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Examining Rise of Tiamat

The pre-written modules and adventures for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons aren’t for everyone. Some people love, play, and swear by them. They use them because they enjoy them, don’t have enough time to create a story of their own, or they don’t want to. And that’s okay. For those of us who do enjoy weaving tales of our own, in our free time or on slow days at work, these modules are fountains of lore, plot hooks, characters, monsters, twists, and fantastic locations. They can be used by us for the betterment of our hand-crafted stories. However, they can be long and some folks might not want to read them if they’re not running the adventure. Well, that’s where Best Bits comes in.

Welcome to the second Best Bits article, a series in which we pick through the pre-written adventures of Dungeons & Dragons, mining the coolest pieces of them for use in our own games and worlds. Previously, we went over Hoard of the Dragon Queen, the first hardcover module for fifth edition. This time, we’re continuing with its second part: Rise of Tiamat.

Rise of Tiamat continues the Tyranny of Dragons saga as heroes of the Sword Coast race to stop the Cult of the Dragon from summoning Tiamat onto the Material Plane. They bolster their forces with allies, battle dragon cultists and dragons, fly across Faerun’s favorite region, and finally confront the leaders of the draconic cult and, maybe, Tiamat herself at the Well of Dragons. If this sounds interesting to you, I recommend you buy Rise of Tiamat or just Tyranny of Dragons and run the actual modules. However, if you like to build your own campaigns, go ahead and proceed.

So, without further ado, let’s look at the four best bits of Rise of Tiamat to steal for our own D&D campaigns and adventures!

Number One: A Council of Possibilities

Rise of Tiamat is a massive step in the right direction when compared to its predecessor, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, because of its freeform nature. Much of this stems from the narrative mechanic that is the Council of Waterdeep. The party participates in a gathering of the Sword Coast’s greatest organizations, each of them keen on preventing the Cult of the Dragon from bringing Tiamat onto the face of Faerun. However, although they all share that common interest, each of them brings different ideas and opposing views on the region’s politics to the table and the group is charged with navigating this slippery political landscape. They gain allies, forge enemies, and prepare for the assault on the Cult of the Dragon’s headquarters: the Well of Dragons.

This can easily be inserted into any high-stakes campaign. A council of influential players in the region makes an excellent site for resting between adventures, gathering more magic items, and receiving more quests. In addition, it can help build up to a massive encounter that involves all of the various factions. By that time, the characters will be emotionally invested in the council members — and some of them might be enemies, too!

Number Two: Snake Horrors

Reskinning monsters is a lot of fun. In this adventure, the designers decided to create a spectacular monstrosity in the depths of a yuan-ti inhabited tomb. When the characters see lifeless husks of armor standing before them and snakes slithering along the ground, their mind won’t immediately jump to the two teaming up. However, this combination proves lethal and haunting. The snakes ascend into the armor, bring it to life, and even create a sword of venom! The designers show us, for the first time in 5E, how to successfully reskin one of their monsters — a helmed horror — to become a terrifying abomination. This monster is one we can steal and reskin over and over again for ourselves. Is your group delving into aquatic ruins? Maybe that school of piranha brings a massive statue to life. Are the characters about to storm a cloud giant’s keep? Their raven flocks take flight and bring the hollow statues around to life!

Number Three: The Dragon Masks

Scattered throughout the module are five dragon masks, powerful magic items that give their wearer the ability to commune — and even command — some of the mightiest creatures of the multiverse. In Rise of Tiamat, they’re worn or being searched for by the leaders of the Cult of the Dragon: the wyrmspeakers. Each dragon mask represents one of the core chromatic dragons: red, blue, green, black, and white. With a little bit of tweaking, these artifacts can be dropped in our own world. In addition, we can easily create more of them, perhaps for the scarcer yellow, purple, and brown dragons — maybe even dragon masks for metallics as well. They make great campaign cruxes, with the adventure revolving around finding them or stopping those who are using them. And if the party does get their hands on them...who doesn’t think it’s badass to control a dragon?

Number Four: Tiamat as a Villain

Tiamat is done dirty in Rise of Tiamat and the Tyranny of Dragons storyline as a whole. Although she’s the mastermind behind the Cult of the Dragon finding the various Wyrmspeaker Masks, she appears to play the role of the enraged beast at the only moment she appears in the module: the end. Of course, the party finds idols, minions, and worshipers of her, but the Dragon Queen never actually manifests in front of the group. She’s a great villain to steal, though. Her stats are laid out in Rise of Tiamat, as are a few of her motivations. Plus, there’s incredible art of her and a variety of inferiors who can serve her.

We can steal all the aspects laid out above but completely change how she’s viewed as a villain in our own campaign. Why have Tiamat be a vicious beast when she’s obviously as crafty as an ancient red dragon? Why not let her assail the party with visions from her prison on Avernus? Or, if we’re feeling particularly crazy, we can place her someone else, free of the infernal chains keeping her in the Nine Hells. Unbound, she becomes a far more threatening villain with the ability to make a real, lasting mark on our campaign.

In Summary

After my reading, these are the best bits of Rise of Tiamat:

  1. A council of influential people. They can become allies or enemies and serve as a base of operations between adventures. In addition, they can serve alongside the group in the final conflict.
  2. Snake horrors or reskinned helmed horrors in general are fantastic. Reskinning is powerful!
  3. The dragon masks make for unique artifacts. Our players will love them.
  4. Tiamat is a grand, frightening villain. Rise of Tiamat wasted her. We won't.

Until next time, farewell!

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