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Monday, November 30, 2020

Dragon+ Issue 34

You can read this issue right here.

It is Dragon+ time! The cover features Strahd, as they've just released a deluxe boxed set version of Curse of Strahd called Strahd Revamped. I've been reading about that product a bit, and I plan to do a review of it soon. I want to see what they changed from the original, if anything.

Imagining The Ampersand: Harry Conway

The cover art is by Harry Conway. He says that to prepare for this, he watched many dracula movies, including:

  • BBC's version of Dracula, which I've never seen.
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula, starring Keanu Reeves.
  • Not Twilight. You know, people bash Twilight so much, it sort of makes me want to watch it. Is it bad-bad or funny bad? If it's funny bad, then yeah I will definitely check it out.

2020 Gift Guide

We get a link to a pdf full of D&D stuff to buy for Christmas. There's so much stuff. Here are some of my favorites.

This is one of the Figurines of Adorable Power. It is a plush version of those little beholders that appeared in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. They have a mimic, a flumph (!) and more.

Don't get me wrong. I like pillows. But I have a real problem with too many pillows. I don't want pillows on couches. I don't want 10 pillows on a bed. I want the minimum amount of pillows necessary for a given task, which is almost always exactly zero pillows.

That said, do I want a pillow emblazoned with the classic Larry Elmore red box art? Yes, yes I do.

I think I've already mentioned this once before, but I don't care. Come hell or high water, I am going to own this giant d20 desk light that changes colors! Nothing can stop me.

In the Works: Tasha's Cauldron of Everything

There is an interview with Elisa Teague, who did the puzzle section in Tasha's. We are given a free .pdf of a new Tasha's puzzle.

Puzzles in D&D are so hard to get right. I'll never forget one session I played where we had to solve a riddle, and the DM wouldn't let us move on until we figured it out. We sat there for two hours, and the solution ended up being a PUN. 

The last line of the riddle was "Oh, well." Which meant we needed to go look at the well in town. The rest of the words in the riddle were meaningless.

In the Works: Curse of Strahd Revamped

You should definitely read this if you cave any interest in Curse of Strahd Revamped, or just Strahd/Ravenloft in general. Chris Perkins talks about a ton of interesting stuff.

Chris Perkins says: “One of the things that a DM needs to think about is, how do I keep the adventure going and keep Strahd present without him running roughshod over the party? Because Strahd is a tough customer. If a mean DM really wanted to, they could end the adventure fairly quickly by having Strahd bear down on the party too soon.

He also talks about tension:

If you make the story too tense for too long, eventually fatigue sets in. Sometimes when you watch a horror movie, you realize it’s gone wrong because it’s too relentless. Whereas a movie like Cabin in the Woods blends its horror with humor, to disarm you and set you up for the next horrible thing that’s going to happen.

The heroes going after Strahd:

If the characters roam around Barovia, experiencing the misery that has infected this land and hearing stories of Strahd, there comes a point when they come to the conclusion themselves that they have to go to the castle. Sometimes it’s early in their visit to Barovia and sometimes it’s later on. But that kind of player agency is the best outcome. In a good horror story, the heroes have more agency than the villain.

“You want the characters to reach that moment when they say, ‘Okay, we’ve seen enough. Somebody has to do something and we’re ready.’ The strength of the story comes when the characters rise up of their own volition and decide now is the time we’re going to climb up to that castle and deal with that devil. And then, of course, they realize what a terrible mistake that is! They’ve just fallen into Strahd’s trap.

Some DMs run their game in a way where this option may not be apparent. If you run your game in a sandbox-y manner, then sure, this could happen. But a lot of DMs, at least in my past experience, are railroad-y to a certain extent. The players wont even realize they have the option of dropping everything and going to Castle Ravenloft. They'll wait to be prodded, or given a hook to do so, right?

Also, I could be misremembering this, but doesn't Strahd send the group invitations to come to the castle when it's time?

Chris talks about less serious versions of Strahd:

By the same token, I’ve also run games at conventions that haven’t necessarily been light-hearted, but have had a very different feel to them. One of my favorite things to do is to have the characters start the game trapped in Castle Ravenloft. They wake up in Strahd’s study and their only goal is to escape the castle with their lives. That’s the setup: there’s a vampire and he’s going to eat you, unless you get out. And by the way, you have no weapons or equipment."

