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29 May 2018

Scrawling Over Mordenkainen's Tome


It’s Thursday night. A few weeks ago, my brother’s character, a devout, human ranger named Rob Tully, was killed by a nalfeshnee of Yeenoghu while on the Astral Plane. His soul, unable to travel to his deity’s realm due to a magical barrier, was sent to the messy soup of Limbo. As a break from the main campaign, I decided to run him through a one-shot among the madness of Limbo. In one of the most chaotic environments in the multiverse, Rob Tully needed to survive until the barrier was destroyed. All around him, lightning crackled from stones, flaming rays extinguished into torrents of water, and lonely island shards shattered and reformed in mere moments. One minute, Rob was allied with the nalfeshnee who slew him while running from a storm of ash, thunder, and crystal. Another, he hid from frightening extraplanar toads, the slaad. In Limbo, almost anything was possible, anything could happen - and it did.
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I’ve always loved the planar aspect of Dungeons and Dragons. While it’s not something unique to this particular vein of entertainment/storytelling, D&D opens up planar travel and interaction far more than any other medium.

Adventures can take place in the blazing wastes of the Elemental Plane of Fire, the perfectly balanced streets of Mechanus, or on any of the infinite layers of the Abyss. Monsters can originate from the dark mists of the Shadowfell, the colorful forests of the Feywild, or the sparse stretches of the Astral Plane. I love the various planes of existence in D&D for the many stories they can tell.

Luckily, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is a book about the planes, from the myriad of conflicts that occur on them to their inhabitants...and it's been released! The book is available everywhere, as of right now.

Today, we’re briefly scrawling over the pages of Wizards of the Coast’s latest book as I review what I believe to be fifth edition’s first Manual of the Planes.

Let’s roll!

General Thoughts


Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is not a great book for basic players, but it’s a fantastic purchase for dungeon masters and those who love reading about the lore of the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse. As I am both of the latter, I adore the book. For the dungeon master and monster creator in me, the devils and demons roll tables are utter genius, the many monsters within are well designed and beautifully depicted, and the lore contains juicy plot hooks for my four ongoing campaigns. As a reader, the lore of the book also reads smoothly, is entertaining, and, as with all WOTC products, is written masterfully. 

Mordy’s also contains plenty concerning the planes of existence, such as powerful creatures from them like maruts, to a mountain of information about the Abyss and Baator. However, the player options are lacking, and are simply an afterthought or are meant to give players a reason to buy the book. Like I said before, the book is great for dungeon and loremasters, but not a smart buy for regular D&D players.

Conflicts of the Multiverse


The first five chapters of the book dive into five grand stories of the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse.

The book begins with an overview of the Blood War, an ancient conflict between the fiends of the D&D multiverse: Demons and devils. This section is fantastic, filled with a plethora of plot hooks and ideas for dungeon masters, and even contains a few player character options. Who knew devil legions could have such flamboyant names? By far, my favorite pieces of this section are the devil and demon customization tables. The second chapter delves into the story of D&D’s nearly immortal race: Elves. Mordy goes over how elves were created, all of their various gods, and dives into the drow’s history. The information about the drow is my favorite part of chapter two.

Mordenkainen’s midsection mines the history forged by dwarves and duergar. Once again, the best part of this section is the dark lore of the duergar. It includes an amazing piece with illithids and dwarves, as well as spectacular art of a dwarven citadel. Chapter four dives into one of my new favorite races: The gith. From their conflicts with each other to the githyanki dealings with Tiamat, I learned a lot and reaffirmed knowledge I already knew. Gith are also a playable race, now! Finally, chapter five ponders the true meaning of halflings and gnomes in the D&D multiverse...and goes over some interesting stuff that establishes them, as I wrote previously, as the most peaceful folk in D&D.

Every section is wonderfully written, full of evocative artwork, and rife with story ideas for dungeon masters and players alike. As expected, it lacks mechanical information, thus regular players will find this section dull. I definitely did not.

