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.
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.
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.
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.