Adventure Study: Waking the Wizard

Today we’ll be taking a gander at the daring adventure path The Chosen Ones: Waking the Wizard by Rathsquatch publishing. If you’re looking for a non-conventional 5e adventure path to run at your table, look no stinkin’ further.

Very early on, it becomes apparent that Chosen Ones has some solid worldbuilding behind it. This was a good omen, already, as most 5e adventure paths I’ve stumbled upon in my short stint of DND playing were well written, but based in a cookie-cutter world. They can’t be blamed for it - DND is a trope-heavy game, and almost demands as such. But the setting of Trayjen, despite not being outwardly obvious about its true contents, frequently subverted my expectations. It was especially refreshing.

Of the many cunning fixtures of the world, the focus on humans as the primary race was especially notable. The specificity of a human dominated setting established early on that this would be a world that doesn’t need filler or fireworks. The setting speaks for itself. When other races do play a role, it always has a purpose behind it. And the humans aren’t boring, either - the deep variance between each of the human subraces was well executed, with each having their own (sometimes mysterious) gimmick that made them fun to play without any unnecessary frills.

To give further examples, another exemplary worldbuilding choice is Rath’s inclination to base his monsters off of real life cryptids, such as the sasquatch and the 18th century Rat King. He takes tropey tales and spins them into something clever, fresh, and well-fleshed out. This choice, among many others, lends the whole adventure a classical pulp fiction feeling despite its aforementioned subversion of tropes.

While we’re on the subject of aimless praise, let’s get on to my favorite aspect of this adventure. I assure you, it’s not what you expect. Although small, and seemingly not integral at first, the backgrounds and bonds laid out as options for players are incredible. These rather clever little blurbs help the players to fold their own personal narrative into the world seamlessly, giving each player an idea of how the world works and granting them a one-way ticket to form a party without taking agency away from them. To have those checks marked before play even begins is a rare and fickle thing in typical adventure paths. You can start session 1 by jumping right into play.

Now, back into the meat of the book. The structure of the book is organized and easy to follow. The charts and tables are well done, too. Formatting is the RPG Renaissance’s greatest weakness, but it’s no hurdle for Chosen Ones. The only gripe I could even dare to voice is that the minor titles throughout chapters are a bit to close to text blocks they aren’t associated with, which could lead to some minor confusion for readers. A millimeter difference of spacing between paragraphs seems like nitpicking to me, but I’m honestly struggling to find a flaw in the formatting.

The amount of detail in each area the players could explore is astonishing. Every detail has seemingly been thought through, even down to who’s on guard duty. In that same regard, there are few ‘nameless’ characters. The NPCs each have their own working mechanisms and motivations, lending the players to imagine what could be behind every corner. If this adventure path is anything, it’s thorough.

That thoroughness doesn’t let up - it’s consistent from beginning to end. As the wonderful author Mr. Rath states, this adventure path is the culmination of almost two decades worth of playtesting, and it shows. I could see such a huge amount of detail becoming a weighty exercise for novice DMs or those more prone to a sandbox approach - but for the struggling improviser, the amount of detail is a great boon.

If the detail isn’t enough for you, the flavor isn’t lacking either. There’s a copious amount of tools to fall back on in times of dungeon mastering trouble. Well-placed quips of lore and excellently thought-out roll tables grant some amount of protection when narrative hindrances prove too much for the story at hand.

With such a huge amount of good included in this tome, there must be somewhere it lacks. Besides my minor complaint with the text box formatting, Chosen Ones really only falls short in one capacity - the art, or lack thereof. What little art there was (the character index in the back of the book, and some minor setting pictures) was phenomenal, and fit quite well with the adventure’s overall pulpish tone.

It could certainly do with much more art, to jog the imagination and keep the flow of reading steady. The sea of words can be jarring for someone not dedicated to this adventure path, and could even scare away hopeful prospectors before they get the chance to explore the wide and glorious kingdom of Trayjen. If you are to read, however, you’ll quickly fall right in love with the Chosen Ones: Waking the Wizard. It plays out more like an interactive novel than an adventure path, is easy to digest and extrapolate on, and is just damn magical.

You can get The Chosen Ones: Waking the Wizard on Drive Thru here.