Review – Vecna * Eve of Ruin

We are now in the 50th anniversary year for Dungeons & Dragons, and Vecna * Eve of Ruin is an adventure for those who would like to lean into that event. Obviously, it leans into one of the oldest of evil D&D figures, the lich Vecna. Best known for losing a hand and eye that went on to be artifacts (Editor’s Note – My 13-year-old would like to let you know that it is hard not to read this title as Vecna * Eye of Ruin), Vecna also gets a recognition boost from his name being used to label a Big Bad in Strange Things. But Eve of Ruin doesn’t just use Vecna in a shallow way – it draws on the history of the character, both the thematic fixation on secrets and the particulars of his backstory. In addition to Vecna, Eve of Ruin will take the players on a grand (although not comprehensive) tour of D&D campaign settings, making stops in Dragonlance, Eberron, Greyhawk, Planescape, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, and (of course) the Forgotten Realms. The characters in Even of Ruin will also interact with some of the potent figures and items in those campaign settings (or their associates), and have the power needed to do that, as this adventure starts at level 10 and goes all the way up to 20. Time to break out those level 9 spells and level 20 capstone abilities!

Eve of Ruin is split into two parts, where the characters must first assemble the Rod of Seven Parts and then use it to thwart Vecna’s master plan. The first part of this campaign will thus take the characters on a 5E-flavored tour of the game, visiting locations such as:

  • A home base in Sigil populated by some seriously powerful NPC wizards;
  • A casino in Avernus (in case you didn’t get enough Avernus last time)
  • A drow base in the Underdark
  • A sinister manor in Barovia
  • The Mournlands (what’s used to be the nation of Cyre on Eberron, before it was destroyed in the magical catyclysm that prompted the end of the Last War)
  • A vault dedicated to the three moons of Krynn
  • The wreckage of a spelljamming ship that’s crashed into the body of a dead god in the Astral Plane
  • An homage to Greyhawk’s deadliest tomb.

Out of the seven ‘find a piece of the Rod here’ adventure locations, I would say that only one was a bit disappointing, three were solid, and three were excellent (the Tomb of Horrors homage, the manor in Ravenloft, and an adventure inside a colossal mech on Eberron). It’s probably noteworthy that two of the three I judge to be excellent are in part playing on prior adventures (one a classic and one from 5E) – I am right there in the target audience for D&D nostalgia. Across the seven adventures are a good mix of infiltration, hack-and-slash, puzzles, NPC interaction, traps, and epic confrontations.

Once the Rod of Many Parts has been assembled the pace of the campaign will quicken and turn more towards direct physical confrontations with legendary foes. This is definitely the time to break out all of the tricks you’ve learned over 50 years of D&D and 10 years of 5E, or however much you’ve been lucky enough to play (I can personally only claim to have 30 years’ D&D experience under my belt).

Eve of Ruin is a pretty nice quest across the D&D universe, optimized for those who have been around but still enjoyable for those who haven’t yet seen it all. Players, I highly recommend taking it for a spin. As usual, the book is available in a standard version, the LGS fancy-cover version, and on D&D Beyond.

Dungeon Masters, scroll down a bit. See this nice big image below? That’s a spoiler bar – if you want to play the adventure you probably don’t want to read below because you’re going to ruin the surprises. You have been warned.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy. Strange Assembly may earn commissions on affiliate links in this article.


Dungeon Masters Only – No Players Allowed

All, right, now that all of the players have gone away, let’s delve a bit more into the details of Eve of Ruin. The adventure is really divided into two parts. The first part sees the characters chasing the various parts of the Rod of Seven Parts across the campaign settings at the behest of Alustriel Silverhand, Tasha, and Mordenkainen in the belief that the artifact will enable them to stop Vecna’s plan to destroy the universe and remake it in his image. That takes the characters from levels 11-17 (level 10 is an introductory adventure to set up why the characters have a mystical connection that makes them the only ones in the universe who can flit from setting to setting and later track down Vecna). Level 18 is the big twist, where Mordenkainen really turns out to be Kas the Betrayer in a very effective disguise (Betrayer as in he long ago betrayed Vecna and the two now hate each other). Kas plans to use the Rod to get help so that he has the oomph to stop Vecna – but, of course, Kas will just take over the big evil ritual and remake the universe the way he wants it. So the characters have to stop Kas and then stop Vecna (who is depowered here so that the characters are not literally fighting a full-strength deity).

