9 Reasons your Next D&D Character Should be a Monk

I asked Twitter which Dungeons & Dragons class I should write about. Twitter chose one of my favourite classes: the monk. Let me convince you that your next D&D character should be a monk.

Monks can learn to catch incoming missiles and throw them back.

That’s pretty cool with arrows and darts, but you can do the same when you’re attacked with spells like fire bolt or ray of frost too.

If you like one-one-on combat, you could make a monk who wants to duel with every character they meet.

This might be about testing and improving your own character’s skill or knowing how your allies fight.

You could make a monk who’s physically graceful, but socially awkward.

When you’re making a monk character, you always want to make Dexterity their strongest ability. With this kind of character, you also need to make Charisma their weakest.

While we’re on the theme of contradictions, you could make a monk who is an accomplished fighter but lacks discipline.

Maybe their lack of discipline is why they have had to leave their monastery and take up the life of an adventurer?

When you’re playing as a monk, you can just ask strangers for money and it’s not inappropriate.

Maybe your monk character always needs to ask for money because they’ve given their money away to others? Or maybe they don’t need the money, but they’re greedy?

You can make a character who masters the elements by choosing the genasi race and making a monk who follows the way of the four elements.

When choosing elemental disciplines, you could choose disciplines that match the element of your character’s subrace. Or you could disciplines that manipulate a range of different elements, to make an elemental all-rounder.

Your monk could be a tabaxi character who always lands on their feet.

If you choose to follow the way of the long death, it could seem like your character has nine lives.

If you make a goblin monk, your character could be just like Yoda.

Just check with your dungeon master if they’ll let you have a sun blade.

Lastly, you could coordinate with your D&D group and make a party of ninja tortles.

I’d suggest using subclasses like way of the open hand and way of the kensei. You could do this for a one-shot adventure or for a whole campaign, set in  the sewers of Waterdeep, Sharn or your own urban setting.

Review: Waterdeep: Dragon Heist

Friday last week was the early release date for Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, the latest Dungeons & Dragons hardcover adventure from Wizards of the Coast. (The official release is on September 18.) While previous 5th Edition D&D adventures have focused on the large-scale apocalyptic plots of dragons, giants and demons, Dragon Heist is much more small-scale and down-to-earth. Adventurers explore Waterdeep, the city of splendours, racing against underworld rivals to find a stash of 500 000 gold pieces. (In Waterdeep, gold coins are known as ‘dragons’.)

As well as being a much more localized adventure, Dragon Heist isn’t designed to be used a long campaign. Unlike previous 5th Edition hardcovers, Dragon Heist is only designed to progress player characters from first to fifth level. For this reason, I think Dragon Heist will serve well as a new introductory adventure – an alternative to Lost Mine of Phandelver or In Volo’s Wake. Those who are keen to continue on all the way to level twenty will be able to, with Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage dropping soon after, in November.

Because this adventure only spans levels one to five, WotC have been able to use the extra space to provide four different ways of running the adventure. Each version of the adventure is set in a different season and features different villains, so it has a lot of replay value.

I think this adventure also has a greater emphasis on roleplay and diplomacy than previous 5th Edition hardcovers – in fact, adventurers who try to fight their way through the adventure will probably find themselves in trouble with the law or being hunted down by one of the city’s underworld factions.

Early on in the adventure there is an opportunity for the party to begin running their own Waterdeep tavern, which I expect will be of interest to those players who enjoy the social side of D&D.

The five Sword Coast factions (as well as some local groups like Force Grey) are well integrated into the adventure. There are a lot of ways for adventurers pursue renown within their faction, and there are lots of opportunities for faction members to call in favors from their faction, particularly toward the end of the adventure.

I’m not planning to run this adventure as it is written straight away, but my Thursday night D&D group is currently not far from Waterdeep, and I’m looking forward to using some of the content from this book if they end up in the city of splendors. There’s one chapter where Volo gives an overview of each area of the city, and the adventure proper gives a lot of detail about the lairs of a number of Waterdeep operatives that adventurers could cross paths with. The bestiary provides stats for a lot of powerful non-player characters, presented like the superheroes and criminal masterminds of a renaissance city.


We’re playing through Waterdeep: Dragon Heist on our Twitch stream this season from 5pm Mondays US Eastern Standard Time. You can watch session zero here.

You can preorder a copy of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist via Amazon here.

How to Use an Ooze

Last week I asked Twitter what kind of Dungeons & Dragons monsters I should write about. I’ve been running Out of the Abyss most of this year, so I listed a few Underdark monsters I’ve used a lot. The clear winner was oozes.

One of the big limitations of oozes is that almost all of them are slower than most player characters. Most player characters can run away from an ooze. In order for an ooze to be a problem, you’ve often got to put your player characters in a tight spot where they can’t run, such as a tight dungeon. Since most oozes can squeeze trough small cracks you could have oozes coming out of the walls to attack and then disappearing back into tiny cracks where the player characters can’t attack them. You’re kind of treating them less like a ‘monster’ and more like a dungeon hazard – something the player characters have to get past in order to get to the business end of the dungeon. Hopefully it’s going to take off a chunk of their hit points, and maybe it will even ruin some of their armor or weapons, so they’re more vulnerable when they face the boss.

When you think about it, there are actually a lot of ways villains could make use of oozes. Oozes could be used in traps. There could be a trap that drops your players into a pit full of oozes. Or a trap that drops oozes on their heads. There could be a potion bottle that actually has a tiny ooze in it.

While we’re talking about bottles of ooze, maybe your villain could be an alchemist who throws vials with oozes in them at your player characters?

If you’re running an adventure that involves a murder investigation, maybe the villain has used an ooze to clean up the evidence like a slimy Roomba?

