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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Curse of Strahd - The "Prequel" Adventures

Arabelle and a halfling
This article has a lot of details and backstory on Curse of Strahd entities from previous editions. I fell down a lore rabbit hole and did my best to find more information on things from Curse of Strahd. I originally was just going to write about the 4e adventure Fair Barovia, but I ended up using the 3e Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, too:
I enjoy unraveling the lore in these 5e adventures. It looks like quite a bit of thought went into the NPCs and how they are linked to the past. If, like me, you were a D&D Insider subscriber for years, you likely have Fair Barovia sitting on your hard drive. Most of the time, I would flip through the new issue of Dungeon, get annoyed that nothing in it was relevant to my campaign at the moment and then forget all about it. Years later, I go back and look and there's all sorts of awesome stuff that I barely remember.

Dungeon Magazine #207 has 2 adventures and one location in it:
  1. Starhaunt: Astronomers spot some star spawn in the night sky who send a meteorite into their observatory that has a magic item in it. 
  2. Timbergorge: A new domain of dread that involves a werewolf-hunting treant with a mouth lined with silver.
  3. Fair Barovia: An adventure where Strahd enlists the heroes in taking down a rival vampire.
Fair Barovia features Vallaki, the village of Barovia, and an excursion to the front door of Castle Ravenloft. It has a lot of weird little links to Curse of Strahd.

This note from Curse of Strahd page 25 seems to come into play quite a bit: "When a being with a soul dies in Barovia, that soul remains trapped in Strahd's domain until it is reincarnated in a newborn. It can take decades for a bodiless soul to find a host, and Barovians who share the same soul over generations tend to look alike."

From what I can tell, a number of the NPCs in Curse of Strahd are either NPCs from previous adventures reborn, children of previous NPCs or, weirdest of all, their own grandchildren.

Strahd's Family
4e Barovia
Strahd's parents are referred to as King Barov and Queen Ravenovia.

Where Ravenloft got its Name: As a mortal, Strahd's army was at war with the Tergs. The Tergs were led by a warlord named Dorian, who Strahd killed. Dorian's fortress became known as Castle Ravenloft, named after Strahd's mother.

Ravenovia Worshiped the Morninglord: In the White Sun Monastery in Fair Barovia, there is a portrait of Ravenovia, wife of Barov von Zarovich and the mother of Strahd. She was the monastery's first patron.  She had raven black hair, gentle blue eyes and a noble bearing. 

Strahd has two Brothers: Strahd has another brother - Sturm, who is scholarly.

Strahd Faked his Death: Strahd fakes his death sometimes. The people of Barovia think that the current Strahd is a descendant of the original. Most people don't know he is a vampire.

Leo Dilysnia, the Bad Guy


Leo Dilysnia: He is a member of an assassins guild called the Ba'al Verzi. He served under Strahd when he was a mortal. Leo tried to overthrow Strahd during the fateful wedding of Sergei, but failed.

Link to the Wachters: At some point, Leo's henchmen had killed Lorvina Wachter's family. "Years later, with the help of a loyal subject named Lorvinia Wachter, Strahd found Leo." Strahd actually turned Leo into a vampire and sealed him in a mausoleum inside the Wachter estate, so that he could starve for all eternity.  

I think that Leo Dilysnia is a big part of I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire. 

The Ba'al Verzi: A secret society of assassins. Their signature weapon is a curved dagger with a hilt wrapped in black, red and gold.

Leo's Bones: Leo Dilisnya's bones are on page 113 of Curse of Strahd. It says he was an enemy of the Wachter family. "He escaped from Castle Ravenloft, only to be hunted down and killed by the vampire Strahd. The Wachters keep his bones under lock and key so that Leo can't be raised from the dead."

The Wachters: In Curse of Strahd, Lady Wachter of the Wachterhaus is Lady Fiona Wachter, an apparent descendant.  In the library, On Curse of Strahd page 114, the group can find an old letter to "Lady Lovina Wachter" (It's "Lorvinia" in Fair Barovia) from one Lord Vasili von Holtz, thanking her for her loyalty over the years. Characters can realize that the handwriting in the letter is identical to Strahd's handwriting.

Also, there is this note in Fair Barovia: "There are no surviving members of the Wachter family in Vallaki.." I assume the Wachters in Curse of Strahd moved to Vallaki from elsewhere.

Strahd's Alter Ego: When Leo is dealt with, a luxurious coach shows up drawn by twin black stallions driven by strong middle-aged man holds the reigns. The driver is Vasili von Holtz - Strahd in disguise. He takes them to the mists and lets them leave.

The Morninglord: "The Morninglord was originally a religion brought to Barovia by traveling adventurers." Also, Fair Barovia page 51: "...this church is dedicated to a deity the Barovians call the Morninglord, who promised an end to the misty darkness that engulfed the land."

Barovian Saints


Fair Barovia gives us a list of the saints in Barovia. Some of them are detailed in Expedition to Castle Ravenloft:
Saint Andral: This is the only saint I couldn't find details of. Maybe I missed it. Andral's bones are stolen in Curse of Strahd on page 97. The bones create a hallow effect inside Andral's church in Vallaki.

Saint Bogdan: He worshiped Pelor. His presence brought good luck to his friends and bad luck to his enemies. He died of natural causes at the age of 104.
  • St. Bogdan's Fingerbone: Gives a +1 to saving throws. 
Saint Ecaterine: She established a convent near Barovia on Lysaga Hill. Apparently she ended up being buried alive in Castle Ravenloft.
  • Saint Ecaterina's Burial Shroud: This is from Expedition page 215. It heals all diseases.
  • The Ecaterine Husk: A burned-out tower on Lysaga Hill. The Lysaga Hill map in Fair Barovia is almost exactly the same as the Husk map in Expedition.
Saint Markovia: She followed her heart and became a priest of the Morninglord shortly after her 18th birthday. On Curse of Strahd page 146 it says that Saint Markovia was a priest who took a stand against Strahd, but she ended up being destroyed along with most of her followers. Saint Markovia is buried in crypt 6 (Curse of Strahd page 86).
  • Saint Markovia's Thighbone: (Curse of Strahd page 222) is the equivalent of a mace of disruption.
  • Saint Markovia's Abbey: This is where The Abbot and his bride are in Krezk.
There is a stained glass window that depicts Saint Andral, the Morninglord and Saint Markovia on page 138 in Curse of Strahd.

White Sun Monastery: This was the home of monks who used rituals to make it so that Strahd is weaker if he enters.This is where Leo is hiding. Strahd wants the group to take him down.

The abbot of the White Sun is Father Yevgeni Miroff. There is a Yevgeni Krushkin on page 100 of Curse of Strahd. He is one of the wolf hunters. Might be a coincidence.

There are two NPCs in Fair Barovia that might join the party:

Arabelle Zarovan: A vistani seer and a spy for Strahd. She doesn't like Madame Eva. She foresaw a dukkar coming soon, an evil being that will bring woe on the vistani. She actually can do a tarokka reading for the group. There's a full page of details.

In Curse of Strahd, Arabelle is the little vistani girl who was kidnapped. She has alabaster-white skin and raven-black hair. She is a descendant of Madame Eva with the blood of Barovian royalty in her veins.

Falstan Mitrache: A halfling guide. Amiable and competent. Is secretly an agent of Strahd spying on Vallaki.  He is haunted by the memory of his beloved Yera, who fell over Tser Falls.

Dukkars: These are beings prophesied to endanger Vistani. Fair Barovia mentions two:
  • Hyskosa the Mad Seer: Hyskosa was part of the 2e Grand Conjunction string of adventures.
  • Mollochio Aderre: Mollochio is from 2e sourcebooks. He hunts and kills vistani, even half-vistani.

Vallaki

Burgomaster Lars Kjurls: In Fair Barovia, Vallaki has a Burgomaster but the town is ruled by a council of merchants and landowners. In Curse of Strahd, the Burgomaster is Baron Vargas Vallakovich

Curse of Strahd page 123: Lars Kjurls is a member of the town militia. He ends up being arrested for an ill-timed outburst.

Brom and Bray Martikova: In Fair Barovia, Brom is the Innkeeper of the Blue Water Inn. It says: "Brom is the younger brother of Bray Martikova. owner of the Blood o' the Vine tavern in the village of Barovia."

Curse of Strahd page 102: Brom and Bray Martikova is the name of the children of the Blue Water Inn. Their father is the owner, Urwin Martikova.

Karl and Nikolai Wachter: In Fair Barovia, they were cousins killed by Leo Dilysnia. In Curse of Strahd, they are brothers - sons of Lady Fiona Wachter.

