The Worst Adventure Ever: Shadowdale, chapter two

This lady is going to get annoying fast.Chapter 2 opens with the PCs actually being given the quest that will get the game moving. For those keeping score, it starts on page 12. The adventure part of the module runs 36 pages. So we’re almost at the 1/3 point in the story, and the only action the PCs have seen is in whatever random encounters the DM threw together.

Event 1: Caitlin’s Plea
A young, slim girl approaches you. She has short, blond hair, graceful movements, and large, dark, and serious eyes. She is barefoot, and wears ankle-length, nondescript dark robes. She looks determined – and hopeful.

“I have walked far and long to find you, sirs. I have heard that you are adventurers – and I have need of adventurers. I am Caitlan Moonsong, and I need you to rescue my mistress from cruel captivity.” She eyes you, voice quavering.

“I have no gold to offer you, but I can promise you that your reward shall be great, once my mistress is free. You have her word on it, and she does not lie. Nor do I. What say you, sirs?”

Silence has fallen around as the young girl spoke. All eyes are upon you.

“Now we’ll see what great adventurers they are,” someone whispers loudly.

I copied the whole of the opening flavor text just for that last line. The plot railroad gets going full speed here, and that last line is essentially the module telling the PCs that they have to go through with this next length of adventure. Failure means being disgraced in front of the whole city, which is oddly very focused on some barefoot, nondescript woman. If the PCs refuse, they get the following:

”Knew they’d just talk big and wave swords around and stay safe. I can tell their sort. The only real “adventure” they’ve ever known is getting to the bottom of a tankard!”

Caitlin then proceeds to cry and grovel until the job is taken. Looking at this encounter through the eyes of Wembley the Wizard, I’m pretty sure I’d tell everyone to go stick it. And I’m not even seeing Wembley as an evil character. His whole schtick is being able to cast spells – without that, some kid with a rock can kill him fairly easily. Sure, he’s probably adventuring with Freddy the Fighter, Tina the Thief, and Courtney the Cleric (who can’t cast anything beyond the most basic healing spells herself, but at least has hit points and armor), but bringing along a wizard when magic has stopped working effectively is like bringing Farmer Bob into a dungeon…except that one time in five when he tries to do something, Farmer Bob will explode in a fiery mess and kill everyone.

But Wembley is a hero, so he and the Average Adventurers will probably take the quest, especially when Caitlin eschews human dignity and starts groveling. As the DM notes state, Caitlin is actually an avatar of Mystra, who is being held captive by Bane in a welcoming place called Castle Kilgrave (oh don’t worry…it’s just a name. All the dungeons have names like that in the Zone of Terror).

As a reward for accepting Caitlin’s quest to save her “mistress,” the PCs are given a prophetic vision where they get to witness Mystra getting tortured by Bane. And then when they wake up, they’re joined by Midnight. Remember Midnight? She’s that chick who got a whole page of non-game exposition to herself and then passed out in an inn. She’s better now, and she’s teaming up with the PCs…whether they like it or not.

“Well met, all. I am Midnight. I work magic, and I’m out to show all the Realms that I’m good at it. You need me, and luck is with you: I’m available. Any objections to my riding with you?”

That last line is a psych. Even if there are objections, Midnight is coming with. The adventure flat out states, “she must come along.” In case the plot hammer hasn’t been laid down hard enough, the text also states, “The DM should use tutors, safes, and any other NPCs necessary to repeatedly tell the PCs that they need a reliable wizard.”

Event 2: Ill News
Caitlan is ghastly white of skin; her eyes are sunken, and purple veins stand out on her chin and arms and around her eyes. Sweat stands on her brow; she trembles slightly, and looks thinner than ever.

“M-my friends,” she says, teeth chattering, “I have had fever; I am not well enough to go with you…”

Yep…Caitlin has come down with an incurable disease and won’t be joining the group. She was just there to hand the quest out and then pass the reins to Midnight. Midnight will be taking the role of, “let’s drive the plot in one inevitable direction regardless of what the PCs do” from here on out. But at least she won’t be groveling and crying while doing it.

Event 3: The Inevitable Ambush
There is suddenly darkness all about you – utter, impenetrable blackness, where moments before you had been watching the countryside around narrowly without seeing any threat or foe. Magical darkness!

Here we have an honest-to-god fight. The PCs are ambushed by hidden clerics of Bane and their undead minions. They are in magical darkness fighting 12 zombies and 16 skeletons that have just appeared out of nowhere. It’s a tough fight, but one that can be made infinitely easier by eliminating the continual darkness spell that the undead can see through but the PCs can’t. Hey, Wembley, why not cast a light spell to counter the darkness?

*Roll on the magical chaos table…*

Result of 26: “Target of spell (or caster, if spell has no target) is instantly pelted with fiery red flower blossoms that materialize and vanish again 1 round later. Blossoms do no damage, but prohibit accurate aiming of wands or missile weapons, and prevent reading of books, scrolls, inscriptions, and the like.”

Damn it.

Event 4: Hope and Renewal
In the distance you see a line of men and women approaching, walking steadily overland. At the front come hard-eyed men-at-arms, weapons ready, chainmail well-oiled and bearing plain surcoats of rose-red. At the back are more “war-swords”; two dozen in all. Between walk a dozen men and women in maroon and russet robes, at their head an old and magisterial man in a robe of the palest pink. He is balding and kindly-looking but stern. In his hands is a stout rod. He sees you, and calls out in a deep voice: “Hail, heroes! Will you speak to the curious, or must you ride ever in haste?”

The pink-robed priest (who would also be the subject of much snickering from my players) is Ansultath, a cleric of Lathander, the god of renewal. He’s there to provide some conversation for the PCs as well as to talk about prophecies involving the gods falling – which I suppose is technically the first time in the module that the players are given the skinny on what’s happening. On another note, he’s an 8th-level cleric with a rod of resurrection. Good thing he’s got all those men-at-arms warning PCs away from a combat encounter, or he’d be good pickings for someone who wants to take on a nearly spell-less old man for one of the best treasures available.

Event 5: A Dire Warning
Ahead, you see dark patches on rocks and in trampled patches of grass. With them is a litter of broken weaponry and bloody clothing: the wrack of battle. The darkness is lood [sic], liberally spilled here in a grisly slaughter of bloody bones, broken bodies, and silent chaos.

There is no treasure or corpses at this battle site. There is some writing in blood that says, “Beware the Hand of Bane.”

I actually like this event – I think it’s the first one in the module that I think is done well. Bane is the bad guy of this module, and the PCs will soon be facing him for the first time. The big thing that I like about this bit is the distinct lack of corpses. That allows canny players to do the math: lots of blood + no corpses + worshippers of an evil god = oh crap, we’re going to be going up against a ton of undead soon.

That’s it for plot events in Chapter 2. As before, there are a handful of random encounters to sprinkle in liberally to convince the players that this is an actual adventure and not a badly strung-together novel. These include a shapeshifted wizard who flies around as a lightning bolt-hurling raven, a dwarf who burrows underground and probably should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque, and a 5% chance of a random band of adventurers. The suggestion for the adventurer encounter is, “challenge the PCs with an evil band of adventurers of similar strength, who will become long-term foes if the PCs defeat them.” Two problems with that: first, rolling up an adventuring party, even in older editions of D&D, takes time. The purpose of a module is to save on prep time, but there are no stats or guidelines provided here. Second, how many PCs are going to let the evil adventurers who just attacked them walk away and become recurring enemies? Even paladins are going to fight to kill most of the time.

2 thoughts on “The Worst Adventure Ever: Shadowdale, chapter two

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