The Tragic Curse of Grimhill Fort

Aleksandar Kostic 
Reverse Ettin Games
Level 1

A terrible storm is brewing – you must find sheltef rom this accursed weather, and quickly! Veldmark, the nearest town, is over ten leagues away, so your only choice is the ruined fort on a nearby hill. As you approach, a faint cry echoes from deep within the decrepit structure. The hair on the back of your neck stands up in warning, but perhaps it was just the wind. Perhaps. Gathering up your courage, you enter the halls of the Grimhill fort.

This eight page adventure features a small fort with twelve rooms. Surprisingly decent for such a small adventure, with a touch of specificity that is rare to see. Perhaps one day the designer will do something good?

Yeah yeah, I know I know. I said no more Shadowdark. But, then, someone told me I was doing it wrong. She told me that the good stuff was on itch and DriveThru was a cesspool. The back half of that statement is certainly true, so, we’re testing out the front half. That means three SHadowdark reviews incoming, all recommended to me personally. If this is true then we’ve got problems. I don’t know where to look other than DriveThru for the cultural adventure zeitgeist. Plus, I mean, I make about $6.50 a month in referrals from DriveThru. In another six months or so I can go out drinking! (DId I mention my Patreon? I promise to spend it all on lottery tickets and drinking from brown paper bags under bridges.

This looks like a contest entry, it being limited to eight pages. Of which the designer decided that 3.5 should be useless shit like a cover, credits page, and half a page of backstory on a dead dudes body. And while I’m on a roll about density, let me cover the full page map that only manages to squeeze in twelve rooms. Yes, it’s isometric. Great. How about trying to make a real location next time, with a few rooms in it? And, the intro states you’re seeking shelter because you’re ten leagues away from the nearest place to sleep? I think not. EMpty space does not exist. I don’t know, maybe it’s the local lords hunting range or something. Otherwise, someone, or twelve, is living there.

And, that will be, very nearly, the last bad things I say about this one. It is surprisingly decent.

The first words of the adventure are: “A: Main Entrance” with three bullets that say “• Wooden signpost that says “You are not welcome here!”.• A gust of wind knocks a few branches and pebbles from the ruined walls above.• Sturdy oaken door, slightly ajar, squeaks loudly if not opened with caution, DC 9.” There’s some newlines in there so it reads easier, but, still, this is a very pleasant surprise! On two fronts! First, the fucking thing starts the adventure keys. No fucking around with all the usual padding that plagues adventures these days. “How to play the game” or “How to read a fucking stat block” or “ten pages of bullshit about a generic town.” Oh, no. Just the cover page, the blurb page, a map, and then the rooms keys. Noice! But, less meta and more pragmatically for play, check out that description! A nice wood sign. A gust of wind to add some drama. A squeaky door to reenforce it. I understand these are simple things, but, they are specific and therefore evocative. Its starting us off with a vibe. 

This continues through all of the room keys. “WIND HOWLS through cracks in the stone walls” Absolutely it does! A chandelier hangs from a beam, with pigeons having built a nest in it. Yupyup! I maybe would have made them cooing pigeons, or ruffling pigeons, but, whatever. There’s more. A bloated corpse floating in water, full of leeches and flesh-eating snails. Groovy!  And, then, when we get to a creature, some bandits in this case, we get “Two nasty-looking ruffians are yelling at each other, arguing, while the third one enjoys the show.” That a pretty short sentence, but sets up the room well. Why the fuck can’t more adventures do this? One sentence for a description and one sentence to add some action to the static description. Boom goes the dynamite! 

There are misses here. More than a few. In one room we barrels of “stolen good, worth 200gp but they are heavy” Yeah, sure, the heavy part is good. But “barrels of oats” is as short as stolen goods is and more evocative. BE SPECIFIC! And, there are some wolves that attack anyone carrying a torch. Seriously? Isn’t that the opposite of animal behavior? I guess because the bandits abuse them? And no order of battle for the bandits? Pfffft.

This is not a terrible adventure. Especially, when it comes to Shadowdark. It doesn’t feel like some ripoff thing published for a cash grab. The designer needs to stop fucking around with gimmicks though. Make a real dungeon/location. Stick in more interactivity than just stabbing shit and opening boxes. The Holy Blade: An ornate blade mounted on a jeweled iron handle” is boring. Better than Sword +1, but describe why its ornate and what/where that jewel is. Hellfire this is not. Do better. But, also, nice job not making a total shit-fest!

This is Pay What You Want at itch, with a suggest donation of $2./

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44 Responses to The Tragic Curse of Grimhill Fort

  1. Maynard says:

    I don’t have much to say about the system, seems fine. However I do have some issues with typical Shadowdark adventure branding. I know it’s in the name, but i’m tired of GRIMDARK adventure covers. This one in particular is well done, but a lot of them are just a waste of black ink… It’s easy to be edgy, if you’re going to do a color printing catch attention by being vibrant!

