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Saturday, November 21, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - Dungeon Master's Screen Wilderness Kit


Today we're going to check out the new Dungeon Master's Screen Wilderness Kit. I wrote about this product a bit in a recent Dragon+ review, but now I actually have the screen in my hands. Let's check it out.

The whole thing comes in a folder, containing the screen and a bunch of laminated inserts. The folder is a bit flimsy.

The DM screen is four panels wide, made of a thick material. There are 4 images on the exterior:

  • A white dragon perched on a snowy mountain.
  • A green dragon flying over a forest.
  • A castle on an island, menaced by massive tentacles rising from the water.
  • The remain of a sailing ship sitting in a desert crater.

The art is good. A little too "real" for me, if that makes sense. The most interesting thing about the artwork is that it actually almost looks like a photo despite the fact that you can see the brush marks. 

The inside of the screen contains reference material. The bulk of it is taken up with descriptions of conditions (poisoned, stunned, etc). It covers a lot of other ground:

  • Setting a DC
  • Damage by level
  • Object HP and AC
  • A list of skills and the abilities they are linked to
  • Jumping Rules
  • Concentration rules
  • Exhaustion
  • Weather, including extreme cold/heat
  • Travel Pace
  • Prices for services
  • Encounter Distance
  • Wilderness Navigation
  • Audible distance (!)
  • Cover
  • Obscured areas
  • Visibility
  • Vessel Speeds
  • Food/Drink/Lodging Prices
  • Foraging DCs

This looks like a good list, at least, at first glance, especially for a screen that focuses on "outdoor adventure."

I wrote a column long ago called the Forgotten Rules Index, which is a repository for me to refer to while running a game. It contains all of the rules that I can never remember.

Looking through it, I can see some stuff that I would have wanted included in this screen, particularly the surprise rules.

In addition to the screen, there are a bunch of sheets of other useful material.

Double-sided Laminated Hex Map: The idea here is that the DM has created a vast wilderness area. Each hex represents a section of the land, possibly a 6 mile stretch of forest. The heroes go from hex to hex, "hex-crawling" their way through the locale, exploring the land while looking for treasure and adventure.

There are 100 numbered hexes.

Hex Crawls: I've seen a few people wondering aloud online if anybody does hex crawls any more. I would assume some people do, at least on occasion. 

In my opinion, a hex crawl is really great for kids just starting out playing D&D. The DM can write up what's in each area during the week, then the players can explore it on the weekend. It would probably start out simple, but then become more complex as the DM gets a grasp of how the game works.

I have been thinking recently about what a great book the 5e Dungeon Master's Guide is. When you pair it up with this product, I think you can create some great stuff. The DMG is overloaded with fun ideas.

Here are two of the essential things a DM should refer to when making a hex crawl with this product:

  • DMG pg 108: "Wilderness" This section discusses things found in the wilderness, wilderness survival, and how "1 hex = 6 miles" on a kingdom-scale map.
  • Xanathar's Guide to Everything: This book has relevant encounter charts. On page 97 are "Forest Encounters" charts for heroes of various levels.

Actions in Combat: A separate laminated sheet has another hex map on one side, and a reference for actions in combat on the other. It has info on Dash, Disengage, Dodge, Help, all that stuff. Very handy for any player to have. I always forget how the help and dodge actions work.


Supply Tracker: This laminated sheet has a hex grid on one side, and a supply tracker on the other. This allows the group to monitor how much food and water they have.

This kind of thing is tricky to run, but it could be fun if done right. My first instinct is to run an encounter where their food gets wiped out, but that might be too harsh. I do like the idea of the group constantly having to be mindful of their provisions - hanging up their food so a bear doesn't eat it while they are sleeping, that kind of thing.

It also brings to mind the age old issue of the DM needing to determine whether or not they are going to say that when a character falls a great height, the stuff in their backpack is shattered. When a dragon breathes fire on them, is their stuff scorched?

That "realistic" take can add a lot to the game, but you need to be careful not to be overly brutal or the players might find your game to be a miserable experience. Also, once you introduce that kind of complexity, it slows the game down because the group spends more time preparing for any sort of logical consequence, including stuff you the DM would never even think of.

I do think, though, that if you ran this hex crawl, you probably should keep the whole ration situation in mind and craft encounters that put their stuff in peril. You should also definitely have plenty of areas on the map where they can replenish their supplies and maybe even obtain some special magical provisions.


Wilderness Chases: This double-sided laminated sheet is all about the chase. I've always found chases to be difficult to run, especially when you have to choose how far away the group is from the target to start.

The complications are fun. I love the last one: "One or more creatures in the area chase after you.." Could be 2 brown bears!

Wilderness Journeys: This sheet is the go-to for the hex crawl. It lays out a way to handle the day-by-day journey. Each adventuring day, the routine goes like this:

  1. The DM rolls for weather.
  2. The players choose their pace.
  3. A check is made to see if the group gets lost.
  4. Check for Random Encounters (a chart is provided on this sheet)
  5. Expend food/water supplies.
  6. Track progress in miles.

Travel Pace: The DM Screen lists the travel paces. Traveling at "normal speed" means that the heroes can cover 24 miles in a day. If each hex covers 6 miles, that is 4 hexes per day.

Foraging: On the flip side of this sheet, we get very handy info on food and water - how much a character needs per day, how foraging works, and there are also tables for monuments and weird locales that the group might stumble on.

My favorite weird locales:

  • Boulder carved with talking faces.
  • Field of petrified soldiers.
  • Floating earth mote with a tower on it.

Condition Cards: We get two sheets of cards containing information on all of the conditions, as well as stats on strong wind, extreme heat, and extreme cold. I've always thought that condition cards were extremely helpful.

Initiative Cards: Used to track who goes when. Also very handy.

Box: We get a box to hold the cards in. Love this thing. One of the best "DM Rewards" I ever got at the game store was a box to hold condition cards for 4th edition.

This particular box is slim and perfectly fits the cards. Very compact, very cool-looking. It was actually a lot of fun putting it together. Again, I think this is a great set to give to kids.

Overall

I am thoroughly charmed by this product. The idea of sitting down with your friends and letting them explore the weird forest that you made up sounds like a lot of fun. It seems like a laid-back, leisurely way to play D&D that puts the players in the driver's seat, which usually leads to a lot of hijinx and laughter.

You can pick up the Dungeon Master's Screen Wilderness Kit right here.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - Tasha's Cauldron of Everything Review

 

I got a bunch of stuff in the mail:

What do you say we go through Tasha's and see what's in there? You might remember that I did a ridiculously huge Guide to Tasha (aka Iggwilv) right here. I'm definitely interested in seeing what new lore we can learn from this.

Real quick, if you don't know anything about Tasha, here's some essential info:

Review

Most of this article involves me going over what's in the book, describing my favorite parts, and going off on tangents. If you just want a general idea of whether this book is good or bad, let me save you some time.

This is one of the best books put out for 5th edition so far. That includes the adventures, the settings, everything. 

It has an absolute ton of subclasses, and almost all of them are cool. I don't think I've ever read a supplement that actually got me excited about so many different character options.

On top of that, it is loaded with magic items and spells - some new, some updated from previous editions. 

Then we get all sorts of useful DM stuff to drop into our games, including puzzles and magically-touched regions. 

My favorite thing of all is that everything is described succinctly. In just a few sentences and paragraphs, we are given everything we need to use a particular item or subclass. Most of this book is a breeze to read through, and the ideas are so good that you just jump from one thing to the next.

This definitely has the "late in the edition" feel, when the creators have a good handle on everything and the creative juices are flowing.

The Art

Before I run down what's in the book chapter-by-chapter, I want to talk a bit about the art. As I've mentioned before, 5e art is generally good, but not great. There are no "superstar artists" anymore, and landscapes tend to be the best art for whatever reason.

In this book, there's a few pieces of art that look a bit too rough, but in general it's all fine. There are no double-page spreads (which might be for the best, as the page split tended to maul the center of each image). 

After flipping through the book, I notice that there are four full-page images of Tasha, depicting different moments from her life. What a great idea. The first image by Brian Valeza may be one of my favorite pieces of 5e art. 

Young Tasha

That is a young Tasha sitting in the Feywild just outside her home, the Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga. Brian also did two of my favorite pieces of art from Rime of the Frostmaiden (the remorhaz eggs and this town/barge).

There's a really good one of Tasha talking to Graz'zt via a magic mirror by Livia Prime (who did a great yawning portal image here), and then there's this one by Svetlin Velinov:

Mordenkainen vs. Tasha

My first reaction to this image of Tasha and Mordenkainen playing chess is that I wish they were playing dragonchess, but then I realized that they might be using one of Iggwilv's items: "A magic chessboard whose pieces shift to represent enemies and allies." 

