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Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands (PFRPG)

***** (based on 10 ratings)
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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 (10)
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***** (based on 10 ratings)

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An RPG Resource Review

*****

Billed as a 1st-level adventure and suitable for starting off your campaign, this is almost a mini-campaign in its own right with the added advantage of providing a place suitable for the party to use as a base if they fancy doing so. There's a lot packed into these pages!

We start with evidence of the mature and ordered design process that typifies Raging Swan Press product in the shape of a set of notes detailing how to understand the anatomy of an encounter. This shows the various components, and then goes through them explaining how to read the details presented and use them to effect. If you like writing your own materials, it's worth studying these to help you structure them effectively, especially if you want other people to be able to run them. Don't be baffled by a stat block or flounder when the party wants to identify what they've found ever again!

We then move on to the background to the adventure. Whilst this is summarised here for the GM, much of it can be discovered by the players either by research and rumour-hunting before their characters set off or through the adventure itself. The keep - whose proper name is Ironwolf Keep, but few people call it that - is situated on a hilltop in the middle of a dense forest, a bit off the beaten track, and whilst the Keep and its immediate surroundings are well detailed, it is designed so that you can drop it into any appropriate location in your own campaign world.

Next comes the introduction to the adventure. There are several ideas that you can use to get it off to a flying start, pick whichever you think will appeal to your party. Once you have them hooked, there are two ways to find out more: a character may roll on Knowledge (local) or Knowledge (history) if he has them to recall some information, or anyone can ask around and pick up some rumours about the place... not all of which are true, but what do you expect of gossip picked up in taverns? Armed with whatever they manage to find out, the party then needs to reach the Keep so there's a section about woodland travel and the dangers that they might encounter... including a bear and wolves, as well as other creatures that may be less friendly. There's plenty of those little details that make the whole thing come to life as well.

This attention to detail continues throughout the rest of the adventure, which falls into four parts: The Watchtower, the Donjon, the Realm of the Blood Moon and the Undercrypt - all parts of Ironwolf Keep itself. In nature this adventure is pretty much of a sandbox with the party free to explore as they please... yet in a neat embellishment there is a 'timeline' of what is going on in and around the Keep, things that will happen irrespective of what the party is doing, but which gives that air of reality - this is a living setting which will carry on regardless of what the characters do or even if they are still there. It's a really nice touch, and something worth considering for your own adventures (or even for adding in to published ones, if that's what you prefer). Yes, the party are the heroes of THIS story, but there are other stories going on around them.

Each area of the Keep is described in detail making it very easy to picture in the mind's eye - and so describe it to the players. Further aid is given in a series of handouts including illustrations you can use as 'This is what you see' as the party explores. Throughout, there are various options as to what they can do, with the ramifications explained clearly. These touches would make it easy for a novice GM to run, yet serve to enhance the ease of play even if you are no stranger to that side of the screen. There are opportunities aplenty for combat, but also times when stopping to talk could prove to the party's advantage.

If the party is so minded, once cleared the Keep could make a good base for them, and you could build future adventures around them settling in and then using it as a base from which to explore their surroundings and seek excitement and profit... or they may prefer to loot what they can and move on. If the entire place is explored and cleared, the party should be 3rd-level by the time they are done. And there are plenty of little snippets scattered here and there to spawn ideas for further adventures.

Overall, if you are looking to start a campaign from scratch in a temperate frontier-type setting, this would be ideal. There are even nine pre-generated characters for your players to choose from if they'd rather jump straight into the action than roll up their own, each fulled armed and equipped and ready for play. This is truly a campaign start in a single package.


Just okay

***( )( )

The Good:
* Clearly expressed site-based adventure ready for easy drop-in to an ongoing game.
* Timeline of suggested events helps make the keep feel "lived-in."
* Every encounter includes scaling instructions.

The bad:
* The map is the weak point of this offering, which is problematic in a site-based adventure. It isn't bad, per se, just very routine. One main path through most of the areas, lots of rectangular rooms going off in seemingly arbitrary directions, etc. This is pretty much the sort of map I'd draw if I were making it up as I went.
* Minor editing errors. Some rooms described as having columns show up as such on the map, while others do not. Rooms that are 30' on a side are described as 'small," whereas elsewhere rooms of similar size are referred to as "large."
* Flavor mismatches with "baseline" elements of Pathfinder monsters. For example, plenty of goblin writing. Not a big deal, but something to watch for...

I picked this up based on the strength of Village Backdrop: Fulhurst Moors, which was my first real exposure to Raging Swan. While that product was fantastic, I found this one to be merely okay.

(***--)


Old School meets New School

*****

This review is for the full version of the Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands. I don't review products so bear with me.

Layout and presentation:
Raging Swan uses a standardized layout that at first may seem a bit intimidating due to the sheer amount of detail presented, but once you are used to this level of detail it's hard to go back to less detailed module formats. For each room area there is detailed synopsis of what matters - Area Features: illumination, doors, smaller room features/objects (in detail). Some of the highlights of this level of detail included environmental factors for potential combat (standing in water, etc).

This is a valuable aid for both new DMs and old. Oftentimes veteran DMs may forget situational combat modifiers or things that may make a simple encounter into a more complicated or challenging one - the SKotB lays it all out, so these features and aspects are not forgotten or overlooked.

The Details:
RS does an excellent job of paying attention to details - for their room layouts, terrain and environment features to NPC tactics, motivations. They also handle some meta aspects of their encounter design: Scaling. In every encounter there are notes on how to make the encounter easier or harder by following some simple scaling guidelines. This is a great aid for parties that are less than 4 in number or parties on a faster xp path or optimized for combat.

In some of the major/critical room entries, greater detail is either given as to how players may circumvent challenges (not always by combat) or enhanced details are offered for encounters that warrant enhanced details due to their level of complexity. This is an invaluable aid for new DMs.

Feel:
When reading this module I get the feel of old school AD&D/D&D - with the mechanics and level of detail that did not exist in the earlier days of adventure design - taking the feeling and themes of older modules (mystery, exploration) while combining them with detail that has become the hallmark of superior, modern day adventure design.

Sum:
The Shadowed Keep on the Borderland is an excellent starter module and has built in potential for the DM to expand content that is offered with a few built in leads. It has the ptential to serve as an excellent base of operations for a slightly higher level group - if they can hold it.

The fact that scaling options are build in for each encounter makes it a great tool for players who want to be challenged with tough fights, or for groups that may be newer, smaller or running less combat optimized PCs makes this a good buy. The beauty of the option to scale encounters is that they do not fundamentally change the feel and theme and mood throughout the exploration of the Shadowed Keep.

Raging Swan has captured that old school feel but has put a modern slant on their offering with greater detail, layout, extra DM information and guidelines making this the best of both worlds.

5 out of 5


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.


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