It’s November and Wizards of the Coast is set to release their most important D&D 5th Edition supplement: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. The upcoming supplement will contain a plethora of new class options, feats, alternative rules and DM options, along with new spells. But before you read his Guide to Everything, you might want to hunt down the illustrious crime lord of Skullport first.
Our friends at Cawood Publishing return with a new high-level tier (levels 17 to 20) adventure in the Forgotten Realms, Hunting the Xanathar! (You can read our previous reviews on Cawood Publishing here & here).
Here’s the DMsGuild link to purchase your own PDF copy of the adventure.
The adventure takes in the Skullport, the Port of Shadows. The Lords’ Alliance has sent the players to hunt down and assassinate the notorious beholder crime boss, Xanathar. The kill order was made after a series of grueling attacks on Waterdeep, Neverwinter, and Silverymoon. There are no more second chances for the beholder and his Thieves’ Guild, the party will seek out two Alliance spies to aid in their mission.
Personally, I’m excited when I saw the title for this adventure. I played in the Forgotten Realms many times in my early D&D days, Xanathars’ Thieves’ Guide was infamous and deadly. While I faced several beholders in my time, the legends of Xanathar was lengthy and often bloody. Entire towns along the Sword Coast were wiped out from the evil guild, but there times when even heroes needed to barter with sinister forces to acquire a much-needed relic or artifact. But to actually hunt down the famous Xanathar? I consider that a great opportunity and the potential to be loads of fun.
My catchphrase for this adventure would have to be: “Kill Order on the Xanathar!”
Walk the Skullport – Explore the famous port town
The first paragraph of the adventure offers two ways the party can handle this adventure: a covert assassination mission or an all-out war against Skullport. While 17th-level characters have access to most of their classes and subclasses, along with a deadly array of spells and magic items, the vast assortment of evil groups in Skullport can prove fatal to even a well-armed adventuring group. I adore the fact that a DM can offer the party two ways to deal with this adventure out of the gate.
Speaking of a gate, a magical ward blocks the party from Skull Island and can only be dispelled by a lightning bolt spell. Afterwards, once the party decides to either pay the extortion or beat a group of wizards, the team arrives on Skull Island. The party’s objective (should they choose) upon their arrival would be rendezvous with the Lords’ Alliances’ spies. I won’t spoil much for the spies themselves, but one of them will have the players dismayed. But one way or another, the party will deal with another beholder seeking to usurp the Eye as the Xanathar.
The party will eventually find their way to the lovely and quaint Skull Island prison to seek one of the other spies. The list of prisoners will definitely test a Dungeon Master’s vocal, and impressions range if one desires to roleplay the 30 prisoners here, including the spy. The party will learn of the Xanathar’s location, and that secret underground complex can only be reached by possessing a key that is left with two henchmen.
This adventure also sports a chase at the Lazy Bugbear tavern to get one of the keys. I love chases, and those can be fun to narrate and roleplay. The next keyholder can be found an alchemy shop with a surprise inside. Oh, did I mention there are possibly drow in this adventure? Yeah, there are drow and some drow priestesses as well. This is a part of the adventure where if the party was hoping to ambush the Xanathar, the whole plan could come crashing down. I enjoy the possibility of escalation and future increased difficulty, you can consider this a pivotal point in the narrative whether the final confrontation with the Xanathar will go smoothly or become a harrowing experience.
The party will fight their way to gain entrance to the manor that houses the entrance to the underground lair of the Xanathar. Finding the door will take some time, the party has plenty of opportunities to meet various villains and encounters. Once the magical elevator is located, the party shall descend down into the Xanathar’s underground lair, but not before facing an undead beholder that guards the shaft against intruders.
Showdown with the Xanathar
After reaching the shaft, the party will have to progress through Xanathar’s lair filled with puzzles, traps, minions, and terrifying horrors. If you love aberrations, you’ll love more of them now. The players might now, between a grick’s nest and an aboleth pool, there are plenty of unnatural horrors to go around. If the party managed to survive the beholder’s nefarious traps and minions, then your group of adventurers will come face to face with the legendary crime boss of Skullport. New lair actions to fit Xanathar’s chamber, each action more deadly than the last. If the beholder is aware of the party’s presence, expect an uphill battle.
While there are no particular stats, assuming we use the generic beholder statistics found in the Monster Manual, even with the new lair actions, a party full of 17th-level characters with magic items can make short work of the beholder. While such a cunning creature such as Xanathar does possess an escape plan and emergency allies, it’s worth considering upping the challenge a little bit more. Due to the abundant amount of potential wealth, equip magical items onto your Xanathar when prepping this adventure. If you want to really heighten the challenge, consider reading Volo’s Guide to Monsters for variant Beholder abilities, for example, different spell effects for the eye rays. Instead of a charm ray, what about a ray of banishment? I might consider giving Xanathar more hit points too. If you grant Xanathar magic items, perhaps have a new legendary action: “Use Item (2 Actions): Xanathar uses an effect from a magical item it possesses.”
Layout & Presentation
The overall layout for this adventure is easy to navigate. I encourage you to print out the NPC sections, tables, and maps for ease of reference. You will want to familiarize yourself with the chase tables for the catwalk in the tavern and the cavern one. The stat blocks for the new monsters are clear and easily can be printed along with this adventure to help run the encounters. The random encounter table lists some powerful creatures that the party could face, including a vampire and mind flayers. In the caverns, the party can randomly bump into other beholders that follow the Xanathar. Your party may become efficient beholder slayers by the end of this adventure. There are also a list of preconstructed characters if a group of players wants to run the adventure right away but it comfortably fit into an existing campaign as well. As always, the adventure can work in a variety of campaign settings outside of the Forgotten Realms.
Cawood Publishing brings their storytelling back for an adventure full of mystery, strategy, and classic dungeon crawl. From finding out Xanathar’s location, finding the keys needed to enter, chasing NPCs, and then fighting through a plethora of aberrant horrors. This adventure is a great one-shot adventure for high-level characters or a short campaign arc for a more extended D&D game. Wizards of the Coast currently design their adventure modules to reach around 10th or 11th level on average, leaving many stories at the cusp of higher gameplay.
The reason stems from a design perspective due to the escalation of threats players would inevitably face at these higher tiers of play. Often 12th-level characters are in stories that save countries or kingdoms, higher levels deal with saving the world or fighting against gods. In other words, such adventures are the starting point for more epic tales, but it’s pleasant to be offered high-tier stories such as Hunting the Xanthar for higher level adventures. It’s a very underserved part of the adventure writing department. This is definitely worth a shot and playthrough, I mean who knows, maybe one of the players might want to be new Xanathar of Skullport? The options are limitless.
You can grab your copy of Hunting the Xanathar at the DMsGuild marketplace here.
You can also check out Cawood Publishing’s other adventures & supplements here.
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