  2. Commodore says:

    Interesting timing, I just hit upon a Shadowdark adventure as well in my itch delving:

    I was really impressed as well. Another 8-pager, was this some kind of competition? If so, it attracted some writers who’ve actually played some D&D.

    • Anonymous says:

      The creator got a one star slap because “ShadowDark bad.” There have been obvious downvoting and trash talking campaigns from people who haven’t even read the game or the material they’re rating. Meanwhile this is actually a nice little adventure. The Emperor Has No Clothes!

    • Connor says:

      It was a 1 month Shadowdark Game Jam with a limit of 8 pages on Itch. Grimhill above won the contest.

    • Brynjar says:

      Hey glad you like it! And yes, it was written for a Shadowdark GameJam on The format was limited to 8 pages but otherwise free of restrictions.

      • Commodore says:

        It’s a good restriction, basically means you have to trim 90% of the fat but there’s plenty of room for content. It’s easily the best “goblins in a hole” I’ve seen, you should feel proud of yourself on that one. Definitely hope you keep writing.

  3. Gnarley Bones says:

    Nice cover, writing seems OK. The map is a bit of a loop with no secret locations, but it’s a small crawl.

    I thought we all agreed, however, that adventures for levels 1-3 have been done. 😉

  4. A nony mouse says:

    Hey Bryce,

    Do you have any examples of adventures with a good order of battle for the monsters? I feel like you only mention it when it’s lacking. I want to do some research.

  5. Jonathan says:

    I got hooked on Shadowdark during the kickstarter and participated in the Shadowdark game jam If nothing else, the creative output of the Shadowdark community is impressive. There were 116 submisssions for the game jam and these modules Bryce is reviewing were voted by the participants into the top ten. Grimhill Fort I think was voted number one partly because it is just the prettiest of the module entries (not that the writing is bad, but its not as good as the some other top entries that I think Bryce will be reviewing in the next few days). This was my entry in the game jam if anyone is interested.

    • Shuffling Wombat says:

      Yes, that is an impressive level of participation. The ticking clock mechanic should work well with exploration, so when writing Shadowdark adventures authors should have an eye on using a non-trivial map worth exploring, with loops and multiple entrances/ways to proceed. Arcane Library set a good standard with her adventure in the free preview materials. People might want to study maps in B4 The Lost City, or City of Bats in NoArtpunk I (which riffs off C1 and S4). And if some of the early efforts aren’t great. I’m sure they won’t be as bad as one part of the notorious N1 The Forest Oracle, where one section has a linear plus branches map where you don’t need to explore any branches.

      The Last Candle (which got a No Regerts) has a Shadowdark conversion, so there is at least one worthy DriveThruRPG product. (The map might be more exciting/involved, otherwise a solid piece of work.) The same author has a Shadowdark take on Dark Sun, ShadowSun, where the countdown is to dying of thirst.

  6. The Arcane Library says:

    Oh kewl! I’m glad you’re checking out the itch-o-sphere! 🙂 This was part of a contest that had 119 entries of all kinds of stuff.


    • Anonymous says:

      Kewl? Grow up please

      • The Arcane Library says:

        Someone takes himself a bit too seriously on a blog about playing elf games with our imaginations! 😉


      • 2Annoyed2Anonymous says:

        This is the horrific comment section I have come to associate 10ft pole and its favorite community of posters who name themselves after ancient philosophers to promote AD&D as the one true way.

        Just harassing and gatekeeping everyone who isn’t in their stodgy curd-faced, cheese-brained Gygax cult.

        • Anonymous says:

          Some of the NAP crowd may be less than pleasant, but at the moment they’re the only ones actually doing anything new: trying to make content for a little resourced niche: high level play.

          Contrast this with the NuSR, who are continuing to produce yet more rules lite versions of B/X or just plain ultra lites. That being said, I don’t think much of the NAP material will be of much use to the NuSR (or the majority of the B/X base either), who don’t seem to know what D&D is beyond 6th level, but at least they’re trying something new, even if paradoxically it’s through a conservativism associated with the classic rules sets.

        • Plato says:

          This is a good association, we don’t want nogames and complainers, we want people that make and play games. Fuck off. Go play Asschess somewhere else.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’ll agree on the play and make, both primarily happen at the table, not in Indesign. Do I need another rules lite with some house rules someone has already thought of something similar before? No, but fine if that rocks your boat; but also fine if we say ‘NO, do something useful, add to the game, not detract from it by dumbing it down and making it less than it can be’.