Other Locations: There are a bunch of locations in Vallaki in Fair Barovia that are not detailed in Curse of Strahd: Aresek's Wares, Tibor's Smithy, the Thaani Quarter. There are also three taverns: The Blood-Red Rose, the Lakeside Tavern and the Svalich Pub

Yagno

St. Andral's Church: In Fair Barovia, the priest is Father Lucian Petrovna. It says he has a deranged cousin named Yagno who tried to kill Lucian's newborn nephew. Yagno is the darklord of G'Henna.

On Curse of Strahd page 97: The priest is Lucian Petrovich, not Petrovna. Tasha Petrovna (page 87 Curse of Strahd) is in one of the crypts. She was the "...healer of kings, light unto the west, servant, companion." If the group goes in her crypt (which actually has a sunlight effect vs vampires), her ghostly voice tells the group about her hidden holy symbol in the Abbey. I think this means she served under Saint Markovia.

Kasimir and Patrina: Kasimir is detailed in Fair Barovia. At this point, the Velikovna elves have taken over Vistani campsite, led by Kasimir Vilikovna. It says that he has led the elves for over 60 years. He is ashamed of his sister Patrina, who courted powers of shadow. In Fair Barovia he is a druid who sells potions.

Patrina wants to team up with Strahd and kill the dusk elves.
  • Patrina wanted to become Strahd's vampiric bride.
  • She was caught trying to feed on an elf child to seal her transformation.
  • She was stoned to death.
  • She was interred in a crypt in castle ravenloft.
  • She rose up as a banshee.
  • COS page 89: "Patrina's spirit can't rest, however, until she is formally wed to Strahd." Even if destroyed, her banshee body eventually reforms.
  • In Fair Barovia, she is "the Witch of Lysaga Hill." She is using the evil energy of Lysaga Hill to turn dusk elves into her undead servants.
In Curse of Strahd, Kasimir wants to resurrect his sister. She can be brought to life. She becomes an archmage, but she's still evil and will ditch the group.

Rahadin mutilated Kasimir - he cut off his ears. Kasimir was given the name "Velikov" by a vistani who passed away 1,000 years ago.

Kasimir is having dreams of Patrina and he thinks she has repented. Kasimir wants to go to the Amber Temple to find something to bring her back to life.

Page 196 of Curse of Strahd: Kasimir gets the dark gift of Zhudun (which I believe is the dark gift Diath got on Dice Camera Action). Patrina is neutral evil and will go back to Strahd.

The Hags of Barovia

The hag situation is confusing. Lysaga Hill has been around since 3rd edition at least. Baba Lysaga, I think, is new for 5e. So that means that Lysaga Hill was probably retroactively named after her. We get a history of the hill:
  • It was home to cultists.
  • St. Ecaterina wiped them out and built a monastery
  • The monastery mysteriously collapsed.
  • The ruins became home to Red Lukas
  • Strahd and Sergei cut his head off
  • In Fair Barovia, it is the home to the banshee witch Patrina Velikovna.
In Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, there is a hag coven in Barovia. You'll never guess who the first hag is:
  • Madame Eva: She is a hag in disguise! This idea seems to have been scrubbed away in Curse of Strahd. In CoS, she is Strahd's half-sister, her original name being Katarina. She made a pact with Mother Night, trading her youth for the power to undo the evil that Strahd had wrought. That means that if Strahd dies, Eva and Arabelle are the rightful heirs to Barovia, right? It says that Eva wouldn't want to rule. So... Arabelle.
  • Baba Zelenna: She leads a cult of witches who gather at Lysaga Hill.
  • The Drowned Lady: A wretched monster who knows the secret to unlocking the power of the Sunsword.
The Witches of Lysaga Hill: They worship a demon named Chernovog, the Green God. Baba Zelenna wanted to summon Chernovog to destroy Strahd. In Expecition, the witches actually summon Chernovog. Chernovog has a whole bunch of warlock-type powers - Eldritch blast, beshadowed blast, hideous blow, etc.

Baba Lysaga and her Hill: Baba Lysaga has been around since Strahd was born according to Curse of Strahd page 228. She was obsessed with baby Strahd, so Queen Ravenovia banished her. Baba Lysaga must bathe in the blood of beasts on nights of the new moon, or else she will age and turn to dust in seconds.

Sasha Ivliskova

Sasha from 3rd Edition
One of the NPCs that I thought had a lot of potential in Curse of Strahd was Sasha the jilted vampire bride (Curse of Strahd page 89). I didn't know she was featured in Expedition to Castle Ravenloft! We learn a lot more about her:

Expedition page 13 says Sasha was transformed into a vampire during a "romantic liason" with Strahd. Normally she is kept in a crypt, but Strahd lets her go out to spy on the heroes.

Sasha was the Burgomaster of Barovia 40 years ago. "...at a time when Strahd's depredations were growing worse every year, Sasha somehow dealt with the Master of the Castle, causing his raids and evil cleansings to cease."

We even get a big journal entry from her that the heroes can find. She admits that she hates Strahd and provides clues to help the group defeat Strahd.

Ireena's Crypt


In both Expedition and Curse of Strahd, crypt 18 is for Ireena. Expedition actually has a depiction of her plaque and a bit of descriptive test of how when Ireena sees it, she flips out and shouts a challenge to Strahd that goes unanswered.

Also, Fair Barovia has a nice map of the gate to Castle Ravenloft:


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Curse of Strahd - Running the Final Battle Against Strahd

I'm going to write a little a bit more about Curse of Strahd. We'll go over the possibility of an anticlimax at the end and come up with ideas on how to run the final encounter against the big bad guy, Strahd.

I was reading this thread on ENWorld and I see that people are having wildly different experiences when they fight Strahd. Some people are killing him in a single round..?

Way back in second edition, I ran a "surprise" Ravenloft campaign. I told the players I was running a campaign in Greyhawk and gave no advance details about it. By the end of the first adventure, the group had been sucked into the mists of Ravenloft. Thankfully, they were very happy and genuinely surprised when I held up the boxed set, which I kept hidden in my backpack through the whole session.

One of the first things I noticed about that 2e boxed set is that Strahd had a total of 55 hit points, if I remember right. He seemed very weak to me. I don't think I ever used him, but if I had, I think it would have come off real flat. I was not good at using monsters to their full capabilities.

A Dynamic Finish


I think that the key to avoiding an anticlimax is to make sure that you don't run all of your encounters in "dungeon crawl" mode leading up to the big final battle. When I say "dungeon crawl mode," I mean the style of game where your group traverses the map, kicking in doors and killing the monsters inside. The monsters don't talk, parlay, give information, etc. They are just things in a room to be killed for XP and loot.

You can do that with most of this adventure if that's what you like. But I feel like the biggest advantage that Strahd has in this adventure is that he has a ton of minions and that he can hit and run. Try to put yourself in his shoes. Look at all the stuff he has at his disposal. He can and should use it all!

Tone: That said, if you are running the game mostly dungeon crawl style and then you run the Strahd fight with lots of hit-and-run tactics or hordes of maneuvering NPC allies, the group might feel a little "cheated." You switched it up on them. Throughout the whole campaign, they've been playing a certain way and rightly assumed that the final battle would be handled in the same manner. They planned accordingly. Now the fight comes and you're completely changing how you run the monsters.

If you can see yourself in this situation, from here on out, try to run one encounter in each session where a creature "thinks." Put yourself in the creature's shoes and do what you need to - try to trick the group, try to barter for your life, try to poison them. That way, the group will understand on some level that some of the encounters in the adventure are being run differently. You've set a precedent and now everything is fair game.

Total Party Kill


The problem here is that you want to challenge your group, not slaughter them. In my opinion, a TPK should happen mostly due to either fateful die rolls/decisions or if the group violates the "stupid rule." That is when the players get a warning from me that what they are doing is risky/foolish and might have severe consequences. If they do it anyway, then we let the dice fall where they may.

The tricky thing with the stupid rule is that what is "stupid" to one person is perfectly reasonable to another. So in those cases, before action is taken, make sure that the environment and the situation is completely clear in their minds. Often, a player makes an action because they are imagining the room differently or they misheard/misinterpreted a vital piece of boxed text. It is really hard to describe complex areas in D&D and it is easy for misunderstandings to take place.

I haven't run Curse of Strahd, so I'm not sure what your group's characters can and can't do. That has a huge impact on the battle. I spent a lot of time looking up things Strahd can do and I realized that the way he watches the group is very important.

Strahd Scrying


A big part of this adventure is the fact that Strahd keeps tabs on the group. He casts scrying once per day, he can go personally watch them in a shapechanged form and his spies check in with him twice per day.

Pick Scrying Time in Advance: It is hard to remember and decide what Strahd knows and when he's watching. If you can, before you run each session, decide when Strahd will scrying on the party. That way, you're not just deciding what Strahd knows after the fact.