This chessboard was actually depicted on the cover of Dungeon Magazine #149. Check it out:

I absolutely love the idea of depicting different scenes from the lives of major D&D NPCs in each of these books. 

There is an ongoing issue in the books with images coming out darker in print as opposed to how they look digitally. On page 165 there is an image of an enchanted spring. The rocky area behind the waterfall is dark/black. But if you look at the same image online, you can clearly see a huge face carved into the rock. In fact, the whole image is much, much brighter: 

by Robin Olausson

Table of Contents

Looking at the table of contents, I see that there's about 20 pages worth of magic items. Baba Yaga's Mortar and Pestle, the Demonomicon of Iggwilv, "Planecaller's Codex," and the Teeth of Dahlver-Nar.

Optional: We are told that "everything in this book is optional."

Ten Rules to Remember: We get a quick rundown of little rules things that are hard to keep straight; When reactions happen, how casting a spell as a bonus action works, always round down, etc. 

This listing really drives home how much I like 5th edition. They really hit it out of the park. If you never got to play older editions, you have no idea how bad it was handling the rules and players who exploited the rules. 

Even 4th edition, which really clamped down in an effort to control game balance, had certain "exploits." I remember a player at the game store who made some combination of feats that, when paired with a blade spider mount, gave them infinite attack rolls or something. 

Tasha Introduction: "Tasha" writes a long introduction. She mentions her studies with Zagig Yragerne (one of Gary Gygax's real life characters), and dealings with Mordenkainen (check out my Guide to Mordenkainen here).

Let's check it out.

Chapter 1: Character Options

We get a ton of new subclasses, most of which have appeared in Unearthed Arcana over the last year or two. I wrote about most of these already in my Dragon+ reviews.

The thing I like the most about these is that many are tied to a D&D concept, like the Astral Plane or Mechanus. 

Artificer: This class comes with a bunch of subclasses. I really like the artillerist, who gets an eldritch cannon at 3rd level. It can be a flamethrower, a force ballista, or a protector that grants temporary hit points. 

Barbarian: I love wild magic, so I'm pretty interested in the path of wild magic. Elves, tiefling, aasimar, and genasi often become "magic-infused barbarians." When they rage, they roll on a chart to gain an extra added benefit such as teleporting, blinding a foe, summoning a flumph, all sorts of fun stuff. Once they hit 6th level, they can actually touch a spellcaster and let them regain a spell slot.

Bard: The College of Creation bard can create a "mote of potential," which is an amusing term. The mote gives the target a bonus die on a certain roll. 

Cleric: The peace domain is interesting. I always like to see how each edition handles a pacifist-type character. My favorite class in 4e was the warlord, who was all about granting other characters attacks. It was a lot of fun to play.

The channel divinity: balm of peace (I love that phrase so much) allows you to move without provoking opportunity attacks and "...when you move within 5 feet of any other creature during this action, you can restore a number of hit points to that creature equal to 2d6 + your Wisdom modifier (minimum of 1 hit point). A creature can receive this healing only once whenever you take this action."

Druid: The Circle of Stars druids draw on the power of starlight. They can take on a "starry form," where constellations appear on them that can do different things, like changing a roll of 9 or lower on a d20 as a 10. What a cool idea. 

Fighter: The rune knights can create magic runes that give them special abilities. For example, the fire rune lets them restrain a foe with fiery shackles once per day.

Monk: "A monk who follows the Way of the Astral Self believes that their body is an illusion. They see their ki as a representation of their true form, and astral self." They can summon a pair of extra arms that have an extended reach and some other benefits.

Paladin: The Oath of the Watchers protect mortal realms from extraplanar creatures, which is interesting. That could mean demons or devils. It could mean modrons, too, right? They have the ability to turn aberrations, celestials, elementals, fey, or fiends. 

Ranger: The Fey Wanderer is pretty cool. Each has a feywild gift, such as: "Your shadow dances while no one is looking directly at it."

Rogue: I really like the Phantom. At 9th level, they can take a "soul trinket" from someone they've killed. The trinket can be used to gain advantage on death saves, do extra damage, or it can be asked a question. 

Sorcerer: The Clockwork Soul is a person who has somehow become entangled in the machinations of the modrons. They have the power to cancel advantage or disadvantage. 

Warlock: There's a genie patron. You get your own genie lamp, more or less, that you can go inside and stay in! "The interior is appointed with cushions and low tables and is a comfortable temperature. While inside, you can hear the area around you as if you were in its space." You can do so much with that.

Wizard: The Order of Scribes is all about magic spellbooks. They get a magic quill and the book lets you swap damage types and cast rituals much, much faster.

Chapter 2: Group Patrons

A group patron is an entity or organization that sends the heroes out on quests and adventures. For each one, we get information on what they are and how they work. 

Museum of Dreams: This one seems like it could lead to some cool Inception-type adventures, and I'd imagine night hags would play into things prominently. "Shared dreamscapes connect a network of wide-ranging specialists."

Lich: That could be fun... I used an arch-lich (from 2e) as a sort of patron and the group was fairly into it. There is an image in this book of Azalin, the lich from Ravenloft, as a sample patron. He was a big deal in 2nd edition, at least, to me.

Pirate Fleet: "This alliance of pirate captains is unified under a ruling captain or admiral and adheres to a strict code of honor. They converge only in response to an outside threat."

Planar Conscripts: Warriors include conscripts pressed into service in the Blood War, fodder in the thrall of ruthless yugoloth mercenaries, or members of a glorious celestial host defending against fiendish incursion."

Undead Hunters: I love this one. Van Richten! Your contact could be "Mysterious Text: The gradual translation of a secret holy text points you toward the next step of a divine destiny.

On page 103, we get a piece of art set in the city of Sigil. The caption: "In the city of Sigil, Guildmaster Rhys realizes that finding capable recruits is one of the main challenges of being a patron."

I can't find the actual art online, but the artist is Scott Murphy, who did this pretty badass depiction of Zariel. Here is the 2e art of Rhys:

Rhys by Tony DiTerlizzi

I wrote a guide to the factions of Sigil (which almost drove me nuts) and now I get to use it. I don't remember who Rhys is but I can check... here we go. She runs the Transcendant Order, a faction that believes that you must be impulsive, follow your instincts. They believe that once you sync up your body and mind, you will be in tune with the multiverse. 

Factol Rhys is a "master of the spirit," a neutral tiefling who has achieved internal harmony and can inspire others to greatness. She becomes important post-Faction War, because she suddenly becomes one of the most politically powerful people in the new Sigil government.

This chapter is decent, useful for DMs who are in the planning stages of a campaign.

Chapter 3: Magical Miscellany

by Titus Lunter

This is the stuff I'm most interested in. Here in chapter 3 we get new spells and magic items. We start off with spells. Check out this 7th level spell:

Dream of the Blue Veil: "You and up to eight willing creatures within range fall unconscious for the spell's duration and experience visions of another world on the Material Plane such as Oerth, Toril, Krynn, or Eberron." The spell (10 minute duration) ends with them being transported to the world they had a vision of.

This is accompanied by a sidebar called "Traveling to Other Worlds." It talks about how, long ago, there was a single reality called the First World that was shattered by a cataclysm that created the multiverse. This sounds sort of like the story of Monte Cook's Praemal campaign, which I wrote about here.

The sidebar also discusses two other methods of traveling between worlds:

  • The Great Journey: A voyage filled with peril in a vessel powered by magic (aka Spelljammer).
  • The Leap to Another Realm: Using a teleportation circle linked to another teleportation circle on another world.

Summon Spells: There are a pile of summoning spells, all of which are linked to a different type of creature (beast, fiend, elemental, etc). It acts as your ally, obeys your verbal commands, and remains for up to 1 hour. 

 You summon a specific "spirit" with its own stat block. There's a celestial spirit stat block, a construct spirit statblock, and so on. 

There are a few new Tasha spells:

  • (lvl 1) Tasha's Caustic Brew: You shoot a line of acid that does 2d4 acid damage.
  • (lvl 2) Tasha's Mind Whip: A psychic attack that does 3d6 psychic damage and dazes the target, more or less.
  • (lvl 6) Tasha's Otherworldly Guise: You can draw on the magic of the Lower Planes or Upper Planes, and then gain a suite of powers and enhancements linked to those planes, including wings and a +2 to AC.

