Review: The Shadowfell Gloomwrought and Beyond

I’ve been steering my epic tiered campaign toward the Shadowfell for about three months now, ever since I learned of the books release from Wizards of the Coast.  Well, that day has come and gone, a couple of weeks now for most hobby shops, but just last Tuesday for the rest of the world.  I’ve had the set for a while now and have had a chance to go through it quite a bit, here’s what I think…

The Shadowfell:  Gloomwrought and Beyond

From the back of the box:

[The Shadowfell Gloomwrought and Beyond] is a game product containing all the information a Dungeon Master needs to run thrilling adventures set in Gloomwrought, a city in the bleak and deathly plane known as the Shadowfell.  The material in this product can also be adapted for any Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

This boxed set contains:

  • Campaign Guide
  • Encounter Book
  • Map
  • Tokens
  • Despair Deck

Campaign Guide

This is the meat of the boxed set, a 128 page, matte-finish, heavy-paperback bound, guide-book.  The pages are thick and glossy, just like the ones in every other WotC bound book, and formatted just as nicely.

The last time we learned of the Shadowfell was in The Manual of Planes, Chapter 3, 13 pages (two pages regarding Gloomwrought).  If you’ve read TMotP, think of it as a teaser for what’s to come, everything covered there is put into far more detail in this new book.  Inside, you’ll find there are four chapters.

  1. The Shadowfell
    1.   Seven pages, this is the shortest chapter in the book.  These pages describe the Shadowfell; its look and feel, its denizens, and how to get there.  One of the seven pages gives six Shadowfell adventure hooks, another of the seven pages gives you the instructions on how to use the Despair Deck.  Vistani, Undead, and Shadowborn are all reduced to a mere two short paragraphs each, Shadar-Kai get four.  Clearly if you want detailed information on these races, buy a Monster Manual.
  2. City of Midnight
    1. 52 pages, by far the heart of this book, The City of Midnight is, of course, Gloomwrought.  Everything you could ever want to know about a city and then some, this chapter is deep and detailed.  Truthfully, I haven’t begun to delve into the nit-and-grit of this chapter yet, there’s just too much.  Here’s a glimpse:
      1. The first few pages give a broad overview of Gloomwrought; its citizens, locales, and general feel.
      2. About four pages detail five different factions within the city.
      3. Six “districts” are broken down into extreme detail.  Ranging from 6 to 9 pages each, these are the best pages of the book.  Colorful sights and scenes are described with plenty of ties to adventure ideas.  If you had an encounter at every locale described in each of these districts, you could easily clear a tier.
  3. Beyond the Walls
    1. 25 pages, this is where I’m beginning my jaunt into the Shadowfell.  Set up much like chapter 2, you get a brief (1 page) overview of adventuring in the Shadowfell, then five location-based sections ranging from the fetid Oblivion Bog to Letherna, the forbidden realm of the Raven Queen.  Once again, each of these (3-6 page) sections describes numerous, flavorful scenes and locales, with enough hooks to flesh out any Shadowfell campaign for a long while.
  4. Dark Threats
    1. 35 pages, flipping through them, it looks like any other Monster Manual or Creature Compendium.  The difference is in the text.  Rather than just listing creatures, this chapter details eight distinct groups within the Shadowfell: Deathless Watch, Ebony Guard, Ghost Talon, Golems, The Keepers, Midnight’s Own, Tenebrous Cabal, and Power Players in Gloomwrought.  Each group gets a few creature stat blocks and a lot of information about who that group is and how they function as a society.  My personal favorite section is the Power Players, any one of these 14 creatures would make a great villain in any campaign… BUT,
      1. The table on page 127, Monsters by level, lists 46 monsters: 8 heroic tier creatures (lowest level 8), 35 paragon tier creatures, and 3 epic tier creatures (two at level 21, one at 30).

Encounter Book

It feels like a cheap magazine, this 31 page “book” contains 11 combat encounters and 4 skill challenges.  Heroic tier gets 2 skill challenges and 3 encounters.  Paragon gets 2 skill challenges and 7 encounters.  Epic tier gets 1 combat encounter (on a bridge, really?  like that deters epic characters).   The encounters look like anything you’d find in an Encounters module; these aren’t delves, these are single fights.  What’s nice is that, just like a module, your monster stat blocks are nicely formatted on the page as well as a Dungeon Tile map, features of the area, tactics and (sometimes) lore checks.

The Map

21 x 32 inches.

One side is a poster presentation of Gloomwrought in its entirety.  Interestingly, you can’t find this map within the pages of the accompanying book, bits and pieces of it are shown, kind of like a table of contents for that section, but to see the whole city you need the poster.  On it, each district is labeled, as well as the various Shattered Islands.  A small key outlines each district on a 4″ view of the city.

On the reverse side of the map is a dark and gloomy city scene.  Small alleys, fenced courtyards, sloped roofs and, on one side of the map, a two-story tower; the second floor displayed as a cutout beneath the street level view of the same building, good idea, but it takes up nearly a quarter of the scene.

Tokens

I don’t use these things at all… well, that’s not true.  I was stoked to find another batch of minions in here.

Two sheets, 12 large tokens, 70 small tokens.  Flip them over and they’re ringed in red, muted, and labeled.

Despair Deck

I’m excited to use this deck.  We’ll try it out next week, you can read how it goes on Monday.  If you don’t know what this is, you should check out the preview over at Wizards.

Basically, this deck is a way to randomly simulate the despairing effects of the Shadowfell.  A thirty card deck, each card has a top and a bottom.

The top is what the characters receive after spending some time in the Shadowfell, generally drawing a card after an extended rest in the Shadowfell.  Some sort of negative effect is applied to characters drawing from the deck, but they get a chance to overcome it.  After a milestone, a player may roll a save to overcome the despairing effect.  Each effect has an associated skill that will give great bonuses to the saving throw.  If they succeed, the negative effect is removed and they can flip the card to receive their boon.

The bottom of the card, the boon,  has me worried.  It gives a pretty tremendous bonus to the character who overcame their despairing effect.  We’re talking things like re-rolling a fumble once per encounter, opportunity attacks on a shift, ignoring forced movement… powerful stuff.  The good news is they can’t save against despair until after a milestone, then the boon lasts until their next extended rest.  Hopefully, this will keep the players wanting to punch on through their three encounter work day.

As I said earlier, I’ve been planning my groups arrival into the Shadowfell for a few months, we’re going to be here for a few levels at least.  We’re epic tier, so I’m going to have to modify the monsters a bit, but all in all I’m pretty satisfied with my purchase.  I would have rather spent $20 for the book alone, I don’t need all that extra silliness, but because we’ll be here a while I think my $40 is money well spent.

If you’re curious to learn more, check out my posts on Mondays, you’ll see all the epic-ness the Shadowfell has to offer.  Better yet, subscribe and get the posts emailed directly to you!

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About j0nny_5

Mid-thirties and work a full-time job in beautiful northern Colorado. In my free time I play D&D, video games, and walk my two beautiful Bouvier des Flandres.
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