The problem with Tiamat

Tiamat is a great villain with one major flaw, and that flaw is named Bahamut. What kind of threat is the queen of evil dragons if she is opposed by an equally powerful (or more powerful) king of good dragons?

I haven’t played the 5e Dragon Queen adventure path: I hope it answers the question “if Tiamat gets free, why can’t Bahamut clean up the mess?” I hope the answer is not “regrettably he is busy on an unspecified engagement” or “he could totally do it but he doesn’t meddle in mortal affairs” or “let’s hope no one brings it up.”

The way I see it, Bahamut needs to be defanged, declawed, and de-breath-weaponed to allow Tiamat to shine as a campaign villain. Here are some ways to do it.

Bahamut is dead

Either just the other day or in the legendary past, Tiamat murdered Bahamut. This one is fun for PCs who worship Bahamut because they get the angsty nobility of championing a lost cause. Bahamut worshipers keep all their powers – he is no less divine for being dead – but his faction is powerless against Tiamat’s hordes.

Bahamut is crippled

As above, but Tiamat, unable to kill Bahamut, cut off his wings or blinded him in some ritually irreparable way. This one is nice because Bahamut can still give aid to the PCs and can still match Tiamat in a melee, but isn’t mobile enough to force a battle. Bahamut’s best move might be to take the form of a human paladin (a blind or lame one – maybe he’s Sir Isteval, that guy in all of WOTC’s Sundering products) and rally mortal support.

Bahamut is imprisoned

As I understand it, Tiamat is at half-strength and looking for a way to break her shackles and assume her full power. Maybe the same is true of Bahamut. Maybe the siblings imprison each other, like worms of ouroboros biting each other’s tails. If The PCs fail and Tiamat gets free, the world still has one slim chance: the PCs must brave Tiamat’s draconic dungeon and un-shackle Bahamut.

19 Responses to “The problem with Tiamat”

  1. Jake says:

    This is very useful and timely — I AM currently running HOTDQ, though at the rate we’re going (lots of long runs of hexcrawling in between “Chapters”) we will get to the final showdown in about 2021.

    I will have to review the modules to recall how Bahamut is handled, but I strongly and sadly suspect that it will be your third option (“let’s hope no one brings it up”).

  2. Mike Monaco says:

    I’d rather be torn apart by cape hunting dogs than run an “adventure path” module, but your point stands in any D&D campaign with the original Monster Manual in play. I’d be somewhat tempted to extend this to the good gods in the pantheon too if the party is foiling Orcus or some other really big bad.

  3. Blue wiz says:

    Tiamat tricks the PCs into imprisoniing bahamut

  4. Rhenium says:

    Alternate hypotheses.

    1) Bahumat realizes that violence is not the answer. Cede’s the field but ever remains a thorn in Tiamat’s side from afar.

    2) Equal power hypothesis. Bahumat could theoretically challenge and perhaps even defeat Tiamat. However being more prescient knows that more good can be created in the world by having the people and heroes of the world do it.

    3) Absent god hypothesis. Tiamat is akin to the devil, ever ready to exploit the foibles of mankind. Bahumat is beyond physical form and interest in this world he created (one of many, many). He could brush aside Tiamat as easily as we do a fly, or destroy all the planes of existence like we might an anthill. But he’s just not invested in that plane of existence anymore.

    4) The nature of good taken to the extreme of pacifism. Bahumat has been meditating on the nature of reincarnation for +10,000,000,000 years. He isn’t going to stop now because his ridiculous sister has hatched some new silly scheme to *cue evil music* “take over the world!!”

  5. porphyre says:

    It’s the Dragonlance scénario: Takh… hem! Tiamat, is raoring out with her evil dragons while Palad… sorry, Fizb … I mean : Bahamut ! goes incognito trying to inspire and counsel the people of Good

  6. paul paul says:

    Right. I’m sure I’m not the first person who’s said “BREAK FIZBAN’S LEGS”

  7. Xaos says:

    This isn’t just a Tiamat vs. Bahamut problem. This is a problem for any setting where there is any number of “Light Gods” making up a force of Cosmic Good who are supposed to be in opposition to a force of Cosmic Evil….and then the Cosmic Evil running rampant over the mortal world. Demons are destroying who civilizations of people who worship the gods of Cosmic Good and undoubtedly are pray to them as hard and as desperately as they ever have for salvation…and the Good gods just sit on their ass when if they were ever supposed to be expected to answers prayer, the demon apocalypse would absolutely be their department. (Volcanoes? Plagues? War? Child missing in the forest? Eh. Shit happens. You even did that “war” one yourselves, mortals. A TINY HANDFUL OF CULTISTS MANAGE TO SUMMON HORDES OF THE UNHOLIEST MONSTERS IMAGINABLE AND BRING ABOUT THE APOCALYPSE? …If THAT doesn’t warrant a counter-offensive with a legion of angels, the vast multitudes who worship the good gods might begin to suspect that there even are angellic hordes to summon and that they wouldn’t be better off asking the BMX bandit for help.)

