Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond Review

Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond is a boxed set that expands upon information from Manual of the Planes and some choice e-zine articles, giving us a deeper look into the Shadowfell--particularly the city of Gloomwrought and surrounding environs. The box contains a campaign guide, encounter book, poster map, two token sheets, and a deck of cards. The books are soft-cover and the box is pretty thin (think Gamma World expansions), but otherwise I'm a lot happier overall with production, especially the art and cartography.

Tokens, tokens...what more can be said? You get all the new monsters, some older stuff, and you already know if you like tokens by now; I like them well enough because they're cheaper than buying a shitload of minis, are easier to store and transport, and work out really well for massive battles or to represent minions. I don't like them because minis just add a greater weight (figuratively and literally) to the table in terms of presentation.

I know what a handful of people are thinking: ZOMG MOAR CARDZ RAGE! This is the second time Wizards of the Coast has attempted to add a card mechanic to Dungeons & Dragons (three if you count Gamma World). For what it is worth the Despair Deck is not randomized and there are no boosters: you get all of them with the box. What they do is allow DMs to apply penalties to players that spend the night in the Shadowfell become subjected to something terrifying, unnatural, or what have you.

Despair effects range from minor stuff like falling prone when you roll a natural 1, to more serious effects like taking a -5 to death saves and dying after two failures or not being able to use Action Points. You overcome despair effects by making saves every time you reach a milestone (with a bonus if you have the right skills), or taking an extended rest (which generally means you are just swapping it out for another). As punishing as they are, they give you some really nice boons if you manage to overcome them, giving you incentive to hit those milestones: re-rolling one nat 1 per encounter, +4 bonus to Initiative, using two Action Points per encounter, and more.

I liked the idea of having players keep the card and effects secret, trying to convey it through social role-playing. I really wish I would have had these back when I was running Tendrils of Fate, and I fully intend to use these things even when the players aren't mucking about the Shadowfell.

The poster-map features the city of Gloomwrought on one side, and an encounter-style urban layout on the other, giving it a smidgen of usability to those who want nothing to do with Gloomwrought. However Gloomwrought is actually a pretty cool place, which brings me to the next part...

This 127-page book is divided into four chapters, with almost half of it eclipsed by the chapter concerning one of the Shadowfell's most infamous cities. Whether or not you actually want to use Gloomwrought in your campaigns or adventures, the rest of the book still carries varying degrees of usability.

Chapter 1: The Shadowfell 
This short chapter has one or two pages each on how the Shadowfell interacts with the natural world, getting there, major power-players, and ideas for running adventures. This chapter is very useful for any DM that wants to include the Shadowfell in their campaigns and adventures. In particular I liked the nod towards Ravenloft on the bit about Shadowmist, which "claims heroes and deposits them into the Shadowfell", presumably to combat dark forces before (more mercifully then in past editions) returning them to their home.

Chapter 2: The City of Midnight 
As a dark reflection of a "worldy city", it is no surprise that Gloomwrought is just as dangerous--if not more so--than the gloomy wilderness just outside its walls. The chapter opens up with "Gloomwrought at a glance", scratching the surface about how the city works, its citizenry (such as it is), the districts, and factions before providing a close examination of each ward in detail, complete with plenty of adventure ideas and sites to get you started. There's a lot of stuff to do here, and it would not surprise me if you could plan an entire 1-30 campaign just within the city's limits.

The maps are really nice, and the artwork is of mostly great quality that does an excellent job of conveying the bleak, gloomy atmosphere and architecture (page 53 and 59 come to mind). I also like how the city's layout changes over time. It is an interesting trait that adds to the uncertainty and menace of the city, which--along with keepers and labeled wards--fondly reminded me of Sigil.

Chapter 3: Beyond the Walls 
The chapter art is awesome. As for game content, this chapter runs about twenty-five pages and provides content for six specific locations in the Shadowfell, such as a dead man nailed to a cross that answers your questions via pointing and the Raven Queen's home in Letherna. As with Chapter 2 there's plenty of adventure hook ideas--as well as encounter advice and new magic items--to work with, some of which references the encounter book.

Chapter 4: Dark Threats 
The last chapter is mostly about stat blocks, flavor information, and role-playing tips for the numerous factions and major NPCs in Gloomwrought. While almost all of them are clearly intended for use in Gloomwrought or the Shadowfell, it is possible to crib powers and traits for homebrew monsters. 

This thin booklet contains four skill challenges and eleven combat encounters that range from level 4 to 24. A lot of the maps rely on Dungeon Tile sets, giving you ample chance to use them if you're like me and generally rely on wet-erase mats or fold-out maps (despite owning 2+ of each set ever made). The encounter settings have a good variety, featuring urban streets, swamps, houses, and even a bridge. Additionally, many of them feature ways to customize the difficulty, development, and/or goals, giving them varying degrees of flexibility. 

If you are interested in running games that feature the Shadowfell, this is a very excellent product to have. It compliments Manual of the Planes (and Open Grave and Heroes of Shadow) very well, giving you tons of new information and adventure ideas to keep your players occupied for a very, very long time. Hell, the Despair Deck could be handy for adventures on any plane, so even when you're done skulking about the cold, gloomy reflection of the natural world, you'll still have a new toy to play with.


  1. Thanks for the review and the pictures. Looks like a solid product.

  2. It is yet another one of those times where Wizards releases a product that would have been perfect a few months ago; my group wants to give Dark Sun a shot.

  3. I am on the fence about my next campaign. On one hand, there is all this content for the Shadowfell coming out that I have always wanted to explore, but on the other is Dark Sun. And Dark Sun is the single coolest environment ever made by man.

  4. For some reason, the email button on your profile is not working. Any idea why?

  5. I don't, but for now just send it to :-)

  6. Is it for 4th edition standard or the new essentials crap?

  7. It is for 4th Edition, which is to say that it is also compatible with content from Essentials, since it is the same game. That being said, there aren't any mechanics for characters (except for the Despair Deck).


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