Vecna: Eve of Ruin

This one has been a long time coming.  For years 5e products have made obscure references to Vecna, the biggest baddest lich in Dungeons & Dragons canon.  Those references got a shot in the arm when Stranger Things season 4 in 2022 named its antagonist after Vecna.  This was accompanied by The Vecna Dossier, a 5e digital update with a stat block.  I first tweeted in October 2020 my expectation that one day we would see a product casting Vecna in the D&D universe as Thanos was in the MCU.  Their art was similar, the build was there, it seemed like a very safe bet.

Vecna: Eve of Ruin, seems to meet that criteria.  You have our long prophesied villain fighting a group of high level adventurers across moments from previous movies beloved other campaign settings in a quest to recover six infinity stones seven magical rod parts to save the multiverse.  It’s a high level adventure which is a radical departure from previous hardcovers.  There’s been this self-fulfilling prophecy about high level content.  We hear that high level products don’t sell so they don’t try to sell high level content.  To the point that one thing I read every so often on The Sly Flourish Discord, my main TTRPG haunt, is a modest proposal that maybe D&D itself should just be a level 1-10 affair if that’s all they feel like selling.

The adventure comes at a weird time for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  The reputation of corporations that sell D&D seems to be in an abyss.  The business side was never going to be popular but it seems like the sharing economy is moving to a more guillotine friendly era.  More than that is not open to useful speculation in my Vecna Book Hit Piece but I’d direct you to this piece by Penny Arcade’s Jerry Holkins

(https://www.penny-arcade.com/news/post/2023/12/15/isolator).

The more understandable confusion comes when looking at this book in the context of D&D book releases past and future.  Recent adventures outside of the anthology format have been bad adventures not worth buying.  In particular, Descent into Avernus, Rime of the Frostmaiden, and the Planescape box set’s Turn of Fortune’s Wheel read like they were designed not even by committee but by giving beloved competent writers different instructions and assembling the results in random order.  I can’t imagine releasing hardcover books is an easy project to manage but Jesus Christ people what changed after Dragon Heist?  The thing I am most watching out for reading this is, “do these different settings feel like the same adventure or is there an audible clunk as we go from setting to setting?”  If the chapter transitions are anything like the three adventures above then Eve of Ruin is going to be a hard pass.

Future prospects are more dubious.  Most of these hardcover adventures, of the one story variety, can take nearly a year or more to complete.  Meanwhile, Eve of Ruin seems to be releasing scant months before a new Player’s Handbook and new classes.  In that light, Eve of Ruin seems to be a send off, a swan song, a final curtain call on 10 years of 5th Edition before we go out with the old and in with the slightly new.  Or not.  Personally I think they could just throw the bums (Shield, Counterspell, Hexblade Paladins) out and 5e is Mostly Harmless.  Gods know I need more than a couple new combat features to justify a new $60 rogue.

Let’s get into the content for Vecna: Eve of Ruin.

As you can imagine, Vecna is up to some shit.  This version of Vecna is a God and not merely the mighty lich of Critical Role fame.  His deal is explained quite quickly and plainly in the text, evil ritual to conquer the universe.  Like Thanos or more accurately, Final Fantasy 8’s Ultimecia, Vecna plans to destroy everything so he can remake everything under his control.  We’re compressing all existence into a moment and editing the results.  It’s pretty simple: Evil Ritual.  I kind of like the angle that this is taking place in Pandemonium, the Outer Plane of Chaos.  I can sort of headcanon it that Vecna is obliterating Chaos as an alignment and by doing so, provides himself the means to have absolute control and power over everything.  But the details aren’t important.  Evil God, Evil Ritual, Control Over The Universe.  

I flipped ahead to see if there was a Pro-Vecna future in the ending of the adventure and there isn’t.  I was actually kind of surprised, the ending here is four sentences that basically amounts to “You Win.”  Is that the best we can do for 20th level characters?  Maybe I’ll come back to this later but I just popped this ending and Curse of Strahd into a word count.  Curse of Strahd has 1289 words detailing what if Strahd prevails, what hooks might exist for future adventures, what NPCs in the book might get up to.  Eve of Ruin is 108 words in four sentences with zero detail.  

To paraphrase The Simpsons:
So that’s it after 20 levels? So long. Good luck?
WotC: I don’t recall saying “good luck.”

Let’s stick a pin in that for now.  So the introduction explains Vecna’s evil plan which is basically “Evil Plan 101.”  It then gets into Kas.  Kas, also known as Kas The Betrayer, is known in D&D canon as a vampire and Vecna’s chief lieutenant.  If Vecna is The Emperor, Kas is Darth Vader.  In the canon, Kas betrays Vecna and he’s why Vecna lost his Eye and Hand.  

In his DM’s Guild book, Queercoded, Oliver Darkshire presents Vecna and Kas as ex-lovers.  Looking at the art of them together in this introduction, leaning in and talking over brunch, I think you’re going to see a lot of folks assuming that yep, Vecna and Kas were lovers.  I showed this art to three groups of people and the universal reaction was “Oh god Vecna and Kas were roommates.”  Good for Vecna and Kas.

Kas comes into this adventure planning once again to betray Vecna.  He worked out a deal with the Dark Powers of Ravenloft to get out and plans to step in at the last moment, kill Vecna, and become ruler of the Multiverse in Vecna’s place.  The text doesn’t make any mention of Cavitius, the place in Ravenloft where Vecna was imprisoned in the adventure, “Vecna Reborn.”  The text doesn’t get into Kas’s deal with the Dark Powers.  I can imagine The Dark Powers plan to screw Kas over at the last minute because that’s how they roll.

How the fuck does Kas plan to do this?  Well, he has help.  First, Kas has a macguffin artifact that essentially makes him completely undetectable and perfectly mimics another creature.  And the creature he’s imitating is The Wizard Mordenkainen.  In this disguise, Kas has teamed up with The Forgotten Realm’s Lady Alustriel Silverhand, sister of Dragon Heist’s Laeral Silverhand, and Tasha, daughter of Baba Yaga.  The Real Mordenkainen is off doing shit.  Boy, would it be funny if he was in Barovia and that’s the reason he’s not here.

So, these three folks, Tasha, Alustriel, and Kas in disguise as Mordenkainen, gather together to fight Vecna.  They try to cast an uber version of the Wish spell, it doesn’t work because Kas is a jock not a wizard, but it summons the PCs.  The three wizards I guess assume that the spell, Conjure Solution To This Vecna Problem, summoned the PCs so okay that must be the solution.  And then the adventure begins.

There’s some discussion of creating characters for the adventure.  The adventure begins in the Forgotten Realms so I guess maybe it makes sense if the PCs are from there but we’ll see.  There’s a d6 chart of who your level 10 character is which…sucks.  Just pick a previous hardcover adventure and say your character did that.

We then get into a section on Secrets.  Vecna is, you may recall, the God of Secrets.  The adventure has a subsystem about gathering secrets and revealing them for a combat advantage.  Okay?  Sure why not.  This is followed by a mention of being linked to Vecna and maybe the PCs get visions of Vecna.  Perhaps this is to keep him front of mind which raises my hackles because boy that makes it sound like we don’t get enough Vecna in the Vecna adventure.

I feel like after Curse of Strahd they made every adventure conform to this “big bad on the cover prevent them from conquering the world/universe” format.  Except, as a low level vampire in an adventure rife with anti-vampire weapons, Strahd was the right kind of threat to menace the PCs the entire adventure.  Zariel’s an archangel, Auril is a god, and Shemeshka’s the creator’s pet.  They favored big showdowns.  To his credit, Acererak was way more of a trapmaker engineer than a guy you faced off with.

We start this campaign with our heroes in Neverwinter in the Forgotten Realms.  This is the modern canon that started in 4e where Neverwinter was destroyed by a volcano, it got better, and it’s currently ruled by Dagult Neverember.  This gets going fast.  There are four sentences of flavor text.  No preamble, no setting the scene, we gotta get this show on the road.  The hook is that people are being kidnapped, the reward is a house in Neverwinter.  I sense the more real estate minded adults in my group might grin and want to drag this out but there are extremely few details here.

Seems a little thin for a party of 10th Level adventurers but hey gotta start somewhere.  So hopefully the PCs haven’t blown 10 levels of gold on homes in Baldur’s Gate and take the job.  I feel like your PCs are going to be waiting for a shoe to drop with how archetypical this hook is.  There’s a cult in the cemetery, get’m.

I see a few of the skill check DCs here in this dungeon are DC 18, DC 17.  That will certainly be more appropriate to a 10th level character’s proficiency but that doesn’t seem like the bonded accuracy we’ve dealt with up to this point.  Curious.

