My Review of Keep on the Shadowfell

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I've been reading through KotS over the last few days when I have some spare time, and wanted to share my thoughts about it. We plan on playing it on Monday night, so the following doesn't benefit from an actual playtest.

Warning: here there be spoilers.

For those who haven't seen it, the offering includes some maps, a player's booklet, and a DM's booklet. The player's booklet contains stuff players need to know and the five sample characters. The DM's booklet contains stuff the DM needs to know and the adventure itself.

First off, a usability detail: if you get it, do yourself a favor and rebind it. Our local game store had a store copy for people to browse, and within the day, it was shot. While the whole offering is shod in a card stock binder, the booklets themselves are not, and are printed on lightweight paper. The print quality is nice, but this thing does not hold up well under any use. For my part, I removed the staples, used a blade to cut the folded sheets in half, three-hole-punched them, and put them in a three ring binder. I used one of those binders that allows you to slide a cover sheet into the front, and the KotS cover works just fine in there. It's much nicer, and you will probably be handing out the character sheets to your players anyway. (Why they bound them into the booklet, and yet didn't print the obligatory "permission granted to photocopy for personal use" line is beyond me.)

Anyway, on to the contents. The maps are nice, consisting of three double-sided encounter area maps, 21"x30". The maps are for a dig site, two ruined temple interiors, cave entrance, a roadside, and a graveyard. Of these, the most repurposeable are the latter three. One of the temple interiors, in particular, contains distinctive imagery and layout to make it really only appropriate for this adventure.

One down side to the maps is that one of them requires half the map to be hidden for part of the adventure, but then the other half is revealed. Of course, the easy way to hide half the map is to fold it. But then, what do you do when you need to reveal the other half if you have your miniatures all in place on the first half? The reveal is nice in concept, but there's really no good way to lay the map down during play without tipping your hand or making a headache for the reveal.

You should also be aware, although I'm not sure it's really a down side, that the provided maps cover only a fraction of the encounter areas for the adventure. You will probably want a battle mat or some dungeon tiles. If you go with the dungeon tiles, the Dire Tombs and the Lost Caverns of the Underdark sets should cover you, but you'll still need to fabricate some custom counters for things like ladders and such.

Also, the maps are heavily creased, for obvious reasons, so you might consider a sheet of plexiglass to put over the maps when you play.

The player booklet is straightforward and clear, for the most part, and does a good, concise job of describing the core D&D rules that the players need to know (mod character creation). That it all fits in five and a half pages is, I think, a testament to the streamlined and simplified nature of 4th edition. Obviously, there are more details and nuance that will be available in the core rulebooks, but it looks playable from what is provided.

The rules from the player booklet are essentially duplicated in the DM's booklet, but with more detail for adjudicating situations. There are a few confusing details here and there. As mentioned in other threads, "burst" and "blast" are distinct effects, but are close enough and nonintuitive enough for them to not be meaningful labels, I think. Some minor omissions will probably cause other troubles, too, such as how to handle someone getting up from being prone. But overall, there's enough there, I think, to allow any experienced DM to run the adventure.

However, the book is clearly written to accommodate novice players and DM's. From my reading, I'm not sure there's enough there to really help someone new to the game to effectively play the adventure, but it is certainly a valiant effort. More than just an overview of new rules and the adventure proper, the DM's booklet contains a fair amount of advice-giving aimed at the would-be DM. While much of it will be nothing new to experienced DM's, it was all good advice, and I'm encouraged to see that there is an explicit effort to address the quality of storytelling in 4e products (or perhaps it will only be in this introductory module).

Now, what about the adventure itself?

Well, I have to say that if this adventure didn't have the distinction of being a "sneak peek" of fourth edition, I probably would take a pass on it. But by the same token, I imagine the fact that it is intended to be a "sneak peek" imposed some design decisions, too, so perhaps I should cut the design some slack.

The first encounter is a stand-up fight against kobolds, nothing too fancy. If this were a 3e adventure, I couldn't' think of a duller encounter. In this context, however, it is good, since almost everyone will need something like this to get the basics of the new combat flow down. It's actually a smart move.

I think this will also help drive home the new paradigm of fourth edition. Fighting kobolds is probably the least dangerous thing you can do in 3e (or 2e or 1e) that still counts as combat, but it's clear from reading over the statistics that it would be easy to underestimate kobolds in 4e. Players who smirk upon seeing kobolds will be the most stunned, I think.

But beyond the skirmish encounters, the adventure itself feels a little weak to me. The plot is quite linear and bland, the NPC characters read as being fairly shallow, and the "read aloud" text seems to lack a sense of drama. Given all the talk about skill challenges, I expected there to be more compelling things happening between the players and the NPC's. And when there are already detractors of 4e saying that it's "all about combat," I would have expected an attempt to ensure that there's some deep plot in the first showcase adventure.

But truly, my guess is that this won't matter much in the long run, for as much as the plot is rote dungeon delving punctuated by trips to the town tavern, the combat encounters look like they'll shine. There's interesting stuff happening at a tactical level - something new and interesting in each encounter. If the plot fades into the background a bit and largely acts as a driver to move the party to the next encounter, well, that might be okay. It certainly reads like a first edition adventure, so people bemoaning the idea that "it won't feel like D&D" should be placated. I was just hoping for something a little more innovative on the story side to go along with the innovation on the game rules side.
I think they were going for a very classic D&D adventure to show people that 4e didn't have to feel different. What we get is a solid, traditional D&D adventure that's fun to play and simple enough that it won't overwhelm those new to 4e D&D.
I think they were going for a very classic D&D adventure to show people that 4e didn't have to feel different. What we get is a solid, traditional D&D adventure that's fun to play and simple enough that it won't overwhelm those new to 4e D&D.

This was definitely the design intent. As the first adventure out the gate, we wanted KotS to stick close to classic D&D traditions. It was more important to show people that D&D is still D&D. I think that as the edition progresses, we'll start experimenting more with adventures.
This was definitely the design intent. As the first adventure out the gate, we wanted KotS to stick close to classic D&D traditions. It was more important to show people that D&D is still D&D. I think that as the edition progresses, we'll start experimenting more with adventures.

*Whispers* Hey, Mearls when Manual of The Planes comes out could we get a Sigil adventure? I'd love to see what you do with an adventure there/be nice to get Sigil specific maps *ends whisper*
*Whispers* Hey, Mearls when Manual of The Planes comes out could we get a Sigil adventure? I'd love to see what you do with an adventure there/be nice to get Sigil specific maps *ends whisper*

I don't think anything specific is in the works, but I do know that we have a number of Planescape fans here in the office...
*Slips each of them a $5 bill to get working on Sigil stuff, be it adventure, books, campaign setting* :D

But, in all seriousness great to see that you guys will be experimenting with your adventures and that you got Planescape fans there.
I don't think anything specific is in the works, but I do know that we have a number of Planescape fans here in the office...

DARKSUN....DARKSUN...DARKSUN
thats what I wanna see
This was definitely the design intent. As the first adventure out the gate, we wanted KotS to stick close to classic D&D traditions. It was more important to show people that D&D is still D&D.

Well, if that's the design goal, then I think you achieved that.

Have you considered putting the maps from the adventure (the ones not provided as battle mats) up on the WotC site for download at 1" scale?
Does it look like the town from keep of the shadow fell can be used for later adventures though? Also this is for Mearls is there anything in the works to give the playable monsters in the monsters manual a full write up with feats and everything else, or not?
DARKSUN....DARKSUN...DARKSUN
thats what I wanna see

Seconded.
Seconded.

+1 (+4 in my game group)
Does it look like the town from keep of the shadow fell can be used for later adventures though?

I'd say so. It's got all the requisite features: a tavern, a smithy, a "curiosities shop", a sage, and a local regent who can pay coin for doing good deeds. Oh, and it sits in a dark track of largely unexplored wilderness. Any DM could leverage that into further adventures.
Okay, we ran our first session of Keep on the ShadowFell tonight. Here are my impressions now that we've played. There are general impressions and plot-specific impressions, the latter of which are contained in spoiler blocks. Don't read 'em unless you aren't planning on playing in the adventure.

Getting Started

It took about half an hour to go over all the rules. Beforehand, a few of our players read the "Player's Handbook" part of the adventure - just a few pages - and they picked it up pretty quick. Between us, we explained the rules to the remaining players. All of them had played 3.5e, and the rules mechanics transferred easily, since almost everything is approximately the same with rules changes - much of their knowledge transferred over.

For example, knowing how attacks vs. AC work in 3.5 make it a simple shift to also making attacks against Fortitude, Reflex, and Will. Everyone still intuitively knows that any attack roll under 12 or so is almost certainly a miss without checking. They only needed to be told once that "critical hits" are now max damage instead of double damage, etc.

About the only thing that gave them a little trouble was the new saving throw. They wanted to make it more complicated than it was, saying "What am I rolling against?" while looking at their character sheet. The concept that a saving throw is just "10 or higher on d20" took a bit of getting used to.

But by the end of the first combat, I didn't need to adjudicate rules - the players were doing it among themselves. It was a very, very fast adaptation to the new rules, I'd say. People new to Dungeons and Dragons would take longer, obviously, but I suspect the barrier to entry is much lower, thanks to the "simple rules, complex exceptions" mechanic, which allows you to quickly get to the game, and add in complexity as you encounter more exceptions.

Combat

The players absolutely dominated the first combat. They maneuvered well, and routed their opponents in short order with no one even coming close to being in danger of getting KO'd.