Scrying: (PH page 273) It takes ten minutes to cast. It costs 1,000 gp in components or a font full of holy water. Other stuff to know:
  • It lasts up to 10 minutes. It's a concentration spell.
  • It targets a specific creature. Strahd has the option of choosing a fixed location instead.
  • It creates an invisible sensor that follows the creature. If someone can see invisible, they can see the sensor!
  • The target makes a wisdom save DC 18 with modifiers. If Strahd has a body part of the target, that bumps the DC by 10.
  • If the target succeeds on the saving throw, they can't be scried on for 24 hours.
  • If they fail the save, there's an invisible sensor that moves with the target
Rolling it Yourself: The group might be meta-gamey if you ask for a saving throw but don't say why. Their characters won't know that they had to make a save! You might want to write down their wisdom saves in advance and quietly roll it for them. 

Shapechanging: Also remember, he can turn into a bat. I think it would be fun to have him watch the group from up on a tree branch in bat form once in a while. They might never know he's there, but you will. Anything the characters say out loud, he will hear. A lot of times, crazy stuff happens from little decisions like that.


Spies: Check out Strahd's Spies on page 29 of Curse of Strahd. He has vistani and "swarms of bats" reporting to him. They report to him at dawn and dusk every day. So there might be points where the group does things that Strahd won't know about for hours.

Here's something I don't remember reading before. "Every day and night the characters remain in Barovia, one or more of the vampire's spies check on them and attempt to return with a report." The spy needs to use stealth to beat the highest passive perception. The spy will try to flee if noticed.

I think you should come up with a vistani or two for this. They should have a lie ready. If caught, they could say that they are lost and hungry, or that they're looking for Arabelle and were wondering if the group had taken her. That's a good one, because it could throw the group off the scent quite nicely.

Locks of Hair: The spy wants to acquire something from each character so that Strahd can scry better. I think the best way to do this is to just have a vistani come right up to them and trade trinkets or Blinsky toys in exchange for locks of their hair. The vistani could say that he's making a wig for a sick child who lost their hair (how dastardly). Also, they could just try for a lock of hair of one character. Strahd can see through the sensor and will likely be able to see the whole party anyway.

Tools at the Group's Disposal


I took a look at some of the things the group will have when they fight Strahd and I think I see the problem. Sunlight! Here's some stuff:

Strahd's Enemy: The NPC ally can give out inspiration to a PC when Strahd is in sight. I guess they can do this every round.

Sunsword: It's a sun blade (DMG page 205).
  • +2 to hit, does radiant damage (which will shut down vampire regeneration). 
  • +d8 damage to undead. 
  • Emits sunlight 15 foot radius. As an action you can extend the aura to 30 feet.
Sunlight does 20 radiant damage at the start of each of Strahd's turns, and he has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks. Good god.


Holy Symbol of Ravenkind: More sunlight. It has 10 charges.
  • Hold Vampires: DC 15 Wis save fail = paralyzed for one minute, save each round.
  • Turn Undead: They have disadvantage on saves.
  • It can emit sunlight! Wow.. 30 foot radius, lasts 10 minutes. It can do this up to twice per day.
Strahd's Tools


Strahd's Brides: I feel like Strahd's Brides are underutilized (page 94). They are really interesting. Are they jealous of one another? What do they think of Ireena? Does one of them have a thing for Escher? Are they lonely? Would one of them take a fancy to one of the heroes? You could do a billion fun things with them.

The Wandering Monsters: Once the group enters the castle, there is nothing stopping Strahd from rounding up a few of these creatures to aid him.
  • d6 shadows obey Strahd's commands.
  • Rahadin (page 51) You could use him to just bring the group right to Strahd and then he could be part of the battle. Rahadin has a shadow demon in his room (page 79). No reason why it couldn't be with him.
  • d4+1 Vampire Spawn (page 52) - former adventurers!
  • d4+1 Vistani Thugs (page 52)
  • d4 Wights (page 52) - They are undead castle guards
The 7 Barovian Witches: (page 229) I really love these ladies so I'd try to work them in. They have Tasha's hideous laughter which can really do a number on the group.

Vampire Spawn: (MM page 298) Strahd's 3 brides are in the tomb with him.
  • Regenerate 10 hit points per round.
  • Resistant to nonmagic.
  • They can claw for 8 and bite for a total of 13 (-7 max hit points).
The Final Battle

All right, let's assume that the final area is Strahd's Tomb (page 93). That's the one I would have used for this. I am going to throw in the kitchen sink here and we're not going to worry about the group being defeated, because we've planned for it in case it happens.

Here's my basic idea:
  • Strahd needs to use his powers to get those sunlight items out of the picture.
  • Use greater invisibility and launch off fireballs.
  • Use legendary actions to keep moving.
  • Use the huge crypt area to keep distance from the sunlight auras. 
  • Use the teleport trap to split the group and bring in one or more wights to help.
  • Summon shadows every round and try to drain strength points off of a low-strength PC. 
  • Have the brides spread out so they don't all get hit by the sunlight aura at once.
  • Once Strahd is hurt, assume mist form. He can fully regenerate in 8 rounds.
  • When he assumes mist form, have Rahadin and the invisible Barovian witches come in from k87, where they've been lurking in wait.
  • The witches will all cast Tasha's hideous laughter on the group. This could potentially drop the entire party.
  • Strahd doesn't want them killed. He has plans for them.
It Begins When the Group Has All of the Items: I would say that once the group has the items (I think Strahd is under the impression that the sunsword is long gone, so he will be very alarmed when he finds out otherwise), Strahd knows that it is time to get ready. Maybe we do the dining hall encounter on page 56 first. I really like that one.

One possible way for the endgame to be triggered is if the group gets close to the Heart of Sorrow. Maybe Rahadin invites them to meet with Strahd. Strahd wouldn't want the heart destroyed, so he might figure now is the time to take them down, before they can deactivate the heart.

I am thinking the set-up goes like this.
  1. The group enters the castle and has/gets all the items they need.
  2. Strahd goes and gets Rahadin and the witches.
  3. He tells them to wait in K87.
  4. Strahd and his brides lurk in Strahd's Tomb. Strahd can have informants keep him apprised of things or he could periodically leave the tomb in mist form to track the group's progress.
Once the group gets down to the massive crypt area, ideally they will start messing with the crypts. They will end up taking damage and using up spells and powers. Maybe some charges on the Holy Symbol will be used up.

If the group heads toward K87, or if they are looking like they might leave to go rest soon, Strahd throws something right on a trapped square. It makes noise. I'd say it's a trinket, a Blinsky toy, or something relating to the life and past of whoever has the holy symbol or the sunsword.

Hopefully, one or more characters come over to pick up the item. When they step on the trapped square, they appear down in a coffin in crypt 14 and a wight appears where they were standing!

The wight attacks, the brides open the portcullis, and Strahd quietly casts greater invisibility. Greater invisibility is awesome - he'll have 10 rounds where he can attack and maneuver and the group might have a really hard time pinpointing his location.

Strahd will want to keep space between himself and the sunlight auras. So will the brides. The goal is to use the vast area of the crypts to keep those auras from decimating all of the vampires at once. He can use his legendary actions to move many times per round so he should have no problem keeping his distance while invisible.

If possible, stay near the trapped squares. Strahd can use gust of wind to send more characters onto them. He needs to get that sunsword and holy symbol out of here, and teleporting them down into the crypt is a nice way to do it.

If Strahd is invisible and using his innate spiderclimb ability to stand on the ceiling, dropping fireballs on the group while his brides try to suck their blood, I think that's a pretty epic final fight.

Play by the Rules: If you want to have Strahd try to separate the group from their sunlight items, play fair! There is no disarming! He can't just snatch it from their grasp, just like they can't do it to your bad guys. He'll have to get it from the heroes via his charm power or by dropping them to 0 hit points.

One problem we have here is that many of Strahd's spells are concentration spells. There are other useful ones:

Polymorph: (PH page 266) This is a bit of a controversial spell and I'm not sure I'd use it. The target must make a WIS save DC 18 or they're polymorphed into a beast of your choosing.

If you want to be a real bastard, you can polymorph them into a sea horse (MM page 337). It has one hit point, no attacks, a speed of 0 and can only breathe underwater.

I wouldn't do it because that's too brutal and I don't want a player sitting there flopping like a fish for a few rounds. Plus, you have now opened the door to let your players do the same when they have a character who can cast polymorph. I'm not sure if the sunlight aura goes away if the person holding the sunsword or holy symbol is polymorphed. I think it does.

Let's do a rat (MM page 335). At least it can move around and has an attack.

