5E Princes of the Apocalypse

Jester David

Adventurer
3 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

Review: Princes of the Apocalypse

The second storyline (read: Adventure Path) for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is called Elemental Evil, which focuses on the cults of several elemental princes and their efforts to take over the Forgotten Realms and further the will of Elder Elemental Eye. The major details of the adventure take place in the recently released super-adventure Princes of the Apocalypse.

What Is It

Princes of the Apocalypse is a 256-page hardcover book that encompasses all the relevant story for the Elemental Evil arc (excluding whatever is happening in the Neverwinter MMO or D&D Expeditions adventures, which are ostensibly related, but only in name and theme).
Of the 245-page book, 76 pages cover the actual adventure, which takes player characters from level 3 to level 13, a full 11 levels of play. There are also 22 pages describing the region where the adventure is set, with a good dozen pages on the town of Red Larch. There's also 33 pages of magic items, along with a small section for players with the genasi race and spells. Curiously, after the main adventure there is a chapter of other mini-adventures that can take a character from level 1 to level 3 along with some sidequests to tuck between events in the main story.

The Good

Princes of the Apocalypse sets itself apart as a sandbox adventure, which is very different from Tyranny of Dragons and thus a nice change of pace from recent plot-heavy WotC adventures. The adventure provides a lot of hooks to quickly get players involved in the story and directed towards Red Larch; lots of clues to follow are important in a self-directed story. Sandboxes live or die based on adequate motivations. And there are several NPCs in Red Larch that can further motivate PCs to get involved in local affairs or reiterate hooks.
The starting town of Red Larch is very useful as a detailed starting town for many campaigns, although it is predominantly human (I counted two half-orcs, a half-elf, and a halfling). If you need a town and don't have time (or the creativity) to make one yourself, Red Larch can serve that purpose and comes complete with maps and inhabitants. There is a nice gender mix of male and female NPCs, with not all the women fit into traditional (read: stereotypical) feminine roles in the town.
The location of the adventure was well chosen. It's set near the famous cities of Neverwinter and Waterdeep, situating events close to familiar territory. And it's easier to incorporate characters who started near those locations - such as PCs who were involved in Lost Mine of Phandelver from the D&D Starter Set. The region hasn't seen much prior attention or been the location for previous adventures, despite having been on the maps since the early days of the Forgotten Realms. It was loosely described in several earlier products during 2nd Edition, and many of those details are incorporated into this product. It builds on the past, which is nice. It also feels like the adventure could take place in the era prior to the Time of Troubles as easily as the post-Sundering timeframe.
The adventure itself is comprised of lots of several smallish dungeons with a few side encounters, making it an easy source of inspiration for homebrew adventures. There are essentially thirteen independent dungeons, each giving a single level of experience (more or less). Even if uninterested in the Elemental Evil storyline, the book is useful for a zero-prep water-themed crypt or magma cavern.
I like how each dungeon or encounter locale begins with a summary of the area's features, such as illumination, type of doors, height of ceilings, etc. This is very useful information to have singled out.
Most of the evil NPCs are given surprisingly lengthy roleplaying notes, even if they're likely to be killed on sight. Lots of the mook NPCs are given names and not all will fight to the death. These are nice additions because you never know who the players are going to talk to or try and interrogate or convince to change sides. And it's often nice to know how a villain will react in combat or how they will act while fighting.
The inclusion of the genasi race at the end of the book is also cool. While available in the free player PDF, it's nice to have a hard copy, and the genasi are a fairly iconic D&D race. Plus there are several genasi NPCs in this adventure, so having racial information here is useful.
Speaking of free PDFs, there is a support document for the adventure on the Wizards of the Coast website that contains all the monsters, spells, and magic items used in this adventure that were not included with the Basic rules. This allows you to run this adventure with only the Basic rules document, so the only purchase required to play this adventure is the adventure book itself. It's a nice, cheap way of getting into D&D and playing for many, many months.

