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Madness at Gardmore Abbey (4e)
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Madness at Gardmore Abbey (4e)

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A thrilling heroic-tier adventure for characters of levels 6-8.

This deluxe adventure takes heroes into the ruins of Gardmore Abbey, a monastery that was once the base of a militant order of paladins devoted to Bahamut. According to legend, the paladins brought a dark artifact back from a far crusade and stored it in their abbey for safekeeping, and evil forces gathered to assault the abbey and take it back. What the legends don’t tell is that this artifact was actually the Deck of Many Things, a force of pure Chaos.

This adventure brings characters into the extensive dungeons beneath the ruins - dungeons that are warped and twisted with the raw forces of Chaos surrounding the cards of the deck.

Product History

Madness at Gardmore Abbey (2011), by James Wyatt with Creighton Broadhurst and Steve Townshend, is the third super-adventure for D&D 4e. It was published in September 2011.

Continuing the 4e Adventures. The first two super-adventures for D&D 4e — Revenge of the Giants (2009) and Tomb of Horrors (2010) — were both published as 160-page hardcovers. But then Essentials (2010) happened and afterward Wizards of the Coast totally revamped their 4e line. Madness at Gardmore Abbey was thus published as a boxed set (albeit, a very flimsy box). It contained four 32-page booklets and a variety of other doodads.

Origins. Lead designer James Wyatt used a description of the Gardbury Downs from the Dungeon Master's Kit (2010) as the basis of this adventure. It detailed the ruins of a monastery that had been brought down by a "dark artifact". Wyatt decided that the artifact was the infamous Deck of Many Things … and went from there.

The Secret Siege. Steve Townshend ran a prequel adventure called "The Siege of Gardmore Abbey" at the 2011 Pax Prime convention (August 2011) . It revealed the historic downfall of the Abbey, long before the events of Madness. Though it was set chronologically earlier, "Siege" was actually written after Madness, building upon the many historic details that Townshend included in his encounters.

"The Siege of Gardmore Abbey" was eventually released to the wider public in Dungeon #210 (January 2012).

Components: A Miscellany. Because it was a boxed set, Madness at Gardmore Abbey was able to include a variety of components. Some of them showed the directions that D&D was moving in at the time: a sheet of Dungeon Tiles could be used with the many sets (2006-2012) that Wizards was then producing, while new monster tokens were meant to be used with the ones recently released in the Essentials Monster Vault (2010).

Components: In the Cards. However the most interesting component in Madness at Gardmore Abbey was surely its Deck of Many Things, a physical deck of 22 cards that revealed one of the oldest artifacts in the D&D game.

The Deck premiered in Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975) and has returned in various Dungeon Master's Guides (1979, 1989, 2000, 2003) over the years, clearly revealing it as one of D&D's most popular magic items. A physical deck had been published once before, as an insert in Dragon #148 (August 1989). The deck had also previously appeared in D&D 4e as a paragon-level artifact, in Dungeon #177 (April 2010). Now it was reappearing in a new form as a heroic-level artifact.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Deck's use in Madness is that cards are drawn to determine specific elements of the adventure, such as who the villain is. This was an old trick first used by Tracy Hickman in classic adventures such as I6: "Ravenloft" (1983) and Dragonlance (1984-1986), but it hadn't been seen in quite a while when it made a return in Madness.

Adventure Tropes. 4e adventures were built using an Encounter-based format that tended to create adventures that were relatively linear and that were focused on tactical scenes. Madness at Gardmore Abbey kept to that format but rather impressively used it to create a sandbox adventure, resulting in a very innovative 4e module.

Madness pulls off this trick with the use of patrons who give out quests. In fact, two of the four adventure books focus on patrons, rivals, and the physical details of the Abbey, creating a sandbox full of options. The Encounters then fit into that sandbox, as the players choose the particular directions that they want to explore.

However, the sandboxing of Madness goes deeper than a set of patron-quests. When Wyatt wrote out his order for the Encounters, he told his designers that he didn't want a "combat slog", but instead a "mix of combat, roleplaying, and skill challenges". Thus, Madness is one of the most varied of all the 4e adventures, even within the constraints of individual encounters.

Steve Townshend, who wrote all of the external encounters, says that after he wrote up an encounter, he'd then go back and apply the "Lowell Kempf" test, named after the longest-running player in his D&D campaign — who would often ignore the "direct" solutions to problems, and instead look for the "interesting" ones. Thus, Gardmore Abbey is filled with encounters that could be solved in many ways — not just with combat.

Expanding the Points of Light. Madness at Gardmore Abbey is set firmly in the Points of Light world that was growing increasingly detailed in the late days of D&D 4e. The abbey itself lies near Winterhaven — a local that appeared in the first 4e publication, H1: "Keep on the Shadowfell" (2008), and which also gets some detail here.

Madness also touches on the past of the Points of Light world, by detailing a fallen Point of Light — and so focusing on the core ideals of the 4e setting. Townshend says that his intent was to "evoke a sense of awe and of loss" by carefully revealing what was now gone, something that he was able to expand upon when he wrote "The Siege of Gardmore Abbey".

Finally, Madness ties lightly into the World Axis, with connections to the ever-popular Feywild and to the Far Realm.

Love It or Hate It? Madness at Gardmore Abbey may have been the best-loved adventure of the 4e era.

Future History. There was one more 4e super-adventure, Halls of Undermountain (2012). It was intended to be a box too, just like Gardmore Abbey, but … stuff happened.

About the Creators. Wyatt was a long-time employee of Wizards of the Coast. He wrote the overall design of Madness at Gardmore Abbey while he handed off the encounters to his designers. Creighton runs Raging Swan, a small FRPG press in the UK, while Townshend is a a freelance RPG writer. Creighton took on the Abbey's Inner Encounters (Book 3), and Townshend wrote the Abbey's Outer Encounters (Book 4).

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

 
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File Last Updated:
August 03, 2015
This title was added to our catalog on August 04, 2015.