    I love Warcraft 3’s story (particularly the Frozen Throne expansion), but the character of “the Last Guardian” (AKA Mediv, who was Insane Wizard Hitler in WC1 but now he’s back from the dead to atone for his sins.) was particularly frustrating, and it only gets worse when you realize that HE was the only person the Titans sent to stop the invasion of the Burning Legion despite the fact that they clearly knew it was going to happen! He went around speaking doom and gloom to every leader he could meet, telling them to drop everything and sail (presumably to safety) to an unexplored continent.

    …so that he could send as many armies as possible towards the night elf lands to *backup* for the night elves to prevent Archimonde from absorbing the power of their magic tree. And he DOESN’T tell the night elves’ that they are coming and supposed to be reinforcements! ALL of the good guys, at one point or another, fight each other and pointlessly weaken themselves because of the Last Guardian’s poor planning and lack of clear thought.

    But its worse than that, because the Guardian, the crazy hobo doomsayer who can turn into a raven, is ALL that the forces of good send. The Forces of evil infilitrate the world-that-would-become-known-as-“Azeroth”-in-the-MMO first with a necromancy cult called “the Undead Scourge”, and with the help of the corrupted Paladin Arthas (whom Mediv spoke to once before and could’ve stopped Arthas from falling by talking straight about what he knew and dropping his Dramatically Cryptic act.), would summon the Burning Legion lead by Archimonde. The Kingdoms of Lordaeron, Quel’thalas, and Dalaran (and probably Alterac, but not even lore junkies care about those losers) would get pillaged by zombies, and then by DEMON LORDS WHO ARE INVINCIBLE TO ALL MORTAL WEAPONS. And the forces of good? …They sent incompetent Mediv, who was a mortal himself, and nobody else.

    Hell, the Titans once sent one of their own, Sargareas, to fight the Legion and he did pretty okay all on his lonesome…for a while, anyway. So, the Titans could have surely done more to stop the destruction of this world (and Archimonde having access to Nordassil’s “Well of Eternity” magic and Sargareas’ tomb!) Maybe have the more-established religions of Elune, the Light, and Shamanism do some summonning of their own? Hmm?

    But back to D&D: Its not just Bahamut, but ALL good-aligned gods! And the reason that Tiamat is a problem, as far as I can tell, is because gods, like outsiders, usually cannot walk the material plane due to a mutual contract. However, by a series of blood rituals (possibly invoking ancient, Cthuloid powers darker -and more powerful!- than any of the evil gods being summoned or not summoned) completed while the planets are aligned, you can cast “Greater _Deific_ Ally” and summon your god to break the rules and conquer the world while actually stronger than ever thanks to the amount of virgin blood fed into their new material body. This ritual is evil not just in its terrible cost, but also in its nature-the good gods CAN’T be summoned by it, no matter what the stakes! (It either won’t work for them or it will turn them evil, therefore likely defeating the purpose.)

    So, yeah, its frustrating to think about, but as cool as it is to have a “Diablo” type situation where there is literal “hell-on-earth”, you can’t have the Satan figure of your world be weaker, or even *equal* to the Cosmic Good. The bad guys need a ringer!

    (For non-godly epic goody-goods, I like to imagine that all metallic dragons are water dragons, and they, along with Storm giants, are restrained to the sea. Protecting Merfolk and Aquatic Elves from Merrows, Sahuagin, Dragon turtles, and Kracken, but doing jackshit for the air breathers…)

  8. Xaos says:

    Chinese Water dragons!

    Copper Dragons in Forest Lakes and Underhill Aquafers.
    Bronze Dragons in the deepest tidal abyss.
    Brass Dragons in Desert Oases or cavern pools.
    Silver Dragons in Frozen lakes swimming through the frost like giant icebreakers
    Gold Dragons in Volcanic springs. Can “fly” by swimming through fog and clouds.

    Breath weapons the same. Lose the wings, but their fins might have the likeness of wings…Fly speed in now a Swim Speed, breathes water, can breathe air but needs to be hydrated or turn into a small, less-demanding, humanoid body if removed from water. If a metallic takes human form, they cannot transform back until they re-enter a body of water large enough to contain their whole dragon body. Yes, even golds.

  9. The Gneech says:

    The first answer that jumps to my mind is “Two draconic gods waging war in the mortal plane will render it to ash and kill everyone who happens to be in the line of fire!” Tiamat being freed is the launch of the first nuke in WWIII. There’s nowhere to go from there but down.

