    Seriously, though, this is still a great review, even after five years. It’s great because you’re basically tellling us why this would make a crap screenplay.

    You see, I’m an actor and director IRL. To me, role-playing is a form of stage craft. And just as I want to hear the dialog in my head when I read a script, to see the actor’s expressions and tones and movements in each line, so I want a room or encounter (or any) description to grab me and show me instantly how I’ll dramatise it at the table.

    Any script worth a damn shows the interesting bits in the life of the protagonists. The boring bits, they get workshopped out (unless you’re trying to be boring, but that’s another matter.)

    At the table, we’re playing with protagonists: that’s all RPG-ing is. So why the hell would we, as GMs, want a script — a scenario — that smothers the interesting bits? That doesn’t paint a vivid picture, a snapshot, a tableau at the table, in a few deft lines like a decent play does?

    Sure, George Bernard Shaw could write fascinating five minute long monologues. But how much Shaw can you take? And who among our current crop of adventure writers could pull off a facinating, colorful wall-of-text description? No, not even Harley Stroh.

    At any rate, thanks for wading through my rant (speaking of wall-of-text.) And thanks again for the Doors reference.


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