Tonight we wrapped up the final session of Tyranny of Dragons. A campaign that we invested two years of our lives in to, and a campaign that for many of us (myself included!) was our first foray into a long-term roleplaying game. Despite the adventures many flaws and faults I think we all walked away tonight with an overwhelming sense of achievement. Myself for sticking at something for as long as I did without abandoning it half way through and for the rest of the group for sticking with me as I muddled through learning how to be a DM.
When our regular board gaming group decided to venture into the world(s?) of RPG’s I never once anticipated that I’d be the one to sit at the head of the table. I didn’t have any idea about how to be a Dungeon Master and I remember peeling open the pages of the 5th Edition Starter Set with a sense of heavy burden – which soon became outright fear by the time the first game had rolled around and I was suddenly faced with 6 pairs of eyes looking to me. Even as I described the introduction (which I’d committed to memory!) I felt the adrenaline coursing through my veins in what felt very much like a fight or flight moment. An hour later with the first combat under our belts and plenty of laughter going on I was able to breathe what felt like my first breath all evening. I’ve never had a go at deep sea diving but man, that breath must be what it’s like to finally surface for air.
We never did finish the Lost Mine of Phandelver but we’d all grown used to our roles and our group was getting tired of playing the randomly picked pre-made characters after the fourth or fifth session so we opted to start something with a little more bite. Enter Hoard of the Dragon Queen! *gong sound*
So, how hard could it be? Yeah it was bigger but surely it would be just like the starter set, right? RIGHT? Wrong.
Gone were the cute little guidance notes and tutorials about what to do if your players take path B instead of A. Gone were the printed tips and hints. This was really it. The first big adventure and I was completely on my own. Now, if you’ve been playing or running roleplaying games for a while this might seem a little dramatic to you but my experience was limited to running four or maybe five sessions of an adventure that held my hand the entire way and now I had this huge tome infront of me. Where was I supposed to start? How much of this did I need to know or commit to memory? How on earth do you prepare to run something like this? Those are questions I frantically typed into Google, begging, pleading and hoping that someone had the answers for me and… I was surprised to find they had.
Over the next few weeks Youtube became one of my best friends. Mike Shea from Sly Flourish, Sean McGovern from Powerscore RPG and Matt Colville from literally too many things to name – all of these guys, their blogs, their videos, their reviews helped me immeasurably. That’s not counting all the stupid questions I’d asked over on EnWorld and on far too many D&D Facebook groups. Discovering the D&D community on the web was paramount for me running this adventure and I’d not have done halfway near as good as a job as I did or stuck it out as long as I did if it wasn’t for the community out there.
So, armed with my new found knowledge and the confidence of my anonymous online friends helping me, the first session rolled around like it inevitably would. Were there nerves? Definitely. Was I worried I’d fall at the first hurdle? Absolutely, but I also couldn’t turn back now.
The first few sessions rolled by relatively quickly with my group investigating the Cult of the Dragon down in Greenest, finding their encampment and freeing the Half-Elf Leosin from capture. So far, so good. Everything was going as planned and nothing had deviated from the text so much that I couldn’t get it back again. Then it was time for the group to leave Greenest and head up to Elturel and this is where I started to get brave. Feeling comfortable in my DM’s chair and not particularly liking the way the Elturel portion of the adventure played out I decided that it’d be alot more fun if Elturel was in the midst of a festival when the party arrived there. I’d looked online and jotted down some loose rules for festival games the party could take part in and after the very dark and heavy start to the adventure I thought this might provide some much needed light-heartedness to things.
It went down a storm. Something I’d written and made up! The guys loved it and this gave me the confidence and motivation to implement more of my own content going forward.
When I started running Tyranny of Dragons I was very apprehensive to stray too far from the book but there was so much of it that I either didn’t like or that just wouldn’t gel with our group that there were times it was unavoidable. By the time we’d hit book 2 with Rise of Tiamat I was mostly using the book as a very skeletal barebones structure to the adventure and adding the real content myself. From entire dungeon crawls to city sieges I tried my hand at most things with varying levels of success but to me, that was what was important. Not always succeeding. Not always knocking it out of the park but persisting and trying new things and trying my hardest to tailor the adventure to the group we had. It became OKAY to fail because it was during the down points that I learned what worked and what didn’t and my group never judged me or bashed me for it one bit. (Thanks guys!)
I’d decided from quite early on that no matter how far we drifted from the text or how much of my own imagination went into writing entire swathes of the adventure, I wanted to keep the final battle as authentic to the book as possible. I didn’t want to cheat the guys out of an epic showdown after two years of gaming. This was the one point I was adamant on – at least in my mind anyway. This was also the one thing I regret most about the adventure.
This isn’t to say I think I could have done a better job, me with my experience of running literally one campaign. I’m not saying that at all, I just would have done it differently. I would have put more thought and effort into it and ultimately tried to give the group more of a challenge strategically. I wish I’d taken the time to tailor this battle to them because through the whole campaign I’d have to say I felt this was the biggest part that failed to deliver.
So after completing the campaign, the joy and the accomplishment and everything that comes with it and over two years now of being a Dungeon Master I still don’t feel as though I’m qualified enough to give you a proper blow-by-blow review of the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. Instead I’ll say that despite the negativity it seems to get the adventure proved to be the perfect introduction for a new DM and a group of new players alike. Some of the chapters are flat, some of the events are boring and some of it you’ll want to change and you totally should. This adventure taught me how to be a DM, taught me the game and taught me what to do when shit goes south and you haven’t prepared for it. Reading over some of the newer adventures I’ve collected since playing Tyranny of Dragons have me infinitely more excited to run them but Tyranny will always hold fond memories for me for it being the first proper campaign we played. The first proper campaign I ran.
It’s not the greatest written, the story isn’t particularly inspiring but the memories of the moments I had with my friends as we journeyed the Sword Coast will stay with me for a long time. These adventures are what you make them.