The PCs get into this dungeon and do dungeon-y things.  Funky DCs aside, we seem to avoid obvious pitfalls like the Descent Into Avernus’s “Fireball the PCs at Level 2”.  These are 5e PCs above 5th level and thus nigh impossible to kill so sure throw some threat their way.  They start rescuing folks.  One weird moment, the PCs rescue a gnome with A Secret.  Not a secret, A Secret.  The Secret is that the gnome is a Vecna historian but he seems desperate to unburden himself of this info.  Is that A Secret?

One other weird thing, this is a Vecna Cult so there are a lot of enemy spellcasters.  The Cult Leader is a proper Monsters of the Multiverse Necromancer.  MotM significantly changed NPC spellcasters to make them easier to run at the table, more like 4e monsters instead of 5e monsters which seems to be the direction 5.5 is going.  Why the hell then are there so many Basic Rules, Monster Manual Mage foes in this dungeon?  Like, we fixed that.  We don’t need to use The Mage.  It’s not like we have to clear them out of the inventory.  It’s bizarre design to have WotC concede “hey this monster doesn’t work use this monster with improved math and design instead” but then keep using an outmoded monster because technically the vanilla “Mage” hasn’t been updated.  The Enchanter and Transmuter are CR 5 and right there.

This is the end of the dungeon that starts off the book.  It’s good!  As indicated by my beating Descent into Avernus’s level 2 dungeon years later like a rented mule, it’s hard to fuck up dungeons.  WotC tends to do them well.  Quibbles aside, this seems solid.  Starting off the book fighting a cult in a dungeon is comfort food.  The writers are playing to their strengths, everyone’s in their wheelhouse.  We’re not building a better mousetrap here or doing anything too experimental here but that’s fine.

So you stop the cult but there’s a dramatic explosion as you fools interrupt a ritual years in the making and everyone gets thrown into The Shadowfell.  I like the kind of The Upside Down vibe this has.  This was in the 4e book and post Stranger Things it feels downright prescient.  The PCs gain a connection to Vecna here.  The text says it follows the rules for blessings presented in the DM’s Guide.  I pulled the DMG off the shelf and the rules for blessings are that there are no rules, it’s divine and can be anything.  So that was a sentence well spent.  The Blessing is advantage on Insight checks and See Invisibility once per day.  Hopefully no one is playing a Pallid Elf or they’re gonna feel really cheated you just gave their unique racial trait to the whole party.  This also allows the players to spend Secrets for mechanical bonuses.

So now you’re in Evernight, the Upside Down Shadowfell version of Neverwinter.  It’s the city but populated by undead.  The adventure refers to this as a known phenomenon called a “Crevice of Dusk”.  I assumed they made this up for this adventure but they actually do appear in the 4e Neverwinter book.  My kneejerk reaction is I would be tempted to make this less of a known phenomenon and maybe tie it to Planescape.  Portals happen and they tend to be either rare, temporary, well-guarded, or require a specific key.

The PCs are thrown into the Shadowfell with an NPC ally who knows what’s up here.  The adventure says the PCs have little to go on except their suggestion so fuck it might as well follow the only road.  If the NPC is dead maybe they had a notebook or something?  As plot bottlenecks go that seems to be a surmountable one.  The plot here is basically “Leave fucking graveyard to figure out how we get the fuck out of here.”  The next beat is, “An NPC sends you right the fuck back to the graveyard to find a portal and get the fuck out of here.”  Is there maybe an easier way to tell this story?

So the PCs get sent to another tomb with a portal.  There’s a cute NPC ghost.  I have a friend who I know will absolutely adopt this very cute NPC.  Okay maybe I have more than one friend like that.  My PCs collect NPC friends.  You fight sorrowsworn and find the portal to Neverwinter.  And that’s success!  You get houses, the NPCs you might’ve rescued pull together a lot of money.  But the magical connection to Vecna endures.

Chapter 1 is good.  The art is fantastic so far.  We get more of it than I remember from recent books and what we get is good.  I think part of its strength is that this not ambitious.  This is a dungeon.  This is a cult.  We’re playing the hits.  The PCs link with Vecna is what makes the PCs uniquely qualified to be in this adventure.

Chapter 2 potentially takes place hours or years later.  You could really scale back the initial dungeon, do another campaign in the levels 5-11 range, and then come back to this one.  The is where the adventure narratively starts.  And while I’m sure “The Link With Vecna” is great, you could find another way to get to that same end or just ignore it.  There’s another rinky-dink d6 table about what your character did if you pick things up years later.  And I am surprised these aren’t just like plot summaries for the previous hardcovers.  These events don’t seem like the best they could come up with especially in a book that is trying to be a nostalgia trip or trying to be a last hurrah for the edition.

The DM is informed about the background of what is going on.  In Faerun, a powerful wizard named Alustriel Silverhand learns that Vecna is back and about to conquer the multiverse.  The details aren’t important.  Alustriel calls the most powerful wizards she knows for backup. First, Tasha, of the Cauldron of Everything fame.  And then Mordenkainen who at this point has cameos in Curse of Strahd and Descent into Avernus, possibly more.  The three of them meet up at Alustriel’s place in Sigil to figure out what to do.

We get a long section here about Alustriel’s hidden rebel base in Sigil.  There’s a brief section on Sigil, how spells about planar travel and conjuring work strangely here.  Alustriel’s Sanctum breaks a lot of these rules but whatever the details aren’t important.  Essentially this is going to be home base for the campaign so it gets a writeup.  The map is pretty but the colors make it a bit hard to read.  One of the four small bedrooms is given over to the PCs.  I would probably just say she can conjure more bedrooms.  Or “this is what they look like, there are as many of these as there are PCs.”  Although not having enough bedrooms does speak to the idea that the ritual Alustriel, Tasha, and Mordenkainen cast to stop Vecna didn’t work.

Here’s what happens to the PCs.  One moment they are chilling, hours, days, years after Chapter 1.  Then there is a cacophony and the PCs are summoned to Sigil.  The text says that the Three Wizards tried to cast a Wish spell to stop Vecna.  But instead of stopping Vecna it summoned the PCs.  The text doesn’t say what the language of the Wish was.  The details aren’t important.  Three Epic Wizards tried to cast an Epic Spell.  I have done this plot before.  A wizard wishes for a solution, they get the PCs.  And in a roundabout way, the PCs are actually the solution they needed.

Because the spell didn’t work but it summoned adventurers, Mordenkainen proposes an alternate plan.  Step 1) Find the Rod of Seven Parts and it just so happens Mordenkainen knows where the first piece is.  Step 2) Fuck Vecna Up.  Kick his ass.  Sure he’s a god but he’s doing a ritual, you can take him.  Step 3) Use a different magic item to banish Vecna to Greyhawk.  No one seems too concerned about Vecna running amok in Greyhawk or casting Plane Shift or The Blue Veil spell.

But here’s the twist and it’s a big one for this adventure.  The book says that the Wish spell didn’t work primarily because Mordenkainen is not Mordenkainen.  Mordenkainen is actually Kas the Betrayer in disguise.  Kas, the vampire and Vecna’s former bestie, colleague, roommate.  In canon, Kas is a fighter with no magic.  You can imagine if 1/3rd of the epic spell is cast by a guy with no magic, it ain’t gonna work.

As of this writing the adventure has been out for two days.  The online conversation in the small part of the internet I’m on has almost completely focused on this plot twist and the implications of sending the PCs on a fetch quest for the villain.  Does this suck?  Does it ruin the adventure?  How do you fix this?  “Mord is Kas” almost instantly became a meme akin to “Snape kills Dumbledore.”  The text goes to considerable lengths to provide mechanical reasons how Kas is able to carry on this deception and why the PCs should not figure it out.

The text switches rather abruptly to “okay kids go find the rod for Mordy.”  It does not contemplate a long question and answer session with the three NPC questgivers.  This is one of those moments where I feel like we switched writers and someone else came in to copy paste “ROD PART 1” with an audible clunk.

The First Rod Part is in Faerun, in the Underdark.  Web’s Edge is basically a drow forward operating base.  This is a little drow themed dungeon.  I can’t help but think it would’ve been cool if this was the starting dungeon from Out of the Abyss?  Again, this is a last hurrah.  Play Freebird guys.  There is a grab bag of magical weapons here that I think is specifically intended to give a weapon to anyone who didn’t start the adventure with one.  There are a few Assassins here.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t like the 5e Assassin stat block, all the CR is in the surprise round.  After the surprise round an Assassin is like CR 5.

Again, I don’t have much to say about this.  It seems like a competent dungeon.  I have the feeling that this dungeon would go over like the first half of Predator.  Your PCs are out to save the multiverse from Vecna the God of Fucking Secrets.  These evil Lolth cultists stand in their way.  I foresee the PCs going stealth as long as they can.  But the first time the DM asks for an initiative roll all bets are off, all hell is breaking loose.  Your level 11 PCs are gonna bring some biblical shit down on these people who are unknowingly preventing the multiverse from being saved.  We don’t have time to fuck around and Gods help any motherfucker who stand in the PCs way.

