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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.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to the Brain in a Jar

Today we're going to look at a really fun D&D monster: The Brain in a Jar. I'm going to go through each edition and pull out the lore so we can get ideas on how to use this really weird, really cool monster.

My favorite NPC in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is Veneranda - a brain in a jar connected to an animated suit of armor. I've always like the brain in a jar, a really weird, somewhat hilarious D&D monster. The idea of making a guide to them seems like a lot of fun, so let's do it!

Yes, there is a D&D mini for the brain in a jar. It is tiny! I used to always worry about losing it, but I never did. 

Reaper has a brain in a jar mini, too.

AD&D 2nd Edition - Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendices I & II

I think this is the first appearance of a brain in a jar. It's called The Living Brain, a unique NPC/villain from the Demiplane of Ravenloft. The brain's story goes like this:

Rich Kid: Rudolph Von Aubrecker was a spoiled son of the ruler of Lamordia. He was injured badly at sea and washed up on shore.

He was brought to Victor Mordenheim (a major NPC in 2e Ravenloft, basically Dr. Frankenstein), who saw that he was going to die.

Save The Brain: Victor extracted the brain and kept it alive. After a year, he saw that it actually started to grow. He tried to destroy it, but found he couldn't - the brain used psychic powers to stop him. It then forced Victo to build it a magical support system.

The Brain Flees: The brain took control of Mordenheim's assistant, and they fled to the Sea of Sorrows.

Mind Control: The brain can control many creatures at the same time. It is trying to take control of Dementlieu, a domain of dread tun by Marcel Guignol.

Traits: It does not need food except for the nutrients in its fluid bath. The brain does sleep: "..only in dreams can it experience the physical sensations to remain sane."

Escaping the Brain: When the fluid is replenished, the brain is helpless and comatose for one hour. During this time, some victims under its control might be able to break free.

D&D 3rd Edition - Libris Mortis

This 3rd edition sourcebook gives us the brain in a jar as we know it. Traits:
  • It is an undead creature.
  • It possesses potent magical powers.
  • It can fly!
  • Has blindsight.
  • Weighs 25 pounds (this includes the weight of the container).
  • Can telepathically speak to creatures within 100 feet.
The Ritual of Extraction: How do you make a brain in a jar? "The ritual of extraction, the spells of formulation, and the alchemical recipes of preservation are closely guarded secrets held by only a few master necromancers."

The creation process is fraught with danger, because the brain gains the power to control the minds of others.

Abilities: The brain has powers:
  • Mind Thrust: I guess this targets a creature it can "see." CHA save or take 2d10 damage.
  • Madness: If you target a brain in a jar with a mind-affecting/probing power, you start to go mad due to "direct contact with its tortured mind."
  • Psionics: Suggestion, telekinesis, and dominate person.
  • Rebuke Undead: It can command undead like a cleric. 

The Warlord's Subterfuge: Further on in this book is a short adventure scenario called "The Warlord's Subterfuge." There is a nasty encounter here where a brain in a jar is hidden in the base of a throne - it can see out through a little slit. The group is attacked by an armored hulking corpse while the brain uses its powers in secret. 

The heroes may think they killed the warlord (the hulking corpse), completely unaware that the warlord is right there in the throne - the brain in the jar.

The Twilight Tomb

In this adventure, which I've never even heard of prior to writing this article, is about this:

"A 'loose' piece of the star elf demiplane of Sildëyuir contains a single glass citadel that serves as the tomb of a corrupt star elf called Mourel Duskwalker."

A star elf? What the heck is that? How did I miss this? It's so weird to me that despite spending many years reading up on D&D lore, there are entire sections of D&D history that I am completely unfamiliar with.

The basic idea of this adventure is that the heroes will enter a glass citadel and will be trapped inside until they can open a portal back to Faerun.

The Night Realm: This is a "splinter demiplane." Two days in the normal world equal one day here. Sonic spells do more damage in the Night Realm.

The Bad Guy: The villain of this adventure is a star elf brain in a jar. Deep in this crystal tower (room 49) is the vault of Mourel Duskwalker. He is now an "evolved brain in a jar." His apprentice Kyjal recovered his head after his execution.

Brain in a Girallon: Whoa... get a load of this. He created a zombie Girallon (that's a giant white ape with four arms), carved a cavity in its chest, and placed the brain in the jar in there! What!?

The girallon can cross its arms over the brain to provide it with cover. If the zombie is destroyed, Mourel flies out of the cavity and takes cover in the room's dome. 

