Ruins of the Grendleroot
If you, like me, were thinking it’s about time Sly Flourish released an adventure campaign of their own, then rejoice! It happened. It’s called Ruins of the Grendleroot. And it is good.
Set in the caverns, chambers, tunnels, and ruins of Blackclaw Mountain, players will discover the Grendleroot—a strange and otherworldy sentience—that lurks deep within, calling out to adventurers. Will they heed the call? Or will they fall victim to one of the many dark creatures that dwell beneath the mountain?
Ten Fantastic Fifth Edition Adventures
Ruins of the Grendleroot contains 10 potentially connected stories that can be run sequentially, independently, or in sections as part of a larger story. Like the best RPG modules, it is both modular and stand-alone. This kind of versatility makes it perfect both for new dungeon masters trying it out for the first time, and experienced veterans looking for some fresh content for a years long campaign.
Built around the core philosophies of giving situations and not stories, creating optimistic excitement, and delivering enticing, fantastic locations, the sense of adventure comes from placing heroes in interesting situations and providing space to see what happens. It doesn’t prescribe what should happen, nor even what success always looks like; instead Ruins of the Grendleroot sets the scene for anything to happen, with each adventure having a number of potential conclusions and outcomes.
What to expect
This book has plenty of dungeon, but not many dragons. There are, however, cultists, ghosts, zombies, duergar, orcs, blink dogs and death dogs, phase spiders, vampires, purple worms, minotaur skeletons, shambling mounds, and even an aboleth. There’s also a Fancy Hat Generator for when you have to attend a very specific fancy hat party. True story: I rolled a very large cowboy hat that sets off magical fireworks.
Reading the above list of monsters, you won’t be surprised to discover that there is a clear and stated focus in Ruins of the Grendleroot on underground exploration—it is, after all, set in the depths of a mysterious mountain. Thankfully, however, the results are better than WotC’s official fifth edition Underdark adventure Out of the Abyss—which is good, but flawed.
Underground adventure settings can be hard to get right, and Out of the Abyss struggled by giving the dungeon master too much empty space to fill. In Ruins of the Grendleroot, every room, passageway, or location is described in concise but satisfying detail that still manages to leave space for improvisation and something unique. There won’t be whole hours of sessions wasted on unnecessary journeys or getting lost in the dark.
Ruins of the Grendleroot also includes a base-of-operations-style settlement, something which all good campaigns should have. This is especially true of campaigns that are based underground. Players need somewhere they can return to, or even retreat to, a safe place to have a long rest and think about their life choices. As described, “Deepdelver’s Enclave is a beacon of light within a mountain filled with darkness,” and it serves as the home settlement for players where they will enjoy the continual celebrations, comfort, and companionship found in the enclave—they might even get to attend a fancy hat party!
What’s in the book?
As with all Sly Flourish content, the book delivers solid advice on pacing adventures, on including secrets and clues, using strong starting hooks, and giving the dungeon master everything they’ll need to run a fun and satisfying game.
Chapters 1 and 2 focus on the setting, giving a tangible sense of what kind of place Blackclaw Mountain is. Chapter 1 describes the aforementioned Deepdelver’s Enclave, a small settlement of adventures and the base of operations for a campaign set in the mountain. Chapter 2 gives a history of Blackclaw Mountain, set out in an format that is easy to understand, digest, and use.
Chapters 3-12 are dedicated to the 10 adventures in Ruins of the Grendleroot. The fantastic thing about this book is that for each player level, except level 1, there are two or three possible adventures. Therefore, as the dungeon master, you can pick and choose the way you want your Grendleroot campaign to go. You could even use all of them—with a bit of modification—in a campaign that could take your players to much higher levels.
Each of the 10 adventures is laid out using the same precise formula that gives all the necessary information in all the right places. The beginning of each chapter includes an adventure summary detailing the monsters and NPCs that players will face, a list of the secrets and clues you can tempt characters with, tips on pacing the adventure, and a good, solid hook to get the adventure underway. Of the 10 adventures, Chuul (chapter 7) and Shatter (chapter 8) look the most fun to me—but then I have previous experience with a shambling mound, and who can resist pitting level 3 adventurers against an aboleth?
Really useful appendices
Ruins of the Grendleroot contains three really useful appendices. Appendix A is a Player’s Guide, which helps players to develop characters optimized for underground travel and linked to the Grendleroot setting, complete with mysteries, personality traits, and bonds.
Appendix B is the Gamemaster’s Toolkit and contains tips on expanding the journey, and creating shorter or longer sessions. There are tables for creating environmental features and exciting locations, a massive 50 random encounters for characters to stumble upon, and mutations, weapons, relics, and madness effects that are unique to Blackclaw Mountain.
The final appendix, The Rise of the Black Star, introduces a campaign arc that follows on from Ruins of the Grendleroot and potentially takes players from 6th to 20th level. This final appendix is more inspiration than detailed description of events, encounters, and outcomes, but it is sure to set any Dungeon Master’s cogs of machination whirring excitedly.
Ruins of the Grendleroot Art Book
Also available as a companion to Ruins of the Grendleroot is an Art Book complete with all the maps, art, and images of the key NPCs from the campaign. This book is sure to help any DM with their planning of Grendleroot sessions, can be used as visual aids during gameplay, or it can provide inspiration for your own homebrew campaign.
With fantastic art from Jack Kaiser and Bryan Syme and cartography from the ever reliable Elven Tower, this book really fleshes out the setting and brings the depths of the Blackclaw Mountain to life.
I really like this book. On the reverse cover it states: “Ruins of the Grendleroot is a book of ten short adventures … [d]esigned for characters of 1st to 5th level.” So you could easily be forgiven for thinking, “Great, another D&D book with some interesting content. What’s new?”
Well, the answer is: there’s lots. And it’s all delicately stitched together with the love and care of a true Dungeons & Dragons fan who really knows what works and what dungeon masters look for in a campaign book. The real question should be: “Why isn’t this guy working for WotC yet?”
After all, we know he could do it well. Mike Shea is the genius behind the Lazy Dungeon Master, The Return of The Lazy Dungeon Master, Sly Flourish’s Fantastic Adventures, and Sly Flourish’s Fantastic Locations, all books designed with the struggling DM in mind to help ease the stress and strains of playing make believe with your friends.
And trust me, it IS stressful. But it’s also fun, and Ruins of the Grendleroot really taps into that sense of fun and adventure which draw us time and again to the fantasy worlds of Dungeons & Dragons.
Disclaimer: GeekDad received a copy of Ruins of the Grendleroot for review purposes.
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