Bastion of Broken Souls is my model for what a high-level Dungeons & Dragons adventure should look like. It is the final adventure in the adventure path published by Wizards of the Coast for D&D 3rd Edition, and it is intended to take characters from 18th to 20th level (the normal level cap in D&D 3.X).
NOTE: This post contains spoilers for the adventure.
In a recent post, Gamefiend suggested using superheroes as a model for the epic tier. I think that’s a great theme for high-level play, and the things that make Bastion of Broken Souls one of my favorite adventures are the same things that he talks about in his post: threats to the world and letting the heroes use their powers.
Epic Threats to the World
Rather than a single villain, the adventure features a pair of high-powered threats – Demogorgon and Ashardalon. Like Gamefiend suggests for epic threats, Ashardalon has bypassed the heroes and gone after the world directly. The dragon has located one of the multiverse’s fonts of new souls and is devouring the pre-incarnate souls in order to prolong his own life. Because the devoured souls are lost, creatures throughout the world are being stillborn as soulless bodies. Demogorgon, on the other hand, targets the heroes directly as part of a plot to use them to find and slay Ashardalon in order to steal the dragon’s demonic heart. While the heroes are expected to slay Ashardalon to complete the adventure, they don’t need to directly confront Demogorgon as long as they deny his agents access to Ashardalon’s heart.
Let the Heroes Shine
As Gamefiend mentions, epic level heroes have a wide array of awareness and mobility powers at their disposal, and adventures should expect and encourage the players to use those abilities. Bastion of Broken Souls has a great approach to this because its structured as several small adventure sites scattered throughout the multiverse. After the initial attack by one of Demogorgon’s agents, the heroes are expected to proactively research their enemies using a mix of divination and teleportation to places like a druidic holy site in the deep wilderness and the prison of a fallen god. I think this expectation that the players will be scrying and teleporting is a huge part of what makes the adventure feel epic.
One caveat is that the adventure prevents the heroes from gathering certain pieces of information through divination. While this was likely intended to keep the characters from short-circuiting the first portion of the adventure, a flavorful story reason for the spells not working is provided that makes the adventure feel more epic. Because power over the pre-incarnate souls would offer too much power, the deities agreed to a pact known as the Ban of the Unborn that prevents them from meddling with the soul fonts and also makes the fonts impervious to most magical attempts to locate them. While it does deny the heroes some of their power, this ban also lets the spotlight fall on them because the world is faced with a problem that not even the gods can tackle.
Things I’d Change
As much as I like the adventure, there are a couple things that I’d change if I were running Bastion of Broken Souls. First, I’d start the adventure with the stillborn children hook and only bring Demogorgon into the picture after the heroes had started investigating the soulless births. The other change is that I’d reduce the number of encounters inside the bastion of unborn souls in order to let the players get to their climactic fight against Ashardalon a little quicker.
How about you?
Do you have a favorite epic or high-level adventure for D&D? If so, which one and why?