Creatures Galore


The final chapter of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes provides dungeon masters with a multitude of monsters both large and small, and it’s absolutely wonderful. Unlike most of the previous monster books, Mordy’s contains a slight majority of powerful creatures, from archdevils and demon princes to elder elementals and powerful humanoids. Each creature has its own beautiful piece of art, stat block, and lore blurb. 

Thus far, I’ve not found a boring creature. Everything I desperately wished for awaits within this book: gray renders and orthons, drow matron mothers and strong gith, and even Zariel, the most badass monster in the book. In short, Mordy’s provides quite a few extraplanar and powerful creatures to add to a dungeon master’s arsenal. If you’re planning on playing past level ten, this book is well worth picking up.

In Summary


Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is the latest book released by Wizards of the Coast, and, as a dungeon master, I’d give it a 5/5. Remember:
  1. The book is not a must-have for players but is a necessary addition for dungeon masters and lore-lovers.
  2. The stories detailed in the first five chapters provide tons of plot hooks, character ideas, and background for any Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
  3. The creatures in the sixth chapter of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes are incredibly well designed and add a variety of foes to the arsenals of dungeon masters across the world.
Get Mordy’s if you love lore or are a dungeon master. Don’t get it if you’re a player who doesn’t care about the conflicts of the greater D&D world.

Next week, we’ll be doing a recap of the Stream of Many Eyes and looking at what the next D&D storyline is!

Until then, farewell!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

*Note: I misused scrawl. Oops!

21 May 2018

Halflings and Gnomes: Relatively Normal Folk

 

Farming, fishing, eating, and eating are the pastimes of halflings, a folk content to spend their days beside a serene lake or in a manure-filled pasture. Mining, crafting, tricking, exploring, writing, and a whole host of other hobbies are the favorites of gnomes, a race of tinkerers, naturalists, and almost everything else. Other than their love of peaceful pastimes, what makes these two races interesting in the volatile multiverse of Dungeons and Dragons? Nothing. Nothing at all. These smaller-than-average peoples are not a part of any world-shaking conflicts, campaign-starting events, or wars that span multiple planets. Most of them are normal folk, just like us, and that makes them the strangest entities in Dungeons and Dragons. That’s great because D&D needs some of normalcy.

The fifth chapter of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, releasing everywhere May 29, 2018 (already in local game shops), discusses the shortest and strangest folk in Dungeons and Dragons: Halflings and gnomes.

Today, in preparation for this fantastic book, we’ll be diving into the short folk’s history in D&D, their lore, and how to use them in your campaign as both a player and a dungeon master. Beware, this article is far shorter than normal, so pace yourself!

Let’s roll!

Small Folk, Divisive Folk


The perception of halflings and gnomes is mixed. On one hand, halflings and gnomes have been popular races since the inception of Dungeons and Dragons, in their own unique ways. On the other hand, many folks fiercely oppose the use of these races.

Halflings


The origins of halflings, like many of D&D’s popular races, stem from Tolkien. In fact, halflings were meant to be called hobbits, but the creators of D&D started to use halfling as an alternative to hobbit for legal reasons. Halflings have been around since the beginning of D&D, and have not changed much.

Halflings only have three true subraces: The stout halflings, who are hardier than regular halflings. It’s rumoured that they have dwarven ancestors. The lightfoot halflings, a folk that are easily able to disappear into shadows and sneak up a creaking staircase. The third and final halflings subrace are the ghostwise halflings, a race of tribalistic barbarians who strictly value family and home. Another variety of halfling does officially exist: The kender. People generally hate this subrace, though, mostly for its insane mechanical advantages and terrible innate personality. Kender are TINY and love to steal from anyone. Not too great for a party-based game.

