[Review] Shadows of Evil (AD&D 1e 3PP); Diablo’s Dad

Shadows of Evil (1984)
Stephen R. Bourne (Mayfair Games)
Levels 4 – 7

Shadows of Evil.jpg

Practice makes perfect. You can fail a hundred times, if you keep at something, you will improve. Case in point, Stephen R. Bourne, purveyor of the sub-par Role Aids modules Evil Ruins and The Throne of Evil returns for a third installment that rocks your fucking socks off while staying absolutely true to his formula. Shadows of Evil is entirely in character with what Bourne has done with his modules so far, taking place in pseudo-historical Britain yet populated with intrusively high fantasy creatures like Drow and Orcs, somehow Shadows of Evil comes through the wringer shining with witch-light and wreathed in fucking brimstone. That’s right baby. Satan is back, in a double-feature 80 page behemoth filled with blood-drenched altars, animated roman legionaries and evil necromancers!

Before we get into the awesome premise, let’s take a moment to sneer, albeit with understanding and restraint, at the inclusion of a 6-page historical primer on the Celtic World that meanders halfway into the principles Roman fort construction with nary a blink. If only Avalanche Press had been around! Even if we take into account the year when it was written, when volumes information about ancient societies could not be simply had by going on the internet, most of the information it covers is peripheral and will be of little to no use in the adventure, with the exception of the extremely evocative passages about the Roman Conquest of Britain and the destruction of the druidic cults at the Isle of Anglesey.

The actual premise of the first adventure is a derivation of this historical event and is centred around the Monastary of Heathchester. Once the location of a nefarious alliance of Black Druids and Dark Elves worshipping the Pre-Celtic Demon God Dath Rana, the temple got its shit kicked in by the Roman Legions under Gias Flavius, who promptly collapsed its tunnels and constructed a fortress atop of it. Now in post-roman times the fortress is a druidic monastery to Silvanus, [1] but in the catacombs the evil of Dath Rana stirs once more, and the Beguiled Brother Merrick, second to the Abbot [2] unearths the evil high priest Asophis, now a lich, and EVIL VOMITS FORTH FROM THE CATACOMBS ONCE MORE. It’s like a tabletop version of Diablo 10 years before it came out, complete with butchered monks, the restless dead, demonic idols, stolen roman gold and fucking Satan! Enter the PCs!

Speaking of which, the Premade characters here are nailing it like never before. The Druidic council is understandably concerned at the rumors of blood-drenched monks running through the grainfields to the sounds of unearthly howling, and sends a band of druids to investigate. The Local Duke, somewhat miffed that the first band of men along with his brother failed to return, offers a 10.000 gp reward [3] if they can get him back, and two more of his retainers join the band. 3 druids, a half elf cleric of some bizarre monotheistic faith that both evil and good gods are merely expressions of one supreme being, an elf ranger and a wizard, lavishly equipped with (often unique) magic items. Some are burdened by a curse or other hindrance, but, crucially, they can compensate for this defect somewhere throughout the adventure! Gerry O’Mall the druid has a terrible stutter that gives him 10% spell failure because he almost drowned during childhood and the only way to get rid of it is to somehow relive his terrible childhood fears! Brun the ranger has a runestone that allows him to cast a spell but he doesn’t know what else it does!

Great job on the magic items too; A rope that can burst into flames on command, pigments that can be used to create mundane objects, a cat that can turn into a bob-cat, special poisons/potions! And that’s just the starting equipment!

It sails smoothly from thereon out. Shadows of Evil just clicks where Evil Ruins does not. Our heroes start off in nearby village of Heath (mentioned by name only) and after that it’s pure Sword and Sorcery, undiluted with decades of product identity. Starting out with only the sight of a hysterical, blood-covered monk fleeing the monastery, or a party of Orcs [4] harvesting grain, the heroes are barely primed for the shit that is about to go down.

The monastary proper can be attacked from different directions (climb the wall, storm the gate, a secret entrance etc.)  and there is even an element of stealth to the initial section, with the possibility of Alarms being raised. Immediately engaging. Signs of a massacre, symbols of a red serpent swallowing its own tail, humanoid guards, monks driven mad by the slaughter or possessed by Spirits, an Animated Wooden Statue of Silvanus [5] and a circle of standing stones inhabited BY THE LORD OF THE WILD HUNT ITSELF!. Concealed loot, passed over by the attackers, is plentiful, well varied and fits the theme of a monastery.