The Bad

Princes of the Apocalypse is another cult adventure, just like Tyranny of Dragons. I imagine this is to allow the same threat to be present in multiple regions at the same time, to accommodate story overlap between the MMO and organized play. Even ignoring the "evil faith-based organization" aspect of the story, the motives of the cult are even identical: take over a region and open portals to bring their extraplanar master into the Forgotten Realms. This makes Elemental Evil feel samey and unoriginal. But if you didn't play Tyranny of Dragons this is easy to ignore.
While the adventure can be played with just the Basic rules, the associated free PDF not mentioned in the book. This is a very foolish oversight. This is a totally nitpicky complaint, but something WotC should be aware of for future adventures.
The adventure is short. Including the set-up, there's something like 100 pages of actual adventure. 160 if being generous and including the town and starter adventures. And the adventure barely covers 10 levels of play. With the additional side-quests and starter adventures, the adventure does run for 13 levels, but these are only tangentially related so it's not really fair to call them part of the adventure.
Despite the short length (or possibly because of it and the related unforgiving experience requirements) there are a lot of random filler encounters. Rooms that just contain a monster for reasons of there being a monster. This does allow a lot of the iconic creatures from the Monster Manual to make an appearance, but most don't really serve a purpose.
The text reads easily, as a monster's statblock are called out through bolded text. So when the book says ogre it's apparent that the DM should use the ogre statblock. This reads fairly inoffensively and naturally but does not make things easy to reference as no page number is given. Similarly, rooms are just described naturally with no game text to denote challenge or experience awarded. If you want to know if a room is Hard or Deadly you have to build the encounter yourself.
The adventure includes the five factions used for the Adventurer's League, which feel tacked-on. These are there for the fraction of people running the adventure for organized play and stand out as odd for anyone else, especially those running the adventure in six months or two years or a decade. It stretches credulity that all five factions are operating in a small frontier town of six hundred people that is in the middle of nowhere on the long road to more nowhere. I would have prefered less attention on the factions and a conversion document for organized play detailing the factions and assigning them to NPCs.
One of the big hooks is the "Mirabar delegation", a group of travellers that were heading south and passing through the valley. This whole hook is problematic. The distance between Mirabar and Red Larch is some 300+ miles, comparable to travelling between San Francisco and Los Angeles. This is a two-week journey pre-automobile. The delegation is missing and a month overdue, so the PCs are somewhat tasked with finding them. Except when someone is a month late following a two-week trip, you don't dispatch adventurers to rescue them, you send people out to find the bodies because they're almost certainly dead. This whole plotline is dragged out far, far too long. You rescue the final delegates in the last couple dungeon levels, ten levels after you started out trying to save them and potentially a month or two after the campaign started. Saving some travellers is a job for lower level adventures, not ones working to prevent an elemental prince forcing their way into the Realms. Saving all the delegates in the first chapter would have provided a nice mini-end (especially for people playing Organized Play) and groups could either have continued out of personal desires to save the world rather than the high level heroes still being tasked with rescuing people they've been trying to save since 3rd level. That said, beyond continuing to look for the delegates there are few solid hooks driving adventures into the lower tunnels. The players are really expected to care a heck of a lot about finding a couple missing people who haven't been seen for 90 days.
It's also very possible to find a lower temple before finishing the surface temples and for the party to wandering into a much higher level area. Such as 5th level characters wandering from Sacred Stone Monastery into the Temple of Black Earth or stumbling from the 6th level Temple of Howling Hatred to the 10th level Fane of the Eye. It's not incredibly obvious that they're "changing zones" and facing deadlier opponents. Let alone having to backtrack to progress in the story, or remembering the entrance to the Fane was in a tunnel you passed three dungeons ago.
For a dungeon crawl, the adventure is solely lacking in traps and puzzles. The only puzzle I recall standing out was in one of the side quests and was solved as much by Intelligence checks as player cunning.
The absence of online maps is irritating. This is most frustrating for regional maps, which are needed as player handouts in a sandbox adventure like this one. Wizards of the Coast has not provided art galleries for this adventure or Tyranny of Dragons. The maps are available from the artists' web stores here and here, but these become pricey quickly and it's easy to spend almost as much buying digital maps and the physical book.