Gnomes


Gnomes have existed since first edition, but their culture has changed greatly. They began as intellectuals who would act as a midpoint between elves and dwarves. Then, in second edition, they were given a love of tricks and the arts. As the editions kept coming, gnomes gained more and more magical powers, such as the ability to speak with animals or craft tiny but powerful trinkets. A plethora of gnomish subraces exist, such as: rock gnomes, tinker gnomes, forest gnomes, whisper gnomes, and, my favorite, the svirfneblin or deep gnomes. Each is inherently different, but keep the general fun-loving nature and intellect of the greater gnome race.

Strangely Peaceful


As of now, I’ve not read Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. Thus, I’m wholly unaware of anything of consequence involving either halflings or gnomes in the greater D&D multiverse. They both seem to be pursuants of peace and quiet, a strangely human and normal thing for creatures to chase. In the many worlds of D&D, conflict drives the narrative, so I’m incredibly interested to see what Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes has in store for the short folk...

Halflings and You


As a dungeon master, think of most halflings as the stereotypically useless royal family, always getting stolen away, trampled over, or disregarded by the overarching villain of the story. As a player, understand that you are one of the few halflings courageous enough to leave a life of simplicity behind, and that makes you quirky enough.

Plot Hooks

  1. Unable to fight the coming orc horde, a village of halflings flees to a nearby human settlement. They try to hire the party to protect their crops, wooden structures, and livestock.
  2. A hot-headed halfling priest attempts to inspire his people by summoning an avatar of the race’s patron deity onto the Material Plane. His ritual backfires and he accidently brings an aspect of Lolth to his home.
  3. The greatest chef in the region is a halfling, but he’s recently been kidnapped by a gluttonous hill giant tribe. The ruling reagent, a lover of fine food, requests that the group rescue the chef from the giant’s meaty clutches.

Player Character Ideas

  1. You are a member of a wealthy halfling farming family. However, displeased with the simplicity of your livestock life, you took up the art of adventure. This angered your closed-minded father, who wishes for no misfortune to come upon his farm or family -- that live with him. He has banished you from his lands, and threatened to dispose of you if you were to return.
  2. You were forced into the world of adventure when you accidently found a sentient shortsword. The blade seeks their original creator, and is using you as a medium to find him.
  3. You are a farmer trying to save your pasture from local warg attacks.

Gnomes and You


Gnomes are an eccentric, multifaceted people. They can be found anywhere, from magical forests to the deepest caverns of the Underdark. Use their eccentricity and adaptability to your advantage!

Plot Hooks

  1. A sinister shadow dragon is interfering with the mining of a gnome city. The aristocrats who run the settlement place a bounty on the dragon’s head: The profits of an entire ruby mine.
  2. Svirfneblin and drow are warring in a massive cavern below a surface city. Their battles threaten to collapse the entire subterranean expanse, causing the destruction of the settlement above. You’ve been sent by the city to broker a peace, eliminate one of the sides, or come to some other agreement.
  3. A cabal of forest gnome warlocks align themselves with a vicious night hag seeking to open up a portal to the darkest section of the Feywild.

Player Character Ideas

  1. You are a deep gnome who was raised by a flock of hook horrors.
  2. You are a forest gnome who’s never left the confines of the Feywild. You were born and raised in the wonky plane, and your world, personality, and appearance has been shaped by it.
  3. You woke up in a farmer’s barn one day, tattooed, bloody, and without clothes. Ever since, you’ve been chased by lanky shadows with sharp claws. You’re not sure what’s going on, but you need to keep moving. Always.

In Summary


Halflings and gnomes are short, strange, and simple races in Dungeons and Dragons. Remember:
  1. Both races are popular and unpopular for unique reasons. Play those up.
  2. Halflings are a peaceful farming folk and gnomes are a generous multifaceted people. Both of their positions in the multiverse are unchanging and absent of conflict. This is strange.
  3. The two short races can be utilized in many ways, ranging from comic relief to a foil of usual D&D societies and peoples. Halfling PCs are especially unusual.
Next week, we’ll review Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. Afterward, we’re returning to Legendary Lessons and other interesting content I have planned.

