“Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle: An Exclusive D&D Next Preview” is a much touted mini-campaign/D&D Next rules introduction available exclusively at Gen Con 2013. I had not intended on purchasing this item, but I won it at Iron GM, so I thought a review might be of interest to those that missed out. Clearly this module/rules book strives to stir interest in the new edition and keep the faithful happy until the big reveal next year at Gen Con 2014. Read on to see if Wizards succeeded.
First a warning, I will not be reviewing any of the D&D Next rules in the book. I never review any beta rules as policy and even the book’s introduction states the rules are four months behind current beta rules because of printing deadlines. Not much point in reviewing obsolete rules.
Also I like to talk about the art in modules, but the introduction states that the art comes from previous editions (some of which I recognized from 1st edition!) and the occasional piece of concept art from D&D Next. Sadly, I cannot tell which is which and did not see any way to tell old art from concept art. Some of the art is quite good and some is just awful. I truly hope the awful art was from previous editions.
So, my review limits itself to the first 140 pages that contain four short modules that form a mini-campaign. Players begin on the Sword Coast as lowly adventurers looking for a dungeon to crawl and the local good guy “Sir Isteval” has a minor problem that needs attention. Time to begin the campaign! This next bit is a bit spoiler-ish, so future players of “Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle” are warned.
The Red Wizards of Thay seek four keys to release evil elemental lords from their respective elemental nodes.
Wow, an evil cult seeking keys to open elemental nodes to free evil elemental lords. So fresh, so original, where in heaven and earth did the writers come up with that one? Gee, I wonder.
Ok, moving past the recycled campaign setup, I dove into the campaign itself and one of the early encounters involves puppets telling “yo’ mamma” jokes.
That is not a typo, the authors felt the need to slip in a “humorous” scene with witty zingers like “Yo’mama’s so ugly, she could turn a blind man to stone. ” The entire book overflows with snarky, unnecessary asides from the authors on fake “post-it” notes. Here is a clever example:
Stay frosty Trask, do not let the snark distract you from reviewing the plot. PCs trudge through the first dungeon and pick up a few hints about the Thay’s plot. Does not really matter much since an NPC in the first section of the second module tells you pretty much everything anyway. Well done intrepid investigators! Plot is completely revealed through no action of the players, time to move on to the monster slaying.
The campaign is actually four old-style dungeon crawls with traps, monsters and 10-foot wide corridors. Some of the encounters sounded like fun and couple of the sub-plots were more interesting than the main plot, involving enslaved dwarves breeding with orcs and a rakshasa seeking an elaborate revenge. Either sub-plot would make for a better campaign than “Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle.”
In case it is not clear, this is a thoroughly negative review. I rarely give negative reviews because game publishing is a money losing hobby for most publishers and authors. Men and women hard at work in their spare time supporting a hobby I love should never be publicly ridiculed for their best effort.
That said, Wizards of the Coast is a giant corporation with talented writers, large budgets and years of experience writing games and deserves every bit of vitriol I can muster. There is no excuse for this miserable book.
“Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle” feels rushed and lazy. Sub-standard writing cranked out to meet a deadline with the confidence that the “Dungeons and Dragons” brand will sell the book. I hate the arrogance that the brand alone is enough buoy bad product. It is insulting to their fan base. Perhaps Wizards should remember that the rules support great storytelling and exciting plots. Plots are not filler between combat encounters they are the reason for the combat encounters. They forget that fact at their peril.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer