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I have a drow assassin character who has recently been brought to the Shadowfell by the Raven Queen for a short quest involving taking out an upstart Dark One toying with necromancy. It will be a session-or-two solo adventure, and I've had some trouble fleshing it out, especially trying to figure out what might be interesting to have him see/encounter along the way.

He is only level 3, so the Shadowfell should come off as eminently dangerous, hopefully without killing him.

For the duration of this little quest he has an intelligent raven companion character that I built, so he can take a little bit more than if he was just on his own and has a bit of a guide.

Anyone have any ideas on what might be good to put along the path to this Dark One's hideout?

For some reason I have a hard time visualizing the Shadowfell, and would even appreciate any stories of what you've done there unrelated to this.

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Tone In my reading the Shadowfell isn't evil nearly as much as it is dark and a tad corrupt. As such I'd draw upon imagery from writers like Poe or Yeats for my flavor. Perhaps the English graveyard poets. The Shadowfell is the goth part of the new D&D cosmology.

Inhabitants The inhabitants of the Shadowfell don't have to be non-human or humanoid. Frankenstein's castle belongs here (as does Dracula's but that's calling up Ravenloft, which works but you don't need to ask here about that). With that in mind, I'd suggest watching some horror films such as The Curse of Frankenstein by Hammer films or the Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe movies for possible plots. Insane mages, summoners, or even rune priests doing dark researches that must be stopped fit (and provide an excellent setting for the upstart dark one toying in necromancy...after all, isn't Frankenstein's work close).

But beyond your main enemy think of a world peopled by such beings. Everything has a sinister side unmentioned. The old witch trading in tears for information or the tree which moves to shade you as the sun does until you fall asleep and it tries to eat you are at home here. Norman Bates and his inn are here as well.

Landscape The tree brings me to the landscape. Dark swamps where the land floats and can willfully drop you in front of a crocodile belongs here. Read some old school blogs and sites on the dungeon as mythical underworld, especially Philotomy's take on it for ideas which you can bring above ground. I think the idea of Shadowfell as mythical underworld works very well.

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Thanks, Herb, and let me add that it's good to see you--I'm in your Redbox Meetup, even though I haven't been able to attend yet. too Your answer helped a lot by naturalizing/concretizing the Shadowfell for me. I think I've overemphasized the "anti-Feywild" principles in my head, if that makes sense. –  Numenetics Aug 25 '10 at 12:35
    
Glad to have helped... As for the anti-Feywild, I have kinda had a different take...if you're familiar with the Dresden Files if the Feywild is summer, the Shadowfell is winter. –  HerbN Aug 25 '10 at 15:15
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I think I would focus on themes of ruin and decay- natural landscapes would have gnarled and deformed features. Urban landscapes and occupied areas would feature twisted wreckage and ruins. One of the areas I plan on using for a future Shadowfell excursion is a haunted library where the books have literally been thrown off of the shelves and loose parchment is blowing in the wind.

The lighting would be dark- but not pitch black-- like bright moonlight. Describe colors like deep orchid and dark red, with shimmering silver moonlight. Ghosts and certain types of undead abound but may not even be hostile- just natural groaning residents.

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I'm not really familiar with Shadowfell specifically, but here's some food for thought:

Characters

A good story is always built around good characters. Start by building interesting characters; I like to think of NPCs in terms of what sort of role they fit into, what their goals are, and what their resources are. When you start to flesh out characters, you can start to "think" as that character, and scheme - how can I get from point A, using my resource, to point B, in the mindset of this character?

Examples:

  • A drow matriarch is a queen, the center of a web of power and intrigue. She seeks to oust her rivals - maybe one particular rival, of interest. She might have drow warriors, wizards, and lesser nobles under her influence; she might have various clandestine methods of information-gathering. She might have a love interest, or someone whose desires she plays with for her own gain. You might jot down a list of names for important subordinates, such as a spymaster, or a watch commander loyal to her.

  • A disgraced drow, banished from his house, might live in hiding or in exile. He might be a master of subtletey, a lonely soul clinging to the fringes, or a violent creature bent on avenging his loss of face.

  • A magical raven is more than just a bird that talks. Ravens are important mythological figures in many cultures. They may be wise; they may be tricksters, or pranksters; they may be carrion-eaters, and heralds of evil to come. Maybe this particular raven has a history, in Shadowfell, or a prank to play, or an old score to settle. Maybe the raven represents the hand of fate, being in just the right place, at the right time, to keep the hero out of trouble. Be careful of deus ex machina, though.

  • Who is this Dark One guy, anyway? What does he want out of life? Does he have a small army, or a secret cult following? Or is he a lone wolf, fixated on some personal, wicked end?

Obstacles

Plot emerges when the characters encounter obstacles, and have to find ways to overcome them. Players enjoy a D&D game because they get a sense of triumph from fighting a tough monster; you wouldn't spend every session just handing out imaginary treasure.

Think about how to challenge the hero. What weaknesses of character must the hero overcome, to grow and become a better person? What battles, or what obstacles, will be difficult for him, both in terms of danger and in terms of personality.

Think about what challenges face your NPCs, too. A younger, more ambitious matriarch might try to oust her elder; a hunter might come looking for the outcast. Think about how the NPCs will respond to these challenges, in ways that show their nature as a character.

What about the Dark One? How does he fit in? Does he interfere with the plans of other characters? Maybe some of them will want to help him, and others will want him gone. Maybe a few won't have even heard of him.

Clues

Don't introduce every NPC, and spill their motives straight away, and let the plot unravel. Lay about clues that point indirectly towards the goal, when taken together.

Think about the information that the player needs to know:

  • The location of the Dark One

  • The Dark One's MO

  • Who are his friends, and his enemies

  • When he'll strike next

Use bits and pieces of information to help the hero find his way:

  • A regular at the local tavern might've seen suspicious figures, or overheard some conversation.

  • Some of the matriarch's men might pick up the hero, and bring him in for questioning. Their questions could be elucidating, and he might have to escape, or be turned loose when they decide he doesn't know what they want to know.

  • The Dark One's magic could require ritual signs, or traces, that could be tracked. Perhaps certain unusual magical components or reagants are required for his nefarious scheme.

Locales

Think about the kind of environment you want to portray. Shadowfell sounds like a nexus of evil in the underdark (if I'm guessing correctly). There could be dark temples, seedy taverns, gothic mansions. High, impenetrable walls, patrolled by dark-armored guards, bearing the crests of noble houses and secret signs of political allegiances. Gardens of underground, bio-luminescent flora. Lots of possibilites. Try to decide on a few main locales that'll be important to the story, and let the rest emerge through play.

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Good thoughts, and they will definitely help. Half of my problem is a difficulty coming up with concrete details about the Shadowfell, which is kind of the dark counterpart to Faerie/the Feywild in 4th edition cosmology. There's some information in the source books, but for some reason I'm having trouble bringing it together into a playable setting. –  Numenetics Aug 21 '10 at 14:18
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