Imbrudar, the Brain in a Jar

In this online article, D&D designer Robert Wiese decided to "give an inoffensive creature a facelift" and here were are. This article is definitely an example of a bygone era of D&D, where someone uses powers and abilities from newer books to create a surprising/effective/"gamebreaking" result.

3e, I think, was and is a dream system for people who like to tinker.

Imbrudar's Origin: Imbrudar was created in a lab and dominated its creator, forcing them to move it to a fortress. It began a quest to unlock the powers of its own mind, seeking to control every creature that came near it.

The author stats out a few versions of Imbrudar.

Imbrudar as a Budding Psion: This is a beefed-up version of the normal brain in the jar.

Imbrudar, Finally Self-Mobile: It uses a psionic power called metamorphosis, which allows it to change shape. "You acquire the physical qualities of the new form while retaining your own mind."

"When the change occurs, your equipment either remains worn or held by the new form (if it is capable of wearing or holding the item in question) or melds into the new form and becomes nonfunctional."

The duration is 1 minute per level, so.. wow.

Imbrudar, Master Psion: It can permanently switch minds with another creature! It could move from body to body if it wanted to.

It likes to use a power called decerebrate, which is simple and effective: "With decerebrate, you selectively remove a portion of the subject’s brain stem. The creature loses all cerebral function, vision, hearing, and other sensory abilities, and all voluntary motor activity. The subject becomes limp and unresponsive."

D&D 4th Edition - Open Grave

I love this book so much. We don't just get a 4e brain in a jar, we also get VARIANTS!

Traits: The brain has similar powers to the 3e version. It does have telekinetic thrust, which is a minor action (which is an additional sub-attack on its turn) that can push you up to 20 feet and, if you hit a wall, you fall prone.

"Anything that disturbs this brain's private meditations antagonizes the creature."

Brain Fluid: The preservation fluid in a brain's jar is valuable - it can be distilled into an elixir that imparts the memory and knowledge of the jar's occupant brain.

Putting a Brain to Rest: A brain can be returned to a host body to grant it a peaceful death

Brain in a Broken Jar: These are created though incomplete rituals, spoiling fluids, or damaged containers. "A brain in a broken jar is usually deranged."

It has "faulty invisibility," meaning that it becomes invisible for 1 round. This power recharges on a 4-6.

Brain in an Armored Jar: Some of them exist to chronicle past history and lore. This has "psychic overload," a power that does psychic damage and drains a "healing surge" (which is sort of like a hit die in 5e terms). It can also emit an electrical discharge, which can hit all within 15 feet with lightning damage that dazes.

Exalted Brain in a Jar: A brain taken from a powerful creature by devotees to preserve the subject's knowledge and wisdom. When a creature hits it with a melee attack, it can teleport them up to 40 feet away. Fearful Recoil: It can force an enemy back 20 feet.

Stardock Under Siege

This adventure is meant to be run at conventions and game stores where a bunch of tables full of D&D players work together to overcome the obstacles in the adventure.

Stardock: Stardock is a floating island in space, orbiting Toril (the planet that is the Forgotten Realms). You can travel to Stardock through Undermountain (the dungeon under the city of Waterdeep).

Stardock is now run by a githyanki named Urlon, who is a member of the Sha'sal Khou - a group that wants to make peace between the githyanki and the githzerai.

In this scenario, a horde of mind flayers are invading Stardock.

Bone Pod: One or more groups will end up exploring a "bone pod," which is a mind flayer vessel. "The bone pod houses an alhoon, some brains in a jar, and a platoon of dead illithids awaiting reanimation and deployment." An alhoon is a mind flayer lich.

In case you are wondering, there is a rune circle/"necrotic power cell" in the floor that siphons energy from living creatures to reanimate the dead illithids (who use bodak stat blocks).

The brains in a jar seem to be sidekicks to the alhoon. Their job in this encounter is to try to move the characters onto the necrotic circle.

This adventure looks really insane. Apparently some people who played through it thought that it was too easy.

Lost Laboratory of Kwalish

This adventure involves the heroes heading to the laboratory of the legendary Kwalish (of "Apparatus of Kwalish" fame) - the remains of a planar craft. Kwalish left, and it is now home to a bone devil.

(pg 16) M8 Control Room: The planar craft is now a part of a sort of demented magic/technology infused monastery, which is watched over by 5 "enlightened ones" who are actually brains in jars. Each has been chained to the other to form a hive-mind consciousness.

The brains were once companions of Kwalish. They were killed by a sphynx. Kwalish turned them into brains in jars, and planned to make them new bodies, but was driven away before he could complete the task.

