Preparations for Gen Con have been underway for weeks (months!?), but here is a first look at what we’re planning for the game room this year.
Last year’s turn out for Rise of the Drow was a resounding success, with special thanks to our GMs and players for bearing with us as we grow our Gen Con presence. Most of the feedback regarding the game itself—a truncated version of The Darkness Arrives—was positive, but there was one big issue I wanted to address for this year.
It’s too Long!
The original ‘Darkness Arrives’ has enough content to take two or three sessions to complete. [Outline-level spoilers ahead!] It usually breaks down to something like: Session 1: Cathedral Scenes, Bell Tower (maybe a cliffhanger in the bell tower?), Session 2: Post Bell Tower, Reliquary. That might stretch into a third session because dungeons be like that sometimes.
The truncated version from Gen Con ’22 cut the original adventure in half, with the notion that it could then fit into one game session. Determining which content to cut was straightforward: Each time the party left the chapel, they enter a sort of dungeon crawl, still within the cathedral. These scenes are fun and evocative in the original, but they don’t contain anything essential to the plot. Looking at the outline of the adventure, if you lift those scenes and locations out, you cut the content in half. That might just be enough to fit in a 4-hour one-shot.
On paper that should have worked. But it didn’t. For this year I wanted to figure out why and address it. So what did I learn?
There’s one fatal flaw in the original that’s only apparent when you force 12+ hours of content down into less than 4. Just as the Macguffin goes missing, the players are asked to ignore that plot point and pivot to some brand-new plot point. The Macguffin goes missing (plot point A) in the read-aloud text, so a player’s natural reaction is to chase after it, not to run in the opposite direction to deal first with plot point B.
It derailed the party, every time (or near enough that it was a common note from GMs, second only to “It’s too Long!”). Either the GM now has to railroad the players (in the bad way) or skip half the content (which ended up being a common solution).
This new version is streamlined for one-shot play. Now the scenes are more clearly demarcated from one into the other in a narrative fashion that encourages driving the party forward, while keeping the elements that received the most positive feedback. The Macguffin still goes missing, but now it’s off camera, and it’s not until the plot is ready for the party to pursue it.
One Fun Change
Numerous other small changes to the adventure unfolded from the needs outlined above, all to serve completing the adventure within four hours. However, there is one change I made that can’t be justified under that criterion: Spirits of Shadow and Flame. These creatures are simply a result of an impulse to create. You’ll have to wait until you see the Gen Con version of The Darkness Arrives to know more, but keen-eyed observers will probably figure out which popular scene these creatures feature in. Let me know in the comments what you think!
Spirit of Shadow and Flame
This creature embodies the essence of both shadow and flame. Its ethereal form is alternately shrouded in wisps of swirling darkness before flickering with bursts of flame.
Medium fiend, chaotic evil
Armor Class 12
Hit Points 17 (5d6)
Speed 30 ft., fly 30 ft.
STR 11 (+0) | DEX 14 (+2) | CON 10 (+0) | INT 7 (-2) | WIS 8 (-1) | CHA 12 (+1)
Skills Acrobatics +4, Perception +1
Damage Vulnerabilities cold
Damage Immunities fire, necrotic
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11
Challenge 1/2 (100 XP) Proficiency Bonus +2
Fiery Exit. When the spirit of shadow and flame is reduced to 0 hit points, it explodes in a burst of shadowflame. Each creature within 5 feet of it must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, a creature takes 3 (1d6) fire damage and 3 (1d6) necrotic damage, or half as much on a successful one.
Fumish Guise. While the spirit remains motionless in an area of dim light it is invisible. While motionless in normal light, it is indistinguishable from ordinary flames.
Regeneration.The spirit regains 6 hit points at the start of its turn. If the spirit takes cold or radiant damage, this trait doesn’t function at the start of the spirit’s next turn. The spirit dies only if it starts its turn with 0 hit points and doesn’t regenerate. At the GM’s discretion, dousing a spirit reduced to 0 hit points with a gallon of water, or with two hands full of snow also suppresses the spirit’s regeneration until the start of the next turn.
Shadow Touch. Melee Spell Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft, one target. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) necrotic damage.
Gout of Flame. Ranged Spell Attack: +4 to hit, range 20 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) fire damage.
Shadowflame (Recharge 6). The spirit exhales a 15-foot cone of shadowflame. Each creature in that area must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 3 (1d6) fire damage and 3 (1d6) necrotic damage, or half as much on a successful save.
The Darkness Arrives (Gen Con Version) goes out to our GMs in just a few days! Join us at Gen Con ’23! Get your badge and sign up for AAW Games events at GenCon.com. Join us on Discord to connect with other players and to stay updated on our Gen Con progress!