Gust of Wind: (PH page 248) This is concentration, too. A line of wind 60 feet long, 10 feet wide. When a creature starts its turn in it, they need to make a strength save or be pushed 15 feet. We can use this to slide heroes onto the teleport trap squares.

Animate Object: (PH page 213) Strahd could, I guess, animate object on the doors of the crypts? How big are those doors? Medium? Honestly, I don't think I'd bother with this spell.

Charm: The target has to be able to see Strahd to be charmed, so that's tricky becuse we're going to be invisible for a while (hopefully). The target will protect him and obey him. "Hand over the sunsword so that I can admire it" is a very reasonable request. Strahd could chuck it in the shaft at k18a while the charmed hero defends him.

Lair Actions: This goes off at initiative count 20.
  • Summon a Specter: (MM page 279) The problem here is that they have only 22 hp and they also have sunlight sensitivity. The neat thing is that they can pass through creatures and walls.
  • Summon a Shadow: (MM page 269) They have 16 hp and they have sunlight weakness. They do drain d4 strength if they hit and the hero dies once their strength is 0. I'd have them under strict orders not to go under a strength of 1.
  • Gain the ability to walk through the walls/ceiling/floor - perfect for escape
If Strahd is Hurt: He can use an action to become a cloud of mist, speed 20. Assuming he can evade radiant damage, he'll regenerate 20 hit points per round and will be back to full in no time. Also don't forget that when he bites someone, he heals.

If Strahd Drops to 0: He becomes mist instead of falling unconscious. He must get in his coffin in two hours. He does not have to go there right away! I'm sure Rahadin knows the deal. Depending on where the PCs go during these two hours, Rahadin could round up Escher and some other allies to guard Strahd while he recovers.

Once the Sunlight is Gone: When in doubt, Strahd attacks whoever has the Tome of Strahd (page 221).

If the Group Runs: If the group flees the castle, he could fly on Beucephalus (he can get on Beucephalus and fly out of the shaft - he'd be outside long before the group would) and drop every fireball spell and.. actually.. ray of frost would slow them down. He could also try to gust of wind them right off the bridge.

Rahadin is Fast: Rahadin has a speed of 35, so he can outrun most heroes. Misty step is a bonus action, too. That's another 30 feet of movement. If one of the sunlight aura heroes drops, Rahadin can run over, pick up the sunsword or holy symbol and chuck it somewhere.

Heck, he could try bring it to the brazier room and chuck it through a portal to the Amber Temple. One character might give chase... that would be great. A one-on-one battle with Rahadin while the rest of the group has to deal with Strahd.

7 Invisible Barovian Witches: (page 229) Tasha's hideous laughter DC 12. Then, more invisibility or ray of sickness.

Plan for Failure


Here we are making the fight tough. My thinking is that either the group actually prevails in what would definitely be an epic battle, or they are defeated and we go into a really fun "temptation" scenario.

During the battle, try to avoid 'fudging' in obvious ways by "forgetting" to use powers. Players pick up on that and it kind of damages the whole experience. The best thing to do is to handle it in a logical way. Strahd doesn't want them dead. He wants to break them.

If the battle is going bad for the heroes and there is a PC that Strahd wants as a consort or protegee, he can tell the character that if they swear fealty to him, he will let his friends live.

Defeat: Strahd wants them all alive. The group can be thrown in the prison (page 81). Their stuff will be taken. Perhaps the bad guys will excitedly get ready to torture them in the torture room (page 82). Rahadin might handle that.

I think it would be awesome for Strahd to make "gifts" of them. Perhaps Escher, the brides and Pidlwick 2 want new friends to keep them from getting bored. Gertruda could probably teach a PC to be a butler. Generally, Strahd enjoys breaking the spirit of his enemies and turning them to evil more than just killing them (like he wants to do with Van Richten).

The heroes can lick their wounds and scheme to their hearts content. Strahd wants them to be his new Rahadins! He wants to win them over and integrate them into his world. It would be a lot of fun running a scene where a character hangs out with Pidlwick 2. The brides would probably use the heroes as blood dispensers, but maybe the adventurers could be charming and win them over or something.

Ultimately, the group can get help from their NPC ally, Van Richten, wereravens, Emil, whoever. The point is that the group can explore the castle safely, gather intelligence and scheme to get their items back. Once that is done, they are going to get their revenge.

If Ireena is still around, Strahd could set up an actual wedding, reminiscent of his brother's wedding so long ago.

We've already had our hard battle, so now I'd be inclined to hand Strahd to the group on a silver platter. They could bust into his tomb and drive a stake into him, or whatever ends up happening.

When Strahd Dies: Don't forget, if Rahadin is still around when Strahd is slain, he has a freak out and attacks as described on page 207.

Monday, September 26, 2016

What Happens When You Die in Dungeons & Dragons


I've been meaning to write this one for a while. Today, I want to look at death in D&D. First we will go over the death rules from the 5e Player's Handbook and then we will look at what happens to your soul once you move on. At the end, I'll give you the multi-edition version of the afterlife that I like to use in my campaigns with the Raven Queen and all that good stuff.

Death (PH page 197)

Dropping to 0 Hit Points:
  • You're unconscious.
  • Make a death save each turn. Roll a d20. 10 or higher is a success, lower is a failure. Once you have three successes, you are stable and you stop making death saves. On your third failure, you die. If you roll a natural 20 on a death save, you regain one hit point. If you roll a 1, that counts as two failures.
  • Damage at 0 HP: If you take damage, you suffer a death saving throw failure. If you are hit by a critical hit, you suffer two failures.
Stabilizing the Dying: DC 10 Wisdom (Medicine) check. Success = You have 0 hit points, are unconscious and you are stable (no death saves required). You regain 1 hit point after d4 hours.

Instant Death: When damage reduces you to 0 hit points and there is damage remaining, you die if the remaining damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum (no death saves - you're just dead).

Spells that Bring the Dead Back to Life



Raise Dead (PH page 270): Creature must have died within the last ten days. It doesn't restore body parts. It takes an hour to cast and you need a diamond worth 500 gp.

Reincarnate (PH page 271): This spell actually forms a new body for the character. You roll on a chart for a new race. It takes an hour to cast and the components cost 1,000 gp.

Resurrection (PH page 272): This works on creatures that have been dead for up to 100 years. It also restores body parts. It takes an hour to cast and you'll need a diamond worth 1,000 gp.

Revivify (PH page 272): You touch a creature that has died in the last minute. It now has 1 hit point. You need a 300 gp diamond for this thing.

What the Core 5th Edition Books Say About the Afterlife

Good Souls go to Elysium: Spirits of good creatures go to the plane of Elysium (Dungeon Master's Guide page 43). Elysium  is described on DMG page 60. The flavor text is strong with this one. "Tranquility seeps into the bones and souls of those who enter the plane. It is the heaven of a well-earned rest, a place where tears of joy glisten on many a cheek."

Dead Gods: When gods die, they become giant stone corpses that float in the astral plane (DMG page 47).

Claiming Souls: Some souls are claimed by the gods of the Upper Planes. Some souls are claimed by the rulers of the Lower Planes. Unclaimed souls become larvae (DMG page 63) and appear on the Grey Waste of Hades. The larvae is medium-sized and it has the face of its mortal form. It has dim memories of who it once was. Night hags harvest them.

Empyreans Can't Die: (MM page 130) Empyreans are children of the gods. If they are slain, their parents just bring them back to life.

You Can't Become an Angel: (MM page 15) Angels are formed from the astral essence of benevolent gods and are thus divine beings of great power and foresight. Mortals do not become angels when they die!

Fun Fact About Solars: (MM page 18) There's 24 of them, total. Only a few are known. It might be fun to look through old products and see if we can name every solar that has been published.


Death in the Forgotten Realms: The Realms is the default setting of 5th edition. In the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide on page 20, there's a whole section on the afterlife. Souls go to the Fugue Plane and wander the City of Judgment. Servants of the gods collect them and bring them to their deity's domain. Sometimes, the faithful are sent back into the world to finish work that was left undone.

Those souls left over are judged by Kelemvor, Judge of the Damned. Some become guides for other lost souls. Some souls are turned into larvae and "cast into the dust." I assume this means they are sent to the Gray Waste.

"The Truly False and Faithless are mortared into the Wall of the Faithless, the great barrier that bounds the City of the Dead, where their souls slowly dissolve and begin to become part of the stuff of the wall itself."

How to Become Undead


I thought it might be fun to list who can become undead or other weird creatures in 5e under what circumstances. Here's what I dug up:

Anyone: You can become a mummy! A priest of a death god needs to do a ritual on your corpse to animate you. 

Creature Slain by a Shadow: Becomes a shadow! (MM page 269)

Dragons: (MM page 84) Dragons can use ancient rituals and necromantic energy to transform themselves into dracoliches.

