The collector’s edition of Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page designer’s foreword (including stats by CR etc.), 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
All right, so what do we get here? Well, first of all, we begin with notes on how to use the adventure properly as well as a page of advice on how to read statblocks – particularly useful in this module, since, let’s get that out of the way, this makes for a great first module – both for a new campaign and for completely new players. That out of the way, 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 & rumours for further hooks. Similarly, traveling to the valley from Dulwich, with different base speeds, and a couple of flavorful minor events during the journey can make for great supplemental material.
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, settings like Greyhawk, The Lost Lands or the like probably work best – and yep, the Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands is also mentioned.
Now, in the collector’s edition, we also get the complete Dulwich Town Backdrop penned by John Bennett – I wrote a review for this gem, so feel free to check it out, if you require further guidance. I should also note that the absolutely glorious Gloamhold region map can be found herein. So pretty…
This module is explicitly made for (relatively) new players and with the potential to use it with minimum preparation in mind- Core is assumed to be known, but that’s basically about it. Hence, the challenges in this adventure are somewhat less pronounced than veterans would expect. At the same time, it should be noted that this pdf does not necessarily feature themes explicitly designated as “kid-theme” – it is not gory or grimdark or anything…it is just fantasy. I tested this module with kids and ran into no issues. This is very much an adventure that allows the GM to utilize tropes of adventuring and fantasy, but sans being inappropriate. So yes, I’d consider this appropriate for all but the youngest and most sensitive of kids. That as an aside, though – this is very much a traditional fantasy adventure intended for the usual demographic – but since some of you out there tend to ask whether “easier” modules are child-appropriate, I figured I’d point that out.
The pdf also provides extensive scaling advice for each encounter – by +1/-1, 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, the shadow and ogre bosses are absent from these pages. Thank Gygax!
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 interesting 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. 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. 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 top-notch, I noticed no glitches. 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 in the 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. This is a great introductory module for the game we all know and love – and for this purpose, it should be considered to be a 5 star+ seal of approval module. Veterans and grognards who have seen it all may be slightly less intrigued, though the old-school vibe and aesthetic employed here may tug at one’s heart’s string. Still, for experienced and jaded audiences, this may be slightly less compelling and should be considered the equivalent of a 4 star module.
It should also be noted that fans of Raging Swan Press’ supplements and Duchy of Ashlar/Gloamhold meta-backdrop will certainly adore getting a nice way of starting the adventuring career in the duchy. What will be my final rating? Well, ultimately, I have to take all audiences into account, which is why my official final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.
You can get this cool starter’s adventure here on OBS!
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