If the villain manages to capture a prisoner and is trying to get information out of them, maybe their interrogation involves an ooze? The torture could be dipping their hand in a container of corrosive ooze. Or it could be allowing an ooze to eat away at them until they provide answers.

If the player characters are searching a dungeon for an ancient artefact, you could have them find that it’s already been found by another adventurer – maybe a rival. If they take the time to search for clues, they discover a gelatinous cube that devoured the adventurer and the artefact. If the player characters want the artefact, they’ll need to get it out of the ooze.

Oozes aren’t normally sentient, but if your adventure features an intelligent ooze you’ll need to think about how to characterise your ooze non-player character. I’d suggest portraying an ooze as lethargic but ravenous.

If the ooze has consumed a lot of people, I’d have it talking with many different voices. I might even describe the faces of the ooze’s victims appearing briefly in its shifting form.

 

Player Characters for your Ravnica Adventure

A few weeks back Wizards of the Coast announced two new settings, Eberron and Ravnica. There’s a significant crossover between the fandoms of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, two of WOTC’s biggest properties, but not everyone is familiar with both. Ravnica is a setting from the collectable card game Magic: The Gathering, and the first to be getting a hardcover D&D book. Ravnica is a planet covered by one megacity, co-ruled by ten competing guilds.

Whether MTG was your gateway drug into D&D or you hadn’t heard of Ravnica until a few weeks ago, this article will take a quick look at each of Ravnica’s guilds, and the kind of characters you might make for a game set in Ravnica.

Update:

WOTC has released some playtest material for races of Ravnica, which you can find here. Includes loxodon (humanoid elephants), vedalken, viashino and Simic hybrids.

Azorius Senate

Azorius are the law enforcers of Ravnica, mostly cops.

 

Races: human, vedalken

Classes: wizard, paladin, fighter

Backgrounds: city watch / investigator, soldier

To me, one of the most iconic Azorius cards is Detention Sphere:

Detention Sphere makes me think of making a control wizard, probably a human wizard with the city watch background and spells like friends, lightning lure, shocking grasp, charm person, color spray, grease, sleep, snare. If you were using the variant human you could choose the moderately armored feat to give your squishy wizard a bit more protection in the line of duty, unless you’re happy with just the mage armor spell.

Boros Legion

Boros and Azorius seem  kind of similar. If Azorius are the cops, Boros are the troops.

 

Races: human, minotaur, goblin, viashino (use lizardfolk)

Classes: fighter, paladin

Background: soldier, mercenary veteran

While they have a lot of human, minotaur and goblin soldiers, they also have fire elemental soldiers. If you wanted to make one of these, I’d suggest a fire genasi fighter with the champion subclass for increased crits, and the soldier background.

Another option is a human paladin (soldier) on a griffin, specializing in great weapon combat.  (Azorius have ‘skyknights’ too, so you could do something similar for an Azorius character.) Obviously you’d want to make sure your dungeon master was on board with this plan.

 

House Dimir

Dimir are Ravnica’s crime syndicate. Most of Ravnica doesn’t know they exist. Some of their most valuable business is information stolen from other guilds.

 

Races: human, shapeshifter (use changeling), vampire

Classes: rogue, wizard

Background: charlatan, criminal / spy, urban bounty hunter

I’d suggest using the changeling race (from the Eberron playtest material) to make a rogue character using the criminal background. One of the quirks of the new changeling rules is that one of their tool proficiencies is enhanced when they adopt a persona associated with it. So, if the tool proficiency was alchemy, they might take on the persona of a member of a rival guild (perhaps Izzet or Simic) in order to steal that guild’s secrets.

Golgari Swarm

Golgari are the castoffs of Ravnica’s society, living in the sewers beneath the city, recycling the city’s waste, creating life out of death.

 

Races: elf (shadar-kai or drow), human

Classes: cleric, druid

Backgrounds: far traveler, outlander, urchin

For a Golgari character, I’d suggest an shadar-kai cleric using either the life or death domain. If you’re creating a zombie, say that it’s being held together by animated vines. If you’re healing your comrades, say that their wounds are filled in with fungal growths.

Gruul Clans

Gruul are the barbarians and anarchists of Ravnica.

 

Races: human, goblin, minotaur, centaur, viashino (use lizardfolk)

Classes: barbarian, druid

Background: far traveler, folk hero, outlander, uthgardt tribe member

This card makes me want to have a go at making a Gruul earth genasi barbarian:

Izzet League

Speaking of genasi, I think they could make good Izzet characters too. Izzet are mad scientists and alchemists.

 

Races: human, goblin, weird (use genasi)

Classes: sorcerer (wild mage or storm), wizard

Backgrounds: cloistered scholar, sage

One of the most iconic Izzet creations are weirds – elementals created from opposing substances. In order to make a weird character, I’d make a water genasi sorcerer (probably wild mage) and choose lots of spells that do different kinds of elemental damage.

Orzhov Syndicate

Orzhov is a church ruled by a council of ghosts who worship wealth and power. Orzhov exerts control over the masses through debt and extortion.

 

Races: human, vampire, revenant

Classes: cleric, rogue (spy, assassin, inquisitive), warlock

Backgrounds: acolyte, criminal / spy, haunted one, inheritor, noble

I could imagine running an adventure with three different Orzhov characters:

  • an innocent life cleric whose eyes haven’t yet been opened to the corruption of the church
  • a cynical grave cleric who can’t leave because they’re indebted to the church hierarchy. Maybe they’re a revenant, forced to pay off their debt beyond death?
  • an evil death cleric (perhaps a vampire) on a quest for power
Cult of Rakdos

Rakdos is an insane, demon-worshipping clown cult who provide sadistic forms of ‘entertainment’.

 

Races: human, goblin, devil (use tiefling)

Classes: bard, fighter, wizard (necromancer), warlock (the fiend)

Backgrounds: entertainer, gladiator, haunted one

Selesnya Conclave

Selesnya is a kind of utopian environmentalist collective, led by dryads.

