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The Shattered Circle (2e)
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The Shattered Circle (2e)

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From time out of mind, the standing stones known as the Circle of Cahervaniel have stood lonely vigil on a grassy hilltop. Sheepherders once moved their flocks over the hill and through the circle, sometimes resting in the cool shadows cast by the ancient stones. Everything changed when a stone finger fell, revealing a fissure in the earth.

Now, dark shadows caress the circle after the sun sets. Creatures out of nightmare dance upon the hillside at night. Many swear that a unicorn of deepest ebony now hunts all upon two legs who draw near, while stunted creatures scurry in the shadows, abducting sheep from their sheds and drawing them down below ground for food.

After the disappearance of a sheperd, fear grows stronger in neighboring villages. Who will brave the black hollow of the ancient Circle of Cahervaniel? Heroes of stern mettle must descend into the cavity and explore the ancient spaces existing there.

The Shattered Circle is a stand-alone adventure in which low-level characters explore an ancient dungeon long hidden below the ground. Accomplished players with new characters will find this adventure fun and challenging, but it can also serve as a beginner's first taste of the AD&D game.

Product History

"The Shattered Circle" (1999), by Bruce R. Cordell, is a generic adventure for AD&D 2e. It was published in January 1999.

Origins: Another Generic. After Wizards of the Coast began publishing D&D, their first year and a half of generic adventures were all classic revivals: returns to RPGA tournaments, to classic adventures, and to Dungeon scenarios. Even "A Paladin in Hell" (1998) was a return in its own way, to the demons and devils that TSR had become afraid of. Wizards was staking out new ground by reclaiming the past. "The Shattered Circle" (1999) was the first generic Wizards adventure that was simply a generic adventure, with no deeper origins and no hidden motives.

Adventure Styles: Introductory Play. Well, perhaps it had one motive: it's decidedly an introductory adventure, much like "Road to Danger" (1998) and "Destiny of Kings" (1998) before it. This was another purposeful thrust from Wizards: to make the game accessible once more to new players.

Their technique this time was the most classic one: the adventure dumped players straight into a dungeon, with little concern about storytelling or plotting on the way.

Adventure Style: Dungeon Crawl. Though it's a dungeon crawl, "The Shattered Circle" is a pretty elegant one, with complex interconnections between the levels. The cross section of the dungeon on the inside cover is reminiscent of various intriguing cross sections shown of mega-dungeons, going boing to OD&D (1974) itself — though this one is just three levels deep.

Adventure Tropes: Killer Dungeons. Like many classic dungeons, "The Shattered Dungeon" is full of traps, including one that has a 50% chance of TPKing the party (unless they're saved by someone outside the trap).

Adventure Tropes: Gygaxian Naturalism. Though killer dungeons are often quite artificial, this one instead reaches back to the trope of Gygxian Naturalism. This can be seen in the backstory of the chitines — escaped drow slaves who stumbled into the bottoms of the dungeon … and are now moving their way upward, to their own sorrow.

Exploring Neverness. As a Bruce Cordell 2e adventure,"The Shattered Circle" references a few elements of the Neverness world. This suggests it's part of the same setting, though the links are quite weak.

Most of these links can be found in the brief history in room #17, which talks about the dungeon complex's creator, Pyorrhoea, who was part of "the root fey race that predates the multiplication of elven subraces", which suggests that he's one of Neverness' Elder Elves. There's also a brief mention of the magician's Language Primeval.

This history also notes that the "foundingstone" of this dungeon was discovered "in the heart of a far away mountain", but that it "was somehow deposited there from a realm far removed from familiar spacetime". That suggests that the artifact might have come from the Far Realm and emerged through The Gates of Firestorm Peak (1996).

With all that said, "The Shattered Circle" adds very little to Neverness, since it's a self-contained dungeon complex. However, you might put the chitine city of Habraira on your Neverness map.

Exploring Greyhawk. As with many of Cordell's later adventures, this one also suggests Greyhawk connections. This primarily occurs through a single mention of Suloise migrations. Canonfire thus suggests placing the adventure in the Hollow Highlands of Idee, near one of the Suloise migration paths.

However, one of the adventure's artifacts also has a Greyhawk connection.

Blowing Up the Canon. The later Neverness adventures, some of the Silver Anniversary modules (1999), and the 3e adventure path (2000-2002) all would raise the uncomfortable question: is this Greyhawk or not? The problem likely originates with the fact that Wizards of the Coast was full of Greyhawk fans, causing it to become the default setting for D&D 3e (2000). However, even in the later days of AD&D 2e (1989-2000), Greyhawk was seeping in. The answer is probably: it's Greyhawk (or Neverness!) if you want. The Greyhawk connections were all about lore, not about geography. Thus, you could place them in Greyhawk if you wanted, or alternatively you could assume that the various peoples and artifacts had migrated to another world.

Artifacts of Note. the foundingstone and the harp Euphonious are both one-off named magic items. However, it's sword Icerazor that's the most interesting. It's said to have grown from a shard of Frostrazor — a sword that would only appear ten months later in Return to White Plume Mountain (1999). There, it's listed as one of Keraptis' four implements of power, alongside Wave, Blackrazor, and Whelm — meaning that Icerazor (and this adventure) are just one step removed from White Plume Mountain itself.

Monsters of Note: Chitine. It's somewhat curious, given the Greyhawk and Neverness connections, to note that the chitine debuted in MC11: "Monstrous Compendium Forgotten Realms Appendix" (1991). The spider-humanoids have generally been a Realms creature, featuring in bestiaries and histories for that setting. However, they also received a more generic "Ecology of the Chitine" in Dragon #223 (November 1995), which introduced the choldrith, or chitine priestess. This is their major adventure appearance.

When asked about pronouncing their name Cordell says that he "can't be 100% sure of the original designer's pronunciation", but he prefers "KI-TEEN".

About the Creators. By 1999, Cordell was one of D&D's most prolific writers. He'd previously authored many slightly related adventures, such as The Gates of Firestorm Peak (1996) and the sahuagin (1997) and illithid (1998) Monstrous Arcana adventure trilogies.

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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John C March 10, 2021 9:56 pm UTC
Looks like it is available on Fantasy Grounds
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Kevin S August 31, 2018 3:01 am UTC
This is a disturbingly low-quality scan. Totally readable on your screen, but the pages are different sizes and the scan just isn't clean, particularly if you want to upload maps for an virtual tabletop.
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James B March 02, 2022 7:01 am UTC
Not sure what it looked like when you left this comment, but it looks nice overall now. Covers still have a bit of color issues but the B&W parts look pretty good.
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