Until then, farewell!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

18 May 2018

Gith and Their Timeless Conflict



On one side are the githyanki, roaming the infinite and infinitesimal Astral Plane in search of the corpses of fallen gods, lost artifacts, and ways to defeat their lifelong enemies. On the other, the bitter and distrustful githzerai, floating in the chaotic soup of Limbo, waiting for the perfect moment to strike against their githyanki cousins and former mindflayer masters. Both the githyanki and the githzerai are subraces of gith, a race of humanoids slowly created through torture and experimentation by the illithids during ancient times. Both hate illithids - and each other. Both are beings that live primarily in planes other than the Prime Material Plane. Both have been around since first edition and are an excellent addition to any Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

The fourth chapter of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, releasing everywhere May 29, 2018 and in local gaming stores on May 18, 2018, explores the history and current lore of one of the most interesting races in the multiverse: The gith. The chapter is titled "Gith and Their Endless War" and is sure to be an excellent source of material for any campaign that wishes to use the gith as foes, allies, actual player characters, or backdrops in an adventure.

Today, in preparation for this fantastic book, we’ll be wading through the gith’s history in D&D, their lore, ways to use them, and an interesting NPC githzerai to use in your campaign!


Let’s roll!

Slow Changing Monsters


The gith are split into two races: The githyanki and githzerai. Both creatures have existed since D&D’s earliest incarnations. Both were first officially recognized as a D&D monster in first edition’s Fiend Folio. In the book, Charles Stross, a reputable British writer of all things fantasy, is listed as the gith’s creator. Other notable creations of Stross include death knights and slaad (more on those another day). Immediately, the gith began to evolve.

Second edition gave players and dungeon masters the idea of the githzerai rrakkma band, a group of githzerai that hunt mind flayers, and the githzerai zerth, a party that kills githyanki. Both groups were integral parts of githzerai society, and represented their vitriol for their lifelong enemies. In second edition, the githyanki gained a terrible and immortal leader, Vlaakith the Lich-Queen.

Third edition expanded on the psionic ability of both races of gith, and detailed their statistics as playable races. In 3.5, the githyanki featured heavily in the “Incursion” storyline which ran through Dragon Magazine #309 and Dungeon Magazine #100. The story even introduced a few new types of githyanki: duthka’gith and kr’y’izoth. In addition, it included updated stats for Vlaakith.

Fourth edition introduced many new varieties of githzerai, like the cenobite and mindmage. It also changed the race’s home from Limbo to the Elemental Chaos. The githyanki only saw the addition of a few new monster types, such as the gish and mindslicer.

The gith returned in fifth edition with few changes - at this point. The next book to release, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, is set to contain both races of gith as a playable race, new varieties of gith creatures, and a slew of up-to-date history on them. Speaking of gith lore...

An Unending Battle


For countless generations, the gith have warred with each other, as well as the mind flayers who so cruelly created them. The githyanki and the githzerai share a common beginning, but their paths diverged when they finally overthrew their mind flayer overlords. Let’s briefly soar over the lore of the gith.

Eons ago, while the multiverse was young, the mind flayers controlled an immense empire that spanned many places, planes, and planets. The tentacled creatures continued to gain power, enslave races, and grow their empire. Their might was unrivaled, even demons and devils feared the threat that the illithids posed to their fiendish realms. Then, on some unknown world, the illithids encountered a race similar in power to their own. They were unable to crush it with their psionic powers. They were unable to defeat it. Therefore, they decided to create a new breed of creature infused with inhuman strength and their own psionic abilities. The base race? Humans.

The mind flayers twisted and shaped these creatures to their liking. Their skin color changed, their limbs elongated, and their innate power increased many times over. After hundreds of years of war and controlled breeding, the illithids were able to defeat this powerful, unknown foe. Once the war was over, though, the morphed-humans grew tired of being enslaved. They rebelled under the leadership of someone named Gith.