The tactics of the combat was definitely more interesting than in 3.5. The players were getting excited about tactical opportunities, frustrated and surprised by the special tactical abilities of their foes, and happy about their obvious non-fragileness at first level. They also seemed to really enjoy the (mostly) new mechanic in 4e where there is more emphasis on being able to help out your allies against your foes. It really felt like they were fighting as a team instead of as a group of individuals. There was talk of "next time, we should do this..." to maximize their value with each other. I can see this working to tie the party together conceptually in addition to functionally on the battlefield, so as a DM, I really liked seeing this.

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There was a lot more motion on the combat map than in 3.5. The first combat was against a group of kobolds, some of which are melee types, and some of which are missile types.

At one point, a kobold hit the Tiefling Warlord with a sling pot that immobilized him, which was frustrating for him, since all his cool abilities are melee-based. But then the Halfling Rogue was able to trip and shove one of the other kobolds past him and right within striking range of the Tiefling, causing him to cackle with glee. It really worked well, and was a fun moment of tactical cooperation that turned a bummer (being immobilized) into a memorable moment (overcoming that effect through teamwork).

The designers focusing more on "stuff you do that also helps your allies" worked even better than I had anticipated - it really makes the players consider each other, work together, and coordinate what they intend to do, and it happens naturally with the way the rules work. I was pretty impressed by it. I think this alone was worth the price of admission.

Also, it was interesting to see peoples' reactions to what a fight with "mere" kobolds was like now. These aren't your first edition kobolds! And it was interesting to see come alive the idea that the designers talked about where fighting different types of creatures would feel different because they have distinctive tactics. That kobolds are "shifty" and get to do a shift as a minor action became a distinctive feature which I suspect will help differentiate these monsters from other "one hit die creatures", to use first edition parlance.


Presentation

I used one of the provided battlemats for the first encounter, and it worked well. The artwork was evocative, and easy to read. Players were able to tell what squares they could move into and which ones were obscured without me having to adjudicate it for them. The actual art on the map was nice.

Almost too nice, actually. The high quality map kind of cries out for high-quality miniatures. You almost feel like you have to supplement the maps with purchases of minis. Thankfully, my purchases of D&D Minis provided solid minis for all of the player characters (if we turn the Human Wizard into a female), but I didn't fare so well on the foe's side. I had to substitute other minis for the foes.

(Hint to WotC: you might be able to drive sales of minis by selling packs for modules. I'd pay $25-$30 for a set of minis that could be used as the foes for an adventure, especially if they were made generic enough to be reusable for other adventures.)

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Perhaps due to space, I wasn't happy with the "read aloud" text provided for the adventure, so I wrote my own. In particular, I tried to bring in the whole "points of light" theme into the adventure introduction, and tried to increase the drama by making the fight take place in a heavy rain. Basically, the players are trudging through the muddy road at dusk, fearfully looking out towards the forest. As a journey between two towns, I tried to reinforce the idea that populated areas are only tenuously tied by roads, and that they are flickering points of light in a growing darkness, making it dangerous to travel between them.

To simulate the heavy rain, I added some new rules, and I found it very easy to slide these new rules in alongside the others. The exceptions-based nature of the game and the "keyword" mechanic makes it easy to hang effects off of special circumstances:

Weather: It is raining heavily, so all Fire-based damage is halved.

Road: The road is slick with mud and strewn with broken, ruined flagstones. Characters who move through road squares must make an Athletics check, DC 5, or fall prone halfway through their passage through the mud. The kobolds are used to this terrain, and automatically pass this check.

These two effects both came into play in this first encounter, and it drove some interest in the combat scene; players were avoiding the road, trying to maneuver between boulders and the road to maximize their effectiveness, which allowed the kobolds to make the players choose between not gaining combat advantage or risk falling prone in the mud.


Story

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In terms of story, I combined the Missing Mentor and the Ominous Signs hooks into a single hook: Marla has heard rumors of cult activity, and sent Douven Stahl, an adventurer-turned-scholar to investigate. He has not reported in to her for months, and she fears the worst, and so sends the party of adventurers to discover his fate. Because of the sensitivity of Douven's mission, she does not tell the adventurers the nature of the mission, but they of course start picking up the same clues Douven did.

The nice thing about this hook is that it will allow an easy way to pull the party through all the encounters. By chasing the specter of Douven, I can draw them through all the encounters just by letting them follow along in his footsteps. Once they find him, they can continue on past where his investigation ended.


Summary

I'd say the first adventure was a success. The first encounter started off slow and picked up, and by the end of the evening, the adventure felt just like any other D&D game, with plenty of role-playing, inquiry, discussions on how to proceed, etc. In terms of our game group, fourth edition still "feels like" the D&D we all know and love, just with some improved mechanics. I think all the players would agree that the changes - at least, the changes presented in KotS - provide a vastly streamlined game. The exceptions-based design really works well, and allows everyone to quickly understand both the core rules and their own abilities to bend them.

And a fun time was had by all. We're looking forward to next week's session.
Okay, we had our second session of Keep on the Shadowfell.

We started off the evening with a little bit of roleplaying in the town, and I did an impromptu skill challenge in order for the players to get some information out of the town sage. It worked reasonably well, but I think I could have done a better job of it if I had written it up beforehand. I do like the idea of a cascade of skill checks by multiple characters to get to the success, with storytelling aspects of each step along the way. That seems to work really well.

But most of the evening was consumed with two consecutive skirmishes. According to the players, the main reaction they had to the battles was that they were surprised at how well balanced the combats were. In both combats, they felt like they were going to get smeared, but pulled out impressive victories by focusing on teamwork.

More impressive was the manner in which the combats scaled to the number of players. We are playing with six characters in the party - the five characters provided with the adventure, and the Tiefling Warlord provided as a free download by WotC. But the encounters are scaled to the party of five, so to scale up the encounters, I would divide the XP value of the encounter by five, and add similar creatures from the encounter of the same XP value, essentially raising the total XP value of the encounter to 1.2 times the original.

More in the spoiler block:

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The first combat was the kobold ambush. Everyone botched their perception rolls, so the kobolds got a surprise round on them. A few lucky rolls up front by the bad guys had the players sweating, and the initial salvo of the Wyrmpriest's breath weapon attack made the party take risks throughout the battle to try to take him out first - they were scared of him! By rushing into the thick of the group in the surprise round, the kobolds were able to get lots of combat advantage and drop the Tiefling early, but the Cleric healed him back to his feet. A "shifty" DragonShield shifted along with the wizard when he tried to get away, foiling a strong initial spellcasting response and forcing him to attack with his quarterstaff instead of with spells.

Almost every character burned an action point in their second round as many players were bloodied and none of the kobolds had been dropped, but this decisively turned the tide of battle in their favor. A heroic tandem effort by the Tiefling and the Dragonborn Paladin brought down the Wyrmpriest - an accomplishment that actually elicited cheers - and the party saw their chances improving.

During this battle, though, the Dwarven Fighter really started to come into his role as a Defender. He deliberately drew in three kobold skirmishers and positioned himself right in the middle of them, and did not use his move action to shift away from their combat advantage, in order to ensure they kept attacking him. His ability to use his Second Wind as a minor action and his Cleave feature allowed him to act as a foe magnet and take them down. It was interesting to see the realization on the player's face that this is no longer about each character dealing as much damage as possible, that there are roles and strategies involved with their role in the party, and that they have a more interesting role in the party than just dealing damage. This is where the fun of 4e came into its own that night for that player, I think.

The "shifty" nature of the kobolds really frustrated the players in this battle until they got locked down by the Dwarf, and soon the kobolds all lay dead at their feet. There were high-fives, something I haven't seen in a D&D combat in a long time. If I hadn't been convinced of the increased fun factor of 4e before, that would have done it for me.

The second combat followed very closely upon the first without an extended rest. The second combat was the Dragon's Burial Ground scene, which involved two Guard Drakes (dragon dogs, I guess), some human minions, a gnome illusionist type, and a halfling slinger as artillery. The gnome tried to trick the party into getting themselves surrounded, and it largely worked. They were wary, though, and so I gave 'em both perception checks and insight checks to detect the ruse, but rolls were low, so there was, again, a surprise round as the bad guys got the jump on them.

Of these combatants, the Halfling Slinger, positioned strategically up on a cliff, easily did the most damage. His rechargeable power to make three sling attacks in a round recharged on the first round, and he hit hard with nearly all of his attacks, so the first two combat rounds saw some withering damage from a seemingly unreachable foe. But the party was immersed in the human rabble and the two Guard Drakes, and had to dispatch them before running off to deal with the slinger, so tensions were high early on.

Most of the human rabble went down quickly, and then some skillful maneuvering enabled the wizard to shift away and cast a burning hands that engulfed all the remaining melee foes. Some of the party beat on the Guard Drakes until one went down, and then turned their attention to the other, while the others concentrated on getting to the Gnome and the Slinger. The cliffs proved to be an effective defense for the crafty foes, as everyone who tried to climb them failed at least once. But eventually, the slinger was flanked in the bushes and struck down, and the gnome fled the scene.

In both cases, the party really seemed to work together well, although the first combat was more focused and organized than the second for them. And as I mentioned above, both started out looking really bleak, with the players wondering if they were facing a TPK. But by being clever with their maneuvering and teamwork, they were able to quickly turn the tide of battle and put their enemies in their place.



It's certainly true that 4e feels more tactical, but I wouldn't say that we spend any more time in combat than in 3e. The combats felt faster, and mainly only dragged when we were dealing with trying to understand the new rules, but one thing is certain: combat is definitely more interesting. The players were particularly happy with the cleric; I think the exact words were "Wow, the Cleric doesn't suck any more!"

Combat bookkeeping is, for the most part, easy, but still approximately about the same as before. Not having to track when spell effects wear off or having to keep track of hit points for all the minions is largely replaced by the need to track who is marking whom. (I found it effective to have the players remember who they have marked and who has marked them - it's much less information for them to remember about themselves, than it is for me to track for everything. Luckily, I have a competent and honest game group so I don't have to worry about players "gaming" this approach.)