There is a depth and a thoroughness to this section that is heartwarming to see, this is exactly the type of shit I want in my modules. The villains have the objective of finding a concealed Tome, the very obscure location of which, though hinted at, is unlikely to be found by the players BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO FIND IT TO COMPLETE THE ADVENTURE, YOU CAN JUST KILL THE LICH INSTEAD. One point of criticism that I will level is that, as written, the possibility of the villains finding the Tome is utterly remote and there is no mechanism or ticking clock to simulate its discovery. Another point of criticism is the inclusion of a GM Fiat so the villain on the surface, Brother Merrick, can always escape. It’s not overly intrusive but I have come to dislike this type of railroading on general principle.

The dungeon proper is entered, appropriately, through the concealed wine-cellar of the mansion, and consists of two levels, one an octagonal outer corridor with a series of interlocking passageways, with the appropriate secret doors allowing for nonlinear exploration. The second dungeon is shaped more like a series of intersecting horizontal and vertical passageways with three rooms that can only be unlocked by a series of clues scattered throughout the dungeon. I’m generally not super psyched about those sorts of set-ups, though Shadows of Evil manages to at least blend it in with the rest of the atmosphere.

There is something about the atmosphere and the room descriptions of Shadows of Evil that sets it apart from its more generic cousins and instantly makes it click. Animating wall designs that ask riddles, animated skeletons of roman centurions, animating caratyd columns, goat-headed statues to Dath Rana, shadowy apparitions foreshadowing Asophis the Lich Lord…it FEELS like a buried crypt of evil, invested with power once more.

The Encounters are varied and thematically appropriate but a little short on the opportunity for roleplaying. Unique or rare creatures like an animated treant, land octopi, Death Dog, Efreet or rare types of undead [6] help to keep it fresh, though this module is a bit heavy on the combat. Stealth is again, encouraged by having all humanoid inhabitants of the monastery have some sort of Alarm in place, and traps, in the form of both alarms and lethal devices, are scattered throughout the map. While the enemy roster should be immediately familiar to anyone who has played oldskool dnd, the selection helps enforce the theme of ultimate evil going on here. Great job.

A lot of dnd adventures end up feeling like filler because they are too restrained. Exploring some generic ancient fortress or fighting a band of bandits doesn’t titillate. Fighting the resurgence of the ancient pagan god Dath Rana, lord of Evil, does. The module skillfully uses curses, strange magical effects and Artifacts that are too powerful to be used by the PCs to emphasize the immense evil and power of Dath Rana [7].

The usual scourge of 80s era module writing rears its ugly head. Information is conveyed in large blocks of text and it is presented without thought to easy reference at the table. Aspiring GMs (recommended!) would be wise to take some notes for some of the larger rooms. Most of the rooms are short enough to assimilate at a glance, but a few require careful study. Each room has some boxed text in front of it so the GM knows what to describe.

This large chamber appears to be more like a cave than a room. The air is thick with the smell of death and decay. A terrible cold permeates the atmosphere. Out of the shadows, in the southeast corner of the room, you see a black-robed figure moving toward you. Within the robe is a terrible-looking skeleton with horrible glowing eyes. The figure wears a red snake belt about its waist.

Direct, dark and gets the point across.

The second part of the adventure takes on a more Lotrish bent, and concerns a concealed assault upon the fortress Ffendrellion, to destroy the Wand of Dath Rana in the Dragon’s Fire where it was forged. It is meant to be played in a single session without rest or resupply, which I consider absolute lunacy unless you have 8 hours to burn. The party is equipped with 8 doses of dust of invisibility, given a bard PC to replace any losses they might have suffered in the meantime. The end result is weaker then the first part, but still has flares of great encounters.

Ffendrellion is the location of Dath Rana’s greatest servant on the material plane, the 500 year old Witch King Nemar Drellion. No that the evil of Dath Rana rises once more, the small band of PCs is estimated to be able to slip through his defenses and quickly destroy the wand.

