Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/29/tabletop-review-dd-next-vault-of-the-dracolich-dungeons-dragons/
Vault of the Dracolich is a noteworthy adventure for many reasons. It’s the first ever Game Day adventure to be released for public sale. It’s the second publicly available D&D Next adventure, with the first being Murder at Baldur’s Gate. It’s an incredibly large adventure, as it’s designed for four gaming parties, each consisting of four to six 4th Level characters. That’s a total of sixteen to twenty-four players! That’s like a V:TM LARP size adventure. As you can imagine, it takes more DMs to run the adventure (one for each party) and one person to coordinate what is going on. Now, you can scale the adventure down to have one troupe play it or to turn it into a set of five short adventures, but the adventures loses a little when you do this, as it’s meant to be a big chaotic crazy mess that is sure to be a memorable adventure for you and your friends. Outside of a Game Day event or a convention, it’s hard to think about when you could get enough people to properly play this adventure. Doubly so for a place to house all those gamers!
Sounds great, right? Well, there’s a downside to this PDF, which is that it only contains a fraction of what you need to run the adventure. Sure it comes with the adventure and two PDF maps (one for the players and one for the GM), but it’s still missing a LOT of content. For example, you need to have been a part of the D&D Next playtest to make this adventure work. Unfortunately, the playtest is now done. Sure, there are some of us that are still part of the process past the public playtest, but if you missed out on the playtest, you won’t have the rules for the game, the bestiary that contains all the monsters you need to run this adventure, character creation bits and more. So if you want this adventure and don’t have D&D Next, you should hold off until it’s publicly available. Otherwise you have an adventure with a lot of missing content you simply can’t run. Other missing pieces include the pregenerated characters and all the pieces that were in the Game Day 2013 kit, like the cling sheets to keep track of where each of the four parties is at, along with the location of the dracolich. Now, I realize we couldn’t get physical copies of these things as this is a PDF only product, but it would have been exceptionally easy to tag on all the missing content as a separate PDF. I don’t know if it was just a massive oversight by Wizards of the Coast when they added this to DNDClassics.com or what, but it’s a shame that such an incomplete product is available for sale. Well, at least it’s only five bucks, and you can use the adventure with previous editions of D&D if your Dungeonmaster has the time and patience to do so. However, because of the missing content and logistical issues that come with running Vault of the Dracolich, it’s hard to recommend this piece to the average D&D fan out there.
The adventure itself has between one and four parties infiltrating the lair of Dretchroyaster, a mighty Dracolich and the focus of the Cult of the Dragon. Forgotten Realms fans will recognize the name, as this is a pretty well known faction on Toril. If you prefer other campaign settings or a generic world, you can change a few names here and there to suit your world. The lair of the Dracolich is large enough that it accompanies four sections, ranging from a Lizardmen commune to a temple of the dead god Bhaal. Each of the four locations offers a very different experience, so if you decide to run all four parts as a mini campaign or a single party, things won’t feel repetitive. Each party must enter their chosen location and find an idol that lies within. The idols are the key to entering the chamber where the Dracolich has housed an ancient artifact of immense power. The ultimate end goal is to get that artifact out of the Dracolich’s clutches, be it absconding with it or destroying it.
There are some added twists for the multi-group setting, where characters and even entire parties can trade places thanks to some faulty portals. This is a really cute idea, but without the massive player experience it just doesn’t work, so I suggest nixing it. There’s also a very odd option for allowing players to continually resurrect from the dead, albeit with some negative consequences like lowered initiative, lowered hit points or even coming back as a wight. I really don’t like this option, as without the fear of character death, what’s the point of an adventure like this? My suggestion is let the death stand. After all, why would the Cult of the Dragon and/or a Dracolich house their prized possessions in a place where thieves and adventurers keep coming back from the dead? Obviously the PCs won’t be the first to die here. Just a bad idea across the board.
Overall, Vault of the Dracolich is a truly unique and highly memorable experience if you can get enough players and DMs to let the adventure unfold the way it was intended. It takes a lot of coordination, but the end result is well worth it. Playing Vault of the Dracolich as a campaign loses a good deal of its luster, but it still manages to be a really fun experience for all involved. Again, I can’t emphasize enough that the PDF version on DNDClassics.com is missing content needed to run this adventure, so if you don’t have D&D Next rules, you’re a bit out of luck here unless you want to homebrew the piece for an older edition of Dungeons & Dragons. A thumbs way up for the adventure as designed, and a thumbs down for releasing the adventure for sale without including the missing content. So everything evens out.