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Friday, 15 April 2016

Darkness can be Dull

Although there is no scenario in the rulebook for Shadow of the Demon Lord, the first RPG released by Schwalb Entertainment following a successful Kickstarter campaign, one of the excellent decisions upon the part of the designer has been to release support—and release it early—in the form of scenarios for the game. This way a gaming group can get playing quickly, even if they are just using the core rules presented in Victims of the Demon Lord: Starter Guide plus the adventure. In addition, the publisher has also released Tales of the Demon Lord, a complete mini-campaign that takes a party of characters from Zero Level up to Eleventh Level. In the meantime, the fifteenth adventure is The Darkness in Shadowturrets.

The Darkness in Shadowturrets is written by Ed Greenwood, best known as the creator and designer of the Forgotten Realms, the default setting for Dungeons & Dragons since 1987. It is the fifth adventure written for characters who have entered the Master Path, that is of Seventh Level or higher, and comes as an eight page, 37.52 MB PDF. It is designed as a standalone adventure or as the start to an ongoing campaign and is described by the author as “an extremely challenging scenario, even for the highest-level groups of master characters.” He also advises that, “Such groups would do well to pad their numbers with henchmen, mercenaries, and other servants if they want to survive.”

The setting for The Darkness in Shadowturrets is the Grand Duchy of the West, where in recent weeks great clattering, moving mounds of animated bones have emerged from the Duchy’s forests to wreak havoc on the countryside. Many villages have been abandoned under their onslaught and so far the Duke’s best men have been defeated in their attempts to thwart the undead threat. Evidence suggests that the animated bones—known as ‘prowling bones’—emanate from Shadowturrets, an abandoned keep deep in the forests that has been occupied by The New Followers of the Seer, a cult that dabbles in necromancy and forbidden magic. The Grand Duke offers a rich reward—a land grant of Shadowturrets and the nearby villages—to anyone who can rid his lands of the threat.

This then sounds like an interesting set-up, particularly because it is one of the few scenarios published for Shadow of the Demon Lord that suggests that the player characters might become something more than just itinerant adventurers. Indeed, if the player characters are successful then a whole series of adventures could be spun out of the epilogue to The Darkness of Shadowturrets as they try to retain control of their newly awarded land grant. That though is beyond the scope of this adventure, but perhaps Schwalb Entertainment might publish further adventures based around such events because it would be nice to see something interesting come of what is unfortunately an uninteresting and ultimately disappointing adventure.

It turns out that the castle of Shadowturrets has been fused into glass-like mass that resembles a tree trunk. Inside, just a few of the rooms are accessible and just seven of them are described. Each of the seven rooms simply boils down to a combat encounter and whilst the monsters might be weird or terrifying it just means that the adventure strikes just the one note throughout. This is compounded by the fact that there is no map of Shadowturrets so it feels as if the encounters in The Darkness of Shadowturrets are linear in nature, one after the other. Sadly, The Darkness of Shadowturrets leaves the Game Master with a lot of work to do if he wants to run anything more than a combat scenario. There are interesting elements to The Darkness of Shadowturrets, but the author all but ignores them in favour of one combat encounter after another.