There are a lot of magic items. Many of them are of the same type - magic spellbooks. Each spellbook type has a unique name but they all follow the same pattern:

  • It has about 7 listed spells
  • Can function as the character's actual spellbook.
  • Can be used as a spellcasting focus.
  • Has 3 charges which can be used to activate specific abilities, such as teleporting to dodge an attack, impose disadvantage on certain rolls, "take on a semblance of undeath" for 10 minutes, etc.

Magic Tattoos: There are also a number of magic tattoos. I really like how they set it up so that the size of a tattoo correlates to how rare it is. A tattoo that is common fits on your hand. A tattoo that qualifies as a very rare magic item covers two limbs, or the chest, or the upper back.

Random Properties: A lot of the more potent magic items have "random properties." The DM is meant to roll on the tables in the "Artifacts" section of the DMG, 2 minor detrimental properties and 1 minor beneficial property. I've never been a big fan of that, but no big deal I guess.

The Demonomicon of Iggwilv: The 5e version of the Demonomicon is pretty cool. They added some lore to it - it contains  part of a nascent layer of the Abyss. I added the details to my Guide to the Demonomicon of Iggwilv.

Baba Yaga's Mortar and Pestle: This gets a full page and a piece of art. This item has been mentioned in previous editions. This does a lot. It can summon ingredients, magically grind stuff, the pestle is a +3 weapon that does extra force damage, and you can sit in the mortar and magically transport you from one locale to another.

Luba's Tarokka of Souls: This is a magic tarokka deck that allows th wielder to cast certain spells, and they can draw a card that might aid or hinder a creature within 15 feet. The deck also contains trapped souls, which can manifest in cool ways.

We get a sidebar explaining who Luba is a good-aligned halfling vistani who led a tribe of vistani in the Shadowfell. She was something of a rival to Madame Eva. Luba disappeared long ago, leaving her tarokka deck behind. 

Teeth of Dahlver-Nar: It works like this: You pull a random tooth out of the sack, and you can either sow the tooth (place it on the ground) or implant it (put in your mouth). 

A sowed tooth transforms into a certain monster, anything from 9 cats to an ancient red dragon. 

An implanted tooth gives you special powers. 

The chart is great, tons of cool results that I don't want to spoil.

Chapter 4: Dungeon Master's Tools

by Titus Lunter

We start off with a discussion of "session zero," which includes a handy table with ideas on how the party knows each other or meets.  

Then we get into the "social contract," which is very interesting stuff. They give us a typical social contract, which includes commitments to four points. I'm actually going to write these out right here:

1. DM: "You will respect the players by running a game that is fun, fair, and tailored for them. You will allow every player to contribute to the ongoing story and give every character moments to shine. When a player is talking, you are listening."

2. Players: "The players will respect you and the effort it takes to create a fun game for everyone. The players will allow you to direct the campaign, arbitrate the rules, and settle arguments. When you are talking, the players are listening."

3. Cohesion: "The players will respect one another, listen to one another, support one another, and do their utmost to preserve the cohesion of the adventuring party."

4. Kicked Out: "Should you or a player disrespect each other or violate the social contract in some other way, the group may dismiss that person from the table."

I'm not sure where we are at right now in 2020 when it comes to dysfunction in D&D groups. I can tell you that, in the past, dysfunction and "toxic" behavior was rampant. It only takes one person to ruin it, and it was present in the majority of groups I met or played with. 

There is a whole subreddit devoted to RPG horror stories. I just looked. There's 176,000 members! 608 people are in there right now!

So how it is going in all of these Zoom quarantine D&D groups out there? Are people able to make it work? Or is the campaign crashing and burning? 

In my opinion, the thing that stopped D&D from growing even bigger than it did in years past was due the behavior of the participants. Most players are cool. But then you get to that 15% - the "ruiners," you could call them. At the game store, I saw entire groups of people try and then quit the game after one single session thanks to one toxic DM or player. It happened over and over.

I literally started this blog just so I could talk about this issue. Nobody would say out loud what it's actually like running games at a con or a game store. Sometimes it was fun, but a lot of times it sucked.

Anyway, I could ramble forever on this topic. As far as this social contract goes, I like it. The problem is getting people to buy into it. How do you make this the standard? How do you get everyone on board? 

The problem seems like it transcends the game. It involves how people behave when engaging in a group activity. Sort of like the family that gets into a vicious fight while on vacation at Disney World. As a DM, it is a really weird and unexpected thing to have to deal with.

Sidekicks: We get rules for creating and leveling up a sidekick. A sidekick can be any monster with a challenge rating of 1/2 or lower. Then you add the sidekick stuff to it. "The starting level of a sidekick is the same as the average level of the group."

There are three sidekick classes: Expert, spellcaster, and warrior.

Environmental Hazards: I love these so much. Each area has a random chart that you roll on under certain conditions.

Far Realm: I'm really interested in this one, because I've always had a hard time using the Far Realm in a fun way. Tentacles, insanity, that's about it. But I am seeing here an awesome image of mind flayer nautiloids so let's check it out.

After death, some souls get pulled into the Far Realm and are twisted into abominations or elder evils. 

Someone used the words "pernicious" and "propagate" in the same paragraph, which is some epic word usage in my humble opinion. 

This chart involves a region "touched by the Far Realm, not actually in it. The charts results involve plants coming alive, bizarre appendages rising from the ground, that sort of thing. One result involves a gibbering mouther, which really is a top notch D&D monster in 5e. I've never liked them as far a aesthetics go, but I think it's the rare example of a monster that is made cool by its stat block. 

Mirror Zone: This is a really fun one, involving an area touched by a mirror realm. My favorite effect is the one where a creature's skin becomes silvery and reflective.

I'm pretty sure Expedition to the Demonweb Pits has a bunch of Mirror Realm stuff.

Also, when I was a kid, my friend ran an adventure called Skarda's Mirror. This involved a monstrous ape using magic mirrors to strike at the heroes and then escape before being harmed.

The DM specifically told us that if we split up, we're going to die. What did my friend Stan do? He split from the party. He died. He had a real defiant streak for a while, there.

by Sam Keiser

Mimic Colonies: This might be my favorite thing in the whole book. Mimics come together to create buildings, cliff faces, statues, and more. The colony can communicate via telepathy with creatures within 120 feet. 

I love the idea of making friends with a mimic colony and living in it, bringing it monsters to eat as payment.

Puzzles: This book wraps up with a section on one of the hardest things to pull off in D&D - puzzles. I have had such a hard time with puzzles in D&D. They're either too easy or too hard. They either eat up way too much table time or none at all. 

As a DM, I eventually learned to give the group puzzles and riddles that they can mess with as they go on adventures. They can think about it between sessions, mess with it while taking a long rest, whatever. That way it isn't a roadblock that grinds the session to a halt. 

I don't want to spoil these by overly describing them, but I can say that they are really fun. Especially "reckless steps" and "material components."

Overall

This is a great book, maybe one of the best, yet to come out for D&D 5th edition. It is jam packed with stuff, each thing described in just a page or two. I guess I could have used a bit more lore, but it's no big deal. 

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Half-Orcs

by James Ryman
I decided to dig through old D&D products to find whatever weird lore and information there was on half-orcs. I didn't really have any idea what was even out there, as half-orcs aren't one of the more popular races to play, at least in the groups that I have been in.

What I found was kind of uncomfortable. Where do half-orcs come from? What are the circumstances in which a half-orc is born and how are they treated growing up? 

Before we start, you might want to read this article by DM David: How D&D Shed the Troubling Implications of Half-Orcs.

1e Player's Handbook

"Orcs are fecund and create many cross-breeds, most of the offspring of such being typically orcish."
One-tenth of orc-human "mongrels" pass for human. This idea lasts for a few editions, but virtually all of the art of half-orcs depicts them as very similar in appearance to orcs.

Can speak common, orcish, and their "alignment language." Someone should bring back alignment languages. They are ridiculous, but fun.

They have infravision up to 60 feet. +1 to STR and CON. -2 to CHA. 

There is a big paragraph discussing multi-classed half-orcs and how to divide XP up between them. "All earned experience is always divided equally between the player's two classes, even though the character might no longer be able to progress upwards in level in one of the two classes." 1st edition was so unforgiving.

1e Monster Manual

Half-orcs are briefly discussed in the orc entry.

"As orcs will breed with anything, there are any number of unsavory mongrels with orcish blood, particularly orc-goblins, orc-hobgoblins, and orc-humans."

Orcs cannot cross-breed with elves.

