Aeryn’s Archives: Dead by Dawn (Dungeon #176)

Been a while since I’ve done one of these, but since I just finished a 5E adventure for Privateer Press, I thought I’d delve back into my gaming career and what might be the most well known thing I’ve done in that arena. This is not to say I wrote some groundbreaking, game-changing material that’ll be remembered forever. What I did was write an adventure about zombies that, to my amazement, folks still talk about. So, let’s look at Dungeon #176 and my adventure within, Dead by Dawn. 

Dead by Dawn was a short adventure for characters of 2nd-level that used the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. (We’re in 5th edition now.) It was published in March of 2010 and was my third appearance in Dungeon magazine. At that point, I was working with Chris Youngs, then Editor-in-Chief of D&D Insider, on a series of short adventures set in The Chaos Scar, a sandbox adventure setting for low-level characters. After my second adventure was published, Chris asked for pitches for more. One of the adventures I pitched was a zombie survival horror module called Dead by Dawn. He liked the concept, so he gave me the go-ahead to write it. My goal with the adventure was much less heroes fight zombies and much more heroes survive zombies. Without spoiling too much, the adventure puts the characters in the temple of an evil god, and as night falls, they have to survive wave after wave of zombie attacks. It’s made very clear to the players there is no way they can win thought force of arms, and that surviving until morning is their only hope. So, instead of tons of zombie combat, I used game mechanics (the 4e skill challenge rules) to simulate holding off the zombies by boarding up windows, reinforcing doors, and all the other fun tropes you see in movies like Night of the Living Dead or shows like The Walking Dead. It was a blast to write because I love zombies, and the adventure is a bit of a love letter to my favorite zombie movies, books, and shows.

When I turned in the adventure, it was given the green light and published soon after. Dead by Dawn resonated with folks, and like I said, it’s one of my RPG-related projects (out of hundreds) that people seem to remember. To this day, some ten years later, I get the occasional note from someone who ran it and enjoyed it or even converted it to 5E. When you’re a writer, and your work makes a lasting impact on people, however small, it’s rewarding, and I count Dead by Dawn as one of the highlights of my RPG career.


If you’d like to check out Dead by Dawn, this issue of Dungeon is available in PDF at DriveThruRPG.com. Click the link below or the cover illustration above.

Dungeon #176

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