So, given the announcement of the coming Out of the Abyss adventure from the Rage of Demons storyline I thought it was time to look back at the first handful of adventures for 5E. To be clear, I have only played one of the adventures at this point – Lost Mine of Phandelver, and that is where I’m going to start, looking at them in order of release.
Lost Mine of Phandelver was great, to my old 1E senses it actually felt pretty much like a old module. I loved the box set, I love the semi-sandbox feel to the mini-campaign, and all of my players have enjoyed it as well also. Given how the adventure has run we may actually skip the final dungeon and move onto the next adventure instead. Overall I think it was well balanced, and my biggest complaint is not with the module but with two pieces of 5E design philosophy, namely low magic/treasure and creature blocks for characters and NPCs instead of character class stats. Neither of these ruins the module for me as the first is easy enough to fix and the second isn’t that hard to correct ether for these level characters. Four Very Solid Dragons.
Hoard of the Dragon Queen is, well, a mess. As many other have pointed out the very first encounter is almost a triumph of poor design. The rest of the module is a similarly poorly design quagmire of assumptions about what groups know about the Forgotten Realms – and DM’s with a “beginners knowledge” would be at a real disadvantage trying to run this adventure. Even DM’s who know a fair amount are stuck with having to reference old material, use wikipages, and just generally depend on far more than they should for a supposedly self-contained adventure. One Wannabe Dragon.
The Rise of Tiamat is better than it’s predecessor, but not by much. The flaws of the previous adventure actually revealed a methodology for handling a “hidden pillar’ of the 5E gaming experience – Factions. The thing I liked about this adventure was the treatment and tracking of various Faction goals and strength. The problem with the adventure is that ultimately it is bland and unexciting and reads like “roll-playing” rather than role-playing. Sad really, because it is clearly the exact opposite of what WOTC was attempting. Two Sad Dragons.
Ultimately I can’t see running either of these adventures, not do I even see stealing much in the way of ideas. I’ve handed these out on permanent loan to a friend of mine merely in return for a PDF of the pages that have the magic items (unfortunately rather lackluster) and Tiamat’s stats – and I’m really not that impressed.
Princes of the Apocalypse was much better than the previous pair of adventures. I really like how WOTC handled the “Players Guide” supplement, and unlike Queen/Tiamat I didn’t feel like I was hosed for money. The set-up of discrete adventure areas reminded me of older modules, rather than the “hardcover campaign.” While I can’t exactly see running this adventure series, I can see liberally stealing bits and bobs for ideas – I loved the concept art for the elemental temples and immediately incorporated them as iconic concepts for the Kirks of the En Khoda Theos Kirk. The magical items were also interesting, and the stats for the Elemental Princes of Evil were lower powered than I expected, but fun to read and worthwhile. Ultimately I found the NPC’s and monsters much more interesting and worthwhile in Princes – certainly as compared to the other Rise/Queen. I give this a Four Worthy Dragons and a Noble Pseudodragon for the Player’s Handout.
Ultimately I’d really love a return of the old module-style adventures, far more limited in scope but easy to use as drop-in adventures in a larger, DM-generated campaign. Failing that I’d rather see boxed sets with good map sets than hardcovers – and failing that the folios from 4E seem to be ok. I picked one or two up at a used bookstore for dirt cheap and was not unpleased.
Personally I think this could be done in a eZine, PDF format pretty easily and with good quality – basically a return of Dungeon. We’ll see how the Dragon app works and hope for the best.