It has been a little while since our last Dungeons & Dragons review. We have covered just about everything from the Next/5th age set that has been released, including even the DM screen. It looks like this will be a busy year for the team at Wizards of the Coast, but this particular release has been among the items I have been most excited by. Best of all? It has lived up to my expectations.
There is a lot to take in here. The book is a beautiful hardcover with solid binding, excellent page quality and beautiful art. It also rings in at a beefy 250+ pages and overall feels like it is more logically laid out and better assembled than the most recent campaign books Hoard of the Shadow Queen and The Rise of Tiamat. These two books by Kobold Press were solid, but so far I think Sasquatch Game Studios is off to an even better start.
Despite the size of the book, the team at Wizards of the Coast wants to make sure that you have everything you could possibly need to turn this into a thorough adventure. The end result? Two additional sources of online help in the form of the Players Companion and Adventure Supplement. Just in case 256 pages in the book itself was not enough, you get about 100 more in total between these two resources.
The content within is wonderfully laid out, from the detailed appendices at the back to the detailed content that helps to frame the campaign. I already touched on the artwork, but goodness the pictures really help to set the stage. I love the small blocks of what I consider flavor text (not unlike what you see on a card in Magic: The Gathering), and these little quotes along with the artwork really help to sell the scenario and equip the DM with all they need to paint a vivid scene for the players.
As for the campaign, it is geared towards players starting around level 3 and it helps to not only get the characters in place mechanically, but the number of plot hooks used to draw any number of differently motivated characters helps to make sure that this campaign gets off on the right foot. There is a ton of content here, from detailed NPC encounters to side quests, it would be easy for the same group of people to play this campaign through more than once, only to find a dramatically different experience. That is a great sign for any campaign when it feels open and limitless, but still has structure in place that can help shepherd the players towards the dramatic conclusion that will see them around level fifteen when the dust settles.
Many gamers like to start with a ‘from scratch’ party. Well good news! The team had you in mind, because starting in Chapter six (on page 148) you can find a handful of small adventures. Of course you do not need to use these, but they fit the theme and flavor of the overall game to help get your players in the mood and at the same time, this makes them a bit hardier for the adventures ahead. It is another nice, thoughtful touch that just adds a little extra polish to the campaign.
The best roleplaying sets set the stage but give a DM plenty of room to operate, and Princes of the Apocalypse balances this perfectly. l never felt constricted to the contents of the adventure, with plenty of room to improvise and add my own small twists to the primary quest. That the campaign is so well detailed that I was comfortable doing this is a testament to the strong writing throughout. This campaign felt like a living, breathing world that was filled with opportunities.
The Elemental Evil series is off to an amazing start. You can (and I did) read this thing from cover to cover and at its heart you have a great adventure with a substantial amount of detail. However, Princes of the Apocalypse is a game as well, and it gives you all of the tools necessary to run a lengthy campaign that should keep your players invested for many hours. That it is all wrapped up in a beautifully built book is really just the cherry on top. This is without a doubt the best adventure to come out so far for the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons and leaves me excited to see what is next.
Review by Nick