Elves: Elves who used their beauty to corrupt others become banshees when they die (MM page 23).

Evil Beings That Perished in Anguish: Become Will-o'-wisps (MM page 301).

Evil Creatures: The spirit of a slain evil creature can be bound to a scarecrow (MM page 268).

Evil Mortals: Mortals who are shunned or cursed by the gods become demons (usually manes) MM page 50. "Souls of evil creatures that descend to the lower planes are transformed into manes."

Evil Mortals Who are Really, Really Evil: Become wraiths (MM page 302).

Human Babies: Hags eat a human baby and then one week later they give birth to a daughter who grows up to look just like their hag mother.  

Humanoids Bitten by Vampires: They become vampire spawn under the control of the vampire (MM page 295).


Humanoids Who Can't Pass on to the Afterlife: They become specters (MM page 279). They are created either through dark magic or when a wraith rips a soul from a body.

Humanoids With Unfinished Business: Those who have an unresolved task from life become ghosts (MM page 147). 

Liches: A lich who doesn't feed souls to its phylactery becomes a demilich (MM page 49).

Mortals Corrupted by a Succubus: Once a mortal commits betrayals of thought, word and deed, their soul belongs to the succubus. The succubus kills them and their soul is sent to either the Abyss or the Nine Hells.

Mortals Driven by Dark Desires: When they die, Orcus or a god of the underworld grants them undeath to make war on the living.

Mortals Who Deal with Devils: (MM page 66) Devils love to make contracts with mortals, all of which are enforced by the will of Asmodeus. "Any mortal creature that breaks such a contract instantly forfeits its soul, which is spirited away to the nine hells." To own a creature's soul is to have absolute control over them. "Only divine intervention can release a soul after a devil has claimed it."

Mortals Who Met an Undeserving Fate: Rise up as a revenant (MM page 260) to claim revenge.

Murderers: If you cut off the severed hand of a murderer, a necromancer can make it a crawling claw (MM page 45). I think technically most adventurers are murderers.


Other Evil Mortals: "When the soul of an evil mortal sinks into the Nine Hells, it takes on the physical form of a wretched lemure."

Paladins: When a paladin who fell from grace and never atoned for it dies, they rise up as a death knight (MM page 48).

Soldier: A soldier or knight who dies on the battlefield might become a phantom warrior (Curse of Strahd page 235)

Wizards Who are Dead: Sometimes spellcasters will turn the remains of wizards into flameskulls (MM page 134).

Wizards Who Are Evil: A wizard can use an ultra-secret arcane ritual to become a lich.

Wizards Who Read Alot: Some wizards who spend their lives looking up arcane secrets end up transforming into a Nothic through a curse of Vecna (MM page 236).

Multi-Edition D&D Afterlife


This is what I do for the afterlife in my campaigns. For some reason, I put a lot more thought into what happens when evil people die.

The Raven Queen Judges Your Soul: The Raven Queen, goddess of death, is in charge of safeguarding a soul's passage to whatever lays beyond. Above her citadel (Zvomarana, Fate's Palace, in the Shadowfell) is a maelstrom of swirling souls that shine like stars.

There is a magical lattice that sends most of the souls along automatically. Once in a while, she intercedes and judges a soul.

Sorrowsworn

Her sorrowsworn agents fly up and grab the soul and bring it to her. There's actually flavor for this in the Shadowfell boxed set:

"A soul falls through the air to burst onto the floor before the Raven Queen's seat in an eruption of light and in an instant, it regains its mortal form and sinks to its quavering knees before the god of death. The Raven Queen seems to take no interest in its plight. Her face impossible to read, she fixes her gaze upon it, searching its features in silent judgment."

I say that each soul is marked with their alignment or the symbol of their god or whatever.

Lost Souls: Some souls end up lost and are snatched up by planar beings (like hags). The Raven Queen's sorrowsworn do their best to find and rescue these wayward souls.

Vorkhesis, son of the Raven Queen

Powerful Souls: This is from the Shadowfell boxed set. "When a powerful hero or villain dies, the Raven Queen might choose to hold the person's soul in her realm, whether at the behest of another god or for her own inscrutable reasons." Vorkhesis, Master of Fate, guards them in his Hall of Final Fate.

Vorkhesis knows the fate of every creature that has lived.

Petitioners


Now You Are a Petitioner: Once you are shipped out to whatever your destination is, you become a petitioner. In the Planescape boxed set, it explains that a petitioner is the departed spirit of a mortal who reforms on the plane that matches their alignment. All memories of their past are wiped away. Their personality remains.

Petitioners hate leaving their new home plane. Once the petitioner dies, their essence is merged with their plane and that's the end of them.

If they die outside of their home plane, they are destroyed forever.

Proxies: A proxy is a soul chosen to act as the agent of a god/demon lord/whatever.

Soul Distribution

Elysium

From there, the soul is either sent to a plane linked to their alignment or to the realm of their god to serve them as a planar being. You could pick your own planes from the handy list on DMG page 58. Here's how I would do it:
  • LG Mount Celestia - Home of Moradin, Bahamut and more.
  • CG I'd go with a homebrewed realm, probably. I don't like any of the choices in the book.
  • NG Elysium or a homebrewed realm.
  • LN Acheron - I love this plane.
  • CN Limbo - You become absorbed into the plane, or become part of a chaos elemental.
  • NE The Gray Wastes of Hades - You're a soul larvae being harvested by hags.
  • CE The Abyss - You are a soul larvae or you become a manes.
  • LE Nine Hells - You become a soul shell on the banks of the River Styx.
Souls
Soul Larvae
There are a few creatures and weird things that are affiliated with souls in D&D.

Death Giants: (4e MM page 120) They harvest souls. The people they kill are absorbed into a "soul shroud" that contains soul shards. They expend these shards to heal themselves. They live in the Shadowfell but cross over into the material plane often.

Oni Souleaters: (Open Grave page 172): They can harvest souls - pull them right out of your body. They can devour your soul to acquire your memories and learn any languages you speak. The person's body crumbles to dust.

Soul Larvae Herd

Soul Larvae: In 2nd edition, soul larvae appeared in Hades. In 4th edition, they appeared in the Shadowfell. I just say that they show up in both places. There is a huge article in Dragon Magazine Annual 2 that has a ton of info on larvae:
  • Larvae appear on all of the lower planes, but the larvae that appear in the Grey Waste are pure evil. Hags wander the Grey Waste accumulating herds of larvae. They brand them to mark ownership.
  • Liches can use soul larvae to keep their condition (liches need souls for their phylactery).
  • Hags end up with herds of soul larvae
  • Devils and demons can turn soul larvae into quasits or imps.
  • In the Grey Waste, there is a sort of shanty town called The Grande Larvae Emporium. It is right on the banks of the River Styx and it has yugoloth guards. 
  • They make Yellow Wurm Stout there, a liquor made of soul larvae. They also make soul larvae perfume called "Evil."
Demonic Life Cycles

A manes, lowest form of demon
The 4e Demonomicon has a lot of cool ideas to use. The 3e Fiendish Codex I has surprisingly little about souls heading to the Abyss. Here's what we learn:
  • Demons consume souls. That is how they become more powerful types of demons. They can do this by killing creatures with souls, consuming soul larvae or acquiring mortal thralls. Enough soul energy will give the demon the power to control an abyssal realm. Once that is done, they can take a truename and become a full-fledged demon lord.
  • Demons sometimes buy souls from night hags, onis and death giants.
  • One soul larvae is worth 1,000 gp in goods and services.
  • There is actually a chart of effects for what happens if a character eats a soul larvae. It is not pleasant.
  • I would say that when chaotic evil creatures die, they are either absorbed into the Abyss and are spewed out as manes, or they become larvae that appears either in the Abyss or the Grey Waste. Demons can promote the pure evil larvae of the Grey Waste to higher ranks of demon right off the bat.
The Economy of Hell


The Fiendish Codex II is one of my favorite D&D books ever. When you die and go to hell, you become a soul shell.

Soul Shell: You are a rubbery, bedraggled version of yourself and you still have the wounds you suffered when you died.

Fiendish Codex II has a huge section on what happens when you die and go to hell:
  • You materialize on a blood-soaked rock protruding from the River Styx in an area known as the Shelves of Despond on the first layer of Hell.
  • Almost every soul shell has a special mark on them to denote that a particular devil has claimed their soul.
  • Bearded devils, soul collectors on boats, put the new arrivals in cages. The cages are put in carts and shipped off to a torture station.
  • You are brought to a torture station and go through a process that peels off your individuality. A portion of your essence flows to a prominent devil who has staked a claim on you.
  • You are thrown in the Maggot Pit where you are reborn as a mindless lemure.
Unclaimed Soul Shells: Soul collectors barter and brawl to claim them. Sometimes minions of lawful evil gods prowl the banks of the River Styx for unclaimed souls. Each archdevil keeps a bunch of unclaimed souls to use as units of exchange.