But the foe design is what is really shining here. The seemingly simple mechanic of allowing kobolds to shift as a minor action really does lend them a particular feel compared to the other creatures they fought later. And having interesting powers that reinforce their nature in terms of combat mechanics really does work to evoke some of the character of the creatures. Better yet, I found that the mere naming of these powers - instead of just listing them - prompted me to roleplay the monsters more than I typically do because just naming the things they can do with evocative names prompts it. You wouldn't think something like that would make a difference, but it does.

Overall, it was a lot of fun. Keep on the Shadowfell has some nice, balanced encounters that showcase 4e combat really well (so far). But I'm finding it a little light on the non-combat and story aspect of things, and players are already asking about scrolls, healing potions, and stuff covered by ritual magic in the core rules. This module does a fine job of giving you a taste of 4e, but it still falls short of a real campaign. (I need those rule books, Amazon!)
thank you for the in-depth well thought out post.
reading this kind of stuff makes me more hopefull that 4th ed will in the end win out like 3.5 did and be alot of fun ! =D
A word of caution about an upcoming encounter...

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The fight with Irontooth in his lair is an exceptionally hard battle - if you'll check, you'll see it's the same encounter level as the final boss fight. I recommend either delaying it until after the PCs have at least gained a level, or playing it in such a manner as to make it possible for the PCs to retreat if they find themselves overmatched.

It's possible your players might pull off some clever tactics and get lucky with the dice, but a lot of people in an earlier thread here agreed that this is a particularly brutal fight. I'm just trying to give you fair warning so you can have some plans in mind for if the PCs tackle it and it goes south.
A word of caution about an upcoming encounter...

Nice. Thanks for the heads-up!
A word of caution about an upcoming encounter...

That was a brilliant fight for my group. The defenders were well placed, and the ranged people just picked off anything that tried to break the line. Then, when the big guy showed up, a well placed Sleep made the fight a simple clean up. I was very impressed with my group.
A word of caution about an upcoming encounter...

My group just ran that encounter last night. It was brutal. During the outside encounter, one of the kobold managed to escape into the cave, and then the kobolds inside the cave just started pouring out from both of the cave entrances. Our party (a wizard, paladin, warlord, and ranger) had to fight the second encounter without resting after the first. We got pincered between about a dozen kobold minions on one side and Irontooth and his gang on the other. Our wizard managed to killed all the minions after a few rounds as well as the wyrmpriest, and the rest of our team managed to kill one or two of Irontooth's kobold guards, but with our dice hating us on top of everything, the paladin and the warlord got KO'ed and the other two decided to run away. The paladin and warlord are now captured and needs to be rescued in our next game.
My group just ran that encounter last night. It was brutal. During the outside encounter, one of the kobold managed to escape into the cave, and then the kobolds inside the cave just started pouring out from both of the cave entrances. Our party (a wizard, paladin, warlord, and ranger) had to fight the second encounter without resting after the first. We got pincered between about a dozen kobold minions on one side and Irontooth and his gang on the other. Our wizard managed to killed all the minions after a few rounds as well as the wyrmpriest, and the rest of our team managed to kill one or two of Irontooth's kobold guards, but with our dice hating us on top of everything, the paladin and the warlord got KO'ed and the other two decided to run away. The paladin and warlord are now captured and needs to be rescued in our next game.

Heh, that's very similar to what happened to us - the fighter and the warlord were captured, and the wizard and rogue fled back to town and succeeded at an impromptu skill challenge to get a bit of help from the local militia during the rescue attempt.
We just completed the third installment of Keep on the Shadowfell.

This is the first gaming session we've played with the books in hand (although not all of us have had a chance to read all the rules yet). Luckily, one of my players was pretty well-versed in the rules and was quite handy to have around for rules consultations from 4e, but there were still some edge cases that came up.

The first edge case was the idea of the accrual of movement squares. The double move action seems to suggest that players should be able to accrue half-points when moving through difficult terrain if they have a move of 5 and want to move twice. In other words, you can move through five squares of difficult terrain by taking two move actions, not the four if you had done them separately. The question was: what if, instead of a double move, you do a move and then a charge? Can you accrue half-squares then? It seems like you should, because it is based on the same idea as the double move, so I allowed it, even though the double move appears to be a specific item unto itself.

Another question was whether shifts could accrue. We had an instance where the rogue used an attack that shifted a foe one square, and then another to shift the foe another three squares. He wanted to move the foe four squares, but the first square contained an ally. I ruled that he couldn't do that, because if the second attack had missed, that would have left the foe in the same space as the ally.

But these were minor quibbles. The game ran relatively smoothly other than that, as the players are starting to get a feel for what each other can do, and how they can work as a team.

But first, we started off with a skill challenge:

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At the end of the last adventure, the party found Douven Staul at the burial site. Tortured, beaten, and spirit broken, he began the challenge terrified of his captors and wanting to wash his hands of it all and head home.

The skill challenge involved convincing him to assist with the assault on the kobold caves. Thanks to the previous posters, I was forewarned that the Irontooth battle was a potential TPK'er, so I decided to give them a chance at some help.

The skill challenge involved raising his demeanor from cowed, to hesitant, to confident. Dwelling too much on his ordeal while he was cowed accrued failures, while kindhearted gestures accrued successes. Once the party accrued four successes, Douven becomes merely hesitant, and then can discuss his ordeal, but needs his confidence and sense of perspective built up. As the party unearths parts of his ordeal, he would express dismay or despair for a failure, but if the players responded with encouragment, rallying language, or intelligent analysis, they could attempt checks to turn those failures into successes.

In particular, every skill roll in the skill challenge had some story-level meaning and consequence, and there was even a simple "state" mechanic that changed the rules of interaction halfway through. But it all seemed to work.

I'm happy to say the party barely succeeded in the skill challenge, and earned an ally for the tough fight in the kobold caves.


The real point of interest was the extended battle they had.

Once the skill challenge was complete, they headed back for the main town to recoup and determine their next steps. After a night of rest, they headed out at the crack of dawn for their next challenge.

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They arrived at the kobold lair, and the Ranger (Douven Stahl) and the Halfling scouted ahead. While they shrewdly managed to take out the skirmisher entrance guard with a surprise round attack, they left the far end of the first map unattended, and allowed a minion to escape into the caves to warn the other kobolds, so we had a double-encounter with no rest in between.

The party mopped up the outside kobolds handily, but started to get pressed inside with the first wave of kobolds. One cinematic scene saw the halfling rogue, the dragonborn paladin, and the dwarven fighter leap through the waterfall all in one round, and taking up a defensive stance there that lasted most of the encounter.

The dwarf really came into his role as a "defender" as he marked and held the skirmishers and dragonshields at bay. They were crowded around him through nearly the entire combat, only dropping him on the second-to-last round.

The rogue was devastating in his ability to jump around and do sneak attack damage, as was the wizard who got in some good blast and burst spells throughout the evening. The poor Paladin couldn't seem to catch a break, and was basically relegated to taking out the waves of minions. The cleric did some considerable combat damage, but often used her spells to keep people standing. The ranger was deadly with his arrows, but got pinned into corners too often to really use it.

The tiefling warlock held his own, but bore the brunt of IronTooth's charge attack followed up by another action point attack, nearly dropping the Tiefling below zero hp. And he later learned a difficult lesson about ignoring attacks of opportunity as the same kobold scored two critical hits on him in two consecutive rounds of trying to move past the kobold DragonShield to get to the WyrmPriest.

IronTooth struck fear into the party, especially when I described how pumped-up he looked when he became bloodied, but ultimately, he only got three attacks in before he was dropped, and one of them missed despite considerable bonuses. But there were cheers at the table when he went down.

Once IronTooth was down and the WyrmPriest was on the run, it was just a mop-up job after that. My group came through with only one character dropping to zero, most everyone else bloodied.



The combat itself, being essentially two adventures, took quite a long time to play through. Part of this was due to having to scale up the encounter to the new party of seven (the five pregens, plus the online Warlord, plus a homebrewed human ranger NPC). I wouldn't recommend running parties of seven if you can avoid it. I think the NPC is heading home for the next installment.

Overall, it was a good session, with much exciting combat. The double-encounter really stretched the party's capabilities, and there were plaintive cries of "There's no way we can win this!" so the pressure level still seems right on. Not only are the combat encounters in 4e more interesting from a tactical perspective, but they seem more exciting to the mind's eye, and have a more intense, dangerous feel to them. The encounter balance is uncannily spot-on to give the players the sense that they're doomed, and yet still allowing them to pull a miracle victory out of their hats. Best of all, they really are starting to work as a team, planning not just how they will each move, but planning at a more strategic level how their various strengths interplay to eke true advantage out of the combat landscape.

We're all looking forward to next week's game.
We had another good adventure tonight, and the party of adventurers finally made it into the Keep on the Shadowfell.

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After narrowly defeating Irontooth and routing his band of kobolds, the party captured a lone kobold minion and coerced him to reveal the location of the Keep.

The party returned to speak with Valthrun, who gave them more wise counsel. His library was in agreement that the location described by the kobold was the likely site of the Keep, but he warned the party to be very careful. Not only is there a new threat of evil at the keep in the form of the cultists of Orcus, but there are more ancient threats there as well. Not only would the keep have certain countermeasures against intruders left over from when the keep was held by the forces of good, but the corrupting influence of the Shadowfell leaching through the fabric of reality may have polluted the place too. (Here, Valthrun spoke of the sad tale of Sir Keegan.)

The party set out from WinterHaven at dusk. They parted ways with Douven Stahl, after he and Valthrun consulted late into the night and decided it was best for him to travel back to warn Marla of the Great Church of the danger here, for should the party fail in their quest to stop the cultists of Orcus, there would be no one who knows of the imminent threat.