When the PCs acquire a piece of the Rod of Seven Parts they learn where the next piece is.  Convenient!  The next piece of the Rod is in the Spelljammer campaign setting, somewhere in the Astral Sea.  There is basically no briefing, no flavor text, or explanation for the information can get.  And Alustriel’s magic portal can take the PCs near the Rod.  Again, the details aren’t important.  You really get the sense that the PCs are just hustled out the door after these pieces.  My Watson brain is saying this is because the multiverse is at stake and there’s no time to waste.  My Doyle brain is saying this is because the chapters are written by different writers so handoffs between the chapters are basically non-existent.  Chapter 2 ends, Chapter 3 begins.  It lacks the cohesiveness that Tyranny of Dragons had through the Council of Waterdeep scenes.  The Rise of Tiamat Council scenes provided a framework to debrief the PCs and give them their next quests.  We don’t sit with Tasha, Alustriel, or MordenKas.

So Chapter 3 is Spelljammer.  Again, another competent dungeon.  This one is set on the wreck of a Spelljammmer ship called the Lambient Zenith.  It’s almost like there’s a little village built up here?  On the Astral Sea the crash survivors don’t age or feel hunger so they’re kinda there.  The text doesn’t seem to contemplate doing a rescue of these people.  I mean I guess you could direct them to the portal to Sigil?  Again, competent dungeon.  I like it!  It seems like this one is much more navigating the NPCs than doorkicking.  When you find Rod Part 2 on we go.

Can I express a wish that the Chapters lined up with the Rod Pieces?  In Chapter 4 we’re after Rod Part 3 and we’re going to EBERRON.  FUCK YES.  I love Eberron.  It’s such a lovingly well crafted setting.  And the material is always explicitly crafted for D&D games not to sell novels.  You can wrap your head around it.  The text here has a couple paragraphs about researching Eberron but this is very very shallow.  The Rod Part is apparently in a place called The Mournland, Warforged are construct people who live there, and the Mournland is a weird warped place.  

These proper nouns mean something to me, an Eberron fanboy, but I’m curious how this will go over with people who don’t know anything about Eberron.  If your PCs are from the Forgotten Realms it’s one thing to go to the Astral Sea but this is a different Material Plane.  And the Mournland is not a representative part of Eberron.  It’d be like coming to Earth and all you know is WWII happened and you’re visiting Hiroshima in 1946.  I will say though, this chapter also doesn’t feel like a grab bag of Eberron tropes.  We are not overloading this adventure with SETTING STUFF.  The previous chapters in Faerun and Spelljammer also showed restraint now that I think on it.  On the one hand it won’t overwhelm newbies, on the other hand it feels interchangeable.

This chapter has a lot going on.  We’ve steadily escalated the complexity with each chapter.  While the first two chapters were meat and potato dungeon crawls, Spelljammer veered more towards RPing, this is both.  Your Questgivers, the Wizards Three, also give you a lot of info here.  They tell you that the Mournland is a weird dangerous place (it’s basically suffering from Magic Radiation) and the Rod Piece is probably in a Warforged Colossus.  They recommend finding a docent, a docent is basically like a small AI in Eberron?  They intelligent magic items like Jedi Holocrons with records and information.  A Docent and A Rod will surely reveal the exact location of the Rod piece.  How do they know this level of detail?  The details aren’t important.  Off you go we got shit to do.  Multiverse in peril.  Stop asking questions.

You emerge into Eberron through a big teleportation portal which doesn’t seem very Eberrony.  There are a few different locations here the PCs can explore.  There are a number of Warforged Colossi ruins on the ground. The PCs can search a fallen colossus for hours to find its Docent is missing. Remember the docent is needed to pinpoint the Rod location.  There is also a Colossus wreck that is noted as having the Rod Part in it.  Uhh I don’t know what you do if your PCs are like “hey can we search that one?”  It reminds of Fallout 3, that game wants you to go to Galaxy News Radio, the Washington Mall, Vault-Tec, a whole arc to find Vault 112 where your dad is held prisoner.  But actually Vault 112 is due west from Megaton.  You stand a pretty good chance of stumbling on it and don’t need to do that other crap.

One point of interest as the PCs come through is a camp for scavengers.  I’d wanna check the lore but camping in the Mournland is like…fatal.  You just don’t do it.  More lore friendly is a base where some Warforged are living.  The lore definitely supports Warforged living in the Mournland.  

Most importantly there are a series of Mount Ironrot Encounters in this chapter that the writers want you to have as you go from point to point exploring.  It took me a minute to realize “oh okay these encounters are what you need to progress the story.”  Probably shoulda led with that?  Like if I was editing this, these encounters would be the first thing after a briefing and flavor text.  This chapter is presented as a sandbox but there is an order you need to follow for it to make sense and that is not the order it is written in.  I dunno, a bigger header or something?

Anyways, these Chapter 4 Encounters are events, they happen in a specific order.  The first encounter, you meet some traveling Warforged and they confirm they’ve been removing Docents from the Warforged Colossi because they’re sacred relics.  For more information, visit this village!  So this should happen after the PCs maybe check a couple Colossi?  Again, sandbox presentation but the PCs are expected to get facts in a certain order.

Next encounter, meet some scavengers looking for treasure in the Mournland.  They want docents to sell for money.  Uh oh.  Conflict brewing.  The scavengers are also racist against Warforged which isn’t gonna go over well at my particular table of Warforged fanboys.  The scavengers also give directions to the Warforged settlement.  So Sandbox but don’t go here first we hope?

Third encounter, fight time.  The PCs get jumped by Warforged servants of the Lord of Blades.  One thing to note, these Warforged are a pretty high CR, two 7s and a 9.  Maybe that’s not too bad for level 13 characters but Eberron by custom does not have a whole lot of High CR nobodies.  Like a CR 9 Wizard that might fight the entire party in Faerun well in Eberron they’re a wealthy businessperson or royal advisor.  They’re not waiting in a random encounter to get overcome, they have lower level flunkies for that.  High level implies high station.

The plot shows back up when the PCs have explored Warforged Colossi, figured out they don’t have the docents they need to hook up to the Rod of Currently Three Parts, and head to the Warforged settlement which is their only lead.  The adventure seems to expect the PCs to intervene between the Warforged and Scavengers?  Dude, we got shit to do.  The PCs are saving the motherfucking multiverse.  Should we follow the Prime Directive here?

If the PCs consent to get sidetracked by this bullshit the solution is pretty simple.  The Warforged want to keep their docents but they don’t give a shit about all the art objects, jewelry, and gold.  Let the scavengers take those worthless yellow rocks and they’ll leave.  Personally I’m of two opinions.  First, these are the worst scavengers ever.  All they can think to do is pick over this particular area which has already been hit and they wanna attack these innocent Warforged?  That makes this a Seven Samurai plot and they’re the bandits.  Which is honestly a plot I like more.  Second opinion, these scavengers just need money?

Sending Spell: Hey, Three Most Powerful Wizards in Existence, we’ve got some locals we don’t feel like murdering just because they’re a mild inconvenience preventing us from saving the multiverse.  Can you send like 10,000 gold through the portal? Thanks.

That’s more than 25 Words for Sending but you get my point right?  This reminds me of a D&D Epic I ran one time.  You’re in the Underdark fighting a war against the Duergar.  Being an epic, various tables are doing different things, there are different encounters with different levels of combat, exploration, RP, and Puzzles.  One option was actually a logic puzzle with the baggage train for the war effort.  The various teamsters and drovers are fighting about who gets to be where in the narrow march through the Underdark.  As a puzzle it’s fine.  But in the fiction of the game the solution is “My character kills one person every minute until they stop their bitching.  You are in an active warzone I don’t want to hear your petty grievances.”

I think this part of the chapter could’ve been better written.  But even better writing is not going to get around these penny ante stakes when the PCs got shit to do.  The adventure does contemplate that the PCs don’t get involved at all although that decision gets no paragraph.  When the PCs hook up their rod to the docent it points towards one specific Colossus.  The Warforged and Scavengers can both relay to the PCs “oh that’s the Colossus with the strange artifact powering it.”  YOU KNEW?  First of all, of course the only Colossus in the area with a name is going to be the right place to go.  Second of all, I guess shame on the PCs for not asking the locals about strange local artifacts in the area?  Maybe shame on the DM for not having the NPCs be more forthcoming.

