5E Adventure Review: Cellar of Death

The new Guild Adepts program from Wizards of the Coast and the DMs Guild has seen a few interesting products released to support Tomb of Annihilation. In the coming weeks, I’ll take a look at each of these products, but I decided to start with Cellar of Death (also known as Cellar of DEEEEAAAATTTTHHHH!), a short adventure by James Introcaso that can serve as a prologue to the entire Tomb of Annihilation story. It can also be seen as the Rogue One to Tomb of Annihilation, although it is hoped that the PCs survive this one!

The adventure uses some interesting techniques. At its heart it is a dungeon crawl: the adventurers need to beard the lair of a lich to steal her phylactery while their Harper allies distract her with a major attack on the stronghold. However, the adventure begins with an intensive role-playing scene where the players collaboratively create a major NPC who has been very important to them. They then bury that NPC, as the NPC has become a victim of the Death Curse that underlies the Tomb of Annihilation story. The intent is that by spending time creating this NPC and detailing how each adventurer knows him or her, it invests the players in the character and thus makes the Death Curse more impactful.

Whether this succeeds will depend greatly on the dynamics of your group. The adventure doesn’t depend on it; it exists to facilitate some intense role-playing in the group and provide a memorable beginning to the campaign. Personally, I’d prefer it if the NPC created this way had an ongoing role in the campaign; there’s a lot of adventure in Tomb of Annihilation, and this NPC won’t have enough impact. My preference would be to use this player-created NPC to take the role of Syndra Silvane. Thus, you’ll have a character that the players care about dying before the adventurers’ eyes: a much better impetus for the campaign.

The dungeon itself is well-constructed, with several memorable encounters. The way a Gray Ooze is disguised is ingenious, and there are plenty of incidental details to intrigue the players. The final encounter in the dungeon could go very badly for the adventurers; it’s a tough encounter, especially if you don’t have a cleric. For a group of four first-level characters, I’d likely reduce the number of monsters if the adventures have expended a lot of resources getting there. The dungeon is laid out in a loop, with two ways of getting to the goal.

The adventure has some time pressure built in, suggesting keeping track of time elapsed in the real world to judge when the lich might confront a tardy party.

The map is very nicely drawn by Dyson Logos, although I’m not fond of the way one tunnel travels under a side-room: for this map, it just causes confusion. There are times when having tunnels running above and below each other leads to interesting play; it’s inconsequential in this instance and would have been better avoided.

Overall, this is an enjoyable and interesting adventure, which would make a good opening chapter to Tomb of Annihilation. Cellar of Death can also be played on its own without too much alteration. Recommended!

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