Posted by : David Guyll March 12, 2010

Another Chaos Scar adventure by Aeryn "Blackdirge" Rudel? Shit yes. Dead By Dawn is intended for level 2 characters, and is (according to Aeryn's Facebook page) written as an homage to both Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead. Like Penny Arcade the difference between an homage and derivative, to me, depends entirely on if I like it. Of course, this is fucking Blackdirge I'm talking about, so this adventure falls squarely into the former.

The synopsis in a nutshell is that a priest of Erathis decided to build a temple behind the King's Wall, smack dab in the center of what amounts to a glorified monster preservation, and got his ass handed to him by Orcus-cultists (as so often happens). Erathis didnt intervene because she probably thought that the gene pool was better off this way.
I mean, it would be like having an elf try to open up an iHop in the middle of Mordor. What the hell did you think was gonna happen?

I...really cant find any negative criticism about this adventure. I guess the adventure hooks could be better? There are only two written adventure hooks, and while the first one is basically a fetch quest to get a guy for a guy, the second one works out really well since it adds continuity if you were running other adventures from Chaos Scar by having the party stumble upon ye olde adventure site. So...yeah...I got nothing.

To be honest, even if I did have anything bad to say it would be utterly eclipsed by all the pros: uses Dungeon Tiles, good descriptions, interesting terrain features, well-designed skill challenges, and a nifty new monster and magic item property. This thing delivers, and its not even complicated in design: there are like, five truly different monsters and most of it takes place in the same. Damned. ROOM. There really isnt a "dungeon" at all.

Sure, the opening bit has the party go into the temple and through a room or two, but its exposition of the best sort: SHOWING. There isnt a NPC sitting there yakking his ass off telling you whats going on, its just there, in the temple. The faded murals and shattered statues let canny players uncover its brief history as they explore the place. Even better, there's also some hidden stuff that they can find, so they get rewarded for checking out the scenery (which is fucking awesome).

Another thing that kicks ass about this adventure is the pacing. First of all, I'm going to get into spoilers, so if you are playing in Chaos Scar do yourself a favor and stop reading. Go harass your DM to put whatever she's running on hold and run this instead, and fuck continuity if you have to (after all, it worked for George Lucas).

It starts out slow, up until the players find the MacGuffin (aka, piece of the meteor), at which point things immediately crank up to 11: zombies start popping out of the ground numbering in the hundreds (including a zombie t-rex, which isnt fought to my dismay), and the players have to try and hold the fort until the sun rises. This is represented by three skill challenges that determine how well the party fortifies the temple and holds off two waves of undead in the interim. The party gets action spikes periodically that fit the pacing you find in other zombie-themed media.

True to good skill challenges, failure doesnt hose the party. Instead, it just means that a few zombies manage to break through before they can barricade the place, or smash through existing barricades at a random entry point (which is evocative of the source material). There arent any mechanics for nailing boards into the walls or pushing furniture in front of the doors, and I think a good chunk of the fun factor is going to depend on how well the DM can weave a narrative on the fly since the skill challenges represent both the party working and fighting off the undead ( that a flaw?).

Anyway, there it is. Awesome adventure. If you like this, check out Stick in the Mud and The Tainted Spiral.

{ 12 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. The skill challenge is really close to a skill challenge I posted on my page about two months ago. I'm not saying they ripped me off, but wow it really sounds similar

    check it out an tell me what you think.

  2. Thanks for the review. This one was a blast to write. I've got more Chaos Scar adventures in the works, so stay tuned.


  3. Stick in the mud is one of my favorites so far, i may be running dead by dawn tomorrow!

  4. Thanks for making awesome adventures. Stick in the Mud is what got me giving two shits about Chaos Scar in the first place, and The Tainted Spiral was just gravy on the cake (and I fucking LOVE me some gravy).

  5. @thisismygame: Great minds think alike

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. @thisismygame

    For the record, I was completely unaware of your blog until I read your respones to the review. Like Planeswalker said, I'd just chalk this one up to "great minds think alike" and "there's no such thing as an original idea." =]

    By the way, I do like the way your skill challenge handled the building of barricades in a literal sense (I took a much more abstract approach). I really dug the way you gave the PCs options with different peices of furniture and whatnot. Good stuff.


  8. I ran the first encounter for this adventure... the players panicked and i loved it!! our wizard in particular made the challenge more intense since she gave the only failure for the first challenge and she just simply did know what to do, so her character panicked and stayed put for the remainder of the first encounter...we had to stop before the second encounter started since a girl twisted her ankle...

    We use a big screen to display the maps so to add more tension i opened the pdf with the adventure just after i read the description of the zombies raising... it was epic seeing their faces when they saw the title Dead by Dawn... and the artwork... Also at the end of the first encounter i described that the paladin of kelemvor's prayer (we play in forgotten realms so i had to change the deity to kelemvor) finally reached kelemvor, giving them some time to prepare the defenses for the second wave... (the party was telling him to stop the prayers and help them out cuz it was not gonna work).

  9. @ThePlaneswalker

    Heh, that sounds like a lot of fun. My goal in the adventure was to put the PCs into panic mode, so I'm glad it worked out that way in your session. Please keep me posted on how the rest of the adventure turns out for you and your group.


  10. Today we finished the adventure (or so i thought) they almost died in the last wave and they couldn't wait to get the hell out of there, so they returned to loudwater (FR campaign) to deliver some items they had to for a previous quest and they took the shard with them. i am guessing they were too shocked with the last encounter since they thought they were going to die since they did not attempt to identify the necroshard right away and decided to take an extended rest, then they found out the properties of the shard and decided to tell Lady Moonfire (the mayor of Loudwater) about their discovery to which she told them to take it out of her town and get rid of it. However they were not sure exactly what to do with the shard, it was already late in the afternoon, only a few hours before night and they had to think fast and decide to either go and have the shard forged into a weapon or destroy it..... they decided to go back to the temple and leave it there (i think) but they knew that by the time they made it to the temple it was going to back night time and they still went knowing that they were going to face the horde again... they said they had no choice since they put the town in danger. At this point i am not sure what to do here, perhaps id run the encounters again and toss in the t-rex (the halfling in the party kept looking out for it cuz she wanted to fight it). What do you suggest?

  11. ThePlaneswalker,

    Eight words: chopped-up bits forming whole, creepy-ass zombies. They will not forget the sight of a zombie made up of nothing but hands and heads. Extra-double-especially if it's a Huge Solo Brute that keeps splitting off hand-lings and head-crawlers ala 'The Thing'.

  12. Even though it on first sight looked like a generic dungeon-crawl with an Orcus-theme.. reading it more extensively proved it to actually be an innovative adventure with detailed locations and a plotline which seems very exciting. Can't wait to run it (beefed up to fit 4 4th level characters).

    I want to try using tiles, but only have the Halls of the Giant Kings set. Could anyone help me out with which other sets this adventure gets its tiles from?



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