Sounds like fun!

In the Works: Shop Dungeons & Dragons, Powered by WizKids

I want to mention this for a specific reason. You can now buy D&D minis and stuff on this centralized site. They have a giant Orcus mini coming out, which depicts the 5e version of Orcus (and not the 4e version that I love so much).

Some people have mentioned this specific item online, so I decided to check it out. A deluxe Yawning Portal Inn premium set, the tavern which contains the entrance to the Dungeon of the Mad Mage, complete with LED lights and a mini of the bartender, Durnan.

How much do you think this costs? $100? I mean, it's got glowing lights. $125?

Nope. $350. Three hundred and fifty dollars. This thing needs to have an actual working beer tap to be worth that much money. 

It's weird because I do all my playing online now, so I really don't have any need for physical minis. I like them. I used to have tons of them. 

I actually think this is a cool product and I'd like to see more, the problem is that to me they're too expensive, and I don't have any actual use for them.

Solo Adventure: Frozen Offerings

We get a link to a solo adventure .pdf, for free, along with maps. This adventure requires no DM - just you.

I'd love to see someone do a livestream where they play through this adventure alone. If they die, they die.

D&D Classics

This is where we get fresh .pdfs of articles from older editions.

Maps of the Month

One of my favorite things about Dragon+ is the free maps! This month we get ice-themed maps, including two from Rime of the Frostmaiden: The Caves of Hunger and the Frost Giant Ice Lodge.

Good stuff!

Monday, November 23, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - Essentials Kit Review


by Grzegorz Rutkowski

Today we're going to take a look at the D&D Essentials Kit, a boxed set containing everything you need to play Dungeons & Dragons.

I just want to note that it retails for $25, but you can buy brand new copies of it for $7.79 on amazon right now. If you have any interest in this product, now is definitely the time to buy it.

This boxed set came with a code that lets you access the adventure in this kit - Dragon of Icespire Peak by Chris Perkins - on D&D Beyond for free. I haven't really looked at D&D Beyond much, but I did while working on this article and man do I have a lot to say. I'll do an article on D&D Beyond soon. It's extremely useful! It made reading the adventure so much easier for me.

Here's what you get in the Essentials Kit: 

  • Softcover Rulebook: 64 pages of D&D rules.
  • Dragon of Icespire Peak: 64 page adventure for level 1 characters.
  • Poster Map of Phandalin
  • 4-Panel DM Screen
  • Dice Set
  • Character Sheets
  • Tons of Cards
  • Box: To hold the tons of cards

Dice Set

You get two d20's, four d6's, and one of everything else. These dice are the "gem" type of dice - red and translucent. I don't like these of dice because they roll forever and end up flying off the table. I refer to this phenomenon as "sloppy dice."

I like that the kit give extra dice, though.

DM Screen

This thing is pretty thin, not at all burly and strong like the Dungeon Master's Screen Wilderness Kit. It is 4 panels wide. The art is pretty good, but it came out a little dark, so some details are difficult to make out. 

The information on the inside of the screen is nearly identical to what's on the wilderness kit screen, except that this one contains a listing of all the actions in combat.

Do you think D&D should veer away from combat a bit? In the olden days, it was all-combat all-the-time. But now I think that people want a bit more storytelling - more adventure and less killing. I do think that the days of inconsequential combats are behind us. 

Character Sheets

Just a bunch of character sheets waiting to be filled in. They're printed on very nice, heavy paper, which is appreciated.

Poster Map

The map depicts the town of Phandalin on one side, and the area around Phandalin on the other side. This map is meant to be used with the adventure in this boxed set, Dragon of Icespire Peak. It's by the great Mike Schley.


There are a lot of cards in this box! They come on perforated sheets. You have to assemble the box that holds them. I honestly didn't think the cards would fit in the box, because there are so many of them. 

There are many different types of cards:

Initiative Cards: You can give these to players, so they know who goes when.

NPC Cards: In this adventure, you can take along an NPC sidekick using the sidekick rules. These cards each depict a different NPC. The front has an image of what they look like, and the back lists their personality, ideal, bond, and flaw. 

I dug through the D&D Beyond version of this adventure to show you my favorite NPC:

A sidekick has one of three stat blocks: Expert, Warrior, or Spellcaster.  They are listed in the rulebook

Quest Cards: In the adventure, the town of Phandalin has a board where the quests are posted. There are three starting quests. Once 2 of the quest have been completed, 3 new quests are posted. Once 2 more are completed, the final 3 quests are posted. 

