I know others who have noted the lack of adventures that end with the locating and slaying of a dragon. In my own campaigns dragon encounters are always remembered. They are rare, but each encounter was unique and challenging. The dragons were played intelligently as the apex predators they are. The PCs many times had to make deals with the Dragons as they were unable to defeat them in combat. Dragons I feel should be epic and never a throw away encounter. It never mattered if it was just a faerie dragon or pseudo dragon or a big bad kick your ass red dragon. That is why this week I showcase not one, but two similar adventures that each build up the PCs to tackle a single Dragon.
Originally I was just going to discuss one module, EN Publishing’s To Slay a Dragon. It was a Kickstarter I participated in and I think it would be very fun to run. Last week though while figuring out what to buy with a 20% Barnes and Noble coupon I found a copy of the Dragon’s Demand, a module by Paizo Publishing.
The two are very similar, not just in module theme, but how they work. Each is set in a very small town the players characters can explore, find mystery, and meet interesting NPCs. Each town has its own unique history waiting to be discovered. Each module has a series of side quests the PCs can accomplish to help gain treasure and XP. Each module is in three parts, which while common for plays, is not so common in module construction. Each module has the PCs gather items of power to help slay the dragon and each module assumes the PCs will get up to about level six or seven before fighting the dragon.
Sadly though if I were to just recommend one it is not even a contest. To Slay a Dragon is a much better product. It is larger by almost 100 pages and it is less expensive to purchase. The extra pages are devoted to setting which I appreciate. The Dragon’s Demand really has a lot to be desired within the four pages it gives to describe its town. To Slay a Dragon devotes more space to just describing the NPCs and that is without stat blocks. It is not just the attention to the setting. Dragon’s Demand is a more typical adventure of dungeon crawls with A leading to B leading to C. To Slay a Dragon takes a different approach and makes the first two parts a sandbox experience. There are a lot of options for the characters and they are free to handle them however they want.
Dragon’s Demand starts off weakly. Getting PCs to the adventure is not always easy and in some cases, like this, a bit too heavy handed but I think writers can do better. PCs arrive in town as part of a caravan. The caravan owner is arrested and the PCs get stuck in the town. A tower falls over and the mayor decides the PCs are the only competent people she has to investigate it. At the very least I would make investigating the Tower seem dangerous and the PCs are hired to do so because no one wants to take the risk. There are quests the PCs will discover, but I dislike that the actual adventure is part of the list of quests. It seems like not enough XP is in the adventure and so when the PCs accomplish items like explore the collapsed tower they get bonus XP for it. I would add in more monsters or traps, making it more dangerous, but increasing the amount of XP.
In the second part the PCs explore the manor house of a wizard. It has magical traps and other surprises inside but the biggest surprise comes from the PCs not being allowed to keep anything they find. Aside from keeping the adventure going there are few reasons any PCs would ever to agree to terms of that kind. Killing things and looting them is one of the basic assumptions in the game. The module is also a lot of dungeon crawls. It is comfortable and what players are used too but I like it to be mixed up every now and again. When everything turns into a dungeon crawl then things seem very similar.
By the time the PCs get to the dragon they should have enough items to really make the battle easy. It is only a Green Dragon, so not the toughest. If all the items are not enough the PCs can call it by its real name and that will weaken the creature even more. It is a CR 11 creature for PCs of 6th or 7th level, so it could be tough if they miss some things.
By contrast To Slay a Dragon is mostly sandbox. It gives the PCs plenty of time to explore the town and meet fleshed out NPCs. They don’t have to do all the quests and can really enjoy the first part of the adventure. The second part with the fear of the dragon hanging over their heads is also a sandbox but with the dragon killing whole towns it makes the creature seem rather fierce and dangerous. The PCs only hope to defeat it is with a few unique items they must find and find quickly. If the PCs kill and get all the XP they might be 9th level by the time they face the dragon but more likely will be lower. This dragon is CR 14 so a whole lot tougher and the fight will feel like a better victory. The treasure will also feel earned. This is not the appropriate treasure for a CR 14 creature. This is the appropriate treasure for a dragon that has been raiding and stealing from people for centuries. It is a treasure trove worthy of a dragon.
I hope to one day get to run one or both of these. I like adventures that build up towards something epic like these do. It is nice to have one module that covers all of the lower to mid-levels of the game. To Slay a Dragon is the stronger module but it is also larger and has more room to fit into it the details and extras that I really appreciate in a module.
Chris Gath. I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then. In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6. My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game. On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out. I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times. Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.