5E Adventure Review: Thralls of Zuggtmoy

Thralls of Zuggtmoy is a 5E adventure originally released in three parts and finally as a consolidated document on the DMs Guild. This is an adventure that shares a format with the D&D Adventurers League adventures and, though it isn’t DDAL-legal, at least one of its authors is now writing DDAL content. I presume the reason that it was released in three parts was to just get something out there quickly, because each part is incomplete by itself. The consolidated document, which is 43 pages long (albeit with repeated and redundant advice) is a more attractive product.

The adventure’s premise is a good one: The dreams of a local tribe’s seer have been stolen, and the adventurers must delve into a canyon deep into the Anauroch desert, fighting gnolls and cultists to what stole the dreams and restore them. As it turns out, there’s a cult of Zuggtmoy worshippers responsible, who have been addicting the local gnoll population to fungal growths, and wish to use the dreams to power a ritual to summon one of Zuggtmoy’s demons into the world.

The first part of the adventure details the characters entering a set of canyons where gnolls live. The structure of this is fascinating: it is entirely possible for the players to bypass most of the encounters and find the entrance into the cultist caverns. Or they might get lost, and need to complete all the encounters. There’s a good variety of encounters here, but a great variance in play time.

The second part of the adventure details the fungal caves. These are inhabited by evil myconids and other fungal threats – both creatures and hazards.

The third and final part of the adventure details the inner sanctum of the cult. Again, it has a few pathways through it, although I’m puzzled by one central tunnel that is trapped and isn’t used by the cult. Why exactly was it built? It’s also obvious that the cult don’t want adventurers to get their treasure; it has a a mimic and several traps guarding it. You can just imagine one drug-addled cultist after another disappearing without a trace when adding to the hoard!

However, the design of the adventure stands up: There’s a good mix of encounters, although pure role-playing opportunities are rare, and it has a suitably difficult confrontation to round out the adventure. The actual feel of the adventure will depend greatly on the DM’s descriptive skills, where the DM can set the tone somewhere between a horror adventure and a standard dungeon crawl.

One aspect of the adventure that certainly doesn’t work is the intention to start it in medias res: The opening description from the DM is, unusually, in the past tense. Unfortunately, all of this is then undermined by immediately allowing the players to interact with this “past” situation. To do this correctly, you need just a brief summary of what came before and then throw the characters into it. What the writers should have done is have the mission briefing proceed as normal, and then skip over all the boring wilderness travel to get to the canyon.

Another point on grammar. This is the wrong way to phrase the opening sentence if you’re describing something in the past: “You all stood before the Chieftess”. It should be “You were all standing before the Chieftess” – the continuous past is required here, as you’re describing something that was ongoing at that point in time.

There’s not all that much boxed text in the adventure, although all the areas are described in the text.

The adventure is presented attractively: good formatting, attractive (if infrequent) art, and excellent maps. One flaw in its otherwise excellent layout is the cover: it’s too difficult to read the title of the adventure, especially as a thumbnail.

Overall, despite some problems with its presentation, this is a superior effort, well worth investigating.

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