Their names were Alton, Broderick, Corliss, Dunstan and Editha.

The brains are attached to a power grid, and need energy cells found in area M10. for them to be moved elsewhere. 

M10. Treasury: This treasury contains another brain in a jar - the brain was originally a bone devil. It had been investigating the building when its brain was magically drawn into a jar.

That's a heck of a trap, right? Make a save or your brain is pulled into a jar?

New Body: This brain wants a new body. It can use the equipment in the laboratory to return to its original body., it just needs the heroes to bring them one - preferably the body of the Grandmaster of the Monastery.

Kwalish's Notes: This lab contains notes written by Kwalish, instructions for making artificial bodies for the brains in jars.

Later in this module, it says that the brains can guide characters through the process of transferring their intellect into a host such as a slain monk from the monastery, or even a modron.

"This process requires a successful DC 14 Wisdom (Medicine) check or Dexterity check with thieves' tools or tinker's tools. However, on a failed check, the brain is destroyed.."

The idea of the party rogue having to roll a DEX check to extract a fellow party member's brain is hilariously intense to me.

Crafting a New Body: The adventure even gives us some rules on making a new artificial body.Arcana Check or DEX check with tools DC 16. Each body requires an energy cell.

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden

We have the 5e stat block for the brain on page 279.

  • Unwilling: "...the brain of a mortal being (willing or unwilling) is encased in a glass jar ..."
  • Immortal: The brain is rendered immortal and imbued with psionic powers.
  • Talks Too Much: "It enjoys conversation so much that it is prone to talking for hours on end...'
  • Insanity: The brain in a jar is likely to gain a form of insanity, including: dementia, schizophrenia, or paranoia. 
  • Hefty: It now weighs 125 pounds, as opposed to the 25 pounds in 3rd edition. 
  • Slow Flight: The brain flies only 10 feet per round, slower than in other editions. 
  • Life Detection: It can detect sentient creatures within 100 feet.

It can cast a pile of spells, including:

  • Mage Hand
  • Zone of Truth
  • Charm Person
  • Hold Monster
  • Tasha's Hideous Laughter

Chill Touch: It has chill touch as a ranged attack,doing necrotic damage and preventing healing.

Mind Blast: It also has mind blast! 50 foot cone, doing psychic damage and stunning those who fail the save.

Veneranda: In room Y19E. Liquefaction Chamber on pg 248

"Behind the tables stands an ornate suit of armor. Where the head should be is a swollen human brain floating inside a canister of translucent fluid."

Veneranda was a neutral evil wizard who extracted her own brain and became a brain in a jar. The jar is affixed to a helmed horror.

Her goal is to restore the city of Ythryn to its former glory. 

Ritual of Brain Transfer: This room is a ritual room designed to transform a living creature into a brain in a jar. 

"Veneranda can use the equipment in this chamber to transform one humanoid into a brain in a jar. This ritual takes 24 hours and results in the death and liquefaction of the subject's body. Veneranda doesn't allow anyone to view the ritual while it is being performed."  


Cracked thinks the Brain in the Jar is one of the most idiotic monsters of all time.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Dragon+ Issue 32

You can read this issue right here.

I'm still playing catch up with Dragon+, the online magazine that is full of free D&D stuff! Every issue has .pdfs and piles of maps, alongside all sorts of other useful things.

Imagining the Ampersand: April Prime

Artist April Prime discusses some of the art she did for Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, including the snowy owlbear. 

This article has a lot of extra art that didn't appear in the book. There's like 10 different images of the knucklehead trout, included when it's cooked up.

She did the art for Angajuk, the whale. That adventuring party on the back of the whale is her home D&D group's characters!

In the Works: Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden

We learn some interesting factoids:

“The adventure did not cycle around Auril at first,” says D&D Principal Narrative Designer Chris Perkins. 

Xardorok, the evil duergar villain, is based on character from an old James Bond movie, Auric Goldfinger.

The Write Stuff: Dan Abnett

Dan has written tons of comics and he wrote Alien: Isolation, a game so scary that I quit playing after 20 minutes and have never gone back to.

It looks like he currently is playing 1st edition AD&D. I tried to go back to 2e in 2011 and man, it was weird. Group initiative was insane! I forgot that we house-ruled it. 

Apparently he got some slack for a photo of his 1e monster manual being all splayed out on a table.

Unearthed Arcana: Subclasses Revisited

We get a .pdf of some new subclasses:

Rogue: Phantom: "These rogues take knowledge from the dead and become immersed in negative energy, eventually becoming like ghosts."

