I really like Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. Having sampled 1st, 3rd, 3.5 and 4th (as well as a long stint in Pathfinder) I’m happy to report that this is my favorite version of D&D. There is a simplicity and elegance to the system that was missing in 4e and, arguably, Pathfinder. At the same time, the uniformity of the mechanics is intuitive enough to avoid many, though not all, of the rules-lawyer-style arguments that I’ve… enjoyed with D&D’s more classic iterations.
Which is why it seems like Princes of the Apocalypse, Wizards of the Coasts’ third module for the system, is as good a place as any for me to try running the game. As an important note, I have never in my entire life run a game module– pretty odd for someone with more than a decade of RPG experience.
I appreciate that the book begins by giving a broad overview of the setting, plot elements and factions in the module–even if they are difficult to track in the beginning. Princes of the Apocalypse takes place in the varied locations found in the Dessarin Valleys, which is somewhere Northish in relation to Waterdeep. This section illustrates one of the beginning challenges for me as well: there are a lot of details to keep a hold of right from the outset. Some, like the relation a specific place may have to another point of interest in the world aren’t super important. Others, such as the names of cult leaders, faction motivations and such totally are, and it’s up to the reader, with the assistance of the book, to prioritize.
This is something I don’t like so much, even though it’s a good start for a large, dynamic world. My temptation is to throw all of it at the players instead of pacing myself and, by association, the adventure. I like mixing it all up, which is a discipline issue exacerbated by all the options.
I do like all the different origin options for the players. Princes of the Apocalypse includes over a dozen different origins that are tangentially associated to a character or event happening in the valley. Some of these options would make a good preamble for an established party’s adventures or work as an origin for a new group’s formation. It also reminds me of Dragon Age: Origins.
I also like the accessibility. The campaign is set for groups from level 3-15, but it makes allowances for 1st level players as well.
For me, it all comes together in chapter three, when the adventure portion of the book starts. I’m a completionist when it comes to RPGs–I want to know every little detail about the setting to make sure the players have all the opportunities possible to run into a stray plot thread or discover an interesting clue. So, of course, I’m going to read the whole book, and at specific parts of the adventure, I can allude to other interesting things or throw out components I don’t like. For the first time ever, when I’m running this campaign, I won’t have to keep meticulous notes about the plot I’ve written and what the players did in the last session.
Overall, I’d say this book has a lot of potential. It’s kind of a heavy lift for DMs interested in chaotic, “wing-it” style adventures, but for the folks willing to put in that time and do their homework, this is a top-notch set of tools for a great adventure for beginners and experienced groups.