Dragon Magazine #44 - Half-Orcs in a Variety of Styles

This article is written by Roger Moore, a man who wrote like he really loved his job. Jokes are flying left and right in this piece. He starts off by noting that there are no orc-goats, orc-hamsters, or orc-Balors.

"As a rule, orc crossbreeds involving less powerful creatures may be found in leadership positions in the race they live with, and crossbreeds with more powerful creatures are found in orcish clans as "tough guys" and sergeants.

He goes into the concept of orcs mixing with different races. It definitely opens the door up to a lot of possibilities. Some of you might remember that Chris Perkins introduced a mysterious NPC on Dice, Camera, Action who was half-orc/half-dwarf.

On the one hand, making half-orc variants by combining them with dwarves, or halflings, or githyanki could lead to a lot of cool things. On the other hand, it might get to be a bit much and confusing, and redundant in some cases.

There are at least a few already out there. Volo's Guide to Monsters has the tanarukk, which is an orc/demon. The demon lord Baphomet "...corrupts an unborn orc of the tribe, transforming it at birth into a creature much more savage than an orc."

There is also the ogrillon, which is the result of an ogre and an orc mating.

Anyway, back to the article. We get stats for a number of half-orc types:

  • Orc-Kobold: Can attain high status and leadership positions.
  • Orc-Goblin: Can attain high status and leadership positions.
  • Orc-Hobgoblin: Can be found as sergeants in orc armies.
  • Orc-Gnoll
  • Orc-Bugbear
  • Orc-Ogre: "...govern with a lot of respect from their troops."

What's the deal with bugbears, anyway? Why do they have that name?  They seem kind of unnecessary, don't they? Maybe I should read up on them some day.

Half + Half Isn't Always Full

In the same issue, we have another article about half-orcs. The way this is written in such a casual manner really threw me.

We start off with an interesting question: Does a half-orc mating with a human produce a quarter-orc? Essentially, do human descendants with orc blood retain orcish traits and if so, how does that manifest in D&D terms if at all?

Then we get this statement: "Presumably a half-orc and a full orc produce quarter humans. Were such creatures to be sold as slaves in the early United States, the Census would reckon them (I assume) as 0.25x0.6, or 15% human."

The author discusses genetics a bit, going over how you can create a pink rose by crossing a white rose with a red rose. From this, he extrapolates the following:

  • "A nice little nuclear half-orc family will therefore consist of two half-orc parents, two half-orc children, one orc child and one human child."
  • A half-orc mating with a human will produce two half-orcs and two humans.
  • A half-orc and orc will produce two half-orcs and two orcs.

Dragon Magazine #62 - Point of View: Half-Orcs

There's a full page just talking about how orcs live. We learn that some orcs have a dislike for "half-humans" among them, because they are aware that they possess more cunning. 

Half-orc adults living among orcs usually attain a position of power.

"A few cases are known of half-orc females rising to positions of power within a tribe; usually this female is either a warrior disguised as a male (who must flee or die if her deception is discovered), or a cleric for one of the few orcish religions that permit female shamans or clerics."

Half-orcs who grow up in human communities find themselves to be the objects of prejudice.  Some become neutral or even good-aligned. 

"Most of these retain an unnatural affinity for lawfulness and obedience, but are otherwise acceptable company."

Half-Orc Assassins: Many half-orcs become assassins (which was an actual character class in 1st edition). "Half-orc assassins often come to believe their actions are for the benefit of the world in general; they are culling out the unfit in the most direct way possible."

Some half-orcs create assassin guilds and have a retinue of underlings.

Half-orcs sometimes multiclass, becoming cleric/assassins. They are "invariably" death-worshipers, and try to personally bring death to as many beings as possible.

In 5e terms, does that mean there could be half-orc assassins who worship the Raven Queen?

Orcs and half-orcs dislike smaller humanoids because they are inevitably weaker, and these races are usually employed as slaves.

The article discusses why orcs and elves hate each other so much:

  1. Elves see many sides to a problem, while orcs see only one.
  2. Elves consider consequences to actions, while orcs are impulsive and rash.
  3. Elves live for centuries, while orcs only live to the age of 40.

AD&D 2e Monstrous Compendium Volume I

Half-orcs are discussed in the orc entry. A lot of the info is the same as in 1st edition, except the stat stuff is updated to 2e. We learn a few new things:

  • Half-orcs are distrusted by both human and orc cultures.
  • They advance in human culture by associating with people who don't care about appearance.
  • "Most tend toward neutrality with slight lawful and evil tendencies."
  • Some half-orcs have split from both cultures to form their own societies in remote areas.
  • "These half-orcs worship their own gods and (like most hermits) are extremely suspicious of strangers."

Dungeon Magazine #4 - Trouble at Grog's

by Daniel Horne
This adventure deals with the Happy Half-Ogre Inn and Tavern, an establishment run by a half-ogre named Grog.

"Grog's doesn't discriminate in the least and has, therefore, become a meeting place for half-breeds, adventurers, and other seedy sorts."

This adventure takes a stab at changing the approach to dealing with half-orcs and "half-monsters" in general.

A crime wave has hit the town of Dagger Rock, and the locals think Grog is responsible.

Many of Grog's employees are half-ogres. 

The bartender, Sevim Ronard, is a chaotic good half-orc. I am amused by the note in his stat block: "Sevim's abilities may be higher than the Player's Handbook allows. Since he is an NPC this can be justified to add to the adventure's flavor." Take that, sticklers!

Sevim is married to Julia, a human waitress. "Julia and Sevim have been married for just nine months and used to work at the Dagger Rock Tavern, before Grog arrived and offered them better pay and no prejudice."

I'm going to have to spoil the story of this one. The villain is the proprietor of another tavern. He has hired a pair of half-orc mercenaries named Grunt (a thief) and Brock (a fighter) who are keeping an eye on the Happy Half-Ogre Inn and Tavern.

Dungeon Magazine 45 - Rudwilla's Stew

by Steve Schwartz
Searching around for anything pertaining to D&D half-orcs, I remembered this old adventure from Dungeon Magazine. I tried to run Prism Keep from this issue when I was a kid and I didn't really get it right.

Rudwilla's Stew is an adventure written by Chris Perkins. The heroes are hired to retrieve some ingredients to be used in a witch brew. The ingredients are in a keep which has been overtaken by a rival witch named Hezra Blacktooth who has four half-orc sons.

Once the brew is made, the heroes need to bring it to some bugbears, where things might go horribly wrong.

Hezra is a human who has four half-orc sons. She was banished for trying to seduce the duke with a love potion. She is a "cruel but loving mother."

Her half-orc sons:

  • Theorn: The oldest brother. Tall, short-tempered, protective of his mother.
  • Orlec: His face is heavily scarred from battle. He hates most humans because one humiliated him in battle. Orlec owns a book called The Conquests of Julruz Nosepicker: the story of an orcish hero, written in orcish, worth 3 sp.
  • Lormax: The smallest brother. He has a morbid sense of humor and looks more orcish than his brothers. He keeps his orc father's skull in a chest, along with a stack of "explicit love letters from a female orc named Gertha."
  • Sequius: The youngest, most human-looking and most attractive. Has a +1 short sword that he stole from a halfling merchant.

I might have missed it, but I don't see an explanation as to the story of the orc father, other than that he is dead and they have his skull.

3e Player's Handbook

by Jim Nelson
Now we have a shift. Orcs and humans actually work together in some instances: "In the wild frontiers, tribes of human and orc barbarians live in uneasy balance, fighting in times of war and trading in times of peace."

Some half-orcs travel to civilized lands and bring with them "the tenacity, courage, and combat prowess that they developed in the wilds.

Half-Orc Traits:

  • Short-tempered and sullen.
  • Love fighting, drinking, boasting, singing, wrestling, drumming, and wild dancing. A half-orc is a liability at the duchess's grand ball.
  • They have grayish skin.
  • Any half-orc who has lived among orcs likes scars.
  • They reach adulthood at age 14 and live to the age of 75.
  • Many worship Gruumsh even if they are not evil.
  • +2 STR, -2 INT, -2 CHA.
  • Darkvision 60 feet.
  • Favored Class: Barbarian.

Races of Destiny

by Jim Nelson
This book has a whole section on half-orcs. It's really good. The insight isn't earth-shattering, but they were able to perfectly depict the life situation and resultant mindset of the half-orc. When I read it, it felt so obvious, but I'd never seen it actually put into words.

Half-orcs don't fit into society and they don't want to fit into society. They have a stubborn independent streak that they use to keep everyone and everything at a safe distance.

"The typical half-orc is abandoned at birth, bullied throughout childhood, and cast out into the wilderness as an adolescent."