Few know of Gith’s origins. Some posit she was a well-respected bodyguard of an elite illithid, others say she was a child-soldier. All know she was incredibly powerful, charismatic, and magically-gifted, traits that were only enhanced by her hatred of her mindflayer overlords. The illithid empire was completely destroyed by this movement, often called the Thrall Uprising. The mind flayers, defeated, fled to the Underdarks of countless worlds. To this day, they have not recovered, but still seek revenge.

Back to Gith: Once the war was won, Gith decided that her people, the githyanki (a word meaning “children of Gith”), would conquer all illithid lands and exterminate every single living illithid. Most of her advisors agreed with her plan, but one, a being named Zerthimon, claimed Gith would become a tyrant akin to the illithids. He called for Gith to hide herself away, to let their people rest. She refused. Thus began a civil war between the githyanki and the githzerai (a word meaning “those who spurn Gith”).

The githzerai were unable to defeat Gith and her people, and so they retreated to the chaotic soup of Limbo. Gith, with her army severely hindered by the civil war, decided to save the remainder of the githyanki and fled to the Astral Plane. Soon after the stalemate began, Gith started to consort with a githyanki wizard named Vlaakith. The wizard advised Gith to search for allies for her crusade against the illithids and the githzerai.


Over the course of many years, Gith negotiated with slaad and elementals, demons and devils, and eventually made a deal with Ephelomon, the red dragon consort of Tiamat. For a powerful hostage and the aid of the githyanki whenever Tiamat deemed it necessary, the githyanki would receive a flight of red dragons. Gith agreed, surrendering herself to Tiamat to ensure her people’s safety, and Tiamat gifted Vlaakith - the new ruler of the githyanki - a ancient scepter that represented the Dragon Queen’s acceptance of the bargain.

Now, the githyanki are ruled by the descendents of Vlaakith, who carry the scepter of Tiamat. The githzerai, though, are scattered, living in pocket fortresses and monasteries across Limbo. Both await revenge for the past. Both races are rife with plot hooks and adventure ideas. Both are fantastic additions to any campaign.

The Gith and You


If you need an interesting planar villain, ally, or faction, look no further than the gith. If you’d like a character with roots that are in the Material Plane, look no further than the gith. If you need a crazy, interplanar plot to enrapture your group, look no further than the gith. Listed below are some interesting ideas related to both the githyanki and githzerai, for dungeon masters and players alike.

NPCs

  1. Granram, a githzerai battle master who uses his mind to control a menagerie of swords that float around his being. Granram is a perfect second-in-command to your villain. He seeks perfection in battle, more and more weapons to add to his arsenal, and the death of his traitorous sister.
  2. Farmuk, a githyanki wizard who professes the use of the mindflayer’s experimentation techniques to create a more powerful race of gith. Farmuk is a great patron who can quickly descend into villainy.
  3. Lazmina, a distant descendant of Gith who is on the run from her race. If she was to be found, they would use her body and blood as a propaganda tool and weapon of mass destruction. Lazmina is a fantastic ally. Her simple story provides a plethora of possible plot hooks. She would readily join any party willing to accept her for her own being, not the accomplishments of her ancestor.

Plot Hooks

  1. The group loots a silver blade from a foe they vanquish. Days later, they are hunted by a party of githyanki sent to retrieve the sword. It’s one of their infamous silver swords, able to sever a mortal’s connection to the Astral Plane. The gith group must get the weapon, or suffer fatal consequences at the hands of their brutal warlord.
  2. A githzerai monk approaches the party with an offer: They help him eliminate a nearby mindflayer outpost, and he’ll give them access to his people’s timeless city on Limbo.
  3. Determined to follow in Gith’s footsteps, an army of githyanki tear open a portal to the Material Plane and prepare to release trained astral dreadknoughts into the world.

