The Alexandrian

Keep on the ShadowfellContinuing on from Part 1 and Part 2


The following thoughts contain minor spoilers for Keep on the Shadowfell. If you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read it. And if you’re in my gaming group then you definitely shouldn’t be reading it.


My overall impression with the plot and structure of the adventure can be pretty much summed up with this: I kept flipping back to the credits page to convince myself that Mike Mearls and Bruce Cordell were actually responsible for this.

Bruce Cordell, for example, also wrote the inaugural module for 3rd Edition: The Sunless Citadel. The Sunless Citadel was a piece de resistance. I’ve played it once and ran it twice and I consider it one of the best D&D modules ever written.

Keep on the Shadowfell, on the other hand, seems rather lifeless and predictable. It’s a paint-by-numbers D&D adventure.

Generic Fantasy Village #1 (a.k.a. Winterhaven) is lifeless, filled with cardboard cut-outs who are scripted with quests as if they were stock pieces lifted from Ye Local CRPG.

The Generic Goblin Encounters are uninspiring: Ambush. Guards. Barracks. Boss. Repeat.

Fight zombies in underground crypt. Fight skeletons in graveyard.

Fight Evil Priest in Demon Fane.

And I know that these are all classic archetypes that get used all the time. Heck, I’m using some of them right now in my Ptolus campaign. But you can use classic archetypes and breathe fresh life into them and you can use classic archetypes and end up with bland cardboard.

My impression of Keep on the Shadowfell, having read through it, is one of bland cardboard.

But this puts me in something of an awkward position. I still want to use Keep on the Shadowfell as a test run for 4th Edition, but I’ve only got one of two options:

(1) Run the adventure as written, despite the fact that I think there are fundamental adventure design problems that largely have nothing to do with the 4th Edition ruleset.

(2) Try to redesign the adventure.

The problem with option one is that the design problems could end up poisoning the well. If the session flops, is that because 4th Edition is a flop? Or does it just mean that the adventure isn’t any good?

The problem with option two is that I don’t actually know 4th Edition. If I go in and start mucking around with the encounter designs, I could very easily end up unwittingly sabotaging things that make 4th Edition fun to play in ways that 3rd Edition isn’t. In other words, I could end up inadvertently obviating the entire point of the exercise.

So I think what I’ll probably end up doing is something like a remix of the module: Leave the encounter design alone, but go in and futz around with the fluff text. Give the adventure a stronger backbone and a richer mythology. Flesh out Winterhaven to give it some unique character and depth. Maybe add a few more encounters to make the threat posed by the Keep a little more real and pervasive.

We’ll see how that goes. I’ll post an update once I’ve actually run the playtest. (Which, unfortunately, may not be for a couple more weeks. We had originally scheduled it for May 24th. But then the release date was pushed back and I didn’t actually get the module until May 22nd, so that was out of the question.)

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