I love the "Soul Trinket" idea - the rogue can take a sliver of a dying soul and use it to gain advantage on a bunch of stuff, and can ask the spirit in the trinket one question.

I really like this subclass! Not for the mechanical options, but for the flavor, which is a super-rare thing.

Warlock: The Genie: As a big fan of Al Qadim, you had me at "genie."

You get a "genie lamp" of your own, which you can magically enter and exit!

Over time, your appearance changes to resemble your genie, and at 14th level you can request a limited wish from the genie (replicating the effect of a spell of up to 6th level).

This one is also tremendous. I assume this stuff will be in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything?

Wizard: Order of Scribes: The spellbook takes center stage here.

One thing that sticks out: "When you cast a wizard spell with a spell slot, you can temporarily replace its damage type with the damage type of another spell in your spellbook, as your spellbook magically alters the spell’s formula for this casting."

So... you could cast fireball, and make it an acidball? Or a forceball? Crazy.

At 6th level, you can make spell scrolls just by touching a piece of parchment to the book!

At higher levels, the spell book becomes a hovering ghostly tome that you can teleport/switch places with.

All three of these are tremendous - the focus is on cool ideas and I love it.

This document brings forward an issue I have in D&D. Products come out, packed with new ideas, but then (for me, at least) get lost in time when everyone moves to the next thing. When I read these subclasses, I try so hard to take a mental note and remember that this "Phantom" subclass exists and that I need to refer to it when I use shadar kai in my games. But chances are, I'll forget.

Maps of the Month

This time around, we get maps from Theros and really, really nice maps of the "casino" lair of a lich from the Acquisitions, Inc. hardcover.

We also get maps of the legendary Green Dragon Inn from Expedition to Castle Greyhawk!

D&D Classics

There is a .pdf containing the details of the Green Dragon Inn from the Expedition to Castle Greyhawk book.

We also get some discussion of The Ruined Tower of Zenopus, a DMs Guild product linked to Saltmarsh.


Some issues of Dragon+ have more content than others. This one was definitely less beefy that the previous issue, but hey, it's free.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Arveiaturace

One of my favorite NPCs in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is the white dragon, Arveiaturace. I got to thinking about the corpse that rides on her back and decided to wander around the internet and see what I could find about it.

Guess what? Almost nothing! His name is Meltharond Thone, and there's just a few sentences about him! Ed Greenwood has created mountains of lore. I mean, just the other day on twitter he fired off a massive list of Icewind Dale slang. 

I decided to whip up a guide to collect all the info that I could find on Meltharond and Arveiaturace. I had forgotten that Arveiaturace is linked to Arauthator from Tyranny of Dragons!

The Arveiaturace Miniature

Before we start, I should note that they just came out with a MASSIVE Arveiaturace miniature. In fact, when I google her, mostly I just get results on the mini. This one comes out in January 2021, looks really cool.

Dragon Magazine #231 - Arveiaturace, "The White Wyrm"

by Storn Cook

This article is pretty much the main source of information on the dragon. While this article originally appeared in an issue of Dragon, they also posted it online way back when along with many other of Ed Greenwood's 'Wyrms of the North" articles. You can read this article for yourself right here.

Tons and tons of lore packed into this one! Let's seen what we've got. 

Nickname: Also known as "Iceclaws."

Hunting People: She likes to drift over ships and pluck up crew members to eat. Sometimes she lands on a ship and tears it apart to get at the delicious sailors below decks.

Arveiaturace spares sailors if they desire to talk or can sing. She has abducted people and then just talked to them for a month.

Meltharond Thone: She was once the steed of a wizard named Meltharond Thone, who captured and tamed her. Over the years, she became close with him and became lonely when he died.

She straps his palanquin to her back and flies with his skeletal figure riding between her shoulders.

"A web of arcane magics spun by Meltharond in his waning days keep his bones whole and in proper relation to each other, so the wizard's skeleton sits upright and turns its head to look in whichever direction Iceclaws is looking."

Candlekeep Incident: She once went to Candlekeep when a sage wrote bad things about Meltharond. She tore the roof of the building and set the sage straight.  

Laeral of Waterdeep personally delivered a freshly printed tome from Candlekeep entitled "The High History of the Mighty Mage Meltharond" to the White Wyrm,

Laeral stayed there for ten days. The wyrm now leaves ships near Waterdeep alone.

Mate: Arveiaturace sometimes mates with a white dragon named Arauthator.