Some good things about this second part. Its epic. It reminds me of Return of the Tomb of Horrors or Throne of Bloodstone or some of the Monstrous Arcana modules. Ffendrellion is littered with shrines to various arch-devils, foul sorcery (if you throw out the medusa’s blood in the bowl of the shrine of Rana it changes into a swarm of schorpions), rooms with severed heads or a museum holding the skull of an ancient celtic chieftain, and opponents of absolute power and evil, like an Anti-Paladin or the Lothian Guard, each of which has an 18 in one attribute. The monster selection is quintessentially DnD but a darker, more intense DnD. It ends with a terrific confrontation with the Witch King over the Pit of Dragon’s Flame and his most powerful servants, including a She-Devil hewn from Dath Rana’s Flesh. Fucking up and losing the Wand (it CAN get stolen) means the Witch King is at the bottom, attempting to Seal off the Pit, while the PCs must fight a now vastly more powerful Witch King.

The problem with this section is that it would be incredibly hard and unforgiving even if there was opportunity to retreat and resupply. To brave the fortress in a single run, even with the dust of invisibility, is almost impossible unless the PCs are INCREDIBLY well prepared, resourceful and lucky.

The module reminds me of Return of the Tomb of Horrors because it starts punching when your Players are likely to still consider themselves in prep time. But its legitimate since its telegraphed. As soon as the PCs enter the villa, run by two ex-brigands (terrific work on the NPCs btw), the guests leave. Its possible to learn that rumors of the PCs arrival have spread to the enemy but merely asking won’t do. You have to bribe or charm. If the PCs are foolish enough to stay at the inn…BOOM TWO RED DRAGONS COME IN THE NIGHT AND START BURNING THE INN DOWN. Ah but there is a secret passage you can discover to sleep in if you think to ask and you are not obliged to sleep at the inn!

The adventure sometimes will tempt you into fighting when there is an easier way to go about it. For all its difficulty it remains scrupulously fair, and a party that makes good use of invisibility, silence, augury, their shapechanging powers and other divination magic should be able to penetrate quite deeply into the fortress.

The fortress proper is also nicely handled. Guards are organized, locations are given a percentage chance to detect interlopers, and a few Alarm traps serve to fuck everything up for PCs that are feeling a little bit too comfortable. Unlike a normal dungeoncrawl the exit to the next level must be found as quickly as possible, requiring a careful hand. While many of the inhabitants of the fortress are aggressive, the number of actual forced combats is fairly low.

I would be incredibly interested to see how the second section plays out against a party of veteran DnD players, I suspect it is too difficult but I might be underestimating 5-7th level PCs, especially with 3 Druids. I think the biggest temptation to resist is to go through the fortress systematically and loot its storehouses of gold and magical shit like a normal dungeon, for here the fortress is amply provided.

Shadows of Evil is damn good. It illustrates magnificently the viability of AD&D and provides a tonne of atmospheric and exciting treasures, encounters and monsters while being still recognizable as AD&D. Some minor layout and long backstory issues aside, it captures exactly what was good about the olden days of DnD, before everything became too codified, predictable and safe, and delivers a Sword & Sorcery shot to the jugular of a potency that I have seldom encountered.

It’s the difference between the sleek, flowing and polished aesthetic of Diablo III and the grimy, deformed and gothic atmosphere of Diablo I. Shadows of Evil nails the treatment of evil where later editions of DnD flounder and stumble beneath the weight of brightly coloured art corporate demon art, product-identity temples and +3 Marrowgrinding Mercurial Greatswords. Fuck Faerûn, give me Britain 600 A.D. any time!

As to where it can be obtained, unfortunately it is out of print and Mayfair Games does not seem to be in any hurry to re-print any of the old Role Aids modules, or put them out as PDFs, meaning you can either get one of the few remaining copies for an astronomical fee or resort to pirating a PDF online. If anything is a reason to reconsider that stance, I’d say Shadows of Evil is.

A redemption for Stephen R. Bourne, who has done a terrific job with this module, and another great entry into the Role Aids series as a whole, some flaws notwithstanding. 8 out of 10.  

