After reviewing a few adventures by Janek Sielicki for the Cypher System, I’m excited to start in on one for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. The adventures, Finders Keepers, has an interesting premise: an epic story for 20th level characters that you could use as a starting adventure. That’s a tall order, let’s see if he can pull it off!
Note: Janek sent me a review copy of this pdf. I’ve gotten a couple of pdfs from him in this way and always happy to look them over. I don’t think this colored my opinion but, you know, now you’re forewarned.
To start off with, here are the particulars: it’s for a standard-mix party and set in the Forgotten Realms. Janek explains that he wants this adventure to allow groups that don’t play top-tier characters that often to try some of the most powerful enemies in the Monster Manual and the most devastating of player abilities. The introduction to Finders Keepers admits that it is tackling a difficult subject and promises to provide some advice throughout. It even begins with some preparation advice, nothing ground-breaking but a good run-down of what you want to have at the table when you run a high-level party.
I don’t want to spoil the plot of the adventure but as a taste it involves a set of books containing the true names of the General of Gehenna (see Monster Manual, p. 311) and even some archdevils, a set lost to the passage of ages. Predictably, it never stays buried for long and occasionally the books resurface. This is one of those times. The details of the situation involve fallen angels, ancient dragons, manipulative hags, and the f-ing Zhentarim (you’re supposed to say that as a standard phrase). The Black Network enters the pictures as the former occupiers of Phlan on the Moonsea, though in the canon (as far as I know) they are in charge. In Finders Keepers they have been pushed aside by former murder-hobo and current celebrity King Adran Lichbane.
The mission of Finders Keepers, namely to facilitate an atmosphere of epic adventurer, has two distinct parts to it. First of all, it needs to feel enormous and exciting, bigger and badder than your normal D&D fare with the fate of the world in the balance. At the same time, it needs to feel like Dungeons & Dragons which is not a given. There are plenty of ways to run 20th level characters in a game from the Chosen of deities to monarchs dealing with statecraft to monsters providing the flipped version of most campaigns. All of these are great but they’re the sort of high-concept campaign that you might try out for something new. Finders Keepers explicitly doesn’t want “new and unfamiliar,” the author wants to let you play the sort of character you dream of your first-level nobody becoming when you start a new campaign.
So does it accomplish this? Well, the adventure starts in Valejo Castle in Phlan where the party is waiting to meet with King Adran’s seneschal: not quite meeting up in a tavern to hear about an adventure from an old man but close. They can talk and get to know each other and then the door gets kicked in by a bad guy and it’s instantly time for initiative, another classic move for GMs. This might be different from your usual venue but at its heart this beginning is about adventuring vagabonds doing their mercenary stuff and not a departure from D&D norms.
After this comes some classic dungeon-delving with many of the usual haunts just turned up to 11, including those epic-level threats you’d never dream of sending against your party unless you’re trying for a TPK… and certainly not something you ‘d send after them on the heels of an already-epic encounter. The first chapter, in fact, is all familiar enemies from countless sessions of D&D.
There are three chapters, though, and this is where things take a turn from the norm. Simply put, things get a little trippy and the environment changes to something a little more… planar. In fact, chapters two and three seem like a foray into Planescape so strongly that I would be surprised if Mr. Sielicki didn’t intend that. To me, a long-term fan of planar D&D, this is still solidly classic territory but others might not feel that way. If you don’t like plane-hopping then this adventure will take a turn but if you’re 20th level that’s sort of suspected even for a Faerun homebody like Drizzt.
The last part of Finders Keepers is it’s use as a one-shot adventure. This is the stated purpose of the module but this is another tough parameter since epic level campaigns have so much context and baggage that it’s hard to imagine boiling one down to something you could complete start-to-finish in a few hours. Does Finders Keepers manage this? Well, my assessment is yes assuming a few things.
See, the details of the adventure are definitely easily contained in an epic-style nutshell. You’ll need to do some info-dumps to prep your players for the specifics of this story, but no more than other one-shots. The history of Phlan can be summed up in a few minutes and the rest of the story comes out naturally in the course of following the action. This is not to say that there is no bigger picture, however, and the plot of Finders Keepers relies on the already-established history of Faerun, of the Blood War, and of the Dungons & Dragons default cosmology itself. You don’t need expert-level knowledge but if this is the first that your group has ever heard of the Forgotten Realms or the Outer Planes then that few minutes’ worth of explanation can pretty easily turn into fifteen or twenty. Still, not too bad.
The Making of Finders Keepers
One bonus feature of this adventure, added after publication, is “Making of Finders Keepers.” This ten-page addendum outlines advice from author Janek Sielicki about how to create and publish an RPG supplement. This is not focused on Finders Keepers (except as an example) and not even on D&D 5e. It’s got some great advice in here including some scans of Janek’s planning notes, advice on graphics and art, and promoting your products once they’re ready. Janek is really good at this and so having his expertise is just as valuable as the adventure itself in my book.
This is a really niche product: an epic-tier, one-shot adventure set in Forgotten Realms. Any part of that might turn some potential DMs off and you’re the final decision-maker for what you’re going to run. In the end, though, this is a solid adventure that really nails its narrow focus well. This means that you can take this impressive starting-point and massage it into an ongoing campaign, change details to move it to another setting, or just mine it for interesting and new ideas. I highly recommend this adventure and the great advice section that goes with it.