One aspect of the Keep on the Shadowfell module I thought was particularly lacking was indications for how to actually start the adventure. The module provides a variety of hooks (which I remixed a bit), but there is very little discussion of how these hooks could be presented to the players in an engaging way. Perhaps the page or so of provided background material is easily adapted into by a veteran DM into an exciting introduction, but as a rookie DM running game for mostly beginner I would have appreciated more suggestions for how to get things rolling. After some consideration I chose to open the adventure with sort of a prelude “cut-scene”. This was a tactic I had seen Jason use relatively successfully, though my own attempt may have fallen flat. Here is what I read to the players:
A scaly figure drags a peasant roughly across a stone floor, shoving his captive forward in front of a large dais. A cloaked figure approaches the trembling peasant. The peasant has already been badly beaten and shakes with fear. The cloaked figure pulls back his hood, revealing a pale, sickly face. â€œThis will do nicely, may this offering speed Orcusâ€™s arrival.â€ The peasant is dragged to his feet by several green scaly creatures. The cloaked man rocks back and forth chanting to himself louder and louder, he stop abruptly, draws a long silver dagger, and plunges it into the heart of the peasant.
Itâ€™s a bright spring day as you assemble outside the home of your mentor Douven Stahl. You are all aspiring adventures who have been honing you abilities training under Douven these last few months.
I’m not entirely sure how successfully my attempt at a prelude was, it may have been the slapped together writing, my delivery, or even just the mechanic in general. My goal was to foreshadow sinister happenings in the story that the players would not actually encounter for sometime and has been part of the general theme of my remixing of the Keep on the Shadowfell module to inject more story and character motivation into what is otherwise just a disjointed sequence of combat situations.
After a conversation with their mentor Douven Stahl the players head out to Winterhaven. As read the module basically starts the game with the players getting attacked on the road to Winterhaven, but I wanted to spend a healthy amount of time setting the stage, chatting with their mentor, and describing their travel before we jumped into the first piece of combat.
Here is the description of the travel I wrote:
Your march for several days, resting at night as the road takes you through fields and forests. The road beneath your feet is level. An occasional ancient cobblestone peeks through the dirt road, indicating decades of neglect. As you get closer to Winterhaven you start to notice some unusual things, every farmhouse you pass is abandoned, and in some cases only the burnt timbers of a home remain. You are filled with a general sense of unease as you realize you havenâ€™t passed any other travelers in several days.
You press on, and after many days you find yourself within a single dayâ€™s march of Winterhaven. The wind is cool and comfortable, and you are eager to reach your destination.
My hope here was to establish Winterhaven as being an isolated locale, and that travel there represented a substantial undertaking not just a waving of hands and “it takes you three days but now you’re in Winterhaven.” This also allowed me to foreshadow the nature of the bandit problem around Winterhaven, which the players are already guessing is more serious than described by their mentor, even before they get jumped on the road by a gang of Kobold.
I felt that the introduction, combined with a conversation with their mentor, and then some discussion of their travels helped ease the new players into the game in a way that the module as presented does not. Rather than just jumping the players right into combat this lets them get a sense of the world they are exploring.