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D&D 5E Rise Of The Drow is Three Good D&D Books In One

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There are a lot of solid campaigns out for Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons. Wizards of the Coast’s strategy of one new campaign a year seems to be working for them. By focusing on campaigns that run through ten levels with just enough information to get through the storyline, the company has given new players a lot of different ways to play in campaigns. Still, there’s a market out there for Dungeon Masters who want more info, more encounters and more everything. AAW Games aimed Rise Of The Drow directly at this market with a 544 page beast of a campaign involving dark elves, the Underdark and everything else that Dungeons & Dragons players who don’t like to come to the surface enjoy. The company sent me a copy of the Collector’s Edition to check out. Upon reading, I discovered it wasn’t one book, but three.

The first book is the titular campaign written by Jonathan G. Nelson and Stephen Yeardley with development by Thomas Baumbach. It begins in the city Rybalka where the drow decide to raid the city for a magical artifact as well as take captives for sacrifices to their dark gods. The drow aren’t surprised by do-gooder heroes rushing to save the innocents; they’re expecting them. A surviving prisoner points them to a besieged dwarven city that’s been taken by the drow. There, they find an entry into the Underdark and the drow city where the armies are growing to spill out and conquer above ground once and for all.

Each of these chapters is well organized. The layout of this book mimics the Monte Cook style of two columns of text with a third for sidebars and reference. I find this style extremely useful for navigating a big tome like this. It lets me slide forward to monster stat blocks, check out a location reference and be back before the next player’s initiative turn is up. These side bars include the general progression of scenes, much like the adventure flowcharts in the latest official releases. This book contains a lot of information but its general organization never made it feel like finding a tidbit was out of my reach.

Each chapter also comes with battle maps for a variety of encounters. This adventure path was also developed for Pathfinder and the amount of encounters shows. The Fifth Edition version includes them all more as a menu for Dungeon Masters to pick and choose which ones suit their players the best, along with advice on how to modify them for pacing and focus on the PCs. They feel much more manageable and modular in size compared to the usual protracted dungeon crawls seen in D&D.

The second book dives into the setting of Rise Of The Drow. The book details the main cities seen in the campaign and fleshes them out for use as side quest locations as well as spin-offs once the main campaign is complete. There’s a Viking/Land of the Midnight Sun feel to the main setting that fits in well with the dwarf cities and drow strongholds that feature into the campaign. These places can be moved to whatever the Dungeon Master prefers but keeping them together in a dark, wintry area seems like a good thematic choice. It seems like it would be a good fit for hooking fans of games like Skyrim or The Witcher into playing some classic Dungeons & Dragons. There’s space for the underdark to get weird, including some underworld themed artifacts and magic but Dungeon Masters looking for some very strange trips are advised to check out the sister books Underworld Races & Classes and Occult Secrets of the Underworld.

The final book is a massive bestiary that contains 200 pages of monsters. This section contains both the common monsters that appear (or at least the ones that can from the 5r OGL) and the ones unique to the adventure. I’ve seen more and more third party products put all the monsters in the back and it’s a move I applaud. I like having them all in one place and since stat blocks in the encounters are not the style of this edition, this is the next best thing than having multiple books and a tablet running D&D Beyond open. There’s only so much room behind my DM screen.

Rise Of The Drow is an excellent campaign choice for tables that want a modular campaign with great setting details where they can battle a classic D&D enemy in a weird setting.
 

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland


Cryptwright

Villager
This is the kind of thing I hope to create. I really like how much stuff there is in this and that its tried to keep its relevancy. I just made a yuan-ti trilogy and thought of Rise of the Drow. now obviously mine was smaller at only 130 pages or something, but I was thinking to myself if I kept building the story and peripheral areas it could turn into something like this.
 

jerryrice4949

Adventurer
This is such a great adventure and a beautiful book. The art work is stunning. Obviously a labor of love.