So again, the party was six. After finding the ruined path to the Keep, marked only by broken flagstones jutting out of the carpet of pine needles here and there, the party made good time directly towards the keep, and at dusk finally saw it in the valley below. Rather than attack at night after a hard day's journey, the companions rested up overnight and entered before dusk.

The first battle went well. After the half-awake goblin watching the entrance was surprised with a few daggers to the torso, he hid behind one of the pillars and shouted for help. The marksmen took up positions and fired crossbows into the thick of the party until the paladin charged in and took them out, but not before the dwarf also attempted to charge, and found himself in a pit full of rats.

While the wizard burned off the rats in the pit, the remaining companions battled the goblins. After the rogue snuck took cover in the eastern hallway, he was dismayed to find two goblin skirmishers round the corner down the hall and attack him from behind, nearly killing him. But he deftly tripped one, sending him towards the pit. The stumbling goblin narrowly avoided toppling in, but the rogue finished him when he fell prone at the pit's edge. The cleric came in and provided much-needed support as the tiefling warlord did an impressive leap across the pit to clash with the goblin warriors.

The goblins were seemingly routed, as they ran away into the nearby storage room. The players, thinking they were victorious, began moving back towards the stairs for a rest, only to have the rallied goblins attack again from the side passage. Luckily, their attacks were weak, and the companions quickly dispatched them.

The group pressed on and made their way into the goblin's torture chamber, where they met a hobgoblin brute wielding hot pokers. But the companions took the goblins off guard, and were able to slay the torturer before he could act, and then dealt with the remaining goblins swiftly.

After the battle, they met Splurg, the obsequious goblin who selflessly offers to carry their treasure for them so they "don't get weighed down", or tell them everything about the complex, or even lick their wounds for them, because, you know, goblin spit heals goblin wounds, so why wouldn't it heal theirs? The party wasn't sure what to make of Splurg, and will put off until after their rest the decision about what to do about him.

Throughout this adventure, I am adding more flavor elements and room description text in an attempt to bring the setting alive. One motif is the reminders of all the brave warriors who fought and died at this place, so the walls are adorned with carvings of individual warriors with nameplates every 5'. Two of the columns in the first room were converted to full-square statues with inscriptions, and other similar embellishments have been added.

My players are doing very well tactically against their opponents. The dwarf is finding himself in real trouble at times, skirting with death in nearly every combat, but aptly performing his task as a defender (except when he falls into a rat pit, but even then, he probably survived where others wouldn't).

Combats remain challenging but not overwhelming, but I'm thinking I need to ramp up the difficulty level on future fights slightly, since "big bads" don't seem to get much opportunity to do anything, and as a result, don't seem very threatening. I don't want to overdo it, though, so I'm not going to touch the big bads and try to add more minion-types between the big bads and the players.

And the players levelled today, which caused much excitement, but will further increase the party's capabilities. I'm looking forward to seeing what the players do with their newfound powers.

Fantastic summaries Nephster. I've only run one session of the KotS, and probably won't get to the next for several weeks. I'm writing a story hour that i'll post around here eventually maybe.

Our session went really well. The kobold ambush was a lot of fun, and the warlord ending up getting mired from the sticky pot pretty much from round one. He wasn't too sure of his abilities so missed some chances to use them properly, but that will get fixed with time.

I set the adventure in the Forgotten Realms, south of Everlund in the Savage North, because that is my fav Points of Light setting. I emphasized that the northern winter can be very brutal, but it's spring now so that's not an immediate concern.

Anyway, the players were all very wary of the dragonshields, who proved to be very dangers. They loved hacking through minions, and i think that is a great addition to 4e. I added artwork for all the NPCs, so they ended up meeting about 10 people in all. Some of their personalities came out better than others.

The session ended with them haggling with Thair the smithy over some short swords taken from the kobolds. We didn't actually play that long, but it seemed like a good place to stop rather than launch into the next encounter. Personally, i found combat to be very fun, and it left a lot of room for roleplaying in town. I like your use of Skill Challenges with Douvan so i'll probably steal that.

I look forward to seeing what happens in the kobold lair. From what i've read, it can be a swingy fight that could end in a TPK.
Our adventurers took up the sword again today to push further into The Keep on the Shadowfell.

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Having easily dispatched the hobgoblin executioner, our heroes bantered with a rather pathetic but strangely likeable goblin named Splug they found locked in one of the cells, awaiting torture.

Splug offered them whatever he could think of to get out of the cell. He offered to carry all their heavy treasure. He offered to show them around the keep (although he admitted he'd been in the cell for a week and did not know for sure where everyone was). He even offered to lick their wounds for them, claiming that goblin spittle has healing properties (a claim that was met with curious, though skeptical, interest). Finally, the party decided to pump him for information and check it out to see just how trustworthy and/or knowledgeable he was.

Splug told them that the goblin master, Balgron, lived beyond the great iron-banded doors. He advised them not to cross Balgron, instead to flee, but the party initiated a full-on attack on Balgron's stronghold.

The party was too noisy to gain surprise, but the wizard cleverly cast a flaming burst on the brass bell which would be used to warn of intruders, heating it so that it could not effectively be rung. But they squandered their advantage by allowing one of the two warriors to rush behind the curtains and rally together the remaining goblins.

A standoff ensued, with both sides readying actions against whoever would pull aside the curtains. Balgron, sneaky coward as he was, used the several rounds of inaction to take two goblin warriors, sneak out the secret door of his bedroom, circle around, and attack the party from behind.

(Note: When the party finally broke down and burned up one of the curtains, the game mechanics got somewhat complicated. We had a dozen or so critters readying actions with similar triggers, some readying and some delaying. It was quite a mess to work out who went when. As DM, you might try to avoid standoff situations if you want the game to run smoothly.)

The party dropped all the goblins, and Balgron turned tail and fled. Three of the party members gave chase, and we moved into a skill challenge of sorts to resolve chasing down Balgron through the ruins of the keep on the surface above. After nearly losing everyone, the party rogue caught up with Balgron and traded blows with him until the paladin and the wizard caught up and hammered him, taking his head as a trophy.

Returning to the cell block with the head of Balgron, the party showed it to Splug who immediately dropped to his knees and begged the party to take him with them, saying that these great heroes could certainly help him save Poo-Jowls, his "lovely and beautiful" goblin mate. When asked about her, Splug informed the party that Kalarel had taken the goblin women and snotlings down into the lower depths with him as insurance for their loyal behavior. Splug said that he was thrown in the cell for trying to explain to his fellow goblins that should Orcus be allowed into the world, the goblins would be the first devoured, but that his "stupid, stupid" goblin comrades were too enamored of Kalarel's promises of power. Of the entire tribe, only Splug saw through Kalarel's threat.

Whether or not Splug will turn out to be a loyal companion remains to be seen, but after the party released him from his cell, he gave them accurate information about the remaining goblins on the current level, and where they might be found, excavating out an old chamber where Kalarel claimed there were artifacts and treasure. The room was a large stone chamber with the floor dug out to a depth of 10' in many parts of the room, with the remaining parts of the room connected by rickety wooden planks.

The party shoved Splug ahead to be an envoy of sorts, and they all tried intimidate checks. Given some considerable rolling, and the intimidating effect of a mage hand holding forth the grisly severed head of Balgron, the goblins were inclined to flee. And they were given their chance when the two guard drakes leapt to the attack! One attacked the warlord, but suffered a breath attack and a "Hammer and Anvil" between the warlord and the rogue. The other one attacked Splug, and hit him hard, causing him to run back to the stairs in a panic. Taking up the attack, the paladin stepped forward and blocked the drake from moving forward off of the wooden plank it was on. Then the dwarf fighter followed up by doing a running jump onto the plank, knocked the drake back, but unfortunately, the plank snapped in half under the dwarf's heavy armor. As the party grappled with the guard drakes, the goblins made a run for the exit, risking many opportunity attacks, and escaping. Soon after, the guard drakes were dispatched.

The remainder of the evening was spent with Splug sucking up to his new heroes, especially after they deigned to heal his wound. It appears that the party has found an unlikely ally in this godforsaken place...

We continued our adventure in the Keep on the ShadowFell.

My players really knocked it out of the park tonight. Not only were the dice dismally against them, but they basically fought two Level Three Brutes simultaneously, and were on the edge of a TPK more than once. But smart teamwork, and no small amount of bravery and self-sacrifice, led them all to a narrow, well-deserved victory. This was one exciting battle, and tested their mettle well.

Here's the story:

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After defeating all the goblins on the level, they ventured into the natural caverns off of the excavation site. As they descended the stairs, the party Rogue noticed the beady eyes of rats gleaming from amidst the stagmites and stalactites, but the rats were wary of the adventurers, and shied away from a direct confrontation.

Unfortunately, they didn't even try to be quiet, and so the Ochre Jelly further into the caverns became interested and began creeping forward.

Undeterred, the party boldly marched up to the cistern door, ignored the "Keep Out" warning scratched on it, threw it open, and tossed a rock into the pool beyond, stirring the Blue Ooze within.

Immediately, the Blue Ooze issued a suffocating stench up through the water, which dazed and weakened the Paladin and the Rogue who were standing at the door. When they noticed bubbles rising to the surface of the pool, the Rogue slammed the door shut, but could do little else, as he was still reeling from the stench.

To their horror, the Blue Ooze slid up the stairs behind the door, and ripped them out of their hinges. An explosion of glistening pseudopods lashed out and pounded many of the adventurers in the first round as the rats, sensing their opportunity to make off with a wounded character or two, began closing in from either side. And from somewhere in the distance of the cavern, they heard something else moving...

