D&D's latest module, "Vecna: Eve of Ruin," and the trouble with high-level adventures

I have a confession to make. In all of my decades of playing RPGs, I've never taken a D&D character to higher than Level 6. And I haven't felt lacking for this. I've never had the opportunity to play enough, over enough time, to level up a character beyond that. And I've usually been playing with others who are either new to the game or casual players. I've never been in a D&D group that's lasted for more than a few months.

Given this background, I've always felt a certain wistful distance in looking over books designed for higher level characters, like the new Vecna: Eve of Ruin ($55) from Wizards of the Coast. This 256-page hardbound module takes players Level 10-20 on a high-stakes adventure to stop Vecna's sinister plans to end the multiverse itself.

Vecna has been a fixture in D&D lore since his introduction in the 1976 supplement Eldritch Wizardry. Over the years, he's evolved from a mythical figure into a fully fleshed-out antagonist, featuring prominently in various editions of D&D, and even making appearances in pop culture through shows like Stranger Things and Critical Role. Vecna: Eve of Ruin aims to cement his status as a super villain, akin to major adversaries in other fantasy IPs.

I've always chalked up my ambivalence towards high-level adventure books as them being out of my reach — nice, but just not for me. But in this Dungeon Craft video, Professor Dungeon Master does a great job of identifying the troubles with high-level games and some of the ways they can miss the point of what good roleplaying is all about.

High-level D&D is often seen as the pinnacle of the game, where characters wield god-like powers and face truly monstrous threats. However, Professor DM highlights several issues that can arise at this level of the game:

Balance and complexity: High-level characters have powerful abilities that can disrupt game balance. Modules often need to impose restrictions, which can frustrate players who feel their characters are being unfairly nerfed.

Railroading: High-level adventures often involve predefined quests that limit player agency. Scenarios where powerful NPCs dictate the plot can make players feel like they're being led by the nose rather than driving the story forward themselves.

Pacing issues: Combat can become slow and cumbersome due to the need for more detailed calculations. Simplifying mechanics and using average damage values can help maintain a brisk pace.

Villain interaction: A common criticism is the lack of direct interaction with high-level villains until the final encounter. More frequent engagements with the villain throughout the campaign can heighten emotional investment and narrative impact.

One of the points made by Professor DM that resonated with me is the misconception that higher levels equate to more epic adventures. He argues that truly exciting and challenging narratives can emerge at any level of play, driven by personal stakes and character-driven plots. He recounts a memorable campaign he ran that illustrates this perfectly: a low-level adventure where the players' emotional investment was sparked by the death of a beloved NPC, leading the players off on a deeply satisfying and cathartic quest to vanquish their friend's killer.

In the end, whether you're undertaking a high-level campaign or enjoying the thrills of more humble adventures, the essence of RPGs remains the same: creating compelling stories and forging unforgettable memories with your friends. Vecna: Eve of Ruin may offer the promise of reality-saving, high-level escapades, but as Professor Dungeon Master aptly points out, the true magic of roleplaying lies not in the level of your character, but in the depth of your shared experiences.