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Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands (PFRPG)

***** (based on 7 ratings)
Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands (PFRPG)

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A ruined monument to folly and ego, the Shadowed Keep stands atop an isolated bluff deep in a mist-wreathed forest. Sacked by marauding goblins decades ago the place was thought abandoned, but shadows now creep among the forest's great boles and footprints have appeared on the single, overgrown track leading to the keep. Travellers have begun to disappear with alarming regularity from the nearby road and the local folk fear some slumbering evil has claimed the ruin as its own.

Dare you brave the terrors of the Shadowed Keep to crush that which lurks within or will darkness shroud the surrounding lands?

Designed to be easily inserted into a GM's home campaign, "Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands" is an excellent starting locale to test the mettle of neophyte adventurers.

"Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands" is designed for the medium advancement track. 1st-level PCs completing all the challenges of the place can expect to reach 3rd-level by the time they have exhausted all the keep has to offer.

This product is a Dual Format PDF. The downloadable ZIP file contains two versions, one optimised for printing and use on a normal computer and one optimised for use on a mobile device such as an iPad.

This product also contains a separate file containing the product’s compiled stat blocks enabling the busy GM to build up a handy library of ready-to-go stat blocks.

For free samples, visit ragingswan.com/shadowedkeep

A Pathfinder Roleplaying Game compatible adventure for 1st-level PCs by Creighton Broadhurst.

Note: The Free version of "Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands" presents the Donjon of Ruin portion of the adventure, along with the full adventure background, introduction, hooks, relevant handouts, and illustrations.

“If you’re like me, then you are a sucker for old school on-the-frontier dungeon crawls. Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands is more than an homage to those days of yore. It plays and expands on the theme with intriguing characters, compelling stories, and cunning encounters. There is such a wealth of adventure packed into this ruined little keep that it will keep your players engaged session after session, and keep them coming back for more. So make a run for the junk food and pop, come up with pithy character hooks, don’t forget to buy a 10-foot pool, and always keep your wits about you. It’s that kind of adventure and more.” —Stephen Radney MacFarland
“...it is all about the details in this particular adventure - the whole adventure makes for such an immensely detailed place, the foes and their tactics are so detailed that actually RUNNING the adventure is a blast, especially with all the things to show your players. Even better, the module provides quite a challenge... we had a surprisingly awesome time while clearing out the keep...I'll settle for a final verdict of 5 stars for this very old-school module.” —Endzeitgeist
“Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands is an excellent location-based adventure; not only in design but also in flavour and layout. Every single room within the keep is extensively described and detailed, making the GM’s job much easier, and the flavour of which change or grow as the PCs get deeper and deeper into the adventure, which avoids the feeling of repetitious or mundane. Don’t expect the same old thing when you enter a new room, because you will possibly be very surprised at what you find.” —Aaron T. Huss (Roleplayer’s Chronicle)
“If you're looking for a new module to kick off a 1st level PFRPG campaign, definitely check out Shadowed Keep on the Borderland from Creighton Broadhurst and Raging Swan Press. It has a little bit of everything and an open feel that gives your players room to explore at their pace.” —Brian Fitzpatrick (Game Knight Reviews)
“Following the background is a footnote suggesting how a GM might incorporated the Shadowed Keep into their own campaign, among which is put forth what is probably my favourite part of the module's potential: once the party has cleared the keep, they might endeavour to claim and rebuild it themselves. Given the thorough detail and flavour of the environs throughout the module itself, I love this prospective aspect and feel that it could serve as the foundation for a campaign in and of itself.” —Gozuja

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Product Reviews (7)
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***** (based on 7 ratings)

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The Attention To Detail is Amazing

*****

I’m not entirely sure I can offer more than what the other reviewers here have said, except that while reading it in its entirety through this weekend I got quite a rush of nostalgia that few other products this day can emulate. It’s made for our current beloved Pathfinder Roleplaying Game but read and felt just like something out of AD&D.

The fact that you don’t just fight the same types of creatures room after room, the interesting treasures to be found, factions to play off of and secret history to uncover make this a real gem. Not to mention, this book loves the GM. Each room is provided with every conceivable detailed answer to questions a GM or the players may have about the environment.

