5E Adventure Review: Cauldron of Sapphire

Cauldron of Sapphire, the penultimate Tier 4 adventure of Season 7, is a superb adventure. Robert Adducci crafted what I believe is the first regular-series DDAL adventure to get Tier 4 right – and yes, I do include my own efforts in that. (I don’t include the special Epics or Author-Only adventures, as I haven’t run those yet!)

Cauldron, like my Eye of Xxiphu, mostly takes place underwater, but raises the challenge by putting the characters near a volcano. This means that they must also deal with superheated, acidic water! The visuals of the adventure are excellent. I delighted in an early scene where great masses of pumice rose up from below as the party descended.

Most of the encounters don’t immediately begin with an attack and provide opportunities for role-playing. My players delighted in that and caused much chaos amongst their foes. Not every monster has the same motivation, and the characters can save some from corruption. The adventure isn’t “everyone lives!”, but it does offer a lot for players of all types.

The imagery gets more disturbing as the adventurers get closer to the conclusion; there are serious forces of corruption loose. The great ur-demon Dagon can potentially make an appearance as the climax. The choice of monsters reinforces the theme of corruption, and it’s great to see the use of a sibriex from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. My group found the combat encounters – those the party didn’t talk their way past – challenging. It was also nice to have an adventure where the conclusion wasn’t the players facing Red Wizards and casting multiple meteor swarms!

As with many D&D Adventurers League adventures, the structure is mostly linear. Unusually, there are no maps at all. It’s well-written for the most part, but somehow omits the nalfeshnee stat block, a monster that appears in a couple of encounters. The WotC mandate of not modifying the printed stat block in the adventure but instead noting changes in a sidebar was frustrating, once again. Robert used reskinned monsters well.

There are a lot of environmental hazards present in the adventure, and the number of moving parts can make running combats tricky. However, the results were well worth it.

Cauldron of Sapphire is a superb adventure and, even if you don’t play in the D&D Adventurers League campaign, it’s worth examining its techniques. Strongly recommended!

5E Supplement Review: Waterdeep Primer

The Waterdeep Primer is a 24-page document compiled by Jason Hardin that introduces the reader to key facts about the City of Waterdeep, an important city in the Forgotten Realms. With the upcoming adventure season revolving around this city, this is a way to learn some lore before the official release.

The primer covers the history of the city in four pages, the geography in six pages, and most of the remainder deals with factions, societies and groups of power. Covers, contents and bibliography take up five pages. The bibliography is very important, as it shows you the primary sources to gain more information on the city, albeit in previous editions.

Details on each topic are necessarily brief, but informative. The writing is clear, with enough details to pique the reader’s interest. I liked that it describes notable establishments and particularly liked the descriptions of education and mages academies in the city.

The primer only mentions a few characters of Waterdeep and doesn’t give detailed descriptions of them. We won’t know about most of the characters currently in Waterdeep until the adventures get released, as most of the characters we know lived about one-hundred years before the present time in the Realms – since 4E’s release, we’ve only learnt a little about who lives in Waterdeep these days.

The product serves as a reference for both Dungeon Masters and players. There might be a couple of secret factions a DM wouldn’t want their players to know about, but for the most part its information should be common knowledge.

If you’re unfamiliar with the city or want a quick refresher on the setting, this should suit your needs. Recommended.

5E Adventure Review: Ghost of the Mere

Ghost of the Mere is an adventure for 12th-level characters, set during the time of the Tyranny of Dragons. It’s designed so it can be run as an additional quest during Rise of Tiamat. You’d benefit from owning Hoard of the Dragon Queen for information on Castle Naerytar.

The adventure sets up an interesting situation where the characters are sent to stop the black dragon of the Mire of Dead Men but must deal with a rising undead threat at the same time. The adventure’s structure isn’t linear. The interaction with the various characters in the adventure, including the lizardfolk Snapjaw, a captured Dragon Cultist, and three hags, allows the play to take several paths.

Most of the play surrounds three key locations: Castle Naerytar, the ruined Uthtower, and the Dragon’s Lair. There’s a focus on running the big dragon battle well, and the locations are interesting places to use.

The encounters can be very challenging for the players, with a lot of moving parts.

The main problem I had was trying to work out the shape of the adventure. The adventure assumes the characters begin by talking to the lizardfolk of Castle Naerytar; however, an introduction for the characters that explains their mission and sends them to the lizardfolk is missing in two of the three hooks. There’s also a lot of text. Lots of background details, occasionally in places that disrupt the flow of the adventure. It’s not easy to read.

It’s sort of a sandbox, as it doesn’t dictate how the adventurers must approach things. There’s no map of the swamp, but the key locations have maps.

There’s a lot of ambition in this adventure. It demands work from the DM to pull it together, but there’s enough here to make it intriguing.