Is Shadowfell Worth Keeping

Just like the rest of the darned planet I’ve been pouring over the Keep on the Shadowfell, and loving what I see. Yes, you heard that right – I like it!

I have to confess, it’s not at all what I expected. The cynic in me expected it to be some half-baked showcase for 4e wrapped around 5 or 6 encounters that do little else but show off the mechanics. In other words, not an edventure I’d want to play, and more of Yet Another Marketing Thing. In my defense, all of the crap coming from Wizards right now convinced me that was the case.

So, I’m glad to say it’s not that, at all. Except it is, but in a good way. I’ll explain.

First and foremost, the Keep on the Shadowfell is an adventure. There’s a plot, complete with a small base of operations and a grand total of 25 (count ‘em!) encounters. That’s a very healthy number, by my book. Snuck in there is enough rules for the game to be able to play the adventure as written, and there’s more than enough monsters fully stated out to be able to run a handful of follow-up sessions too. While there’s no character generation rules, the pre-generated characters are feature-complete and include enough information to bump them to 3rd level if you’re happy with the pre-selected powers.

While the adventure itself itsn’t going to win any awards for originality, it’s a pretty good romp for a starting adventure with no shortage of opportunities for a cunning DM to add their own interludes. I’m most impressed with the village of Winterhaven. It’s great to see a starting base of operations so well fleshed out right at the beginning of 4e’s life, and it reminds me a lot of the old D&D town of Threshold, a setting I and my players spent many a session. I know 4e is based around the “points of light” concept where the PCs are wandering heroes for hire in a troubled world, but I hope Winterhaven gets a few revisits in the product line. I certainly plan to re-use it.

Rules-wise, there’s nothing much that we don’t already know, but it’s good to be able to see how it all hangs together. I’ll write more about this after a full playtest though. One thing did hitme though; I’ve found 4e’s dirty little secret…………

The adventure reads very much like a 4th-level adventure from 3rd Edition. This is the much-rated sweet spot of 3e where the PCs start to get kewl powers and are able to survive a fair few battles without fearing a lucky blow from an over-eager goblin. It feels a lot like they’ve just tippex’d out “4th”, replaced it with “1st” and called it 4th Edition. That’s not a bad thing as it means the PCs start out in a pretty good shape and can genuinely feel like heroes from the off. I reckon if you’re used to starting 3e D&D at 4th level, you’ll feel right at home.

The exection-based rule system is there, in all it’s glory. I’m going to reseve judgemet on this for now, though I’m still concerned that the level of complexity (“I do x, you do y to counter so the Dwarf responds with z. What happens?”) will bog down the game, especially if you’ve a few rules lawyers at the table. We’ll see.

Back to the adventure. To answer my own question; is Shadowfell worth keeping? A resounding yes!

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