Keep on the Shadowfell w/ Essentials

I'm running Keep on the Shadowfell for the third time, for a third group. Fortunately, this time around I can take all the changes implemented from the second time (ie, the whole adventure) and better integrate them. It also helps that 75% of the party isn't fucking drow, possibly due to the fact that I restricted the players to using Essentials (with a few exceptions). I did this partially because I wanted to see how it would work out in extended play, side by side with other content, but mostly because two of the three players are completely new to the game and I didn't want to overwhelm them with hundreds of choices. If you've played Keep on the Shadowfell, there're a lot of changes, so don't be surprised.

So we got Delinth (dwarf knight), Sand (elf thief), and Riven (tiefling pyromancer, and this is where the exceptions come into play). Despite being new, all of the players rapidly came up with some character traits that I could readily use to drive the campaign in their direction. For example, Sand fled to Winterhaven to get away from the Fallcrest authorities, while Riven literally has a devil on her shoulders--which may or may not be a hallucination--that tempts her to burn things. Like both times, I started the characters out with the kobold ambush, using the stats from the Dungeon Master's Book. Since there were only three players and no leader, I reduced the encounter two four minions, an artillery, and a lurker.

The encounter went smooth, all things considered. Since no one made their Perception checks, the ambush opened up with the slinger on the rock lobbing a stone at Delinth, which failed to hit his considerable AC of 20. I placed the other kobolds deep in the trees because Sand's player kept going on about how he wanted to dive into the trees so that he could Stealth, and I wanted to give him something to knife. Unfortunately, he fucked up his Stealth and Perception, and stumbled upon two tunnelers lurking in there who promptly gave him two shovels in the face. Dillon, Delinth's player, had a somewhat difficult time fiddling with defender's aura and battle guardian, which is understandable since I'd also like to point out that they handwrote their sheets and power cards, and stood his ground after activating his aura, a stance, and readying an action to clobber the first kobold that got within a hammer's swing. Riven? Well, even an attack bonus of +6 doesn't help with nat one's.

The slinger chucked another stone at Delinth, who easily side-stepped it (which sucks cause it would've immobilized him). The tunnelers continued to batter Sand into the ground, while another pair and slyblade rushed out of the southern tree line to gang up on Delinth. Sand managed to take down a tunneler, while Delinth's cleaving stance allowed him to crush the tunnelers on his end. The round ended with Riven botching another scorching burst. Mebbe she needs glasses? Perhaps that imp on her shoulder is playing the backseat wizard?

For the third round, the slinger pegged Riven with a firepot, but since she's a tiefling it didn't amount to shit. She retaliated with infernal wrath, causing his skin to smoke and blister, while Sand gratefully took an opportunity attack to nat 1 the slinger. Fortunately, he remembered elven accuracy and turned it into a killing blow with a combination of Sneak Attack and backstab (4d6 + 6 damage for the win). The battle was basically won, though it took another round for the party to gang up on the slyblade. The killing shot went to Riven, who was tired of missing and did the job proper with magic missile. Automatic hits are pretty rad.

They arrived at Winterhaven without further incident. Riven split off to deliver the message to her mentor's friend Valthrun, while Sand and Delinth scoped out the rest of the village and managed to pick up a quest to exterminate the kobolds plaguing the town from Padraig. This is one way that I diverge from the original adventure: the two primary plot points this time around are the kobold lair and keep (which is not fucking called Shadowfell Keep). Neither of the two have any connection with the exception that the Big Bad knows about the kobolds, but doesn't give a damn because as far as he's concerned that stretches out Winterhaven's defenses and makes it less likely that they'll figure anything out. If they do? Well, it'll be all the more difficult for them to do something about it.

The dragon graveyard is something that they can learn about in passing from Valthrun (which Riven did), but is more of an "optional" location that can give them some extra XP and items. I seem to recall that someone had the Big Bad digging about the site for a rib or whatnot, but I'm going to say that the dude wants a skull, and since the kobolds look at it like a sacred site that it's been difficult for his minions to procure one. If they get it, I'll prolly make it a wondrous item that will help them out later...unless it gets stolen in which case it will make things a bit harder for them.

They decided to head out to the kobold lair, which is good because I want them to hit up the lair and graveyard first so that they can get a few magic items and more XP. They got to try out their first skill challenge, but relied almost entirely on Nature and Perception. That's fine, since they're new. Riven used History to recall some of the maps in Valthrun's tower that provided a rough idea where the graveyard was, deducing that the kobolds would likely be close by. Unfortunately, neither Nature nor Perception are anyone's strong suit, and they got ambushed by more kobolds and a guard drake. After trouncing them we called it because it was 2am and I didn't have the kobold lair map on hand. I guess I'll have to draw it next time we play.

Not surprisingly, everything played just like 4th Edition, except for class resources. The players controlling the knight and thief only had to worry about one encounter exploit, routingly making basic melee attacks each round, modified only by the stance or trick used. This kind of fucked Delinth, who spent the first round of combat "prepping" his aura and stance. Were he a fighter he could have moved and then charged a kobold, dealing some damage and auto-marking the target, but I'm sure thats part of the inherent balance.


  1. >Delinth, who spent the first round of combat "prepping" his aura and stance.

    I still don't have the Essentials books at home but, from what I've read, it looks like activating auras and stances each encounter shouldn't be necessary. They don't end at the end of the encounter, but when you fall unconscious, so spending a couple of minor actions when you wake up in the morning should be enough.

    Note that this is a new ruling, and only at-will stances have been changed to work across encounters, for convenience's sake.

  2. I'm sorry I missed out on that. Was it last night? I had to look after my sister : (

  3. It was a few days ago, yeah. We wanted to continue it again tonight, ifin you're up for it. :-D

  4. What a coincidence: I was just thinking about running Keep on the Shadowfell using only the essentials rules too! I've been looking for a way to get my wife and kids into the game, and since I've already run the adventure with different people, I thought it would interesting to do the comparison. I'm curious what other changes you've made to the module - I've seen a lot of conversions floating around there on the web. I really like the character traits your players came up with - is this something you encouraged at the start of the game or something they did on their own?


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