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Similar to the Rise of Tiamat - Dragon assets [Major spoilers] question, there appears to be a big lack of guidance regarding the final battle

In Episode 1 p23, it says:

If a faction’s final tally equals or exceeds the “Score Needed For Support,” the characters have won that faction’s full support in the final battle. If the tally is below the score required, that faction sends only minimal support that won’t help in the final confrontation. The benefits of each faction’s support are determined in the final episode, “Tiamat’s Return.”

However, without repeating what is said in Episode 9 pp86-87 very little information is given to deliver on the promise given above.

Speaking generically (those who know the module will be able to fill in the specifics), the PCs have the opportunity to acquire "assets" during the adventure that can neutralize the "assets" of their enemies. If they acquire all of the assets then they should have a relatively easy run through to the climactic battle we have all been waiting for. A few encounters with skirmishes between the "assets" of both sides where the PCs can weigh in to tip the balance without draining too many resources and the party gets the idea that they are a small (but vital) part of greater things and away we go.

However, it is more than likely that they will not have been able to acquire all of the "assets" leaving unopposed enemy "assets". For example:

If the characters fail to get the metallic dragons on side (a distinct possibility), then the chromatic dragons are unopposed. Even assuming that there are only "dozens" of these and allowing that they will be of all different age categories, then either: they will make mincemeat of the PCs or destroy one or more of the allied factions.

Obviously, if they totally blow the acquisition of "assets" their chance of reaching the big final scene would be practically zero.

I am conscious that the question I am about to pose steers dangerously close to seeking opinions so I will be very specific.

What strategies can be employed to:

  1. Make the acquisition of "assets" meaningful, and
  2. Make the allocation of those assets significant, while
  3. Allowing the party a reasonable chance of reaching the big boss battle?

To get you started, I am thinking (embryonicly):

Devising some sort of rating system of asset vs asset (taking into account their differential strengths and weaknesses) and deriving a timeline of the battle so that there are more or less encounters (with friends and foes) for the party on the way to the battle with Tiamat and then, based on how long the party took to get there, the intervention at that point of allies and enemies.

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This adventure takes a lot of forethought.

As the DM it falls on you to decide how much you want to either adapt your world to the players and how much you want to allow the players to change the world.

For example, you may have already decided that Tiamat is not ever going to rise in your world. You may either "redo" or otherwise give the PCs another chance at an asset they have failed to acquire. For example (no spoilers here), the PCs could need to save a village from an attack by a band of lizardmen. As a reward (unknown to them), they will be given the Amulet of Gygax, a key asset to advancing the story. Due to poor luck, and poor decisions, the lizardmen win and the PCs retreat. Rather than simply saying, "Well, you think you should try again, right?" or something along those lines, you could say, "That village is destroyed; as you lick your wounds, the lizardmen appear to be sending scouting parties down to the next village."

If you've decided that the PCs can affect the world, you might decide that the final battle is inevitable, but the PCs' success isn't. At that point, the campaign becomes one of surviving in occupied territory (and maybe plotting an overthrow).

The three items you ask about really boil down to a question (I think) of "How can I make this story fun for the players without railroading them?"

The biggest piece of guidance I can think of on that is to talk to your players about where they think they are in the game: "So Bob and I are preparing for the return of Lolth so when Tiamat shows up we'll have an ally."

Remember that this is a collaborative effort.

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This is how I did it

The players had to cross the battlefield. To do this I created a random encounter table with 50 items that they would move through rolling a d6 between encounters. When the reached the end they reached the end they reached the Cult's fortress.

With each encounter they could either engage it themselves or spend an asset to avoid it. If they spent the "correct" asset for the type of encounter (e.g dragons counter dragons, paladins counter devils etc.) they could spend that asset one more time.

The table I made is here - I even recorded my player's path through it.

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As you point out, the adventure doesn't provide enough information to determine how the factions affect the final outcome. This leaves the DM with a big job and lots of options. The two primary options are mass combat and infiltrate.

Mass Combat

There's an opportunity to use the Mass Combat rules from Unearthed Arcana, or unofficial rules such as the 5e Mass Combat System to play the clash between the armies in classic wargame style. Using this option allows you to determine exactly what happens when the combined forces of the Lord's Alliance and the Cult of the Dragon meet on the field of battle.

Setting this up is fairly straightforward: every allied faction donates appropriate troops to the cause. Factions that were not convinced to join the cause donate no troops. (Satisfying the "meaningful" and "significant" conditions.)

Depending on the results of the mass combat, the PCs may enter the Well of Dragons with additional NPC support, or they may enter injured and weakened. This allows the DM great flexibility in setting up PC resources for the final conflict. (Satisfying the "reasonable chance of reaching the big boss battle" condition.)

Infiltrate

If you want to stay with classic D&D style, then the party can attempt to infiltrate the Well of Dragons while the factions opposing each other are engaged in battle. This is probably closest to what was intended.

In this case, unopposed factions could be guarding the Well of Dragons, leading to additional encounter(s). 1x encounter per unopposed faction on the way into the Caldera would make sense, assuming the encounters were balanced properly.

Adding randomness to these encounters, as suggested in other answers, may unintentionally overextend PC resources, so if "allowing the party a reasonable chance of reaching the big boss battle" is a goal, it may make more sense to set these up as fixed encounters.

Game Balance

Both the mass combat and infiltration options will make the acquisition of assets meaningful and significant, and they allow the DM a lot of flexibility to set up PC resources and enemy resistance in such a way as to give the PCs a reasonable chance at reaching the final battle.

That said, it's important to have a very real possibility of danger and PC death. Don't be afraid to have the PCs reach the final battle in a weakened state. Clever players will adjust their tactics to accommodate, and conserving resources is an essential part of player strategy in the final episode.

Boss Battle?

It's not that hard for a 15th level party to eliminate enough of the Red Wizards to stop the summoning ritual before it is complete. But you may find that simply stopping the ritual and ending the campaign is...anti-climactic.

Fighting Tiamat is, for some players, a desired challenge and a great way to end the campaign with a bang, win or lose.

If you want to make things more challenging for the PCs, you could require the PCs to

stop all four pillars of the ritual to prevent Tiamat from coming: they have to stop the summoning ritual, interrupt the blood sacrifice, take the Mask of the Dragon Queen out of the Temple, and claim the Hoard of Tiamat as their own.

This makes it far more likely that Tiamat will arrive, delivering on the promise of an epic final boss battle.

If Tiamat does arrive, it's very important to heed the advice given in the module about playing her with ruthlessness and cunning. She has an Intelligence of 26 and therefore should be played with near-optimal combat strategy. For example, she should take advantage of her flying speed and breath weapons to avoid close combat with melee builds.

If you feel the need to, you can add NPCs for balance but don't hold back on tactics. Fighting Tiamat should be extremely difficult, and a TPK should be a very real possibility.

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Well aren't the dragons really there to eat the prisoners for the sacrifice. It says the heroes can stop the sacrifice if the dragons are attacked. They might also have the giants who could attack the dragons. Since the sacrifices are taken to the temple at some point before the ritual, I'd just say that if the evil assets aren't evenly matched then it takes the characters a longer time to get into the lava tubes, which means they would be on a rather short time table to get to the prisoners before they are they are lead to the temple. Now if the dragons are in the temple, I'm not sure how they can manage to stop the ritual. I guess if the prisoners never show up they can fly off to join the battle. I'd say make a time table of when thinks start to go down after the battle begins.

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