So off we go to our dungeon for this chapter, the interior of a collapsed Warforged Kaiju Colossus.  5e’s Eberron products seem obsessed with the Warforged Colossi.  These were not a thing in previous editions’ Eberron books.  Then they put these things in the 5th Edition book, “Rising From the Last War”.  Now they’ve replaced the Airship Crash as the iconic thing in an Eberron adventure.  We are told that the Rod piece makes up an integral part of the thing’s engine.  While the PCs explore the Colossus they are challenged by another Warforged enemy, this one named Glaive.  The text says that humans call them Kill Switch.  Is this a reference to something?

We are given a few features of the Colossus.  For one thing, it has an impenetrable shield similar to Wall of Force except it can’t be affected by Disintegrate.  Holy shit!  Someone created a better, permanent version of a 5th Level Spell?  Wait, how was the thing supposed to fight, did it crush people to death with its shield?  Also the body of the colossus is immune to damage.  And if the PCs try to enter the Colossus anywhere but the legs (where they’ll have to go through the entire dungeon) they get attacked by a Roc and lose all their birthday presents.  I made that last one up.  But seriously?  This adventure has these moments where the adventure wants a specific outcome.  The adventure doesn’t tell the DM, conversationally, hey do it like this.  The adventure doesn’t just say “Hey don’t let the PCs find out Mord is Kas.”  Instead it contorts itself to give Kas a magic item to prevent any possibility of discovery.  How does the Sanctum portal work? That detail doesn’t matter.  How does Mordenkainen keep hidden?  Here’s a new artifact that serves exactly that purpose and no other.

In conclusion, writers, if you want the PCs to enter this thing through the feet, just say that.  I promise you telling the DM the intent in a conversational tone is going to lead to it going over way better at a gaming table than giving the DM a bunch of horseshit to prevent player creativity.

The dungeon is mostly fine.  You work your way to the thing’s head.  The warforged attack if you rest.  There’s a random mimic which seems to come out of nowhere?  The party is Level 13, Mimics are CR 2.  The Point of the thing is to be a trap that throws you off a ledge.  The dungeon is mercifully short and has some creepy ghost encounters.  The book invented a CR 12 Bear monster that feels like a Fallout Yao Guai copy paste.

The final encounter is a social one.  The Mind of the Colossus manifests and asks the PCs to share their secrets with it.  If the PCs don’t share enough secrets with it then the Colossus’s AI spirit won’t tell them about the Self-Destruct Mechanism that triggers when they take the Rod Piece.  Dick move, AI Spirit.

I haven’t talked much about the Secrets Mechanic.  

Begin Tangent on Secrets

Every chapter has had a couple NPCs with secrets.  I didn’t mention them in the text because they’re not important.  Which tells me you could junk the Vecna link entirely.  Every adventure has had some kind of power up.  TOA had the Nine Trickster gods.  Strahd had the magic items.  Storm King had the Giant Potions.  In this adventure there are a few NPCs each chapter that have extremely specific secrets they are holding onto that do not affect the story all that much.  It might be useful to developing that NPC.  Like any NPC I think you’re gonna have a few that resonate with the PCs and a whole lot who don’t.

This Secrets Mechanic feels like something cooked up and demanded of the writers then never followed up on.  The implementation is half-assed at best.  It reminds me of Frostmaiden’s Arcane Brotherhood as Wild West Gunslingers.  The introduction tells you that there are these rogue wizards in Icewind Dale and refers to them as Wild West Gunslingers.  But in the adventure two are dead, one’s a lone wolf, and one’s a questgiving NPC.  At no point do they feel like Wild West Gunslingers.  Or Adventurer’s League, at some point around “Season 8” when Dragon Heist was published, started putting a sidebar into adventures called, “Playing the Pillars.”  It required the adventure writer to explain how to use the Social, Exploration, and Combat pillars of D&D play in every encounter.  And Gods Bless the writers but that was impossible.  No one could do it.  Sometimes a fight is just a fight, sometimes a negotiation is just RP, and almost nothing in D&D is ever exploration.  These were top down dictates to adventure writers but no one followed up to make sure the results made sense and were good.  Eve of Ruin’s secrets follow a similar pattern.

End Secrets Tangent

And like any other chapter that’s it.  Once you have the Rod Part in hand you can get the fuck out, you’re done with these people.  I think the Eberron chapter is uneven.  I can appreciate that it is desperate to not alienate people who do not know or care about Eberron.  But it doesn’t feel very much like Eberron?  Like this chapter has Warforged Villagers and Warforged Bandits.  But you could Find & Replace them being Warforged with anything else.  Their being Warforged has virtually nothing to do with the adventure.  

That said though, for all my grousing about what I didn’t like here I think overall this is fine?  It’s the weakest chapter so far but you could run this at the table as is without problems.  That’s not something I felt getting this deep into the infamous Avernus/Frostmaiden/Fortune’s Wheel trio.

The price so far is that this is a very generic cookie cutter book.  We’re gonna go into dungeons to fight some shit.  There’s a lich somewhere doing something bad and we’re gonna stop him.  I thought Vecna would be Thanos but he’s nowhere to be seen.  Whereas the real strength of Thanos as a character was that he got screentime and lots of it.  The PCs are jumping across the multiverse on an adventure we are told is Epic.  

But it doesn’t feel that way.  It feels small.  Contained.  It reminds me of a quote from the movie, The Faculty, “If you were going to take over the world, would you blow up the White House ‘Independence Day’ style, or sneak in through the back door?”  I feel like this adventure is being sold as Independence Day but in reality it’s The Faculty.  

More likely I wanted to believe it would be Independence Day because of Stranger Things and this being the last hurrah for 5E.  No one promised that.  I wanted that.  But Eve of Ruin is not Epic.  It is not Independence Day with Vecna.  It’s not Vox Machina with an Earth Titan marching on the Dawn City.  I liked the smaller scale and lack of ambition in the first couple chapters.  This chapter made me ask, “is that it?”

In Chapter Five we go after the fourth piece (Jesus…) of the Rod.  And hold onto your butts because we’re going back to Barovia.  Strahd is back bay-beeee.  I realize that going back to Barovia is a key part of the marketing for this adventure.  But I would kill for that to be a surprise with people at the table who all played Curse of Strahd but did not know we were going back for Eve of Ruin.  I like to imagine The Wizards Three are running divinations to figure out where the next Rod Piece is.  They see Ravenloft and Tasha’s just like “Sheeeeyit.”

And so the PCs portal dumps them in Barovia Village.  Immediately a lynch mob forms.  The Level 14 PCs are not in danger from twenty CR 0 commoners.  It’s an interesting RP situation how the PCs deal with this.  Afterwards, they meet an NPC, who is an Inquisitor from a group introduced in Van Richten’s Guide.  They want to accompany the PCs for their search for the Rod Piece.

The Rod Piece is in Death House, the dungeon adventure that Curse of Strahd started with for level 1-2 characters.  Inside there are two different factions.  The Strahd Cultists introduced in Curse of Strahd as well as an entirely different cult.  The Inquisitor is trying to root out and destroy all the cultists.  In the original Death House the two questgiving children, Rose and Thorn, were ghosts who starved to death long long ago.  Here, it seems like they’re “alive” for all intents and purposes and the adventure doesn’t dwell on their fate.  No, we’re here for the cultists this go around.  There’s a random encounter table that adds some combat to the exploration.  There are encounters with cultists and with the Inquisitor who has a whole arc.  She reminds me a lot of Cassandra Pentaghast.  This chapter is pretty dope so far.  We get the nostalgia factor with new twists.  It’s pretty fucking cool.  This cements for me, Just Call The Drow Dungeon ‘Velkynvelve’ and maybe tie the other adventures to locations the PCs already know.

Eventually the PCs will claim the Rod Piece or die trying.  When they take the piece, the Cult begins chanting.  Wolves howl.  Candles gutter.  Then silence.  The door to the house opens and closes with a click of the lock.  Heavy boots on the floor above.  He’s here…

Oh this must’ve been fun to write.  Someone had a good time with this.

There are some random encounters where Strahd fucks with the PCs.  This is…meh?  Okay Strahd can do whatever he wants.  The PCs are just kind of strapped in for the ride while they get fucked with.  It feels very much like the kids from IT in the haunted house.  You can’t really win this.  You’re just picking between doors that say SCARY, VERY SCARY, or NOT SCARY AT ALL but there’s something terrible behind all of them.

In the end, it comes down to if the PCs have made the Inquisitor their ally.  If she doesn’t like them, she leaves them to fight Strahd.  If she has become friendly with them she defends them.  There isn’t any formula here.  It’s purely based on RP and DM vibes.  A big part of that RP is, did the PCs calm the initial mob non-violently?  Ultimately the DM’s going to need to make the call if they want the party to fight Strahd here.  Are the PCs spoiling for this or desperate to avoid it?  I will say, I don’t wanna fight Strahd in the damn living room.  I’d want to plan the boss fight more but this is easily the best chapter in the book so far.