Most half-orcs learn to channel their anger into focused rages while still striving to attain the elusive goal of a contemplative state of mind. This is why many end up as barbarians (because the barbarian class has a rage mechanic). 

Many half-orcs grow up to be bullies, intent on paying back the other children for years of humiliation. 

Deep down, every half-orc feels that they embarrasses both of his parent races, and that people treat them as a monster because they are one.

Loud music, dangerous brawls, and copious quantities of alcohol have the same effect on a half-orc: They can momentarily lose themselves in sensation and forget the pain and cruelty of existence.

Enemies and Allies

This supplement is full of NPC stats. It includes statistics for the "iconics" - the 3rd edition NPCs that appeared in a lot of the artwork in the 3e books. Some of the iconics even had novels written about them. The most famous iconics are probably Regdar and Mialee (both of which I included in my DMs Guild adventure The Ooze Chambers of Emirikol).

There is a half-orc iconic: Krusk. In the book, we see that he is a standard barbarian with a pile of magic items. Just stats, no story at all. 

Krusk has his own miniature.

City of Fire

Krusk did indeed get his own novel! Written by T.H. Lain, which is a pseudonym. Apparently this book was actually written by Ed Stark.

From what I can tell, this book involves Krusk, Regdar, and a few other heroes fighting gnolls and sealing a portal to a "City of Fire."

I am interested in finding out Krusk's backstory, but I can't find much out there on it.

4e Player's Handbook 2

by Steve Argyle
4th edition was pretty skimpy on lore in these books, but they did come up with a new origin of the race:

"An obscure legend claims that when Corellon put out Gruumsh's eye in a primeval battle, part of the savage god's essence fell to earth, where it transformed a race of humans into fierce half-orcs."

We also learn: "Half-orcs combine the best qualities of humans and orcs..."

Stats:

  • +2 STR, +2 DEX
  • They gain temporary hit points when bloodied (bloodied = once you lose half your hit points or more)
  • They gain a bonus to speed when charging
  • They get a free extra attack once per combat.
  • They live to the age of 60.

5e Player's Handbook

Half-Orc Stats:

  • +2 STR, +1 CON
  • They live up to 75 years.
  • Darkvision 60 feet.
  • Proficient in Intimidation.
  • When reduced to 0 HP, they drop to 1 HP instead (once per long rest).
  • Do more damage on a critical hit.

Here's where we are at now:

"Whether united under the leadership of a mighty warlock or having fought to a standstill after years of conflict, orc and human tribes sometimes form alliances, joining forces into a larger horde to the terror of civilized lands nearby. When these alliances are sealed by marriages, half-orcs are born."

Some half-orcs hear the whispers of Gruumsh in their dreams, calling them to unleash the rage that simmers within them.

They feel emotion powerfully.

Volo's Guide to Monsters

"...orcs mate with non-orcs only when they think such a match will strengthen the tribe." When an orc meets a human of great prowess and ferocity, they strike an alliance and mingle bloodlines.

Half-orcs often end up leading orc tribes.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Auril, the Frostmaiden

Auril is the main villain in Rime of the Frostmaiden, so I figure it might be handy to go through old products and see if we can dig up any lore that might help run her more effectively in our Icewind Dale campaigns.

As it turns out, she is mentioned in a lot of old products, but often, it's just a sentence or two. There's not a lot of lore - it's the same information repeated over and over, with new ideas scattered here and there.

There is a story about how she has teamed up with three other evil gods, but over the course of 5 editions, not much really happens with them. 

Pronunciation: Another thing that is fun to track while doing this guide is the pronunciation of Auril's name. If you look at page 12 in Rime of the Frostmaiden, you'll see that her name is pronounced "oh-reel." Was it always this way? Nope. 

New Information: The three things that stuck out to me while making this guide:

  • Legacy of the Crystal Shard has a ton of content that would be very useful to incorporate into Rime of the Frostmaiden.
  • Auril has a daughter named Nalkara, who can be summoned by Halaster the Mad Mage.
  • Auril might be The Queen of Air and Darkness.

Dragon Magazine #54 - Down to Earth Divinity

This article, by mighty Ed Greenwood, details about 20 Forgotten Realms deities. One of them is Auril. Here's her main traits:

  • Goddess of Cold
  • Neutral Evil
  • Demigoddess
  • Home Plane: Pandemonium

The Gods of Fury: She is connected to Talos, a storm god. "Talos is served by Auril, Umberless, and Malar. All four are known collectively as The Gods of Fury."

Spells: She can cast Frost Fingers (a spell from Dragon Magazine #33, which appears in 5e's Rime of the Frostmaiden), Ice Storm, and Otiluke's Freezing Sphere. 

Breath Weapon: She has an icy breath weapon that acts like a cone of cold spell. The breath also has the effect of a crystal brittle spell on all metal that it touches.

Alignment: All who worship her are netural evil.

"A worshiper of Auril would have ice and cold-related spells doubled in power, while spells related to the other elements would be half-strength."


Forgotten Realms Campaign Set Cyclopedia

The pronunciation guide in this says: (AWE-rill).  

We learn that Auril is a beautiful, blue-skinned maiden garbed in a mantle of white.

Rival: Chauntea, Neutral Good Goddess of Agriculture, is always at war with Auril and Talos.

Faiths & Avatars

We get some expanded lore: 

  • New Nicknames: Icedawn, the Cold Goddess, Lady Frostkiss
  • Alias: Saukuruk (among people of the Great Glacier)
  • Allies: Talos, Umberlee, Malar
  • Foes: Ar'ar (Amaunator), Moander, Sune, Chauntea, Shiallia, Uthgar.
  • Worshipers Alignment: Any neutral or evil.

Pronunciation is still AWE-ril.

Traits: Auril is a lvl 27 mage, lvl 20 fighter, and lvl 15 cleric. We also learn:

  • She is worshiped primarily out of fear.
  • She can call on the other gods of fury for aid, but only does so with Umberlee with any confidence. Malar despises her.
  • "She is a fickle, vain, and evil creature whose cold divine heart remains untouched by any hint of true love, noble feeling, or honor."
  • "...the flower of womanhood preserved forever in a slab of arctic ice..."

Avatars: She has 2 avatar forms:

Frostmaiden: The blue-skinned, white haired woman. She can cast spells that harm plants and animals, she can summon arctic creatures. 

The touch of her gown leaves a mark called the frost brand, a translucent mark that marks flesh, wood and stone alike. When you are next to her you must save each round or the frost brand mark, which does 2d8 damage.

She has a ice axe +3 frost brand.

Icedawn: "A silent, gliding apparition of icy hateur, an impassive figure in an ornate crown and hooked, spurred armor of opaque, light blue ice." She casts no spells. 

"Her appearance always costs the life of any Aurilian priests who are present, freezing them internally."

She drifts about, coating everything in her wake with a thick rime. Everything within 20 feet become frozen solid.  "All other living things must make a successful saving throw vs. death magic each round they are within 20 feet of her or die."

Icy Breath Manifestation: She can also manifest as icy breath accompanied by a cold, ruthless chuckling and a blue-white radiance.

Frost Eyes Manifestation: She appears as a blank-eyes face of frost with long, wind-whipped white hair that radiates intense cold.

"She slays with her life-chilling kiss" and confers boons by breathing them out of the face's mouth.

Servants: She indicates her favor/disfavor with water elementals, ice elementals, undead, winter wolves, frost giants, and other arctic creatures.

Followers: Specialty priests of Auril are called icepriestesses and icepriests. Most use the honorific: "Hand of Auril" or "Icebreath"

Formal titles:

  • Postulant
  • Votre
  • Icewind
  • Storm Sister/Storm BrotherFrosttouch
  • Lady/Lord Cold
  • Lady/Lord Deep Winter
  • Lady/Lord Cold Circle
  • High Hand of Ice

Priestesses of Auril are immune to natural cold, and need much less food.

Tasks: Auril charges her clergy to: "Cover all the lands with  ice. Quench fire wherever it is found. Let in the winds and the cold; cut downwind breaks and chop holes in walls and roofs that my breath may come in. Work darknesses to hide the cursed sun so that the chill I bring may slay.Take the life of an arctic creature only in great need, but slay all others at will. Make all Faerun fear me."

Holy Days: There are a few holidays and events related to Auril:

  • Midwinter Night: A festival of ice dancing that lasts all night.
  • The Embracing: A ritual to gain admittance into her clergy. You must run through a blizzard all night long dressed only in boots, a thin shift, and body paint. You'll either die from exposure or be rescued by her embrace.
  • The Coming Storm and the Last Storm: Howling ice storms summoned by the clergy bringing fierce weather down on a region.