Player Character Ideas

  1. You threw off the warlike tendencies of the githyanki, your race, and traveled to the Material Plane. You are determined to discover a way to forge a peace between both kinds of gith and illithids. The endless war must end.
  2. You are a githzerai who’s meditated for hundreds of years in your timeless city’s monastery, becoming one with the fabric of the multiverse. You have witnessed countless futures, pasts, and presents. You fear one of the most chilling is coming to pass at this very moment, and you must put a stop to it.
  3. You are an illithid stripped of all power by your githyanki captors. They drained you of your psionic capabilities and wiped your memory of other mind flayers. Luckily, a group of benign adventurers killed your captors and spared your life, believing your story. Now, you strive to learn new abilities and powers with a new view of life after years of imprisonment.

Sanzerai the Githzerai Mystic


If I don’t plan on using a race in abundance, I like to create a character that communicates that race’s appearance, culture, and current plights into a single being. Right now, we’ll do that for the githzerai. Let’s create Sanzerai, a githzerai mystic that personifies his entire race.

First, let’s outline what it means to be githzerai. You:
  1. Hate mind flayers and githyanki
  2. Live in the chaos of Limbo
  3. Are xenophobic
  4. Have psionic abilities
  5. Are godless
With those traits in mind, we can create Sanzerai the Mystic.

Sanzerai is a shorter-than-normal githzerai who lives in solitude on a floating boulder in Limbo. Amidst the plane’s chaos and infinite paradoxes, he trains for a day he fervently believes will come: The day the githyanki and illithid unite to destroy all githzerai. He has dreamt about this day many times, it even caused him to leave the nearby githzerai fortress, which he once lead. Sanzerai trains ceaselessly, alone, to perfect his mind magic, and despises being interrupted by others. At the moment, Sanzerai is able to cause a normal humanoid body to implode on sight; he won’t hesitate to do so to hostile trespassers. He prays daily, not to any god, but to the multiverse as a whole, which he believes lives inside each and every entity to ever exist.

He has few emotional connections. His sister, Zertha, is one of them. The other is a pristine platinum sphere that, unbeknownst to Sanzerai, is causing these insane visions. The object was planted on him by an illithid spy who wished to cause his mental state to deteriorate and leave his fortress vulnerable to attack. The illithids never expected the ploy to work as well as it did.

In Summary


Both species of the gith are troubled, surely a result of their tortured history. Due to this, these green or yellow-skinned humanoids are compelling creatures and can fit many roles in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Remember:
  1. The gith have evolved across the five editions of D&D.
  2. Gith history is long and terrible, rife with strife, disaster, and sorrow.
  3. Gith can be fantastic villains, allies, and player characters. They can also be great arbiters of planar campaigns.
  4. Sometimes, a single NPC can personify an entire race. If you don’t plan on making gith a fundamental pillar of your campaign, create an NPC that represents them as a whole.
We’re almost finished with this series! Next week, we’ll be going over the shortest and, arguably, strangest folk in the D&D multiverse: Gnomes and halflings.

Until next week, farewell!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

14 May 2018

Dwarves: Short, Stout, and Stoic


Short, stout, and stoic are the dwarves of Dungeons and Dragons. They are a race of fantastic builders, exquisite craftsmen, and, stereotypically, Scottish accents. These hardy folk have appeared in D&D since the beginning, but they’ve changed little - fitting for such a stubborn people. With over a dozen subraces, a plethora of iconic foes, thousands of years of history, and great mines constantly creeping with creatures, there’s plenty to talk about and use in your campaign when it comes to dwarves.

The third chapter of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, releasing everywhere May 29, 2018, talks about the multiverse’s hardest folk and their evil and insane counterparts. The chapter is titled, Dwarves and Duergar, and is sure to contain the most up-to-date information about these little buggers.