In Chapter 6 we journey to Dragonlance.

Fuck.  Do we have to?

I don’t know anything about Dragonlance.  I do not care about Dragonlance.  I want to replace this chapter with Exandria.  Or Dark Sun.  Or Planescape.  Stop trying to make Krynn happen.  I saw people on twitter and discord butthurt that apparently this chapter has werewolves and Dragonlance I guess doesn’t have werewolves?  I…do not care.  I’m sorry they fucked that up.  I am.  I’d be pissed off if they really fucked up Eberron.

I’ll come back to this chapter if I feel like it.

Chapter 7 takes us to Oerth, the world of Greyhawk.  With the 5th piece of the rod in hand your character knows that the Rod Piece is on the Isle of Serpents in Oerth.  Research on this place will tell the PCs that this was a former haunt of Acererak and one of his famous deathtrap dungeons.  I kinda like that we’re telegraphing “This chapter is a Tomb of Horrors.”  Tomb of Annihilation was the biggest surprise of 5e.  4e and 5e as whole gave a D&D a reputation for invincible player characters.  The kid gloves were put on to the point where The Old School Renaissance/Revival is an acronym people feel comfortable using in TTRPG conversation like you’re supposed to know what that means without googling.  I was shocked how deadly and bordering on unfair TOA could be and I mean that as a positive.  That dungeon was not fucking around and it was nice to see writers could still really challenge players as opposed to creating perfectly balanced combats for a party of 4-6 characters.

Although my reluctance to get into Dragonlance shows a weakness of the campaign.  Each chapter means a rod piece which leads to the next campaign setting.  When it comes to Rod Pieces you gotta catch ‘em all and in order.

The PCs step through the portal and come across a Kraken attacking archaeologists.  Just in case you forgot the PCs are supposed to be 16th level I guess?  I don’t really see a point to this.  Also, to jump ahead, you can fight another Kraken in Chapter 10.  That’s weird?  It’s a very iconic monster to use twice in a campaign.  Like in Candlekeep Mysteries, it was weird to go from The Canopic Being with its Super Golems and Mummy Lord to the next adventure, The Scrivener’s Tale, with basic bitch mummies and stone golems.

The Tomb of Horrors here where the rod piece is follows Tomb of Annihilation rules to preserve drama.  No using magic on the walls, no teleporting out of the dungeon.  It says that transporting other creatures fail, I would assume that means Summons and Conjurations but the adventure specifically doesn’t mention those.  The dungeon is run by a Simulacrum of Acererak.  The simulacrum is bored as fuck and doesn’t want to be here.  I am wondering if it would be better to just make this Acererak?

All right let’s get into this tomb.

To show they’re not fucking around here, the tomb has three entrances.  Were I laying this out in map software I would probably connect all three equally and then roll randomly to determine the correct one. As it stands, boy this middle one is going to look like the best choice.  The two false entrances trigger fireballs and arrows.  It’s not going to be enough damage to really bother level 16 PCs but it sets the mood.  These are both Dex Saves so Monks and Rogues will tell the DM to fuck off.  Two things jump out here.  On one side a slab traps the PCs inside until dawn. It can be lifted but the DC is 18, like it was in the first chapter. So the guidelines for bonded accuracy are screwy but the followthrough is consistent?  And on the other side after the Trap the PCs can get a clue for later in the dungeon even though it’s a false entrance.  I love incentives to explore and play with stuff with the same passion that I hate disincentives and “if the PCs touch this roll initiative.”

As I’ve said before, dungeons are tough to write about.  I find myself just recapping the text and describing the room with little analysis.  So I try to look for red and green flags.  But the big flag I notice is that we are very much in Challenge-The-Players-Not-Their-Characters puzzle land.  There are many ways out of this one room.  A pit with a hidden door in it, a giant blue demon face with a yawning black maw, and a regular fuckin’ door.

  • Fall In The Pit, that leads you to a logic puzzle. The only way out of that room is to drink the right potion that will shrink you and allow you out through the floorboards.  There is advice on “here are the hints to give.”  The DC 12 Arcana check to suggest “maybe drinking the potions is the solution” feels almost ashamed to spell it out.
  • Touch the Yawning, Giant, Black Demon Maw and get teleported.  Where you might ask?  Clear across the dungeon to the Juggernaut Arena.  Two constructs wait here to start a fight to the death.  Roll initiative, motherfucker.  These are two CR 12 constructs and their stat blocks are very simple.  KILL.  There’s no spells, just killing.  Although there is nothing I can see that prevents you from just running outside the room.
  • The Basic Bitch Door next to the gaping demon maw is locked and won’t open.  In order to open it, the PCs need to spend spell slots to charge it up.  Spend 6 levels worth of slots and the door opens for 10 minutes.  There is absolutely zero reason or prompt to tell you this is how the door works.  So DM’s who don’t want players on their phones will want to add a prompt.

That’s what we’re dealing with here.  It seems fine.  This is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Deathtrap dungeons are not my cup of tea.  Speaking as someone who plays Rogue and hates puzzles, that basic bitch door would’ve pissed me off at the table.  When there’s no meaningful way to help, the phones come out.  The DM has to kind of know their players and their characters to make this land.  If deathtrap dungeons are not your thing then the only balm I can really offer is that this is pretty short.  It seems well thought out.  There are RP opportunities.  And then it’s over.

In the end the PCs find not Acererak but Rerak.  Rerak is somewhere between a Construct and a Simulacrum.  They’re a portion of Acererak but still CR 21.  This false lich has the Rod Piece and for three DC 23 Persuasion checks he will give up.  I like the potential for RP, I don’t like that the text says that the Persuasion check should be an action.  When will D&D writers learn that is not how players think?  I’m conflicted here.  I like the idea of “Sentient Construct that doesn’t wanna be here.”  But I kinda just wanna make him Acererak?  The adventure Fall of Vecna features Acererak as a Vecna protege and turning him against his master is a key part of the Adventure.

I tried to come up with a pro and con list for Just Make Him Acererak.  Then after 10 minutes I started thinking about Eberron.  Specifically changes between editions.  I can’t remember the 5th Feyspire.  Anyways ADHD brain aside, I tried coming up with pros and cons.  I think the big Pro is that it just makes sense?  Why the fuck not?  It’s not like Acererak’s Phylactery is here.  Boy I would pay for an adventure about Acererak’s Phylactery.  It seems like It’s Just Acererak makes it a little cleaner, a little neater.  The Con is…look this is a vanilla chapter.  This is a vanilla chapter in a surprisingly vanilla adventure.  If it’s Just Acererak hanging around at the end, is that lame?  I could never see myself saying “Rerak” at the table with a straight face.  That’s a silly name and I’m not using it.  But at least this simulacrum puts a bit of edge on the chapter?  Last thing, I almost always have a non-combat out.  But I wonder if the players will feel cheated if they just talk their way through the final boss.  

Like the rest of the book, the end of a chapter is very unceremonious.  The archaeologists they met outside pay them for recovered treasures.  The False Lich Simulacrum might work with them.  So a potential happy ending!  But it’s very much, you don’t need these people.  We’re saving the multiverse here and We Got Shit To Do.  I guess the archaeologists are here so this chapter is not literally just, Show Up and Have A Deathtrap Dungeon.  The last sentence of the chapter, “The PCs can return to Sigil through the portal at their leisure.  Uhhh guys Multiverse to save.  Picture a gif of someone tapping their wristwatch here.

Oh chapter 8.  Oh no.  Oh no no no.  The final piece of the Rod of Seven Parts is in Avernus.  I did not care for Descent into Avernus.  While I think it had an excellent writing team, something in managing the project went very wrong.  Strike One.  The final piece is located in a casino in Avernus.  I really really don’t like minigames or casino games and the Planescape adventure Turn of Fortune’s Wheel forces you to engage in them.  Strike Two.  Let us proceed cautiously on the lookout for Strike Three.

I will try to be reasonable going into this chapter even though I have a bad attitude and literally everything is annoying and I don’t like it.

The PCs, now 17th Level (where Arcane Casters have access to Wish) step through the portal and are on their way to the Red Belvedere.  Shortly after arrival they meet some friendly devils who will give them a ride if they help them kill a Goristro.  The Goristro and their buddies are carrying a live unicorn through Avernus.  What is it with these writers and Unicorns in Avernus?  The encounter was weird in Descent and it’s weird here.  If the PCs didn’t make a deal for a ride they just wander for hours until they make DC 20 Survival checks to find the casino.

There’s no adventure if they don’t find the Red Belvedere so hopefully they find it.  Eventually the PCs find this palatial resort.  The book tries to sell the idea that this casino is in Avernus because it’s connected to Tiamat and draconic greed but could we not have put this thing with Mammon?  Should a casino not be with the King of Covetousness?  What about Dis, Hell’s most famous city?

