D&D Adventure Review: Shadows of the Last War

I was recently asked if I had written reviews of the adventures set in the Eberron Campaign Setting. The answer is yes, I reviewed the original three adventures. This review was originally written in 2004; I’ve revised the original text to make it more applicable to today’s audience.

Once upon a time, Wizards – and, before them, TSR – produced adventures on a regular basis for D&D. However, because of the small profit margins on adventures, during the 2000s they mainly left the production of adventures up to 3rd-party publishers (using the OGL) and Dungeon Magazine. Every so often, however, they did publish the odd adventure, mostly to support a new campaign setting.

Shadows of the Last War was the first full-length adventure published to support Eberron, a setting drawing inspiration from Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Maltese Falcon, which also included more than a few elements we might now call steampunk. Shadows is the sequel to the short adventure The Forgotten Forge found in the core Eberron book; two more adventures would follow it in 2005 to form a series.

You could use Shadows of the Last War as a stand-alone adventure, and you could adapt it to another setting, but I do feel that you would be cheating yourself if you used it that way. It works well as part of the series.

The adventure takes characters across the continent of Khorvaire and into the mysterious Mournland, with the characters on a mission to find artefacts in a ruined artificer’s workshop. The adventure was written by the creator of Eberron, Keith Baker, and it throws you right into one of the biggest mysteries of the Eberron setting: What happened on the Day of Mourning? (Not that it answers the question, but travelling through the Mournlands provides ample opportunity to reflect on the question).

Much as in a good pulp/noir book or movie, the characters are opposed by other factions, and a chief joy is seeing how the group deal with forces more powerful than them who they can’t challenge overtly. It really made me want to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Maltese Falcon again just to get into the right spirit of things. It is a solid adventure to begin with, but played with the factions in mind, should become exceptional.

The adventure does require reference to the Eberron Campaign Setting for a number of elements; in particular, the setting book contains the map of the wilderness and descriptions of magic items. The adventure offers a variety of wilderness, city and dungeon adventuring, although some elements of the module are not quite as fleshed out as you might expect. The basics of the adventure are very well done, but the DM will need to improvise if the players move too far from the outlines.

The module is somewhat short at 32 pages. Keith Baker estimates that it should take two sessions (or about 8 hours) to complete. The design is not of a dense dungeon crawl, but of several different acts in different location. I think the variety is excellent; it’s not a monotonous dungeon crawl!

In addition to the adventure itself, the package includes 16-page short-story booklet: Death at Whitehearth by Keith Baker. This describes events in the main adventure location (Whitehearth) during the Last War. I greatly enjoyed this story; it helps you understand the world of Eberron and the backstory behind the adventure. I would encourage players to read the story before playing the adventure, so they have a better understanding of the setting and adventure location.

There are many things to admire about Shadows of the Last War: It has interesting traps and tricks, a variety of encounter locations, lots of role-playing opportunities and intelligent opposition. Don’t discount that last – it’s hard to write well or effectively.

One concern I have is the linear quality of some of the story. There are opportunities for differences in player approach, but the final dungeon really feels like “Do A to get to B which allows you to do C to get to D.”

The biggest problem with the module are assumptions that certain NPCs will survive. It’s unlikely that the players will be able to kill then, but we’ve all seen what happens to quite well-thought out plans once players get involved…

The final encounter is where things could become completely unstuck: although it makes some provisions for different player behaviours, there is one assumption it makes that is utterly unwarranted, and could seriously derail further adventures in the line.

Physically, the module is moderately attractive without being stunning. It is very nice to see portraits of all the main NPCs in the module, although I do not personally like the style they were drawn in.

I was especially pleased with the maps: they’re aligned to a grid, and the grid uses a sensible scale. The one problematic map is that of the Broken Anvil Inn – why is most of it aligned diagonally compared to the grid?

Although the font for the bulk of the module is fine, I am not so pleased with the italic text which is mainly used for descriptions to be read to the players – I found it a little difficult to read easily.

Despite those niggles, I do consider this a worthy adventure, and a good continuation of the Eberron line.

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3 Responses to D&D Adventure Review: Shadows of the Last War

  1. Dave Ellis says:

    Thank you for this &’the rest of the Eberron reviews. Now if only we had up-to-date mechanics for the setting.

  2. Windjammer says:

    Merric, as someone who’s played 3rd, 4th, and now 5th edition, which edition in your estimate best fits the pulp feel of the setting? As a DM (and player), which edition have you enjoyed most to explore Eberron, and why?
    (For the record, I’ve run my longest 4E campaign in Eberron, using just the 2 books published for it back in the day, though I owned a lot of other books. It’s only that am exploring the setting with the 3rd edition supplements for a 3.5 campaign, which is definitely interesting, and a departure in so many ways! – No experience or interest in 5th edition so far, and I haven’t paid attention to Keith Baker’s efforts, if any, to convert or create Eberron material for 5e.)

  3. Windjammer says:

    PS… 2 clarifications.. I meant, “it’s only NOW that I explore” 3rd edition Eberron (i.e. in 2016, so more than 11 years after it came out). And… I really enjoyed your review of Shadows of the Last War! Gentlemanly as always.

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