The first 3 quests:

  • Warn dwarf prospectors that a white dragon is in the area.
  • Visit the gnomes of Gromengarde to see if they have a device that could repel the dragon.
  • Convince a woman who lives in a windmill to move to Phandalin for her own safety.

Condition Cards: I think that every D&D player should own these cards. Very handy! Each card lists a different condition, including grappled, charmed, and incapacitated.

Combat Cards: These 3 cards all contain the same information - references on how combat works, step-by-step.

Magic Item Cards: This is something else I think every group should have! Each card details a different magic item. How handy. All the information is right there.

There are a ton of these cards. There are actually multiples of a few items. It looks like there are 6 potion of healing cards.

Magic Charm Card: This last card details the Charm of the Storm, a special boon a character can acquire on one of the quests. I won't spoil what it does, but it is very cool.


This book has information that allows players to take a character for levels 1-6. Four races, five classes, five backgrounds. Then there's general rules to play the game, followed by equipment and spells.

Sidekicks are in the appendix. I like it when they keep things condensed. On one page, we get the stat blocks for the three sidekick types. On the other page, we get all the info needed to level up a sidekick.

How do you describe D&D to a new player? It feels weird to do, especially if you're very familiar with the game. This is how the rulebook describes it:

"In the D&D game, each player creates a character who is an adventurer and teams up with other adventurers (played by friends). One player, however, takes on the role of the DM, the game's lead storyteller and referee. The DM runs adventures for the characters, who navigate its hazards and decide which paths to explore. The DM describes the locations and creatures the characters face, and the players decide what they want their characters to do. Then the DM determines the results of the adventurers' actions and narrates what they experience. Because the DM can improvise to react to anything the players attempt, D&D is infinitely flexible, and each adventure can be unexpected."

The phrase "lead storyteller" alarms me a little bit. You don't want the new DM to think that D&D is a novel that they write/force on the players. I think most of us have played through a D&D game where the DM has their pet NPC that does all the important stuff, and our characters are just kind of there to tag along.

Dragon of Icespire Peak

We start off with some DM tips:

  • When in doubt, make it up.
  • Embrace the shared story.
  • It's not a competition. 
  • Be consistent and fair.
  • Modify the adventure to suit your tastes.
  • Keep a notepad and some graph paper handy.

"Make it up" is one I've seen some players struggle with. They become concerned with the notion that their character "build" is built on the anticipation that certain conditions exist. What's the point of making a build to gain an advantage in certain situations if those situations may never actually arise?

I think that's where it is important for the DM to inform the players what their style is, so the players can craft characters accordingly. For example, if your DM doesn't require rolls for certain skill checks, then there is no point in making a character that is proficient in that skill. 

Number of Characters: You can run this for 1-6 characters. One character? How can one character survive an adventure balanced for up to 6? The one character gets an NPC sidekick, using the sidekick rules in the rulebook. 

I'm very interested to see if you really can survive this adventure with just one hero and an NPC sidekick. 

Looking through the adventure, I see how they worked around this. Here's an example: "Lurking in the hall is one ghoul for each member of the party, not including sidekicks.

Another example: "There are three times as many orcs as there are characters in the party, not including sidekicks.

At the Shrine of Savras, there's actually a table that lists how many orcs and ogres lurk at the locale, depending on what level the heroes are.

Pretty good, right?

Phandalin: The town is described in just two pages, which I really appreciate. The heroes choose one of three quests from a board in town and off they go. 

The Dragon: The villain in this adventure is Cryovain, a white dragon. As the group travels to different locations, there is a chance the dragon will show up, looking for something or someone to eat. If the group can do 10 points of damage to it, it will fly away. 

The Scenarios: One weird thing that comes up in this adventure, is that every location seems to have been over-run by monsters at some point in their history. This displaces other monsters, which causes problems. For example, the white dragon kicks out the orcs, who then move to a town and destroy it, etc. Almost every single location in this adventure has been attacked, wiped out, and rebuilt in its history.

by Olga Drebas

(no lvl) Falcon's Hunting Lodge: This is a "secret location" that the group might find. It is home to one of the featured NPCs in the adventure - Falcon the hunter. Falcon will let the heroes stay in his guest house for free. This is a safe place to rest.

