Review Dungeons of Drakkenheim - 3rd Party Review

Sparky McDibben

Yeah, I know I said I was going to start tomorrow evening but I'm bored now, guys, so SUCK IT UP.

I skipped out on Dungeons of Drakkenheim during its Kickstarter because I had already backed Weird Wastelands and frankly I didn't have room in my wallet for both. Joke's on me, 'cuz Drakkenheim published something like May 2022 - a full year before Weird Wastelands did. This is why I don't go anywhere near racetracks. Published in partnership with Ghostfire Games, written by Monty Martin and Kelly McLaughlin of the popular Dungeon Dudes YouTube channel, Drakkenheim describes itself as a "nonlinear adventure that combines urban exploration and faction conflict, bound together by the personal quests of the player characters."

It mostly delivers on that premise, which is shocking in and of itself. (Well, shocking if you've only read WotC adventures and listened to narrative designers, anyway).

I would describe Drakkenheim as a toolkit for running a ruined city as a megadungeon. The text presents several rough areas of the city, then presents several locations within those areas, fully statted, keyed, and put together with interesting NPCs and non-combat goals. We'll get into how they accomplish this later, but it's mostly good design choices and some decent common sense.

Overall, art is grade A - evocative, interesting, and cool. Layout is....well, look, my bar for layout is Mothership's "A Pound of Flesh" adventure. That's an A+. This comes in a C on that scale, which puts it in-line with WotC products. Still got some good ol' Ghostfire spelling and grammar issues, but their prevalence is decreased from the Grim Hollow Campaign Guide. They shouldn't pose a problem to you reading and understanding the text.

One other point is that if you ever get lost, there's a large community around this product, with a Drakkenheim Discord server, the Dungeon Dudes Patreon, and a full playlist on their channel with more than 2 hours of advice on running the game. I'm not going to be factoring any of that into my analysis, but I figured it might come in handy to know if you by this product.

So let's get this thing started properly! I picked up the PDF of Drakkenheim for $24.99 USD, which comes out to about ten cents per page (260 pages). There are full city maps inside the PDF, but they have a two-page spread, making them hard to read (all of the location cartography is fine, though, and never overflows the page). I would recommend picking up the Maps PDF if you're buying the PDF, though, strictly for the City PDF to put in front of your players.

The book opens with an introduction that covers a little more than you'd expect, including a content warning, a note that the original streamed Drakkenheim campaign is considered non-canonical (thus empowering the DM), thumbnail sketches of the five major factions, some key rules changes, and a list of personal quests that players can be inspired by. Put together in four pages, that's a lot, and it signals the density of the information the authors relay in the coming chapters. Good job!

The next chapter is titled Running the Campaign. It's a fairly chonky 11 pages long, and begins with a rough progression of "Here's how we expect this to go," detailing heroes going from scrounging delirium on the outskirts to reclaiming Drakkenheim itself with the aid of one or more factions.

Alright, quick detour: Drakkenheim is a former royal seat for this big country. It got hit by a meteor that carried raw delerium (crystallized magic). The meteor turned Drakkenheim into a hellscape in a very short time, with aerosolized delerium (the "Haze") mutating or killing all the inhabitants. So now it's like The Walking Dead meets Mountains of Madness but all in D&D. Brutal. Anyway, the delirium stuff is hella valuable to magic types, but because it's basically magical uranium, it needs careful handling. So you have high risk (mutation, insanity, death, etc.) and high reward (a ton of cash). So this whole city is covered in this Haze, and it's full of monsters and loot - see why I called it a megadungeon?

Fun rules quirks: You can't long rest inside the Haze (except in a couple of narrow exceptions), can't teleport or scry into the city from outside the Haze (although teleports and divinations work just fine inside it). Rope trick, tiny hut, et alia don't work inside the Haze, either.

Bill And Ted 80S GIF by IFC

I normally don't like taking away player choices (and to me, when to try for a long rest is a crucial decision point), but I'm less irritated by this one because 1) it's grounded in the narrative, as are most of the exceptions, 2) it's aimed at facilitating a specific style of play (the delve), and 3) player choices can mitigate or outright circumvent the worst effects of the Haze. I'll call it a net-neutral change.