The Ugly

Despite having a lengthy description of the town, I can't find a reference to the population of Red Larch. This is a frustrating omission. Thankfully, there's an article on the Forgotten Realms wiki puts the population at 600, but this is pre-Spellplague and thus two Realms Shaking Events out of date.
Princes of the Apocalypse ends with 5 pages of concept art, which feels like a waste of pages. Originally, this book was going to be paired with a second book, the Adventurer's Handbook, but this was cancelled; it's assumed some of the content of the latter book was moved into this PotA. I imagine these pages are literal filler to hit the proper page count necessary for printing.
Similarly, the pre-adventures are all kinds of awkward. They're positioned curiously in the book, being after the main adventure when many are set prior. Many would have been better if they were positioned between chapters or folded into the main plot. I suspect this content was a late addition, added to expand this book and make it more worth the $50 price tag or to insert material written for the Adventurer's League. Still, if the product was always to begin with higher level PCs, it would be easier to assume level 4-5 PCs and direct people to the Starter Set and Lost Mines of Phandelver for those levels, freeing up several pages for more relevant adventure material or monsters or the other PC races.
None of the NPCs is the book use personality traits (flaws, bonds, ideals, etc). Given the focus on roleplaying as "the third pillar" in this edition, it's problematic to ignore the keywords designed to accommodate and assist RPing. This is especially problematic with the wealth of NPCs in Red Larch, who often don't have a detailed personality.
Red Larch is flawed and incomplete. The book give everyone a one-sentence description but many have no motivation or aspirations being just "grumpy" or "idealistic". Far more time is spent on providing adventure hooks to the optional pre-adventure adventures than is spent on the townsfolk's personalities. This leaves Red Larch feeling a little flat and static: it's not a living town, it's a settlement that doesn't really exist when not being interacted with by the PCs. No one in Red Larch has a relationship with the other townsfolk. There are no love triangles, failed romances, rivalries, feuds, and the like. If the PCs bond with the local innkeeper - Kaylessa Irkell, the "fortyish matriarch of her family and a pleasant, sturdy woman" - they can't help her take over Mother Yalantha's Boarding House, or convince Nahaeliya Drouth to lower her prices for Irkell, or helping Irkell work up the courage to woo Feng Ironhead.
The earth cult were the group who captured the delegates, setting events in motion. The cult set them to work in their mines, despite the Cult of the Black Earth viewing "mines, quarries, and tilled fields as insults imposed upon the living rock", which seems akin to having a group of evil Rabbis kidnap people to work on a pig farm. There doesn't even seem to be a reason for the mine. No ore is referenced and the monastery is right atop the Temple of Black Earth so space isn't an issue. And the earth cult has a bond with burrowing creatures like ankhegs, bulette, and umber hulks. Why in the name of almighty Odin did they kidnap a dozen commoners?!
Which really leads to the biggest complaint: the plot of the adventure is ass. Really, there is no plot. There are characters running around doing things and stuff happens but there's no unfolding story. A drow named Vizeran DeVir - aka Sir Does Not Appear in this Adventure - created four elemental magic weapons. Then he just left them lying around and buggered off. Why? No idea. Where? No idea. The weapons call four elemental prophets who then come to the region and form elemental cults that proceed to cause problems with the weather, abduct people, and drawing all kinds of attention to themselves for no real benefit. There doesn't seem to be any reason for the prophets not to just keep quiet and open their portals to summon their elemental princes into the world. Unlike the Cult of the a Dragon, there's nothing witten into the adventure stopping them from opening portals it in day one, weeks before the campaign started. There's not even a flimsy handwaving excuse.

