The Dark Lord is the final instalment of the D&D Adventurers League adventures set in Barovia. Written by Greg Marks, this 43-page adventure for level 5-10 characters is meant to be played in 4 hours, although I think most groups will struggle to do so. There’s a lot of material to cover.
The beginning of the adventure features the ritual to find the overall villain of the series, Esmae. The hag, Jeny Greenteeth, needs a coven to complete it, but her hag sisters are not with her. Thus, other female spellcasters are required. Sybil, the Gur seer, will be one of them, and either Aya Glenmiir or Ixusaxa Terrorsong can be the other. Having a PC spellcaster participate is not recommended, as it drains their strength, which they need for the mission to come. It’s a horrifying ritual, with some interesting consequences. It also allows objects obtained in previous adventures to give the adventurers benefits and drawbacks; I’ve seen these used in surprising and inventive ways. They are a terrific addition to the adventure.
There’s also a side-quest to find Aya if necessary; it doesn’t add much to the story, instead it takes up valuable time.
Once the adventurers have learnt where Esmae is, the remaining adventure is quite simple in form: fight through the enemies guarding Esmae, find the hidden entrance to her lair, then defeat her. There’s not much role-playing to do here, as the time for talking is over. It’s the time for action! Most of the interest from the adventure comes from the varied combat situations the characters need to face. Fighting a hidden assassin, fighting on stairs, fighting during a ritual where other stuff is happening: the players get a chance to demonstrate their ability to deal with different challenges in combat.
The exploration of the lair also can reveal a few more details about the plot, to help along the players’ comprehension of the story, and there are several traps and tricks to keep them on their toes.
All of this is well done, but it’s a challenge to run it to time. I’ve run it twice, and both times I’ve needed to compress sections of the adventure to allow a reasonable time for the conclusion. The final combat, especially when played at the proper level, is very challenging. Esmae has many immunities and resistances; the players also need to expel the source of her power while still fighting Esmae and her minions. Esmae doesn’t get a chance to get much of a personality; the players will mostly have to infer it from her previous actions, and the information gathered in the last few adventures.
There may be a few too many encounters to reach Esmae, I feel. At this point, you know what you must do, and the encounters just delay you.
While it’s a good adventure, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of greatness. That said, there’s much in it to like. Overall, the Misty Hearts and Absent Fortunes series has had more hits than misses, and its main flaws have come from problems with the overall narrative – which have left some adventures with little to do. The Dark Lord? It does a lot and finishes the series with style.