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Designing Evard's Shadow
Design & Development
Daniel Marthaler

Evard’s Shadow is the Dungeon adventure for characters of levels 3-5, which plays as a sequel to the D&D Encounters season: Dark Legacy of Evard. Its designer, Daniel Marthaler, shared his thoughts on the creative process.

Evard’s Shadow was something of a first for me. Not only was it the first adventure I’d written to follow a D&D Encounters season, it was also the first to use the new adventure layout you may have noticed cropping up in Dungeon over the past few months. (You can also read Bruce Cordell’s Design & Development on this very subject.) The following should be pretty spoiler free (unless undead showing up in a shadow themed adventure is shocking to you), so don’t worry if you haven’t run the adventure yet.

D&D Encounter Season Take 2, the Reckoning

Each D&D Encounters season has its own, self-contained plot that’s resolved during the course of the season. Writing an adventure to pick up where things leave off requires an interesting balance—between keeping enough familiar material to make sure the adventure feels coherent to those who played through the season, and adding enough new material to ensure that they don’t feel like they’ve done this all before.

In the case of Evard’s Shadow, the setting is different; things take place in an abandoned mansion instead of a town, but many of the monsters that players fought in the season make a comeback and, of course, it features the lingering influence of their namesake wizard. With the theme already pretty much established (Evard’s shadowy shenanigans, carried over from the season), the main challenge was preventing undue repetition in the adventure’s encounter department.

Keeping the adventure’s encounters fresh while bringing back monsters from the season is one of the trickiest parts of the whole affair, since even the most slash-happy of parties get bored hacking through the same set of enemies time and time again. A change in scenery helps tremendously, of course, but avoiding “monster saturation” is as much about mixing the encounters up and moving the focus around as anything else.

The undead, which appear a few times in The Dark Legacy of Evard but are not really the stars of the season, are a good example, since they feature heavily in the first half of Evard’s Shadow. Other monsters you would expect do show up, but by shifting the focus and bringing the second-string bad guys to the front, you get a roster of enemies that still feels like it’s connected to the season without being worn out through overexposure.

Adventures in Adventure Layout

As I mentioned, this was also my first experience with the new adventure design style making the rounds. There were a number of minor adjustments, but I’m only going to bring up two that jumped out the most at me: encounter length and monster choices.

In the past, encounters were generally constrained to two print pages in order to keep things nice and neat. Under the new system, however, encounters are allowed to run free and be as long as necessary. Not only does this allow for more complex and interesting encounters, which is good for you, the reader, but it lets the writers create the encounters they envision with one less restriction to keep in mind. Not that I’m biased about this, or anything.

However, the biggest change for me was the move to using almost exclusively from-the-book monsters—something of a mixed blessing for me, personally. Not having to whip up a score of new monsters for every adventure is nice, sure, but that also means knocking out the perfect monster to complete an encounter might not be an option. There are plenty of monsters to choose from, so it rarely becomes an issue, but sometimes you really wish that this shadow was two levels lower or that goblin did fire instead of poison damage.

Personal waffling aside, the reasons for the change are solid. Firstly, it makes things a bit easier on DMs, who now don’t need to familiarize themselves with an ever-growing pile of brand new creatures each time they want to run an adventure. Secondly, it shows off what the monsters from the various books can do in ways a manual or vault can’t, which is always good for people looking to nab a bit of inspiration for their homebrew games. Lastly—and you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever spent more time then you meant to perusing the D&D Compendium—it cuts down on the number of often quite similar monsters floating about. I’m as much of a fan of blasting through an endless horde of pillaging orcs as the next person, but sometimes you have to question if we really need another level five orc brute when there are already a half dozen perfectly serviceable choices available.

Well, that’s probably enough of me yammering on when you can check out what I mean for yourself with just a click. Good hunting and always remember a light!

About the Author

Daniel Marthaler is a writer, primarily for D&D Insider, whose credits include Sunderpeak Temple, Lord of the White Field, and Legacy of Io.

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