So there you go! Now you can whip up your version of the afterlife in your campaign if you haven't already.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Stranger Things Chapter Five: The Flea and the Acrobat


The Party

  • Mike: Dungeon Master Kid
  • Lucas: A molten ball of rage
  • Dustin: Comedic Goofy Kid
  • Eleven: Kid with psychic powers
NPCs
  • Joyce Byers: Winona! Mother of Will, who is missing.
  • Jon Byers: Her teenage son who is deep and angsty.
  • Officer Jim Hopper: Hopper busts dudes left and right.
  • Nancy: Mike's sister, who is looking for her friend Barb.
  • Steve: Her wanna-be boyfriend, who is akin to walking diarrhea.
  • Dr. Martin Brenner: Matthew Modine, agent looking for Eleven, has had about three lines of mumbled dialogue so far.

Hopper is breaking into the lab. What the.. security pulls guns on him. He ends up punching them out. This guy is definitely a PC.

Winona is in her house with her ex husband. This guy is trying to tell her he's crazy. This dude... I am not a fan. Now they're getting wasted.

The kids have a theory. Will is in the "upside down" world. They relate it to their campaign - "The Vale of Shadows" heh heh. He's in the Shadowfell! They flip open a binder full of D&D stuff...

Wow. I have my friend's dad's 80's binder and it looks exactly like this! It is full of photocopies of Dragon Magazine articles and homemade rules/charts. The binder on the show has the D&D expert set and I think that is the back of the Isle of Dread, too.


Hopper found the portal. Please don't go in there. Here comes security. They got him. He wakes up in his apartment. He trashes his apartment.. he's looking for a bug. Yep. They bugged his place. Looks like the scientists have bugged the homes of some of the main characters.

Funeral preparation montage. Jon wants to go kill that thing in the woods. He gets a gun. He is also a PC!

The kids ask their teacher how to get to another plane and he does this big explanation. He says if there was a gate to another world, it would warp gravity and the electromagnetic field and maybe destroy everything.

Two hunters have gone missing. Hmm

The ex-husband took the Christmas lights down. Somebody punch this guy. Winona realizes he's here for money. She kicks him out. They should have dropped an F-bomb right there. I guess it's not that kind of show.

The kids check their compasses. They see that the electromagnetic field is indeed screwed up.

Oh no. Nancy has a baseball bat and here comes that lame boyfriend guy. He tries to get her to go see a Tom Cruise movie. I hate when this guy tries to be charming. He is rebuffed with extreme prejudice.

I haven't heard the phrase "nuclear family" in forever. It turns out that Nancy is a good shot with a gun.


Eleven has a flashback. I think they want her to kill somebody who is really far away with her psychic powers. The group is following the compass... they're going to end up at the lab. Eleven does not want to go there.

Nancy and Jon are in the woods. They get in an argument. Good god, he utterly destroys her. He says that she thinks she's rebelling by doing what every other suburban girl does when they think they're rebelling. Boom! Roasted!

The kids realize that their compass has taken them in a circle. Lucas figures out that Eleven messed with the compasses with her powers. Lucas, who is very intensely vicious on this show, goes off on her. A fight breaks out and Eleven telekinetically sends that kid flying and knocks him out. Good! When he comes to, he storms off. Eleven is gone, too.

More Eleven flashback. The guy she's supposed to kill - It's a Russian dude. Cold War psychic assassination! She has found him. She's in a quasi-psychic realm. Aha! One of the creatures is here. So it sounds like Eleven is the one who accidentally alerted these creatures to the world of humans.

John and Nancy are in the woods and it is dark. They find a deer. Oh no.. the thing sliced it. The deer is still alive. She wants John to put it out of its misery. Something pulls the deer away.

A bit of searching for the deer and the thing.. Nancy finds a weird, moist hole in a tree. She gets ridiculously close to it. SHE GOES INTO THE HOLE! Don't.. ohh no, it's all cobwebby in there. Are you nuts?


She pops out in the Shadowfell or possibly Barovia. She sees the thing eating the deer. Will her gun work in this world? I wonder if season 2 will deal with a different parallel dimension?

I'm old, so I can't tell when CGI is good or bad, but I think some of you younger people will think this creature looks pretty fake. The thing notices her.

Jon is in our world and he somehow doesn't see the moist hole of the Shadowfell two feet away from him. That's it!

Overall

Good show, but too much arguing. I don't like watching people argue in movies and TV shows. They better not try to turn that boyfriend into a good guy. I want to see him get a dish best served cold.

I love the casting on this show. Everyone has a very distinctive, memorable face. A lot of shows feel like they're full of models with geometrically-pleasing faces. On this show, there's a little more room for variety and personality.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to the Plane of Elemental Earth


The Plane of Elemental Earth is a tough one to figure out what to do with. If you've ever been faced with the prospect of running an adventure there, you know what I mean. How do you make it different from the Underdark? What kind of interesting encounters can be made?

I dug through as many old D&D products that I could find to compile all of the material on this plane in one place. When it comes time to use the Plane of Elemental Earth, you can sort through this and pull out the ideas you like.

The Essential Information

  • The Plane of Elemental Earth is one of the Inner Planes.
  • The Sevenfold Mazework: Earth genies have a vast city/labyrinth known as The Sevenfold Mazework.
  • Ogremoch, Evil Elemental Prince of Earth: He lives here on a vast mesa and a plateau made of the dead bodies of his enemies.
  • Sunnis, the Good Elemental Princess of Earth: She opposes Ogremoch. She lives in Sandfall, a cave under a perpetually falling column of sand.
  • Grumbar the Living Mountain: A massive earth deity who lives here as well.
  • Granite Gloom: This locale from Tales of the Outer Planes is a really cool genie lair with geometrically-shaped rooms and a garden of floating crystals. 
  • Earthsblood: This stuff is from Egg of the Phoenix and is a highly sought-after substance with many magical properties.
  • Portals: There are portals to Sigil, Elysium, Hell, the Spine of the World Mountains in the Forgotten Realms and many other elemental planes here.
  • Monoliths: Monoliths are basically greater elementals linked to the plane. 
  • Earth Weirds: These stone women can see into the future.
  • Primordials: There are at least 3 primordials trapped here in some fashion.
  • The Pillars of Creation: These pillars are each made of different types of rock and may hold up the entire plane.
  • Primordial Shards: These are prized magic items that bond with the wielder to give them the power to become an elemental being.
  • Races: It seems like earth genasi and maybe goliaths should have a bigger presence in this plane.
The 5th Edition Plane of Elemental Earth


In the Dungeon Master's Guide on page 52, the inner planes are described as being enveloped in the elemental chaos. The edges of each elemental plane are more inhabitable and are the domains of elementals, the Elemental Princes and others. It is said that the center of the plane of Elemental Earth is solid earth. Other factoids:
  • Opposes the plane of air.
  • It is a chain of mountains bigger than any in the material plane.
  • The largest cavern is known as the Great Dismal Delve or the Sevenfold Mazework.
  • The Furnaces: These mountains are near the plane of Fire. There's a lot of lava and dao forges.
  • The Swamp of Oblivion: This is also known as the Plane of Ooze. This is the region where water and earth connect. An object thrown into the swamp can't be found for at least 100 years. 
There is also mention of what I think is a new locale - The City of Jewels, capital city of the dao:
  • Every building is made from precious stone and metals.
  • The city is guarded by a spell that alerts all of the dao if a single stone is stolen.
  • Theivery is punishable by death and might be extended to the relatives as well.
Princes of the Apocalypse


I'm pretty sure you could take most of the earth node/The Black Geode and repurpose it for the Elemental Plane of Earth. It has a few cool things, like the earth mephits spawning.

Now let's go through old editions and see what we can dig up. We'll start with 1st edition and go up from there.

Tales of the Outer Planes


Tales of the Outer Planes is really goofy in parts, but I have to say this area is really cool. You can take all of these things and do cool stuff with them. There's two scenarios. One involves a captured princess, and the other one is a really weird place infused with radiation.

The Missing Kristal: A dao has captured Princess Kristal and taken her to his lair in the Plane of Elemental Earth, Granite Gloom. A wizard uses plane shift to send the group there.

Here's the flavor: "A wide river flows by the alcove entrance, filling the vaulted cavern from wall to wall. The river's surface is flat and as smooth as glass, despite its speed. Swirling eddies of brown, gray and blue can be seen. Shockingly, this river is made of flowing stone!"