The Awesome

The adventure includes an assortment of adventure hooks to motivate the PCs. There are a good 21 hooks provided that tie into various parts of the adventure. These have the interesting mechanic of granting inspiration for completing key tasks, which is a love use of the inspiration mechanic. It's a nice way of rewarding the completion of a person quest without awarding more experience or giving an unbalancing or permanent boon. (Although, 21 is a LOT of hooks, likely too many, even for a campaign with high PC turnover. And such an odd number too; stopping at 20 and numbering them would have made it easy to randomize with a d20 roll.)
The book ends with some solid advice on converting the adventure to Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, and Eberron. This includes suggestions on where to situate the adventure, how to adjust the story and villains, and even includes replacements for the five factions. These were very well written and really seemed to focus on the tone of the settings. Some effort and world lore was put into this section. It's a great way of offsetting the criticism that WotC is only focusing on the Realms. And it'd be easy to move PotA to Greyhawk and run it as the third part of an Elemental Evil trilogy (following Temple of Elemental Evil and Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil).
The adventure includes statblocks for four of the elemental princes, who range in challenge from 18 to 20. It's always nice to have more end bosses and higher level threats.
I adore the adventure's use of quickly modified monsters, such as an eyeless umberhulk with metal claws or the various monsters with variant weapons. Rather than a completely different monster with revised statblock the adventure just includes the different attack entry. It's a very elegant method of adding variety, but also provides enough information that you don't need to work out the math or attack numbers yourself. There are also the environmentally tweaked monsters, such as the magma roper or the aquatic ghouls & ogres who can breathe underwater and gains a swim speed. They don't create a seperate monster statblock for the lacedon (aka the aquatic ghoul), choosing not to fill a quarter of a page when a single half-sentence does the job.
5e has long advertised that it is going to be a lower magic game. This adventure demonstrates this. While there are various magic items spread throughout the adventure, many are consumables or what was formerly known as "wondrous items". There are all of 5-6 magic weapons in the adventure (excluding the four evil plot items) and all of a different types. There aren't, for example, five magic longswords. A far cry from awarding a half-dozen magical items each and every level.
The evil elemental cult are presented as reactive and don't just sit in their dungeon waiting for the PCs to come and thwack them. Text is provided for how the cult reacts to the PCs once they've earned a reputation, and there are replacement encounters for slain defenders, and there are a number of responsive actions for the cultists to make. Between delves there might be small encounters as the surviving cults try and start some trouble. Once one of the four prophets has been slain the others change location and move elsewhere. And the final prophet - the cumulative Big Bad - depends on the order the PCs assault the cults.
I enjoy the encounters of varying difficulty. Not every monster is exactly at the party's level providing the precise expected challenge and the party isn't just going to play through the regimented 3-5 encounters each day of appropriate difficulty. There's a lot of lower challenge monsters that might wear down opponents or are given the opportunity to be challenging in ways other than their statblock.
The book also features the return of 4th Edition elemental archons, now called "myrmidon". These elemental people were pretty key during 4e. While 4e was not my favourite edition, I don't like all its creations being shoved to the side, especially when they filled a niche (similarly, I would have liked at least once reference to the elemental prices as "primordials").

Final Thoughts

Princes of the Apocalypse is simple. The adventure is a kinda-sorta sandbox. The players can wander wherever they want, and the all-in-one nature of the book really helps it be a complete sandbox. However, the challenge of the dungeons really assumes a linear progression, but this isn't obvious and there's little accommodating players wandering into higher level territory. The adventure is only a sandbox in that the players get to choose the order of the dungeon crawls as there's precious few overland encounter areas and no reason to explore the wide open map.
There's some small plotlines strung throughout the book but, really, the story comes down to "bad guys in dungeon need to be made dead." The characters might have lengthy backstories and villains personality but no one is really doing anything. Not really. The villains don't have a larger scheme or an end goal beyond being evil. The adventure feels… amateurish. The design mistakes feel like ones a rookie DM would make. The "story" is really just a series of encounters that lurches towards a conclusion and the NPCs are a bunch colourful characters that exist in a quantum limbo until adventurers interact with them and then they vanish until needed again.
However, the problems of the adventure aren't insurmountable. Random encounters (from the provided tables) can fill in the vast gaps in the overland map, and some handwaving can justify the lack of an end goal/ plot. And the book provides a dozen complete and independent dungeons complete with read aloud descriptions separate from the monsters that can be mined for ideas. It's basically Dungeon Delve with thematic ties between the series of otherwise unrelated dungeons. All the heavy work has been done, and the adventure can largely be fixed on the fly. And if your players are the sort to like a series of back-2-back dungeon crawls they'll likely be happily oblivious to the static NPCs and ineffectual villains, rendering most of my criticisms moot.

