Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs (5e)
This module clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page designer’s foreword, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
All right, so what do we get here? The module is situated in the region around Gloamhold, the Duchy of Ashlar, and the module assumes Dulwich as a starting point, though that settlement is not necessarily required; in fact, it is depicted in a fully functional manner herein, including maps and the like. Even traveling events while on the road are accounted for, and the write up of Dulwich goes into details like streets, guilds and so forth. John Bennett’s take on this town is amazing, and it’s nice to see it included as a fully functional backdrop.
In many ways, this is intended as a starting adventure for less experienced players, and we get a massive page on general notes pertaining the eponymous valley: These include lore DCs for the PCs to unearth, a couple of hooks to make the PCs get into the action and 6 sample whispers & rumors for further hooks.
We also get an incredibly gorgeous b/w-map of the Duchy of Ashlar: The cartography by Simon Butler, Dan Dyson and Tommi Salama employed herein is…well glorious. Oh, and guess what? If you’re like me and get a LOT of Raging Swan Press books to supplement your gaming experience…you’ll notice something. The map tells you, which direction the lonely coast is, where Deksport can be found – and indeed, in this duchy, you can see Wellswood, Longbridge, Kingsfell, Ashford -some of the unique villages and places my groups have visited and come to love (or abhor) – oh, and the map also sports a wide array of as of yet unexplored places.
And, in case you’re asking – this whole region, contextualized, can easily be dropped into just about any campaign setting, though theme-wise, grittier settings like Greyhawk, The Lost Lands or the like probably work best.
As noted before, this module is explicitly made for (relatively) new players and with the potential to use it with minimum preparation in mind.
Hence, the challenges in this adventure are somewhat less pronounced than veterans would expect; if you and your group are veterans, this’ll ease you into the system.
At the same time, it should be noted that this pdf does not necessarily feature themes explicitly designated as kid-friendly – it is not gory or grimdark or anything…it is just gritty, old-school fantasy, and while it can easily be run for kids, that’s not the designated focus.
The module is designed for 4 first-level characters, but the pdf also provides extensive scaling advice for each encounter, which means that you can also run this for more seasoned adventurers sans the players becoming bored. One more thing – while this module introduces PCs and players to some of the classic tropes, its structure allows the GM to include ample options for rest…or not, allowing for pretty concise control over the pacing of the module itself. And no, thankfully my most loathed adventuring clichés for starter modules, the shadow and ogre bosses are absent from these pages. Thank Gygax!
The information design deserves special mention: We get both read-aloud text and bullet-pointed lists of themes, details, etc., which makes parsing the module quick and painless.
All right, this is as far as I can get sans diving into SPOILERS. Potential players of this module should jump to the conclusion NOW.
All right, only GMs around? Good.
The valley itself can be pictured as one that sports, obviously, multiple tombs – said tombs are the mini-dungeons in this book, but they are not the only graves there: Cairns can be looted and a table of items can be found there. Similarly, an 8-entry dressing table for the valley allows you to customized the dressing and generate more atmosphere. From the small waterfall to tracks, the valley has several distinct locations as such – but the interesting component, at least to me, would be that the mini-dungeons (usually only a couple of rooms) sport unique challenges: In the tomb of the stone woman, one can, for example, face an animated statue, with some traps that are painful, but not necessarily lethal, teaching this component of adventuring. As a minor nitpick, the trap disarming doesn’t require the usual thieves’ tools here – this MAY be intentional, though, so in dubio pro reo, I guess.
And yes, from chests to sarcophagi, the level of detail provided in this pdf is excessive and makes running this very easy. This detail also extends to NPCs, with attitudes, distinguishing features, etc. all included.
The tomb of the champions features unique adversaries and has a completely different flavor – inside lie the now undead remains of two erstwhile champions of the hobgoblins, emphasizing the component of combat in the exploration here. Finally, there would be a third mini-complex, wherein an owlbear and its young lair – these caves can be seen as introductions to animals and terrain – with bat guano, a bat swarm, uneven footing and the like, the focus here is admirably different. It should btw. be noted that the owlbear is part of the dynamic aspect of the adventure: We get several “planned” random encounters that can be used to further control the pacing of the adventure.
This, however, is not nearly the extent of adventuring the pdf contains – the module also sports a rival adventuring group that can act as a major complication for the PCs, feigning friendship and loyalty, while waiting to backstab them. These deserve mention, as one of them uses the incorrect HD-size. Another issue I have with some of the 5e components, would be that e.g. a stone door has no damage threshold, which it probably should have.
Beyond these low-lives, there is another optional encounter that will introduce the necessity of ROLEplaying to PCs and players alike: The ghost of a perished adventurer haunts this valley’s lake and putting her to rest is one of the more unique and rewarding challenges in this pdf. It’s not hard, mind you – but it makes it clear that sometimes, words are more powerful than thrown spells and drawn swords. The aforementioned add-in-encounters, including the potent owlbear, obviously can also be used to save the PCs – if the aforementioned adventuring group’s too much to handle, for example…well, then the arrival of a pack of wolves or said owlbear may act as a save…and teach the valuable lesson of considering that the world is dynamic and that actions have consequences.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches apart from minor blank spaces or full stops missing in a very few places. Everything is functional. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf features copious b/w-artworks (some of which I’ve seen before). The cartography is excellent, though no map-key-less versions are included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and in two versions – one optimized for screen-use and one for the printer. Kudos!
Creighton Broadhurst’s Shunned Valley is a great introductory module – it is a bit creepy, but not overly so; it introduces a wide variety of challenges from all walks of the adventuring life and allows for sufficient control regarding the components of the pdf. The insertion of John Bennett’s Dulwich, originally included first in the PFRPG-collector’s edition, adds additional, quality bang for buck to the offering.
Now, this module is honestly beautiful in its simplicity and level of detail, but if you’re a jaded veteran, this will not necessarily blow you away; this is intentionally made in a very classic manner. Jaded groups looking for something outré should get another adventure, while those looking for a classic adventuring experience will certainly enjoy this. John N. Whyte’s 5e-conversion is well-executed as a whole, and manages to remain dangerous, while being forgiving enough to make this a compelling starter adventure. My final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up.
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