The chapter then details the old royal family (the fates of which are significant mysteries, and several of the player quests hinge on discovering them), how to run personal quests and advice on weaving them into the material presented (minimizing the DMs workload, which is good), advice on how to run factions, faction conflicts, and potential resolutions, and then on creating rival adventuring parties. These are all great, frankly.

So far, we're two chapters in, and we're already seeing some very promising signs:
  • Irreconcilable differences between factions motivating conflicts the PC's can't avoid​
  • A clear creative vision that takes two classic stories, remixes them into an old structure, and presents something very new​
  • Solid mechanical direction that removes elements in base 5E that could undermine that vision​
I don't want to get my hopes too far up, but that Ennie could look quite deserved.

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Are you familiar with GW's old Mordheim skirmish game? The ad for this struck me as very much a copy/paste of that lore/setup, and I'm curious if it hits many of the same points.
It is VERY much a spiritual continuation of Mordheim and strongly mimics that game at many points. If you love Mordheim you will probably like Drakkenheim too.

It's also got good execution. So even if they are repeating the same notes as Mordheim, they do a good job making it their own and adding layers of plot and mystery for you to roleplay in. It's a very solid product, while still being very Mordheim.

Sparky McDibben

Are you familiar with GW's old Mordheim skirmish game? The ad for this struck me as very much a copy/paste of that lore/setup, and I'm curious if it hits many of the same points.
It felt less like a copy/paste and more like the designers took an interesting premise and then ran with it. Like, yes, there are five factions battling for delerium in a city lost due to a meteor, but they've added in so much to that base that it feels like a significant departure from the original work.

New review, woohoo! A dark fantasy adventure, just in time for October!
Ask and ye shall receive, friend!

Alright, folks! Now we're into Chapter 3: Factions!

There are five base factions in Drakkenheim:
  • Hooded Lanterns - A royal corps of soldiers and rangers seeking to retake the city of Drakkenheim
  • Queen's Men - A loose confederation of bandit gangs and thieves' syndicates operating under the direction of the Queen of Thieves
  • Followers of the Falling Fire - A straight-up cult that uses delerium in their religious rituals
  • Knights of the Silver Order - A group of paladins and clerics with a nasty track record of mage-hunting
  • The Amethyst Academy - Mages who want to keep mining delerium because it can be used in all manner of magical whatsits


"Stop! I am arresting you for sartorial crimes too varied to be easily described!"

These factions are arranged in the classic five-pointed star, with each faction being opposed by at least two others. To further complicate things, each faction has at least two goals, relating to control of Drakkenheim and delerium, as well as others that may relate to things further inside the Haze.

Each faction has at least two major NPCs and a host of minor NPCs that you can use in play, along with a detailed faction history, along with about two dozen potential missions that the faction can send the PCs on. These are often pointing at adventure sites inside Drakkenheim, which we'll get to later, but they're a good way to direct your players to already-prepped content.

Finally, we have Boons, which is what they can do for the PCs, and Strike Teams, which detail what a typical faction agent group might look like. And then after that we get Schemes, which are what the faction might do to the PCs as the PCs piss them off. Snub the Amethyst Academy and they'll put you under magical surveillance. Then they'll start funding rival adventuring teams. And if you really irritate them, they'll sic an invisible stalker on you (which will strike at the worst possible time).

And you get all of this for all five factions. Moreover, the factions aren't just introduced upfront and then left aside, they're present in every adventuring site, every major campaign action, every delve. Literally anything the players do will put them between at least two, and sometimes up to five, factions. All of these factions have irreconcilable goals, outsized personalities, and major problems with each other.

This is some of the best faction design I've seen outside the OSR - it gets a little bloated at times, but it feels like the writers are trying to err on the side of giving you more than you need. Well done.

After that, we get chapter 4: Emberwood Village. Emberwood is basically a gold-rush town. It used to be a farming village, but when the meteor fell, the land got contaminated. Nothing will grow there now, but because the town's outside the Haze, it's a suitable home base for the PCs. It's also the only village for a week's travel in any direction from Drakkenheim.