Postscript

One last criticism of Princes of the Apocalypse stands out, but it feels unfair to mention this with the other complaints, as it's unrelated to the adventure itself. But it's still worth noting.
On its own, Princes of the Apocalypse would just be an unremarkable adventure. A simple series of dungeon crawls. In tone it's arguably classic or - dare I say it - old school.
However, WotC is currently on a story kick, really emphasising their storylines and promising a renewed focus on adventures. But there's not really any story here. There's almost certainly no story connections between Princes of the Apocalypse and the Elemental Evil storylines in the Adventurer's League or the Neverwinter MMO beyond the shared bad guy. But that's like saying Batman and The Dark Knight are part of the same storyline because both feature the Joker. It doesn't inspire confidence with their future efforts.
 
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EthanSental

Explorer
5 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

I can see the adventure is much more filled out and sandboxy than Tiamat but so far I like them both for differing reasons. The "feel" of PoA reminds me of ToEE to some extent on an nostalgic feel but also feels like a new story. Tiamat - just fun with the backdrop of the 5 headed Dragon queen showing up to end the PC's lives.Buy it on Amazon if the price isn't to your wallet's liking, but either way, pick it up, well worth your hard earned currency.
 

FallenAkriel

Villager
5 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

So much details and sidequests possible, well written. Very interesting & useful add-ons for monsters, magic items, spells and race.
 

bragarfull

Villager
5 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

This is the best product released thus far for 5ed. Richard Baker has always made good products.
 
4 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

After "Tyranny of Dragons", I was a little hesitant about WotC's next storyline product. And some of the hype surrounding this adventure was also off-putting - I try not to buy into the hype because that too often leads to disappointment. That was probably a wise choice. This isn't an instant classic, and it certainly isn't 5e's killer app, or anything of that sort.

But it is a very good adventure.

This is a 256-page hardback book divided into 7 chapters and 3 appendices.

Chapters 1 and 2 present background information for the adventure. Chapter 1 gives details of the various factions in play and also the four elemental cults. This is all fairly interesting stuff, and useful for running the adventure. Chapter 2 then provides something of a gazeteer of the region in which the adventure takes place, including some adventure hooks that a DM may wish to pursue later. This is all fine.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 then present the meat of the adventure itself - chapter 3 the overland investigations into the cults, chapter 4 the upper levels of their domains, and then chapter 5 the lower levels and the climax. This is all good stuff and well presented (though I personally would prefer the stat-blocks to be embedded in the text).

My one concern here, and it applies to the adventure as a whole, is that this is actually pretty short. The meat of the adventure accounts for less than half of the book, and the book itself already seemed pretty short for a full-blown campaign. So it's good stuff... there just doesn't seem enough of it.

Chapter 6 then provides some supporting adventure material: two optional 'intro' adventures, and eight sidequests.

The main "Princes..." adventure is intended to run from levels 3-15. The two intro adventures are therefore provided as a means to advance 1st level PCs to a point where they're ready for the main plot. They are, consequently, not an essential part of the story. Nonetheless, I really liked these, and would recommend they be used.

Sadly, I was less enamoured with the sidequests, only two of which really interested me. A shame, but at least they're non-essential material.

Chapter 7 and the Appendices then provide additional support material for the adventure. Chapter 7 is monsters and magic items, both of which were solid. (I'm a fan of the way 5e presents monsters generally.) Appendix A details Genasi as a new PC race, while Appendix B gives new spells. All good stuff.