 

Races: elf (high or wood), human, centaur

Classes: druid, fighter

Backgrounds: acolyte, outlander, sage

Simic Combine

Simic are a group of mad bioengeneers who create strange combinations of different creatures. Many of them have experimented on themselves.

 

Races: sea elf, triton or anything that you can reskin as a hybrid

Classes: wizard, sorcerer barbarian

Backgrounds: cloistered scholar, far traveler, hermit, outlander, sage

One of my favourite ideas is using existing character races to make characters who are results of Simic experiments. For example, to make a giant predatory lizard-frog, I’d make a bugbear barbarian with the totem warrior subclass. Choosing the tiger totem would allow them to make large jumps between buildings, just like a giant frog mutant. The urban bounty hunter background would help them hunt prey on the streets of Ravnica.

What kind of characters would you make for a Ravnica adventure?

Ravnica & Eberron Announced – Tale of Two Settings

By Jacky Leung     Twitter

The long-awaited announcement for the Dungeons and Dragons settings came Monday morning (Pacific Time) on July 23rd was met with overall excitement from the D&D community though not without some hiccups. Wizards of the Coast released details on their collaboration with D&D and Magic: the Gathering to bring Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica with a release date on November 20th and that the Eberron setting will be making its triumphant return to the franchise as well. Eberron’s return starts with a digital PDF release of Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron on the DMsGuild marketplace by Keith Baker in collaboration with the creative team at Wizards of the Coast.

What you need to know about Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica:

  • Release Date: 20 November 2018
  • Price: $49.95 USD
  • Accessories include a Map Pack and a premium dice set featuring the Guilds of Ravnica
  • Ravnica is a plane of existence in Wizard of the Coast’s Magic the Gathering franchise, released originally in 2005 in Ravnica: City of Guilds, followed with a revisit in Return to Ravnica in 2012, with a planned third Ravnica return in Guilds of Ravnica to be released in October 2018 & spring 2019.
  • Ravnica is an ecumenopolis, a vast city that encompasses an entire planet. Like Coruscant in Star Wars
  • There are ten iconic guilds in Ravnica that serve unique functions in the daily life within the city, with their brand of rivalries and adversaries, all governed by an oath known as the Guildpact. Not every citizen is part of a guild, but their presence is felt throughout Ravnica.
  • The current price point suggests a product akin to Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.

The news about Ravnica was unintentionally leaked on Amazon Brazil’s website site with product pages screenshotted across Reddit and later on other social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter sometime on Sunday, July 22nd. News and speculation on the authenticity of the screenshots & cover art were eventually confirmed by the cover artist later on. The story left many fans with a mixed reception.

There was even a poll on the r/Dndnext subreddit with close to half of voters displeased with the setting choice.

While Nathan Stewart, director of D&D, indicated that “fans of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering have been asking for years about when these two amazing brands would play together.” Impressions from the Magic: the Gathering community seemed pleased with the official product news. Various MtG pundits were excited upon the leak on Sunday, with notable individuals such as Evan Erwin showcasing his excitement. The early leak only heightened the general anticipation for the Monday announcements from Wizards of the Coast.

The second setting announced was Eberron, a beloved setting created by Keith Baker for the Fantasy Setting Search in 2002. Content creators on the DMsGuild took note of a new setting category option titled “Eberron” early Monday morning almost 6 hours before any formal declaration. Wizards revealed an ebook product, Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, with a collaboration between the creative team and Keith Baker that would serve as a “living document” for feedback before any official product is released.

What you need to know about Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron:

 

  • Product Type: Digital PDF
  • Price: $19.99 USD
  • A 175-page book that encompasses playtest materials that include unique races, an overview of Khorvaire and the city of Sharn, dragonmarks, magic items, and a host of backgrounds to jumpstart players and DMs to their Eberron adventures
  • Iconic races: Shifters, Changelings, and Warforged make their 5th Edition debut from the mind of its creator, Keith Baker.
  • The release of Wayfinder grants DMsGuild content creators the ability to create and distribute content within the Eberron setting.
  • According to the Introduction by Keith Baker, this content is considered a playtest or a draft and therefore is not applicable for official Adventurer’s League use. If an official Eberron product is released, Wayfinders will complement the officially released material according to D&D creative lead, Mike Mearls. Mearls also commented that the product would eventually have a Print-on-Demand option for purchase later.

Initial confusion of the “official” status of Wayfinders as an official D&D resource left fans, and consumers concerned with their purchase of this playtest document.

Previous playtest documents by Wizards have been free in the past. When the official announcement was published, the lack of a playtest description on the official Twitter and Facebook posts felt misleading. At the time of this article, official Wizards staff have clarified that Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron is indeed a playtest document and the DMsGuild product includes this detail.

There is an “if” in front of the possibility for an Eberron print product with a clarification of additional content in THAT product with Wayfinder to complement it. You’re paying for two products, one that is not an official product that is labeled as a living playtest document (until otherwise), and then the probable (but not guaranteed) Eberron product.

Warning Signs?

Playtest documents for tabletop RPGs tend to change, as with the case of Wizard’s Unearthed Arcana column where some content was adjusted from player feedback. The practice to buy playtests seems to secure capital from dedicated die-hard fans possibly to ensure a quality product. The video game industry suffered backlash to Early Access business models for games due to extended production times and incomplete work with some games suffering from the inability to fulfill expectations. The practice has become unpopular, with many developers returning to traditional development timelines.

This Early Access practice has been seen with Paizo’s Pathfinder 2nd Edition playtest where prospective fans can purchase physical hardcover copies of the material. Paizo is a leading competitor for Wizards of the Coast on tabletop RPGs, though there are no sales figures to make any conclusions, the initial hype from the 2nd Edition announcement was met with enthusiasm.