It’s a dirty, gritty dungeon crawl that offers a dynamic location; with information so well defined as you read you get a complete feel for the major shakers and movers and how they all interact. The only real difference from real early modules where there was absolutely no rhyme or reason why some of the creatures or things would be in the same complex, this not only gives all plausible reasons and explanations but then actually executes it and pulls it off!

Not to mention a big collection of nine pre-generated player characters using classes and rules from the Core Rulebook and Advanced Player’s Guide. Speaking of stats and crunch, the monsters are all fully statted out so no flipping through the bestiaries, and game rules throughout and provided every step of the way (including the magic detection DC, school and strength of aura for all magic items!).

The whole location feels real, monster tactics and responses to different adventure tricks and attacks are explained throughout. Each location, from the tower, donjon, and the dungeon / crypt levels beneath also have a random detail chart and encounter charts to make them more alive. The maps are not necessarily artistic but pull off the old-school vibe very well and are perfectly functional and easy to follow. Throw in a bunch of good art (including scenes to show the party), player handouts, and potential allies from both rescued folks and monsters and you got an adventure to keep a group of seasoned vets enthralled.

At the same time: beginning GM’s pay attention. You can do little better than this module, that caters so well to organization and provides everything you need to run the encounters in a nice, clear format that’s a snap to navigate. Well done, bravo! I was provided a copy for review.


Adventure publishers, take note! Raging Swan does it right.

*****

I purchased the print copy of the module, so there may be some slight discrepancies between my review and a review based on the pdf. Overall, this is a fantastic module. I will address some specific items here, as the previous reviews by Endzeitgeist and others do a good job covering everything else I might say.
Spoilers might follow, so if you plan to play it just skip to the end.

The generic placement for this module is very well done. Unlike the original Moathouse (from the Village of Homlett/Temple of Elemental Evil series), which was located near a swamp, this one can be located anywhere. And the minor earthquake that affected the underground areas decades ago could still have caused a nearby swamp to be created. This is one of the few "place it anywhere" locations that can really be place anywhere in my campaign world. Speaking of the background notes, I can see PCs falling upon hard times and ending up like the original owners.

The artwork is excellent. I'm a big fan of providing visual references for my players, and this module gives me ample opportunities to do so. The cartography is also very nice. I'm a fan of Billiam Babble's Inked Adventures, and appreciate the hand-drawn maps. As a side note, if you travel over to Billiam Babble's deviantART gallery, he has some pictures of the maps with a parchment background.

There is an adventure timeline that helps GMs create an atmosphere to reinforce the idea that the PCs don't live in a bubble. There are two story hooks the GM can use as great teaching-moments to show that not every encounter has to end in bloodshed (although they will, it's still a good addition). These add story options, and get away from the usual linear-dungeon trope that most dungeons fall victim to. Giving the NPCs personality traits does the same thing, and alleviates the GM from trying to add mannerisms on the fly. I’ve seen this in other Raging Swan products, and it’s a wonderful addition. The GM gets to focus on other things.

Once again, the feeling of an organic adventure is reflected in the random encounters table. Eliminating specific encounters because the PCs already fought them makes perfect sense. Again, I can give the players the feeling that the PCs aren't the only ones running around in the world.

Information for scaling the encounters was also much appreciated. Although each entry seems fairly repetitive, something a lot of published adventures forget is "Repeat the important information where the GM is going to read it.” This is very important, since the GM already has so many things he has to worry about when running the game. I'm a lot more likely to remember what the scaling effects were (or that I can scale the encounter!) when I have that information right in front of me.

I sat in a seminar by Tracy Hickman, where he said "don't ever put 'indecipherable runes' in your description, because the players WILL sit and try to figure out what they say." I encountered this in Paizo's Rise of the Runelords adventure, and my players drove me crazy trying to copy the writing and translating it, since the runes the PCs encountered did actually mean something thousands of years ago. Without spoiling too much, there is an area where PCs can waste a bunch of time (and get attacked by wandering monsters), and it makes perfect sense in the context of the area.

The PCs can get a map as part of their loot, leading them to a further adventure in a lost dwarven hold. I would have like a larger image of the handout, but I'm pretty sure I can enlarge it myself. There is a map of the dwarven hold as well should the GM want one. Hadramkath is one of Raging Swan’s other products, and makes a nice addition here. If the GM wants to direct their players elsewhere, I sense an easy link to "Forge of Fury" or a half-dozen other dungeon crawls. Similarly, the GM can drop it if it doesn’t fit with his game. I wish more adventures did this. Once again, it creates a living world for the PCs to explore. And as GM I am totally NOT railroading the players into choosing their next adventure. Great stuff.

