Keep on the Shadowfell in Dungeon World

I have run Keep on the Shadowfell numerous times. The first time was before 4th Edition "officially" came out, and it was such a horrible experience that subsequent runs essentially only retained the idea that there was a ruined castle somewhere around Winterhaven, and that a death cult was going to open a portal underneath it. I have since extensively modded the original version, and even converted it for D&D Next.

My posts on running Expedition to Castle Ravenloft in Dungeon World were pretty popular (though that was back when I was still largely learning the game, and if I ever run it again I would do it way differently), so I figured that given all my experience with Keep on the Shadowfell and a few other adventures under my belt, it should be a snap to write up a post converting it into a rough adventure front for Dungeon World.

Adventure History
Some two-hundred years ago one of Orcus’s death priests constructed a planar portal that created a door to the Shadowfell, allowing a horde of undead to pour through and wreak havoc on the natural world. At the time the empire of Nerath was at its height, and dispatched an army to fight the threat.
     Ultimately they succeeded in destroying the portal, but the planar fabric had been greatly weakened. To prevent a further catastrophe an order of paladins built a fortress over the site, which served its purpose until Nerath collapsed and the fortress itself fell into ruin and was forgotten.
     Until recently.
     An ambitious priest of Orcus named Kalarel learned of the legend. He brought his death cult cell and a retinue of undead there, where they unearthed the collapsed passages and discovered the ruined portal. Not wanting to draw the attention of the locals, he purchased slaves from a group of hobgoblins known as the Bloodreavers, and used their blood to fuel fell rituals to weaken the holy seals placed long ago and reactivate the gate.
     Though the process has taken a long time, his plans are almost complete as he prepares to open the portal and allow the denizens of the Shadowfell to once again pour forth and kill in the name of Orcus.



  • Prosperity Poor
  • Population Shrinking
  • Defense Militia
  • Other Resource (food), History (Shadowfell Keep), Arcane, Blight (kobolds, undead)

The ruler of Winterhaven, Lord Padraig is looking for solutions to the recent problems with his village. Normally he is a just, collected ruler, but the severity of problems has caused him to become somewhat desperate and prone to bursts of rage.
     Winterhaven’s resident sage, Valthrun mostly keeps to himself and rarely leaves his tower. In fact, people normally come to him with questions and commissions, and he has quite a bit of information on record about the the history of Shadowfell Keep...if you can find it.
     Originally a hunter and guide, Ninarin was hired by Kalarel to capture other hunters to use as sacrifices, as well as keep tabs on Lord Padraig’s actions in Winterhaven.

Custom Moves
When you spend hours rummaging around the piles of books in Valthrun's tower, roll+INT. *On a 10+, gain 3 lore. *On a 7-9, gain 1 lore. Spend 1 lore at any time to ask the GM a question about Shadowfell Keep, undead, or Orcus's death cults.

Adventure Front
The main danger is the cult of Orcus, though the Venomfang kobolds are making life immediately difficult for the people of Winterhaven by ambushing travelers and attacking farms. If the players are not already aware that something bad is going on at Shadowfell Keep, then you will need to create an encounter or event that leads them there (see Notes).

Cult of Orcus (Ambitious Organization)
Impulse Reopen the shadow gate
Grim Portents
  • People mysteriously vanish.
  • The dead begin to rise.
  • The ritual is prepared.
  • The gate is opened.
Impending Doom: Pestilence

Venomtooth Kobolds (Hordes)
Impulse: To expand and claim Winterhaven
Grim Portents
  • The kobolds raid caravans passing through the region.
  • The kobolds attack the farms surrounding Winterhaven.
  • The kobolds attack Winterhaven.
Impending Doom: Tyranny

  • Can the kobolds be driven out before it is too late?
  • Will the villagers be rescued before they are sacrificed?
  • What will happen if the shadow gate is opened?

Tigyip is a kobold high wyrmpriest that advises Achualkoth on how to best lead the Venomfang kobolds.
     Achualkoth is a wyrmling green dragon that the kobolds discovered while traveling through Winterhaven's forests looking for a new home. They believe him to be a blessing from Tiamat.
     Kalarel is a high priest dedicated to the demon god Orcus. He is busy preparing a powerful ritual that will tear open the planar fabric, allowing him to summon and command legions of undead.


Venomtooth Lair
The kobolds have carved an extensive warren into the mountains south of Winterhaven. The winding, narrow, maze-like tunnels already make it easy for them to outmaneuver and dispatch intruders, but some are also trapped and underground streams make for precarious footing.

Custom Moves
When you are squeezing through a narrow passage, take -1 ongoing when trying to evade danger.

Dungeon Moves
  • A passage is too narrow to squeeze through.
  • The ground is slick with water.
  • Water douses an open flame.
  • You stumble into a kobold trap.
  • A kobold patrol approaches.
  • A weapon is coated in debilitating poison.
  • Kobolds flee into small tunnels (or use them to stage ambushes).

Achualkoth can be represented with a dragon whelp, just with a poisonous breath weapon.