Because Emberwood Village relies entirely on trade (they can't grow their own food), everything here is pricy as hell. Think Tokyo prices. Food costs five times as much as normal, water is priced like alcohol (because it's more precious than booze), and any weapons or armor cost twice as much. Need something exotic? It costs five times as much and takes 6d6 days to come in (because they have to special order it). Anything you're selling is worth half the listed price.

Delerium is also worth half the listed price, but can only be traded to three key NPCs in town. These three NPCs have stats, and are a nasty surprise for the PCs if they try violence instead of reasoned discourse. For example, one of them is a gladiator with a dozen veterans for security, plus magic locks and glyphs on his gear. Another is a djinn with two gorgons to pull his cart.


One theme that runs through this chapter is that these folks are canny survivors. No discounts unless you earn them. No deals, no freebies, and if you piss them off, they'll just stop trading with you. There's no game, no way to live off the land, and no way for the players to make what they need to survive, so if the PCs get cut off by enough merchants in town, they're effectively done.

That might be worth calling out or highlighting if your players get heated with the bartender who's stubbornly refusing to discount their drinks. Personally, I kind of like this approach of having NPCs refusing to be walked over, but it comes with some risks.

Also in Emberwood Village, you can find a lieutenant from each faction. If the PCs seek them out, they're skeptical, and ask the PCs to prove they can survive in the ruins before they talk business.

Overall, this is a good starting town. Plenty to highlight desperate folk on the edge of survival, and plenty for the PCs to mess with.

One thing I would have loved to see is a carousing table for the town. I tend to find in megadungeon campaigns that what happens in town is what tends to develop or drive adventure, and everything here points right back toward the city. That can get a little dull, and having a carousing table to both burn your PCs money and introduce them to more activities is always a good thing.

Good work, solid execution. Not perfect, but leagues ahead of their 5E competitors. Well done!

Join us next time, friends, when we dive into Chapter 5: Exploring Drakkenheim!

Sparky McDibben

Alright, friends, it never rains but pours. And since tomorrow looks like it's gonna suck, I wanted to make sure to do my second update now!

So let's dig into Chapter 5: Exploring Drakkenheim.

As an aside, I friggin' love RPG structures. I think they are some of the coolest things I never hear discussed, so seeing one get its own chapter in an RPG is awesome to me.

This chapter governs the basic block-and-tackle procedures for actually moving around Drakkenheim. It opens with some text covering the rough neighborhoods of Drakkenheim (Outer City, Inner City, and Castle Drakken, further divided into the North and South Wards by the river). The line separating the Outer City from the Inner are the city walls, pierced by five gates (all under the control of people who may not like the PCs very much). The Outer City is generally less dangerous than the Inner City, which contains the meteor's crater.

At this point we start talking about the Haze, the eldritch contamination that covers the city. This is the stuff that stops anyone inside from taking a long rest. Stay here longer than 24 hours, and you risk contamination yourself (covered in Chapter C). Contamination is a new mechanic that works similar to a parallel exhaustion track, accruing penalties until you mutate into a grotesque and hideous monster and roll up a new character. Certain spells and magic items can mitigate or remove contamination, but will either cost the PCs or drive them to go further in to Drakkenheim to find them. This effect, plus the impact on certain exploration spells like rope trick and tiny hut, handles the "you're on a timer" part of a delve. It's good worldbuilding that directly reinforces the themes and mechanics of the game. Well done.

When it comes to actually moving through the streets and travel times, the authors have you covered. You measure the straight-line distance between their origin on the city map and their goal. Don't worry about checking for each turn and twist in the road; Messrs Martin and McLaughlin already baked the "squiggly" nature of city travel into the travel times. Anyway, once you have the straightline distance, you just ask the PCs how fast they're going (fast, normal, or slow). There is some weirdness in the travel times, though.

Fast covers 1 mph, but they can't use Stealth, have disadvantage to Perception, and are more likely to have random encounters. A slow pace covers only 1/4 mph, but you can use Stealth and make Perception checks normally. And a moderate pace covers 1/2 mph, you can't use Stealth, but you get advantage on Perception and Investigation checks. I'm not sure why you get advantage on Perception at moderate speed but not at slow speed - that one's a curiousity.