There’s some obvious twisting of setting rules here (e.g., the characters are allowed to teleport in and out of Alustriel’s base in Sigil, even though the Lady of Pain doesn’t allow such things), but I think it’s necessary and appropriate in service of a functioning adventure. I mean, if you want to add in parts where the characters spend a lot of time figuring out where the parts of the rod are and then figuring out how to get to them, more power to you, but it’s going to make this a much longer campaign and it wouldn’t fit in a book of this size. The way Eve of Ruin is set up makes sure that the adventure keeps moving from high note to high note. It’s kind of like how with high-level characters every single dungeon has to take place in a location where all of the high-level teleportation magic is turned off – maybe it feels a bit forced, but dungeons don’t work if you can just skip to the end.

Running throughout all of the setting-hopping is a theme of seccrets – almost all of the chapters have at least one NPC who might be induced to divulge a secret. The players can ‘spend’ that secret for a boost during normal play or save them up for bonuses during the final confrontation with Vecna (if the characters just run their mouths and divulge the secret then it isn’t a secret anymore and loses all power). This plays with Vecna’s thematic fixation on secrets, but keep in mind that a lot of these secrets are random personal things – there are a ton of them that the characters don’t really have much of an in-game reason to ask about, unless/until they realize that secrets have power. While you don’t want the characters harassing every NPC for their deepest and darkest fears, you will want to make sure that your players understand that they are going to want to dig a bit more than they usually would. It’s a bit of a shame that this mechanic shows up in an adventure that mostly involves being in a location once and then never interacting with those NPCs again, as this drive to obtain and reasons to hold on to secrets could create a lot more interesting interactions in a campaign where the NPCs show up repeatedly. Here, it gives the players an incentive to engage in some deeper interpersonal interaction with NPCs, but the payoff is almost entirely mechanical in nature.

An Epic Fetch Quest

For all of the high-power hijinx going on, most of Eve of Ruin is fundamentally about going from one dungeon-like adventure location to the next. With the fun level of the adventure essentially rising or falling on the quality of those adventure locations, surely you want to know whether they’re any good. You will notice that almost all of these locations feature the possibility of a capstone fight of some sort, but there is a lot of variance on whether that fight is necessary or whether it can be circumvented or mitigated in some way. Non-combat alternatives to big fights can often be too easy for the players to miss, but Eve of Ruin already has the secrets element to encourage more talking than might otherwise happen, and the book does a good job building in signals to the players (or, sometimes, just flat-out telling them).

The foray into Web’s Edge in the Underdark (the Forgotten Realms) has a bit of infiltration, but is primarily an exercise in killing Lolth-themed enemies, including a spider-dragon (just remember, it was a spider bitten by a radioactive dragon, not the other way around). Relatively speaking, this one will be pretty quick and straightforward for the characters.

With multiple chunks of the broken-up spelljammer ship (the Lambent Zenith) to explore and multiple ways to use conversation to ease or eliminate combat encounters, how this 12th-level jaunt into the Astral Plane goes will vary depending on luck and on how good your players are at deciding when to stab first and when to talk (although if you’ve made sure they know that harvesting secrets is important they will hopefully be more inclined to the latter than usual). With a hidden infiltrator sabotaging them and in need of help, the crew of the ship is justifiably filled with both hope and suspicion towards outsiders like the PCs. I found the ship’s captain, Inda Malayuri, intriguing – a deva sporting a prosthetic wing and arm whose mission to bring peace and salvation is currently in bits and pieces. Regardless of how they handle the ship’s crew, however, the party will ultimately need to enter the dead god’s heart and defeat a hertilod (a giant skinless lizard creature that likes to swallow characters when it isn’t eating god corpses) to retrieve this piece of the Rod of Seven Parts. Note that there’s a drastic scaling-up of the final fight’s difficulty here, as a hertilod is a far tougher opponent than a spider-dragon.

