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Admittedly, lots of them have eight legs

Vecna: Eve of Ruin is unlike anything yet published for the modern incarnation of Dungeons & Dragons. The final campaign for the original 5th edition rule set begins at level 10, far higher than some other published adventures reach over the course of their entire run. It then proceeds to top out at the system’s hard level cap of 20. That much experience will convert you and your party into magically infused, professionally trained killing machines. Trust me when I say that there will be plenty of opportunities to put those skills to work.

The campaign as a whole is excellent, and that’s because Vecna: Eve of Ruin leans into 5th edition D&D’s most successful format: the adventure anthology. Like Wizards of the Coast’s critically acclaimed Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, Candlekeep Mysteries, Keys From The Golden Vault, and Tales from the Yawning Portal, the campaign could have easily been sold as a collection of disparate yet unrelated adventures. But it takes that variety of experience and welds it to a singular, compelling storyline. The result is a master-crafted set of encounters assembled into a 256-page product that reads just about as well as it runs at the table.

Be aware, however, that even for a game of D&D, this is very much a collection of exceedingly violent encounters. The campaign features dozens of high-level, endgame-quality battles, so everyone involved should be prepared for lengthy, combat-heavy sessions on the way to saving the multiverse.

But gosh, are they ever worth the trouble.

[Ed. note: This review contains spoilers of key elements in Vecna: Eve of Ruin.]

Vecna resplendent in purple robes beneath a full moon. Ghastly faces make up the red smoke at his feet.
Image: Bastien Lecouffe Deharme/Wizards of the Coast

The central conceit of Vecna: Eve of Ruin focuses on the nearly 50-year-old legend of an avaricious undead wizard who ascends to godhood, only to desire even more power. From his throne on Oerth, one of D&D’s original settings from the 1970s, Vecna (not the one from Stranger Things, mind you) has hatched a plan to destroy the entire multiverse, then reboot it with himself as its singular ruler. But an early miscalculation irrevocably links the characters at the table to his nefarious plan via magical ties that transcend time and space.

The opening chapter of the book is the quintessential introductory D&D adventure, but elevated for the capabilities of 10th-level characters. A focused set of encounters that can easily be run in two sessions, it’s a classic dungeon crawl with several memorable characters, including a bespectacled gnome historian keen to deliver some necessary backstory. But the opening also has its own internal narrative that makes it a satisfying romp in its own right.

Surprisingly, that’s something that can be said of virtually every other chapter in the book.

Image: Wizards of the Coast
Vecna: Eve of Ruin, D&D
The cartography in Vecna: Eve of Ruin is exceptional, with several particularly inspired maps by Francesca Baerald and Dyson Logos.

Characters will travel to every plane of the multiverse yet introduced by previously published 5th edition adventures. That includes The Forgotten Realms and its mirror, known as the Underdark; Gary Gygax’s own plane of Oerth; Spelljammer’s mystical Astral Plane; the war-torn lands of Eberron; the clinging, gothic mists of Barovia; and Krynn, where the mighty Dragonlances were forged. Each adventure has its own setting-specific flavor and internal logic, and for the most part, lead designer Amanda Hamon uses them all to great effect.

My favorite adventure by far is in chapter 4, “The Ruined Colossus.” In it, players attempt to scavenge a necessary part from an ancient bipedal war machine, as it’s needed to defeat Vecna. The adventure contains both a nuanced moral dilemma and a running battle against skilled assassins. Both take place inside the giant robot, a setting that feels more like an exotic spaceship than anything yet revealed in modern D&D. It’s a standout series of encounters that everyone should find an opportunity to play through, regardless of whether or not they commit to running the entire campaign from start to finish.

The vampire Strahd as depicted in Vecna: Eve of Ruin
Image: Martin Mottet/Wizards of the Coast
Strahd Von Zarovich arrives late in the chapter set in Barovia, and your party will most likely need to kill him to move the story along.

There are some low points as well. Fans of Curse of Strahd will likely be the most disappointed. Not only does the campaign reuse a map, called Death House, from that 2016 book, but also the setting’s main character, the legendary vampire Strahd Von Zarovich, is used as little more than a particularly nasty sack of hit points. It’s amazing to me that one of D&D’s most charismatic villains was given so little stage time, but you can’t have everything, I guess.

What fans can have is a triumphant multi-chapter climax that puts the players at the forefront of a demonic war with thousands of frantic combatants. In this titanic struggle, players must cut a wide swathe through the enemies’ forces on their way to defeating Vecna himself. These final few battles, including one that is the result of a very personal betrayal, are a fitting end for the most successful edition in D&D history.

Finally, for such an over-the-top adventure I was delighted to find that Hamon and the many other designers, writers, and artists who worked on Vecna: Eve of Ruin also leave plenty of room for Dungeon Masters to give the campaign their own unique spin. They even offer a way to raise the difficulty by adding in The Sword of Kas, a mythical sentient weapon first introduced way back in 2014 with the original Dungeon Master’s Guide. In this way the campaign closes the door on the incredibly popular, decade-long run of 5th edition. At the same time, it also opens a window where we can see what comes next, since everything inside the book is promised to be compatible with the next iteration of D&D that lands this summer.

Vecna: Eve of Ruin is available now for those who placed a pre-order with Wizards of the Coast or through their local game store. Mass market release is set for May 21. The book was reviewed using a retail copy of the physical book provided by Wizards of the Coast. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.


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