[1] Listen, just go with it okay. A non-christian monastery to a nature god, it’s fine!
[2] Or Pagan equivalent thereof. It might be possible to set this in some sort of post-roman, pre-christian interregnum at around 300 – 600 A.D. or thereabouts if you want to keep things vaguely plausible.
[3] If there is one thing I will give Bourne absolute credit for its that he is not stingy with his rewards!
[4] While normally Orcs could have the potential to be terribly out of place in a historical setting, here they are perfectly identified as servants of evil, grown by evil sorcerers and serving the powers of darkness. Somehow Orcs serving an evil demon worshipper are nowhere near as jarring as Orcs serving some Lordling or encountered in a cavern for no reason. Context!
[5] Kudos, it doesn’t take much to come up with an Evil Dead type of possessing spirit that magic jars people when the body it is currently occupying is destroyed, and its perfect.
[6] Revenants and Coffer Corpses. When is the last time you ran into those?
[7] Arguably that’s why artifacts continue to fascinate even in a system with plentiful magic items. Artifacts are beyond rules, perilous to trifle with and never truly safe. They represent the idea of magic. They are a thing of thematics, fluff and atmosphere, not game balance.


18 thoughts on “[Review] Shadows of Evil (AD&D 1e 3PP); Diablo’s Dad

    1. I have never played an MMO so I am not one hundred percent sure but if an MMO raid is about reaching the final confrontation with a minimum number of encounters as effectively as possible through a combination of stealth, creativity, luck and tactics then I’d agree with you. I’d consider an MMO raid to be about clearing out a dungeon in one run as effectively as possible while managing resources, which might be a critical difference.


  1. Is there a requirement to do it all in one run? It sounds tough, but I didn’t spot mention of constraints on coming and going. Maybe I skimmed past it…

    The pre-gens sound like a high point, and there’s something satisfying about the name Dath Rana. Maybe he sounds too much like a Sith, but it had me thinking more of names like “Thulsa Doom.”


    1. For part II, sort of. From page 52, first paragraph. “The adventure is designed such that it must be played through in one continous session. The group will not have the opportunity of returning to town for fresh provisions, training etc. The party must enter Ffendrellion and accomplish their mission with what they have and what they can find.”

      I stand a little corrected. Resting is not prohibited within the Citadel but IS difficult considering the random encounters. I suppose it is theoretically possible to go in and out the citadel and sleep in the surrounding areas but then the Dust of Disappearance runs out. A single no rest run once the PCs hit the premises of the Citadel seems reasonable to conclude, on the basis of the random encounters within the citadel and the lack of places to hide or sleep.

      Dath Rana. Yeah good fantasy names are hard to come by. It sort of captures the FEEL of an ancient pre-Celtic deity of evil. It sounds ominous.


  2. “By the time the game actually comes out the situation will be MUCH different than it is now.”
    -The Titan Zak’s Spectre on June 9 at 8:56PM during a dark séance in his mausoleum

    I really enjoyed your story from february – have you considered writing a sequel to your magnificent work in case he really makes his comeback?


    1. First, thank you, I am perhaps a little inordinantly proud of it, so it is always good to hear a compliment.

      Zak II; Rebirth of A Phoenix in Midnight Clad would be its tentative title. The problem is that I have been tracking his patreon zealously over the last couple of months and while he had a small bump he seems to be stuck at around 37 patrons under the 200/month limit, indicating a lack of any sort of financial reinassance, and to my knowledge none of the major dissavowals have been overturned, with Satine Phoenix, one of his more reliable porn supporters, throwing him under the bus.

      His current strategy seems to be increasingly hysterical threats of legal action and oaths of vengeance of ever-increasing magnitude in private whilst completely ignoring the situation on his blog, as if to dissassociate himself from the ongoing events. The effect is a complete disruption of his seeming, even with his guilt disputed by the mountains of evidence put forth on his separate and hard to find site he comes across as deceitful, manipulative, disingenuous and an obvious threat.

      Which was part of the point of my story. The spectre of Zak’s presence has such a baleful influence on the online discourse that even were he entirely guiltless of the charges levvied against him (why would one possibly believe it?) he was such a pest that the DnD community was all too glad to be rid of him when push came to shove. Perhaps with the exception of King James, who has quite likely lost considerable income over this.