The stop in the Mournlands (Eberron) is partially a showcase for warforged (including some loyal to the Lord of Blades) and partially a pretty nifty dungeon crawl where the “dungeon” is an abandoned, partially-functional mecha. The characters get to scale their way up from the feet, including the use of anti-gravity lifts and a forary into the neighboring mountain that the colossus has fused into. That is a pretty darn cool adventure setting. Notably, while this adventure will feature a physical confrontation with a lieutenant of the Lord of Blades, it probably will not end with a physical confrontation with the guardian of this piece of the Rod of Seven Parts (although the characters can make it one if they want). Instead the characters will find a sentience trapped in the colossus that just wants to get out of there and experience the world. Instead of a big fight they will be treated to a race against the mech’s self-destruct sequence, which will trigger when they remove the artifact fragment.

If the characters’ jaunt to Barovia/Ravenloft here is reminiscent of the opening to the Curse of Strahd 5E adventure, that’s because you’re not imagining things, it’s the exact same sinister mansion that was used there (it’s even the same layout for the house once the characters go in), with the same children introducing themselves by telling the party that “There’s a monster in our house!” Except that here they are the actual children, while in Curse of Strahd they were appartions because the children had died centuries before. In the original Death House the characters are dealing with the malignant aftereffects of the evil cult that was inhabited the place, while in the new Death House the cult is in full effect (e.g., the characters get to meet the living Gustav and Elisabeth Durst, instead of them being ghasts). It’s a pretty cool schtick if the players have run through Curse of Strahd before. The Rod component is being used in an evil ritual, although defeating the relentless impaler and retrieving it does not end this mission, as the characters must first escape the manor. This involves interacting with Strahd in several clever hauntings before facing Strahd himself at the exit. Hopefully the characters have been cooperating well with an inquisitor companion whose story runs through this adventure. If they have then they can talk their way past him. If not then it could be a tough fight since the party won’t have had a chance to rest since retrieving the Rod component and may have taken damage in the hauntings along the way.

The campaign next takes the characters to Krynn/Dragonlance, where they will interact with a tormented dryad, face servants of Lord Soth (I get that Soth is popular, but does it always have to be Soth?), and also deal with a Krynn-specific version of lycanthropy. The characters will have to battle their way through a lot of undead while getting the clues needed to manipulate mirrors and the light of the three moons to disrupt (another) evil ritual. Defeating the elven mage who was casting the ritual (and has the Rod part) should not be difficult for characters of this level, especially because the lunar dragon who shows up when the ritual is disrupted will primarily focus on the party’s enemies.

The penultimate stop on the party’s quest for artifact pieces is a variation on the Tomb of Horrors on Oerth (Greyhawk), the Tomb of Wayward Souls. You can, of course, check out a straight-up 5E version of that classic meat grinder of a dungeon in Tales from the Yawning Portal, but this homage is really cool. It’s got elements that long-time players will recognize, like the three entrances (two of which are false) and “what will happen if I stick my arm into this black void in the big face’s mouth?” But they are used in different ways so that player can get a nostaligia kick while also preventing them from just metagaming the tomb (for example,  the statute’s maw is a teleporter, not a sphere of annihilation … but there are spheres of annihilation elsewhere). There are traps, room-sized illusions, hidden clues, portals, mysterious altars, a control room, narrow bridges, puzzles, secret compartments, the works. They did a really good job with this one, providing a lot of interesting and challenging bit without going old school and just turning the tomb into a murder-fest. The ‘final boss’ of the tomb is a false copy of Acererak with a growing sense of independence, and clever characters will take advantage of that instead of trying to take down the potent being.

Finally, the characters will head to Avernus where they must visit a casino run by adherents of Tiamat (I am not clear on why Tiamat has a casino). For me this one has the least cachet because it isn’t it’s own campaign setting and we’ve seen a lot of casinos in D&D lately, between the Planescape box set and Keys from the Golden Vault. This is the most distinctive part of the fetch quest in that there’s no dungeon-like structure to explore. There are five pit masters at the casino and you only have to impress one of them to get into the ‘back room’ – so that’s (1) win some pit fights; (2) be a good enough cheat/liar at the racetrack; (3) have a high enough Intelligence bonus to wins some games of dragonchess and/or catch cheaters; (4) bribe someone (probably with something you found in the maze); or (5) win a lot gambling. It’s a relatively lot of write-up for a part of the adventure the party will probably only be in for a short time. Unless the characters are distracted by some overpriced magical items in the back room (sorry, an exclusive club reserved for the casino’s most valued patrons), this result fairly quickly result in a break-in and confrontation with Tiamat’s champion (who weights in at CR23, so probably for the best that the 17th-level characters haven’t had to spend a lot of resources fighting through a dungeon).