She Uses Magic: Meltharond gave her a "ring of spell triggering" that allows her to trigger the wands, rods, and staves he left behind. From what I can tell, basically, she can use a wand without holding it. As long as it is on the same plane, she can use it.

She can cast spells of up to 5th level. Her spells include:

  • Detect Magic
  • See Invisibility
  • Dispel Magic
  • Wall of Ice

New Spell: This article also details a spell that both Meltharond and the dragon use, called Awaken from Afar. It basically lets you use a wand without touching it. If the wand is on the same PLANE as you are, you can use it.  

Her Lair: Arveiaturace lives on an island south of the Sea of Moving Ice. She dwells in a cavern right next to smaller chambers that were once the sanctum of Meltharond.

  • Meltharond's rooms are how he left it.
  • She uses one of Meltharond's wands to summon unseen servants to keep things tidy.
  • She may have a crystal ball to observe weather and ships.
  • We get a list of treasure, which is similar to what appears in the 3e hoard. Plus: "...half a dozen of Meltharond's spellbooks (contents to be determined by the DM)."

She Once Fought 12 Black Dragons: "Arveiaturace is famous for tearing apart a midair portal to other planes that opened uncomfortably close to her lair and disgorged some sort of flying ship and an aerial guard of no less than twelve young adult black dragons! The White Wyrm screamed a challenge and charged to the attack, destroying the ship, the gate, and every last dragon in a wild fray that lasted for most of a day -- despite the hostile and quite spectacular spells of several wizards aboard the ship."

Dragons of Faerun

This one has an epic piece of art by the late, great William O'Connor (at the top of this article). We get a lot of the same information as in the 2e article. I was hoping for a map of her lair, but I don't see one.

She has "scales of powder blue."

Hoard: They actually detail her entire treasure hoard, which includes

  • Piles of gems
  • An idol of Gargauth aka the archdevil trapped in a shield from Baldur's Gate: Avernus
  • Crystal ball
  • Flesh golem manual
  • Stone golem manual
  • Staff of frost
  • Wand of slow
  • Wand of unseen servant

Her treasure hoard is guarded by 2 stone golems and one flesh golem.

Island: Meltharond was the ruler of the Ice Peak, an island south of the sea of moving ice. Arveiaturace became adept at battling wizards after years of serving as a steed in "mage-battle."

Personality: Arveiaturace is more paranoid than ambitious, and would like to find a wizard to replace Meltharond.

Tiamat Connection: A member of the Cult of the Dragon named Lashivian tried to convince her to become a dracolich.

Rise of the King by R.A. Salvatore

From what I can glean, in this book it is explained that Arveiaturace mated with the dragon Arauthator and they spawned a progeny named Aurbanfras, a white dragon who was slain in the War of the Silver Marches. 

Tyranny of Dragons

Arauthator, Arveiaturace's sometime-mate, is in this adventure. The group needs to go to his lair ("...just one of a number of minor lairs maintained by the dragon..."), which is a small cave/dungeon in an iceberg on the Sea of Moving Ice. His treasure hoard is pretty meager. He's got some ice troll and ice toad servants.

Storm King's Thunder

Storm King's Thunder has a random encounters in Icewind Dale section. The first entry: Arveiaturace. "Rarely does she condescend to meddle in the affairs of land dwellers; however, if one or more characters neglect to take cover, she swoops down for a closer look at them (and they at her)."

It says she is insane and that she calls out the the "withered corpse of a wizard she once regarded as a great friend. Arveiaturace occasionally calls out to the corpse in Draconic, as though the wizard were still alive."

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden

She has a large entry in the "Wilderness Encounter" section on page 105. 

Eyesight: Age has clouded her eyes with cataracts, limiting the range of her vision to 60 feet.

Prefers Beasts: She prefers the taste of reindeer, walrus, and polar bear flesh to that of humanoids. 

Meltharond: Meltharond's corpse is strapped to a saddle on her back. She has never acknowledged his death and still speaks to his body as if he were alive.

Ship Lair: On of her lairs is one page 127, "Dark Duchess." She has placed some of her hoard in an abandoned pirate ship called the Dark Duchess. 

Hoard: Her treasure is buried under four thick, translucent layers of ice. This hoard includes:

  • A Quiver of Ehlonna
  • Suit of Mithral Armor
  • A replica of the Wand of Orcus (!)

Arveiaturace is meant to show up while the group is exploring the ship. There is discussion of Meltharond falling out of his saddle. We are told that she can't put him back in the saddle without help. If the characters put Meltharond back, she spares their lives. 

