I finally got the chance to run “X Marks the Spot,” a one-shot D&D adventure from Wizards of the Coast set in the plane of Ixalan (a setting in Magic the Gathering). My review follows, but you can watch the session I played (with folks I met via Variant Roles) on YouTube:
NB: A version of this review also appears on the DMs Guild.
The adventure starts with a prison escape (not a very challenging one, to be honest) and then turns to something of a race to reach a temple containing a powerful artifact before their erstwhile captors do.
My friends had mixed feelings about the pregenerated 4th-level characters, but they trusted me and dove in. As it turned out, they had a lot of fun exploring some archetypes they don’t typically play, like Wild Magic Sorcerers and Circle of the Land Druids! Since the adventure came out before the actual Plane Shift Ixalan setting document did, this let players have characters that matched the story and unique constraints of Ixalan when they couldn’t create them yet. This makes the game work well for a convention setup, where players can just grab a character sheet, sit down, and start playing. It also meant that the needed story elements were already there: every character had already agreed to work together and had particular motivations for doing so.
However, in a convention setup, I don’t think random encounters make a lot of sense. For sure, have some less-important encounters that you can forego if time gets tight, but pick them in advance.
The adventure itself leans really hard on its roots in MtG. Locations and loot are named after specific cards from the Ixalan block, for example, and treasure tokens work something like inspiration for handing out magic items. (That mechanic doesn’t matter that much in a one-shot and probably works better in a shared campaign setting.) Several of the monsters illustrate the time-honored DM technique of relabeling an existing monster with a new name and art but the same stat block.
Balance was tight. With four of these characters, two fights each nearly did them in. Partway through the fights, I decided to reduce the total HP of some monsters, though still within the stated ranges. It would have been pretty easy for the main boss at the end to TPK them, I think, particularly since a few times I forgot to apply damage resistances.
If I run this again, I will probably drop the treasure token mechanic entirely, and roll (or choose) the extra encounters in advance. And in a pre-planned session, I’d also encourage players to create their own 4th-level characters in conjunction with the setting document and a bit of guidance about creating the initial bonds between them. You could then leap from there to an actual campaign in Ixalan based on whatever agreements they made, with lots of exciting hooks and opposition ready to go!