Can You Call It A Final Showdown When It Lasts Three Character Levels?

When the characters finally assemble the Rod of Seven Parts the story will hit its big plot twist, leaving the characters without their magical McGuffin but still the only ones available to go deal with the possible end of the universe. These final three levels (18-20) will go relatively quickly. The characters will chase Kas the Betrayer into Pandemonium where they will find a battle and level up again (to 19), presumably because they’ve learned their lesson about trusting vampires dressed up as famous wizards. If the characters are smart they will mostly just skip interacting with the massive war going on between the army of Kas/Miska the Wolf-Spider and the army of Vecna/Lolth (lots of spider-themed mega-villains, it turns out). They could stop and hit Lolth’s HQ at Hurricane Tower, which will be a big fight, but it’s not necessary (it does reduce the DC of an important skill check later in the chapter). Rather, they need to get to Kas’s HQ, the Ruinous Citadel, which is where he’s trying to use the Rod of Seven Parts to free Miska. A pile of dead spyder-fiends later (spider = works for Lolth, spyder-fiend = works for Miska) and the characters will have sealed back up the portal and retrieved the Rod of Seven Parts (they don’t directly fight Miska, but he can use some actions through the partially-open portal to help the final spyder-fiend encounter). One jaunt over to the Cliffside Redout, a few more dead spyder-fiends, and the characters will get to fight Kas directly. The legendary vampire is a beat-stick, and the characters are not going to be fresh, but at least he’s alone.

Having defeated Kas (and hitting level 20), the characters will know where to find Vecna. Before facing Vecna, however, the characters must deal with minor unrealities spawned from Vecna’s efforts to remake the universe – a demiplane where Kas is imprisoned an tormented, another one where Vecna rules Neverwinter, and a third where Vecna has killed every other god and scattered their bones across the astral plane. Finally they will reach the Cave of Shattered Reflection, which will be much easier if they’ve managed to collect and hang on to enough secrets. There are 17 across the adventure; 15 are needed to a full power-up here. Probably the most significant benefit is triggered by having at least 7, which allows the characters to see through the walls – which is important because all of the doors are teleporters and the characters are going to have to figure everything out (how the teleporters work, where Vecna is, etc.) while taking psychic damage every round. But the characters will want all of the help they can get because Vecna is nasty and not alone, so they will be very happy if they can hit the secret thresholds for benefits like free haste and advantage on Constitution saving throws (guess what sort of saving throw Vecna’s abilities force the characters to make?).

If they make it through these brawls, the characters will have destroyed or banished some potent threats to the universe and earned the personal appreciation of some prominent NPCs. The players will have gotten to take a (limited to 5E settings) trip through D&D history. I think the best parts of Eve of Ruin are the ones most tinged with nostalgia – the homage to the Tomb of Horrors (for some really old school callbacks) and the tie-in to Curse of Strahd (for a 5E callback). Those are nice levels even standing alone, but you really get extra juice if the players have history there. Climbing the Lost Colossus is pretty nifty as well. The only part of the gathering of the Rod of Seven Parts I wasn’t too enthused about was the final stop in Avernus – it’s the most straightforward part of the fetch quest and it’s right up against the ‘final confrontation’ part of the campaign, which is very combat focused compared to the earlier quest. I think it works well that the finale is fairly straightforward – there’s a reason why a lot more D&D games take place at low- to mid-levels, instead of at high ones. I think at this length Eve of Ruin gives the players a chance to get some big fights with their super-high-powered characters with all of the optimization and tricks they’ve spent the last decade learning and yearning for, without overstaying its welcome. Probably the weakest part of Eve of Ruin is the secrets mechanic – I think it could shine a lot better in a campaign that was based more around repeat social interaction than it does here.

All told, I think Eve of Ruin does a good job at what it’s trying to be – a high-level campaign that lets the characters get the nostalgia juices flowing and show off their best powerhouse characters before we turn the page to the next era of D&D.

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