    -The Gneech

  10. 1d30 says:

    I like to think of gods as people playing rock ’em sock ’em robots through the arm-sleeves of a neonatal chamber, or exploring the ocean depths with an umbilical drone: you may be powerful enough to just feed that baby or grab that jellyfish yourself by hand, but there are reasons you can’t. Maybe gods aren’t part of some vast gentleman’s agreement to never directly affect the affairs of the Prime Plane; maybe they couldn’t exist here in the way ice can’t exist in magma.

    Another way to think about it is the Mars rovers. You can’t walk around picking up rocks on Mars. But you can send an avatar and give it instructions. Sometimes it might get the instructions wrong. Sometimes you may give it the wrong instructions because you have incomplete information about its situation. Sometimes the conditions change before you can update your instructions, and it’s left to fend for itself the best way it knows how. But it’s so far away and you have so much else to deal with that it’s harder to accomplish things than you can back home in Mission Control.

    I’d just like to point out that omnipotent, omniscient, omni-anything gods are boring and worthless from a gaming standpoint. I’ve never seen an adventure made better because a god was all-powerful instead of just really powerful. Maybe I’m projecting my gaming preferences; these days I try to make less-powerful, flawed, diverse characters instead of minmaxed combat kings like I used to.

    My assumption, based on the old Deities & Demigods, Planescape, and the Immortals set, is that a god who dies on his home plane dies permanently, but a god who dies somewhere else just vanishes back to his plane to lick his wounds. Immortals had lots of rules for this stuff, and the loser would actually drop a bunch of XP if his plot were foiled. Planescape said that a god would be more powerful on its home plane, and way underpowered on an enemy god’s plane.

    Assuming you’re more powerful at home and far less powerful in another god’s home, it would be like a 20th level character going into a 5th level character’s house to beat him up knowing he’ll drop to 10th when he steps off his porch and down to 5th when he invades the place, and that the 5th level defender will be bumped up to 10th on his home turf. It’s a stupid risk.

    So if the above two points are true, why wouldn’t Tiamat and Bahamut be always on the Prime plane fighting where they’re equal? It would be like an MMOFPS. You both spawn, head to the middle, and duke it out. Whoever dies gets sent back to spawn. The winner gets a chance to lord it over on the objectives and make some progress, and kill all the noobs. The winner could even run into the enemy spawn but there are special protections up to prevent spawn-camping so the invader probably just harasses a little and gets killed himself. Far more economical point-wise to just hang out in the middle and lay waste.

    So you don’t need a justification to fight Tiamat: Bahamut is respawning in 1023, 1022, 1021 …

    Plus, Tiamat is a monster built to be fought. Bahamut is a vestigial appendage of the Gygaxian alignment chart. Make Bahamut awesome.

  11. Norman Rafferty says:

    Why does D&D5 need a “big bad”? You start with 9 choices for alignment. Three of them don’t care, and three of them are pro-Tiamat.

    D&D5’s dragon-queen adventures are all written assuming you’re on the anti-Tiamat side. Pro-Tiamat isn’t even presented as an option.

    Why does D&D5 let you pick between labeling your character “good” or “evil”, and then assume you’ll automatically jump on the “pro good” side?

  12. Xaos says:

    New hypothesis:

    Tiamat’s presence prevents Bahamut from being summoned.

    Possibly assuming a “multiple Material planes” cosmology, any god that actually creates a physical manifestation of itself on a mortal plane bars all other gods from doing so, becoming the undisputed ruler of that world unless slain-banished. A god might have more than one Manifestation so as to rule multiple worlds.

    The reason Bahamut isn’t ALREADY THERE is because of squabbling from the temples of the other good gods (or from interference from the neutral gods if good starts to work together. The neutrals don’t want to risk the world being destroyed by evil per se, but their pride refuses to yield ground to the goody goods.) Therefore, evil cults working in secret or with massive armies are much more effective at actually getting their gods summoned.

    If Bahamut were to be summoned, then this would be a glorious and wonderful event, a breathtaking triumph of good over evil while hosing all other gods and their vision for the world.

    Instead, Tiamat beat Bahamut to the punch and now we are all going to die. Neat!

  13. Bleak_Infinitive says:

    Alternate theory:

    In 4e cosmology, Bahumut and Tiamat sprang from the body of a primeval dragon god. Riffing on this, we can assume that they are the good and evil halves (or the id and superego) of the original neutral god. As they are siblings/clones/archetypes, they can’t directly kill each other. To avoid metaphysical suicide, the estranged dragon gods compete eternally through their followers and diverging philosophies.

  14. Aleksandr says:

    Just say Bahamut doesn’t and has never existed in your campaign. Since the idea of Bahamut is incredibly boring, that’s the best solution.

