Released as part of the playtesting/preview process for Dungeons & Dragons 5e, this is a mini-campaign of four interlinked adventure, plus the rules you'll need to play the game, equipment and spell lists, some DM advice,and pregenerated characters.
First up is an overview of the campaign, which is set in Daggerford on the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms campaign world. Long-time players of Dungeons & Dragons may be familiar with the place (or at least, think they are...), but if it's new to you, there's plenty of detail to get you orientated. It's a rural town conveniently positioned in an area replete with adventuring opportunites, ideal for starting off a campaign with a bunch of fledgling adventurers. Not to mention a couple of dastardly plots that are liable to disturb the peace. The four adventures are designed to take the party from first to tenth level, and should take about eight hours apiece to complete.
It all begins with an annual summer festival of games that is held in Daggerford. However this year the weather is dreadful, so the taverns are packed with damp festival-goers who have nothing better to do than drink and gossip. One major topic is the recent capture of a Red Wizard of Thay, who was masquerading as a gardener on the estates of Lord Floshin. He's due to be hanged at the end of the festival. There's a bit of background about what he was doing there (which the party may or may not find out), and then it's off into the first adventure.
This is called Fane of the Sun Swallower, and opens with the hanging of the aforementioned Red Wizard, and takes the party to the Lizard Marsh and an encounter with a black dragon who has attacked a settlement by the name of Cromm's Hold. The party are amongst those who are sent to defend Cromm's Hold. From there, they are sent to find the dragon's lair... but there's a lot more in that marsh, including a bunch of bandits who may just know why the dragon is so grumpy. There's plenty of background and lots going on to keep a party of beginning adventures engaged and busy - even an underground temple to explore before they're done.
On their return to Daggerford, a wanted poster leads the party on to the next adventure, The Cursed Crypts of Ambergul. It turns out that the wanted individual, described as a 'wizard of ill-repute' recently led an expedition to explore the ruined estates of an ancient noble family that died out, the Amberguls. After an encounter with a friendly wizard, the party can go there and find plenty to explore. Again there is a lot to do and see, and much ties back to other things creating a real sense of a living alternate reality with which the party can interact. Actions have consequences, and the NPCs feel real, rather than two-dimensional ones that are only there for a specific purpose.
The third adventure is The Fall of Illefarn. By this point the characters, who ought to be at Level 6, ought to have grasped at least one of the ongoing plots and know where the last component the plotters need is to be found. There's a lot of backstory to absorb, but even if the party decides to grab the last component for themselves, the real purpose of this adventure is to provide an epic dungeon crawl which also presents some roleplaying opportunities: it's not just a delve! First, though, their past exploits have earned the party a dinner invitation from Duke Daggerford himself, so there's a chance for some social interaction, and given the good Duke's fondness for good food and wine, a pleasant meal as well as interesting people to meet and even a spot of intrigue. Eventually, though, they'll be off to Mount Illefarn and the delve that awaits them. As well as the classic elements of a delve, there are some interesting and well-rounded NPCs to interact with - imagine for example a teenage half-orc/half-dwarf with all the bad attitude you'd imagine from a teenager whose parents have separated and neither of whom seem to care for him for example. He even scrawls graffiti on the walls and listens to music all the time!
The final adventure is Dragonspear Castle. This takes place about six months after the previous one and is intended for 9th-level characters. The gap may be filled with other adventures or training to get the party to that level if they haven't already reached it... or you can just say that in the intervening time they rose in level if you're in a hurry to get on with the plot! The Castle is a famous ruin on the Sword Coast, and there's a fair bit of background for the DM to absorb, not least a complex plot against a local paladin who the party will have met earlier on in the campaign. Foiling this plot is the starting point of the adventure, there also might be a need to stop someone opening a portal to Hell... and the party has amassed a few powerful enemies along the way who might be wanting to deal with them as well! And everything seems to point towards Dragonspear Castle as the place where it's all going to go down. Getting there is the first challenge with plenty of encounters along the way and the chance to interact with more people. For a ruined and abandoned castle, there's quite a lot going on there, and the party will soon find themselves in the thick of things.
This is followed by a short history of Daggerford, with notes on locations and personalities of the town. It's best to read this before you begin the campaign, as the party will be in and out of the settlement throughout the course of the campaign, and may even decide to make it their home (if they do not come from there already). There is also a map of Delimbiyr Vale, the area in which all the adventures take place.
The rest of the book is the 'rules' section. People who had been following the playtest could use the latest version of that, and now that they are out, this adventure can be played with the Dungeons & Dragons 5e ruleset proper. It's an interesting snapshot of just where the rules development process was at this point in the playtest, though, if you are interested in how games develop. (OK, I am a packrat, but I have every iteration of the playtest!). Anyway, it starts off with the rules you use in actual play, stuff like how to make skill and ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws. Then there's more detailed notes on what the core abilities are and what all the numbers mean, a bit on languages (with a list of those likely to be useful on the Sword Coast) and alignment. Next it talks about 'exploration' in game terms, and how time works in the game. Movement and Combat follow in quick succession. OK, you are now set to play provided you use one of the pre-generated characters provided...
Well, almost. The next chapter deals with the all-important Magic. There are explanations of how magic is cast, and what all the entries in a spell description mean in game mechanical terms; then come the spell lists - which are incomplete as far as the full game is concerned, concentrating on those known by or available to the pre-generated characters and NPCs in this campaign. This is followed by a section on equipment, which includes extensive notes on weapons and armour.
Continuing the theme of providing everything needed to play, there's a section of DM Advice which should give even a novice DM an idea of what they are getting themselves into. There are some more rules you need to be aware of, a collection of magic items and a Bestiary which covers all the creatures to be met during the campaign. Finally we have the pre-generated characters, who are presented as 1st-level with a chart for each showing what to add to them for each level rise through to 10th-level. There's a human cleric, dwarf fighter, human fighter, elf mage, human mage, and a halfling rogue. Right at the back there's a blank character sheet.
This provides a fine introduction to the game, and a good campaign that should get your group thoroughly involved. Presentation is good with a selection of art taken from previous editions as well as new stuff (nice to see some of the old line art!) and some quirky, often sardonic, notes from someone who's scattered hand-written post-it notes throughout. Enjoy!
Return to Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle page.
Reviewed: 25 October 2019