The Well of Thunder: The river eventually spills into a hole in the floor. If you fall in, you die "in the maelstrom of breaking rock below."

The Gravel Lake: You can walk on this, if you are careful.

Kristal is trapped in a crystal garden. The group needs two gemstone keys to get in there.

In Granite Gloom, there's a bunch of weird rooms shaped like cubes or pentagons. There's one that is a sphere with walls made of sand. There is a "demi-power" earth elemental named Jaggak, a distant cousin to Grumbar. He's 60 feet tall. I think he's under the sand. The group is meant to fight just his arm..? If the group annoys Jaggak, his head will pop out of the sand and he will demand a magic item. He somehow knows all of their items, and demands one of the three most powerful items.

The Crystal Garden: It is full of floating crystals of all colors. Some are the size of a house.
Several of thee crystals are magical prisons. From the outside, all you can see is a dark shape moving in it. One of the prisoners is Kristal. The others:
  • A Marid who was tricked into getting trapped.
  • A basilisk
  • "13 exotic creatures of the elemental plane of earth"
The Radioactive Lair: There is also a dao lair. The dao is named... Rockhead. Yes, "Rockhead." He trades precious gems for lead. His lair is at the center of a uranium vein, so it is radioactive. The group must "protect themselves with a leaden shield or die."

Failing two saves means that your hair falls out, you're nauseous and you will lose d10 hit points per day until dead or magically cured.

Egg of the Phoenix


Egg of the Phoenix is a gigantic adventure that takes you to the Negative Material Plane and many other places. There are quite a few links to the elemental planes.

To start with, the kingdom has a miracle substance called Earthsblood. It is black, liquid goo and in many ways is portrayed similar to the role of oil in our world. Earthsblood might be the secretion of a great creature living deep in the heart of the earth. It:
  • Lights homes
  • Powers furnaces
  • Provides materials for wizards
  • Heals the sick
  • Cure baldness!!
  • Smells bad
The group has to make their way to a place called the "Terminal of Planes." This place has portals to a specific location in each of the inner planes. The brown portal takes you to The Mesa of Ogremoch.

If the group goes in, here is some of the flavor:

"In the midst of the mesa sits a half-formed giant, a blobby mannequin of clay. The thing's soft features turn to face you, hardly aware of your existence. Yet moments later, the earth shakes under your feet, a great crack opens and your point of view drops deep into the fissure."

While Ogremoch is actually civil with the heroes, later in the adventure he sends elementals and xorn to try to steal the Egg of the Phoenix from them.

Dragon Magazine 77 - Elemental Gods


This article details gods from somebody's home campaign. Maybe you can do something cool with it. Really the best part of this article is the author talking about how awesome their campaign is.

The Allmother: Goddess of birth, farming and fertility. She rules all animals. She has an evil aspect which rules plague, poison and decay.

She has many names: Giver of Gifts, Earthshaker, Bearer of Burdens, Mother of Horses, Pourer of Poison, and Mother of Vipers.

Now let's jump into 2nd Edition, which has a lot of awesome stuff.

The Inner Planes


The Inner Planes is a Planescape supplement that gives a real good look at the Elemental Plane of Earth.

Creatures that dwell in the elemental plane of earth: Crysmal, dao, dao noble, earth elem, earth mephit, galeb duhr, sandman, earth genasi, xorn, svirfneblin (deep gnomes), dragons, basilisks, cockatrices, medusae, goliaths, earth genasi, neogi (who enslave umber hulks) and stone giants.

Grumbar: The Living Mountain, Earth Father. God of earth elementals. Those who visit with him come to a vast wall of stone, on which the face of Grumbar appears.

Elemental War: Sunnis, the Good Elemental Princess of Earth and Ogremoch, the Evil Elemental Princess of Earth fight for supremacy and domination. Grumbar sits by and watches.

Portals:There are a number of known portals to the Plane of Elemental Earth:
  • There are a few in Sigil.
  • Mechanus: The modrons have this giant planet-sized contraption that is somehow powered by continental drift. This machine is an eternal key to elemental earth. It is a one-way portal.
  • Hell (Phlegethos, the fourth layer): Ogremoch's citadel, Stonemire, contains a portal to Hell. It leads to an evil fortress called Abriymoch ruled by a pit fiend. Ogremoch is allied with the pit fiend.The key to this portal is a large diamond, which turns to powder when used. There are guards on either side.
Hazards: We get a list of dangers of the plane:
  • No Air: Some areas have no air.
  • Earthquakes
  • Gas Pocket: Explosive, noxious (stinking cloud), or toxic (cloudkill).
  • Links: Planes of magma, ooze, mineral and dust.
The Kryst: Lawful Good elementals. Earth elementals are also known as "heartfolk."

Fiery Cascade: A stronghold between pockets of elemental fire that has 3 dimensional flaming moats.

Stonemire: Ogremoch's fortress. It has fountains of molten stone, clouds of hot smoke, and geysers of scalding steam. There is a plateau made up of the bodies of his enemies. 

Sandfall: Home of Sunnis, Good Elemental Princess of Earth, the Lode Mother. This is a cavern under a perpetually falling column of sand. The sand falls in bottomless pit. It is built around a gleaming crystal 50 feet across. She likes unique treasures.

Secrets of the Lamp


Secrets of the Lamp is one of my favorite Al Qadim supplements. This thing literally details the entire area known as The Great Dismal Delve.

The Great Dismal Delve: Dao have the most hierarchical society of all elemental races other than the efreets. The sharif is the supreme ruler, ensconced in the race's ancestral home in the Elemental Chaos. This place, called the Great Dismal Delve, is carved into a massive block of freestanding earth. Though the dao constantly bore through its interior, the stone constantly renews itself from within so that they can never remove it all. This cycle of activity spawns great earthquakes that rattle through the Delve.
  • Tunnels and roads lead to the Sevenfold Mazework
  • Full of toiling slaves
  • The dao use Sandmen to capture slaves.
  • There are gem gardens where they grow rare games.
The Sevenfold Mazework: A confusing maze riddled with gates leading to distant regions and a trading center/place at the center of the delve. Population: 10,000 genies, 100,000 slaves (minotaurs, dwarves, etc.) It is dimly lit by light reflected from embedded gems - mica, pyrite, and hematite. Stealing one of these gems is a fine of 500 gold or a year's service to the Khan. Here are the seven mazes:
  • 1st Maze: A maze of arches and balconies full of thousands of slaves. Shining gems are mounted high on the columns of each archway. 
  • 2nd Maze: Tunnels and rooms blocked by stones that must be shifted in the proper sequence.
  •  3rd Maze: Huge, identical halls mirrored with polished metals. There are huge blue mirrors, some of which are secret portals.
  • 4th Maze: A reverse maze where you have to walk through the walls. Walking through the wrong walls lead you back to the beginning.
  • 5th Maze: Made entirely of glass and walls of force. The exit is always visible. Minotaurs lurk here.
  • 6th Maze: The walls and floors shift like puzzles and tesseracts. Looking at this place is said to provoke madness or petrification.
  • 7th Maze: Many tiny tunnels for creatures a foot tall or genies in gaseous form.
Great Khan of the Dao: This genie rules the Dao:
  • Other Titles: The Fountain of wealth, the Stone Sultan, the Carver of Destiny, Balancer of All Earthly Accounts.
  • He is hefty and has a quick wit
  • He is interested in alchemy, mining, and metallurgy
Audience Chamber: The Great Khan lurks in the Hidden Fulcrum of the Dao, a place that is nigh-impossible to get to. It is deep in the Sevenfold Mazework and you will need to bribe guards 10,000 - 80,000 gp to possibly get an audience within the next month. To get there, you must be blindfolded and led through mazework for several hours

The Khan's throne room has mirrors that reflect his image so that you can't tell which one is the real Khan.
  • He asks constant questions
  • Anyone who comes before him are supplicants stripped of wealth. His audience should be humble and poor.
  • Those who come before him must make gifts of their riches.
  • Mortals must refer to him as "The Magnificent." Other dao are "your radiance."
  • His empire is vast and profitable
The Pale River: This river flows from the plane of earth to muddy depths of oyster beds in the plane of water.

The Free Market: You can buy anything here, especially slaves. The market teems with slave traders.

Iron Crucible: Near the mazework is a fiery mountain of molten metal. It is link to plane of fire. The dao come here to trade with efreet - slaves in exchange for magic and precious metals. If you sail on the liquid, you can go the plane of fire or back. Yakfolk sometimes charge tolls in the lava tube tunnel.

Yakfolk: There are a lot of yakfolk here. Up until 5th edition, the dao were forced to serve them. The yakfolk buy slaves to make sacrifices to The Forgotten God in the "Manner Elemental" - They bury people alive daily.