When your PCs are actively searching for something (ie, not traveling), you basically run an extended skill challenge; on 3+ successes, they find the thing. On 2+ failures, they have a random encounter. Note that you can have both happen at the same time with a large enough party. Personally I'm not a fan of skill challenges, but my preferred way of handling this is a little bit harder to improvise. They needed something anyone could run, so I'm glad they didn't get fancy here. After this, we get modifications to this core structure for finding delerium, sanctuary, and provisions in the ruined city.

We also get this lovely tidbit:


I have no notes

After this, we get their random encounter check, which is basically have each player roll a die each hour spent moving around (d6 if you're feeling froggy, up to a d20). A 1 is a random encounter, where the highest number is a good discovery. They have delightful tables (zoned by region) for all of these, including the good discoveries. Thank you for making my life easier, you beautiful schmucks.

After this, we get a short scenario about going into the city to find some delerium. This is brief (4 pages), and lets you try out the preceding structures with minimal risk to your PCs. I really like this, and I think having a whole session devoted to mastering the basics lets players plan better knowing when a random encounter is going to be rolled.

One thing I was surprised not to see was encumbrance. Generally encumbrance, light sources, and random encounters are considered the holy trinity for effective dungeons. Light sources act as a timer (replaced by the Haze in this setting), random encounters keep the party constantly moving, and encumbrance prevents them from stripping everything for parts and carting it back out. Odd that it wasn't included here.

After that, we get into Chapter 6: Outside the Walls!

This is one of the meatiest chapters in the book (about 38 pages, detailing 9 locations, most of which are dedicated to adventuring in), and it contains largely the value-prop of the book: adventure sites.

I'm not going to run down each site in detail, but here are some highlights:
  • An inn caught in a time loop, destined to relive the last hours before meteor wiped out Drakkenheim (B+)​
  • Fight Club as run by the criminally insane (B)​
  • A fun puzzle-dungeon that has serious Zelda-cred (Chapel of St. Brenna) (A-)​
  • An old tavern overrun by Skaven ratlings (B+)​
  • A manor-house taken over by a creepy mage and his apprentices, studying the Haze (B)​
  • A bunch of dwarves who've set up a smithy to use delerium (C - not much interactivity)​
For each of these, you're getting a well-done map, key, hooks that you can use to point your players at the location, NPC writeups, and potential developments arising out of how your players interacted with the material. And as you can see by my handy-dandy grading system, we're looking at pretty solid B to B+ material here. Keep in mind that most stuff gets an F from me when you see that B. No grade inflation from ol' Sparky!!!

In all seriousness, these are solid dungeons. You can straight-up use the keys from some of these elsewhere, and I love something that can be stripped for parts. The material veers into wacky but without seeming stupid or arbitrary, and requires some genuine thought from PCs.

Overall, it's impressive. That Enny's looking pretty secure, y'all!

Next time, we'll delve into the Inner City in chapter 7: Inside the Walls of Drakkenheim!


Dungeons of Drakkenheim is one of my top 3 5e campaigns to run after I finish my current Curse of Strahd campaign. Perhaps not immediately (may switch to something smaller-scale or even another system), but everything from the adventure structure to the plot really speak to me in a way few other mega-adventures do.

I really feel that the five factions really add some staying power to the campaign. If Drakkenheim was just a creepy ruined city, more opportunistic PCs may only focus on looting and getting rich, and that brings the inevitable question of when the party gets enough wealth to comfortably retire. The factions add stakes beyond that: the Hooded Lanterns are motivated to restore their kingdom, the Falling Fire believe that delirium can be used to save souls (in a rather roundabout way), and the Amethyst Academy is keen on using delirium to pursue all manner of magical innovations. Sure, getting treasure is all fine and good, but it's another thing to be recognized as the Heroes Who Saved Westemar. Or having brought down the Great Evil threatening the world.

If I had the tiniest bit of complaint, it's the Queen's Men are more explicitly evil than the other options. They are very much a rogue/organized crime syndicate, but less like Robin Hood and more like Medieval Mafia and are very much the types of people who'd be bandits you mow down in most adventures. It may be a weird thing to laser in on, and I don't think having a "bad guy" faction is bad in and of itself, but it is a bit of a contrast in my opinion to the others, who even if motivated by altruistic reasons may either be operating off of bad or incomplete knowledge or their solution to Drakkenheim's cosmic horror problem is something that has inevitable setbacks.