(lvls 1-6) Shrine of Savras: Another "secret location" that the group might hear about in town or on another quest. At the shrine are some orcs and the opportunity to gain a magic vision that can give the group clues as to where the dragon is.

There's also a cool magic item: The mystery key. It has a 5% chance of unlocking any lock into which it is inserted. Then it disappears.

I didn't remember seeing this item in the deck of magic item cards, so I checked. It's there!

(lvl 1) Dwarven Excavation: The adventurers come here to warn the dwarves about the dragon. The heroes are asked to kill some ochre jellies. 

This location has an interesting backstory - the jellies are actually followers of a god of greed. The god became angry with its dwarven followers and turned them into jellies.

(lvl 1) Gnomengard: This is a somewhat deluxe location. There's quite a bit going on, here. I don't want to spoil it, but someone or something is causing gnomes to disappear. One of the kings has gone mad, and the place is a wild magic zone. I really like this place.

(lvl 1-3) Umbrage Hill: A manticore is attacking this windmill which is home to a woman who can sell the group potions of healing. Very short and sweet, which is how I like it.

(lvl 3) Tower of Storms: The group finds this place through rumors. This location is a lighthouse/temple devoted to an evil god of storms. There are a number of monsters here, including harpies and a friendly talking crab. There are shipwrecks in the water that have some good loot. The gimmick here is really cool - the bad guy's heart is linked to the light house.

(lvl 3) Butterskull Ranch: I love the name of this place. Sounds delicious!

Orcs have overtaken this place and tied up Big Al, the owner. This is essentially one encounter, as all the orcs are in one spot.

(lvl 3) Loggers' Camp: This one involves a D&D monster that doesn't get used much - the ankheg. The monsters are plaguing a logging camp.

(lvl 4) Mountain's Toe Gold Mine: A big mine complex with some wererats in it.

(lvl 5) Axeholm: A nearly empty dwarven fortress that is now home to ghouls. The map is huge and there is very little actually inside the dungeon.

(lvl 5) Dragon Barrow: The adventurers come here to retrieve a dragon slayer longsword once wielded by Lady Alagondar. This is a small tomb with some traps, a very cool skeletal horse, and the sword is resting one the skull of a huge dragon. I love this place.

(lvls 5-6) Woodland Manse: Agents of the god of storms have taken over this place. They've even grown a gulthias tree, like in the Sunless Citadel. Lots of loot in this place! I like that. I hate when adventures are stingy with treasure.

At the end of this scenario, we are told that on the following day, the bad guys will attack Falcon's lodge with 20 orcs and Gorthok the Thunder Boar. Yikes.

by Jason Engle
(lvl 6) Circle of Thunder: This is sort of a "secret quest" not listed on the job board, but hooks to it can be found in a few other quests. Worshipers of a storm god use this place to summon storms or a "thunder boar." When the heroes show up, the bad guys are in the middle of a summoning.

(lvl 6) Icespire Hold: This is where the dragon is. As the group gets close to the lair, they come upon an ogre frozen in ice - a victim of the dragon's breath weapon. That's awesome.

This is a really huge place with almost nothing in it. There are a few bandits and stirges, and of course, the dragon. The group will probably end up fighting the dragon on the roof of this place, which is covered in slippery ice. The ice causes you to fall prone. I don't see any info on what happens if you fall off the roof.

No treasure, either!

Thoughts on the Adventure

This adventure is, I assume, made for people brand new to D&D. I looked around online, and I found that some new DMs struggled with this product a bit:

"My family just purchased this, as our first attempt at playing D&D. I took a shot at being DM with my wife and son playing... I struggled a lot more than I thought i would, as a first time DM. Without another resource we couldn’t figure out a wide range of things – how we managed movement and distance, when or how food/supplies came into things, etc. We kind of muddled through, but there was a lot that wasn’t clear and we all spent a fair amount of time researching online whilst trying to figure it out. And the first adventure kind of flopped..."

Another person said:

"The quests need a lot of imagination and effort if you want it to be anything more than a quest board. I don’t mind the work and creative aspect, but there is no through-line of the whole campaign that is obvious. My players are pretty much ready to jump on any clue or thread I give them so its easy to feather in quests without, “uh should we go check the job board?”"

