Dan Head’s latest 5e adventure, The Fall of Cahokiantep, begins with the characters in a dungeon. The adventure doesn’t really care about why they’re there: the point is that they’re in a dungeon when some Really Bad Things happen, and they have to get out and deal with them because they’re heroes. If this sounds a lot like a movie plotline to you, well it certainly does to me. I’ve got nothing against that: I love beginning adventures in medias res, and having the players needing to immediately do something works well for me. Dan does let us know what happens if the players choose to stay in their cell (perhaps because a paladin really wants to follow the law…) and that course of action leads to a pretty short adventure. If I ran this adventure, I don’t think I’d even bother letting the players know how their characters got into the cell until later. It detracts from the immediacy of the action. A word to designers: a lot of adventures would be stronger if you didn’t begin with the PCs being recruited. The West End Games Star Wars RPG began its adventures with scripted dialogues that dropped the players into the middle of everything. Worked really well. You can explain things later: get things going now!
Once the group get outside, they’ll meet the astrologer-in-chief who directs them to a location they can find out what’s going on. In the meantime, it seems that a planar rift has opened up above the city, and its citizens are being attacked be a lot of really weird monsters. And there’s also some chaotic disease affecting them and possibly the player characters as well. Eventually, the group will be able to stabilise the situation, and bring the adventure to a successful close – although there are a large number of unanswered plot elements and Cool Stuff that hasn’t happened yet. Dan promises he’ll get to it in a sequel.
The adventure is presented as an 11-page pdf, and consists of seven “scenes”, some of which might potentially have several encounters. It’s a wild, fantastic adventure, which should appeal to those wanting more than “just another dungeon” to explore. I mean, how many adventures are there where you get to fight an astral dragon turtle?
I love the imagination of it all. My chief problem with the adventure is that there’s a stat block that is a little too long, and splits over two pages. The text also uses some his/her and he/she constructions, where I’d prefer the “his or her” usage. There are a few other minor problems, but they don’t detract from the adventure that much. (One note to designers: Don’t say there’s a “scroll (uncommon)”; it’s not really specific enough. Give the level of the spell rather than the rarity).
The adventure has a number of tables to aid generating the fantastic things the characters can encounter during the adventure, and shows a lot of imagination. Yes, I enjoyed it and, while I know the adventure is certainly not for everyone, it is worth having a look at.