Ultimately, Monday was supposedly Wizard of the Coast’s big day to shine and present their newest offerings. Instead, half of the surprise was leaked prematurely, and the other half was miscommunicated to the fans but before over a thousand copies were sold. One cannot help but feel somewhat entertained by the mishaps this Monday, the 23rd of July. Nonetheless, I am excited about the latest offerings and look forward to Ravnica and the future of Eberron.

8 Reasons Mind Flayers Still Rule the Multiverse

You’ve heard it said that the mind flayers (a.k.a. illithids) once ruled the multiverse, until they were overthrown and decimated by their gith slaves. But what if I told you that they’re still in control, manipulating everything from behind the scenes?

1. Mind flayers (as presented in the Monster Manual) are too weak to have ever had a multiplanar empire.

Sure, they can use their psionics to cast dominate monster, but they can only do that once per day, and may not succeed. Even an elder brain can only cast it once per day.

2. That said, they might make smart use of guerrilla tactics.

A lone mind flayer who sneaks up on a victim to try and mind control them could planeshift away before being seen if they fail. The victim would just get a creepy feeling that something’s been probing their brain. Not empire-building material though.

3. It takes an illithid a day to make a thrall. 

Volo’s Guide to Monsters says that if they have the opportunity to spend 24 hours gently mindblasting another creature, they can eventually turn that creature into a thrall. But that’s still not exactly efficient. It’s no way to rule the planes.

4. These are fake mind flayers.

I suggest that the mind flayers I’m describing are just decoys, a distraction from more powerful mind flayers who are controlling things from behind the scenes. Making the world thing that your species is weak and close to extinction would be a perfect way of hiding.

5. The illithid empire never ended.

Volo’s Guide questions how the gith could have possibly overthrown their illithid masters, pointing out that no ruins of the illithid empire can be found in the Astral Plane they ruled from. Volo’s suggestion is that they may have transported their empire into the future. Maybe the illithid empire is just moments away?

6. You just don’t remember them when they’re out of sight.

Alternatively, maybe the real mind flayers have an ability similar to the Silence from Doctor Who, meaning that anyone who sees them is unable to remember them? Maybe they’re constantly present, but never remembered?

7. Perhaps the gith never actually liberated themselves?

Maybe the mind flayers noticed that their slaves were looking for opportunities to rebel and created false memories of a revolution? Maybe they sowed conflict among the gith so they would fight amongst themselves, not realising they are still enslaved? (Volo’s Guide says that when an elder brain infiltrates someone’s mind, it can alter their perception.) My theory is that the warring gith races are actually the same, but the mind flayers give the githyanki a higher dose of testosterone.

8. There are also clues that the mind flayers still control the duergar.

Volo’s Guide talks about the mind flayers giving their slaves metal implants (eg. flensing claws). In Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes we see that some of the duergar have new body mods. Maybe these are the result of continuing mind flayer experiments? We also see that the psionic abilities that the mindflayers gave them are continuing to develop…

A couple of months ago I ran Rrakkma!, an adventure that pits a party of gith against mind flayers, trying to stop them from enslaving the gith race again. My party of four gith ended up dying in the final stage of the adventure, and the mind flayers ended up enslaving the gith once again. This got me thinking about how it would be cool run an adventure where the rulers of the multiverse once again, and the gith have to stage another revolution. But then I thought, maybe the mind flayers would try to make the gith think they were free, while secretly pulling the puppet strings? If you wanted, you could run a campaign where everything seems normal, but players gradually figure out that the world is being secretly controlled by the mind flayers.

Gnine Gnomes your Game Gneeds

Gnome is one of my favourite Dungeons & Dragons races. I’ve played a gnome druid in a couple of one-shots, and I played as a gnome warlock in a Planescape mini-campaign.

Actually, I think everyone likes gnomes because the group I dungeon master for has had three gnome player characters as well as a number of svirfneblin (deep gnome) non-player companions.

 

I’ve made a list of Gnine Gnomes your Game Gneeds, so now everyone gets a gnome. You could use these as concepts for player characters or DMPCs non-player characters.

1. The gnome who always talks to animals.

This gnome prefers the company of small forest creatures over other humanoids. If you choose the forest gnome subrace, you automatically gain the ability to talk to small animals, so it wouldn’t matter what class you choose. However, I reckon it would make the most sense for this character to be a druid, ranger or barbarian.

2. The gnome who is always making contraptions.

This gnome is always working on a new invention during downtime. Rock gnomes can make a few simple mechanical devices. If your group is okay with it, I would suggest choosing a spellcasting class and re-flavouring each spell as a contraption. Invisible servant becomes an automaton, mage hand becomes go-go-gadget-hand, et cetera.

3. The gnome with the golden gun.

Because why the hell gnot? Actually, check if your group is okay with this one too, because, let’s face it, guns could really break the mood of some games. You could use the gunsmith subclass from the artificer playtest material or you could use Matt Mercer’s gunslinger class. I let one of my players go with the gunsmith, but maybe I shouldn’t have. If you do manage to convince everyone this is okay, I’d highly recommend saying that the gun is encrusted in gems and shoots slugs.

4. The thief who is just a little bit magical.

Choose the forest gnome for their ability to cast minor illusion. Another other option is to go svirf and choose the svirf magic feat. With either of these options, you can work your way up to a level 20 rogue (a.k.a. super sneaky boi) who is also just a little bit magical.

5. The gnome with a silly gname.

Gnomes often have ridiculously long, funny-sounding names. When you’re making your character, ask everyone in your life to put a few words into a hat. Pull a few out in a random order and stick them together to make your gnomish gname. Everyone is going to love Spongespindle Wafflebadger.

6. The gnome who likes to do jokes and pranks.

I think either a rogue with the arcane trickster subclass or an illusionist wizard would lend itself to gnomish mischief.