The Cult of Frost seeks the ring of winter, which is found in Tomb of Annihilation. It is currently held by a Chosen of Auril named Artus Cimber.

The Frost Witches: "...who have recorded at least one tome of frost and cold magic in Auril's name and are reputed to know the location of the Codicil of White..."

Auril's Relationship with Talos: Their relationship is close and cordial. Talos's relationship with Umberlee is flirtatious and filled with rivalry.

Prayers from the Faithful

This is a really unique book. It's full of lore, items, and ideas relating to the gods of the Forgotten Realms.

The Silver Supplicant: A statuette that is always cold, and when it is dropped gives off a bell-like chord. It can be used as a source of spells and as a holy relic linked to Auril. The statue went missing and someone has been creating fakes.

The true statuette has 10 skirt ornaments and 10 spells relating to cold and ice can be learned from it.

Cold Cloaks: Wizards loyal to Auril.

Old Name of Auril: Alaphaer

Secret Spells: The statuette can be used to cast three spells when the command word is spoken: Heal, ice storm, and teleport without error. One the command word is spoken, the spell must be cast within 4 rounds, or else the statuette casts it on a random target.

3e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting

Castle Perilous: This place is home to a cleric of Auril named Iyraclea, "The Mistress of the Great Glacier." She has been abducting young mages. "Few see her castle of sculpted ice and live to tell the tale."

Snowflowers: Edible plants that tumble about in icy winds.

Ice Worms: White-furred things as long as a man's arm that lives on meltwater or snowflowers.

Gerti Orelsdottr: A female frost giant, daughter of the frost giant jarl. She believes that the frost giants are the chosen people of Auril.

  • Favored Weapon: Icemaiden's Caress, a battleaxe made of ice

Uthgar, god of the Uthgardt, hates Auril for turning the Elk tribe away from his worship.

Faiths & Pantheons

Her name is still pronounced aw-rill.

  • Symbol: White snowflake on gray diamond with white border.
  • Home Plane: Fury's Heart.
  • Worshipers: Druids, elemental archons (air or water), frost giants, rangers.
  • "She remains untouched by any hint of true love, noble feeling, or honor."

A lot of this text is identical to the 2e description. They changed the test, though:

Test: Each of her clerics must force or persuade someone to pray to her, praising her for the "cold cleansing" she brings. The prayer must last as long as it takes for a piece of ice to melt in the hand of the supplicant.

Clergy are expected to slay at least one creature with cold each winter.

Auril is one of the Deities of Fury. Talos has eroded her power, so she has responded by making winter more fierce in the North.

Dragon Magazine #312 - Prayers of the Frostmaiden: The Spells of Auril

This article updates some spells from older editions.

Revelations of the Icedawn: A holy book of Auril, containing her prayers.

Dragon Magazine #367 - Realmslore: Hall of the Frostmaiden

 

This 4e article details a planar realm ruled by Auril. It also makes some eyebrow-raising claims that I'm not sure are canon.  

She's still awe-ril.

The Icedawn Syllabus: A treatise on Auril penned by Demetrius Whitefire of Sossal.

The Frostfell: The Frostfell is an area in the Astral Sea (the Astral Plane was called the Astral Sea in 4th edition) that is in Auril's control. "It is a land where raw, intangible belief meets raw, immutable reality." This realm contains a number of sub-realms:

Lairgmire, the Hallowfrost Plains: Snowy realm, home to mammoths, smilodons, etc. 

Shiverfang Gulch: Home to frost worms. 

Stromfar, the Frosthorn Peaks: Get a load of this: "Fey of the Shiverpine Forest revere Auril as the Queen of Air and Darkness, a malevolent faerie goddess banished from the Feywild at the dawn of time..."

Silverlight Aerie: Home to avariel (winged elves) who worship Auril.

Deargpool, the Everfrost Bay: This place is where the Sepulcher of the Sleeping One lies. The corpse of Sea King Ulutiu rests here for all eternity.

Winter Hall: It looks like an iceberg flipped on its end. This colossal ice mote is shrouded in fog and freezing rain. The throne room inside it was crafted from the beating heart of a primordial called Durbaagal.

Auril: "She appears as a haughty winged faerie of terrible, cold beauty, with bone-white skin and angular features; he mane of flowing black hair is adorned with an ornate crown of platinum and diamonds. "

  • No mortal realm is beyond Auril's influence.
  • Her palace is a trophy hall, displaying her countless victories.
  • She is one of the Three Furies, along with Malar and Umberlee. Talos was revealed to be Gruumsh (!) and was banished.
  • She has gained power by siphoning the faiths of Ulutiu, Aerdie Faenya, and Gruumsh.
  • She is in conflict with an ancient primordial called Akadi.
  • Her exarchs include: Iyraclea the Ice Queen, and Artus Cimber.
  • She embodies freedom and impulse?

Winter Hag: This article details a new type of hag. they are winter hags, who serve as handmaidens of Auril. We get very little description, mostly just a stat block.

Dungeon #170 - Monument of the Ancients

This adventure is set in Phlan. Elementals are plaguing the town.

The Alaphaer Run: A swift torrent flowing under 10 inches or more of packed ice. It is impossible cold, dealing massive cold damage. This river is blessed by Auril, and actually travels in an out of her Astral realm in the Deep wilds.

Legacy of the Crystal Shard

This adventure was released during the playtest days of 5th edition. It is set in Icewind Dale, and it involves the Ten-Towns and everything. I ran some of this in the game store when it came out, right before I started this blog.

This adventure involves the "black ice," known in Rime of the Frostmaiden as Chardalyn.

A Chosen of Auril, named Hedrun, has made a tower of black ice.

Hedrun: She was a member of the Elk Tribe, and became involved with the son of Mjenir, the shaman (the same shaman who appears in Rime of the Frostmaiden). Auril ended up freezing Olaf to death when Hedrun kissed him.

Mjenir had her banished. Hedrun became a Chosen of Auril. Her job is to collect the black ice and use it to augment Auril's power. Her abilities:

  • She freezes whatever she touches.
  • She can hurl icicles at distant foes.
  • She commands obedience from the beasts of the tundra.
  • She can create icy duplicates of herself while her real body slumbers in an icy coffin.

Auril Traits: We learn a few new things about Auril:

  • Auril grants her favor in response to prayers only capriciously.
  • Her followers are often females who have survived an encounter with extreme cold.
  • The idea of a cleric of Auril is almost entirely foreign.
  • Auril wants to be independent of the other Gods of Fury.

Bear Tribe: The Tribe of the Bear follows Auril, and made a temple in Evermelt, the old lair of Icingdeath.

Davrick Fain: A priest of Auril's who lives in Bremen. He travels Ten-Towns and spreads the word.

Dead in Thay

The villain in this adventure has captured the Chosen of various deities, and is siphoning their power. One of those Chosen who has been captured is the Chosen of Auril from Legacy of the Crystal Shard.

Hedrun Arnsfirth, Chosen of Auril: We learn what's happened to Hedrun since the events of Legacy of the Crystal Shard. If Hedrun was slain in Legacy of thee Crystal Shard, then she is now a wight. "She curses an oath to Auril and attacks characters, swearing vengeance on Ten Towns and the people of Icewind Dale."

5e Player's Handbook 

On page 294, there is a list of Forgotten Realms deities. Auril is right at the top.

  • Goddess of Winter
  • Neutral Evil
  • Domains: Nature, Tempest
  • Symbol: Six-pointed snowflake.

Dungeon of the Mad Mage 

I still haven't gone through this book. It broke me by page 50 - too much wall of text. I really need to take another stab at it.

On page 302 of this adventure, the throne room of the Mad Mage himself is detailed. There is a magic circle on the floor of this room, which can be used to summon an empyrean. Who is this empyrean? Check it out:

Nalkara the Empyrean: Nalkara is the neutral evil daughter of Auril, the god of winter, and Thrym, the god of the frost giants. 

She looks like a frost giant with crackling blue flames for hair. When she is happy, everything around her is bright and warm. When she's unhappy, her surroundings become dark and colder. 

In this adventure, it is stated that Nalkara owes Halaster a favor. Halaster orders her to kill the heroes. 

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden

This adventure is about Auril, and how she has cast a spell on Icewind Dale known as the Everlasting Rime.

The Everlasting Rime: (pg 5) Just before midnight each night, Auril flies on a roc and casts a spell. This has been happening for over two years! The effects of the spell:

  • Creates an aurora that fades before dawn. 
  • Prevents the sun from rising the next day, no sunlight or warmth. 
  • Barricades the mountain pass with blizzards.
  • Churns the Sea of Moving Ice with blistering winds. 

