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Exploring Dungeons & Dragons’ Tyranny Of Dragons

by Matt Miller on Aug 15, 2014 at 11:45 AM

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Last month, Wizards of the Coast generously (and cleverly) offered a free version of the basic rules for its new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Not only does this free offer give new and old players a chance to check out the new ruleset for the classic tabletop RPG, but it also helps draw those same players into a likely purchase of further, more complex rulebooks as they release. The first and most important of those rulebooks, the Player’s Handbook, is rolling out to retailers now, and it includes the full game rules with all the classes and races available. At the same time, 5th edition’s first major campaign is launching, and it’s a little different from what many players might be used to.

Tyranny of Dragons is a united storyline that plays out across multiple adventures and locations, and it unfolds through multiple branches of the Dungeons & Dragons brand, from the tabletop game to an expansion to the Neverwinter MMO. On the core tabletop side, Tyranny of Dragons is built for organized play, and allows players from around the world to participate in ongoing events and affect how the story develops. Most of these events unfold by playing at in-store or convention events, but there are also options for home groups. We asked D&D brand director Nathan Stewart to give us some more details about how Tyranny of Dragons is structured, and how both beginning players and established gaming groups can get involved in the action. 

What’s the basic storyline gist for Tyranny of Dragons? 

Tiamat, Queen of Evil Dragons, has languished in the Nine Hells for millennia. The Cult of the Dragon is a group that believes they can free Tiamat and bring her into the Forgotten Realms. To accomplish its goal, the cult needs five ancient dragon masks and the support of evil dragons everywhere. The cult leaders—each one a "dragon whisperer"—have reached out to the evil dragons of the Sword Coast and earned their allegiance.

The evil dragons in partnership with the cult must amass a treasure hoard worthy of their dark queen by stealing money from cities, caravans, good-aligned dragons, merchant ships across the Sword Coast: including Neverwinter, Waterdeep, Baldur’s Gate.  

In order to stop the cult and save the realms from being ruled in chaos by evil dragons, adventures must rise up or else bow down to the Queen of Evil Dragons.

What makes Tyranny of Dragons different from D&D campaigns and modules that players may have encountered in previous editions of the game?

Dragons, dragons, dragons. As the name Dungeons & Dragons would imply, there will be dragons, but for many adventures these noble and legendary creatures have chosen to stay in their lairs and let the other inhabitants of Faerûn go on about their business unless they stumble upon them. However, with the cult doing everything they can to bring Tiamat back it causes good and evil dragons alike to join in the fight. It causes unlikely alliances between factions that have long been enemies, like the Harpers and the Zhentarim. The Sword Coast is a warzone and players will be dropped into the middle of the fight and forced to choose a side, and then forced to fight the evil Cult of the Dragon before it is too late and Tiamat returns.

How do factions play into the nature of the Tyranny of Dragons storyline?

Player factions are organizations that work towards a common cause in the Forgotten Realms.  Of our five player factions some have been around for many years in one form or another, like the Harpers or Zhentarim. The Harpers strive to have balance in the realms and usually work through “cells” and lone operatives throughout Faerûn, although they interact and share information with one another from time to time as needs warrant. With the Zhentarim, their public face appears more benign than their otherwise power-hungry natures, offering the best mercenaries that money can buy. 

Whether noble warriors, rugged survivalists, or deceptive agents, your choice to join a player faction will help shape your involvement in the game's ongoing story.  As we continue to tell big overarching stories that extend from videogames to tabletop play the factions will be a connective tissue between players and their stories.  The factions are an especially fun way to drive interesting play at stores and conventions through our Organized Play program, the Adventurer’s League.

What is the Adventurer’s League, and how is organized play different than traditional single-group D&D play?

The D&D Adventurers League is an ongoing official Organized Play campaign for Dungeons & Dragons. It uses the fifth edition of the Dungeons & Dragons rules, and features the Forgotten Realms setting. You can play D&D Adventurers League games at any place that features adventures bearing the D&D Adventurers League logo. Most D&D Adventurers League games are public, in-person play events. Typical venues for these events are game and hobby stores, conventions, and public-accessible game day events.

When the D&D Adventurers League begins with the Tyranny of Dragons storyline, you’ll have three paths you can take to begin on the road to adventure with a new character: the Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Lost Mine of Phandelver or Defiance in Phlan adventures.

D&D Encounters will still be our main in-store play every Wednesday night at hobby stores that sign-up.  They will have a full kit of adventuring content and a Dungeon Master to run players through the official adventures for our main story arc.  

D&D Epics is a special event taking place at select major conventions to get players really involved in a cool moment in the storyline. Individual characters can have a major impact here, and there are special rewards only available during a D&D Epics adventure which players will use at their home games or at D&D Expeditions. Encounters and Expeditions will have special rewards too, usually lower level magic items or consumables.

D&D Expeditions provides additional play in the stores or other public locations, like local events and shows, but it continues to give players a peek into how the main story is affecting the region near the Moonsea. This is a living campaign that will vary by group but tied by the player factions and ties to the main story that season.

How many places around the United States can players go to get involved in organized play? How often do players get together to play?

We don’t have the final numbers of official stores running D&D Encounters but players can go to our website and use the store locator to find a store near them.  We will likely see around 2,000 stores running the Tyranny of Dragons adventure every Wednesday night this season, but additional adventures and events will be available through the Adventurer’s League.

What about players who are not interested in organized play, but would rather play at home with their own gaming group? Is there a way for those players to interact with the Tyranny of Dragons storyline?

For players eager to sink their teeth into the Tyranny of Dragons storyline around the gaming table at home, two tabletop adventures will  release this year, Hoard of the Dragon Queen on August 19 and The Rise of Tiamat on October 21.  A new line of D&D miniatures from Wiz Kids will be available soon for fans to add to their Tyranny of Dragons adventures and our partners at Trapdoor Technologies are working on digital tools that enhance tabletop play in stores or the home.

When playing, are there different paths and styles of play that players can choose? What is different about these different paths?

The goal is to put the flexibility into the hands of the DM so adventures, even at the Organized Play level, will often differ in paths or style of play.  A common example is the use of gridded maps and minis.  We’ve partnered with Wiz Kids to create fantastic pre-painted minis that tie directly to our story but they aren’t needed to play.  However, if DMs and their group would like to use them, the rules allow for it and the dragon minis look amazing.  The same thing is true of different portions of adventures that are more “roleplaying” heavy and not combat-focused - the DM can allow players to skip sections or add to it as they see fit.  We give the DMs and players the tools they need to tailor the experience to their group for the best entertainment within our Tyranny of Dragons story arc.