Keep on the Shadowfell: Adventure H1 Paperback – May 20 2008
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About the Author
BRUCE R. CORDELL is an Origins Award-winning roleplaying game designer at Wizards of the Coast, Inc. whose previous design credits include the Complete Psionic(TM) supplement and the Expedition to Castle Ravenloft(TM) campaign adventure.
MIKE MEARLS worked as a freelance game designer before joining Wizards of the Coast, Inc. as a roleplaying game developer in 2006, developing rules mechanics for such products as the Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords(TM) supplement and the Player's Handbook(R) II supplement.
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Top Customer Reviews
NOTE THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS. IF YOU DON'T WANT TO READ SPOILERS AND/OR MAY PLAY IN THIS MODULE AT SOME TIME I SUGGEST YOU READ NO FURTHER.
Note: this module was part of the 4th edition pre-release and included quick start rules and serves as an introduction to the new edition. I did not use it as such. I ran this module having already had quite a bit of 4e experience as did the majority of my players. We did not use the pre-generated characters included either. Due to this, this review does not look at this module in the light of teaching a new edition, rather in the light of a module for a game the players already know.
Summary: The first 4th edition module. Includes all the rules to play as well as pre-generated characters. Can also be used with the full rules and with player created heroes (as we did).
The Keep on the Shadowfell (from now on: Keep) is set in the Nentir Vale, and area described in some detail in the Dungeon Master's guide. A small intro section of Keep also gives details on a small portion of the Vale. The adventure starts with the characters on the road to Winterhaven. Just outside of town they are ambushed by Kobalds, starting the module off with a good fight.
A non-linear module, the players have many paths to take from here. Heading into town they can meet the inhabitants, do some shopping, partake in market day, rent a room, hear rumors of a cult and other kobald raids, find out about a missing man who is investigating a archaeological dig or just check out the sights. Encounters range from a raid on the Kobald lair to a battle against undead in a graveyard.Read more ›
So I realize that this product came out prior to the rulebooks actually being released and as such there are liable to be some "holes" in how its put together. But for the launch of a new edition, the first product out of the gate had better be ready to go, the importance of first impressions and all that.
Missing power descriptions, crazy tactics that are infeasible, and rule inconsistencies make this a poor first portrait of D&D 4e. You're better off running the short adventure in the DMG and winging it from there.
The one thing wich i like less is the fact that theres a quick rule book. Of course this is normal since the adventure came out before the offical first books. Unfortunetly we still have to pay for it.
So overall a nice product!!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
What's important though is what's inside! It's an absolutely awesome module to showcase what's new in 4th edition. It's a combat intensive adventure to teach new 4th edition players what 4th edition is capable of. Each encounter takes into account different terrain features, and amazing new tactics by our old favorite monsters redefined. They really captured the feel of certain monsters by giving them powers that just seemed to fit. Like the lowly Kobold being able to shift at will. Giving these little short guys ways to mob up on you and get underfoot. Goblins are cowards and good at hiding and fighting on the run "Catch that damn goblin before he gets away!". Zombies can grab you giving you that horror movie feeling of the zombie horde threatening to overwhelm you "Get these things off me!". Even some of the rooms you fight in have their own special qualities which open up tons of new horrifying strategies like being knocked down into a pit and struggling to get out. Or you can knock a goblin into a pit and kick away his ladder. All in all the area features and the enemy combat styles make this adventure really fun to play. Each encounter is fun to run again and again for different players as they are set up great and can turn out completely different. The trap room sucks though.
There is a small town filled with characters. While their physical descriptions are a bit lacking and there's no pictures of NPC's; they did include a lot of NPC dialogs with written out answers to common PC questions. These really help to flesh out the townsfolk. There's even a well written encounter with a major enemy where he asks questions and the PC's have to roll different skill checks like Religious knowledge, Intimidate, etc, in order to succeed at the negotiation. I really like that. It spells out what might actually happen and gets all the characters involved in a negotiation rather than just relegating it to one Diplomacy check by the PC with the highest CHA. The lead negotiator still gets to be in charge though.
The story is basic save the world or at least general area of the town. The party makes the town their base. There are a bunch of side quests they go on to get an idea of what's happening and to acquire XP. There's even a plot event that happens when the PC's return to town after they have been adventuring for a while. Lengthwise I'd say it would take 6 five hour play sessions or more to complete the whole thing. I might be underestimating. I'd say it's 30% outdoor and 70% inside a dungeon. The module is a "site based" adventure that is not high on plot/story. Players explore the area around town and the dungeon encountering all the baddies. If you want a high fantasy story this isn't for you.