Inside the casino the PCs catch their first glimpse of Windfall.  Windfall runs the Casino and is a Champion of Tiamat.  She is a CR 23 Bard.  There is zero mention in this book of Arkhan the Cruel, Joe Mangiello’s character who also had the Hand of Vecna.  Windfall is in possession of the last Rod piece but it takes a DC 32 check to glean that fact.  The art is spiffy in making her look like a 20th level adventurer but this NPC does not resonate with me.  What we know about her could fit in a shot glass.  I hope this is someone’s PC and they got to put them in a D&D book.

There is a lot of stage setting that goes into explaining this casino.  For starters, each room of the casino is supervised by three Pit Fiends.  Oh Jesus, here we go.  In the fiction of D&D, pit fiends are “generals of the Nine Hells, leading its infernal legions into battle.”  Except at the Red Belvedere where they’re employees watching dice games.  Picture one of these things having a conversation with Bel, the Piet Fiend that once ran Avernus.

“Bel, how’s life.”

“I run all of the forges and make all the weapons for the Blood War.  I barely have time to tempt the innocent for myself!  So, what’re you up to after centuries without counting crawling up the ranks from Lemure to one of Hell’s greatest champions?”

“I uhh…watch for people cheating at cards.”

“Do you flay their souls from existence when they attempt to deceive your diabolical malevolence?”

“I ask them to leave.”

“Until the end of existence?”

“Twenty Four of what the Material Plane call ‘hours.’

That’s true by the way.  If a PC is caught cheating then the Pit Fiends confiscate their money and kick them out FOR ONE DAY.  The book mentions there could be worse penalties if someone keeps getting busted.

Like any casino the betting it done with chips, called Talons.  Each talon is 10 gold.  One point of interest, the PCs can also buy soul coins here for 300 talons.  So 3000 gold per Soul Coin.  Remember this.

But we didn’t come here for the food & beverage service (because it goes completely unmentioned, great for a casino) we’re here for the flippin’ minigames.  And sure enough we get’m.  Somehow the PCs need to find out that the Rod Piece is in the high rollers exclusive section of the Red Belvedere called “Dragon’s Pride.”  The only way to get in there is to be invited by one of five Pit Masters who each run one of five sections of the casino color coordinated with Tiamat.

Let’s introduce these NPCs.  Who will the PCs win over?

White

The Alabaster Racetrack is ruled over by a white tiger Rakshasa.  Here they gamble on Nightmare racing.  You gamble on a d6 roll and have a 1/3rd chance of walking away with a profit.

This Rakshasa’s favor can be earned through a series of d20 rolls.  Is that not all what our lives come down to?  He wants them to rig one of the horse races.  More to see if they’ll do it than out of any need.  The hard part here is the Rakshasa’s insistence on fucking with the PCs.  He approaches in disguise and if the PCs tip their hand that they know he’s in disguise, then he walks away.  And after a successful job if the PCs confess or brag that they did it, they get nothing.

The idea to rig the race is to slip one Nightmare a potion of speed.  First there’s a DC 22 Stealth check to get in, then a DC 25 Sleight of Hand check to slip the horse a potion, then, this is the kicker, a DC 20 Constitution Saving Throw to avoid coughing from the poison gas released in reaction to the infernal horse’s food mixing with the potion.  Then a DC 22 Stealth check to get out.  Blow a roll and the PC gets attacked by a Pit Fiend whose job is…watching the damn horses.  Appropriate job for one of hell’s mightiest champions.  Afterwards, the Rakshasa calls the PCs in and demands to know if they rigged a horse race.  If they lie, he rewards them.

I am a little torn on this one.  A lot of this doesn’t inspire me?  I like that they didn’t waste a lot of page space on a stupid minigame.  The map for the stables also looks pretty rinky dink.  But it’s not a cakewalk.  Without a lot of effort you could expand this.  I don’t like the idea that if you blow the roll not only do you not get the victory but then you have a likely two hour combat for no reward against a pit fiend and a bunch of barbed devils.  No mention if there’s backup for a fight in the stables.  Do you get thrown out if you get caught and surrender?

I do like that it doesn’t hold your hand though.  This will come up again but I like that the book does not imagine every contingency the PCs could use for this.  If you use mage hand to drop in the potion, do you still have to make the save?  Can someone make a distraction?  It’s a big change from the start of the book where, like the magic item Kas possesses has a laundry list of features to foil any possible means of thwarting it rather than just saying “you can’t thwart it.”  I definitely think the lack of detail has more to do with trying to keep the word count down than intentionally provide the DM and players a freer hand but it works to the adventure’s favor.

Needing to lie to the Rakshasa is a thornier prospect.  My experience with Avernus taught me that relying on a specific PC reaction or emotional state tends to not deliver the results a DM wants.  For one thing, players are often contrarians.  When you expect PCs to RP and perform genre conventions that’s when people get very un-cinematic.  “We kill him mid speech”, “we don’t care what people think we’re long resting here and now.”  Then when you expect tactics that’s when people go in character.  Expecting or demanding moral compromises in Avernus led to players not afraid to have the two hour combat to stand their ground.

Blue

Representing Tiamat’s Blue head, the Cerulean Hall is home to games of skill rather than games of chance.  The book mentions dragonchess or three-dragon ante but isn’t exhaustive.  There’s no map showing how many tables each section has.  The detail we get divides the tables into Amateur, Intermediate, and Expert.  Each level has a correspondingly higher DC to overcome with intelligence rolls for a commensurate payout.  I would probably institute some kind of limit to prevent high skill PCs from just grinding away at the low level tables.  Maybe you can grind a little but you get forced to play at a table that matches your skill.

The Boss here is a Blue Abishai.  If you win at the expert table, the Abishai invites you to a game with an invitation as the stakes.  But there’s a catch.  They’re cheating with an amulet to detect thoughts.  It annoys me that this is the first and only time the Rogue Mastermind level 17 feature would’ve been useful.  And even then, my own Rogue Mastermind multiclassed to Cleric for Bless.  The cheating amounts to the pit boss having a floor of 10 for their rolls.  I find it funny that the thing Rogues do on every roll with proficiency is a party trick a lord of hell uses.  Also, after 10 years of 5e telling us that Gaming Set proficiencies are worthless it’s a bit cruel to make them critical in the last adventure for 5e.

Catching her cheating requires two relatively simple checks, a DC 20 Investigation Check and a DC 17 Arcana check.  A wizard or especially an arcane trickster should be able to hit these.  Win the match or figure out how she’s cheating and the invitation is yours.

Red

The Scarlet Coliseum is a straight up fight.  It is however a 3 PC affair.  Do they do that so someone’s alive afterwards?  I feel comfortable flashing between people but I can see someone’s gonna run this and then 1-3 people are gonna be on their phones the whole session.  Entry is 15 chips but you’re required to do three matches.  If you want to bail early, that’s another 15 chips.  Again I would institute a limit to keep people from grinding on the lowest stakes.

Like rigging the horse race this is a bare bones affair.  The arena has no terrain features, it is just open ground.  There’s also no mention of side bets or playing to the crowd.  It is just about the straight up fight.  The matches are against three Balgura Demons, a Purple Worm, and two Iron Golems.  The PCs can take a short rest between each fight.  If you win all three then the Pit Boss challenges you after one last short rest.  They’re a Red Abishai and they’re joined by two Horned Devils.  This is a considerable amount of combat and likely to take up a whole session or more.  Win the fight but spare the Abishai’s life and you’ll win a fat purse and an invitation.

Black

We gotta talk about the Stygian Maze’s Pit Boss, a vampire.  They have a Sword of Life Stealing which absorbs Soul Coins.  The vampire now has an all consuming addiction to Soul Coins.  So they’re basically Raziel with the Soul Reaver.  The text notes two things.  First, getting an invitation from the Vampire to the Dragon’s Pride section is easy, he will fork it over for three soul coins.  Second, the vampire buys Soul Coins for 500 poker chips each.

Scroll back up.  The PCs can buy Soul Coins for 300 chips or 3000 gp.  This dude is buying Soul Coins for 500 chips which can be converted to 5000 gp.  HOT DAMN.  This takes me back to the infamous Potent Lyrium Potion in Dragon Age: Origins or FF9’s Cotton Robes.  Also I should note that the Treasure Vault at the end of chapter 7 has over 10,000 gold in it.  Fuck this casino, problem solved.

