Tyranny of Dragons

For the second time this month, WotC has made a sudden announcement teasing new details regarding D&D Next, this time elaborating on the teased hints from the press release of a couple weeks back. Coming this summer is Tyranny of Dragons!

Bumm bumm buuummmmm!

The Announcement

Here’s a few choice excerpts from the announcements:

From WotC:

For years, the evil Cult of the Dragon has devoted itself to creating undead dragons in a vain attempt to fulfill an ancient prophecy. However, the cultists were misguided. They misunderstood. But now, under new leadership, the cult believes that the prophecy does not speak of undead dragons, but of a dragon empire that’s been extinct for 25,000 years. Tiamat, the queen of evil dragons, has languished in the Nine Hells for millennia. The cult believes that the time of her return is at hand.

From EN World:

Wizards of the Coast charges into the biggest and most exciting year in Dungeons & Dragons history with Tyranny of Dragons! This action-packed storyline starts this summer and will fuel Dungeons & Dragons entertainment experiences that will have players reeling with anticipation as they prepare to take on the most villainous dragon of all time.

Through video games, mobile games, in-store play at local hobby stores, and more – this year will be a major milestone in Dungeons & Dragons history. Wizards of the Coast has even enlisted best-in-class partners who will bring these epic adventures with friends to life by further immersing players into the Tyranny of Dragons! Stay tuned for additional details.

From USA Today

Publisher Wizards of the Coast will launch this with the fresh story Tyranny of Dragons this summer, the latest chapter of the role-playing game first launched 40 years ago.

The next chapter for Dungeons & Dragons will spread across multiple modern platforms, including a new tabletop adventure, and similar experiences for console video game systems and mobile devices.

Tyranny of Dragons pits players against throngs of dragons, led by their five-headed queen Tiamat. For the first time, players will get to battle Tiamat, who has appeared in D&D lore as a key villain since the mid-’70s.

What struck me (and other bloggers) was the statement “For the first time, players will get to battle Tiamat…” It’s in the USA Today article and repeated on the WotC site.

This is, of course, excluding the 1st Edition module H4 – The Throne of Bloodstone. And the 3rd Edition module Red Hand of Doom. And the 4th Edition adventure path Scales of War. All of which all feature encounters with Tiamat. Plus any homegame fights using the stats from the 1e Monster Manual, 3e’s Deites & Demigods, or 4e’s Draconomicon. Or confrontations with Takhisis in Dragonlance campaigns.

Oops.

What We Still Don’t Know

Everything.

Seriously.

We still know nothing.

All this did was give us a name and confirm that the “multiplatform” launch teased in the press conference did include consoles and tables. But we don’t know what form the different multimedia platforms will take. WotC might be launching more video games ostensibly tied into the plot (like Arena of War was hypes as being, but totally isn’t). Or they could be launching Virtual Tabletops for consoles and mobile devices. Or they could just be releasing the rules on those formats as a kind of app, or some kind of Compendium/ eTools.

We don’t know if this “event” will tie into the Sundering, be a follow-up or sequel, or if it will be a stand alone story. We don’t know if it will be a series of published adventures, or if (like the “events” of previous year) it will be limited to Encounters.

While a “big” announcement, we still do not know the format of the next edition (books or PDF or both), the number of books (single rulebook or the standard three or boxed sets), the release date, or even the name of the new edition.

Broken Promises & Failed Expectations

Tyranny of Dragons is the next event set in the Forgotten Realms, following after the Web of the Spider Queen and the Sundering. What strikes me as interesting is that during the GenCon Keynote address back in 2012 they promised an end to Realms-Shaking events and a focus on the adventures of the players. The novels would shift to smaller personal stories. The Sundering was meant to be the last, that they would be changing to focus on the actions of PCs and allowing people to make the Realms their own. And here we are, halfway through the Sundering, and the next event is already in the works. It may not be as Realms-Shaking as the Sundering or Time of Troubles but adding a new divine player to the Realms and having mass dragon attacks on a regional scale is as least as dramatic as the Horde invasion or the Web of the Spider Queen.

We don’t truly know the full effects of the Sundering. Or any of the larger details really. At this point, only 2/3rds of the novels and modules have been released (and there are rumours of two further modules). The effects on the Realms are unknown and many of the actual details of what has been going on and why have not been detailed in print. But ready or not, it’s off to the next big story. Sadly, this is emblematic of WotC. As soon as a product is “out” it’s on to the next product. Which does not work well with ongoing events or product lines. The climax of most seasons of Encounters goes unmentioned as they build up for the next season. There’s never time to breathe.

The big “multimedia” push is a little worrisome. WotC didn’t do so well integrating D&D with the digital world during the launch of 3e or 4e. Both attempted to launch with a digital character builder and both failed. The third time might be the charm or it might be another embarrassing failure.

There was also the lackluster multimedia presence of the Sundering. With two MMOs set in the Realms, a downloadable game, and a mobile game, it’s surprising there wasn’t more tie-ins to the Sundering. Both D&D Online and Neverwinter could have tried to have some impact on the Sundering, via an in game event or some quests. And while the opening cinematic of Arena of War teases a connection to the Sundering the game has no later influence with that event.

The story itself even sound a little generic. When Tiamat has made appearances before in the Forgotten Realms she’s not a major deity in that world, so having an event focusing on her and setting it in the Realms rather than Greyhawk or a generic world seems… off. Especially as one of the mandates of the post-Sundering Realms was the gods having less direct impact on the world and becoming more mysterious. Adding yet another major player to the Realms seems needless. Tacked on.

Especially frustrating is the reference on the WotC site that retcons the Cult of the Dragon into following a prophecy that they misinterpreted, and Tiamat being trapped in Hell. One of the problems with the 4e Realms was the mangling of established Realmslore to fit the new paradigm. The origins of the Cult of the Dragon and its founder have been well documented. The references to Tiamat they’ve revealed so far don’t fit the established appearances of Tiamat in that world. They’re not telling a Realms story, they’re changing the Realms so the story they want to tell will fit.

Target Audience

The big question is: who is this press release and event aimed at? Well, it’s likely not aimed at fans of the Forgotten Realms who are likely much more interested in seeing how the current event is resolved before more changes happen to the Realms. And the focus on consoles, mobile devices, and in-store play don’t seem to target the existing audience of homegame players.

This feels like a push for new players. A big stunt to get attention onto D&D. Something to attract other types of gamer that might not traditionally play D&D or be exposed to the game. Which is fair. The game does need to make some attempts at growing the audience, and the 40th Anniversary is a good place.

But the existing audience is still a little… left out. There’s so much we don’t know yet, so much we’re aching to know. Focusing on new players when existing ones are still very much on the fence and wondering what the future holds seems a little premature.