Kind of wonder what happened to AAW after this book. They put out very little until the Kickstarter for the Spellunking book that looked kind of rough for me. An old school black and white book, rules heavy, seems counter intuitive for 5E.
 


mrswing

Explorer
I'm literally in the middle of this campaign.
Things you need to know:
The first seven or eight levels of play have a very clearly structured storyline. It's not a railroad because there are several paths offered to reach the objectives, and how your party achieves them is also completely up to them (they can go full stealth or full fight or anywhere in between).
Then when you really hit the Underdark/Underworld section of the adventure, it turns into a giant sandbox. The final chapter in the adventure can be run as a huge dungeon crawl, but also as infiltration/raid/espionage... Once again, many options are open.
The Underworld of Aventyr is a very weird place with truly bizarre races popping up and some unique encounter locations. Not all of these are integrated into the main storyline, some are even so far off the beaten path it's unlikely your players will end up there. Which means the book can be used for other campaigns or can continue in the Underworld if your group is up for it.
Now, personally, I had expected a fully written-out adventure all the way through as I'm 55 and don't really have the time & desire to dream up entire campaigns on my own. I'm really looking for good plug and play. The first part of the adventure absolute provides this (there are some logic gaps here and there but the pace is so swift that my players never started asking questions). The second main part, however, will take a lot of work for the DM, as there are many levels to fill before the group has a chance of success during the finale. The adventure goes up to 15th/16th level and there is a fairly big epilogue which goes up to level 20 (a stretch goal during the kickstarter). There is a LOT of information here, but also a lot which is not provided and which to be fair I am missing. Such as: the exact(ish) military might of Holoth, the Drow City, the details of their military campaign, how the major Drow NPCs are used during the assault on the Underworld, what the plan with regards to the Upper World is... Now, for many (most?) DMs, this will be a positive thing, they are not bound by the ideas of the developers (no railroad) and they can craft their own path depending on the actions/choices of the PCs. For DMs who want to have a more explicitly developed story progression (which still can be altered of course), running this biggest part of the adventure becomes more difficult, especially since there was a lot of good support at the start and the many, many options can feel overwhelming (which is the case for me).
There is a lot of material from AAW which provides extra material for this adventure: there are the Stoneholme modules which you could integrate into the story (the campaign focus on a Dwarven trade city, Embla, Stoneholme are their military-minded neighbours who are not inclined to help against the Drow, using these modules can change that situation if you adapt them to the campaign plotline), there are many of their smaller dungeons which are directly tied into the locations of the book (many already out on FGU if that's how you run it), the above-mentioned Races and Classes and Occult Secrets book provide tons of extra information and options on and in the Underworld (and to be fair are nearly mandatory, you can do without but will not get a number of references/species/cultures used in the campaign). If PCs die you can even give them the opportunity of playing some of the truly weird races living below the surface world. The recent kickstarter about Spelunking provides lots of material on running campaigns underground, and it also had a Drider supplement which is perfect extra material for the book (with great art though the most impressive and scary Drider variant monster is not portrayed, unfortunately). And the newest kickstarter extra Applied and Aggregated Spelunking offers a new Drow location and three adventures.
There's also the Underworld Encounters set which is a bunch of cards with encounter ideas on them, many of which directly tie into the RotD story. However, encounter ideas is all these are: no stats, no development, just a basic idea for an encounter which could develop into a complete storyline or just be a one-scene event. Very good for stimulating ideas but not plug-and-play.
You can also graft parts of Out of the Abyss onto this campaign, and the DM Guild Encounters in the Savage Underdark provides a bunch of extra short adventures, some of which fit very well into this Drow campaign.
So all in all: very attractive book with tons and tons of material, very well supported by the publisher (if you like this, join their discord where they are very active and very friendly and helpful), but not a 'I'll read this through and be ready to run it from end to end'-book. If you or your party likes Underdark & Drow adventures, it is undoubtedly the best major campaign available on the subject.
 