I think this is a worthy successor to the original Moathouse. It improves the original with a non-linear storyline and NPC motivations, capturing the competing interests of those who reside in the Keep (especially the competing interests within the factions!). Overall, each of the additions makes the whole much more "real" than traditional dungeon-crawls.

Well done, Creighton! Thanks for creating such a great product.


*****

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this adventure from the author. This is not a playtest review, although I fully intend to run the adventure for my group when we’ve got some time to play it.

Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands is a 94-page adventure for 1st-level Pathfinder RPG characters, intended as a starting location for fledgling adventuring careers, to be easily inserted into a DM’s campaign. The name of the adventure spells this out too, harking back to the classic B2 (now being used to playtest D&D Next!) and the less-fondly remembered 4e introductory adventure, Keep on the Shadowfell. To me, the name also summarises what this adventure is – the classic, old school concept of an introductory dungeon (well, only part of it is an actual dungeon, but you know what I mean) brought up to date for today’s gamers.

Raging Swan Press uses a very crisp, easy to read, no-nonsense layout for all their products, and Shadowed Keep is no exception. The page design and the way the product is structured is intended to make it easy for the DM to run the adventure and pick out key information quickly and easily. It does this very successfully through the use of smart stat block and encounter formats, and by providing extras such as pre-generated characters (illustrated by the legendary Larry Elmore!), player handouts and illustrations to show the players. The maps are not fancy but are very clear, and there is good use of art throughout to illustrate the adventure.

So, what’s the adventure like, anyway? I don’t want to give too much away as my players are likely to read this, but the Shadowed Keep was built by the great adventurer Valentin Ironwolf forty years ago. After his drunken death at the hands of the goblins and orcs he spent his career murdering, the keep fell into disrepair and is now the sinister home of several different factions. Adventure hooks are provided to get the PCs to go there – bandits have been raiding the nearby villages, tales of Valentin’s riches and so on – as well as a rumours table (another welcome nod to the old school) for those players who like to spend some time researching what they’re about to get themselves into.

The adventure briefly details the wilderness around the keep, including a random encounter table and a handy menu of terrain features to add to any forest combats the PCs might experience en route. Full stat blocks are provided for the monsters involved to make it as easy as possible for the time-pressed DM to run. Later in this section a number of options for further adventures once the keep has been cleared out are given – including the intriguing possibility the PCs might claim the castle as their own base.

The bulk of the book, of course, details the keep itself. As well as the enemies, treasures and items of interest found in each location, there is also a timeline of events to make the keep a dynamic place with various inhabitants coming and going. This section also outlines a number of roleplaying possibilities as one or two of the factions living here may attempt to negotiate with the PCs.

Minor spoilers follow
The keep is divided into four sections, each home to a different group of opponents. The Watchtower is home to a gang of human bandits, the ruined Donjon is the lair of various dangerous and mostly unintelligent monsters, and the cellars beneath the Donjon are where the Goblins of the Blood Moon are based. Finally, the Undercrypt is under the influence of necrotic seepage with all that entails.

Encounter design is excellent, with lots of neat details on each area, including tactics sections for the monsters, terrain features that can be climbed, pushed over and pulled, and advice on scaling the encounter for weaker or tougher parties. As an added bonus, one of the encounters features one of my favourite low level monsters (a Fiend Factory classic). To make exploration more rewarding, the PCs can uncover clues to the history of the keep and its original inhabitants as they wander around, and even have the opportunity to interact with one of them. NPC opponents are well-detailed throughout, facilitating roleplaying if your group is prone to parley or take prisoners.

Overall, Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands is an excellent way to kick off a new Pathfinder or D&D 3.5 campaign. It has a cool, old school feel – Creighton has said it’s his homage to the Moathouse from T1 on his blog – and presents a detailed adventure setting, full of memorable and fun encounters. Highly recommended.


A great old-school adventure!

*****

Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands is a Pathfinder adventure for a team of four level 1 characters. If they clear every single corner from it’s current inhabitants (including goblins, bandits and monsters) they could go up to level 3 until the end.