  15. Xaos says:


    Well…the idea of Metallic Dragons and other “Big Goods” is kind of boring. I mean, if an Ancient Bronze Dragon lives near a port city near the capital of the…eh, let’s say Halfling empire….then, its likely that the area around that Bronze Dragon lair is a realm of safety, and if the Empire has to be threatened by a horde of low-level humanoids…

    …the Orcs will just barbecued by the Great Bronze Wyrm’s lightning breath, especially if they are viking-types who try to attack by sea! Gold Dragons in 5e project images in the fog around their lair to frighten evil creatures, and if I were anything weaker than an Aboleth with a massive army of thralls (in which case I’d still be very, very, very careful), I’d take this as fair warning and go “Oh. Okay, I guess this is where the higher level Umber Hulks go to grind, I’ll just head back to the newbie area, thank you!”

    And the hobbits live in nauseating peace forever.

  16. The Gneech says:

    Dragons can be “good” and still dangerous! They’re still greedy, they still hoard things, and they are still prone to blasting anyone who messes with their stuff.


  17. Xaos says:

    Well, yeah. But that’s not the problem. If the PCs want to dick around and steal the gold dragon’s loot, the best case scenario is that goldie traps them in some sort of makeshift cage and leaves them, overnight, in the middle of the lion and owlbear-infested jungle. On top of quicksand!

    Goldie the gold dragon: “So. What have we learned?”

    Sticky-fingers the rogue: “D-d-d-d-don’t touch your stuff….”

    Goldie: “AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT!” *Thunderous Roar*

    And pulling that crap with Bahamut leads to the same conclusion, only with more featureless inter-dimensional spaces.

    The problem is when you want to run a campaign that’s all like “The PCs are the only ones who can stop this Mid-level threat despite the presence of good-aligned supermonsters (and Gods) who would probably not prefer the destruction of countless innocent creatures over napping uninterrupted in their silly cave.

    Basically: Why didn’t Aslan roar and kill the witch at the beginning of the book, or even the beginning of the series, before she took over Narnia? Why did we even need the kids at all? Is Aslan stayed dead and the kids killed the witch themselves, and the logic is simply “Aslan never got a chance to roar until Edmund messed it up.” (But at the same time, its not like Edmund’s actually going to hell. “Oh, so Edmund, as a traitor, belongs to you, now, Witch? And the Emperor across the Sea enforces this magic pact? Well, I guess you got me there. I’ll have to trade my own life and have you crucif-“*thunderous roar* *witch dies* “Oh, look. I found a Loophole. I claim and free Edmund as a spoil of war.”)

  18. Thejayde says:

    Evil and choas makes gains in pockets. Smaller scenarios that force the opposition to respond. However, good and order forces have procedure and have a response time that needs to be figured in. Good guys have a code that may be figured abd how to best serve the code as well as stop three evil. Order has to consider the consequences of displacement of their peacekeeping ways and are far more likely to give up a pocket of irder gir a short time to maintain the overall order.

    Lawful good types have both considerations to manage and may respond to a threat until the threat stars doing legitimate and measurable damage.

    In addition to all this…. good and lawful forces typically have alot to manage from the getgo, and the larger an empire or business or organization gets… the more waste there is… the more things fall through the cracks.

  19. Dave says:

    It actually doesn’t have to get that crazy when we remember that gods don’t generally walk the material plane and there are reasons why. First, let’s remember that it takes a MAJOR ritual with artifacts, mass sacrifices, etc. just to get Tiamat here so something equally big would be needed to allow Bahamut, St Cuthburt, Moradin, etc. to come out and play. Sure they are free to roam on their respective planes, or send a Celestial or two (which they probably do and PC’s rarely get to see), but also consider that coming here in the flesh (or as an avatar) greatly limits them. It’s a decent step up for Tiamat in her present situation, but on a normal day the average god has the ability to shape realities at home like the Wish spell, bestow their Clerics their daily powers, and delegate and distribute general goodness by the tens of thousands via blessings. If someone BIG like Moradin stepped out for even an hour to tag along with our armies, consider just how much of this wouldn’t get done!? Imho, it can be assumed and assured that many Powers-That-Be work very hard behind the scenes “playing chess” against the big bads where the stakes are reality and everyone in it. They really shouldn’t take too long away from that duty, even if it means risking a few centuries of darkness on only one of their areas of responsibility by letting mortals do the heavy work once in a while. Dark times do happen, and it does fluctuate. One caveat; if players really feel neglected, as long as you don’t tip the scale and make them feel diminished there is no reason why you cannot have perhaps a Celestial, an Ancient Gold, or someone else of your choosing give them a pep talk and hand out a bunch of magic items that you had planned on them getting anyway. If the PC’s are pieces on a chessboard, it is good to remind them that they are valuable pieces, and Big Pappa Bahammy would want them to have the tools they need to do the job! Maybe one of his Clerics specifically crafted these and tailored them to the individual’s personality based on the divine guidance they received???

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