Icewind Dale is "trapped in a different reality from the rest of the world, for though the sun never rises over the dale, it continues to rise everywhere else."

Each casting leaves Auril weakened. 

(pg 6) Auril is unhappy and craves isolation. "Auril's decision to live among mortals is explained in appendix C." Hmm.. seems like we better check that out, huh?

(pg 274) Auril the Frostmaiden: She is a neutral evil lesser god of cold indifference. She hoards beauty, trapping it in ice. Because the spell leaves her in a weakened state, she avoids contact with creatures that can harm her. She lurks on Solstice, a mist-shrouded island in the Sea of Moving Ice.

It does say that the gods stopped meddling in mortal affairs after The Sundering, but Auril could not stay away for long. 

She has three forms. To destroy her, "...heroes must reduce each of her forms to 0 hit points one after another." If at least one form hasn't been reduced to 0 hp, she can take a long rest to regain all her destroyed forms. 

  • Cold Crone (First Form pg 275): A 7-foot-tall biped with the head of an owl (the creature on the cover of the book). 
  • The Brittle Maiden (Second Form pg 276): 10-foot-tall woman made of ice and frost.
  • The Queen of Frozen Tears (Third Form pg 278): A 3-foot diameter ice diamond containing a divine spark (!). 
The Tenets of Aurils's Faith: On page 212, the core beliefs of Auril are discussed: Cruelty, Endurance, Isolation, Preservation.

Auril's Abode: She lives on an island in the Sea of Moving Ice.

Her fortress of Grimskalle is detailed. Those who serve the Frostmaiden can come here and take part in 4 magical tests to prove their loyalty to her.

Passing her tests might grant a creature the Blessing of the Frostmaiden:

  • Eyes become cold as ice.
  • Immunity to cold damage.
  • Can cast cone of cold once per day.

There is a Hall of the Four Winds which contain ice tablets that spell out Auril's core beliefs.

The Codicil of White is here, a book that contains rituals and ceremonies pertaining to Auril.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Dragon+ Issue 33


I'm all caught up now! You can read this issue of Dragon+ right here.

Imagining The Ampersand: Wylie Beckert

We get a full look at the alternate cover to Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, by Wylie Beckert.

Heyy, check it out. They confirm that Tasha and Iggwilv are the same person: "The adopted daughter of the Baba Yaga, frenemy of Mordenkainen, and real name of Demonomicon author Iggwilv, she is now also the star of her own D&D sourcebook."

I wrote a really ridiculously huge Guide to Iggwilv a while back.

On the cover, you can see Graz'zt and the Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga.

Wylie says she worked in Tasha's hideous laughter, and that the art brief called for Graz'zt to be "looking flirtatious."

In the Works: Tasha's Cauldron of Everything

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything comes out on November 17th. Jeremy Crawford confirms that Tasha was raised by Baba Yaga and is a "frenemy" of Mordenkainen.

We get a rundown of what's in the book. Stuff like the artificer class, group patrons, and sidekicks (Jeremy says that playtest feedback showed that people love the sidekicks).

The Demonomicon of Iggwilv is in the book! I think I wrote a guide to that, too. There is a new artifact - a tarokka deck that can capture evil beings.

There are supernatural environments - areas that have been transformed by magic.

In the Works: Curse of Strahd Revamped

Apparently the basic idea of Curse of Strahd Revamped was to put the book and the tarokka deck in one package. So what we have here is a good old-fashioned boxed set that comes with a deck of cards.

The poster map is made of a more durable material so that it doesn't rip when folded.

Aha. This is what I was wondering about: "The D&D Team also took the opportunity to make a few small changes to the adventure itself, incorporating errata that players have discovered over the years. While this didn’t involve any major structural changes or heavy rewrites, it did include a number of finely tuned improvements throughout the book."

There are changes to the depiction of the vistani and Ezmerelda's artificial leg.

The first thing you see when you open the box is an image of Strahd lying in the dirt. On the reverse side is Strahd's stat block. Nice!

In the Works: Beadle and Grimm's Curse of Strahd Legendary Edition

I generally don't write much about these releases because I just can't afford them. But this one caught my interest because there are new maps involved.

They show us some maps, which are new. I don't want to show the whole thing (you can see it in the article), but here's a slice:

That's the bonegrinder. Check out the border, which is quite similar to the 2e Ravenloft cover border.

The cartographer also did a new map of Barovia. Here's a chunk:

This set comes with a ton of stuff, including the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. There are also Barovian coins which depict Strahd.

You can order curse of Strahd Legendary Edition here.

D&D Classics: This month, we get olympic-themed .pdfs.

We get a .pdf from the 3e Races of Stone book, which is where the goliath game of goatball actually came from (it's in Rime of the Frostmaiden).

One of the "Challenge of Champions" adventures is here, from Dungeon Magazine #91. I ran the first one, which was in issue #58. It was tough for me because each entry was very dense, but my group really liked it.

Good old 4e gets some attention! Dungeon #176's Cross City Race is here for free - a race through a city where anything is fair.

We even get a slice of one of my favorite rooms from the 5e White Plume Mountain: The "jumping platform" room.

Unearthed Arcana: Feats & Subclasses Part 4

This playtest document features new feats.

Chef: This one cracks me up, but is also useful. +1 to CON or WIS, your meals allow characters to heal more on a short rest, and you can make delicious treats that grant temporary hit points.

Fey-Touched: I like this one just because it links you to the Feywild. +1 to INT, WIS, or CHA, plus you learn misty step, and a 1st level spell!

Poisoner: This is cool, as it encourages the use of poison in the game. Although that can be a headache sometimes for a DM, poison can lead to a lot of fun stuff.

Shadow Touched: You're linked to the Shadowfell. Love it. It's like the Fey Touched feat,, but you gain use of the darkness spell (another hard spell to handle for me as a DM) and one 1st level spell.

There is a second .pdf with come new subclasses.

Bard: College of Spirits: It's a bard who can commune with spirits. These spirits can grant random powers when you use a Bardic Inspiration. You roll on a chart to determine the random effect - you might heal an ally, teleport an ally, all sorts of things. You might get to breathe dragon breath.

Warlock: The Undead: The warlock's patron is an undead entity like Acererak or Strahd (!).

They can take on a 'form of dread' for a minute, giving them temporary hit points, immunity to the frightened condition, and more.

Wow, once they hit 6th level they no longer need to eat, drink, or breathe.

Very cool, love the warlock. The bard is fun but, while I love random charts, not sure how I feel about some of the results.

Comic: Ravenloft

This one of those epic walkthrough maps by Jason Thompson. This has been published before. I think I actually used it as reference in my Guide to Curse of Strahd... because this thing is amazing. This guy doesn't get nearly the recognition he deserves.

Maps of the Month


We get a Theros arena map (everyone needs an arena map, IMO).

We also get some nice city maps and some fantastic grid maps of forest areas.

Heyy we even get a map of that room in White Plume Mountain!

Dang, they even throw in another Jason Thompson walkthrough map, this one of the Hall of the Fire Giant King.

Decent issue!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Dungeons & Dragons Quarantine Boom

I got an email from the D&D P.R. people hyping up the releases for the 2020 holiday season. I was looking through it, and had a lot of thoughts that felt blog-worthy. I decided to ust go ahead and write whatever came to mind - my rambling eventually coalesces into thoughts on the state of D&D as we know it, right now.

Just to be clear, I make money off of the amazon and DMs Guild referral links in these blogs.

Prepare yourself. There is a lot of D&D stuff coming out in the next few months. This is just a sample.

Chardalyn Dragon Mini

This miniature will be useful for when you run chapter 4 of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. Now that I've written the guide to that adventure, chapter 4 is the thing that sticks out in my mind the most. Handling the journey back to Ten-Towns is, to me, the potentially hardest thing to do in that whole book. 

James Haeck wrote a really great article on handling chapter 4 on the D&D Beyond site.

This mini is $80. That's a lot of money to me. I feel like they should have gimmicked it up a bit, maybe have the interior light up to simulate the internal glow.

Also, one thing I didn't mention in my review of Rime is the art from the book. There are a number of images of the chardalyn dragon in Rime of the Frostmaiden. Check this one out:

I feel like none of the artists quite nailed the "grill" of the mouth of the dragon. It looks a little off in every image. I think it might have been a mistake to have the grill shaped like a smiling face. It's a bummer because the idea is very cool.