Appendix C then provides some guidance on how to port the adventure to other worlds: Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, and Eberron; and then some suggestions for porting to a homebrew world. In particular, it provides specific advice about how the adventure might alter to fit the flavour of different worlds, and also how the various factions might be replaced if the setting doesn't include a direct analogue. I have to applaud, therefore, not just the inclusion of guidelines, but also the way the guidelines were presented. Good stuff.

One final note: after all of this, there's an Afterword followed by a few pages of concept art, some of it for items that were considered and rejected as not quite fitting. I felt this was a really good use of a few pages, and hope it is repeated in future storyline products.

So, how does that leave "Princes of the Apocalyse" overall? Well, I remain somewhat disappointed that the 'main' adventure is so short. It really doesn't feel enough for a full-blown campaign. And yet, it does feel like a complete adventure.

In terms of quality, it fares rather better. It's true that it's not an instant classic, and it's probably not up there with, say "Lost Mine of Phandelver" or "Rise of the Runelords". Indeed, I didn't think it was quite as good as "Giantslayer", the other adventure I've reviewed recently. However, it is better than both "Tyranny of Dragons" (as a whole, or either part alone), and it's better than "Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil". It's a good adventure, and I can recommend it, especially for a DM willing to beef up the sidequests for his own use.
 

clavejones

Villager
5 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

For those who have lived under a stone golem for the last 30 years, Gary Gygax first took us to the Temple of Elemental Evil in 1985. Although Temple of Elemental Evil is undoubtedly a classic, when you pause to consider the original’s sprawling, million room dungeon, you realize that it just doesn’t play for a modern audience.So Princes of the Apocalypse (PotA) is no simple retelling of that story. Instead, PotA preserves those great core ideas, yet spin them into entirely new adventures. PotA is a wink and a head nod to adventures of old, while still being an entirely fresh and modern story suitable for D&D 5e.The story is set in the Forgotten Realms, specifically the Sumber Hills region of the Dessarin Valley, a sparsely populated area that in ages past had a rich history, and now hides old buried temples dedicated to the Elder Elemental Eye. Read more at Nerds on Earth.
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
5 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

I've run about 8 sessions so far, PCs are at 3rd level, nearly 4th. We have only scratched the surface of what this campaign has to offer. I really like the way it is wide open, sandboxy, and chocked full of adventure sites and ideas that I can expand or cut as I see fit.

If I could rate it 4.5, I'd probably do that just because it is so full with NPCs, villains and locations that it is not so easy to run. I'm at my best when I use what they give me and I improvise and build on what is in the campaign. It is, at least for me, hard to adhere too faithfully to what's in the campaign unless you have a super-computer brain. That said, it provides a terrific backdrop for a campaign, and it is versatile. You can follow what's in the adventures or you can improvise and fit in what you like. That's gold.

In addition, the plot of the entire campaign develops pretty slowly. At first, I was actually afraid that the players would not learn enough information to keep them going or hook them. But, if everyone pays attention to the character hooks that the campaign provides, and they keep good notes (or get reminded of some of the things they notice along the way), it becomes like a snowball rolling downhill, growing larger and more intimidating as it rolls. That's pretty cool.
 
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jontheman

Villager
4 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

‘Abolish an ancient evil threatening devastation in this adventure for the world’s greatest roleplaying game!Called by the Elder Elemental Eye to serve, four corrupt prophets have risen from the depths of anonymity to claim mighty weapons with direct links to the power of the elemental princes. Each of these prophets has assembled a cadre of cultists and creatures to serve them in the construction of four elemental temples of lethal design. It is up to adventurers from heroic factions such as the Emerald Enclave and the Order of the Gauntlet to discover where the true power of each prophet lay, and dismantle it before it comes boiling up to obliterate the Realms.’

That adventurer synopsis from the WotC website is all I’m going to say about the details of the plot – it’s difficult to review an adventure for two reasons; the first is because of spoilers for the entire gaming group, and the second is that many groups approach adventures in many different ways so the playstyle may reflect enjoyment. That second reason is purely opinion and can’t be measured, but remains an issue when going over a product such as this. All I can do is tell you what me and my group got out of it.

