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Friday 26 February 2016

A Shadowed Sanctuary

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 and an 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 ninth adventure is The Star’s Refuge.

The Star’s Refuge is the third adventure written for characters who have entered the Expert Path, that is of Third Level or higher. It is written by Monte Cook, best known as a co-designer of Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition and as designer of Numenera, and comes as a five page, 8.07 MB PDF. Physically, The Star’s Refuge is decently presented. The writing is clear and simple, and the illustrations are good.

The scenario is set in an area known as Troll’s Fist during the growing reach of the ‘shadow’ of the Demon Lord, his influence having grown as the wall has weakened between our reality and the Void where he is imprisoned. Thus the undead walk the land, swarming village after village; trolls and other creatures strike at the remnants of the Empire with seeming impunity; and cultists boldly sacrifice the innocent in droves in order to bring the Demon Lord’s imminent arrival ever closer… To the ordinary peoples of the blighted lands east of the Troll Mountains, there appears to be no hope, but there are legends of a portal in the wilderness that leads to sanctuary from the growing madness and murder—a sanctuary known as the Last Refuge.

Unfortunately it has grown to be too much for Troll’s Fist. What forces there were that might have protected the region have long retreated to the fastness of West Hold and those who remain have no protection—not even the player characters can stand against the dangers that stalk Troll’s Fist. Whether they have come to the region for altruistic reasons, because they have reasons of their own for seeking out the Last Refuge, or because they have been hired to do so, perhaps the player characters might be able to persuade the remaining inhabitants of the region to evacuate, though even this is fraught with danger.

This set up is one that the GM of Shadow of the Demon Lord will have to develop himself, but the threat from monsters—human and otherwise, should be ongoing as the player characters first seek information about the location of the Last Refuge and and second, seek it out directly. The bulk of The Star’s Refuge is devoted to the sanctuary itself and more importantly, the means of gaining entrance. This lies at the heart of the scenario because the adventurers have to ask themselves how far they will go in order to find sanctuary for the inhabitants of Troll’s Fist. The scenario sets up a moral dilemma for the player characters and…

Well that is it. That is really all there is to The Star’s Refuge. There is no predetermined outcome and whatever happens is really down to the decisions taken by the player characters.

The Star’s Refuge is a challenging encounter. There is nothing wrong in that, but it is a challenge that may not find a home with all groups, for whom it will be unsatisfying, even unenjoyable, to both play and answer.  For others though, the very nasty moral dilemma at the heart of The Star’s Refuge will be lead to a session or two’s worth of memorable gaming.

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