What followed was essentially two difficult encounters being fought at the same time for the players. As they struggled against the Ooze and the rats, the Ochre Jelly moved to block their escape and attack from the direction of the stairs.

The Paladin, dwarf, and Warlord kept the nightmare Blue Ooze at bay within the ruins of the cistern doorway, but its relentless explosions of pseudopods, which struck all of them at once, quickly wore the party down. They expressed despair and incredulity when, time after time, they would hit the Ooze, and yet it still remained unbloodied.

The Wizard, Cleric, and Rogue supported the others, while Splug did some mighty fine crossbow work during the battle, but the party was quickly drained of their daily powers, encounter powers, action points, and second winds. As the Ochre Jelly flowed along the ceiling toward them from their only known escape route, the powerful creature knocking a shower of dust and broken stalactites as it came, they despaired, for the fighters were barely holding on against the onslaught of the Blue Ooze.

Finally, the Blue Ooze was bloodied, and another explosion of pseudopods nearly knocked the Paladin out. The Rogue took the lead in a speculative retreat down an unexplored passage, where his phenomenally successful perception check allowed him to catch the scent of another unseen threat - the acrid odor of snakes - from ahead. It appeared bleak.

The Wizard resisted the advance of the Ochre Jelly by filling the northern passage with burning hands. The resultant "bloodying" of the Jelly was met with cheers, but when it split into two identical Jellies and continued forward, the party decided to retreat. They ran down the passage after the Rogue, and the Dwarf remained behind to stay the advance of the Blue Ooze which was clawing its way out of the wreckage of the cistern doorway. Within seconds, however, the Blue Ooze lashed out again with its pseudopods and pounded the Dwarf unconscious.

Upon hearing the cry of the fallen Dwarf, the wizard broke with the rest of the party and turned back. She dashed to the Dwarf's side and issued a healing potion as the Blue Ooze grasped forward, and, still crouching over the Dwarf's prone form, she pointed a Ray of Frost at it. Ice crystallized on its undulating surface, slowing it down, but not enough; it flowed closer, and with its long pseudopods, the Ooze lashed out and pummeled the Wizard cold just as the Dwarf was awakening. Scrambling to his feet, the Dwarf hoisted the Wizard over his shoulder, and made a run for it, taking damage from the flailing pseudopods as he ran, but rescuing the woman who had saved him.

As he rounded the bend and laid the unconscious body of the Wizard gently on the floor, he saw the Paladin, Rogue, and Warlord locked in battle with the two Ochre Jellies which had cut off the only way back to the surface. Worse, they had disturbed another pack of rats, which were closing in from another passage.

The Rogue, alert as ever, noticed a faint breeze coming from a rock wall, and correctly deduced that there was a secret passage there. Hopes were high that it might provide an escape route, but when the door was opened to reveal a dead end, this hope was lost.

With monsters closing in from three sides, and everyone bloodied and out of rallies, things looked grim. From the north, whipping reddish-brown pseudopods lashed out from the ceiling. From the east, dirty rats snarled, looking to take advantage of the confusion to attack. And from the south, a formless blue-black abomination filled the passage with ropy strands as it pulled itself fitfully up the passage towards them.

The Dwarf took up a stand in the southern passage, and Splug quickly joined him by his side. The Paladin bore the brunt of the two Jellies from the north. And the others dealt with the rats as best they could. Desperate blows rained down on the monsters, and both defenders faltered and went down, only to be revived by the Cleric to continue the fight.

Then, as quickly as it started, the Ochre Jellies lost cohesion as the Paladin delivered a holy strike with the assistance of Bahamut, their punctured forms spilling fluids which flowed like wine out of a torn wineskin across the ground. But as he landed the killing blow, they heard the cry of the Dwarf, again fallen, succumbed to the grasping pseudopods of the shapeless Blue Ooze which continued relentlessly towards them.

In a last-ditch effort, the companions focued all their attacks on the Ooze and trying to heal the fallen, and within moments, the Blue Ooze, too, was slashed open, and a burning spray of acid gushed out of its ruptured shape, splashing over the Paladin and fallen Dwarf. The Paladin crashed to his knees and dropped prone, acid sizzling on his armor.

The survivors rushed to the aid of the fallen defenders, and desperately worked to clean the acid off and deliver first aid. Eventually, they were stabilized, and the survivors dragged the fallen into the hidden room and closed the door, just as the sound of something insectlike and chittering passed by outside...

Nephster, sounds like you guys are getting the most out of KOTS. I have played through it once and now am running it for another group.

My main complaint about KOTS has to do with the actual product itself. Three posters, a shabby folder, a magazine and a pamphlet (which is useless to anyone who has the rulebooks) is not worth $30. Especially when the ink rubs off on your fingers every time you touch it. You've got to wear gloves when you handle this thing.

From what I've seen, future adventures will be $25, but contain only one poster map. That sounds like a bad deal too. At least put some art on the actual books, I mean, come on now. My KOTS adventure book is dirt brown and covered in fingerprints. Horrible.
I bought Keep on the Shadowfell to see what it was all about. I was shocked that I paid 30 dollars for something so cheap. The adventure seems fine to me, and the maps are cool, but I can't get over how cheap the adventure book feels. Are all of the H, P, and E adventures gonna be bound in that kind of paper? A little cardboard would've really been nice. I bought a couple of the pre-made adventures when I started 3e (The Forge of Fury and The Speaker In Dreams), and those are still around. I have a feeling this book won't last. I feel like I'm gonna tear the thing in half just holding it. It wouldn't bother me so much if the thing didn't cost 30 freakin' dollars.
Decent reviews in detail and unbiased reviews. I like to see it as a review of 4th and not a comparison to previous editions.

Bravo.
Tonight, we continued our expedition to the Keep on the Shadowfell, after a short hiatus for people traveling over the summer.

But before I get to that, I want to adress some of the interim comments. Yes, I agree that the production values on Keep on the Shadowfell could have been better. The printing and art are fine, but the materials, it seems, are the biggest problem. I personally haven't had problems with the smudging pages as others have mentioned, but I do agree that the light, flimsy paper, combined with the lack of a sturdier cover for the booklets, really do the product a disservice.

Luckily, I have a habit of binding all my DM stuff into a three ring binder anyway, so I essentially rebound the entire adventure. This is especially handy for fleshing out the adventure in places, because you can essentially insert pages with little effort. Basically, I just removed the staples, and used a metal ruler to slice the booklets down the spines, hole punched the pages, and put them in the binder. For handout-type stuff, especially the player's booklet and character sheets, I slipped them into plastic page protectors, which have allowed them to remain mostly pristine (even after a spill at the table).

But even with this care, the paper has pulled through a few times. The paper really is very thin, and I don't see how WotC could expect it to stand up to serious play. This paper quality is good for fiction - stuff you only read and touch once - but for flip-back-and-forth-for-reference type of uses, we need a sturdier paper stock.

I'm also disappointed that there are many locations in the game with beautiful maps, but which there are no battle maps provided for. I wouldn't mind this (as much) if I could go to the WotC web site and download the maps and print them out for my own use. But it seems like a real waste to have these beautifully-produced maps which are only on pages the DM sees, especially now that 4e is so tactical in nature. (There are associated gripes with the lack of dungeon tiles that can mimic the maps, and the fact that it would be near impossible to get D&D minis for the adventure, either, but I'll leave those to other discussions, since that would be outside the scope of this particular product.)

In short, my advice to you is: if you're miffed about the production quality of this or other adventures, take matters into your own hands and bind it up in a manner that works for you.

Okay, now on to the adventure. We started late tonight, so we only got through one encounter. Unlike last week, the players were not in danger of a TPK, due to some nice maneuvering and some absolutely abysmal die-rolling on the part of the monsters.

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The party spent the evening holed up in the secret cache area as the Kruthiks cleaned up the battle mess outside. They huddled in the dark room, listening to the chittering and gnashing of insect-like creatures harvesting the corpses of the rats beyond the door. Eventually, the sounds died down as the Kruthiks returned to their lair to digest their easy meal.

All through the night, Splug sang softly to himself his poorly-written, poorly-rhymed ode to Poo-Jowls, the female goblin he hopes to rescue from Kalarel, mate with, and raise a passel of little snotlings somewhere with. Although he's gross and they still didn't trust him, the party seemed to be getting a soft spot for the little goblin. (He's certainly working for a little comic relief.)

When morning came, the party cautiously emerged from their hiding place and peeked around, noticing that all the rat bodies had disappeared.

I expected them to book it out of there, considering how afraid they were of the creatures, but instead, they decided that they didn't want the creatures attacking them from behind, so they bravely set forth into the tunnel with the snake-like stench.

In the Kruthik tunnels, the original adventure has some concealed pit traps to make things a little difficult for the players. For my game, I changed them to shelfstone (a cave formation where, at one time, there was a pool of water which had limestone form a sheet over, but then the water dried up, leaving a thin floor of fragile stone over a deep pit). The players got their first warning that the floor was unsafe by seeing an open pit and the Wizard making his Dungeoneering check. But the adventurers continued on without checking the floors ahead of them, and one of them fell through another shelfstone pit. This attracted the attention of the Kruthiks, and they attacked!

The unfortunate warlock, who had fallen into the pit, managed to get out quickly, before the Kruthiks had arrived. The party took up a defensive position in the hallway leading to the area, and were loathe to move around because they envisioned shelfstone pits everywhere (when in reality there was only the one). This prevented the Paladin from charging and attacking the Kruthik young which came around the corner, but it didn't matter much in the end.

The party rolled well, but the Kruthiks rolled abysmally. They did far more damage from their automatic "aura" of gnashing scythes, claws, and teeth than they did attacking. The adult Kruthik used his poison darts the first round, and missed both targets, and then never recharged. He only hit once before going down, and not for much damage.