There was one phrase that echoed around my gaming group by the end of this campaign - ‘There’s so many dungeons!’ Indeed; if the Tyranny of Dragons campaign reflected the Dragons of the D&D hobby, then this campaign certainly reflects the Dungeons half of it.But let’s not get ahead of myself.

This D&D campaign for characters of level 1-15 is another instalment in the very small and slow to release product line of 5th Edition. When I look at the products that are coming and the ones that have already been released I do wonder if there is a lack of support for the flagship tabletop RPG, but after playing through Princes of the Apocalypse I can sort of understand why. This campaign will last an average group the better part of three months, depending on play style and whether they play through the side missions (which, incidentally, my group didn’t, but we can always go back to them as one-shots).Not only that, but you get plenty of extras in here, too – monsters, spells, items and an addition to the races to play, the Genasi.

They’ve created a game setting for players to adventure in, in this case Forgotten Realms, and it’s appealing to both seasoned gamers who might have the original Realms campaign guides and new players who want to explore a new world. If the adventure books continue like this, and they set the adventures across different regions of the Realms, you’ll soon have a collection of books that detail a full campaign world with things to do and places to visit, and you’ll not have to have a single campaign book or a gazetteer. If this is the intention of the designers I have no idea, but it could certainly work and you wouldn’t have to fork out money for a selection of supplements and adventures to flesh out the world.

As suggested by the game, my group dived in at level 3 and sat eagerly awaiting my first words. Sadly, there were a few groans when I read out the word ‘cultist’ that appear through out the book. There was a moment of disappointment and I understand why – they’d just spent the Tyranny of Dragons fighting off cultists and here we were again, fighting cultists. Cultists cultists cultists. Where’s an orc warband when you need one? How about a nest of goblins? Nope. Cultists. Again.As it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as expected. The opening was different – the players really took to the initial location Red Larch and it’ll be a place we’ll revisit, no doubt – and the adventure got off to a much more leisurely start. So, if you’ve played Tyranny of Dragons then don’t let the cultists put you off.

As the adventure progressed the threat became apparent and the players got stuck into the investigating as well as the adventure... and then the dungeons began! Spires, monasteries, elemental temples, caverns, caves and everything in between. There’s a multitude of locations and the largest of them, primarily the elemental temples, will take an average group a couple of sessions to get through, if they’re thorough. Even the smallest ones might take a session, and at the very least are great for an encounter or two.

There are some wonderful locations to flesh out, too, such as the Dessarin Valley and the surrounding area. The maps for these are colourful and well presented and ooze atmosphere, creating a place I’d like to visit over and over to get into every nook and cranny. There’s plenty of scope for DMs to create their own material and fill in those blanks.Talking about atmosphere, the full-colour interior and the artwork is of a great standard. The hardback book is wonderfully presented and the high fantasy illustrations are dynamic and serve as a great visual cue.

All said, this is a great adventure for D&D 5th Edition. My group enjoyed it, even after the glum ‘here we go again’ faces at the mention of cultists, and the adventure was satisfying and fun to play through. The ‘defeat the ancient evil’ story might not be the most original, and the main antagonists were somewhat clichéd and unoriginal in my view, but it’s a solid adventure with plenty of scope. The Chapter 6 side quests are a nice touch and the notes at the back on how to adapt the game to suit other established D&D game worlds – Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Greyhawk and Eberron, along with some notes on using it in your own world – are a welcome addition, although an experienced DM will find it easy enough to adapt to any world.

Recommended.
 

Krypter

Villager
3 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

I really wanted to like this adventure as I generally love elemental-themed things, but the very, very open-ended nature of this particular sandbox threw me off. The dungeons are well-constructed with interesting unique encounters, but the whole plot mainly revolves around "go kill cultists A, B, C then D" and doesn't get much better. After playing Tyranny of Dragons for a year I'm pretty tired of "kill cultists" stories, and the ones here are quite 1980s Saturday morning cartoon-ish in their costumes and behaviours. The placement of this adventure is also quite odd, in the north Sword Coast, an area of little importance to an apocalyptic cult that wants to take over the world. Seems they chose it almost at random in a spot of Faerun that wasn't crammed with apocalypses already. Add to that I was never a fan of the old Temple of Elemental Evil adventure, and what I got here was cliched disappointment. If a competent GM could overlay a more interesting plot on top of these locations this could be quite good, but as it stands I don't recommend it for experienced gamers. The locations could be plucked out and placed in a better story too, without too much trouble, so there's that for GMs who like to tinker. That's probably what I'll do.
 

