Billed as a 1st-level adventure and suitable for starting off your campaign, this is almost a mini-campaign in its own right with the added advantage of providing a place suitable for the party to use as a base if they fancy doing so. There's a lot packed into these pages!
We start with evidence of the mature and ordered design process that typifies Raging Swan Press product in the shape of a set of notes detailing how to understand the anatomy of an encounter. This shows the various components, and then goes through them explaining how to read the details presented and use them to effect. If you like writing your own materials, it's worth studying these to help you structure them effectively, especially if you want other people to be able to run them. Don't be baffled by a stat block or flounder when the party wants to identify what they've found ever again!
We then move on to the background to the adventure. Whilst this is summarised here for the GM, much of it can be discovered by the players either by research and rumour-hunting before their characters set off or through the adventure itself. The keep - whose proper name is Ironwolf Keep, but few people call it that - is situated on a hilltop in the middle of a dense forest, a bit off the beaten track, and whilst the Keep and its immediate surroundings are well detailed, it is designed so that you can drop it into any appropriate location in your own campaign world.
Next comes the introduction to the adventure. There are several ideas that you can use to get it off to a flying start, pick whichever you think will appeal to your party. Once you have them hooked, there are two ways to find out more: a character may roll on Knowledge (local) or Knowledge (history) if he has them to recall some information, or anyone can ask around and pick up some rumours about the place... not all of which are true, but what do you expect of gossip picked up in taverns? Armed with whatever they manage to find out, the party then needs to reach the Keep so there's a section about woodland travel and the dangers that they might encounter... including a bear and wolves, as well as other creatures that may be less friendly. There's plenty of those little details that make the whole thing come to life as well.
This attention to detail continues throughout the rest of the adventure, which falls into four parts: The Watchtower, the Donjon, the Realm of the Blood Moon and the Undercrypt - all parts of Ironwolf Keep itself. In nature this adventure is pretty much of a sandbox with the party free to explore as they please... yet in a neat embellishment there is a 'timeline' of what is going on in and around the Keep, things that will happen irrespective of what the party is doing, but which gives that air of reality - this is a living setting which will carry on regardless of what the characters do or even if they are still there. It's a really nice touch, and something worth considering for your own adventures (or even for adding in to published ones, if that's what you prefer). Yes, the party are the heroes of THIS story, but there are other stories going on around them.
Each area of the Keep is described in detail making it very easy to picture in the mind's eye - and so describe it to the players. Further aid is given in a series of handouts including illustrations you can use as 'This is what you see' as the party explores. Throughout, there are various options as to what they can do, with the ramifications explained clearly. These touches would make it easy for a novice GM to run, yet serve to enhance the ease of play even if you are no stranger to that side of the screen. There are opportunities aplenty for combat, but also times when stopping to talk could prove to the party's advantage.
If the party is so minded, once cleared the Keep could make a good base for them, and you could build future adventures around them settling in and then using it as a base from which to explore their surroundings and seek excitement and profit... or they may prefer to loot what they can and move on. If the entire place is explored and cleared, the party should be 3rd-level by the time they are done. And there are plenty of little snippets scattered here and there to spawn ideas for further adventures.
Overall, if you are looking to start a campaign from scratch in a temperate frontier-type setting, this would be ideal. There are even nine pre-generated characters for your players to choose from if they'd rather jump straight into the action than roll up their own, each fulled armed and equipped and ready for play. This is truly a campaign start in a single package.
Return to Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands page.
Reviewed: 31 March 2016