"Once the characters are beyond her field of vision, the somewhat dim dragon remembers that she's big enough to scoop up Meltharond with one claw; she does so - gently - and flies back to her lair atop the Reghed Glacier."

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Dragon+ Issue 31

You can read this issue here.

Time to get caught up on my Dragon Pluses! Tons of stuff in this one, including a tremendous article on accessibility and D&D which shed some light on a few things for me.

The cover artist, Kent Davis, talks about the process of making the cover. The monster is an Udaak - a creature from the Explorer's Guide to Wildemount book. I reviewed this book right here.

We actually get a pdf of the monster's entry from the book. I love it when they do that.

Mythic Odysseys of Theros

In this one, designers discuss coming up with a way to make a "boss fight" more challenging. They put some monsters in this book that have two forms. You think you've killed the creature, but then the creature reveals it's true form and the battle continues.

Looking again at the alternate cover of the Theros book, I really like it. My only issue is that it's a bit too comic book-y in style. I like a fully painted look, no black line art visible.

Heroes & Villains

Heroes & Villains a new D&D clothing line. I actually really like this stuff a lot - especially the Warduke shirts and the D&D sweatpants/pajama pants. You can never have enough pajama pants, in my humble opinion.

Does wizards have the rights to use Warduke in the books? Could they put him in an adventure? If they can, they should! Warduke was one of the first NPCs I tried to write a guide about.

Baldur's Gate 3

I'm definitely looking forward to this game, even though I must confess that I have never actually completed a Baldur's Gate game. Not even close! I do really love Candlekeep thanks to the first game.

They give us a description of the nautiloid (that's a mind flayer ship that can traverse wildspace): " enormous living bio-ship that responds to the commands of its mind flayer pilot. Birthing pods are opened with the release of a clenched hand and colossal tentacles crush the buildings they have wrapped around with the closing of that same fist."

Sounds really cool. There were some things I didn't like about the nautiloid in Rime of the Frostmaiden, but I'm glad that the old 2e Spelljammer stuff isn't being left in the dust and forgotten.

Stay at Home Play at Home

I forgot that you can get the basic rules of D&D for free in pdf form. They link us to it. It's right here.

They also link to a bunch of free adventures from the DMs Guild.

We get some discussion about using D&D Beyond, Roll20, and Fantasy Grounds. In my opinion:

  • D&D Beyond is really great. My groups seem to really like using it, and I love that you can link it to your twitch so that viewers can actually look at the stats of the characters.
  • Roll20 is nice, but it's just way too complicated for me to use as a DM. It is fun as a player, though, especially if your DM has taken the time to master the program.
  • Fantasy Grounds I only played once or twice, but I remember thinking that Fantasy Grounds really kicked ass. Also, the Fantasy Grounds people were nice enough to put some of my DMs Guild adventures on there.

Accessibility & D&D

This is a huge article on inclusion and resources for players with different conditions. There's a character sheet designed for those with dyslexia and color-blindness. I love this sheet and want to use it.

There is an interview with Sara Thompson who points out that you can use a live captioner on your screen when streaming.

Focusing: This part really hit me:

There’s a problem feeling like you can’t bring things up,” Thompson says from experience, as Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome can make it painful for her to sit for long periods of time and may require medication that results in “brain fog, where you can’t concentrate on what a DM is saying to you, even though they’ve said it five times to your face. I would always feel pretty terrible asking every hour and a half, ‘Hey, can we take a break?’ while everyone else was really getting into playing.

Brain fog! I can't tell you how many times I just couldn't focus while playing D&D. That's why I DM most of the time - my brain keeps moving. When I'm a player, I just can't focus and there always comes a point where I can't retain what the DM is saying, particularly if they read a lengthy description aloud.

Playing a Disabled Character: The article also talks about using disabled characters in the game: "Playing a disabled character might seem like a daunting task for an abled player who doesn’t want to cause offence or further stereotypes. Yet Thompson says not including disabled people in a world is the same as saying that they don’t exist."

The article even links to a combat wheelchair.

Accommodating Everyone: This passage hit me hard:

"Whether you’re a DM who knows not to mention spiders because of a player’s arachnophobia or a player who avoids character on character PvP attacks because a fellow player doesn’t enjoy them, gamers often unconsciously show the flexibility and responsiveness that is the core of accessibility. Once people have built up an understanding of the tools, materials, and needs of the group, Greyling says it’s simply a matter of “being willing to amend and being dynamic enough in your approach to things.