Mercule

Adventurer
5 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

Are there flaws in PotA? Yup. Do they really stand out? Not unless you're really OCD about map scales, but that's more a fault of the 5E handling of the Realms than of this particular module. This is a really fun module for both players and DMs. It can be customized to other worlds relatively easily (I'm running it in Eberron). Not sure what more I can say. Of the three "mega-adventures" in print, right now, PotA stands well above the others. If you want a solid, fun adventure, get this one. This is the third time to the elemental evil well, but if feels like a comfy shoe.
 

Shagamemnon

Villager
5 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

This book is an excellent follow-up to the more mediocre Tyranny of Dragons arc, as it provides an amazing giant sandbox for the players to explore and have fun in. This feels like Wizard's strongest offering yet in the current edition.
 

LapBandit

Villager
4 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

I really liked this adventure and made some minor tweaks for consistency but otherwise played it as written. The only negative is how much the DM needs to know to make the world of the Dessarin Valley come alive. This however is a criticism of all sandbox play and not just this adventure.4/5 stars, would recommend to anyone.
 

Argus2968

Villager
2 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

Tee organization of this book is awful. You'll have to flip between multiple CHAPTERS just to get basic NPC information. The whole book is like navigating a word labyrinth. The intro to the module is painfully uninspired. You start out in a town - wow - so high adventure. Figuring out how everything gits together is very confusing.
 
4 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

Currently running this for my group of 6 players and we're all having a blast with it. Definitely presented as a sandbox to run around in, but the encounters within can be easily aligned to keep things in order so the players can progress accordingly. Its got a good mix of intrigue, action, and story development that will (should) keep everyone interested. My only gripe is how the book overall is laid out. As a DM, I have to do a lot of back and forth page flipping in order to access all the info need for a particular encounter. Its not a big deal, just would be nice to have everything placed in a particular chapter to keep things streamlined during game play.Totally recommended for fans of the Temple of Elemental Evil, or adventurers looking to make a name for themselves.Enjoy.
 

Tobold

Explorer
4 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

Princes of the Apocalypse works great if you understand it as a source book for a sandbox campaign. Only half of the book is taken up by an adventure path which through 13 dungeons leads a group from level 3 to 15. There are side adventures that can get a group from level 1 to 3, or provide a change of pace at higher levels.

The biggest drawback of Princes of the Apocalypse is that it isn't designed to be run by a new(ish) DM, or without preparation. There is a lot of information in the book, but not necessarily in the order where you need it. There is also no flowchart or even textual information of how to string the various dungeons together into a complete adventure with a logical story. That sort of information is available elsewhere on the internet, for example there is a guide to PotA on the DM's Guild.

With some preparation Princes of the Apocalypse can be run with good results as either a linear adventure or a more open world sandbox game, or something in between. However that requires the DM to make a decision how exactly he does want to run this adventure, and then add the necessary story elements to make this a round experience.
 

Enrico Poli1

Explorer
3 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

Boooring.
It's not bad; the dungeons are professionally made. Only, nothing could interest the players. Could not get to the end because of the really boring dungeons.

The BEST part of the book is the appendix in which WotC explains how this adventure (indeed any adventure) can be adapted for all the old setting. At the time, that was a NEW and GREAT idea. And a beautiful Dark Sun picture appeared from nowhere!! Only spark of marvel in the entire book.
 

Jesse David

Villager
1 out of 5 rating for Princes of the Apocalypse

As an at-the-table resource this is HORRIBLY organized, and the content gets rather repetitive and boring. Not recommended. SO many easier to run and more imaginative adventures out there.
 

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