First Impressions - Ruins of the Grendleroot (D&D 5e)


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Spiral-bound print of 'Ruins of the Grendleroot'.
I picked up the PDF of 'Ruins of the Grendleroot' because I'm thinking of running it as an introductory campaign for the kids during this time of isolation. I printed a spiral-bound copy because I prefer that format at the table (lies flat and I'm happier about defacing a print like this rather than a real book).

The mini-campaign has ten adventures in it, all set underground in Blackclaw Mountain and designed to take characters from first through to fifth level. It's written by Mike Shea, who writes the useful and entertaining Sly Flourish blog. Mike has also published some excellent guides on DMing, which I'd recommend. They're based around D&D 5e but the principles will work in most games.

The characters have all travelled three days into the mountain to settle at Deepdelver's enclave, from which they hope to make their fortunes exploring the ruined city of Shadowreach and beyond. The mountain has been riven by the alien Grendleroot, mostly dormant at the moment. Needless to say, the Grendleroot is a key driver within the campaign. The mountain has layer upon layer of history, something which is touched upon through the scenarios.

There's a good framework for the characters to develop in; at the end of the first adventure, they should have somewhere to live. Experience is recommended to be by milestone rather than by killing things and stealing their loot.

The adventures are structured in a similar way, with a focussed top-level overview of plot, principal characters involved and the creatures/threats. It then details NPCs and locations with maps. I'm not a huge fan of the map style, but it's perfectly acceptable. The introduction to each adventure tends to be a little bit formulaic; most start with a random festival or gathering followed by some form of attack to drop the characters straight into the action. It's an effective route to engage everyone, but if I run this then I'll probably mix it up a bit.

Only one of the adventures gave me 'GM Shivers', making me want to run it immediately; 'The Vault of the White Queen'. The others are competent and hang together well, but are mainly traditional dungeons in style. However, if you're using the campaign as an introduction then that's not a bad thing. The most sandbox-like scenario is 'A Fistful of Copper', which is inspired by 'A Fistful of Dollars'. To be successful, the characters are going to need to negotiate or set rival gangs against each other; otherwise, they'll be overrun and die quickly. The climax of the arc could result in disaster for the inhabitants of the mountain and the world itself if the characters fail.

There are no stat blocks; the Monster Manual references are called out in bold. Mike makes regular use of combining or twisting standard stat blocks to make unique and interesting opponents.

The artwork is excellent; there are views of key settings and the NPCs are generally illustrated well. The layout mimics the 5e house style from Wizards of the Coast and is well executed. These are available as separate art files (along with the maps) as a cheap extra purchase. Definitely worth considering if you plan to run with a VTT.

The book rounds out with an appendix to help the player's build characters better linked to the mountain and also adds two new backgrounds and tweaks to others.

The second appendix is full of tools for the GM - locations, encounters, and artefacts.

The final appendix outlines 'The Rise of the Black Star', a way to expand the campaign up to Level 20, with a potentially world-shattering ending. I think that this would be really epic, but there are only initial plot ideas here. There's a lot of GM work to do.

The first adventure is available as a free PDF so you can see the style and try before you buy.

I'm not certain I'll run this yet; I've just picked up the Starter Set so will be skimming the Lost Mines of Phandelver and also looking at The Dragon of Ice Spire Peak from the Essentials Kit. However, recommended, a solid four out of five.​

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