Today, in preparation for Wizards of Coast’s latest book, we’ll be delving into the ancient mines of the dwarves, looking at their history in D&D, their lore, their uses, and a few ways to make dwarves in YOUR world unique.

Let’s roll!

Consistent Creatures

By Manzanedo

The dwarves of Dungeons and Dragons were inspired by Norse mythology, as well as Tolkien’s classic interpretation of them in Middle-Earth. Transferred directly from Chainmail, the predecessor of D&D, dwarves were originally a player character class. This quickly changed, and they became a race in AD&D alongside elves and humans.

As the RPG progressed, dwarves split into a variety of subraces such as the hill dwarf, arctic dwarf, and grey dwarf. Though their natural environments and appearances differed, the dwarf subraces kept the iconic dwarven demeanor close, all except grey dwarves, also known as duergar. While most dwarves tend to be lawful and good, duergar are commonly chaotic and evil. Most non-duergar are warriors, ranging from dwarven defenders to ballistic barbarians. Duergars, as a result of their creation at the hands of mind flayers, can manifest psionic capabilities, and utilize shadow magic and sorcery.

Aside from duergar, most dwarves are the same, from first edition to fifth edition. They’ve not truly changed at all, aside from a few statistical alterations. However, with a bit of creative flair, they’re easily malleable. More on that later.

God-Forged


Dwarves did not evolve naturally, nor did they just come into being. They were created - nay - forged by the god Moradin in the fires of his extraplanar workshop. Molded into a certain shape and hammered into existence, dwarves owe everything to Moradin and are sure to pay homage to the deity in their daily lives. 

He created them as a challenge to himself. Thus, many dwarves take up the same challenge as Moradin: To create something far greater than themselves, something that will last long after they’re gone. So far, no dwarf has surpassed Moradin’s creation. Though Moradin is the greatest dwarven deity, there are a plethora of others that are worshiped by all dwarves - except duergar.

Duergar


Long ago, a clan of dwarves ruling over a great land experienced a terrible conflict with the other dwarven clans in their region. Their ambition was too great, their attacks too vicious, and the other clans threw them out of their alliance. Left without allies, the clan became vulnerable. A group of mindflayers below their land seized the opportunity and raided it with their mindless hordes, taking almost all of the clan hostage.

By Ben Wootten

Within their terrible laboratories, the mind flayers performed a myriad of horrible experiments upon the dwarves. During the hundreds of years of mutation and corruption, the dwarves transformed and became evil, jaded, and grey. Their skin and hair color changed. Their attitudes darkened. They gained psionic powers. They became duergar, the newest servants of the mindflayers. Eventually, their power grew so great that they were able to break free from the chains of the mind flayers and create their own society. Afterward, their kind quickly spread across the Underdark.

Of course, the dwarves and duergar of your world might be different - they are in mine - but in most D&D settings, those are the stories of the regular and grey dwarves.

Dwarves and You


Dwarves are one of the core races present in the many worlds of D&D, alongside elves, humans, and halflings. You can use them in a variety of ways, either as a player or a dungeon master. Laid out below are a few cool dwarven ideas for you to insert into your campaign!

Player Character Concepts

By Matt Forsyth
  1. You are an incredibly ugly mountain dwarf. As a child, you were the heir apparent to the throne but were cast out by the advice of your mother’s arcane advisor. Luckily, a tribe of wood elves took you in as you wandered the nearby countryside. They trained you in the art of the bow and arrow, but you never forgot your dwarven roots.
  2. You are a grey dwarf that joined the circus after leaving your deep, dark homeland for something brighter. Folks far and wide are entertained by your ability to read their minds and perform brain magic, but dwarves understand who and what you are. They are not as accepting as the circus and seek to end your career.
  3. You are a hill dwarf whose hold was demolished by a coven of hags. They corrupted your jarl, disfigured your folk, and took everything dear to you. Other than yourself, only three of your kin survived, but none wish to return to the haunted hold. You do.

