From the Better Late Than Never Department: Last month, I wrapped up a fortunate year of freelancing by appearing in Dungeon. The adventure, “A Knight in Shadowghast Manor,” is live on the official site – and better still, anyone can download it. To my surprise and pleasure, it became a grisly token of holiday cheer from Wizards of the Coast to everyone. No subscription to DDI content is required. So check it out! (Bonus: Tremendous illustration by Brian Valenzuela. I am a lucky man.)
Here are a few thoughts on the adventure’s development (without spoiling any key details for the sake of those who wish to play it), followed by suggestions for DMs on how to “spookify” it.
Like the Kas/Vecna “History Check” article a few months back, this adventure was the first in a new series: Tile Treks – short, one-session adventures that make use of a just-released set of Dungeon Tiles. In the case, the set was (duh) Shadowghast Manor, and the whole issue of Dungeon itself was a tie-in to the new sourcebook of EEEEEEEvil, The Book of Vile Darkness. So that meant I could release my inner Hannibal Lecter and create some delectable nastiness within the manor’s haunted walls.
Four months ago, using PDFs of the not-yet-created tiles as reference, I occupied Shadowghast Manor. First step in creating the adventure? Nope, not the monsters. I first needed to create the “disgraced knight or paladin” (as described in the assignment) and figure out why he came back to his family’s moldering manse, not to mention why there’s an insane number of coffins in the basement! Once again, my love of Hammer Films and the Ravenloft setting provided plenty of ideas, backed by inspirational music from Midnight Syndicate’s 13th Hour and Epic Score’s Volume 3. Before long, I had created the horrific history of the Shadowghast clan and its despicable standard-bearer, Arturas Shadowghast. (The blackguard description in Heroes of Shadow was a huge aid in shaping his talents.)
And as with any good gothic tale or Ravenloft adventure, there should be some chance for redemption – probably not for the unrepentant, succubus-lovin’ Arturas, but perhaps for someone else.... Done.
Now it’s time for the encounters. A roughly 5,000-word assignment for something that could be run in one night? Three encounters sound right. The first fight is the entry into Shadowghast Manor, and the third fight pits the PCs against Arturas and his ally… and some backup. So that leaves us with the second encounter, which should occur in a spot that would allow PCs the option of taking a short rest either before or after this fight, although that course is not without possible consequences, as the adventure’s sidebar describes. Still, if several PCs used encounter powers or action points in the first fight, then a short rest might be worth the risk. Lastly, since the first and third fights involve multiple opponents, let’s go with a solitary baddie in the second encounter. It doesn’t have to be a solo; plenty of elite monsters can cause major problems for a party on their own.
For DMs: Spookifying Shadowghast Manor
As mentioned, I’m a big fan of the Ravenloft setting. Although “A Knight in Shadowghast Manor” isn’t located on a specific world, here are some suggestions if you would like to bump up the horror element.
- Arturas’ actions have flooded the manor with invisible, corrupting energy, which in turn has warped his minions in subtle yet disturbing ways, e.g., the skin is sloughing off the face, or the guards’ bones have thickened and become warped.
- Replace some of the guards with undead. A witherling death shrieker (MM2) and a couple of skeletal tieflings to assist would do nicely.
- The manor’s tainting energy poses a threat the PCs, as well. In addition to hearing the constant wails of agony, any PC who considers resting on the manor's main floor will feel a painful throbbing in his bones (matching the cadence of the wails) or sense that the skin on his face is starting to sag. Time is of the essence.
- Alter the description of the creature in the second encounter. Call it a blood elemental, accidentally formed as a result of Arturas’ ritual. (The dread elementals in 2nd and 3rd edition Ravenloft were cool.) Add or substitute a engulfing drowning attack. Ah, drowning in gallons of blood... not a fun way to die.
- Raise the stakes (no, not the wooden ones). Not only did Arturas hole up in the manor, he also kidnapped a teenaged girl from the nearby village on the way in. He intends to use her life force as the final ingredient in his ritual. Unbeknownst to the heroes, though, she is already sealed inside the blood-soaked, defiled altar of the Raven Queen. Once the ritual is done, she will have only minutes to live. Can the PCs get to her in time? Will they even know where she is? And even if she survives, what damage has already been done?
For additional inspiration, see Heroes of Horror from WotC and the Ravenloft Dungeon Master’s Guide from Arthaus. Although both books were created for D&D v3.5, most of their excellent advice on instilling fear, horror, or dread at the gaming table is applicable to any edition or game.
If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to wail like a tortured spirit, and I'll respond. Thanks!