Kobold Wyrmpriest     Solitary, Small, Stealthy, Intelligent, Magical
Poisonous orb (d10 damage)     6 HP     1 Armor
Near, Far
Special Qualities: Dragon connection, magic in the blood
Though kobolds are linked to dragons only a few possess any inherent magical powers. Over time they can refine their gifts, but a rare few manage to shortcut this process by ingesting the blood of dragons. These "wyrmpriests" are marked both by a physical change and magnified capabilities, making them easy to spot but much more dangerous. Instinct: To protect its draconic patron (and find a new one if it fails)
  • Lead from a safe distance
  • Weave magic into a poisonous spell
  • Escape if things go badly

Shadowfell Keep
The cultists try to foster the appearance of a haunted ruin: they do not post guards, instead stationing undead minions throughout the ruins and limit their activities to only a few buildings, which they use as a kind of "dummy lair". The rest of the cultists, gate, and ritual chambers are located in the catacombs underneath the ruins, which can be accessed using one of a few secret passages.
     Kalarel has spent several weeks clearing out the passages and reconstructing the gate. Since its completion, the dark energies of the Shadowfell have begun leaking through, causing the dead to rise and sometimes defy their masters. Shadows flit about unnaturally, the temperature drastically fluctuates, and many of the cultists dwelling in the halls have become paranoid, killed themselves, or been killed.
     On the plus side unless a cultist survives to tell him what is going on it is unlikely that he will become aware of any intruders.

Custom Moves
The threshold of death diminishes life. When you are healed, either magically or by resting, reduce the amount of hit points regained by 1d6. This can reduce the amount to 0, but not less.

Within the catacombs shadows encroach upon the light, rendering any source of light only about half as effective.

When you stand before the shadow gate, roll+CON. *On a 10+, you stand resolute. *On a 7-9, take -1 ongoing any time you perform any feat that relies on strength, toughness, or agility.

Why you lay dying before the shadow gate, a 10+ for a Last Breath roll counts as a 7-9, and on a 6- your soul is immediately pulled through the gate.

Dungeon Moves
  • Noises echo through the halls: sobbing, groaning, clattering, chanting, etc.
  • The temperature rapidly drops to freezing levels.
  • An unprotected light source is extinguished by a sudden, strong gust of wind.
  • An agonizing scream is abruptly cut short.
  • You find the husk of a recently slain cultist.
  • You spot a glowing humanoid shape in the distance.
  • Undead sentries flank the entrance to a chamber.
  • You stumble across a room filled with ranks of motionless, seemingly oblivious undead.
  • Ghosts come out of the walls.

Ash Phantom     Solitary, Magical
Choking cloud (d10 damage, ignores armor)     12 HP     0 Armor
Special Qualities: Made of ashes
Usually when you think of the restless dead you imagine skeletons, shambling zombies, or something else relatively easy to dispatch. Unfortunately not all remains are exactly tangible, being a pile of ashes does little to inconvenience some spirits. Ash phantoms are normally shapeless clouds of ashes, though sometimes they take on more tangible shapes. Instinct: To surround someone with a choking cloud
  • Obscure vision
  • Flow through cracks

First Session
Determine if the characters are natives to Winterhaven, and if not why they have ventured all this way. They might have been hired by merchant guilds to retrieve stolen goods and put a stop to the kobolds responsible, be on a quest to defeat the death cult, seeking forbidden magic, or are looking for a loved one that was taken. Here are some questions to get the ball rolling:

  • Which one of you is a native that lost her home and family? What happened to them?
  • Which one of you knows the forests around Winterhaven like the back of their hand?
  • Which one of you explored the ruins of Shadowfell Keep when you were younger?
  • Who is descended from the paladins that originally drove back the darkness hundreds of years ago?
  • Who is searching for holy relics left behind by the paladins?
  • What have you been told about the dragon's grave?

I left some content out of the original adventure, namely the dragon's grave and Sir Keegan.

If you want to include the dragon's grave, the best way I found to get the players there is to have Ninarin offer to pay them if they manage to retrieve a sizable bone from it, as the death cult wants one to use as a ritual focus. The problem is that the kobolds view it as a holy ground and protect it at all times, and she is not equipped to handle them. Another way is to have them find it while looking for the Venomfang lair. They could even stumble upon members of the death cult fighting them.

If you do not want to use this at all, you can have the characters run into a group of Bloodreavers transporting "goods", cultists while exploring the forest, or even have the dead rise from a graveyard near Winterhaven: it should not take a 10+ Discern Realities check to deduce that Shadowfell Keep is linked in some way.

If you read my modded versions of the adventure, I placed Sir Keegan in an intact chapel within the ruins of Shadowfell Keep. The characters can fight him, but the assumption is that they talk to him, and if deemed worthy he gives one of them Aecris, a magical sword. In Dungeon World I would just make this a renamed Argo-Thaan. The chapel was also considered holy ground, making it a safe place to rest, and had a secondary entrance into the catacombs, allowing the characters to shortcut some of the dangers.

Finally, the shadow gate could potentially be used as a danger all on its own, specifically a Cursed Place.


  1. I really really dig this!

    One minor point of advice (otherwise it's great): the Venomtooth Lair custom move probably makes more sense as -2-ongoing instead of -2-forward. It reads better to me.

    (On a personal, gut instinct level, -2 is kinda steep and I'd do -1, but that's personal preference.)

    - Alex

  2. Ongoing DOES make more sense, and I guess a GM can always put in a -2 if the passage is really tight.


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