This article is talking about core issues in D&D that I've been trying to wrap my head around for years. I have had a really hard time expressing the true challenges of running a game, which frequently involve the group dynamic. In my experience, the most difficult issue with D&D is collecting people in a room and performing a task together in a harmonious way.

You'd think it would be easy, but all of these weird issues you never even thought of spring up, and I'm often at a loss as far as how to deal with them. It has only been through repetition - playing D&D over and over for years and years with many different people, that I have been able to at least somewhat handle running the game smoothly.

That said, I still feel like I am often not up to the challenge because I lack insight, and this article is actually cluing me in on some bigger reasons as to why things happen the way they do.

Using Language: Then we are given a guide to use containing language to avoid. It is in pdf form here.

This one is a huge eye-opener for me. I really wish that, in each entry, they gave an alternative phrase to use (if any at all). They do give a list of words to use at the bottom.

Some of the ones that really hit me:

"Confined to a Wheelchair" I don't know if I've ever used this phrase, but I've seen it many times and never gave it any thought.

"Derp" is one I always thought of as a silly nonsense word.

"Harelip" I was under the impression that this was an actual definition of the condition. "Cleft-lip palette" is the term.

"Lame" is a word that I do use. I never made the connection that it refers to "people with physical or mobility disabilities." I feel like I need to completely update my lexicon.

"Spaz" is a word I have used on occasion - "Spaz out." Now I see this phrase on the screen in front of me: "Refers to people with cerebral palsy or similar neurological disabilities." Good god. I had a player with cerebral palsy and I might have actually said this word in front of him.

"Special Needs" I always thought this one was an OK term to use. I definitely feel the need to completely overhaul what words I use and the general mindset I have.

There is a big list of words that would be preferable to use. Some of my favorites: Asinine, Contemptible, Dense, Livid, Overwrought (that's a great word to slip in a sentence), Petulant, and Solipsistic (this is the word that I have to look up every time I hear it).

Now we get to words that should be used. I will try and lock some of these in my brain:

  • Disabled
  • On the autism spectrum
  • With an intellectual disability
  • Uses a walker
  • With a mobility disability

D&D and Language: See, even "disabled" makes me nervous. We are living in a time where what is acceptable to say is changing rapidly, and often I feel like I shouldn't say anything at all because I might offend someone. This list is very helpful for me to use to upgrade my outlook on the world we live in right now.

I love that the world is re-evaluating the way we treat one another, and I really don't want to turn into some crabby old guy who clings fearfully to the way things were done in the '90's.

There are few things I loathe more in life than a dude who insults someone, and then says "Don't be a pussy" when it is pointed out that he's being a dick. I don't ever want to be that guy.

I have had a lot of players on the autism spectrum in the past and I had quite a few things that I would like to write about on the topic in a general sense, but I was always so afraid of using the wrong language or accidentally "shaming" someone that I didn't do it.

I actually once deleted an entire session recap from this blog from the time when I ran games in the game store, because an autistic player had an outburst and, even though I went to great lengths at the time to keep things anonymous, I felt like I probably shouldn't write about it at all - even though those issues eventually ended a campaign.

Anyway.. I could go on forever. So glad I read this article!

Unearthed Arcana: Spells, Magical Tattoos, and Psionics

Well geez, this sounds like a Monte Cook 5e explosion! What's more Monte than magic tattoos? What's more Bruce Cordell than D&D psionics?!

Most of the spell section involves summoning different kinds of spirits, which looks like a lot of fun. That's prime "the group's favorite NPC" territory.

Tattoos: The very first tattoo seems very powerful. When you are hit with a certain type of damage, you can gain immunity to it (just that instance of the damage, though) and heal half of the damage you took from it. It's only once per day. Good when you're fighting a dragon, though!

There's a tattoo that acts as armor (!), a tattoo that beefs up your critical hits, a tattoo that lets you move through creatures and solid object, and a tattoo that can store a spell.

I absolutely love these tattoos. It's so nice to have rules for things like this.

Psionics: As for the psionics, I should note that psionics played a huge part in my campaigns when I was a kid. The Complete Psionics Handbook completely changed my games for the better. The name of this blog - Power Score - is a term from that book. A power score is when you roll the exact number you needed (and produced special psionic effects when you rolled a power score).

We get some classes and, my favorite thing from 2e (except the wild magic surge table), WILD TALENTS. In 2e, a wild talent means your character just happened to be born with one psionic ability.