The hatchlings and young came out quickly, and managed to insinuate themselves around the party's formation so that they could maximize the aura damage, but it wasn't enough. The Warlock, who took the brunt of the damage due to an unlucky string of events that put him naturally in harm's way, was bloodied once, but that was the extent of the danger the party faced. Most everyone else got cuts and scratches from the Kruthiks, but were never really in much danger.

When the rogue managed to blind some of the Kruthiks (thus gaining combat advantage), he really started to take them down with sneak attack damage. This, combined with an very high AC vs. opportunity attacks, allowed the rogue to run around the battlefield and basically ignore opportunity attacks.

In the end, the Kruthiks went down quickly and without much of a fight. I should have thrown more Kruthiks in there. But the description of the creatures, and that nasty aura ability, prompted the party to unnecessarily burn off some daily powers. They feared these things more than they needed to, which was interesting. We'll see if this hinders their chances in later encounters today.

As the party was going through the treasure in the Kruthik lair, the Paladin collected a share of the loot into a pouch and handed it to Splug. "He's earned it," he said, referring to multiple minion-kills by Splug over the last several encounters. It seems that the party is learning to trust the little guy. Splug, of course, was overcome with joy, and began kissing the Paladin's knees and offering to lick his wounds for him, etc. If nothing else, Splug had a great day of adventuring...

Excellent work. I'd like to just offer encouragment to keep up the posts, it's threads like this that are the yin to the many 'yang' threads going the other way.
Nephster - I love reading the exploits of your gaming group here. Looking forward to the next installment! I am taking ideas and inspiration from a lot of the work you have done to add color.

I am just starting to run H1 for a little adventuring party of 2 new roleplayers (my wife and kid!) so I am toning down the difficulty quite a bit.
So, I've skipped a few sessions, thanks to summer vacation and not having a lot of time after the previous sessions. Apologies for that.

We pick back up with our adventurers after they have torn through much of the Keep on the Shadowfell. My players have shown a lot of resolve and steadfastness, having triggered multiple encounters on more than one occasion but toughing it out regardless.

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After cleaning out two barracks of Hobgoblins in a single fight, our adventurers find themselves entering the darkest portion of the Keep yet.

After going down a short set of wide stairs, they enter a room where the friezes on the walls are even more ancient than in the upper levels. The floors and walls are strangely clean, especially in contrast to the squalor they witnessed from the hobgoblins and goblins above. Across the room was an enormous arched doorway with the beaten bronze image of a warrior on the door, and to the west, a nondescript passage led west.

(Note: I re-engineered this portion of the dungeon to fit on my flip-mat, fit the tone I was shooting for, and to make things a little more challenging. For those of you following along with your own copies, you'll notice a few changes.)

The doors proved difficult to open, so the Paladin and the Warlord worked together to heave the heavy doors open, revealing a gloomy monument with several curious-looking statues. Dominating the room was an enormous statue of a warrior, a good 25 feet tall standing on a raised dais in the center of the room, a good 15 feet wide. It faced the east wall, where two statues of heralds stood in the corner, stone banners raised in one hand, and a horn in the other. In the southernmost corner of the room, a shallow 20-foot-square alcove stood with four statues of cherubs holding cornucopias, one in each corner. At the far end of the alcove was a door.

The Paladin and the Dwarf took some cautious steps in, and when they got within ten feet of the titan statue, they heard a brief whirring and clicking noise, and the statue swung its enormous stone sword in an arc, knocking their feet out beneath them. The herald nearest them raised the horn to its lips and blew, summoning a great, whipping blast of air to drag the Paladin closer to the titan statue.

The Cleric, startled at this sudden turn of events, let loose her holy power to provide them protection, but the two scrambled out of the room as another swing of the sword whoosed over their heads.

Slamming the door, they stopped briefly to catch their breath, but because the Cleric could only do her prayer of protection once per day, they opted to push on without taking even a short rest. Eschewing the memorial, they headed down the less ostentatious passage to the west.

The passage ended in a "T" intersection heading north and south. To the north, an old rusted portcullis barred the way, but the passage south was clear. After inspecting the portcullis a few moments and satisfying themselves that nothing could open or pass through it without alerting them, they headed south, and found themselves inside a strange room.

This room, once a storage room of some sort, had been haphazardly repurposed to become a crypt for what appeared at first glance to be halflings. Upon closer inspection, the unique nature of the friezes on the walls - people dancing at festival on a warm, summer day, instead of the repetitive litany of fallen warriors - and the childlike forms depicted on the sarcophagi in each of the four corners of the room, led them to realize that this was a crypt for some children who must have died here at the keep. The Cleric sagely noted the surname on one of the sarcophagi - "Keegan" - and recalled the tragic tale of the Captian of the Guard, Sir Keegan, who was seduced by the darkness of the place, went mad, and killed his family. This, she surmised, must be the final resting place of his children. In the middle of the east wall was a simple wooden door with a glowing green sigil on it, which the adventurers examined with much interest.

Unbeknownst to them, however, a gelatinous cube had sensed their footfalls, and had slid out of its alcove beyond the portcullis, and had come in search of them, easily oozing its way through the portcullis. It was upon them before they realized it, engulfing two of their number in a surprise attack!

As the party fought against the cube, the thief decided to climb up on one of the sarchophagi in the far corner, and just as he tried it, a corruption corpse came barreling out of it. Another erupted from its resting place in another corner. The stench of the grave wafted over the group, making them nauseous and unable to fight.

With the gelatinous cube throttling them with its pseudopods, and the child-corpses bringing the heroes to their knees with the stench, things looked grim. The players were rolling terribly even before the -5 attack penalty, and things were looking a bit dicey.

Then the Warlord led the charge! Instead of commanding from the rear, he shouted for people to steel their resolve against the reek of the grave and fight back. Stepping forward, he hacked at the cube, and bloodied it - its corporeal form was starting to break down in places!

With the warlord's decisive action, the tide of the battle had turned. The players started rolling very well. A critical hit to the head dropped one of the Corruption Corpses, and the Paladin began tearing into the remaining Corpse. The Dwarf dealt a devastating blow to the cube, and it soon disrupted into a wave of slime over their ankles, with the other corpse falling soon after.

Steeled for more combat, they tried to open the other sarcophagi, but found them too difficult to open. And just as they were readying to open the glyphed door to the east, they thought better of it, thinking that it must be sealing in some even greater evil. So they turned back and solemnly decided, after finding a dead end beyond the portcullis, to brave the monument room once more.

The thief repeatedly suggested just opening the door and pummeling the titan statue from afar, but the rest of the party figured they could skirt the range of the titan statue's sword (because there was a 5' path around the perimeter of the room which it apparently could not reach).

The paladin boldly went into the room and tried skirting the area of the statue's attack, and successfully made it to the far alcove, but the spirit of Bahamut rested its paw on his shoulder and warned him that there was danger there, for he got a very bad feeling about the room beyond. Instead of venturing forward, he motioned his fellow companions to join him. Once attended by his companions, the paladin braved the alcove, and a force wall appeared all around him, between each cherub statue, trapping him and the rogue inside a cube of force! The cherubs tipped their cornucopias, and water began filling the alcove.

The party immediately set about trying to disarm the trap, from both sides of the force wall. The rogue feverishly worked at a secret panel he found on one of them, while the wizard, cleric, and warlord attempted to use their skills at Arcana to drop the wall of force, while the dwarf moved to attack one of the cherubs.

In doing so, however, the dwarf came in range of the herald in his corner, and it raised the horn to its lips and blew, sending the dwarf sprawling right to the base of the titan statue! The titan statue roared to life, and set its sword swinging again.

The alcove filled with water, and a whirlpool formed, buffeting the paladin and rogue against the statue's walls. The paladin steeled himself against the force of the water, and helped the rogue remain still as he used his thievery skills to disarm one of the statues, but the force cage remained.

The dwarf, realizing the danger posed by the herald statues, began pushing his way against the blast of the horn to attack the statue, only to be pushed back into range of the titan. The rest of the companions worked hard to free their trapped friends. Finally, as the dwarf pummpeled the southern herald to a mess of cogs and gears, the rogue, with a flash of insight, deftly disabled a second cherub statue, and it dropped the force field altogether. But the sudden removal of the force cage washed the paladin, the rogue, the wizard, the cleric, and the warlord away from the alcove and towards the titan statue.

The companions were able to get away from the statue, but the warlord, who attempted to fight back against the titan statue, found himself suddenly in range of the northernmost herald, and buffeted around at the base of the titan statue. The rest of the party who had fled towards the southernmost door, turned to help their struggling comrade and attacked the titan statue, demolishing it, just as some others rendered the other herald inactive.



All in all, these encounters proved tougher and more resource-draining than I'd expected. The immobile nature of some of the hazards should have made them easy pickings for a resourceful party, and an incessant string of lousy die rolls by the players made the first encounter very difficult.

But there were some nice dramatic moments, such as when the warlord turned the tide of battle by not only changing tactics, but by leading by example and actually getting well into character - he rallied the players as well as the characters, which was cool to see.

It also marked the first time I'd used my "Printable DM" sheet, which is a nice encounter manager sheet I made to track encounter status. It worked like a dream!

The party is nearing the end of the adventure, but they wore themselves out pretty well on this night's session. Will they be able to take on the big bad after squandering their dailies? Time will tell!
Our game group delved again into the Keep on the Shadowfell.

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Our heroes, having bashed their way through the Memorial trap room, opened the door onto the Ghoul warren, causing a wave of the foul odor of rotting meat to billow out over them. Inside, the hungry dead turned their attention towards the party.

The ghoul leaped and bounded through the detritus, slashing at the Paladin who was leading the charge into the room. Zombie Rotters moved in around him, with the Zombies hanging back (for there was no place to move to in order to attack).

