Zechariahs Dungeon – A Solo Adventure For D&D 5e
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The latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons has been out for quite a while now (almost two years in fact – where has the time gone?) and predictably, there is already a wealth of independent and home made content available for 5e, either for sale or for free.
The quality varies, as expected, and there are even adventures that are designed for a single character, although you will still need find a DM willing to run them for you.
However, if you’re talking about a solo adventure that you can pick up and play using the 5e rules, completely on your tod, then you’re out of luck.
Meet Zechariah’s Dungeon, a solo adventure written by Frank Schmidt for a single 1st level character using the latest D&D 5e rules, where a real living, breathing DM is optional.
Which means you can play this totally on your own, or a DM can run this game just for you if he has an hour to spare.
Awesome – finally a solo adventure for D&D 5e that you can pick up and play all by yourself!
But when all is said and done, the only thing that matters is whether the adventure is worth an hour of your time.
So is it?
(Warning: the review may contain minor spoilers)
If you have read my review of Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery, you would know that I have praised the presentation of the book, the art, and the writing.
On the other hand, Zechariah’s Dungeon is comparably underwhelming – at least at first glance.
A yellow, some text in red, a hexagonal map and a picture of a shield (actually the publisher’s logo) is the best it gets for the front cover of this adventure, though at least it is consistent with the entire product line in the publisher’s catalogue.
As for the art, well… there isn’t much beyond a small number of photographs (which I am guessing are stock photographs) and a map ripped from Donjon, an online app I mentioned in this article.
None of these are deal breakers, of course, and from personal experience, it can cost a fair bit to commission art for products you want to release.
Using (I assume) free resources can be a great way to keep the costs low for both the publisher and the customer.
What really matters is whether or not the adventure is worth playing.
The adventure begins with a bit of backstory (aka, your excuse to go adventuring) to set the scene for the adventure, revolving around some evil warlock who was overthrown by those who he claimed lordship over in a tyrannical manner.
Cue pillage and total sacking of his tower before the locals declared it a cursed area and out of bounds for all folk of sound mental health.
The adventure begins in earnest when a severe thunderstorm rips through the area where the warlock’s tower once stood and a farmer stumbles into the area the next day to find an opening that leads someplace below.
Sensing potential opportunity, he goes back to town in search of a pair of capable hands that can help him extract the riches below – with the incentive being a share of the spoils, of course.
Guess where you come in…
So you travel to the ruins with the farmer, only to have him scared off by a flock of startled birds.
Seems like you’re on your own…
Simple and straightforward plot and nothing more than an excuse to delve into some god forsaken dungeon in search of riches and glory.
Not that we D&D gamers ever needed an excuse to do these things in the first place 😉 .
Playing the Game
At 21 pages long (excluding the notes for one-on-one play, which I won’t look at in this review), Zechariah’s Dungeon is not a long adventure and you should be able to complete it within a single session of play.
Provided you leave no stone unturned, you should be able to accrue enough experience to reach level 2 by the end of the adventure.
The adventure does not focus on (or at least encourage) one particular class over another, so I assume that it is a free for all as far as classes are concerned. My gut feeling is that the fighter may have an easier time with this compared to other classes.
For this adventure, I used my human cleric, Anders Brightwood, who has become something of a guinea pig when it comes to testing adventures and products for this blog.
As I played through this, one question popped up in my head more than anything else: can I rest?
If so, where? In the dungeon? Can I go back to town? Short and long rest? Short only?
Firstly, there are a couple of ways to look at it:
- If long resting is allowed, then it’s really a matter of when, not if, you will complete the adventure.
- If not, then you may struggle to complete the adventure if you run into every single encounter in the adventure – and should you run into an encounter, fleeing is quite difficult due to the fleeing rules.
It doesn’t specifically say, but there are clues as to what the author’s intentions are.
My assumption is that the author intended for the player to try and get through the adventure in one go – without fleeing or taking long rests. Logically, short rests ought to be fine.
The reason I think this is because the few times you are asked whether or not you want to leave the dungeon – or flee a combat encounter – it basically ends the adventure for you and allows some NPC adventurer to come in and steal your thunder.
I do think it would be difficult to complete the adventure in one go (allowing for a short rest to catch your breath) – some of the encounters can be brutal for a single character on their own, although again, it could depend on what class you use. Even some of the smaller encounters can chip away at your HP total with a few bad rolls.
Personally, what I would have done is allowed the player to take long rests, though with certain caveats such as ‘rival’ adventurers coming in to steal your glory if you waste too much time or maybe the dungeon is restocked with new monsters who are more alert than the last lot. If you decide to rest in the dungeon, wandering monsters will make it difficult for you to get a good night’s rest unless you’re in a ‘safe zone’.
Exploring the dungeon is done in your typical choose-your-own-adventure fashion where you select from a number of options at the end of each paragraph.
Each option will point you to a specific numbered paragraph.
You may end up revisiting the same rooms a few times without realising it, so it’s a good idea to draw a map on a piece of scrap paper and update it as you go along.
Chop Until You Drop
It’s all pretty straightforward. There are no puzzles to speak of, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your tastes.
There’s also no interaction with others, but that makes sense given that the adventure takes place in some abandoned ruins.
For the most part, gameplay simply consists of exploring the rooms in the dungeon, searching them and emptying them of all monsters and treasure.