7. The gnome sculptor.

This gnome is a bard from the college of whispers, who sculpts small, grotesque effigies of others in order to mess with their minds, playing on every insecurity.

8. The gnome who the rest of the party doesn’t know about.

This character is probably a svirfneblin rogue using the svirfneblin magic feat. This gnome might be secretly following the party in order to protect them and keep them out of trouble. Or they might be stalking them, looking for the perfect moment for an ambush.

9. The gnome who makes traps.

If the rest of your group is okay with it, you could choose a spellcasting class and reflavour some spells (eg. acid splash, poison spray, web) to represent traps.

 

9 Reasons Why Githyanki and Githzerai are identical

It’s an unending war between two cosmic races… who are exactly the same. You may tell me that the githyanki are chaotic evil raiders from the Astral Plane, totally different from the lawful neutral githzerai monks of Limbo, but just how different are they?

1. The githyanki and the githzerai are both descended from the slaves of mind flayers. (They parted ways soon after they freed themselves.)
2. Both the githyanki and the githzerai are focussed on hunting down the remaining mind flayers.
3. Mind flayers are about the only thing they hate more than each other.
4. Both races have psionic abilities that they received from their former masters.
5. Each of the gith races is ruled by an ancient, powerful figure – an ancestral hero from the war against the mind flayers.
6. In both cases, the leader is so ancient that it’s not entirely clear whether they are alive or dead.
7. In both cases, the leader’s immense age means that they’re dependent on their followers.
8. Both races expect the return of a long-departed hero – a kind of gith Jesus.
9. Both believe in a promise of paradise in the afterlife.

If you are using the gith races in your adventure, you should do everything you can to show how ridiculously similar they are to each other, but how much they hate each other all the same.

One of the ways that the two races are differentiated in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is in the way their leaders are portrayed. Both are depicted straddling the boundary between life and death. It’s suggested that Vlaakith, tyrant of the githyanki, is actually consuming the souls of those who’ve ‘ascended’ to paradise. Menyar-Ag, leader of the githzerai, is portrayed as an ancient master whose psionic strength keeps him vital as his decrepit body withers away. He’s dependent on his disciples to care for his physical body. I would suggest finding ways to give the impression that Menyar-Ag is no different to his githyanki counterpart, and that he may also be consuming the souls of his followers. (It doesn’t have to be solid evidence, just enough to make your players suspicious.)

This would also muddy up the alignment of the githzerai, suggesting that their leader, if not the race in general, is actually evil. You could also suggest that their lawful nature is just a facade. Maybe their practice of stabilising Limbo is a metaphor for the stabilisation of their own chaotic nature? Every now and then, you could have a githzerai’s calm exterior crack, revealing the chaos that lies within.

Think of these two races as sects of the same religion, who have a violent disagreement about how many celestials can dance on the head of a pin. It’s a darkly comical way of saying that we may be just the same as the people who go to war against.

If you want to learn more about the gith, pick up a copy of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.

Mistborne Souls – Session Fifteen: The Living Soul

By: Sandra – Twitter

Can’t find last week’s recap? Sadly, because of an update, some posts are temporarily lost and waiting to be recovered. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Mistborne Souls is a weekly recap of an ongoing game set in the land of Barovia. While Curse of Strahd lies at its core, the world of Mistborne Souls is a variation of the adventure of my own making.

 

While making their way down the mountainside toward Krezk, Artem asks Asha if she knows anything about golems made with “priest magic”. Asha says that she doesn’t, she hasn’t even heard of a golem before, but Izi has. Having noticed that Artem’s concept of magic isn’t as broad as her own, Izi explains the different types of magic and how they’re not always limited to one type of spellcaster. She says that druids, wizards, warlocks and clerics are like “jobs” for magic wielders and that it’s the source of their magic that differs. Since Artem believes that Izi is a druid, Izi uses this to explain that she can use some of the same magic, but that her power comes from her fey patron. Izi says that a lot of different types of magic go into making a golem, and she believes that a priest with enough power probably could.

Artem tells the others that she has someone she wants to visit and the group part ways. At the cottage Asha helps tidy up and set the table while Izi and Wynne help Anna with getting the animals fed and settled for the evening.
Down the road Artem arrives at a small cottage belonging to Janek, an old acquaintance of hers that used to work for the Martikovs at the Wizard of Wines, and his partner Andrej. The two men are happy to see her and let her inside for tea. She says that she is out travelling because of her father’s death and that she has come to Janek for him to share some of all the stories she knows he has gathered over the years. They talk about the vampire, about Argynvostholt and about some local beliefs from this part of Barovia. When Artem asks about Krezk and the abbey, Andrej lets her know that some villagers believe that the abbey either is the devil count in disguise, or at least in league with it. Before Artem leaves, Andrej says that while the village doesn’t have a church, they do have a shrine to the Morninglord where people sometimes go to pray.

During dinner at the Burgomaster’s cottage Anna gives Artem a letter. She tells the others that it’s from the Baroness but doesn’t give them specific details about its contents. However, she tells the Burgomaster that after the group’s visit to Vallaki, she worries that it’s unstable. The Burgomaster says that she might be right to worry but that he isn’t quite sure if there is anything that he, or any of them, can do about it. As the conversation turns into Artem asking further about life in Krezk, there is a loud knock on the door.
A frantic looking girl tells Anna that she needs to hurry and come because a woman named Dimira is in labour. Anna gathers her supplies and asks Izi to come along and help her. Izi quickly agrees and Asha gets to her feet and offers to help as well.

