DMs Guild Review – The Skull of Drag’Nalar

Retrieve an evil artifact from some foolish thieves in this gory drop-in adventure for level 4.

dms guild review

A review copy of “The Skull of Drag’Nalar” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Designed by: Maxwell Zener

Not every adventure needs to be a complex, interwoven story of mystery and drama. Sometimes you’re hired to get a thing, rescue a person, or defeat a monster – and return for that sweet reward. The Skull of Drag’Nalar is a relatively straightforward, but also well-designed, drop-in adventure for level 4 parties.

The 20-page adventure is exceedingly well-organized, with an introduction, primer, episode sequence, background, and Dramatis Personae, as well as notes on injecting the adventure into a larger campaign, as well as adjusting encounters for weaker or stronger parties.

The plot is relatively simple. A group of thieves stole a powerful, evil artifact, unwittingly unleashing a wave of necrotic energy and rifts to the Abyss all around their hideout. The PCs are hired to recover the crystal skull and lock it safely in an anti-magic container. They’re given a device to teleport them back once the skull is retrieved and contained, and are teleported into the swamps that lead to the hideout.

The party is on a strict time limit of six hours before the skull’s magical effects become permanent. I’m not a fan of time limits in D&D, other than a way to restrict how often the party can rest. The DM is meant to roll random encounters every 30 minutes, and keep track of how much time elapses during every leg of the adventure, which seems like a complete nightmare.

Thankfully it’s easily ignored. The random encounters are actually quite good, all providing spooky scenes of terror or gore, most of which don’t involve any combat. The few that do feature temporary combat encounters meant to spook the players more than anything, like transforming some party members into zombies, or a demon tentacle erupting from the ground for two rounds.

The swamp is navigated via a skill challenge. I have mixed feelings on skill challenges, but The Skull of Drag’Nalar features one of the best, most though-out challenges I’ve seen, with clear and concise rules, sample skill uses, and making sure the party fails forward. The result determines how much exhaustion, if any, the party accrues before arriving at the bandit fortress.

dms guild review

The outskirts of the bandit hideout provides another way for players to take control of the story. They’ll need to cross a crocodile-filled moat and scale a 10-ft wall to reach a courtyard that features over a dozen roaming zombies and manes. How the players get inside is entirely up to them.

The hideout features a bloody scene of gore, as a previous adventuring party (sorry PCs, you weren’t actually our first choice…) has been killed by demons and zombified by the skull’s magic.

The tortured adventurers turned zombies now dangle from the ceiling while the party must contend with a pair of Barlguaras. They have a chance to rescue the quest-giver’s grandson, who could join the heroes, as well as discover a surviving thief on the second floor, gaining some insight into what went down.

The cellar contains the skull, now fused to one of the thief-zombies. The bloody area is littered with zombie torsos, creating another interesting environmental hazard, while the party must content with a Vrock who doesn’t want to lose its prized possession.

The adventure doesn’t try to pull off any surprise twists or dramatic endings – though if you activate the return-teleport mid-combat, the party could end up teleporting half a Vrock back, which would be a disgustingly satisfying ending to the gory romp. The Skull of Drag’Nalar puts together a very solid side quest, bolstered by an excellent design structure, nice layout, and multiple battle maps.

Pros:

  • Evocative, clever random encounters – few of which involve any combat.
  • Excellent, detailed use of a Skill Challenge.
  • Solid balance of exploration, socialization, and combat.
  • Notes for inserting the adventure into bigger campaigns, and adjusting combat encounters for levels 3-5.
  • Isometric 3D map and top-down battle maps with separate grid, non-grid and player versions.

Cons:

  • Time constraint is too fiddly.
  • Maps are black and white only.

The Verdict: With gory action and player-focused exploration and skill challenges, The Skull of Drag’nalar is a solid one-shot or drop-in adventure, despite its relatively simple premise.

A review copy of “The Skull of Drag’Nalar” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Author: roguewatson

Freelance Writer

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