When a combat encounter begins, the monsters’ stats will be presented to you, which means there is no need to go out and buy the Monster Manual even if you don’t have it.
With the lack of an engaging plot, the adventure can get repetitive quite quickly and this isn’t helped by how frequent death can be.
To be fair, this is more of a problem with D&D combat in general, in that your success rate is proportional to the number of characters in your party.
From time to time, you may be presented with options such as the option to flee an impending battle (or one you are currently fighting), leave the dungeon or parley with creatures instead of fighting them.
While I understand that the author might have wanted to save time and not write separate paragraphs for outcomes which are all basically the same (even if it’s for two unrelated encounters in the adventure), I feel the author made the mistake of pointing every attempt to flee towards the same numbered paragraph.
Once you’ve taken that option, you’ll recognise it when you see it again. This means you’ll know what will happen next if you take that particular numbered paragraph again.
Whether or not the player survives after taking the option the first time round is not the point. It’s more that, subconsciously or not, some meta-gaming will invariably happen once you know where a certain numbered paragraph leads.
The Good, The Bad, And The Basic
Okay, now that you have a fair idea of what to expect, here’s an overview of what I think is good about this adventure, and what isn’t so good…
- Simple evening’s worth of adventuring.
- Play any class you like.
- The first solo adventure for D&D 5e that doesn’t require a DM (that I know of anyway).
- Yours for the price of a coffee.
- Plenty of combat.
There is no epic plot, no evil warlord or wizard to be overthrown (it was done for you hundreds of years ago).
Instead, it’s pretty simple fare all round where you explore a dungeon in search of riches and hack stuff apart.
It’s D&D in it’s purest form and it can be a good thing if you simply want to switch off and crack some heads just for the sake of it.
Many of the solo adventures I’ve seen typically focus on one character class only, but in Zechariah’s Dungeon, anything goes and this means you can play your favourite class for once and not be pigeonholed into something else because the author has balanced it or intended it that way.
While there is an option to play this adventure with a DM, I’m glad that the author has taken the time to cater to those who do not have access to a DM.
The choose-your-own-adventure format will inevitably be somewhat restrictive, but at least the adventure serves as a great introduction to the game
Oh, and get ready for combat – there’s quite a bit of it, which is good if you enjoy that kind of thing.
The Not So Good
- Lack of story means little motivation other than kill stuff and take their treasure.
- Gets repetitive quickly as a result.
- Some proofreading needed.
- Could be structured a bit better.
- Plenty of combat.
Delving into a dungeon in order to kill and take stuff is a time honoured tradition in D&D, but if you have been playing D&D in any form for a while – solo or otherwise – your tastes will evolve as you do as a player.
The moment I started playing was the moment I realised I had outgrown this simple form of adventuring.
If you’re just getting started with the hobby, it may be less of a problem.
Even so, there are better alternatives which I will recommend later.
The writing is adequate, but there are a few mistakes that might have warranted a once over by an editor or the author himself.
One example left me really confused.
Without spoiling it, I trigger something and the paragraph tells me to go to… Salem? Where is Salem? Which part of Salem? Do they mean Salem, as in the Old Testament name for ‘Jerusalem’, or the city in Massachusetts? Do these places even exist in Filbar?
Maybe a creative DM will drop it into his campaign world when he runs the one-on-one version, but as it is, I guess I’ll never know since there isn’t a paragraph called ‘Salem’ and the paragraph does not lead anywhere else otherwise.
I can only assume it’s an error of some sort.
Having checked the DM version to see what the encounter should have led to, it simply indicates that a certain amount of time passes and you can continue on as normal.
Other than that, the text reads fine as it is.
I set my standards pretty high, but I have been playing D&D solo for some years and my play style has evolved as I continued to play, therefore any new content has to at least present me with a passable alternative to what I already know.
Sadly, this doesn’t.
While Frank should be commended for his latest attempt to provide for the solo gaming market by releasing Zechariah’s Dungeon, I feel his effort falls short of the quality I would like to see in this specific niche of adventures for D&D.
However, if you’re new to solo gaming and would like to have something to dip your toes into, Zechariah’s Dungeon could well be worth sacrificing your morning coffee for.
Also, a good DM who is willing to sit this one with you one to one may be able to bring it to life a little bit more. I admit I didn’t factor this in my review and I did not look at the DM vs. player version of the adventure.
However, I do feel that a product should be good enough on its own without relying on the creativity of someone else for it to be a success.
(The red links below are affiliate links, which means that by clicking on the link and making your purchase, I will be paid a small commission which might go towards a coffee – writing is thirsty work, after all 🙂 . You won’t pay anything extra and the commissions will come out of the pockets of RPG Now).
If you are interested in checking Zechariah’s Dungeon out, you can buy Zechariah’s Dungeon at RPGNow.com.
Or click here instead if you think I should go cold turkey on the caffeine…
If you expect a bit more from your adventures, you can check out Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery instead – it ain’t D&D 5e (not that it should matter, let’s be honest) and, like anything else, it has its flaws, but it’s a far more solid effort than Zechariah’s Dungeon.
If you’ve bought and played this adventure, what do you think?
Do you think this review is harsh? Not harsh enough? About right?
Feel free to chime in with your own brief review in the comments section below.