mrswing

Explorer
A few thoughts more: the book could easily have been 100 pages longer, because many of the locations which now get two to four pages in the gazetteer section could easily be expanded to eight to even sixteen pages in some cases, just because there's so much potential for great material there.
On a more negative note, the main Drow NPC family is described very extensively, but too much focuses on long-ago backstory which will not be relevant to the current situation and which PCs will never discover or, even if they do, won't really influence things at all. This is something that happens all too often in RPGs: the designers spend too much time on a colorful past and not enough on practical information that will benefit the current events and the way the PCs encounter them. I'm not saying there is no information to help you play these characters in the now of the story and how they can interact interestingly with the PCs, there is, but often not enough of it.
 

pukunui

Legend
I thought I recognized that cover artwork. Turns out it's by Kerem Beyit, and it's a complete reworking of an earlier piece where the drow is facing the other way and has grey skin instead of purple. Not sure which one I like better.

EDIT: Looks like that's because the original piece of art was done for the original version of this adventure, so I guess the artist redid it for the redone collector's edition.
 
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Tormyr

Adventurer
This is such a great adventure and a beautiful book. The art work is stunning. Obviously a labor of love.

Kind of wonder what happened to AAW after this book. They put out very little until the Kickstarter for the Spellunking book that looked kind of rough for me. An old school black and white book, rules heavy, seems counter intuitive for 5E.
I believe they are constantly putting out new mini dungeons.
 



Jharet

Explorer
I'm currently running this for Pathfinder. I've ported the story over to Golarion and placed it in the Arcadian archipelago near the Lands of the Linnorm Kings. It's been a blast so far. We took a slight side trek to the lower islands with FGG's great setting Tehuatl, but now the group is ready to embark on the journey to the dwarven city and will be in the Underdark for the foreseeable future.
 

mrswing

Explorer
Wait: There's a Drider supplement? Is it on drivethru rpg or something as a PDF?
The Drider supplement is a stretch goal of the Survivalists Guide To Spelunking (an updated Dungeoneers Survival Guide for 5e). It's not available to the entire community yet but I'm sure it will be released at some point. You can join AAW Games Discord channel or Facebook group and ask about it there.
 

Jharet

Explorer
It's worth noting that the the Survivalists Guide To Spelunking is a great companion piece to this campaign - even for us Pathfinder grognards! Because it was not offered in PF, that is.
 


JmanTheDM

Explorer
just started running this for a group of 4 players. we are 2 sessions into chapter 1. The introduction section - specifically around Rybalka is SO MUCH FUN. I don't have mountains of experience GM'ing 3rd party modules, but the starting conditions to get the PC's going feels pretty unique. we were literally in full-on "adventure action" mode within 20 minutes of starting. its just great! just to get a taste of how to start a campaign that doesn't begin with "you are all in a tavern", has been worth the price of entry!

Cheers,

J.
 


wellis

Explorer
This is part of that Aventyr setting of theirs, right?

I remember for Pathfinder, and 5e (I think?), they put out this amazing adventure book that detailed a town and involved tracking down a kidnapped princess. And like every business & NPC in the town was a reference to some sort of fairy tail.

It was all very Snow White and fairy tail stuff, but like D&D'd and pretty cool.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
This is part of that Aventyr setting of theirs, right?

I remember for Pathfinder, and 5e (I think?), they put out this amazing adventure book that detailed a town and involved tracking down a kidnapped princess. And like every business & NPC in the town was a reference to some sort of fairy tail.

It was all very Snow White and fairy tail stuff, but like D&D'd and pretty cool.
It uses several parts of the setting (locations, deities, races, etc.), but you do not need the Aventyr setting book to run RotD.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Grey or white makes a lot of sense for underground creatures, actually--animals that live in caves tend to get depigmented.
Darkvision changes things. Many creatures are not totally blind in complete darkness.

In my campaigns, Drow hair is hollow, much like polar bears. It only appears white in light, with darkvision, it's almost the same as the background gray.
 

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