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Review: Dungeons & Dragons – Vecna: Eve of Ruin

Vecna: Eve of Ruin is Wizards of the Coasts signature campaign adventure for 50 years of Dungeons and Dragons and is designed to celebrate the many campaign worlds of Dungeons and Dragons. The adventure is written for high level play (player levels 10 to 20) and takes the party for bite sized jaunts through a series of set play adventures before the eventual show down with the Vecna.

A high-level adventure is an unusual offering from Wizards of the Coast as high level play is difficult to design and difficult to run. It’s also outside the core levels of game play with most adventures being 10th level of less with levels 2 to 8 being the most commonly played within.

High level play requires a structured sandbox for player characters to play within as the possibilities given the magical powers the player characters and shenanigans the players can indulge is problematic. Wizards of the Coast has followed this formula closely with the overall story being linear by design. This shouldn’t be construed as a problem or poor design but a design choice necessary as the authors are writing for everyone and not just your game table and game style.

But first who is Vena?

Vecna is an anagram of the author Jack “Vance” whose writing inspired the magical system that underpins the magical system behind basic and 1st edition Dungeon and Dragons. The magical system of Dungeons and Dragons has evolved since then but the the bones of Jack Vance’s “Vancian magic system” are as present as the bones within Vecna himself.

The idea of Vecna has been around since the early days of Dungeons and Dragons but in the form of an artifacts made from the legendary Lich not as a powerful non-player character. Vecna’s rise to prominence as a character occurred much later and most recently found fame from use in Critical Roles campaign 1 as the principal villain and in the Netflix Stranger Things series which (at the time of writing) is yet to be concluded.

Now ascendant as a Lich-God will Vecna rise above all and shape everything to his vision?

Gameplay

The adventure plays out as a series of small campaign walled garden (zones). The characters are co-opted into the adventure through a basic story premise and then assigned a series (7) fetch quests which see them visit various campaign settings and locations visited since 2014 in the various Dungeons and Dragons products. As a homage to ten years of successful Dungeons and Dragons this works well noting that constrained game play is the name of the game for high level campaign adventures. Best to think of it as small “Avengers set-pieces” for the characters to play through until the grand final which is played with a thunderous orchestral theme.

However the overall story is not strong with the Wizards of the Coasts resorting to another “AH-HA gotcha moment” which they used in every adventure they have published in the last few years. The problem is that this falls flat – again – and it doesn’t have any meaningful outcome on the story or game play as the opportunity for the Players to engage with in any meaningful form of the gotcha moment is limited and shallow.

Vecna’s role and influence is also underplayed. As a god with cultists and know-ers of dark secrets surely Vecna or on his countless minions would interplay with the characters during the adventures or perhaps stumble across the PC and interact – but alas no. The adventure largely runs without a time limit which one would think supposed end of the world would require (long-rest anyone)?

No doubt creative Dungeon Masters will come up with a a list of ideas and improvements to be incorporated. Whilst this is certainly part of the hobby (no one can write a book for everyone) it shouldn’t be the first thing a Dungeons Master should be looking for when they crack open the book and give it a first read.

The artwork contained with the adventure continues to be at the industry leading standard but the use of black and white maps grates for those that use virtual table tops for their game play experience. For 2024 and the signature 50th year celebration adventure Wizards of the Coast should have considered a little indulgence and provided both to really treat the community. One assumes that paying for one set of maps is an easy business decision by the organisational bean counters.

In all Vena: Eve of Ruin does provide a homage to 5e Dungeons and Dragons and provides high level play. However it does so at the expense of creatively of a heroic and epic story. This is a shame as this is what high level play should be about. Is the adventure playable – sure! Can it provide a fun experience – absolutely – Will it leave a heroic sense of accomplishment in the players once they finish – probably not – for that elevated personal experience one should be looking at other Wizards of the Coast Adventures such as Curse of Strahd or Storm Kings Thunder.

REVIEW OVERVIEW

Story
6
Artwork
9
Carteography
7

REVIEW SUMMARY

A high level jaunt through the many worlds of Dungeons and Dragons, Essentially a series of fetch quests leading to a final battle this adventure is less creative and less dynamic than many other adventures published by Wizards of the Coast. It will provide a reasonable high level play experience but it should not be a first choice. Maps are black and white which will disappoint virtual table top users.
A high level jaunt through the many worlds of Dungeons and Dragons, Essentially a series of fetch quests leading to a final battle this adventure is less creative and less dynamic than many other adventures published by Wizards of the Coast. It will provide a reasonable high level play experience but it should not be a first choice. Maps are black and white which will disappoint virtual table top users.Review: Dungeons & Dragons - Vecna: Eve of Ruin