The birth is long and tiring. Anna and Izi work in quiet concentration, giving Asha orders on what to do and how to help. After several hours they have successfully delivered a healthy baby boy. However, the child doesn’t cry, something that unsettles Izi and Asha. The two attempt to figure out if there is something magical, perhaps a curse, happening but their quiet efforts come up empty.
When they are alone with Anna on their way back to the cottage, Izi asks Anna if she is used to babies not crying. Anna explains that she believes that the child lacks a soul. She tells them that she was brought up with the belief that most Barovians, herself and her husband included, lack souls. It makes them feel things less than people with souls, like the Vistani, and it causes them to not express emotion.

Back at the cottage they find Artem drinking warm apple wine and reading the book they had the abbott dispel the illusion from. Izi asks Artem if she knows anything about what Anna has told them and it’s clear that Artem has a hard time believing it to be true. Anna says that while she has no proof other than what she has been taught, she says she has seen it happen with her own eyes in her children, only one of which had a soul. She says that this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just how things are. Before Anna goes to bed, Izi tells her that she thinks she feels things differently to other people where she’s from too, but that there’s nothing less about people who do..

After Anna says goodnight, Asha asks Artem if at least what Anna said about Barovian children, that most don’t play or laugh or cry, is true. Artem shrugs and says that this is just how it is in Barovia. When Artem seems to not want to speak anymore about the subject, Asha asks about the letter from the Baroness. Artem says that it’s about the missing servants from the Vallakovich household, but that she isn’t sure what the Baroness wants her to do about these issues. The letter also mentions that the Baron is holding a speech in two days time and that the town is in unrest after the group’s visit. Artem says that there are two noble families of Vallaki that might end up battling for power and that she is worried about both families’ plans. Asha suggests that the Baroness might not actually want anything from Artem except someone to confide in.

Following a few moments of silence, Izi asks Artem what she has found in the book and Artem hands it to her to read. Once she finishes, she hands the book to Asha who reads it in silence as well. The text appears to be the beginnings of a memoir, detailing the life and death of Tatyana von Zarovich. She was once a commoner of the land and she was courted by Strahd von Zarovich, a count who ruled over the valley of Barovia. Tatyana however, fell in love with Strahd’s sister Sasja von Zarovich but their love was not to be. Tatyana was betrothed to Strahd, and when she and Sasja attempted to elope on the night before Tatyana’s and Strahd’s wedding, they were caught and Sasja killed. Strahd made Tatyana marry him that night, but when Tatyana found out that Strahd had made a deal with dark powers she ran and hid in the castle. Strahd killed Sasja, and when Tatyana found out, furious, she ambushed Strahd and killed him herself. When she did, the dark powers called to her, convincing her to seal the deal that Strahd had started by drinking his blood. As the castle guards turned against her for killing the count, she turned into a vampire.  

Artem says that they might need to go back to Vallaki for a wedding dress, but in light of the contents of the book, the vampire might not take well to an arranged marriage. As they discuss, Artem suggests that perhaps they can find the ghost of Sasja and make the ghost reason with the vampire to solve their problems. When the others express their doubts on how to hunt a ghost, Artem blames being drunk off the wine for this idea.

In the very early morning Asha awakes to hear Artem frantically speak to someone, asking if they are alive. When Asha asks Artem if she’s okay, Artem tells Asha that it was only a bad dream. Soon enough, they both go back to sleep.

Heading out after breakfast to go visit the Abbey again, Artem feels a strange tug, similar to one she felt near the wall of mist at Yester Hill. She tells the others that she wishes to follow it and they all walk north through the village together. Soon they arrive at a shining pool of water next to a gazebo with a shrine to the Morninglord. When Artem feels herself being called to the water she grabs a hold of Asha’s arm and tells her to not let her go into the water whatever happens.
The others watch as Artem and Asha approach the pool. Artem leans over and looks into it, her expression serene. For several moments she stands perfectly still and then a hand made out of water reaches up through the pool’s surface. Artem looks at the hand, but grabs a tighter hold of Asha and pulls herself back. At this, the sky darkens overhead. A loud thunderclap is heard and lightning strikes the pool. The ground trembles with the impact and everyone but Artem tumbles to the ground. Next to them, they see the old wooden gazebo fall.

And that is where we ended our session.

Mordenkainen’s Bestiary: More Humanoids

I’ve recently been reading through Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and reviewing the content here. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the elves and duergar featured in the bestiary section of the book. Today I’m looking at the bestiary’s remaining humanoids.

Derro

The derro have already been featured in Out of the Abyss, but in Tome of Foes we get more information about their gods and their origins. Since they’re inclined toward insanity, there’s a random table for describing the nature of a derro’s madness. There are also some small changes to the derro stat blocks, which make the derro savant a little more distinct.

Giff

There was a lot of excitement when it was revealed that the giff would be included in Tome of Foes. They’re eccentric and regimented hippos who love their guns. I don’t think regular guns fit too well in Dungeons & Dragons, but I wouldn’t say the giff’s guns are very overpowered. Any player character who manages to get their hands on a giff firearm is going to also need to find a way to get ammunition and gunpowder in order to use it, so I don’t think it’s likely to warp the feel of the game a lot.

Gith

Tome of Foes has a whole chapter on the gith, which I plan to review next week. The bestiary also provides us with stat blocks for five new kinds of gith. I think the githzerai that are included here are most interesting. The anarch is a githzerai whose psionic abilities allow them to stabilise an area of the plane of Limbo in order to establish githzerai colonies. While in their colony they can access a number of lair actions, including casting lightning bolt with the ability to modify the damage type. They also have a number of legendary actions, including the ability to reverse gravity. The other githzerai in the bestiary is the enlightened, who has the ability to punch an opponent a little way into the future.

Meazel

These don’t come across to me as a very strong concept, but they appear to be descended from people who’ve gone to the Shadowfell to dwell on their misery. It seems like they sneak up on people and drag them into the Shadowfell for stronger creatures to deal with. Why do they do that? I guess they’re just hateful and misanthropic?

