Today I will be reviewing the first module for the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons but before I do that let me regail you, if only briefly, with the story of obtaining this damn thing.
For a THIRTY DOLLAR product you'd think my city of approximately twenty five thousand would have at least one available on the launch date, but no. I actually didn't obtain this product until the 28th, so i'm sure many of you have already read the product but you can compare your experience to my opinions. It's worth noting that getting this fine little module involved three retailers and two weeks of asking, "Did you order this yet?"
Okay, that aside lets look firstly at the physical properties of the "Keep".
The module consists of a pocketed folder, ala Trapper Keeper,
two paper booklets and three double sided color maps. The maps are fine products although they are reprints of some of the DDM maps lacking the labeling for deployent zones and victory areas. This is just fine in my book since it is likely new players will be buying this and they are not going to have these and having extra copies of maps means you can give out the maps to your friends which is also cool. The two booklets are a very thin one and a very thick one (huh huh) with the thinner weighing in at 16 pages; 6 pages devoted to 'quick start' rules and the rest to 5 pre-generated characters (more on them later). The thick booklet weighs in at 80 and is the adventure key for the Keep on the Shadowfell with Dungeon Master quick start rules. These are rules that really should've been put in the player's quick start book instead; such as descriptions of the skills with their uses. It will really be necessary for any Dungeon Master to copy this section to give to the players if all you're using is this module and not the core books. As for the smaller booklet i've got to give WOTC a black mark for not making the character sheets separate, hell not even perforated for easy removal. Again you'll need to do some photocopying to enable players to have free use of the information.
First i'll talk about the pre-mades. My understanding is that the PHB will have 8 classes and 8 races so with these five characters we get a healthy sampling of 62% of the options but with no power of selection of er.... powers. Each character has all of its (limited) equipment already handed out which is fine as these are premades. Well, mostly fine. Really there should have been some kind of equipment tables which is a mainstay of every RPG and even more so with the quick start box sets that Dungeons & Dragons is famous for. Now for the individual characters...
*dwaf fighter: well, he's a fighter aaannnd a dwarf. He is armed with a maul, which I can only surmise is a two-handed mace since that is commonly what a maul is but I don't remember one appearing before in the Dungeons & Dragons system. His array of powers is built such that it seems unlikely you'll ever just use the maul as a basic attack, why bother when instead you can attack and do 3 damage to an adjacent enemy. What? No adjacent enemy? No problem use the Reaping Strike which will do that 3 damage if YOU MISS the attack instead.
*halfling rogue: apparently a halfling, when learning how to become a rogue, also learns how to man handle ogres and orcs. Nearly every power of the rogue enables him to slide the enemy forcnig it to move somplace else. I know this is supposed to represent the rogue's ability to trick his foe and maneuvere his foe into the position that best benefits him but since you'll only be moving the miniature of the monster it will seem like this halfling is a kung-fu master.
*human wizard: one thing, magic missiles of infinite use. Need you know more? Need you have more power than that? Oh, okay how about 6 to 14 damage magic missiles as a level one character? Yeah, i'll take those too.
*half-elf cleric: I weep here. My cleric, my favorite class, has been totally destroyed. They will tell you other wise but seriously he is no longer the cleric he used to be. As all character's now have healing surges his powers are basically all offensive attack powers that also grant a boon to his allies. Sure, he's got a power that lets them use a surge and another that heals in a burst but since you can use the Healing skill to do basically the same thing (allow and ally to use a healing surge I mean) who cares?
*dragonborn paladin: I will totally bow to the idea of playing a race that is half dragon. Of course I think this will likely lead to a series of all dragonborn parties since they are so cool but so what. As a paladin he is a solid beat stick with some holy power to back him up. If you're a fan of paladins I think you'll enjoy him quite a bit.
Second i'll talk about the adventure. Let me reference another WOTC product; "The Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde" which is a 3.5 mini campaign setting similar to an earlier prodcut for basic Dungeons & Dragons called Thunder Rift released in 1992 by TSR. I also need to reference the Keep on the Borderlands which I mention briefly in a previous post. All of these products have the common purpose of being 'sandbox' settings that can be dropped into any pre-exsisting setting and are excellent starting adventures for any players from experienced to NEWB.
Indeed Shadowfell is organized almost identical to that of Slaughtegarde which seemed to be a 'feel out' product to see how the gaming community would accept the new format. While it's not 'old school' which makes me a little sad inside I will say that this format is fantastic for the Dungeon Master. The encounters are mapped out nicely and clearly detailed to make it easier to run the encounters and play the game overall. I'll go out on a limb and say that even though I haven't finished the 80 page adventure booklet, mostly because I don't RP anymore so i'm lazy as hell, it is a fine adventure module and filled with action. I'm not shitting you here either, the FIRST encounter has about ten monsters in it. I won't go into painful details but damn, I remember my first days with Thife the Magic-user and his one magic missile spell. You run into ten kobolds, you get the fcuk out of there. But of course, Thife had 3 hit points, not 25 like the lazy wizards of today.