A review copy of “Sorrow’s Ruin” was provided by the publisher.

Designed by: Blaise Wigglesworth

dms guild reviewFirst level Dungeons & Dragons just kind of sucks. Fifth Edition has improved it somewhat (no more Wizard with 2 hp dying to a single goblin), but it’s still very rough and limiting. Every official published adventure by Wizards of the Coast fast-tracks player characters out of the early levels as quickly as possible.

Designing meaningful adventures for 1st level PCs is thus quite the challenge, but “Sorrow’s Ruin” makes it look easy. “Sorrow’s Ruin” is designed as a one-shot adventure for 1st-level PCs, and portrays an intriguing story along with a variety of encounters and social opportunities.

The story begins with our heroes’ caravan arriving in the Forgotten Realms town of Secomber. The old caravan-guard routine is a little weak but also not important, as you could easily slot the adventure into any small town with any excuse to get there.

The PCs are given the mission to rescue a kidnapped cleric of Ilmater. I was impressed that the adventure prepares for groups who want to stop and gather more information, or wait for reinforcements from the town guard the following morning. Doing some investigating at the chapel and interrogating the locals yields nice pieces of background information, but waiting until morning results in some interesting challenges as the enemy has more time to prepare.

I also liked seeing a variation of information depending on the success of the skill rolls, with multiple flavor text results from each skill check success.

The cleric, Brother Drander, has been kidnapped by militant cultists of the opposing religion, Loviatar. These low-ranking soldiers (literally using the Bandit statblock) are hold up in their own little fortress in the nearby woods.

The fact that the PCs get to siege a fort at level 1 is pretty darn neat. The fort is completely mapped out and given all the details I could ask for, including cover, lighting, and how the soldiers defend it. Hopefully the PCs are stealthy and approach at night, as a head-on approach looks a bit painful.

Rescuing Drendar results in a pretty nice reward – a level 3 cleric ally! He has concerns for Sorrow, the guardian of a nearby sacred shrine to Ilmater, and everyone rushes off to help save her from some attacking cultists.

dms guild review

As the titular character Sorrow is given a thorough backstory. She’s an achingly beautiful tiefling but also pious and pure of heart. Her tragic backstory involves her Wild Magic and her former adventuring party. She doesn’t play as big a role as I would have thought, however. She’s mostly there to tell the PCs about a magical grotto that she guards, and the way to seal it that lies inside.

The Grotto of Forebarance serves as the climactic mini-dungeon crawl of the adventure. It’s very straightforward, just a central lane through a swamp-like atmosphere with a few crypts off to each side.

Each crypt has a few skeletons and zombies lying in wait. The PCs can also receive some nice low-level temporary spell buffs by solving the riddles and correctly answering the demands. It’s a great solution for pumping up low-level PCs so they can tackle more challenging threats.

The final battle feels a bit anticlimactic with a pair of Shadows emerging from the final crypt, along with a few skeletons. I would’ve liked to see some kind of villainous monologue here to help explain what’s going on and make it more significant.

As written the PCs only learn about the full story after they return to Sorrow with the gem. There’s a solid mini-backstory of an old clash between warring religious factions and past heroes and villains, and I hate to see the juiciest bits saved up until everything’s over.

Most one-shots don’t bother with much of an epilogue, so I was pleased to find “Sorrow’s Ruin” goes way above and beyond what I was expecting. Not only is there a proper epilogue involving the NPCs, but the party is awarded their own freaking stronghold along with magic rings that let them teleport there. Neat idea but feels way too much for a single level 1 adventure.


  • Maps! Glorious maps! The adventure includes excellent full-color grid maps for every location, and even maps out optional random encounters.
  • Nice variety of encounters and challenges, including social checks, combat with humanoids, beasts, and undead, and interesting venues.
  • A full two pages of information dedicated to the Aftermath, including rewards, story developments, and using the allied NPCs.
  • Encounters are scaled for 4, 5, and 6 PCs.


  • Needs more organization, like a Table of Contents, and separating each story beat with an Act break.

The Verdict: “Sorrow’s Ruin” Provides a self-contained starting adventure with a rich variety of socializing, exploration, and combat.

A review copy of “Sorrow’s Ruin” was provided by the publisher.