Looking Over Dungeon Delve: Shadowfell Schism
A mad death knight seeks vengeance on a god who betrayed him in life, and the party is brought in to confront him.
The premise is pretty awesome. It needs some support to bring up the backstory in actual play, but it’s certainly a winner on paper. In a longer campaign, I think it’d be brilliant for the death knight to have been an ally or patron to the party in life to ramp up the drama.
Dealing with the consequences of a rogue dragon escaping through a river of souls is definitely an appealing way of expanding the adventure.
The spectral sinkhole in area 2 does a neat effect, in terms of both mechanics and flavor.
The skill challenge to break the dread knight’s influence over the dragon is a nice idea, and I’m especially fond of being able to gain a success and a further boon by healing the dragon.
The Religion skill check DC to notice the dead bodies have restless souls is 31, while the check to appease them is only 26. That seems like it should be the other way around, rather than the current situation where a specialist is needed to have decent odds of realizing something is wrong but anyone can have decent odds of fixing it.
The specters’, titan’s, death knight’s, swarms’, and dread knight’s auras should all have flavorful descriptions when they have detectable effects.
The titan’s soul shard mechanics are a bookkeeping annoyance. I’d rework them to an automatic heal with something dies in its aura range and a recharge for the soulfire burst (or consider replacing the titan with a nightwalker).
The death knight’s mysterious background in the premise had been interesting, but the details given in the sidebar of advice for portraying him turn him into a generic petulant deicidal atheist. Assuming he is not someone who the party knew beforehand, I’d give him a backstory involving an actual betrayal by a god instead of just being upset that his family wasn’t allowed to cheat death.
The death knight being open to parley is great, though sticking to only doing so “to discuss the PCs’ terms of surrender” would mean it’d almost never come up in actual play.
While the creatures in area 2 are all more or less reasonable choices in a vacuum, packing 16 melee creatures in there seems overboard; replacing the specters with artillery- or controller-type creatures would help them work together much better.
If the dragon could use the magic item in its hoard, the dragon should use the magic item.
The first two ideas for expanding the adventure are just an extra encounter.
The dragon is apparently taking 0 on its Stealth check, based on the Perception check DC to notice it.
The dread knight’s tactics are odd. It has the best sustained damage output of the creatures in area 3, and its high likelihood to inflict dazed means it should be able to move reasonably freely as long as it avoids getting overwhelmed (which its knight’s move ability and the size/presence of the dragon should both help with). I understand it has the lowest HP of the creatures there, but even that isn’t especially low, so its tentativeness doesn’t make much sense.
I didn’t like punishing players for flying over hazards in Temple of Primordial Flame, and I’m even more opposed to it for crossing the river of souls here.
Between the premise, the dead bodies of restless souls, the spectral sinkhole, the death knight being willing to parley, the river of souls, and the skill challenge to break the dread knight’s influence over the dragon, this adventure has a great amount of flavor packed into it, especially compared to the others in this book. That alone makes me take a more forgiving stance on its weaknesses, such as an overreliance on melee-focused creatures that can make the encounters feel generic in terms of enemy tactics.
The biggest hurdle with using this is probably fitting it with greater context. Regardless of whether or not the death knight will be someone who the party was familiar with, they should have a better reason for turning against their god than just “my family died and stayed dead”, and there also needs to be a reason why the party is getting involved in the whole mess, too (though this might be simpler if any of them are faithful to the god who the death knight is upset with). The connection to the realm of the dead might also need some adjustment, depending on the metaphysics of the imaged world.
On the plus side, the featured creatures don’t have much in the way of notable synergy, so they’re easy to reskin or replace. Also, there are plenty of obvious avenues to pursue for further consequences (what happens if the dragon escapes, how will the god react if its dragon servant was killed, what happens if the party is able to parley their way through the death knight encounter, etc.).
All in all, this is a great adventure, one that I could imagine being a strong ending point for a campaign.