A few well-placed fire spells, and the Rotters were piles of singed flesh on the floor. The ghoul, having struck a bit of terror in the hearts of the party with its entrance, found itself taking the brunt of all attacks from the rest of the party, and went down quickly after missing its only other chance to attack.

Meanwhile, the clay scout, who had been fluttering about in the background, whisked down a set of stairs into the darkness to warn the priests of Orcus below, much to the party's dismay.

The party made short work of the remaining zombies, and a few of them set about searching the room for treasure while the rest of the party stood guard at the top of the staircase to meet any force which may decide to come up.

In the back of the chamber, they found a tunnel that led back into the ghoul's lair. It was small enough that only the rogue and Splug, the goblin, were willing to go in. The cleric tied a rope to Splug, and was ready to pull him back at the first sign of trouble.

As the two crawled along the passage, they found that it opened into another room, also littered with corpses, but also with gold. As the rogue set about searching for treasure, Splug let out an agonized howl which startled the entire party. "POO-JOWLS!" he cried, for he had found the corpse of his beloved goblin-mate-to-be. His agonized wails echoed down the tunnel, and the party (mostly) felt suddenly sorry for this character who, up until then, had been a welcome comic relief.

(I think I got some good reactions out of the players on this one. They treated poor Poo-Jowls with some reverence, and gave her proper services for poor Splug. This also gave me the opportunity to "level up" Splug, who had been a minor character in combat to date, but who should have leveled at some point along the way for his assistance in various encounters. In his rage, he became a Goblin berserker, basically, with some stats pulled for a tougher goblin from the Monster Manual.)

After a brief word of service from the Cleric, Splug turned and headed back into the ghoul warren. There, he looked around and picked up an old axe that was lying in one crowded corner of the abbatoir. "I will kill Kalarel," he vowed.

The party accompanied Splug down the stairs and found themselves in a great ruined cathedral with a pit in the middle. Blood streams from a nearby altar ran down the stairs, across the floor, and into the pit. Across the room, a hooded figure admonished them: "Fools! You are too late! The rise of Orcus is at hand!"

Immediately, the heroes set to action. The warlord went first, and ran to the side, seeking to set up a flanking situation, but ran into a pack of Vampire Spawn who set upon him with gnashing teeth. The wizard followed behind, and, seeing this, called down a blast of fire among them all, hoping to burn the spawn while preserving the warlord. In her caution to miss him, though, she failed to rain any damage upon any of the minions.

The paladin, however, moved forward into the room, and was dismayed when three foes instantly attacked him with their readied actions. Two berserkers whisked out from behind the crystal pillars and struck at him, doing only moderate damage, and a Black Creeper zipped out of some nearby shadows and slipped a dagger between his ribs!

But then the Rogue moved forward, and tripped one of the berserkers, sending him towards the pit. The berserker held on to the edge of the pit, but the Dwarf charged forward and knocked him in!

The party bunched up dealing with the berserkers, vampire spawn, and creeper, allowing Splug a clear path to charge across the room towards the UnderPriest of Orcus. Unable to reach him, the UnderPriest raised his hand, and out of his fingers shot terrible black tendrils of necrotic energy, lashing Splug heavily with damage.

Another round saw some poor rolling on the players' part, with little damage being cast against either side. Splug continued chasing the UnderPriest, but was unable to hurt him. The UnderPriest responded with more necrotic tentacles, bloodying Splug. Suddenly, Splug flew into a rage and looked even more determined to attack regardless of the odds. (This was his berserker rage coming into effect while bloodied.)

The party needed to make a choice: remain tactically where they were and let Splug possibly die, or give up that combat advantage to help Splug who was outclassed. They chose the latter, thankfully, and Splug, received some healing from the Cleric who ran across the Cathedral after him.

After some viscious trading of blows, the other berserker finally went down beneath the punishing rain of blows from the defenders of the party. The other minions went down just as quickly once the tide of battle had turned, but the aura of Orcus' favor allowed both the Creeper and the UnderPriest to make last-ditch attacks against their foes, both of which did grievous damage to the heroes near them when they fell.

As the sounds of battle fell quiet, the corpse of the UnderPriest sloshed over, and the hood fell off his head, revealing a mop of thick, lush, black hair. This was not Kalarel. Exhausted, their daily powers and healing surges nearly all spent, the party turned to look at the pit in the floor. Now they could hear it: from somewhere down there, the sound of chanting to Orcus could be heard...



This was a good session. I got a little emotion out of the players with an unexpected revelation, and the end of the session was a good cliffhanger for next week's game. The players didn't do as well as they usually do this time, blundering into some near-lethal ambushes that they could have avoided. Their real mistake was assuming this was their last combat of the day ("We'll rest after this..."). They were dismayed to discover that they have at least one major task to accomplish first, and it may well prove to be the toughest battle of their lives.
It also marked the first time I'd used my "Printable DM" sheet, which is a nice encounter manager sheet I made to track encounter status. It worked like a dream!

I would love to see this if you're inclined to share, as I'm running the same module as well and am having a little trouble with the encounter management.

I love the writeups of your sessions, Nephster. They give me a barometer which I can measure my sessions with. Good show.
I would love to see this if you're inclined to share, as I'm running the same module as well and am having a little trouble with the encounter management.

Sure. You can download the encounter manager from my blog entry about it. It's not specific to Keep on the Shadowfell; it's more of a generic encounter management sheet.

I've used it for two sessions now, and it really helps me keep things straight.

And thanks for taking the time to tell me you like the write-ups. Makes the time spent doing it worthwhile, because I know it's of use to someone.
I'm liking the writeups as well, I'll be running this as the first adventure for my group starting in November.

Great work on the GM sheet as well, I'll be using that for sure.
I'm preparing to run KotS, and reading through the experiences people have shared in this thread have been been really helpful. I'm surprised and appreciative of the verbosity and quality. Thanks!

That being said, I have a question that I hope others who have run or played KotS already may have a satisfactory answer.

I found most of the adventure to be in keeping with what I consider to be good adventure creation protocols. While there seems to be a variance in opinion as to to how "light" some of the non-combat elements are, they are at least consistent. Toward the every end of the module though, I either get a bit confused about certain things, or I feel as if something went awry.

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The dungeon seems to take a bit of a turn toward a random dungeon generator style, what with the byzantine traps and the flagstone triggered portcullis. However, I still think these elements are fun enough that it doesn't detract too much. But when we get to the penultimate chamber with the underpriest and the lower, final chamber, I go a bit glassy eyed. I read the description of the pit in the upper room's floor and the chains, and I get that the descent is to be along the slippery, bloody chains. The pool in the lower room is clearly where PCs fall if they fail their athletics check, but where do the chains anchor? It's so very not obvious to me. Do they angle toward the gratings that are well away from the pool's edge, and which aren't mentioned at all in the rooms description? Also, there doesn't seem to be any mention of any other way in or out of the room. Does Kalarel just shimmy up and down whenever he needs a sandwich? What's an anemic wizard to do when after defeating the big baddie he doesn't have the strength to hand-over-hand up the chains?

The adventure felt really well integrated and thought out up to this point, and I wonder again if I'm somehow misreading or overlooking something. Somebody tell me I'm an idiot (this is the internet after all!).




Thanks much again for the nice review/narrative, and in advance for any guidance.
Response in spoiler block:

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The pool in the lower room is clearly where PCs fall if they fail their athletics check, but where do the chains anchor? It's so very not obvious to me. Do they angle toward the gratings that are well away from the pool's edge, and which aren't mentioned at all in the rooms description?

It's true that the text doesn't indicate where they land, but it does say the pool is directly beneath the pit of the floor above, and the chains hang down through that hole. Also, graphically, there's a set of ripples emanating out from the center of the pool on the battle map. I'd say that the chains probably terminate right around the center of the pool.

Personally, I didn't envision the chains being anchored, but instead swaying loose, so I think it's fair for it to be inexact.

Also, there doesn't seem to be any mention of any other way in or out of the room.

Well, there's always the portal...

In the case of Kalarel getting in and out, there is mention of a teleport amulet, so perhaps he can teleport in and out as he needs to.

The adventure felt really well integrated and thought out up to this point, and I wonder again if I'm somehow misreading or overlooking something. Somebody tell me I'm an idiot (this is the internet after all!).

No, you're not an idiot. Those things are indeed not explicitly defined in the text.

However, I don't think it would cause you much trouble, though. By the time players get around to noticing stuff like that, your adventure will be over and you're tallying experience points.

I wouldn't let issues like these stop you from playing this (or any other) adventure, because the players themselves will be throwing far worse conundrums your way. If you don't like the plot, the encounters, etc., by all means, ditch the adventure. But don't let minor detail issues sour you on what you'd otherwise be interested in running - that's the sort of stuff that's easy to fix on your end. On the fly if need be.

Sure. You can download the encounter manager from my blog entry about it. It's not specific to Keep on the Shadowfell; it's more of a generic encounter management sheet.

I've used it for two sessions now, and it really helps me keep things straight.

And thanks for taking the time to tell me you like the write-ups. Makes the time spent doing it worthwhile, because I know it's of use to someone.

Wow, that sheet rocks! Thanks a lot for sharing it.

As for the write-ups, I find them incredibly useful, if only for providing another point of view before I actually run the section of the adventure.

Thanks again!
Response in spoiler block:

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It's true that the text doesn't indicate where they land, but it does say the pool is directly beneath the pit of the floor above, and the chains hang down through that hole. Also, graphically, there's a set of ripples emanating out from the center of the pool on the battle map. I'd say that the chains probably terminate right around the center of the pool.

Personally, I didn't envision the chains being anchored, but instead swaying loose, so I think it's fair for it to be inexact.



Well, there's always the portal...

