Welcome one and all to Deconstructing Dungeons! In this article series I take a look back at my old adventures, tear them to pieces, and attempt to salvage what I can from the wreckage. My hope is that by doing this other creator’s get some helpful advice about adventure construction and I myself can improve my writing skills, as well as the products in question. The analysis includes a full spoiler synopsis, a look at the best and worst bits, and a rundown of the resources used to create the adventure. We’re actually getting dangerously close to the end of the series, because we’ve been through nearly every one of my published adventures together! Thankfully, I’ve got three or four more in the works that I can promote in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for some new material.
As well as deconstructing the adventure, I also do a giveaway each week where I send free pdfs to numerous lucky winners who support me on social media. Details can be found at the end of the article.
The Beast of ShadowGate is a Tier 1 adventure that covers around 1 session of play. It was published in September of 2016, making it one of my earliest publications. I think this may be one of my shortest adventures, probably because it’s an early one. Really, it’s little more than a few adventure hooks and a little dungeon, but there are still some redeemable qualities there.
The premise of the adventure is simple: the local clergy are responsible for guarding a portal to the Shadowfell. The portal can’t be closed, but has been sealed with various mundane methods to prevent any ungodly creatures emerging and abusing the local villages. Unfortunately, the higher ups in town haven’t heard word from the guardians of the portal for quite some time, and thus ask the adventurers to investigate.
The first challenge the characters face is actually getting inside the dungeon. The whole place is locked down behind a system of portcullises that requires some in depth thinking and experimentation to solve. Looking back, it’s actually a pretty neat little puzzle and should have been put to better use! Whilst the characters are trying to solve the puzzle, there are zombies clawing at them through the bars, which makes for a neat encounter.
The rest of the dungeon consists of a few straightforward fights with fitting undead and natural foes, as well as a more social interaction with some skeletons. Although the skeletons might become hostile, they give characters a chance to learn a little more about the dungeon and its history. Unfortunately, there’s not a great explanation included here as to why the guardians turned into skeletons, which is kind of the premise of the adventure. When I revisit this one, I think I’ll expand the dungeon and the story to include a bit more plot, rather than just a mini-dungeon for Tier 1 characters.
The part of this adventure that I was keen on showcasing at the time of release was the Tomb Spider creature, with it’s Web Mummy and Broodswarm companions. I’ve always been really into monster design, and these were some of the first creatures that I converted from previous editions and I was pretty proud of them. I still think they’re good creatures, though possibly a little over-kill for Tier 1 characters. Again, I think when I revisit this adventure I’ll make a showcase of the monsters as part of a larger adventure and dungeon complex, maybe something taking characters from 1st to 4th level. If you want to check out the Tomb Spider with additional lore and artwork, you can find it in Monsters of the Guild!
For this adventure I used photoshop to create the dungeon map (which needs redoing) and homebrewery to do the layout (which needs redoing). The cover art is by Lukasz Matuszek. I was chatting recently with a friend about how the quality of production on the Guild keeps rising, and how’s it’s a double edged sword. Better quality means that Guild gains gravitas and seems more legit, but also means we have to buck our ideas up for future releases and go back to revisit old work to keep it up to standard. This means the bar for new publishers is getting every higher. I’ve had some thoughts on how to tackle this which I’ll write up into an article soon. They’re already in motion.
What I did well: I think this adventure includes some nice set piece encounters that could easily be reworked and dropped into pretty much any adventure. I think it’s a simple, easy dungeon to run with a straightforward goal that should work well for new DMs and players.
What I did poorly: I sorta failed to deliver on the main plot hook, and the adventure really is rather short. When I go back to rework this one, I’ll probably expand it into a min-campaign for Tier 1 characters, starting in a fleshed out location in the Forgotten Realms and ending with the characters confronting a portal to the Shadowfell.
GIVEAWAY! If you like the post on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll be entered into a giveaway to win one of five copies of The Beast of ShadowGate. If you retweet or share the post, you could be in with a chance of winning a copy of Adventure Compendium Vol I, which contains The Beast of ShadowGate as well as a handful of other JVC Parry adventures! Good luck!
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