Welcome to The Alpine DM’s guide to running the Tyranny of Dragons adventure module for DnD 5e. I’ve never gone through this adventure as a player, and am just starting to DM a campaign of it, so this series of articles will be part review, part overview of how I prepped and ran it, and part how I would do things differently. Suffice it to say there will be major spoilers in this article series.
Today’s Article will Discuss
- What’s Tyranny of Dragons all About?
- A Word on Session Zero
- Chapter 1 Overview
- Important Shit to Know
- Chapter 1 Preparation
What’s Tyranny of Dragons all About?
There are a few classic and iconic DnD villains that have stood the test of time (or so I’m told anyway, I’ve actually only played a little 3.5 back in the day and didn’t start playing 5e until ~2017). These are the sort of folks that will absolutely rock your shit, and you had better show them the respect they deserve, or else a TPK is bound to happen.
Such bad guys include:
Vecna (thanks Stranger Things)
Strahd (dracula, but, like, edgy and morose)
Acererak (mean lich who eats soul soup and builds dungeons)
Tiamat (dragon with more heads than tails)
As far as I can tell, Tyranny of Dragons is about Tiamat and the shenanigans of her followers. The reality is that this adventure consists of two separate adventures that have been rolled into one (Hoard of the Dragon Queen, and Rise of Tiamat). The adventure is supposed to take players from level 1 to level 15(ish). Players will uncover more and more of the Cult of the Dragon’s plan, and must strategically forge alliances in order to stop Tiamat from rising.
A Word on Session Zero
Every campaign should start with a session zero to establish rules, go over character creation and party dynamics, and introduce a bit of lore. It’s basically a mini party where you determine the ideal hype-to-chill ratio for the group, and running Tyranny of Dragons is no different.
This campaign/adventure has a reputation for being a bit linear, particularly in the beginning, and this is something that you’ll want to discuss with the players and be upfront about. They need a reason to actually give a shit about the events in the campaign (even though it’s arguably just as fun to buy a tavern or start an adventure guild). I strongly recommend using the special backgrounds that come with Tyranny of Dragons. They’re super easy to implement, and they give each player a pretty direct tie-in to the events of the adventure. Admittedly, some are a bit more direct than others, but just make them roll randomly and see what happens. Plus, there’s a decent chance that players will have great RP opportunities due to potentially conflicting interests.
You may also want to go over some of the basic lore of the land. The campaign is set in Faerun (Sword Coast), so if your players are experienced there is a decent chance that they’ll already be familiar with the world. Regardless, I think it’s always worth it to show the table a map of the world (be sure to mark a spot for Greenest, since it isn’t actually marked on the large maps of the Sword Coast). Take a moment to cover the “general knowledge” of some of the factions that you will come across (Cult of the Dragon, Emerald Enclave, Harpers, etc). Don’t give too much away though, you want them to be able to experience it themselves!
Tyranny of Dragons Chapter 1 Overview
This campaign doesn’t really fuck around and just jumps right into it. Your players are headed to the town of Greenest, and it turns out that it is being raided and attacked by a blue dragon! PCs spend this chapter making their way into the city’s keep, saving villagers, killing bad guys, and doing whatever they can to help. The attack continues through the night and the chapter finishes with the bad guys returning to their camp with the town in shambles.
As I write this, my group is currently 2 sessions in and I’m expecting them to finish chapter 1 by the end of our 3rd session. It could be done faster and it definitely could be done longer if you include all of the fights and PCs chase after every possible quest/mission.
Important Shit to Know
There is really only one NPC who I would describe as ‘important’, and that is the leader of the town Tarbaw Nighthil (https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Tarbaw_Nighthill). You could get away with having Tarbaw be the only NPC, though there is also a Dwarf who helps run the keep and has a big ring of keys.
You may want to consider having a few villagers and raiders prepped in case the party decides to go on a rescue mission, or if they end up interrogating one of the attackers.
This chapter is presented as a handful of semi-optional missions while the attack on Greenest is happening. They pretty much all revolve around helping to save townsfolk, or killing some of the bad guys who are attacking the town. I recommend choosing a few of the missions and presenting them to the players (as discussed below), instead of just letting them loose during the attack.
Chapter 1 Preparation
Below you’ll find a somewhat summary of the different scenes and notes (in mostly chronological order) that I had prepared while running Chapter 1 in Tyranny of Dragons.
First, I prepared a small description of the ‘introduction’. I had my players acting as hired guards for a merchant cart that was traveling to Greenest, which allowed the PCs to have gotten to know each other briefly for ~2 weeks (in game). The description included talking about rolling hills and grass fields, as well as explaining that during their time as guards for this merchant, the PCs worked together a few times to fight off some bandits.
Then, before the PCs made it to Greenest, I had each player give a brief description of their character, as well as any information that they would have shared during their travels together
Next, I had prepared a description of Greenest when the PCs first see it and realize that it’s under attack. I essentially used the version book’s description of this scene as a starting point and added a few things as flair (like highlighting the immense power of the dragon by having them see it release a lightning attack and crumble part of the keep’s watch tower)
Towards the Keep
You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the statblocks of kobolds, ambush drakes, and cultists/acolytes since the PCs will be facing a large number of these during their time in the city. I also recommend prepping the various combat encounters ahead of time instead of ‘randomly rolling’ for them as PCs move through town. Either choose some of the encounters from the table, or just roll ahead of time. This ensures that things keep moving smoothly (at least on your part) and the game doesn’t get bogged down.
- I loosely prepared a scene/interaction with Tarbaw Nighthill when the players first arrived at the keep. Instead of offering all of the quest options, I just chose the ones that I thought would be the coolest and proceeded to present them in order as PCs completed them. These aren’t the actual names of the missions (because I don’t have the book in front of me), but you’ll be able to figure it out if you’re reading the chapter.
Go capture and interrogate a bad guy
Sally Port breach
Champion of Cult
I was initially worried about the sheer number of encounters that the book recommends against a low level party, but honestly my group did really well with the first few encounters and only took significant damage during the Sally Port attack. My vote is to not pull any punches here and to let the PCs see the power of the Cult that they’re trying to fuck with (also all of my PCs started with a healing potion).
If I were to run this chapter again, I would have a more carefully prepared initial interaction with Tarbaw Nighthill because when I ran it it felt a little sloppy and forced, but at least it was kind of funny. Thankfully in session zero I explained to my players that it would be a little railroady and to just stick with me. Our previous campaign was in Eberron with an airship, so they had plenty of opportunities to go and explore and chase butterflies.
More articles on running Tyranny of Dragons as a DM will be coming as my group moves through the chapters, I’m writing these in real-time. I hope this helped, and if you enjoyed the article please share it with a fellow DM who might also find this useful!