      TLDR: I’d LOVE to see a future where Zak comes back stronger then ever and wreaks terrible vengeance on all his former friends because it would make for an epic sequel but I don’t see it happening.


  3. I’m glad to hear you’d be up for it. But I can see why you’re sceptical about his rebirth and consequent retaliation.
    Maybe I’m deluded, but I still have hope. After all there is barely anything that seems impossible these days. I found the notion that Trump might win nonsense – since then I have become slower to deem unlikely seeming events that unlikely.
    Until it happens, I remain in the shadows, awaiting my Lord’s return 😉


    1. Well fuck me, I am putting out an adventure soon so perhaps that will serve until Zak miraculously regains all his followers. The more I follow the insanity around that debacle, the less likely it seems. You are very welcome to comment in the meantime, just be advised this blog slants more right then left and I do occasionally indulge in profanity.

      I’ll give some thought to a sequel, no promises as of yet.


      1. He didn’t say he was upset about Trump…a lot of you wingnuts were as pleasantly surprised as the rest of us were rationally horrified.

        I kid, I kid! Well not really but I don’t usually call people “wingnuts” unless they are truly out there.

        As for Zak, he aint coming back. The role-playing community was delighted to have a good excuse to excise him. I have this idea in my head that he will show up at Gen Con one year under a false name with a normal haircut. It’s about time to drop the ‘hawk, anyway; homeboy is north of 40. Reminds me of the 90’s when you had boomers with grey ponytails.


      2. Juggling both jack-booted, pinot-noir slurping nationalists, burned out veterans of the Credo Capilus Ex Hyacinth and granola-eating moderates in one blog requires tact, a gentle touch and safe spaces. As such I felt a disclaimer was warranted. I think I came up a good concept for a Phoenix in Midnight Clad Reborn. TBC.


      3. I wasn’t aware of your upcoming adventure as I indeed only recently started browsing this blog. I think I might enjoy one written by you, although I’m not really playing these days. I’m sure it must be quite an undertaking to release one’s first own adventure – hats off!

        To let the cat out of the bag: I tend quite strongly towards the left in my views (I wasn’t exactly devastated by Trump’s election as I do not live in the US, but it certainly was an unpleasant surprise) and I might be exactly the kind of postmodernist that you seem to dislike – at least I am interested in and sympathethic towards the ideas that usually are associated with that moniker.
        However, this shan’t prevent me from enjoying your writing and ideas which seem to me, as I already mentioned, of fine quality. I appreciate your welcome and would be pleased to follow your blog further and to converse with you and your marry band. Profanity I can handle. –
        And don’t worry, I’m not interested in crusading against political views here. I a kind of Taoist way, I suspect that we are all necessary to the great picture. You, me, Trump, Zak, . . .
        So long.


      4. [Hats]

        Thanks dude. Credit goes to Aaron, who hounds me relentlessly whenever I lapse in my tireless efforts. Great human being.


        If you are still on the fence about whether or not you would enjoy one you can always check out the one I wrote with Aaron already. It’s called Red Prophet Rises (5 AMERICAN DOLLARS FOLKS!).

        [Bagging, leftism]

        I kind of suspected because most moderates or right-wingers don’t lead with a Trump related observation on their 2nd post. Its alright, some of my friends are lefties but I find it helps smooth over the interaction by just focusing on the hobby we seem to enjoy for the most part.

        If you came here to talk games or OSR related shit and you don’t mind a bit of riffing or foul-mouthed invective you are welcome of course.

        [Great Wheel]

        I’ll buy you and Trump but I’m not sure if I can accept the notion that Zak is necessary so much as that modern society’s lack of unambiguous morality and social cohesion must necessarily produce the diseased parasitic mindset that thrives in ambiguity and preys on the weak and so Zak or something Zak-like is inevitable in this climate.

        I’m gonna welcome you to Age of Dusk for now. You seem like an alright chap.


  4. It also just came to me: Why not simply write the sequel regardless of actual occurences? Perhaps, – perhaps reality will indeed follow art.


  5. I liked the sound of this, but I’m disappointed that the bottom two layers are a massive dungeon-crawl. I and my players can’t stay excited for ten sessions of exploring cramped, dark corridors and rooms.


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