In it’s basics it’s an old-style adventure with dungeon crawling and such, and while I’m not a big fan of the style it’s presented with a lots of merits. Obviously the author Creighton Broadhurst done a lot of work to turn the keep and it’s surrounding area to much more than an extensive battle-map – it’s a place with a history, and a dynamic “environment”, where NPC-s and monsters are really living their own life, instead of waiting for their turn in “room d4″ to be killed. And that’s great.

Design and layout

I think what we see here is a simple but really good layout and format. Thankfully there is a lot of information included for each encounter/area, and everything is clearly visible and easy to find. But I will be back on that later.

On the other hand there are relatively few artwork in the book, and while they are OK it’s not outstanding. I don’t consider this as a problem, since as a Game Master I’m mostly interested in the maps and they are good and clearly labeled.

The adventure

There are many things to love in this adventure. As I mentioned this is a really living setting, where different characters try to act pro-actively without (or even against) the players. It’s possible that the different factions partly kill each other without the adventurers “help”, or a group of bandits offer alliance, and one of the goblins want to betray the current leader to mention few possibilities.

As I already mentioned the different areas and encounters are nicely detailed, including tactical notes on the environment (cover, lighting, etc.), and tactics of the enemies involved. Also there are exact DC-s added for each possible “locate things”, “know things” and even “identify magic things” check, making the Game Master’s work much easier.

Thankfully the adventure also consist several possibilities to use it as a start for further adventures. The players may find several maps about an abandoned dwarf fortress, or they may claim the keep as they own and clearing the area, or enter the underworld under the buildings.

Final words

I think Creighton Broadhurst presented one of the best old-school adventures I’ve seen recently, so naturally I give it 5/5 points, and highly recommend it.

note : this review originally appeared on Rpg.Org (see link below)
http://rpg.org/review-shadowed-borderlands-pfrpg/


Excellent tribute to the moathouse and beyond

*****

This adventure is 95 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages advertisements, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page statblocks by CR (and a cool rhyme for your bard!), leaving 86 pages of content, so let's check out Raging Swan's latest adventure!

This being an adventure review, I urge potential players to jump to the conclusion in order to avoid SPOILERS.

Still here?
Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands is essentially a sandbox adventure in the truest form - intentionally reminiscent of the classic moathouse of ToEE, the now ruined keep was originally constructed by adventurers who have subsequently been routed and destroyed in a night of carnage by their goblinoid foes.

Now, the woods surrounding the keep have become rather unsafe - animals, vermin, bandits and worse prowl the woods and some sages speculate that a map to a famous lost dwarven hold might still lie within the keep - hopefully enough prompting to get the PCs to try to tackle the keep! The surface section of the keep essentially has two different areas - the bandit queen's tower and the donjon of ruin. In the former, the bandits (who may be tricked, negotiated with and even be joined by your PCs and get the RSP NPC-treatment with mannerisms etc!) make for a potentially lethal coordinated defense and if your PCs think they'll be in for an easy ride, they'll learn a harsh lesson here - the foes in the keep react organically to threats. Which is a VERY important thing to consider about this adventure: The amount of detail provided for the keep is stunning - many rooms feature d20 tables to find valuables not found by other looters, bones of small animals, harmless mold etc. Essentially each room has SOMETHING going for them and NPCs and critters use the terrain to their advantage. Bandits use tables for cover, red hot pokers scare the hell out of goblins who used them on foes and know all too well the effect the things have, giant spider hang on the walls and throw nets on PCs, who in turn may hide behind tapestries - there is some environmental peculiarity in every room.

Wait, goblins? Yeah, but let's talk about the donjon first - essentially the middle ground between the two factions of the fortress, the donjon is in a state of dilapidation and disrepair, overrun by vermin and haunted by the ghost of the former lord's child who wants to have his remains buried with his parents - only that's not as easy as one would hope. It is at the latest here that PCs will realize something - traps are not randomly strewn about, but instead can be anticipated and found via clever roleplaying, interrogation etc. The same holds true for the as of yet undiscovered and magically trapped vault of the adventurers, cleverly hidden within the donjon.