Here’s the thing though.  I like that there is an easy mode for this chapter’s problem.  That problem is “We need an invitation because we can’t fight Windfall and 15+ Pit Fiends.”  If you fuck up with the other four options this is one the DM can keep in their back pocket so the story can keep going.  You don’t want to let the fate of the multiverse hinge on whether or not the PCs can beat the devil at chess.  And if you really want it to be easy mode, recall Descent into Avernus.  The Warlords of Avernus that vex the party while they roll around are all said to carry 2d6 soul coins.  Up to you if you want to keep those warlords to the Descent power of levels 7-13.

If you feel like doing the maze, it’s a DC 20 Investigation or Survival check.  So Scout Rogues literally cannot fail this check.  You fail you roll on a bad table, you succeed you roll on a good table, eventually you’ll roll the result for success and exit the maze.

Green

A Green Abishai rules the Viridian Den.  These are the games of chance.  Unlike the ambiguous Blue area, this area has two games defined in the text.  And there’s no skill check, you are just rolling dice and betting on the results.  If you win 1000 chips in this room the Abishai invites you up to the high roller’s area.  That’s all there is to it.  If your players really wanna gamble, go with the gods.  I think it’s a little silly to have one boss require you to win 10000 gold in chips then have one boss you can just pay 9000 to get past.  But I think that cements the idea that the Vampire is the DM’s ripcord, if nothing else works that’s the option to keep the game moving.

Dragon’s Pride

All right, the goal of all this possibly literal horseshit is to reach the high roller’s section of the casino, Dragon’s Pride.  This turns out to be a lounge.  Here the PCs find an Ice Devil bartender whose cocktails are also magic potions.  There is also a Rakshasa running a store where the PCs can buy cursed magic items.  This curse is a real kick in the nuts, after a long rest you need to make a DC 10 Charisma save or turn into a Lemure, the weakest devil.  There’s a spa which gives any who partake Temporary Hit Points.  The prices for these are all in casino chips so your PCs may want to head back up to cash in gold for chips or you know just multiply costs by 10.

This area also gives the PCs access to Windfall’s office.  The office is guarded by two pit fiends.  This is really interesting, the text basically gives no ideas how you’re intended to get past these things.  Like okay you can steal their keys but then what?  Also two CR 20 Pit Fiends?  Jesus christ WotC.  There’s a kind of blaise to this first “tier 4” chapter.  “Fuck it, two Pit Fiends”.  And no details.

In order to save the multiverse the PCs have to get past the pit fiends and door trap and get into her office.  There’s a secret entrance to Windfall’s uhh…secret vault within her secret office within the secret part of her casino.  Here’s where the Rod Piece is.  Windfall is here too and if the PCs take the Rod Piece she fights them.  The PCs might have to fight her twice.  After the PCs defeat her, Tiamat steps in and wants to know what the fuck is happening.  She’s literally in the next room over so it makes sense in context.  If the PCs tell her, “hey Vecna’s back and he’s up to some shit” then Tiamat lets them go.  If not, she makes Windfall fight to the death.  I would probably base how much health Windfall has after the Tiamat intervention based on how fun/easy the boss fight with her was.  The text says take her back to full, YMMV on if that’s fun.

The text does expect they have to walk all the fucking way back to their portal to get back.  Which was like, an infernal warmachine ride away.  If there was ever a time the PCs had to find their way back to Sigil on their own, this is the place.

I gotta be honest I did not hate Chapter 8 as much as I thought I would.  The clear attempts to cut down on the word count leads to more situations to navigate rather than a railroad.  They had to move heaven and earth to keep this chapter 18 pages like the others and it comes at the expense of this casino feeling like a series of encounters rather than a fantastical location.  But the minigames are not quite as irksome as I feared.  There’s a kind of silliness to it that was present in Descent into Avernus.  It lacks the sort of Terry Pratchett Silly that makes up Planescape but I’m guessing it’s an appeal to that.  It’s not all peaches and gravy, I don’t really “get” Windfall?  We learn far more about the five pit bosses than we do her.  She’s a stat block more than a character.  This is far from my beloved Chapter 5.  But it’s mostly functional.

And with that, the PCs have acquired the full fledged Rod of Seven Parts.  Congratulations!  Now Mordenkas asks the PCs to let him hold it while they take a well deserved break.  Hand it over.  Come on.  Now.  Please?  Just for a minute while he goes into another room with it.

There is no way to get around this one.  The start of Chapter 9 is a mess.  It’s a mess because here is the part where the betrayal gets revealed.  Kas needs to part the PCs from the Rod of Seven Parts.  Then he is going to fuck off with it.  There is no one way to guarantee that happens.  I got vibes of one of the last 2e adventures here, The Apocalypse Stone.  In that adventure, the PCs grab a stone that is basically holding the Multiverse together at the behest of the adventure’s villain.  Then it comes time to hand it over.  This is the passage from the text.

“You are to be congratulated. So few have come so far! Truly you are every inch as worthy as I foresaw. Now earn your just reward and deliver unto me the token of your valor.” So saying, he holds out an armored hand, palm up.

In the same way that asking probing, legally relevant questions makes people who are hiding crimes uncomfortable of your intentions and undercover informant status, an NPC asking the PCs for a magic item is going to raise their hackles.  The Wizards Three, Kas in Mordenkainen’s guise, Alustriel, and Tasha, have done precisely nothing so far in this campaign.  Him coming back into the adventure now asking the PCs for something is going to stand out.  The adventure gives you a few ways to market it.  But again, you only have one shot at this.  If you ask the PCs twice, the jig is up and they will know the DM intends treachery.  I would probably suggest something to the effect that the wizards need to attune to the rod to locate Vecna.  The text suggests that Alustrel sends them on an errand, her wife is missing.

Pro-tip, in a videogame if you’re at the midgame or end and you get a quest that is beneath you or too simple, you know you’re about to get fucked.  Recall Red Dead Redemption when you start doing the same shit you did at the start.  Or Grand Theft Auto 3 when after you blow up a drug shipment you get one last job, take a car to the crushers.  You’re being fucked.  But in a videogame there’s typically just one way forward and the story has to continue.  TTRPG players are rarely that cooperative.

I honestly did not remember what reason the PCs were given to find the Rod pieces.  That seems bad.  That’s bad right?  Looking back, Kas doesn’t actually give a reason, he just says “the Rod is the only effective weapon against Vecna.”  The Details Are Not Important.

I do not know how you’re supposed to run this if Alustriel and Tasha are present if and when Kas has to take the Rod of Seven Parts by force.  I don’t there is any conceivable way Kas could fight off two wizards much less two wizards and The PCs.  I guess I have to give the adventure some credit, if this were real, getting the rod in hand was always going to be the diciest part of Kas’s mission.  The point is, this is the part of the adventure where Kas reveals himself and tries to acquire the rod.  He either does or doesn’t.  If he doesn’t he goes down swinging, if he gets the rod he either escapes or goes down swinging.

One line here caught my eye.  “Alustriel and Tasha are likely injured in the fight with Kas and therefore disinclined to join the characters in their pursuit of Vecna.”  Motherfucker.  All worlds are ending.  I get that you are wizards, you spent at least one spell slot, you want to take a nap.  I get it.  World’s ending guys.  Get your fuckin’ asses in the portal.  The lack of help you get from these three in this campaign is something.  At least Kas is supposed to be working against your interests in this chapter.  The council of waterdeep is a bunch of arguing bureaucrats, the expectations for them were in the gutter.  These Wizards could really contribute more.

Somehow Alustriel and Tasha know Kas’s plan is to free a demon god?  I guess they can see where The Portal is going and also Kas had to gloat on the way out.  This reminds me of Storm King’s Thunder where the adventure hinges on the PCs finding a casino chip that leads to the Storm Giant King.  The “Really Fucking Obvious Go Here From The Villain” is an old DM trick to keep the story going.  But if you’re using it to ensure the final act of your adventure happens, you might’ve fucked up.

Also I think I’m ready to start a conspiracy theory about casinos in D&D adventures.  I’m not sure what but between Storm King and Avernus they’re harbingers of subpar writing.

Anyways, the portal leads to Pandemonium, the Outer Plane between the Chaotic Neutral Limbo and the Chaotic Evil Abyss.  Apparently the actual 2e history of the Rod of Seven Parts is that it frees a demon lord named Miska The Wolf-Spider.  So hopefully none of your players are old school enough to remember that.  The chapter leads to some pointless demon fights and then it’s over.  Uhhh okay?  It feels like the chapter felt guilty to end so soon.  Like they already played Freebird and then the encore is two songs no one gives a rat’s ass about.

Chapter 10 picks up immediately after Chapter 9 on this layer of Pandemonium.  Our 19th Level PCs walk right into a battlefield.  Lolth is apparently siding with Vecna and fighting against…Kas’s army?  I guess Kas and his buddy Miska had an army standing by?  Could…anyone in this army have been looking for the Rod of Seven Parts instead of hiring the PCs to do this?  I mean from that perspective, Kas is a CR 23 Vampire, he could’ve one manned this campaign.  Ah fuck it.