Oh, and perhaps the expectation that with the various factions strongly tied towards certain character concepts may give players the feeling that joining the faction should be a no-brainer. "Of course I want to throw in with the Amethyst Academy, I'm a wizard!"

Sparky McDibben

I really feel that the five factions really add some staying power to the campaign. If Drakkenheim was just a creepy ruined city, more opportunistic PCs may only focus on looting and getting rich, and that brings the inevitable question of when the party gets enough wealth to comfortably retire. The factions add stakes beyond that: the Hooded Lanterns are motivated to restore their kingdom, the Falling Fire believe that delirium can be used to save souls (in a rather roundabout way), and the Amethyst Academy is keen on using delirium to pursue all manner of magical innovations. Sure, getting treasure is all fine and good, but it's another thing to be recognized as the Heroes Who Saved Westemar. Or having brought down the Great Evil threatening the world.

They go a long way toward fulfilling the "non-linear" part of their goal with the factions, in my opinion. Want to run an evil campaign? Boy, have we got a faction you're gonna love!

And now, let's get into Chapter 7: Inside the Walls of Drakkenheim! This section is a chonky 42 pages, mostly covered with adventure locations. The inner city is separated by the Walls of Drakkenheim, guarded by maniac gargoyles, stone dragons that come to life, and a variety of other monsters. Getting in is a challenge!

In terms of the adventure locations here, I also don't want to spoil anything for you, so I'm going to give you the thumbnail sketches:
  • A clocktower guarded by an insane harpy queen and her brood (let's you long rest above the Haze because it's so tall; B+)
  • The Crater, where the actual meteor landed (A - this one has some real interesting twists and turns!)
  • A noble estate run by an insane mage who's studying the mutagenic properties of the Haze (B+ - also some good twists!)
  • An aboleth lair that does a good job of gaslighting the players into thinking it's not an aboleth lair (B+)
  • The city park, where you can battle lawn gnomes and find out what happened to the queen (A, bonus points for the gnomes)
  • A theatre taken over by (twist!) a sane mage seeking to study the mutagenic properties of the Haze (B)
  • Saint Vitruvio's Cathedral, which has a Dark Souls-style light puzzle in it (A)
  • Slaughterstone Square, where the Executioner puts the "laughter" back in "Slaughter"! (C - this is a deathtrap, but telegraphed)
The art remains consistently top-notch throughout:

"Go to Drakkenheim," they said. "It'll be fun," they said.

And again, the quality of the content gets better the further into the city your players go. Solid B+/A- work on these.

Chapter Eight is all about the Faction Strongholds. These can vary wildly, from two or three page spreads on "What's at the Silver Order HQ, anyway?" to a full-on delve into the Inscrutable Tower for the Amethyst Academy. The effort put into them is a little variable as well. There's one section of the Falling Fire HQ that's just like, "Here's 55 cultists, how do you deal with them?" I like the ability of the writers to create large problems for my players, but my mind shudders at trying to run that as a combat encounter. OOF.

However, all of these are good detail for when the PCs need to wipe out a faction. Taking out their base is a good challenge to set mid- to high-level characters, along with factional support. Personally, I like that the writers are OK with this. Shows they aren't too precious with their toys!

Alright friends, next time, we're getting into Chapter Nine: Castle Drakken!

Sparky McDibben

No need to worry about little ol' me, I already read the entire thing!
Hahaha! A solid point, but I hesitate to show too much on here in regards to the book's major value prop, which are the adventure sites. Besides, I think a quick overview of the general themes showcases the diversity of options when it comes to Drakkenheim content. You're not just doing the same thing over and over again - even the stuff that feels familiar gets a weird twist.

Alright folks, let's go ahead and hit up Chapters 9 and 10 tonight, covering both Castle Drakken and the Fate of Drakkenheim!