Nagpa

These folks were once elven mages who plotted against the Raven Queen. She turned them into hunch-backed vulture-people. Now they can only acquire new knowledge and power from dead societies, so they plot behind the scenes to destroy societies. They’re equipped with a lot of spells that they can use to get others to do their dirty work.

Skulk

These humanoids are travellers who have lost their identity while wandering the Shadowfell. They’re normally invisible, except to children, so Mordenkainen says that a child’s imaginary friend could actually be a skulk. A summoned skulk can take on some of the summoner’s appearance. As a dungeon master, I like the idea of using having a villain who uses a summoned skulk to do their dirty work, because the skulk’s appearance (if the player characters are able to see it, or get a description from someone who can) could help lead them to the summoner.

By Chris Booth Twitter  Instagram  Website

Mistborne Souls – Session Eight: Still Waters

Missed last week’s installment? Catch up here!

SESSION EIGHT – Still waters

By: Sandra – Twitter

Mistborne Souls is a weekly recap of an ongoing game set in the land of Barovia. While Curse of Strahd lies at its core, the world of Mistborne Souls is a variation of the adventure of my own making.

CONTENT WARNINGS: Endangered child, Drowning.

 

Breakfast at the Blue Water Inn is solemn. Lucian and Izi appear tired and Wynne keeps picking at her food. No one is doing much talking until Lucian mentions having had bad dreams since he came to Barovia. A couple of the others say that they have had them too, but they don’t want to share details. When Lucian suggests that the dreams might be an effect of Barovia, Artem looks at him curiously and asks if they don’t have dreams where Lucian comes from.
After making sure that no one is listening in on their conversation Artem says that she wants to go see the Burgomaster again to tell him about the vampire spawn in the coffin maker’s shop. Wynne asks what will happen to Henrik if they do and Izi seems insistent on that he will have deserved whatever judgement coming to him. Artem says that she believes that most of them made a bad impression on the Baron the previous day. When Asha tells her that she shouldn’t be going alone either way, Artem asks Asha to go with her. Asha is clearly surprised that Artem would want her to come along, but agrees.
Lucian says that he wishes to go investigate the disappearance of Bluto, who he had spoken to Danika about the previous night. Izi says she will help him do that, and Wynne pipes up to say that she would come, but she doesn’t want to be in the way. The others reassure her that she isn’t, and she also promises Artem not to turn into a cat in the street again.

When the group part ways outside of the inn, Artem notices a lone individual dressed for travel, leaning against the wall. When they leave the inn the traveller notices them as well. Artem spots a flash of bright turquoise fabric underneath the drab coat. Intrigued, she tells Asha that she wants to follow the person. They head east through the town and are soon noticed by what Artem believes to be a disguised Vistana. After following them for a while they see them head out through the eastern gates. Artem decides that it may be unwise to follow them out of town so they head back to the Burgomaster’s mansion.

At the mansion they are met by the same maid as the previous day and when they express great urgency she sees them up to meet with the Burgomaster in the library upstairs. The amount of books in this space is impressive, stunning even Artem for a moment. They apologize for the inconvenience of calling upon the Baron again so soon after their first visit and so soon before the festival. When they tell him the full story of the coffin maker and his bad deal with the vampire spawn, the Baron listens intently. He appears troubled by this information and thanks the two for letting him know. He wants his guard to act on the situation immediately and asks if his guests would mind if he walked them downstairs to meet his wife. They accept and are led to the downstairs parlor where they meet with the Baroness Lydia Petrovna. The Baroness recognizes Artem’s name instantly and greets her warmly. They sit down with drinks and tea, and the Baroness asks about Artem’s travels and how she met Asha. When Artem mentions that she is interested in the Baron’s library, the Baroness invites both her and Asha to dinner after the festival. They accept the invitation, and leave the Baroness to her festival preparations.

In the north part of town Lucian, Wynne and Izi find the small house that Danika had told them is Bluto’s home. Lucian knocks on the door but gets no reply and tries the neighbours instead. They get some indication from a woman named Svetlana, who tells them that she has not seen Bluto for a while but assumes that he is either fishing or passed out. The second neighbour they try is a cranky old lady who does not approve of them disturbing her and who refuses to give any information at all.
In case Bluto is, in fact, asleep, Lucian goes back to the man’s door and knocks on it for a long while to no avail. Izi suggests they go to the lake and Lucian agrees to this given that they go get the others first.

Back at the inn, the bar is manned by Danika’s husband Urwin who serves them lunch. After Artem mentions the Vistana from that morning, Lucian asks her what the Vistani might want with keeping track of them. Artem says that most Vistani are not to be trusted and that many of them even work for the devil count. They each share information they have uncovered. Realizing that they have no more pressing matters at the time, Lucian suggests that they go to the lake that afternoon. The idea of getting out of the city walls makes both Wynne and Izi perk up.

The Barovian sky darkens above the group as they head north and through the gate toward the lake. They walk for a while through the quiet Svalich Woods before reaching Lake Zarovich. The dark mirror surface reflects the afternoon sky and high mountains rise above the treeline on the other shore.
Out on the lake, the group notice a figure in a boat. They try and call attention to themselves with a whistle and a beckoning but the figure keeps rowing away from them. A soft cry answers Artem’s whistle. It sounds almost like a bird call but Izi recognizes it as human. Lucian tries to find a spot where he can get a better vantage point and when he does, he sees something moving at the bottom of the boat. He asks Wynne and Izi if either of them have any way to get them out into the water, Izi says no, but Wynne says that they could borrow a boat. Lucian looks at her quizzically and Wynne points to the shore near where they exited the forest, where three boats are fastened.

