I am running RoT. This question is not about the final battle with Tiamat being a TPK.

I am worried about regular characters fighting regular adult dragons in the sea of flowing ice, etc., dying to dragons.

What do you do to make sure your party understands how tough they are, and can a group of 5 level 10 characters take down a adult white dragon? I see the CR is close to deadly.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I assume you are the DM? \$\endgroup\$ – B. S. Morganstein Jul 24 '17 at 17:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related, if not partial duplicate: How can I telegraph danger...? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 24 '17 at 18:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, if you as the DM are roleplaying Tiamat even close to her described Point of View and position in the multiverse, she certainly doesn't care whether or not the PC's die. :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 24 '17 at 21:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ fwiw: I've run this with three different groups of varying experience level, and the RoT dragons were a cakewalk compared to those of HotDQ and Phandelver. \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Vincent Jul 24 '17 at 22:15

I've played through Rise of Tiamat a few times with various DMs, and all of them had different approaches to it. The first questions you need to ask yourself is: "Do I want PC death in this campaign?" and "Is PC death a bad thing?" Let's keep it mind that going against a cult backed by dragons and potent casters is in itself fairly deadly, and no fight with a dragon should be taken lightly. Now if you may want to prevent player death for several reasons, but keep in mind that only sending the party against encounters that they definitely can win dulls the excitement somewhat.

Now, should your concerns remain, consider talking to your party before the start, or shortly after the beginning, of the campaign. Explain to them the severity of the situation, and that not all fights are meant to be won. Sometimes, the right strategy in a fight will be to flee, and even then that might not work. Encourage them to plan ahead, and if a character dies take a break after the game to discuss the consequences of this death on the party and their state of mind.

Now, to address the actual questions:

1) Assessing party strength and capability: Given the various different compositions a party can take, it can be hard to accurately pinpoint how difficult a certain fight will be for a group. The best way to give your group a preview of the fight is to pit them against a similar, but weaker, enemy first. Like a vaccine does to an immune system, this precursor to the actual challenge will allow the party to formulate a strategy and learn of their own strength and weaknesses against that type of creature in order to adapt appropriately. Likewise, research will let your group find out more info about their foes. Consider having them talk to a professional dragon hunter or a draconic loremaster for more information. If they encounter a town ravaged by the dragon they're currently hunting, or the wreckage of another ship, in your case, they might get a better sense of that monster's destructive potential.

2) Can 5 level 10 characters take down an adult white dragon: Now that heavily depends on group composition, and with the given info it's extremely hard to assess. Needless to say, with bounded accuracy technically a group of mid-level characters can technically take down almost any high-level monsters if they roll well and the monster rolls poorly. Also, if your group is a gang of multiclassed, optimized badasses, they might have no problem taking it down. That said, the encounter should be a hard or a deadly one with that kind of group. The short answer is: maybe. The long answer is maybe as well, but with a lot of needless explanation attached to it. But level 10 characters have access to spells to scry and bring back the dead, which will allow them to prepare, and lessen their losses as well.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As an addendum to the last answer, the group I'm DMing for was composed of 5 level 8 characters when they met the Adult white dragon, whom I gave defensive spells (prot. from energy, expeditious retreat, counterspell, etc.) and a dispelling breath (from Draconomicon). As veteran players, they managed to kill the 2 Ice trolls that joined the fight on the 6th round and vanquish the dragon with only 2 characters unconscious (and healed back before the end of the fight). So yes, it's feasible. \$\endgroup\$ – Meta4ic Jul 25 '17 at 11:25

I recently just completed playing a variant on Rise of Tiamat, so I can speak from my experience as a PC:

  1. Discuss expectations before the game begins - running a session zero or something similar can ensure the expectations of everyone are out in the open (with here everyone including the DM). Thus, as a DM, explaining that death is a real possibility to the players before the campaign starts will make the players aware that death is possible, and likewise hopefully influence their decision making in-game. While it's your job as a DM to try and create the adventure the players want to be playing, letting them know in advance that death is possible (and perhaps likely) will head off some serious problems that could come later (eg "I didn't know we could die," "That was an unfair fight..." etc).
  2. Use NPCs to your advantage - another way to emphasize the danger is through NPC interactions. Worried your PCs will get killed by an adult white dragon? Maybe have them encounter a group of weary soldiers, who just lost a number of brothers-in-arms to the wrath of the dragon's breath. Or add in some sort of Wizard or lore-master type character to inform them on the powers of an adult white dragon, and the serious dangers it can pose to an inexperienced party. I can see infinite ways of introducing NPCs to your PCs and using them as a conduit of warning.

Whether party can actually slay the dragon is another question entirely.

Based on the CR it should be a difficult, bordering on deadly, encounter. But this does not necessarily mean disaster.

  1. What tactics are the PCs using?

  2. Do they know about the dragon's maneuvers, attacks, and AC?

  3. What type of characters are they, and have they developed a strategy that plays to each individual character's strengths (eg tanks go in to distract and deal melee damage, rogue hides and sneak attacks, all the while spellcasters rain down flaming fireball hell on the dragon)?

  4. What type of equipment do they have?

    Having the PCs take these considerations in advance can seriously tilt the fight in their favour.

So, can they defeat it?
Maybe. But this will depend entirely on how prepared they are for the fight.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Format added, please review to make sure the edit still meets your standards. (Nice answer). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 4 '17 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Looks good to me, thanks for the formatting! \$\endgroup\$ – B. S. Morganstein Aug 4 '17 at 15:37

What do you do to make sure your party understands how tough they [Dragons] are

Hopefully, most PCs have figured this out. Adult White Dragons literally have an aura of fear. Every NPC who hears the party wants to kill dragons should be shocked. Young dragons can wipe out small villages, no normal person in the Forgotten Realms would think lightly of dragons.

... and can a group of 5 level 10 characters take down a adult white dragon?

The nature of D&D is that most combats are not designed to kill the PCs. It's usually only a few key combats that are really TPK material. Dragon fights typically qualify. That stated, a 10th level party only needs one survivor and bunch of gold & diamonds to be able to resurrect everyone else.

As long as the players aren't surprised, they'll have time to prepare the right spells. And if this is their only encounter of the day, then hard likely isn't hard enough.

This should be a test of their teamwork and preparedness, but it's unlikely to kill them.

I am running RoT...

Running a single Adult White Dragon is just warm-up for the rest of the book. If your PCs struggle with that combat, hopefully it's a learning experience because Tiamat is way past deadly.

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