Sunday, 9 August 2015

RPG Review - Princes of the Apocalypse

Princes of the ApocalypsePublished by Wizards of the Coast

‘Abolish an ancient evil threatening devastation in this adventure for the world’s greatest roleplaying game!

Called by the Elder Elemental Eye to serve, four corrupt prophets have risen from the depths of anonymity to claim mighty weapons with direct links to the power of the elemental princes. Each of these prophets has assembled a cadre of cultists and creatures to serve them in the construction of four elemental temples of lethal design. It is up to adventurers from heroic factions such as the Emerald Enclave and the Order of the Gauntlet to discover where the true power of each prophet lay, and dismantle it before it comes boiling up to obliterate the Realms.’

That adventurer synopsis from the WotC website is all I’m going to say about the details of the plot – it’s difficult to review an adventure for two reasons; the first is because of spoilers for the entire gaming group, and the second is that many groups approach adventures in many different ways so the playstyle may reflect enjoyment. That second reason is purely opinion and can’t be measured, but remains an issue when going over a product such as this. All I can do is tell you what me and my group got out of it.

There was one phrase that echoed around my gaming group by the end of this campaign - ‘There’s so many dungeons!’ Indeed; if the Tyranny of Dragons campaign reflected the Dragons of the D&D hobby, then this campaign certainly reflects the Dungeons half of it.

But let’s not get ahead of myself. This D&D campaign for characters of level 1-15 is another instalment in the very small and slow to release product line of 5th Edition. When I look at the products that are coming and the ones that have already been released I do wonder if there is a lack of support for the flagship tabletop RPG, but after playing through Princes of the Apocalypse I can sort of understand why. This campaign will last an average group the better part of three months, depending on play style and whether they play through the side missions (which, incidentally, my group didn’t, but we can always go back to them as one-shots).

Not only that, but you get plenty of extras in here, too – monsters, spells, items and an addition to the races to play, the Genasi. They’ve created a game setting for players to adventure in, in this case Forgotten Realms, and it’s appealing to both seasoned gamers who might have the original Realms campaign guides and new players who want to explore a new world. If the adventure books continue like this, and they set the adventures across different regions of the Realms, you’ll soon have a collection of books that detail a full campaign world with things to do and places to visit, and you’ll not have to have a single campaign book or a gazetteer. If this is the intention of the designers I have no idea, but it could certainly work and you wouldn’t have to fork out money for a selection of supplements and adventures to flesh out the world.

As suggested by the game, my group dived in at level 3 and sat eagerly awaiting my first words. Sadly, there were a few groans when I read out the word ‘cultist’ that appear through out the book. There was a moment of disappointment and I understand why – they’d just spent the Tyranny of Dragons fighting off cultists and here we were again, fighting cultists. Cultists cultists cultists. Where’s an orc warband when you need one? How about a nest of goblins? Nope. Cultists. Again.

As it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as expected. The opening was different – the players really took to the initial location Red Larch and it’ll be a place we’ll revisit, no doubt – and the adventure got off to a much more leisurely start. So, if you’ve played Tyranny of Dragons then don’t let the cultists put you off.

As the adventure progressed the threat became apparent and the players got stuck into the investigating as well as the adventure... and then the dungeons began! Spires, monasteries, elemental temples, caverns, caves and everything in between. There’s a multitude of locations and the largest of them, primarily the elemental temples, will take an average group a couple of sessions to get through, if they’re thorough. Even the smallest ones might take a session, and at the very least are great for an encounter or two.

There are some wonderful locations to flesh out, too, such as the Dessarin Valley and the surrounding area. The maps for these are colourful and well presented and ooze atmosphere, creating a place I’d like to visit over and over to get into every nook and cranny. There’s plenty of scope for DMs to create their own material and fill in those blanks.

Talking about atmosphere, the full-colour interior and the artwork is of a great standard. The hardback book is wonderfully presented and the high fantasy illustrations are dynamic and serve as a great visual cue.

All said, this is a great adventure for D&D 5th Edition. My group enjoyed it, even after the glum ‘here we go again’ faces at the mention of cultists, and the adventure was satisfying and fun to play through. The ‘defeat the ancient evil’ story might not be the most original, and the main antagonists were somewhat clichéd and unoriginal in my view, but it’s a solid adventure with plenty of scope. The Chapter 6 side quests are a nice touch and the notes at the back on how to adapt the game to suit other established D&D game worlds – Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Greyhawk and Eberron, along with some notes on using it in your own world – are a welcome addition, although an experienced DM will find it easy enough to adapt to any world.


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