Throughout the lot of my D&D play, I’ve never really gone the path of single adventures, even when I first began as a DM. It’s always been through the long scope of a campaign, otherwise known as a series of adventures usually with a central plot. More to the point I’ve never worked from a single module, and I think that’s even a more drastic failure on my part, but I digress. The usual point of the campaign is to have a big climatic finish which (sometimes) ties up the central plot, giving a high note for players to leave the gaming table.
I’ll be blunt to say it’s hard to please players, more so when you’re trying to please a table of players, whom probably won’t care about the story of the world around them but about their story and outcome. So conceiving an Endgame is a challenge like no other, because it will likely not live up to the hype and scrutiny of the players, especially if the game has been rocky up to that point. I’ve always preferred the method which gave the least amount of stress, so I just try and have fun with the game and the supposed grand end, and let the players decide what was great. Though I suppose if I wanted to go balls out I could always use the WTF factor of Elder Evils. Yes, I’m finally talking about it as promised. Moving on…
In summary, Elder Evils was written with the intention of giving campaign endings to be remembered, or at the very least frustrate players. Outlined in the books are nine ending scenarios against a Big Bad, each of which have two established fights in the setting, and the Big Bad fight itself. There’s also suggested plot progression examples given at the beginning of each Big Bad chapter, along with powerful NPCs to mess the PCs up something awful. I especially like the Bodak and Kolyarut NPCs, which were given Levels of Character Classes that evened them out quite well. Who said increasing HD was the only thing you could do to strengthen a monster?
Aside from the these nine Big Bad’s, their ending scenarios and the campaign path suggestions…there really isn’t that much to the book. Sure, what’s inside is amazingly fun to read, with scenarios on how the universe was created and will thus be destroyed, a creature spawned from the throes of the early chaos of creation, and a demon who spawned the concept of divine magic without the assistance of a god. But this book is 159 pages long, of which only 15 pages aren’t devoted to what I mentioned above. Within those pages are some good material, or at the very least potential for good.
One item of interest is Signs, which act as notices of the campaign slowly changing due to the Elder Evil’s influence. These changes can be subtle, such as the sudden appearance of undead, which is fairly common should a villain be into necromancy. Others are more noticeable, such as a giant glyph in the sky that impedes certain conjuration magic. Over time the Sign gets stronger, and these subtle changes can no longer be ignored. Signs are an amazing idea, and act as means to evoke terrible change should the PCs not act. Granted, there really is no way for the PCs to stop the signs from getting stronger since it’s a matter of the world moving its course, but that’s something which can be altered at DM discretion. Lord knows I would be pissed as a PC if I was going to get attacked by giant worms of total CR 12-15 almost every hour of the day and couldn’t do anything about it. Seriously, that’s just insane.
The Feat section of the book is very bland, with mostly Feats reprinted from other books, and not very special ones either. It could be overlooked completely save for the notice it’s possible to give your allegiance to a specific Elder Evil and gain Bonus Feats based on how powerful you are. As a means to create a powerful NPC to fight against, this isn’t half bad. But as a player option for their PC, that’s just plain awesome. A PC story or campaign built around making sure the Big Bad succeeds in their goals is a wonderful twist considering this book is built upon being the good guy (or evil guy working for the greater good). Problem is the majority of Elder Evils don’t need a PC to bring about the destruction of their coming, because the Signs and minions tend to do the job for them…unless you create a situation where the PC must make a critical choice to assist the Big Bad. Long as you can overlook the fact that the majority of Elder Evils will likely destroy everything that is, have right at it I say.
But other than the basic introduction to the book and other small details of how Elder Evils described in the book work, there really isn’t much else. An interesting addition would have been a layout for constructing your own Elder Evil. That’s something the architect DM would love, and if there’s one to make your very own Abomination, why not Elder Evil? At most there’s a description of Elder Evil traits and Malefic Properties and how powerful they are, but it’s not enough to start a foundation. I suppose it’s possible to emulate via examination of the Evils presented within, but it’s hard work making something balanced…heck, the Elder Evils of the book show just that.
At most, Elder Evils is a collection of adventure modules. Modules that take an entire 20 Level progression to even get to, but modules all the same. Nothing really wrong with that, because they are good, and it’s possible to adopt the ideas presented from them (see a trend going on here?). My issue is how long it takes to get to them, and playing out a story takes so long as it is, making the use of these modules sparse. As a means to make use of them, I decided to use one during a D&D night wherein I wasn’t prepared, and thus Zargon’s scenario was challenged after a one hour character creation.
What I learned? The challenges leading up to the Elder Evil is one hell of a steep difficulty curve. Seriously, I can’t stress enough the difficulty of the final encounter versus the entry into the one shot. As a means to at least give the PCs a chance, I gave them the capacity to go to 20th Lvl with proper GP of such a level. And while they breezed through the first encounter which was an amalgam of all the encounters in the whole temple the scenario took place in, they were still no match for the menace that was Zargon. And this guy was meant to be faced around 17th Lvl. I really don’t know how that could be done through a straight forward play through, rather than the one shot I presented it as, because the difference between a 17th Lvl PC played from the start and built on the spot is staggering when you look at the math.
I also learned it’s important to remember what’s in your NPCs stat block, because Zargon met his end to the casting of Irresistible Dance. An amazing spell…when it works, and it shouldn’t have, because Elder Evils are immune to mind-effecting spells and abilities. However, due to my memory failure the mass of tentacles that was Zargon danced to his grave, making for a funny end to the night’s challenge. Not to say that they couldn’t have defeated him if I didn’t mess up, because they had whittled him down pretty good. He would have gone down eventually, albeit with a few deaths in the party. Even though I blundered, everyone still had a good time, and that’s probably the best lesson I gained from the occasion.
Other than that, book is a bit personal with me, because my very first D&D campaign took place within the concept of one of the Elder Evil paths outlined in the the book. Not only that, it’s probably the most dangerous one in terms of the Big Bad’s stat block and fight setting (besides Pandorym, who will eat your soul). Granted, I was kicked out before I ever got to see it through, and I only understand where the plot went because I bought the book. I suppose reading what they went through was the next best thing? Yeah, I’ll go with that.
Whatever the case, it certainly gives perspective to all the things we faced, and I’m pretty sure I can recall all the challenges I went through from start to finish (there’s that good/bad memory again). The DM followed the presented plot progression pretty much to the letter, which explained why he wished no one to read the book for fear of knowing where and when he was going to make his move. Along with knowing that, I really have to wonder how they even managed to survive till the end, because I have heard through the grapevine they were pretty much wiped out, yet still saved the day.
I guess it’s one of those things you need to live to understand, and thus far I’ve never even seen a campaign come to finish. Suppose that makes my understanding of the Campaign Ender a little fishy, and you would be right to call me on it. How can I understand how a game should end if I’ve never seen a single game I’ve played or DMed come to fruition? I’ll get back to you on that. I’ve long since intended my current game to end within the year, so we’ll see how that turns out.