Reign of Ruin is an adventure for levels 7-8 characters by Richard Moore published by Jon Brazer Enterprises, who have done a lot of work releasing supplements for the Pathfinder system and are also now releasing 5E adventures. Reign of Ruin is a 46-page PDF and describes an adventure where the players must stop a black dragon from establishing her rulership over the land. It has also been released for the Pathfinder, 13th Age and Swords & Wizardry systems.
It is an incredibly combat-heavy adventure. The main part of the adventure takes place in an old temple, now co-opted by the dragon’s followers, and of its nineteen areas, sixteen contain combat. Some contain combat and traps. There are two areas which have the potential of roleplaying, but mostly the monsters attack on sight.
When I see active lairs like this one, I look for advice on what to do if the characters retreat and come back. I’m not particularly surprised to see that such is absent from the text; it is missing from most adventures. However, I don’t know how realistic it is that a party could finish the adventure in one delve. With so many combats – and with the dragon also ambushing the party from time to time as they descend towards her lair – this is going to be a difficult adventure. The DM is likely to need to work out a plan for what happens if the adventurers need more than one attempt to clear the temple.
There is an extensive historical background to the adventure, telling the tale of the ancient dragon kingdom to which the current dragon pretends. The introductory encounters are perfunctory, and I spent some time looking for text explaining how the adventurers moved from one village that was attacked by a dragon to another village that was under threat. I would have greatly appreciated a synopsis describing the expected play of the adventure.
I have significant problems with its format. It has full monster stat-blocks in the text, and they take up a lot of space. One encounter takes five pages to describe! Another encounter takes up three pages, with references to stat blocks on two more pages previously in the book, plus a Monster Manual reference. This is incredibly unwieldy. The difficulty of running five different monsters in one combat is also significant.
It was possible to include full stat blocks, or close to it, during the AD&D days, but monster descriptions are much longer now. In the modern era, the 4E Delve format is the only one I’ve considered effective, and it caused severe problems with the flow of the descriptive text. This adventure has the worst of both worlds: it’s hard to read, and hard to use. I estimate that if you moved the stat-blocks to an appendix, the temple would take fewer than 15 pages to describe rather than 30 pages, and be much easier to understand.
What the adventure does get right is its use of the dragon. A wand of polymorph in her possession allows her to appear unexpectedly to confront the party, and the adventure presents several ways this can be used to her advantage.
The traps are wonderfully inventive and evil in their application, and there are some very interesting combats. I just wonder if there are too many of them for the narrative structure.
Overall, if you enjoy challenging combats and traps, you should enjoy this adventure. I think better formatting would much improve it, but it’s still playable, and it has some very memorable encounters.