3rd edition has all sort of cool things in weird places, mostly Dragon Magazine. Every once in a while they'd do an elemental-themed issue and they're all really good.

3e Web Enhancement

This page has information on a ton of Forgotten Realms gods. There is an entry on Grumbar.

Grumbar: King of the Land Below the Roots, the Earthlord. He is worshiped by underground races and "those who resist change."

Dragon Magazine 293 - The Elemental Planetouched


Earth Genasi: This race is patient, stubborn, and contemplative. Many are descendants of creatures from the Elemental Plane of Earth. The rest are descended from deities of earth. They have earthlike skin, eyes like gems or black pits, a gravelly voice, iron gray hair, and a metallic sheen on their skin. They can cast pass without trace once per day

There is also a note that there are natural portals to the Elemental Plane of Earth in the Spine of the World mountains in the Forgotten realms.

Shard Wolf

There's a whole article on elemental wolves. How random!

Shard Wolf: Wolves that were swallowed up in fissures created by an angry spirit of Earth. They're made of sharp, jagged stone that looks like shale or flint. Their eyes are pure black and they are ponderous, slow, and deliberate. They actually speak Common.

They usually appear after an earthquake or a a violent tremor. They hunt gnomes and dwarves. They have a special power:

Quaking Howl: Their howl is a 15 foot cone that has effects like the earthquake spell.

Dragon Magazine 306 - By Evil Bound

This article has 18 new demons/devils/"daemons" all by Mike Mearls! It is really crazy how much D&D stuff is out there that's just completely untouched. These monsters are awesome.

Earth Demon: "These chunks of demonic earth are simpletons even by the standards of the elemental demons." They can assume the form of a featureless rock or as a human-shaped statue of a demonic horned warrior. Its face is permanently etched into a leering grin.

They make for bad guardians, as they fall asleep at their post. Their blood is like lava, so melee attacks might cause the attacker to take some fire damage.

Dragon 314 - Dust to Dust: Magic of the Earthborn


The Earthborn is a lawful neutral cult who worship a creature they call the Earthen King. Their king is asleep and they want to awaken him. They believe that their king is on the material plane, but that his true home is in the Elemental Plane of Earth.

New Spells:
  • (lvl 2) Earthen Grace: This spell make damage from stone sources nonlethal. That is tricky to translate to 5e rules. I could you could just say the caster has resistance to these attacks.
  • (lvl 2) Mountain Stance: The caster can be rooted to the ground and cannot be moved.
  • (lvl 2) Stonemantle: You can make an object strong like stone for 10 minute per level.
  • (lvl 3) Tremor: A minor earthquake that disrupts spells, knocks people prone and stuns them for a round.
Magic Items:
  • Ring of Earth's Grasp: Gives bonuses to climbing, grappling an anything involving your grip.
  • Staff of Earthen Might: This staff is loaded up with earth spells, like transmute rock to mud, stone shape, etc.
There's also a prestige class:

Earthshaker: Spellcasters who specialize in earth. They have tremorsense, they can cause tremors, create geysers (!) and at the highest levels, make earthquakes.

Dragon Magazine 347: Princes of Elemental Evil


Ogremoch: There's a big section on how Ogremoch teamed up with the Queen of Chaos (she's the villain who is involved with the Rod of Seven Parts). Yan-C-Bin, Evil Elemental Prince of Air, was an ally of the wind dukes. Ogremoch let he Queen use legions of earth elementals. He actually showed up at the battle of Pesh, the battle where the rod was first shattered.

Ogremoch wants access to the Great Dismal Delve because it has a lot of portals to other planes. He has a truce with the dao, who hold a grudge against him for some ancient slight.

Ogremoch had a dwarf warrior ally named Kaylef, but he fell out of favor. Kaylef wanders the Elemental Plane of Earth wreaking havoc.

Elemental Hazards: Well this is cool! This article has tons of useful stuff that can be encountered in the Plane of Elemental Earth:
  • Adamant Algae: Dark red liquid that doubles the normal healing rate. It's also known as "Blood of the Earth" and many battles occur over control of the stuff.
  • Choke Mold: Bright yellow mold which sucks up oxygen. If you get within 5 feet of it, you begin to suffocate.
  • Ghost Tunnels: Natural passages that appear and disappear. Obviously, passing through one is dangerous and deadly. Make a save or basically you are sucked into stone and crushed.
  • Iron Coal: Coal that burns without smoke. This stuff is pretty valuable.
  • Mineralmites: These things weaken stone. Some call it "rock rot." Crossing a floor with rock rot means a save or you fall into a pit that is d10x5 feet deep.
  • Pure Ore: Really nice, quality metal that is twice as strong as the normal kind.
  • Silent Stones: These pebbles absorb sound. Areas with a lot of silent stones create a silence spell effect. If these are taken to another plane, they crumble to dust in a month.
  • Stoneshrooms: Chalky fungus that releases spores of breathable air and creates air currents throughout the plane. Eating one is the equivalent of an entire meal. For the next 24 hours after eating, you can hold your breath for twice as long as normal.
There are also new elemental monsters. Monoliths are more powerful versions of elementals.


  • Magma Monolith: Not much to them, really. 40 feet tall, ooze magma and they punch you.
  • Magma Element Rhinocerus: It is formed entirely of lava.
Paraelemental beings are immortal and are "formed of the tension between the elemental planes." When one is slain, there is a period of instability until another forms.

Then there's elemental weirds.


Elemental Weirds: Elemental weirds look like beautiful women linked to an element. They have magic powers, are oracles, guard portals and are bound to a certain area. Earth weirds warn of impending doom.

Earth weirds have a cold calculating mindset. Future events are the same as past events to them. To meet with them and gain their knowledge, you must bring them the skull of a thousand year-old lich crushed to powder or a stone that has never been exposed to any sort of light.

They lurk in lightless chasms, mountain peaks and barren tunnels.

Basically, a water weird from the 5e monster manual is an immature, "lesser" water weird. They will eventually become one of these oracles. We also get some magic items:
  • Gloves of Burrowing: These are made from the hide of a xorn and grant the ability to burrow. Once per day, you can mold stone like clay.
  • Sling Boulder: Wow, a magic sling boulder. I don't think I've ever seen one before. This one turns into a giant boulder in mid-air. They can only be used once each.
4th edition has all sorts of weird stuff that can be used.

Manual of the Planes


Vezzuvu the Burning Mountain: A primordial that is trapped in a field of radiance, partially phased out of reality.

The Head of Balcoth, the Groaning King: A primordial with a face of ash and cinders that is buried in a cave, unable to muster his power until he can re-form his body.

The Keening Delve: Not far from City of Brass is this mass of blood-red rock. This is the ancient stronghold of a dead primordial named Haemnathuun. Those who travel in it hear echoes of his dying screams. There are slaads and elementals here, driven mad by the echoes. There is a crystalline heart at the center that could bring Haemnathuun back to life.

Plane Below

The Stone Council: This is a band of elementals served by hill giants, dwarves, kobolds, and earth elementals. They rule Allrock, an earthmote and they want to expand their empire. They are not too smart.

Plastron of Tziphal: This is an artifact - a breastplate of dark stone. It merges with your flesh to turn your skin to rocky armor like plate mail. It hates the gods and wants to bring Tziphal back to life. Tziphal, a primordial, isn't really detailed. He is apparently dead and is buried in a place called Mountain Builder's Burrow and is staggeringly huge. It's a mini dungeon in the book.

The Aviary: There is a 15 mile pocket of air that is home to winged elves (Avariel) and their city. Visitors can rent pairs of wings.

Caverns Under the Stars: This is a pyramid chamber 30 miles to a side. The upper half of it looks like the night sky. It is a sprawling city ruled by Geb, a deity married to Nut, an Egyptian god. There is a portal to the plane of Elysium here.

Irdoc Morda: Iron archons rule this earthmote. Their leader is the  Twice-Forged General. They are building the largest spelljammer ever conceived with an iron hull to launch attacks from. There are deposit of new types of metal that makes archons behave weirdly. There are 3 watchtowers armed with scrying magic.

Pillars of Creation: These are massive columns that may hold up an entire plane. There is one that is a jagged tree of crystalline minerals, and another that is a column of muck.

Heroes of the Elemental Chaos


Primordial Shards: These multicolored crystals might be remnants of fallen primordials. They are made of crystallized ichor and have powers like magic items. They can bond with a mortal and turn it them into an elemental, partly of wholly.

Tablet of Ad-Baraz: Etched onto this clay tablet is a list of names, the identities of those primordials defeated in a time now largely forgotten.

Links

An elementary look at the planes
Forgotten Realms wikia has a great page of concise details
The "I" series of AD&D adventures