In the case of Kalarel getting in and out, there is mention of a teleport amulet, so perhaps he can teleport in and out as he needs to.



No, you're not an idiot. Those things are indeed not explicitly defined in the text.

However, I don't think it would cause you much trouble, though. By the time players get around to noticing stuff like that, your adventure will be over and you're tallying experience points.

I wouldn't let issues like these stop you from playing this (or any other) adventure, because the players themselves will be throwing far worse conundrums your way. If you don't like the plot, the encounters, etc., by all means, ditch the adventure. But don't let minor detail issues sour you on what you'd otherwise be interested in running - that's the sort of stuff that's easy to fix on your end. On the fly if need be.


Thanks for the response and input...
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This issue, nor any others, definitely didn't sour me on the adventure at all. I like it, and I've decided to make a few changes to fit the adventure into my campaign world, so I've no problem with filling in the blanks for the denouement. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't screwing something else up in the adventure with something I was overlooking. I felt that the environment had been pretty cohesive up to that point so I doubted myself first.

You know, I bet there's candy on the other side of that portal! :p
It was the final showdown with the big bad tonight. The party was exhausted, on their fourth encounter of the day, having used all their daily powers, and low on healing surges. And yet, into the breach they went! Read on to see how it turned out...

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Having defeated the underpriest of Orcus and some of his minions, the party rested a few moments, listening to the ominous chantings of Kalarel from the darkness below. Splug, seething for the blood of Kalarel, could barely hold still, but waited for his great heroes to assess the situation.

After checking the catacombs leading away from the cathedral, and satisfying themselves that they hadn't been used in centuries, they considered waiting at the top of the chains to assault whatever came up. But as Kalarel's chanting grew stronger, they felt a rumbling in the ground, as if something had moved in the earth around them. Faint, unworldly growls began echoing up from below.

When the rogue pointed out that, quite likely, the only thing that would come up the chains would be Orcus himself, the heroes decided that they would have to assault the cultist directly. Unfurling the ropes from their packs, they attached them to columns and climbed down, two to a rope. Splug climbed down the bloody chains.

The paladin, clumsy and heavy in his armor, lost his grip on the rope and fell 50' to the pool of blood below. Climbing to his feet, he glanced around and saw danger in every direction. To the south, a hooded, hunched looking figure emerged from the shadows of a statue, hissing. To the west, the berserker they had pushed into the pit crouched at the base of a statue of Orcus, ready to attack them as they came down the chains, the clay scout crouched on his shoulder. To the north, Kalarel stood chanting at an unclean altar to Orcus, guarded by two skeletal warriors. But to the east was the most terrifying sight - there, in a circular portal, was a rippling black membrane which stretched and strained as some enormous thing pushed against it.

The rogue, swift as the wind, alighted next to him, helped him to his feet, and then charged the berserker and clay scout. The paladin followed suit, and they were quickly joined by most of the others. The cleric turned his attention to the crypt-thing to the south, and Splug, in his thirst for revenge, charged Kalarel alone.

The clay scout went down fast, but the berserker, filled with a bloody rage, fought tenaciously against the dwarf, paladin, warlord, wizard, and rogue, but finally went down. The wight revealed his awful visage, and the cleric staggered backwards towards the portal, which strained, reaching further into the room than it had before.

DM's note: I changed the thing in the portal slightly to increase its reach by 1 every round until it reached the maximum of 3. It didn't matter mechanically, but the image of the thing in the portal growing stronger each round lit a fire under the players' seats.

As Splug charged forward, the two skeletal warriors moved to defend their master, coming at him from both sides. As the berserker went down, the party turned their attention to helping Splug dispatch the skeletal warriors. Meanwhile, Kalarel stood at his altar, firing necrotic rays that sapped the strength from the fighters' blows, and infecting their flesh with necrotic fire.

As the party fought the skeletons, Kalarel saw his chance. The rogue, who had moved to flank a skeleton warrior, had left his rear unprotected. Kalarel walked down the steps and slammed the rogue with his rod of ruin, dropping him to the ground! The skeletons stepped back and interposed themselves between the party and their master.

The party launched an assault against the front line of the skeletons, and one went down as the cleric and the wight traded blows of radiant and necrotic power at the other end of the room. The paladin laid hands upon the rogue to bring him back to his knees, and then rushed to join the fray. Slowly, the thing in the portal stretched further and further into the room as Kalarel's chanting gave it power.

The dwarf shattered the jaw of one of the warriors, dropping it, leaving an opening for the others to rush in against Kalarel. But just as they pushed in, Kalarel vanished in a puff of foul smoke! Looking around, they saw Kalarel had teleported onto the magic circle before the thing in the portal, a grim smile on his face. The black tentacles waved all around him, reaching into the room, searching for life to clutch and devour.

As the party turned toward Kalarel, the wight breathed out a necrotic cloud, which settled upon the fallen skeletal warrior, and it stood up again! Suddenly, the party knew they had to deal with the wight. The warlord charged at it, and used his battlefield acumen to put it off guard so that the others could strike it. As the dwarf and paladin finished off the skeletal warriors, the cleric and warlord beat the wight into powder.

...which left all eyes on Kalarel and the thing in the portal. All the heroes were wary of entering the area where the tentacles could reach, but Splug bravely (foolishly?) charged into the thick of them to get at Kalarel. The tentacles flailed all around him, but Splug's rage kept him swinging his axe at his enemy. Following Splug's lead, the party's fighters charged into the maelstrom of tentacles, too.

Then one of the tentacles managed to grab Splug! Long, needle-like spines sprung out of the tentacle, and punctured Splug's flesh, and they quickly engorged with blood! The blood grotesquely streamed back through the semi-transparent black tentacles, and screamed back up another one, which lodged itself into the base of Kalarel's neck! He squirmed a bit at the end of the tentacle, but as Splug's blood flowed into him, his wounds healed. A demonic grin spread across Kalarel's face, and the magic circle he stood upon began glowing, surrounding him with a sinister blue glow that made his wounds seal even faster.

To their abject horror, the heroes watched all their strikes melt away as the tentacles lashed them and pumped more blood into Kalarel. The grasping tentacles dragged them greedily towards the portal, and they fought to stay away from it. One by one, the heroes fell, and the others would drag them out of the tentacled mass to administer healing potions.

The party's healing supplies were draining away fast, and Kalarel still seemed strong. The paladin, trying something different, bull rushed Kalarel off of the circle, and the healing power of it faded! Suddenly, the party had found a weakness, and they began working together to keep him off of the circle.

But even without the aid of the circle, Kalarel was a fierce opponent. Between him and the tentacles, heroes kept falling, and more and more heroes lay crumpled at Kalarel's feet. He could see victory was at hand, and gloated, "Surrender now to the power of Orcus." As the heroes lay scattered at Kalarel's feet, the cleric ran in to aid a fallen hero, and was struck down herself by the tentacles.

All seemed lost! But just then, there was a shout from behind. Stepping down from the chains were two friendly faces: Douven Stahl and Marla of the Great Church. As the dwarf and cleric fell to the grasping tentacles, Marla stepped forward and called down a beacon of sunlight into the room! All the heroes were healed slightly, but enough to get them to their feet! Douven Stahl fired his arrows into the midst of the fray, tagging Kalarel.

DM's note: knowing that I had kind of railroaded them into four encounters in a row without a rest, AND knowing that the final combat was tough, I'd prepared character sheets for these characters to use as some backup in case they needed them in this combat. The players very nearly didn't need them - Kalarel was low on hit points - but a series of bad rolls on their part and extremely good rolls on the part of the bad guys brought some real ruin to the party. I decided to bring them in before things went too south.

"Fools! More lambs for the slaughter!" he hissed. But as his attention turned to the new, fresh combatants, Splug saw his chance. Having been unable to hit during the entire combat, he finally connected, and did massive damage! Kalarel staggered sideways, and Splug chased forward. The Warlord barked commands to assist him, and he struck again, and Kalarel was heavily hurt. "This be for Poo-Jowls!" snarled Splug through clenched teeth.

But again, the tentacles lashed out, slamming the cleric to the ground. All the heroes gasped in horror when they realized she had stepped too close to the portal! Her screams echoed off the halls as the tentacles dragged her through the portal into the Shadowfell beyond. A terrible gnashing and tearing sound made clear what lay in wait for any who fell through the portal.

Redoubling their efforts, the remaining heroes launched themselves in a last-ditch effort to take down Kalarel. One, two, three heroes fell at his feet, but his blood was dripping on the floor. As he raised his rod of ruin to brain one of his foes, the rogue slipped in from the side, and buried his shortsword deep into Kalarel's side!

Kalarel's eyes went wide, as the life ebbed from him. A thunderous voice rattled the chamber: "YOU HAVE FAILED ME, KALAREL!" The portal began sucking into itself, and the tentacles, just before vanishing, lashed out, and dragged the astonished Kalarel into the darkness. And then it was merely stone.

They had lost one of their companions, but the threat had been thwarted, thanks to the timely arrival of some old friends. Marla said a blessing to Pelor, and tended to the wounded. Splug, for his part, felt little vindication in Kalarel's grisly demise, and resolved to wander the world and kill others like Kalarel; though he wanted to continue serving the "great heroes," he understood that he could not travel with them - their paths lay in other directions. And Douven Stahl, he was still resolved to retire and live his life in peace, but he realized that he could not turn a blind eye to evil, no matter what his age, and was relieved he had rushed Marla back to this place.

Finally, Marla stood, and addressed the adventurers. Clearly, her usefulness at the city was worth little. She resolved to travel with the heroes and serve the role their previous cleric had before her untimely demise. And with a solemn demeanor, they turned to begin the long climb back to the surface, for there had been some mention of a threat called the "Bloodreavers..."