        • Imbangala says:

          I do not need to read shadowdark to see why it is a devil – in naming it fails as the turtle on its back. My country is ranking 8th and worst in educational learning and we laugh at such a name

  7. Jonathan says:

    I got hooked on Shadowdark during the kickstarter and participated in the Shadowdark independent game jam. If nothing else, the creative output of the Shadowdark community is impressive. There were 116 submisssions for the game jam and these modules Bryce is reviewing were voted by the participants into the top ten. Grimhill Fort I think was voted number one partly because it is just the prettiest of the module entries (not that the writing is bad, but its not as good as the some other top entries that I think Bryce will be reviewing in the next few days). This was my entry in the game jam if anyone is interested.

  8. Bailey says:

    A small thing, but I really like that “a ruin exploration adventure for 1st level characters.” Lets me know what I’m looking at and why I might want it, lets me find it again when I’m digging through my Adventures pdf folder looking for something that fits on my map/in my game that night. Too many adventures title themselves “Incident at Th’Raxis” or something, with no clue anywhere on the front as to what the adventure is actually about in terms of what the GM needs to know to run it.

  9. Prince says:

    12-rooms is a little light, but the premise seems serviceable. I think at 12 or less you are better off writing the entire thing as a location with an order of battle and a perimeter, dump the random encounters, and maaaybe a bit of weird? There was a Beholder adventure called the Dripping Chasm (#18) that tried something like it.

    Shadowdark gets some scorn because its the new hotness and attracts redditors but Kelsey seems to be a nice person with a genuine passion. I look forward to the next entries.

  10. Tarquin says:

    Shadowdark is a new hotness and it has all the problems generally associated with such. Some popular OSR mechanics bolted onto a standard B/X framework. The game is a way of getting an income and consolidating a fanbase away from the tarnished ship of 5e and that fanbase needs to go somewhere. The furniture is re-arranged but the house remains the same. Yet I don’t scowl if I see the Shadowdark fan in public, nor do I yearn for a return of corporeal punishment.

    What could cause this? The Shadowdark community is 5e players but they are 5e players that at least possess enthusiasm for their own pasttime, and we have seen success stories before. Joseph Lewis. Stephen J Jones. Artem Sebrennikov. Their queen-in-exile reached her position at least partially through craft and now that she has moved here seems to be making a genuine effort to learn and participate. A fount of positive energy. Look also at the Shadowdark fan; His face is symmetrical, he wears clean clothes and he has a full mouth of white teeth. Contrast this with the shit-spattered, disease-ridden mutants of the NSR, who are not content to waddle in their hovels and play with their ineptly fashioned shitbrews that would bore a simpleton, but must ruin it for everyone else.

    Look at the twitterati calling for Bryce to be destroyed. Look at the disgusting behavior of the Troika fandom. Behold the NSR blacklist, which lists Bryce as a platformer, merely because he is unwilling to participate in their homo-erotically tinged politburo isekai. And when the Devil himself, posing as one of the gentler virtues, causes one to spare the rod and actually grant one of these sickening moral cripples a place at one’s table, albeit on a patch of filthy straw, well away from children and the infirm, what is the reward?

    Neverending whines, entitlement and shameless lies. A boorish refusal, even if granted every opportunity, to participate in spirited discussion. A crippling inability to imagine a hypothetical, or even the shape of an apple, rotated in one’s head. A baffling refusal to bathe, and to seek gainful employment. Is it any wonder their discords are tyrannies? The schorpion cannot help but sting.

    Is it any wonder, my brothers and sisters, that the very act of playing and participating in oldschool DnD is a moral outrage? Of course not. The cripple envies the hale. Such earnest joy is anathema to them.

    The Shadowdarklings come here to play games. The NSR comes here to maximize human suffering. Let us judge each one according to their actions.

  11. Sparky McDibben says:

    What the hell does NAP mean?

    • Avi says:

      NAP – “No Art Punk”
      A challenge-competition organised by Prince to get us plebs to write better adventures for Classic OSR…

      Now on its 3rd round…

    • Prince says:

      The idea is that the connection between old-school D&D and the OSR has gotten increasingly blurry over the years. With that, a lot of the craftsmanship of adventure design has also inevitably been lost. The first two NAPs were adventure design contests where the contestants had to make dungeons using only the content of a set of standard books (the standard books + a few monster manuals etc.), and they could make only a single monster + magic item themselves. The idea is to stimulate understanding and engagement with the foundational material, and force people apply their creativity in areas you dont usually see.

      The results speak for themselves, No Artpunk Vol. 1. is free on drivethru, Vol.2 is now free on If you are curious, check it out, or check out the reviews here.

      This year we are going to focus on something more challenging. High level adventures have also almost gone extinct, and almost all of them were mediocre at best before that. We are going to see if we can change that. Since you can’t write a good high level adventure without a thorough understanding of the game which can really only be gotten by playing it, this will hopefully stimulate further engagement.

      I’m on session 5 of the playtest of my own entry. Pretty cool so far 🙂

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