In this playtest, it's basically an extra die you can use to boost an ability check or attack roll. There's a cool idea here where the die "shrinks" on each use. So, your die is a d6. You use it on a to hit roll. Next time, it's a d4. Then, once the d4 is used, you can't use it at all until you take a long rest.

Maps of the Month

What's my favorite part of Dragon+? The free maps! This month we get a mix of stuff. The one I like most is the Mad Mage map. I wonder if they'll give us a free map of one level each issue, until all the levels have been given out.

For the record, Dungeon of the Mad Mage was a wall of text that I just couldn't get through. That's why there is no guide to it on this site. I may try to tackle it again at some point, but who knows. I'd need to nibble away at it each day, otherwise I'll get overwhelmed again.

They also have maps from the 3.5 Expedition to Castle Greyhawk! I actually ran a Castle Greyhawk campaign for a while on the Greyhawk Channel. I made my own version of the castle. People seemed to like when I incorporated the Lost Laboratory of Kwalish into it. Honestly I was very poorly prepared to run that adventure.

Creature Feature: Ikoria's Mutating Monsters

We get a .pdf of a monster from Magic: The Gathering. It's sort of like a godzilla-sized tiger. It has legendary actions and everything. It can shoot necrotic energy and has a special reaction where it can resist a certain type of damage.

Dndspeak d100 list: Gargantuan Monsters

Long time readers of this blog know that I LOVE the dungeon dozen, a site full of raw ideas on a certain topic. This article here is from Casey Willis, who runs a site called Dndspeak. This site is full of lists that go up to 100!

Apparently there is a reddit community that puts these together. Mind blown.

Let's pick out my favorite gargantuan monsters from this list:

Nimir of the Ruinous Oblivion: "A massive, nearly invisible figure draped in long, disgusting cloth. Nimir is the demon who oversees the creation of wraiths..."

OK, anything that expands on D&D lore is a huge thumbs up from me.

The Bickering Hydra: "This creature began life as seven royal sisters who constantly argued with each other, even as their kingdom fell apart under the threat of invading armies of monsters. Their bloodline was cursed and the heads of these princesses now sit on the seven serpentine necks of a giant hydra-like monster..."

So good. Is this not Demogorgon's next consort? Love it.

Drak’Munshoo, Eater of Stars: "This ancient lunar dragon resides on the dark side of the nearest moon. When the moon is full, its iridescent scales light up and it shoots across the sky, feeding on smaller stars. "

Fun fact: My campaign world/crystal sphere started way back when with the idea that there was a thing called a "star dragon." Later I came up with the twist that half the worlds in my crystal sphere are actually star dragon eggs that will one day hatch and kill the millions of people on each world.

The first set of gods could not resolve this issue and actually left the sphere, taking only their most devoted followers with them.

I have never resolved this story. I guess when I'm an old geezer, I'll run an adventure where the eggs hatch and everything is destroyed.

Animated Temple: I don't need to write anything else, do I? This needs to be a DMs Guild adventure like right now.

Arcane Jellyfish: "Unlike the seafaring creatures they are based upon, these jellyfish are crafted from pure magic. A few have grown to the size of small towns and can be seen from miles away as they float aimlessly in the sky."

This one is really good for atmosphere. I'd love to run a campaign where the heroes start off in a town where there's an arcane jellyfish floating in the distance, and everyone is used to it being there.

D&D Classics: Battlefields

This one contains a whole bunch of pdfs, articles from old issues of Dragon Magazine that deal with mass combat, battlefields, and castles.

Mass combat has always been this impossible thing to tackle in D&D. I do like the idea of just giving each side a stat block and letting them go at it. I personally love running encounters where the heroes are in the middle of a massive battle and each round, random stuff happens (a soldier stabs at them, a catapult boulder comes flying at them, a wounded soldier needs healing, etc.).

I can say with pride that when I was a kid, my friend Stan ran a D&D Skirmishes game one single time, and I won because I prepared like a madman for it.

Best of the Dungeon Master's Guild

These feature products that involve mass combat and gargantuan monsters. The one that catches my eye is The Walking Statues of Waterdeep by The DM Hero. That looks really cool.

Tactics for Mass Combat

Then we get a big article on running mass combat in 5e.

One idea I like involves combining the monster stats:

"Example: The party is fighting thirty orcs. Each orc has 15 hit points, so the horde has a total of 450 HP. If a character swings and deals 62 total damage across three attacks, the horde now has 388 HP as four of them are killed and another receives a grazing wound."

That works for me!

We also get some great notes on treating massive groups of enemies as an environmental hazard.

Very good issue. Thanks for reading!