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Designed by: Danny Kodicek
In this rare 2-for-1 review, I look at the first two parts of The Legacy of Zandrax, a D&D campaign that presumably starts at 1st level, and includes at least one additional part before concluding. I’m just as frustrated as you are by the vague structure and lack of organization, yet there are some undeniably amazing ideas found in these pages.
Part I includes the introduction and first two chapters — though chapter 1 is entirely about building out the region of East Wyk with dozens of notable locations, towns, dungeons, and side quests.
The story kicks off when the titular beholder Zandrax shows up at the inn the players are staying at. That alone is an exciting shock, which gets crazier when the beholder reveals its dying state, its enslaved drow warriors, its soon-to-be born offspring, and a cursed amulet that can destroy Lloth, the drow demon goddess who pushed the beholder out of its lair, mortally wounding it in the process.
It’s a hell of an inciting incident, and made me excited to dive further into the story. The beholder dies as it bequeaths one of the player characters with a powerful amulet, capable of sealing Lloth away. But it’s also cursed, and slowly transforms them into a drider (while also conferring new abilities and spells), putting a terrible ticking clock on that specific player.
Unfortunately the plot grinds to a halt in the very first chapter, which fleshes out the region into a full open-world RPG, with over 20 pages of regional information and side content. It’s scaled for tier 1 and features lots of neat areas, such as an orc fort ruled by a green dragon, bandits hiding out in a supposedly haunted barrow, and an extradimensional pocket dimension maintained by mini-modrons guarding a sealed aboleth.
The main quest involves skipping over to the nearest town to talk to the magistrate at Morton, which is detailed in Chapter 2. Morton is given its own rage of side quest adventure hooks and random encounters, and there’s some interesting political implications with a group of drow living in their own section of the city (and treated as second-class citizens) despite having forsaken all ties to the demon goddess.
If you were hoping for a proper end to Part I, you’re going to be disappointed. This campaign isn’t designed to be modular or episodic like a Pathfinder Adventure Path; it’s more like a full D&D campaign book that’s been awkwardly carved up every two chapters.
To continue the story, you’ll need The Legacy of Zandrax Part 2, which strangely includes chapters two and three, despite Part I including Chapters one and two, compounding the organizational issues.
In chapter two (or three… whatever), the party explores their first major dungeon crawl. That beholder offspring was born as Livian, a fun little beholder baby. Livian would make a fantastic party mascot and ally NPC with her imperious nature and tiny demeanor, but before she’ll reveal more information about their quest, she wants a lair of her own.
Livian picks out a ziggurat located not from Morton, currently infested by troglodytes. The ziggurat is like one big Rubik’s Cube that can shift into four different configurations. To progress, the players will have to explore hallways, stairs, and dead-ends, find keys, avoid traps, and shift to different configurations. It’s similar to the Gears of Hate in the Tomb of the Nine Gods from Tomb of Annihilation, though not quite as deadly.
After defeating a modified Helmed Horror boss, Livian tells the players the rest of Zandrax’s story, then kicks them out. I was very disappointed that Livian already leaves the party during the first big main quest outing. A squandered opportunity for a uniquely memorable party NPC that should’ve hung around a bit longer.
The party’s quest to learn more about the amulet takes them to the swamps in the following chapter, which features numerous random encounters, bullywug villages, and a nasty green hag. Helping the bullywugs reveals yet another excellent dungeon design in the Sunken Library.
The library is hidden in a force dome underneath the lake. Passing through the dome reveals a 250-ft shaft with a pair of invisible spiral staircases leading down to a cavern filled with oozes, and a side passage that leads to a hidden library, currently occupied by Yuan-ti.
The other occupant is a bone naga trapped in a forcefield, who has used a shield guardian to kidnap a scholar into finding a way to restore her form. That’s a hell of a lot going on in a single dungeon! To make matters more exciting, if the players manage to help free the naga, the dome is dispelled, causing water to begin flooding the entire area, including the vertical shaft, which raises with water — and oozes!
Part 2 ends after these dungeon crawls, but both areas are exciting, interesting, and well-designed. Instead of chopping up the campaign into these awkward portions, consumers would benefit more if these dungeons were taken out and sold separately as drop-in designs, similar to what JVC Parry did with the dungeons in Serpent Isle (I should know, I used the Viper’s Pit as a replacement for Orolunga in Tomb of Annihilation!).
Based on the first two parts, there’s no denying that the campaign has some glaring flaws. The lack of synopsis and overview is frustrating and glaring. I have no idea what to expect with the overall story, or even what level it goes to. Breaking it up into multiple parts doesn’t do anyone any favors, and mostly adds to the confusion, and open world designs are always going to struggle with maintaining a compelling narrative, as is the case here.
And yet there’s also a lot to love. That initial hook is all kinds of awesome, the beholder baby is a great (though underutilized) NPC, the big dungeons of Part 2 are both incredible, and we get full color maps for all the major locations and regions. It’s difficult to offer a final recommendation without seeing the entire campaign, but The Legacy of Zandrax is worth checking out for the dungeon ideas alone.
- Memorable and creative adventure hook with a dying beholder and a cursed amulet.
- Chapter 1 includes over 20 pages of open world exploration, including multiple dungeons and quests.
- Full color maps for dungeons, towns, and regions.
- Fantastic dungeon designs in the Shifting Labyrinth and Sunken Library.
- Awkwardly divided into multiple parts — and still not concluded after Part II.
- Lacks organization, including synopsis and overview.
- Open world adventure and ticking clock (in the form of a cursed item) don’t mix very well.
- Beholder baby is a wonderful party NPC that should’ve stuck around a lot longer.
The Verdict: Despite its deep organizational flaws, The Legacy of Zandrax is a promising campaign with a huge amount of content, fascinating dungeon designs, and interesting new takes on classic D&D creatures.
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