The format is the standard everything in order where you need it: encounters and monster stats right next to descriptive text which is way better in my opinion than having encounters and monsters separately at the end of the book. You'll do way less page flipping.
You get three large double sided color maps. One battle near a waterfall looks pretty. These are nice, I probably will use them, but I like chessex mats better anyway.
I try to think to myself "In ten years after everyone is playing 4th edition will this module still be that awesome?" I'd say it might become a classic. They borrowed some cool things from some other old modules with similar names. It's a good 4th ed. intro filled with classic monsters, a decent story, and some very memorable encounters. One criticism I have is that the PC's don't get much interaction with the villain until the end. I would suggest adding two talking encounters with him.
I'm revisiting this review: Now after playing 4th edition for months I realize how much this module taught me about how to DM a game. I'm constantly referring DM's to read this so they can learn how to run a solo monster or how tactics and terrain really make an encounter unique. As a DM you have to create encounters that open up choices. Interesting choices that the party has to pause and consider. Like "Should they chase the goblin who ran around the corner and hid or is it more important to hold the area near the pit so they can try to push the hobgoblin in" This adventure is really great at showing what the 4th edition rules open up in terms of tactics. If you're DM is used to the "X monsters in a room, fight!" style, isn't always trying to set up the flank, and can't see why a kobold's extra shift action is extremely valuable then you aren't going to have fun with this adventure.
P.S. WotC posted this in PDF form for free on their website!
The adventure maps are, oddly, better than the booklets due to the high quality of the drawings and the heavier stock they are printed on. Unfortunately, they do have deep creases in them from being folded to fit in the folder, so flattening them can be a bit of a pain.
The adventure itself is very good at showcasing the changes in 4th Edition D&D at the low level. Adventurers get fun things to do every round, and magic users aren't automatically relegated to the back row after the first three rounds of an encounter at 1st level. The encounters now also feature specific roles for the monsters, to include a "minion" type that has 1HP and is meant to bring the scenes to life by adding easy distractions.
Overall, it's tough to recommend this package in the $20-$30 range. Although the module itself is engaging and well laid out, the actual materials WoTC used to print on is distressingly cheap.
The module is fairly straight-forward. The party gets ambushed and starts a chain of events that lead them to fighting a baddy at the end. The complaint with it is that the module is literally just twenty or so combat encounters. While this can be over-come with creative DM-ing or creative players, it's disappointing that the module does very little to show off the skill system (which is just as lackluster as the 3.x rules, if you were wondering) or do anything to rise above the fact that it can be more than a series of combats with a story behind them.
With that in mind though, some of the combats are interesting enough to keep the party going and the new combat rules work well enough. It's obvious that WotC drew its influence from the popularity of MMO's, which I can't completely bash because it opens the game up to new players (and more money. Let's not forget that WotC is a business) and makes balancing a bit easier, since everyone has something to contribute at all times and the first level wizard isn't useless within 5 minutes of game start.
My biggest complaint though is the packaging. As much as every other reviewer has bashed it, I'm gonna go ahead and do the same. It sucks. I understand the need for the folder, but the two packets that come with it are awful. They're flimsy, and can't stand up to the least bit of wear or tear. WotC let me down big time on that one.
All in all it was fun and the group had a good time, and it excites me about what is to come from 4e. But magazine paper? Come on, WotC, make it worth my money. Let's hope we don't get that from our core books.
For $30, you get three double-sided maps and two booklets - 80 and 16 pages, respectively. The booklets are made of magazine paper, stapled through the middle. They have no covers. Mine are already getting beat up, and the ink is smearing. It's no exaggeration to say that this is the worst-quality RPG product I've purchased in my 25 years of gaming. Even small press books have covers. And are made out of paper.
Overall, this is a really disappointing price-to-value ratio. It's fundamentally a short module - intended, apparently, to introduce new players and veterans to the game - and you get almost nothing for your money. Were I not already excited about 4e, the production values may have turned me off.
Now, the rules look excellent and solid. The designers took a lot of the best parts of Star Wars Saga Edition, a few drops of Earthdawn, and a whole lot of older editions of D&D. It looks like it will be fun, and I can't wait to run my group through it. 4e may end up being the best edition yet - I'm open to that possibility - but they need to at least take pride in the build quality of their products, first.
Here's hoping the core books I pre-ordered at least have covers... :)