(5e) Shield of the Hidden Lord review

By MT Black
Self published
Level 3

Generations ago, the most dangerous artifact in the world was lost beneath the streets of Baldur’s Gate. Now it’s your job to go and find it…

This 37 page adventure uses about seventeen pages to detail a multi-level temple/tomb with about thirty rooms. The read-aloud is clear and concise, the DM text is almost universally well organized and focused, and the interactivity is pretty high. I can quibble with things here and there that could be better, but, overall, it’s something that is easy to run and interesting.

It all started in the sewers … no, gah! It doesn’t! Well, it kind of does. There’s a little off-screen bit where a guide leads you through the sewers for an hour and then you use shovels to break in to the temple/tomb, on the hunt for an object you’ve been hired to find. So, the usual “someone is paying us to go in” thing. This thing can be standalone or used as a part of the Descent into Awareness adventure path. It gives some good advice on how to use it if its going to be a part of DiA, which rooms to modify, things to change, etc, in order to better integrate it. I have only once complaint in this area, and it has to do with the conclusion. It’s got a Lichway/Death Frost Doom/hordes of undead released thing at the end of it, with fifty ghouls being released. It’s got a “lock them in” mechanism for thinking parties. But, if they don’t think, and the ghouls get loose, there’s no real advice on how to modify the DiA campaign, or even a normal game, to account for the increased ghoul presence in the city, sewers, etc. Which is strange because it DOES have a follow-ups and conclusion section. 

The read-aloud here is good. It’s shortt, terse, doesn’t reveal too much about the room contents but enough to generally prompt the party to investigation of what it does mention. The writing is clearly making an attempt to avoid “boring words” like large, huge, small, and the like, leveraging the power of adjectives and adverbs to paint a more immersive picture. It’s above average in this regard, which, combined with the terseness and lack of over-explaining makes the read-aloud, as a whole, quite a bit above average. Writing a truly magnificent evocative description is hard, and very few people can do it well. I wouldn’t say this reaches that level either, but it takes practice. 

The work is cross-referenced in a decent manner, also referring to specific pages in the DMG for things like getting out of spider webs. This shows an understanding of the problems DM’s face at the table and how to help them. 

Dm text can be long, over a page in some cases, but it’s almost universally well organized. It’s works from a general room overview to large section headings about the elements that could be followed up on. Within those the writing is generally succinct, allowing for the text to be scanned quickly. There are no issues with long italics blocks, instead an offset/shaded boex is used well for legibility. Historical, used to be, trivia is kept to  minimum, an offhand remark here or there that doesn’t get in the way. The format used here is pretty good if you’re conveying information via text paragraph. 

There’s a miss here or there, generally having to do with treasure. Rooms have a “Treasure’ section that, while accurate, isn’t really focused on the gameplay experience. IE: If the alter has a dagger on it, do you mention that in the description of the alter or do you mention it later in a section called “treasure?” Likewise, if there are bodies in cobwebs, should the heading be “Bodies in cobwebs” or should the heading be “Treasure?” “Leading the witness your honor! “ Damn right I am. 😉

Interactivity is fine. You can conduct a ghostly choir, move statues, search for hidden things, and so on. There’s a time or two where things could be a bit more interactive. The ghostly choir, for example, that you can conduct via a baton? It busts out as Shadows if you try and open the door. I might have dropped something like them straining at the barriers of reality, or against the woodwork, or something like that like, in order to hint at the consequences of actions. There are a few places like that in the adventure. Not really bad, per say, but a little extra work could have really beefed them up in to something very good. There’s a nice cat & mouse bad guy thing in the end that also could have used maybe a little more work. A few more taunting phrases or some such from the baddie, or hit and run scene suggestions, before the main attack. It’s implied, but a little more color in that area would have been nice.

Still, a good adventure and a model for others in the 5e realm to copy … if they can master the brevity of the read-aloud and the organization of the DM text.

This is $4 at DriveThru.The preview is seven pages and you get to see four of the rooms, at the end. The last room, T4, is indicative. Good organization … and that treasure/dagger added on at the end.


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5 Responses to (5e) Shield of the Hidden Lord review

  1. Robert, OSR Heretic says:

    Whoa! Was this one graded on a curve or did was this 5e adventure really that good?

  2. MTB says:

    Thanks Bryce, I appreciate the kind words! I certainly worked hard on this one, and I suspect I’ve been influenced by your ideas on boxed text (in fact, in my most recent adventures I’ve been trying to stick to a “two-sentence” rule) as well as other stuff. Shawn Merwin’s famous essay on boxed text has also been an influence here.

    One design goal with this adventure was to present a “classic dungeon crawl” in a way that was consumable and fun for a 5e-audience. Feedback has been almost universally positive, so there is a market for this style of dungeon.

    You make an interesting point about things like the dagger being in or out of the boxed text. My current thinking is that anything that can easily move (especially monsters but also bric-a-brac) should not appear in the boxed text. That way, the DM doesn’t have to correct the text “on the fly” if the party return to a room having cleared it out. But it’s tricky – I’ve had folk say “but the first thing you would notice are the five goblins in the middle of the room!” and that’s true. I’ve yet to make up my mind on this one.

  3. DangerousPuhson says:

    > Rooms have a “Treasure’ section that, while accurate, isn’t really focused on the gameplay experience. IE: If the alter has a dagger on it, do you mention that in the description of the alter or do you mention it later in a section called “treasure?”

    Solution –

    A polished stone alter stands at the head of the room; upon it, a thin silver dagger [see TREASURE] rests on a velvet pillow.

    TREASURE: The slender silver dagger is radiates magic; it is a Stiletto of Angry Tears (stats).

  4. Bold thin silver dagger, provide full details below. Then we can omit the distracting [see TREASURE].

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