In my review of DDAL05-19’s predecessor, DDAL05-18 “The Mysterious Isle,” I wrote that “Mysterious Isle” can be viewed as a trap, luring the players with a false sense of confidence and then crushing them in the follow up. “Eye of Xxiphu” is the tier 4 adventure you were waiting for. It has a little bit of everything, especially for players who want a good scrap. There are a few missteps, but forgivable ones, which a DM can easily work through or work around. SPOILERS AHEAD, OF COURSE.
The adventure does a good job of looping in players who may not have played in DDAL05-18. You get dropped right back in, and our old friend SEER gives a concise update on what the players need to do: “Recover the Eye of Xxiphu.” Boom. Go for it.
A. Honestly, as a DM, this was my favorite part of the adventure — and there shouldn’t be a single initiative roll during this part, just some fun roleplaying. Have fun with the rooms and the oddities contained within. With the “Red as Blood” room, I really went into how perfect this apple was. Over the top: In hindsight about how other apples have just disappointed you and how so few things in this world are perfect, BUT THIS APPLE! And so on. For “Tooth of the Damned,” the players had fun establishing a telepathic connection with Black Dougal in diamond. I made him a glum, Eeyore-type character, resigned to his fate. Don’t deny your players these interactions. Feel free to give them enough information (with the right rolls) to engage and have fun. The “Mad Dancers” were also entertaining. (I made one of the merfolk a little sad to have stopped dancing.) You don’t have to hit every room, but I’d make sure they don’t plow through this section. Also, “White as Snow,” the module text gives the players every indication that this apple is not right. (“There is something very unsettling about its lack of color.”) Don’t be a jerk. Give the players proper hints that this apple shouldn’t be consumed. It’s death without a save. That’s not fun for anyone.
B. I don’t like the corridor. Visually, it’s cool — and the ultimate effect is interesting. But reading the last paragraph of the section introduction is not entirely clear. The section about “if all characters resist or are freed…” I need this information clarified upfront and highlighted.
B1. The “fighting as golems” mechanic is interesting. I’m glad there’s a handout to give the players. However, it can make the overall adventure maybe a little too busy.
Encounter time: 1 hour? Um… no. Twice that, at least. The eight waves of cloud giants, merrows, scrags, and then Lord Dworkin is a beast encounter to run. It took up 80% of the adventure time, and I think my players were a little exhausted after a while, which is a shame because “Battle in the Sky” is really fun. By the time you get to it, you and the players are ready to call it a day. I would seriously suggest condensing this encounter or finding ways to speed it up, just a bit. Read the room.
C. Always fun when the players think they have beaten the “big bad,” and burn through all their reliable power moves — only for there to be much, much more left to contend with.
For the hidden treasure, remember that a Passive Investigation (of 13 or higher) will suffice if the active Investigation check is low.
Other side note: Keeping track of the golem rules, the magic disruption rules, the underwater combat rules AND all the quirks of tier 4 players can be overwhelming. I’d keep it all on a one-sheet near you for reference.
D. Battle in the Sky
Who doesn’t love airships, dragon mounts, and cloud castles? Fun! To me, the misstep of this adventure is allowing the players to fight Dworkin in B1 when you could have all this craziness in section D. Tier 4 players will see the railroading from a mile away, if you try too hard to force failure in B1.
I played this adventure once. I DM’d this adventure once. In both situations, the Eye went to the Lord’s Alliance. I don’t think the players realized they could insist on keeping it, which is a shame. It seems like an interesting item, which could lead to other Far Realm twists in the future.
Treasure: Lots of XP and lots of treasure. Life is good for the tier 4 adventurers. Another Staff of Power? There should be a rule that if you’re handing these things out in an epic (Reclamation of Phlan) you should retire the item for a while. I see so many casters with the staff of power. It’s a bit of an in-joke at this point. And yes, another Tome of Understanding. For players who also got a Tome of Understanding in PHLAN 1-2 “Enemy of My Enemy” and/or in Curse of Strahd — I’m pretty sure the Tome of Understanding doesn’t stack. Check your DMG to verify.
Overall, this adventure is fun, but keep your notes handy, plan for it to take much longer — and take several breaks to prevent Restless DM syndrome.