Support my work by using my affiliate links and pledging via Patreon.
Designed by: Duncan Rhodes
Inspired by blood sport adventures such as Running Man, The Hunger Games, and Gladiator, Dragonbowl invites a sixth level D&D party into a humorously corporatized sporting event that’s one part Superbowl and one part Battle Royale.
At over 300 pages, Dragonbowl‘s content rivals (and exceeds) official 5e campaign books. Yet it’s more of a sourcebook than a traditional campaign, offering dozens of NPCs, events, locations, and magic items around the blood sport known as Dragonbowl.
The massive book is divided into nine chapters, with three entire chapters dedicated to fleshing out the overwhelming number of NPCs, including high-ranking staff and security, team sponsors and famous figures like Xanathar, Jarlaxle, and Volo, and all 16 (!) gladiatorial teams.
The first chapter includes the history of the sport as well as its elusive Games Master, several interesting adventure hooks, character advancement notes (they’ll reach 7th level about halfway through), and a helpful adventure flowchart.
The flowchart is a bit misleading, however. The campaign lacks a central main story, other than simply participating in the arena matches and reaching the finals, though it does offer a satisfying, if lengthy, climatic sequence at the end.
Forty pages of arena rules are detailed in chapter six, including spell restrictions, flying restrictions, and fun complications for the DM, such as spawning monsters from pits, triggering necrotic beam attacks, or dropping magic item power-ups. Gladiators can play to the crowd, earning cheers or jeers in the hopes of getting a greater healing potion drop — which anyone could try to grab.
The players can face off against any of the 16 teams detailed in chapter five. Each team features a fun theme, unique tactics, and variant statblocks, mostly lifted from Volo’s Guide to Monsters.
The Xanathar’s team, The Furry and the Furious, are a bunch of bugbears and ogres, whose patron uses his anti-magic cone to disable healing potion drops. Shifty Blades of Gray are a team of Duergar led by a powerful War Priest.
Most of these teams feature little side quests and events to help flesh out their characters and make the fights that much more meaningful, or perhaps to disrupt the entire event, such as the dragon-powered Twisted Firestarters’ attempt to burn down the arena.
The tournament lasts for nearly a week. In between matches the DM and players can explore the large area around the arena, including opening ceremony events (Stirge shooting! Lava leaping!), socializing with other gladiators in the lounge (with encounter tables that could lead to side quests), and tons of other activities and events that are detailed in chapters two, seven, and eight.
When not battling in the arena, chapter seven includes over two dozen locations to explore, such as a casino with several gambling and gaming opportunities, a VIP lounge (more side quests!), tons of vendors with unique items (guns, oozes, bags of peeing…?) and a full-on carnival with fun little mini-games.
Chapter eight features lengthier side quests and events, such as stealing the airship plans from the Bloodwizer zeppelin, riding an aurochs in a rodeo, or thwarting a pair of vampire spawn gladiators from attacking people during a parade.
It’s a breathless amount of content, yet nothing that represents a strong, overarching narrative until after the finals.
Assuming the players have made it through the tournament, they’re invited aboard the airship for a celebratory party, when it’s attacked by an angry Xanathar and his army of bugbears on flying discs.
Following that large-scale attack, the party is invited to finally meet with the Games Master, where they’ll discover some fun twists involving cloning the winners, play a deathtrap tile board game, and loot his extensively guarded vault.
There are some fun handouts to give to your players, including the funny code of conduct and nicely-designed contract, but the same quality wasn’t given to the maps. The arena map and region map are both solid, but the few other maps, namely the airship and Games Master’s mansion, are Logos-esque black and white sketches. It’s also disappointing to include so many fantastic, memorable NPCs (too many, frankly) and almost no original character art to accompany them.
Dragonbowl‘s huge breadth of content and incredible detail for such a relatively simple (but fun) concept is staggering. The lack of a central main arc combined with the ridiculous number of NPCs, quests, and events makes it a daunting adventure to run, but the right group (and an experienced DM) could have a blast.
- Incredibly comprehensive details on Dragonbowl’s history, staff, rules, and locations.
- Interesting adventure hooks for different party motivations.
- Fun handouts, trackers, and contracts.
- Neat tie-ins and connections to Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Dungeon of the Mad Mage.
- Awesome climactic battle with Xanathar forces attacking an airship and a fun twist and showdown with the Games Master.
- Lacks a strong central narrative in favor of moldable events, side quests, and NPCs.
- Only a handful of battle maps, and most lack color and detail.
- Way too many NPCs and events to keep track of.
The Verdict: While lacking an overarching story, Dragonbowl provides an overwhelming suite of NPCs, events, and locations, transforming a series of gladiatorial matches into a hilariously awesome, over-the-top sourcebook.
Support my work by using my affiliate links and pledging via Patreon. 1