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FRE1 Shadowdale (1e/2e)

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The Gods walk the Realms.

Cast out from their heavenly domain, the gods of the Forgotten Realms wander the land as mortals-extremely powerful mortals, to be certain, but mortal nonetheless. They seek the lost Tablets of Fate, key to their return. But as the good and evil gods for the Realms bring their fight down to earth, the people and lands are caught in between. Nature itself revolts; strange creatures stalk the countryside, and even magic becomes unpredictable.

When a band of adventurers are hired by a young apprentice to rescue her sorceress-mentor, little do they realize the size of the stakes they will soon be playing for. Caught up in a power struggle that will determine the fate of the Realms themselves, the first step is to find the only mortal who may know what's going on-the legendary sage Elminster. And that means going to Shadowdale.

Shadowdale is the first of a three-part series of modules for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition roleplaying game. Set in the popular Forgotten Realms game world, this module features the same settings and many of the same characters of the first novel of the Avatar Trilogy, Shadowdale, by Richard Awlinson. This AD&D 2nd Edition adventure is for four to six characters of levels 5-8

Product History

FRE1: "Shadowdale" (1989), by Ed Greenwood, is the lead adventure in TSR's first "Realms-shaking" event: Avatar. It was released in May 1989.

Event Origins. The Avatar adventures were conceived of as "bridge products" that would move AD&D from 1st edition to 2nd edition. This is clearly shown on the cover, which says "Compatible with the AD&D and the 2nd Edition AD&D Game Systems." The events of the Avatar series also helped to explain the differences between first and second edition AD&D in a "narrative form". As such, Avatar was a mirror (on a larger scale) to Greyhawk's WG8: "Fate of Istus" (1989).

Avatar was also imagined as a "multi-platform project", something that TSR had executed very successfully with the Dragonlance Chronicles (1984-1985) and its related "DL" modules (1984-1986). However, Avatar was a much tighter crossover, featuring just three novels and three directly connected adventures. Avatar comics published by DC were later added to the mix as well.

Unfortunately, Avatar didn't have the lead time that Dragonlance enjoyed. As a result, the novels and adventures were being written simultaneously, at the same time that the 2e rules were being finalized. The resulting work process that was less than ideal.

Introducing the "FRE" Adventures. The first of the Avatar adventures, FRE1: "Shadowdale", directly paralleled the first of the Avatar novels, Scott Ciencin's Shadowdale (1989). Unfortunately, the novel was still being written while Ed Greenwood was working on the adventure; in fact, his final deadline was prior to the completion of the novel.

Having only the basic shape of the novel in hand, Greenwood wrote as much Realmslore as he could, in the form of keyed encounters and adventure hooks related to the locales to be covered in the novel. He then turned it in knowing that it would be rewritten in-house, with his lore whittled down to what was actually required by the story.

Adventuring Tropes. In its final form, "Shadowdale" was a heavily novelistic story of the sort that had first appeared in Tracy Hickman's adventures of the mid '80s, such as I6: "Ravenloft" (1983) and the Dragonlance Chronicles adventures. It focused on events and encounters that drew players through the plot of the Avatar novels. Though this form of adventure was relatively foreign to D&D at the time, it would rise up as the dominant form of adventure in the 2e era (1989-2000).

The Novel Connection. In the "DL" adventures, D&D players took on the roles of the main characters from the Dragonlance Chronicles and recreated their novelistic adventures. The designers of Avatar wanted to give players more freedom, so they took a step back and instead turned the novels' protagonists into NPCs, at least one of which was required to accompany the PCs.

The result was still somewhat predetermined, but didn't require players to take on specific roles and gave them a bit more free will in their actions. It was a step along a path to the very different model used in the Empires event, starting with FRA1: "Storm Riders" (1990); there, the event became a background for an original adventure.

Expanding the Realms. It had long been obvious that the Dalelands was one of the hearts of adventure in the Realms, but the region hadn't received much attention prior to 1989. That changed first with FRC2: Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989), then with FRE1: "Shadowdale" (1989) itself. A year later, Forgotten Realms Adventures (1990) helped to fill in yet more info on these Heartlands. It'd be a few more years before the publication of FRS1: "The Dalelands" (1993), but starting with the publication of "Shadowdale", the Dalelands became an increasingly viable location for adventure.

"Shadowdale" also briefly features the city of Arabel in Cormyr. However, its largest addition to the Realms certainly comes through the Avatar event itself. The gods are thrown out of heaven; some fall and new ones rise; and even magic is changed. The result is not just a new Realms, but a Realms where TSR was willing to use metaplot to advance the storyline of the setting — something that had previously been unknown, except within the tight confines of TSR's original Dragonlance Chronicles event. Greyhawk, Dark Sun, and others would soon follow with metaplots of their own.

Future History. The Avatar event would continue in FRE2: "Tantras" (1989) and FRE3: "Waterdeep" (1989). It would be just the first of many Realms-shaking events, with the next being the Empires event (1990).

A decade later, Wizards of the Coast would revisit the idea of using adventures to bridge editions with Die Vecna Die! (2000), Dungeon of Death (2000) and The Apocalypse Stone (2000), all of which could be used to end 2e campaigns. They would notably not repeat the idea for the fourth edition transition, which might have been one of the trouble's with that edition's release. Much more recently D&D Next has led off with The Sundering (2013-2014), a loosely-structured transitional event.

About the Creators. Greenwood is the creator of the Realms, and thus was the perfect person to herald in a new era. He would also write FRE2: "Tantras" and FRE3: "Waterdeep" later in the year.

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

We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

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David D April 12, 2022 4:14 pm UTC
Print on demand please! :)
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