I can't really speak on what this adventure would be like to run as a brand new DM, all I can really do is listen. I am wondering if they tested this product by giving it to people who have never played D&D before? That would be a good way to see what questions might pop up.

I can give thoughts on the adventure itself. Some of the maps are too big - too many rooms that contain nothing of consequence. The best locations are the ones that just cut to the chase. No stirges, no rooms full of mundane stuff, just the thing that we came here to deal with.

I would get annoyed running the mine. Here's 4 rooms in a row:

M5. Storeroom: A dozen crates of dry foodstuffs and nine casks of drinking water are stacked in the middle of this cave.

M6. Sleeping Quarters: This cave contains a dozen wooden cots.

M7. Gold Storage: This cave contains two wheelbarrows and an empty bin.

M8. Equipment Storage: Picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows are stored here.

Boring! Can we just take a whole section of this place and give it one entry? "This area contains storage, cots, blah bah blah." The way it is now, these new players will be creeping room-to-room, expecting danger and excitement. They're going to get disenchanted, and the game could start to drag.

Especially because a new DM won't have the instinct to hand wave these rooms. 

I would say that my favorite sections of this adventure are the dragon barrow, and the final battle with the dragon. I would change the dragon's lair, though, and turn it into ruins with no encounters.

What's Left for Chris Perkins? Reading this adventure, it makes me wonder what Chris Perkins has left to write. He has written a lot of great D&D stuff:

  • Umbra: Regarded as the best Planescape adventure.
  • Nemesis: The "sequel" to Umbra. I am probably in the minority on this, but I think this adventure is actually better than Umbra (needs new art, though).
  • Bzallin's Blacksphere: An epic, planar high level dungeon.
  • Curse of Strahd: Easily the most popular 5e adventure yet released, to the point that they made a deluxe boxed set version of it.
  • Dragon of Icespire Peak: One of the two introductory adventures to 5th edition D&D.
  • Bonus: He also wrote and ran Iomandra, a campaign setting that in my opinion should become an official D&D setting.

I think he does have at least one more epic adventure to write - the definite Vecna adventure (or perhaps a sequel to the Vecna "trilogy" - Vecna Lives, Vecna Reborn, Die, Vecna, Die). Most of the published 5e adventures make a reference to Vecna, the god of secrets. He's written in the past about using Vecna in his game, even creating Osterneth, the undead "bride" of Vecna (who appeared on 4e's Open Grave).


You get a ton of stuff in this box. Dice. Cards. A DM Screen. A Chris Perkins adventure. And right now it is $8.00! EIGHT DOLLARS.

You can buy the D&D Essentials Kit on amazon here.


Kyle Maxwell Doesn't Like This Adventure

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - Dungeon Master's Screen Wilderness Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are 100 numbered hexes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favorite weird locales:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - Tasha's Cauldron of Everything Review


I got a bunch of stuff in the mail:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Art

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

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

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

Young Tasha

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

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

Mordenkainen vs. Tasha

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

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

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

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

by Robin Olausson

Table of Contents

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's check it out.

Chapter 1: Character Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2: Group Patrons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhys by Tony DiTerlizzi

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

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

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

Chapter 3: Magical Miscellany

by Titus Lunter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are a few new Tasha spells:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An implanted tooth gives you special powers. 

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

Chapter 4: Dungeon Master's Tools

by Titus Lunter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Sam Keiser

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Half-Orcs

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

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

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

1e Player's Handbook

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

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

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

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

1e Monster Manual

Half-orcs are briefly discussed in the orc entry.

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

Orcs cannot cross-breed with elves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Half + Half Isn't Always Full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AD&D 2e Monstrous Compendium Volume I

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

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

Dungeon Magazine #4 - Trouble at Grog's

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

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

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

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

Many of Grog's employees are half-ogres. 

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

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

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

Dungeon Magazine 45 - Rudwilla's Stew

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

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

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

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

Her half-orc sons:

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

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

3e Player's Handbook

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

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

Half-Orc Traits:

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

Races of Destiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enemies and Allies

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

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

Krusk has his own miniature.

City of Fire

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

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

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

4e Player's Handbook 2

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

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

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


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

5e Player's Handbook

Half-Orc Stats:

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

Here's where we are at now:

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

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

They feel emotion powerfully.

Volo's Guide to Monsters

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

Half-orcs often end up leading orc tribes.