Curse of Strahd Revamped

They are releasing a deluxe version of Curse of Strahd. Check out that box. It's a coffin! And Strahd is lying in it.

It comes with a couple of booklets:

  • A 224-page perfect-bound adventure for characters of levels 1–10.
  • A 20-page booklet of new monsters that appear in the adventure.
  • An 8-page Tarokka Deck booklet.

This is interesting to me. Some of you younger fans may not be aware that in 4th edition, many of the adventures came in booklet form. There was one booklet for encounters, and the other booklet contained the adventure. 

It does seem somewhat handy to have all the monster stats in an easily-accessible side book, but I assume you'll still need to refer to the Monster Manual as well. 

Are Books Obsolete? I am sort of wondering if we are starting to come to a point where books become obsolete. Will everything be digital? A lot of problems would be solved if, in an adventure pdf, you could just click on a link in the text to get all the stat stuff you need. 

I would really love for there to come a day when I never have to stop what I'm doing to find ballista stats, green slime effects, madness charts, or poison in the DMG.

Also included in the box:

  • Foil-stamped tarokka deck in a tuck box.
  • 12 postcards to invite friends to play.
  • A DM Screen.
  • Poster Map.

Possible Adjustments: It says "revamped," so I assume they tweaked some of the adventure content? I haven't really looked at the original Curse of Strahd book in a long time, but the thing I had the most trouble with in that adventure was the elevator in Castle Ravenloft. I just didn't understand it.

I also felt like Vallaki was really cool, but could use some smoothing over. There was a lot going on in that town, and I had a hard time keeping it all straight.

The other thing that pops out in my mind is that the Strahd zombies are a really cool monster, and I feel like they don't get used enough. 

The Changing Game: Curse of Strahd seems to be the most popular adventure for 5e. It makes me think a little bit about where we are in D&D right now.

I've seen a number of articles online talking about how D&D is booming right now in part due to the pandemic. Quarantined people are playing D&D online. Even the Washington Post wrote about it

D&D as an Acting Exercise: I have sensed a bit of a divide growing in the community. There has always been the "roleplaying vs. roll-playing" issue with the game, and with the increasing involvement of Hollywood celebrities, WWE wrestlers, and voice actors, there seems to be a bit of a shift toward blending "acting improv" into D&D.

Apparently, some newer players go so far as to get upset when they start playing D&D, only to find that their DM can't do voices and set up scenes like Matt Mercer does.

I've always kind of straddled the line when it comes to this issue. I enjoy combat, as long as it is relevant and not "filler" (and, IMO, it often is). I also enjoy roleplaying, but not to the point where I want to play out going to shops in town or spending an hour of precious table time interacting with my fellow party members in a bar.

What do New Players Want? Honestly, I think the movie that best encapsulates what modern D&D should be is Guardians of the Galaxy. That movie was about a party of adventurers who slowly grew to care about each other and form a unit. The interaction between them was meaningful and felt right. Everybody got a chance to shine and in the end they were brave and risked their lives to save everyone. 

When I was reading Rime of the Frostmaiden, I could sort of feel the very beginnings of a shift away from combat as the end-all, be-all of D&D adventures. One of the two intro adventures, the one with the chwingas, is much more light-hearted and does not necessarily involve combat.

Leaving Dungeons Behind: I think this is a good thing and the right direction to go in. Personally, my experience with Dungeon of the Mad Mage made it very clear that the day of the mega-dungeon is over. Going through dozens or even hundreds of irrelevant side rooms and trying to figure out how to run opposing factions occupying a small space is just not how I want to spend my time.

The one thing that makes me sort of panicky is this: If we shift to adventures that don't focus so much on combat, how am I going to fill a session

In 4th edition, things were so easy. I had a 5 hour session, which means that if we hustle, we should be able to get through 5 encounters. I could read the adventure in 20 minutes and boom, let's go.

The drawback to that, obviously, is that the characters didn't have a whole lot of choice and the encounters felt tedious at times. Shifting to a character-driven approach is liberating, but also terrifying for me as a DM. I don't want the session to suck. The burden is on me to be able to roll with what the group is doing and to chase the fun along with them.

Rules Are Still Important: That said, we still need rules. I generally don't like rules in D&D, because I find it annoying to have to learn all this stuff. I just want to play, not do homework. 

But! Rules can make things better. If you can't handle a situation in the game in a way that feels substantial, fair, and exciting, then the game suffers.

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything

This is the alternate cover, which is pretty cool. From what I understand, this book will have:

  • Subclasses
  • Feats
  • Group Patrons, such as an ancient dragon
  • Magic Tattoos! 
  • Puzzles
  • Spells & Artifacts
  • Sidekicks
  • Natural Hazards

I have been going through the Unearthed Arcana playtest material for this book (which can be found in Dragon+ and other places). 

Subclasses: The subclasses I saw were great. I always like it best when the very idea of the subclass, rather than the abilities, is exciting. Rogues who steal knowledge from the dead and snatch soul trinkets, genie-bound warlocks who can actually live in their own genie lamp... that's really great stuff, in my opinion.

Group Patrons: This sounds like a very cool idea. Especially if they use known NPCs. The heroes could work for Mordenkainen, traveling from place to place in his magic Tower of Urm. I would definitely use Vorkhesis, son of the Raven Queen, sending the heroes on missions to recover lost or stolen souls. 

Magic Tattoos: I love magic tattoos. Love them. Always have! The ones that I saw in the playtest did all sorts of stuff, but the spell-storing tattoos are my favorite. It's just so handy. I love the idea that the tattoo vanishes when you use the spell, and comes back when you take a long rest.

Sidekicks: This one I'm not so sure about. Do we need rules for this? I've never had any trouble handling NPC allies that travel with the group (and I've used tons of them). My Dungeon Academy group has:

  • A flesh golem
  • A blink dog
  • A rabbit from Barovia
  • Strahd (long story)
  • An entire crew of a Spelljammer

Not an issue! Just write the stats down on a piece of paper and keep it nearby. The stats don't even come up all that much.

Dungeon Master's Screen: Wilderness Kit

 

This little set comes with:

  • DM Screen: "Includes tables for weather, foraging, navigation, food and water needs, ship speeds, and more."
  • Dry-erase hex map.
  • Laminated "Actions in Combat" sheet for new players to reference.
  • Illustrated punch-out cards of all 14 conditions.
  • 9 cards to help track initiative.
  • 4 cards featuring the rules for exhaustion and extreme weather conditions.

My first reaction to this is that this is one DM Screen too many. I mean... seriously. But then, when I read what this comes with, I got excited. This is a product to give to a young person who wants to run their school friends through a campaign.

The Golden Time: I will always remember the "golden time" of D&D when I was a kid, where you're running your first games, nobody really knows the rules, and everything is exciting. I remember one summer day when I had finished running my planned adventure, but the group wanted to keep playing, so I sat down for 20 minutes and drew an utterly ridiculous dungeon on a piece of paper and ran my friends through it.

This dungeon included a "star dragon" AND a "death dragon," both of which I pulled out of my butt.

On another day, the group decided to build a castle with their massive pile of loot. Everybody sat down and drew out their section of the castle, placing all of their treasure and how they would protect it. They called it "Moonstone Keep" and it has been the absolute center of all my campaigns since then.

Adventure: When I look at this product and what comes with it, I picture a bunch of middle school kids running characters who wander the forest in search of adventure, referring to their laminated rules sheet, and carefully mapping out their journey on the dry-erase hex map. They'll be getting into shenanigans, creating in-jokes, and laughing their asses off.

This is why I always felt lucky to have discovered D&D when I was young. I'd look at my peers and wonder, "What do they even do for fun?" Playing D&D gives you a tight-knit group of friends. The other kids at school looked sort of lost to me - people without a passion - while my friends and I were constantly ablaze with ideas. We couldn't wait for the weekend so that we could have sleepovers and play for two days straight.

Dungeons & Dragons D20 Color Changing Light

This email is huge. It just keeps going and going. I came upon a photo of a thing. Look:

What?!? That is a huge d20! Like.. impossibly huge.

It turns out it's not a d20. Look:

It's a light! IT CHANGES COLOR

I tell you what. If there comes a day when I am not poor, I am going to have the coolest D&D room ever.

Dungeons & Dragons Skull Tankard

Check it out. That is a pretty epic cup. It does have a handle, I just don't want to overburden you with product images. 

I guess you can put Mountain Dew in it, but come on, let's class it up a little. I love this thing.

There's actually a lot more in this email - socks, pillows, a backpack, shirts, hoodies, you name it. 

We're living in a great time for D&D! Let's hope it continues to grow.