Castle Drakken is a dungeon that's 14 pages long. The castle map is, interestingly, non-isometric and just lays out the first floor, with other sections getting their own sub-maps. Keeping track of the PCs' location will be a bit of a pain as we bounce from sub-map to sub-map, but there's a lot here.

How much? This much:



Demonic sacrifices, interdimensional soul-sargasso, trapped civil servants, ghost balls (like the dance, not the other kind, you weirdo), and a genuine mother-****ing escape slide. This dungeon has a lot going on in it, and the verbiage gets real verbose handling it. This is definitely a case when giving the DM enough tools to realize your vision actually results in way more work.

I personally would have preferred a sparser, more evocative style, but there's enough here that I don't want to knock them that much. Solid B material. Great ideas, imperfect but earnest execution. You know what, we're going to B+. Screw it, I can be nice.

The final chapter, chapter 10, covers potential epilogues for Drakkenheim as your PCs finish it off. Basically it's a collection of brief essays listing out, "Oh, you did that thing? Here's a few ways it could pan out!" The ideas are good, non-obvious (well, some of them are obvious and some aren't, but I'm glad they put in the effort to dig deeper), and well-presented. This is a good idea and one that WotC products frequently shy away from. Personally, I appreciate the support, but cleaner layout would have helped here.

After chapter 10, we get into the appendices (A - F). Appendix A are all the new monsters; while several are reskins, there are 17 new monsters introduced, with several being key NPCs. There's a real divide between monsters at CR 1/2 - CR 6, and then several monsters at CR 13+ (bosses).

I don't really engage with monster design from a mechanical standpoint, but from a conceptual perspective, these are really interesting. We've got a harpy queen, the aforementioned soul-sargasso, a massive gnoll warlord, and a CE flower. Yes, a flower. I'm not even making that up, y'all. Interesting, evocative, and belonging to the setting. Damn good work; I can steal a bunch of these.

Appendix B is all about faction leaders, all of whom are CR 15, and all of whom are shagnasty. The head of the paladins, the Silver Order, wields a holy avenger, has a legendary action guiding bolt that doesn't use a spell slot, and hits like a truck, dealing on average 30 hp per attack. The static damage math is a little wonky, so if you use that, just check the math works before running it.

Appendix C is
happy cookie monster GIF by Giffffr

for contamination. Hate to spoil the surprise there for ol' Cookie. But yeah, it's all about contamination, and how you can gain or lose it. It's basically a parallel exhaustion track, with PC's gaining exhaustion for staying in the Haze too long, getting hit by certain monsters' attacks, or drinking contaminated water sources. I really like this, and I like that it can straight-up destroy your characters if they try to ignore it too long.

Appendix D goes into delerium, new spells, and magic items. This appendix provides a handy reference for what delerium's worth on the open market, how you harvest it, what the dangers of it are, etc. Then we get 13 new spells, mostly dealing with contamination, mutation, or the Haze (and therefore all appropriate to Drakkenheim), and 26 new magic items, including everything from expendable items to full-on artifacts that grant three wishes. I can't really judge these mechanically; they seem pretty good for Drakkenheim, which makes them either useless in other campaigns that don't use the Haze, or quite overpowered in less-grim circumstances. Personally, I'd reserve everything here for use in an actual Drakkenheim campaign.

Appendix E goes over the broader world of Drakkenheim, including a timeline, three rival kingdoms, and some local flavor. Useful but not amazing.

Finally, Appendix F goes into backgrounds. There are several new backgrounds that tie directly into Drakkenheim's basic premise, and they are incredibly useful! I strongly recommend using these with your players if you run this campaign, as I could see these being a real weight off the DM's shoulders.

Alright folks, now the final question: Should you buy it?

Buy if you're interested in running a well-done dark fantasy campaign, or if the specific blend of Lovecraft and Howard they're evoking speaks to you. You should also buy it if you're interesting in non-linear campaign design, or if you're a fan of really good third party products.

Hold if you're interested in running a megadungeon, and don't forget to buy the Maps.

Skip if you're not interested in running a dungeoncrawl, or if you're not interested in high-stakes exploration.

Personally, I'm really glad I bought this! It's damn good material from folks who clearly care a lot about providing fun material. God knows we need more of that!

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