The adventure here is to choose between three options to stop Kas from freeing this Miska character.  According to the adventure, Vecna is no match for the two of them.  This section also does something that WotC adventures keep doing and drives me crazy, which is to give us abstract regional maps where we are expressly told “this isn’t to scale, the distance is whatever you want.”  A to-scale map would be a lot of work.  Detailed illustrations of the areas would be a lot of work.  These abstract maps for Avernus or Ythryn just annoy the hell out of me.  They’re less than useless.

There’s a fight with some kind of spider person that doesn’t seem to be meaningful.  While I appreciate the writers giving us high level content, y’all, we don’t do random encounters at high level.  No one wants to take all that time.  The PCs also meet some Drow stealing loot?  She’s a Mage.  Just a regular old CR 7 Mage.  On Pandemonium.  In the middle of a fight between two gods.

No time for subplots here at the end of all things.  There are three short dungeons.  The party has to stop Miska and then Kas.  Or Just Kas directly.  Or Lolth’s general for some reason.  A reason why the PCs would go after Miska is to recover the Rod of Seven Parts.  The adventure suggests using the Chime of Exile on Kas when he’s got less than 50 HP…or you could just kill him?  Killing Kas also gives the PCs a psychic vision of Vecna’s location; he’s on Pandemonium too.  Convenient!

Look this chapter’s a fucking mess.  The point of this in the story is for a showdown with Kas, if you haven’t had one yet.  If you have then there’s no point to this at all.  Which tells me there’s a simpler way to tell this story.  The Rod of Seven Parts is only in the story to get to Miska, and we don’t really need Miska, or the Rod.  The entire adventure is just fucking around to get the PCs high level enough to take on Vecna.  It’s competent fucking around but we are just fucking around.  I think it’s important to acknowledge that.

In our final chapter, we fight Vecna.  The cave he’s doing his ritual in is like, six minutes from wherever the PCs were in the last chapter.  It’s a little weird to have this titanic battle between Miska and Lolth outside while Vecna is in a bunker and doesn’t really know or care about anything that’s happened so far?  

The PCs can go back to Sigil but why would they?  Alustriel and Tasha offer help.  Not like “follow you into battle” help.  More like, we magically figured out some information kind of help.  They have figured out that stopping Vecna involves destroying three demiplanes he’s created.  The PCs are the only ones who can get in because they were warped by Vecna in the first chapter.  That really just seems like a reason Alustriel and Tasha can’t help in combat.  And how did they figure this out after knowing dick the entire campaign?  

Whatever, The Details Are Not Important.  Get in there, use magic bullshit to stop the evil ritual and then kick Vecna’s ass.  I almost wanna play this campaign with a sort of Grog Strongjaw type PC who is just blissfully unaware of the details because there are no details.  You’re supposed to expend a charge of the Rod of Seven Parts or a high level spell slot on an object to collapse Vecna’s demiplanes

So the adventure here is that the PCs descend into these demiplanes.  These are alternate realities where something is untrue and it’s all illusion held together by a meaningful object.  First up, Kas the Betrayer’s demiplane.  There’s a death knight here to fight because this is a 20th level adventure goddamn it.  The goal here is to do magic bullshit to the sword of Kas here.  That was easy!

Then there’s a Neverwinter demiplane.  This plane is built around the secret that Lord Neverember is not the hereditary ruler of Neverwinter, it was always bullshit.  In this demiplane, he is the rightful king!  Neverember is a Death Knight because this is a 20th level adventure goddamn it.  Do magic bullshit to his crown and onward we go.

Demiplane number 3 is the astral sea.  The PCs need to recover a feather from a dead god.  Wait a minute, why is there a secret in the Neverwinter demiplane but no secret in the Kas Demiplane or this dead god demiplane?  It seems like that Neverwinter plane is just there to kick sand at Lord Dagult Neverember.  Boy after the 4e Campaign Setting Lord Neverember has taken a goddamn beating.  Fired from Waterdeep in Tyranny of Dragons, embezzler in Dragon Heist, now finally kicked to the curb with a canon statement that no he was never the hereditary ruler. You know unless he is in your FR ; ) .

Destroying these demiplanes destroys three crystals that I guess were blocking the way to Vecna.  The players get a bonus here tied to how many secrets they are still holding onto in this adventure.  I’m not crazy how gamified this secrets mechanic is.  I’ll get to that later because we’re in the endgame now.  There’s a map of the area here with a sideview and the sideview really establishes how kind of unimpressive Vecna’s setup here is.  Vox Machina had Vecna marching on the oldest city in the world, the cradle of the gods, in his own city that stood atop a marching Earth Titan.  Eve of Ruin’s Vecna is hiding in a spider hole like he’s fucking Saddam Hussein.

So into Vecna’s Cave we go.  There are two death knights guarding the way because (say it with me) this is a 20th level adventure goddamn it.  Boy, Pit Fiends and Death Knights come cheap.  There’s a tactical element that the PCs need to use portals to get around this final room and Vecna can just go wherever he wants.  It reminds me of the Saffron City Pokemon Gym.  And then you kick the Ass of Vecna.  The Rod of Seven Parts deals +10d6 damage if you hit Vecna with it.  The Chime of Exile can send Vecna back to Greyhawk, back to Oerth.  So fuck Greyhawk I guess?  I hope you don’t have any PCs from there or they’ll be mighty pissed.  Twitter is saying Greyhawk is getting more stuff published for it in the next edition.  If PCs there have to contend with more Vecna they’re gonna be cursing your PCs names.  Which assholes sent this guy here?  Doesn’t he have his own prison in Ravenloft?  Why doesn’t it send Vecna to the Domain of Cavitius?

After you kick the Ass of Vecna you win!

And that’s it.

Alustriel and Tasha plan a celebration.  A magnificent one!  But the ending is literally, You Win, The End.  This literally the TV Trope, A Winner Is You.  To quote that website, “”One paragraph? This game’s ending is one paragraph? I played through this whole fucking game for ONE PARAGRAPH!?”  I guess technically this is three paragraphs with five sentences.  This feels like a real kick in the junk.  No one could be bothered to write more?  You’ve completed your level 20 mission, you fought gods, now get the fuck out.  The Simpsons Quote I put earlier really is the best summary.

This is a tough adventure to like.  But at the same time I feel pretty confident in saying I liked it more than any non-anthology since Curse of Strahd.  Don’t get me wrong, I had a ton of fun in Tomb of Annihilation.  But reading it, I wasn’t a fan of the From Dusk Till Dawn level plot switch from hex crawls to death trap and the Tomb was too goddamn long.  Dragon Heist, look it’s low level.  And I never warmed to Waterdeep itself or the jackbooted thugs on the city watch constantly present telling you not to be adventurers.  I’m sure Witchlight was great but it was low level and the marketing used the word whimsy approximately 843 times.

I think this is an okay adventure.  Is it reasonable to say $60 is, in terms of hours played, a fantastic bargain for a D&D campaign but also more than I’m willing and able to pay for a book?  Eve of Ruin, you’re a all right, but there are like six things ahead of you in line.  You did nothing disqualifying but I’m still going to wait.  If it’s any consolation I expect to buy Eve of Ruin long before I buy 5.5 books.

I think my final thought on Vecna: Eve of Ruin is being stunned by how small and unambitious it feels.  After years of more experimental campaigns with serious deficiencies this feels like too far a step back.  The majority of this adventure is dungeon crawls.  When it sticks to those, it shines.  Spooning nostalgia over those like Chapter 5 does in Barovia is a winning ticket.

When I am prepping a game I struggle the most with meat and potatoes encounters.  How many of them, how are they spaced out, how challenging should they be.  Eve of Ruin is more valuable to me personally because it does that part of adventure design really well.  A book doing that heavy lifting has value to me.

The criticism of the adventure really lands hard on the overall story.  People’s reaction to the big twist, that you’re working for Kas most of the adventure ranges from “I can just change this” to “this ruins the book don’t buy it.”  I’m more on the “I can just change this” side of the spectrum.

The lack of ambition really feels like the best possible expression of how I feel here.  This is not an epic showdown, this is three NPCs hiring you to go on some vanilla crawls and find some treasure.  Then at the end you fight a lich.  We are in basic bitch D&D territory here and I kind of expected something more.  It’s a competent adventure.  It’s a solid B.  But there have to be five other year long campaigns I’d run before this one.

I would really recommend you buy Fall of Vecna instead if you want to run a Vecna adventure.  It feels cool to get the feather in the cap for running a big canon tentpole villain of D&D lore.  The Doomed Forgotten Realms adventures, Rise of Vecna and Fall of Vecna, on DM’s Guild, are objectively better values for your money.

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