As he is convinced that something is strange about the situation, Lucian hurries off toward the boats, followed closely by Asha, Wynne and Izi. Realizing that she has little choice Artem lets out a sigh before she gets into the boat with them.
Asha pushes the boat away from the shore and takes up rowing them out on the lake. When they get closer, the man in the boat picks up a bundle that has been lying in front of him. He struggles greatly with it, as if it’s fighting back, before he manages to tip it into the water. Lucian gets close enough to jump into the other boat. He tries to get something out of the man who just tells him that “It is done.”
Meanwhile, Asha gets out of her armour and jumps into the water after the bundle. Seeing this, Lucian steadies some rope to his boat to help her out when she re-emerges. Several long, still moments pass before Asha finally breaks surface, gasping for air and trying to get the bundle up onto the boat, Lucian helps her, and as he unwraps it he finds an unconscious girl. Asha is shivering when she climbs out of the water but Lucian tells her that he needs her to help the girl. He speaks calmly to her, telling her that she knows what to do. Asha lays the girl in her lap and begins working to get water out of her lungs. To get her warm, Lucian heals the girl once she is conscious and Wynne gives her furs to wrap up in.

Lucian sits down opposite the man he assumes is Bluto, who still appears to be very lost in thought. Bluto explains after some urging that he was attempting to make a sacrifice to the lake, to the gods, for good luck. Lucian says that this is a person and that it would have been murder if they hadn’t stopped it in time. Bluto replies that the girl is a Vistana, not a person. Lucian, seething with anger, replies that being from somewhere else doesn’t make you less of a person, but Bluto falls quie in response. After jumping back over to the other boat, Lucian sits in quiet for a while until Artem informs him that she can’t row a boat and that he will have to get them to shore. Asha takes charge of the second boat and the group make their way back to dry land.

Once they have secured the boats, Artem takes off her long coat and hands it to Asha who covers her wet clothes with it. Artem then picks up the little girl and starts carrying her south, in the direction of the town. Asha drags the now entirely apathetic Bluto alongside her without much struggle and the group share a quiet moment as they walk.

And that is where we ended this session.

 

Call to Adventure: “Betrayal at Death House”

An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet

Introduction

Can your players survive a night trapped within a haunted mansion? Will they check out in the morning or will they extend their stay indefinitely? Test their fledgling ghost-busting skills in this macabre mystery for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition!

This unpredictable dungeon crawl is intended for a party of four to five 3rd level adventurers and can serve as an alternative to the introductory “Appendix B: Death House” mission from the “Curse of Strahd” (page 211 or this link) official campaign. It can also be adapted to any horror-themed setting.

Setup

The main premise of this haunted house is that the layout is created as the party explores it. In order to implement the map auto-generation mechanic you will need map tiles from a board game called “Betrayal at House on the Hill.” To keep things simple, you will only need the following sets (see image below):

  1. Starting Area → contains the Entrance Hall, Foyer, and Grand Staircase
  2. Upper Landing
  3. Stack of universal tiles (can be a Basement, Ground, or Upper tile)
  4. Basement Landing
  5. Stack of Upper tiles
  6. Stack of Ground tiles
  7. Stack of Basement tiles

All the PCs begin at the Entrance Hall in the Starting Area (example of a four-person party shown below).

Development

Whenever a character explores a new room (i.e. they pass through a door for the first time), draw the first tile from the appropriate stack and place it in a way that connects adjacent passageways. Sometimes a door will lead into a wall, but that’s okay. It’s a haunted house; it doesn’t need to make 100% sense. To handle movement and exploration, treat each room as a 15ft x 15ft chamber (see diagram below), and any additional terrain modifications (low/high ceiling, difficult terrain, obstacles, etc.) are at the Dungeon Master’s discretion.


After a few turns the game board could look something like this (consult the configuration example below).

  1. The elf rogue stayed on the ground level and found the Dining Room. Judging by the putrid scent and gore stains on the tablecloths, she discerns that something horrific happened here.
  2. The human fighter hit a dead end at the Graveyard and plans to regroup with the rogue.
  3. The gnome druid rummaged the upstairs area and found the Mystic Elevator! Now she can travel to and from any room using its teleporting abilities!
  4. After accidentally falling down a Coal Chute and into the basement, the halfling wizard found a room strewn with junk. Maybe he can find something useful in this mess.

 

Special Events

Some of these rooms have special text on them that can be either incorporated into gameplay or ignored entirely at the Dungeon Master’s behest. For example, if a player draws a tile with the words “You can attempt a Speed Roll of 3+ to cross. If you fall, stop moving.” consider forcing the player character to roll an Athletics (Strength) Check DC 20 or take fall damage.

Another set of special events are: Items, Events, and Haunts. These are denoted by a Ram Skull, Spiral, and Raven icon respectively (see example set below) in the bottom right-hand corner. The general rule for resolving these special situations are thus:

  • ITEM (Ram Skull)
    • The first player to enter this room finds a special item that is relevant to the plot.
    • This can be a powerful magic weapon, plot-critical MacGuffin, or something that explains more of the background and histories of the paranormal event.
    • For example, in an alternative Death House scenario, an Item room may contain the cultists robes, along with the letter from Strahd voicing his displeasure with their activities.
  • EVENT (Spiral)
    • These are random occurrences and challenges that allow for a sense of spontaneity and unpredictability.
    • These can include random combat encounters with undead, conversations with angry spirits, sudden environmental dangers, or horrific visions.
    • For example, in an altered Death House scenario, an Event can bring the party into contact with the midwife’s specter, whose soul was unable to find rest after she was stabbed to death.
  • HAUNT (Raven)
    • Use this moment to progress the plot. These are the story beats that represent an escalation of tension and urgency. Each one makes the situation more intense and dire.
    • For example, in a modified Death House scenario, each Haunt triggers an encounter with the remnants of the cultists, and reveals more of the mansion’s bloody past. After an arbitrary amount of Haunts (DM’s decision) occur, allow the party in finally meet Rose and Thorn’s spirits.