Beyond the donjon, in its cellar and dungeon, the blood moon goblin tribe has found a refuge and lurks, waging war on the bandits under the leadership of the despicable...ogre. Yeah. I was not impressed by that. How many adventure modules have you read for 1st level where the PCs eventually fight a damn ogre? My cynicism should be proven wrong in this particular instance, though, for said ogre-brute is a horned, EXTREMELY deadly fiendish monstrosity (with a corresponding artwork), guarded by 3 medium, dual poison-sickle wielding concubines! It should also be noted that PCs may actually use tribal politics to gain an ally in a megalomaniacal goblin adept as well as rescue prisoners and even attack the green threat with the bandits - all options that should be considered, for the PCs are up against a goblin tribe that may actually launch a coordinated defense against their intrusion and makes good work of their bugbear mercenaries and environmental surroundings.

Beyond the caves of the Blood Moon (which may be entered via multiple ways, btw.!), there lies the undercrypt, a once hallowed hall (essentially a couple of extra rooms) now teeming with undead - a strange, necrotic corruption is spreading from a fissure of dark, ice-cold water and hallowing the ground/finding out what the source of the corruption is, might make for a nice follow-up to the things happening in this particular part of the dungeon. Once the goblins have been crushed, the bandits defeated, the ghost laid to rest and the undead disposed off, the PCs might actually lay claim to the fortress, which would make for an interesting product in the future - here's to hoping that RSP releases one!

The adventure comes with 9 pregens (including witch, oracle and magus, but no summoner or alchemist), 3 pages of handouts (an overview of the keep and two beautiful maps leading to the lost dwarven hold and depicting its layout, which served to immediately spark my imagination for further adventures) and 9 pages of illustrations that you can show to the players - this whopping amount of player-friendly additions is simply amazing.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting, as I've come to expect from Raging Swan Press, is top-notch - I didn't notice any glitches. The layout adheres to RSP's classic and printer-friendly, easy to read 2-column layout and the artworks are plentiful, classic b/w and amazing - with the exception of one piece (a certain treasure guardian, who looks cgi-ish and doesn't fit with the rest of the artworks), the artworks are top-notch in quality and evoke not only a sense of nostalgia, but also help illustrating the mood of the locations. Even better, their additional reproduction as player handouts make it easy on the DM to just hand them off instead of having to cut up the printed-out pages. Neat! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and comes with an optimized version for use with e-readers.

I'm a huge fan of the maps of the dwarven hold (and want to see the adventure set there!), but I would have loved it even more if the PCs had some way to find a similar (perhaps faulty) map of the dungeon below the donjon. Oh well, you can't have everything. Which brings me to the foes encountered.

I know, this is by design, but I'll come out and say it. Bandits, ogres and shadows. I don't want to see them in a first level adventure. They have been done to effin' death. Seeing that this adventure is a homage to the classics and deliberately tries to evoke a feeling of classical modules, I'm willing to let that particular gripe slip, though - especially due to doing at least SOME things different.

Much like many classic modules, the shadowed keep is not necessarily a good read and when first going through it, I didn't feel too impressed. In fact, I probably would have put this down, were it not for my experience as a DM - Creighton provided me with an advance copy and thus I had the option of running my players through the whole module prior to writing this review and... they had a blast, as did I. Which is not a given. I'll come out and say it - I don't like the "Temple of Elemental Evil". There. I did it. Pull out the rotten tomatoes, but I never liked the module and always considered it extremely overrated. Thus, deriving any sort of enjoyment, let alone this amount from a module that is a declared and designated homage is rather astonishing.

While the story/location is not too exciting, it is all about the details in this particular adventure - the whole adventure makes for such an immensely detailed place, the foes and their tactics are so detailed that actually RUNNING the adventure is a blast, especially with all the things to show your players. Even better, the module provides quite a challenge - if you play your odds smart as a DM, the players will be up to a Frog God Games-level challenge - during our run, my experienced players had 3 fatalities and none felt unfair or unjustified. Brains is just as important as brawns when challenging the Blood Moon on their home turf, especially their chief and his concubines! Even better, a timeline of events to spring upon your players - wandering animals, weather phenomena, goblin attacks - you name them, is provided to make the adventure feel even more organic and alive than by virtue of its excessive details. Using this timeline and shifting events around enables a DM to further customize the individual playing experience and provides for an excellent tool to put up and ease off pressure from the PCs while they are exploring the keep, thus ensuring no boredom can ever settle while exploring the different areas.

All in all, we had a surprisingly awesome time while clearing out the keep and thus, in spite of my initial cantankerous nitpicking, I'll settle for a final verdict of 5 stars for this very old-school module.

Endzeitgeist out.


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