Looking Over Dungeon Delve: Poisoned Shadows


It's still just cover art

Premise

Assassins are holed up in a sewer hideout beneath a curio shop.


Good

The ideas for expanding the adventure all have some merit. The first is a decent baseline for getting the party involved with less temptation to pass it off. The second gives a number of example creatures that could be used, either as substitutes for the detailed creatures or for additional encounters, though I’d be selective about which are used instead of grabbing all of them. The third is a way of keeping up the pressure during the adventure, though it requires mapping out more of the hideout for it to work well.


The retreat condition for the witch is nice to see, although it’s restrictive enough that it’s not likely to happen on every playthrough of the adventure.


Area 1 makes good use of providing several interactable elements of the environment based on the tile art; the wine rack tipping “attack” is usually a fun moment if it comes up.


The oni’s stat block gives it a straightforward tactical approach that still manages to have an interesting feel in play, though the healing from devour soul is small enough that it’s mostly a bookkeeping hassle.


The potential for in-fighting between the gloomblades and the gelatinous cube is great.


Unlike with the witch, the oni’s retreat condition is fairly likely to come up and add some more challenge to area 3.


The sidebar on portraying the dragon in area 3 has plenty of nice tips for theatrical roleplay, although I think the dragon should start out confused about who the PCs even are unless the oni escaped area 2.


Between the dragon’s stat block giving it many abilities usable only under specific circumstances, the tactics giving a simple priority listing to the abilities it can use freely, and the tips sidebar giving some extra clarification on running it in combat, it’s fairly straightforward to run despite being a pretty complex creature (especially by 4E’s standards).


Salvageable

As written, the adventure is based in a city, so the sensible response for most characters upon encountering the hook would be to take it to the local authorities. Some basic measures to incentivize the PCs to deal with it themselves are to make the local authorities corrupt (or otherwise aligned against the party), move it to a more remote location (with an underground river or reservoir in place of the sewers), or to have the assassins kidnap someone or steal something important to the PCs (or use the first idea for expanding the adventure to incite the party’s involvement without giving them a clear opportunity to think things through).


While being restrained does have some other nasty effects, it seems like a weird choice of status for the warriors in area 1 to inflict when four of the five creatures there lack ranged/reach attacks. I’d be tempted to substitute the gloomblades in area 2 for half of the warriors in order to cause a more impactful status effect and to give the players a chance to learn how the gloomblades to prepare them for the more dangerous encounter in area 2.


The third warrior coming up from below should be detectable before arriving.


I’m not a fan of trying to force a pincer by having an enemy show up behind the party once they all enter area 1. That’s something that should be handled in actual play, giving the party a chance to notice their tail before going into the cellar.


The flickering torch in area 2 seems odd at first, but I think it’s supposed to be a light to help the “old man” escape. Whether that helps the disguise or not is up to the GM to judge; I’d get rid of it for most groups since a prisoner trying to escape in the dark tends to evoke more concern.


The metallic glint among the mushrooms in area 3 should be mentioned without any check.


The rolls to get out of the pipe into area 3 without stepping in the sewage are unnecessary.


The trap aspect of the mushrooms in area 3 is unnecessary, especially if the oni is also present.


I’d have the barrel be held in place by an anchor rather than just happening to be caught in a convenient eternal eddy.


If the magic item in the treasure is something the dragon can use, the dragon should be using it.


Bad

In general, I’m not a fan of Absurdly Spacious Sewers, so the adventure gets off on the wrong foot with me. That said, it’s simple to reskin it as a cavern, basement, or the like, which is enough to get me on board with it.


If shadar-kai aren’t edgy enough by default, their witch is named “Fatale”. The edgiest pizza cutter.


The boxed text for area 1 implies the party should have a surprise round. They don’t.


Why does every controller still come up short of the hexer in The Broken Tower? The witch’s aura dealing some automatic damage is nice, sure, but her vision reduction (save ends) and automatic difficult terrain within 10’ don’t compare to blindness (save ends), forcing a choice between staying still or taking damage (save ends), and a huge area of automatic -2 to hit and treating enemies as being concealed that can be moved up to 25’ per round. Even worse, the at-will invisibility and potential to blind on hit without a save of the gloomblades in area 2 arguably makes them better at actually inhibiting the PCs than Fatale.


A harmless old man in the sewers beneath a store full of assassins? How innocent.


The boxed text requires only a DC 19 Insight check to see through the oni’s illusion, whereas taking 10 with its Bluff skill (per the deceptive veil description) would be a DC 23 check.


Given the 3’ depth of the sewage channels, the ceiling in area 2 is obviously 20’ high just to avoid handicapping the oni.


Treating moving through the sewage the same as moving through water means it should’ve just been water in the first place (I realize Marks was stuck working with the tile art, but other adventures have reinterpreted tile art to mean more sensible stuff than what was shown, so there’s no excuse to not do so here).


The details for crossing the slippery pipe in area 2 mention needing to “succeed on a second saving throw” to avoid falling if the character falls prone on the pipe, but there is no other saving throw associated with that item.


The GM is left to their own devices if the party moves through any exit from area 2 except for the one leading to area 3.


Mentioning the acrid smell in the boxed text of area 3 highlights the lack of describing any sewage smells anywhere in this adventure.


Overall

I had a bit of a rant about kytons in Release the Hounds, and I have a similar opinion for the shadar-kai, though they’re presented more as being Darker and Edgier than as outright fetish bait.


Despite my complaints, this is the adventure from this book that I’ve used the most, largely because it’s pretty easy to reskin it and populate it with any sorts of creatures. My favorite approach is making the sewage channels deeper, reskinning it as a coastal cave (either in the wilderness or beneath a port town), and using it as a meeting point between surface-dwellers and amphibious/aquatic terrors. That said, it’s fairly solid overall as written, and both the oni and the dragon are great choices for monsters that can be used in a variety of ways beyond the scope of this adventure, whether as nascent threats leaving evidence foreshadowing their presence, recurring villains after escaping, powerful creatures that should be approached through parley instead of direct combat, or any other appropriate use.


Speaking of greater context, the adventure doesn’t offer much in the way of tying it in with the rest of the imagined world, but altering its location and the items in the dragon’s treasure are obvious avenues of approaching that (beyond the simple presence of the oni and the dragon having an impact on their surroundings, of course).


All in all, it’s easy to turn this into a great adventure with a little effort. I should track down the extension of it that Marks wrote for Dungeon one of these days, but until then, I’ve got no significant complaints about this.

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