Plot Hooks

  1. Local dwarves discover a new type of material. The rock is blood-red in hue and conducts magic with ease.
  2. A duergar army allies itself with a red shadow dragon. Their force threatens to cover the entire region in darkness.
  3. A disgraced dwarven king wishes to reunite with his people, but needs assistance in finding a lost and ancient clan relic.
  4. A cabal of insane dwarven wizards creates an abomination by combining a medusa, basilisk, and rust monster that now rampages in the Underdark.
  5. Elves threaten to overrun a nearby dwarf stronghold unless the dwarves return an ancestral blade stolen from the elf’s temple.

Different Dwarves


I’ve already stated that vanilla dwarves are unchanging, and I understand why: It’s the safe thing to do. Altering a classic race is difficult and risky, but sometimes, it can pay off. Thus, unless you’re pleased with minuscule pieces of different dwarves, such as the albino dwarves in Tomb of Annihilation, it’s up to you to change up this classic fantasy race. Luckily, it’s an easy and interesting exercise in creativity!

Generic dwarves are short, stout, and stoic humanoids that live in mountain fortresses. They use axes, they love to drink, and they absolutely despise goblinoids. In D&D, these are called mountain dwarves. Let me show you how easy it is to make new dwarven subraces!

By Fesbraa
  1. Lava dwarves: a subrace of orange-skinned, charcoal haired dwarves that live in and near volcanoes. They are masters of forging weapons and armor using lava, can channel the power of the Elemental Plane of Fire, and thrive in chaos. They may be descendants of azer.
  2. Snow dwarves: a subrace of mute and courageous dwarves who use their mastery of stealth and beast taming to fight. Fierce enemies of frost giants, fantastic at building structures made of ice.
  3. Aquatic dwarves: a subrace of dwarves who are the result of a clan of dwarves cross-breeding with tritons for a few centuries. Their hair and skin is flamboyant, ranging from bright yellow to dark turquoise. They have gills, tails, and sometimes webbed hands and feet. They specialize in creating tools and artifacts from the mystical coral of the sea. Sahuagin are their mortal enemies.

In Summary


Dwarves are an interesting and stoic race that have existed since the inception of Dungeons and Dragons. They are:
  1. Consistent across all editions.
  2. The result of a god challenging himself to make something incredible.
  3. Utilized in a variety of ways, both as a player and a dungeon master.
  4. Easy to modify and make compelling.
I hope you enjoyed this brief article on dwarves in Dungeons and Dragons. Make sure you check out dwarves and duergar in Wizards of the Coast’s latest book, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.

Until next time, farewell!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

*Credit to Wolfgan for the featured art.

01 May 2018

Elves: A Near Immortal Race



Pointy-eared, near immortal, and generally beautiful are the elves of Dungeons and Dragons. This race, first popularized by Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, is one of the most well-known fantasy races, and an important part of the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse. From their mysterious and majestic fey ancestry to their polarizing worship of Lolth, elf history is rich. Due to their density, the amount of possible plot hooks and character ideas stemming from elf history is immense. Yet, there's always more to learn!

This week, in preparation for the release of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, we’ll be going over the history of elves by edition, in addition to looking at interesting ways to utilize elves as both a player and dungeon master. Elves are the main topic of Mordenkainen’s second chapter, and I’m excited to see how they expand upon them in D&D's fifth edition.

As always with this interim series on Mordenkainen's, let’s start with a brief history lesson. 

Elves by Edition


Elves have been a part of Dungeons and Dragons since the RPG's inception. In the original, 1974 version of D&D, they were a player character class. Most of their abilities, such as being immune to paralysis were transferred over from Chainmail, a war game that spawned D&D first iteration. However, this powerful ability would eventually be related to the race's mystical fey ancestry...

In D&D’s next, and ‘first’ edition, elves made the leap from class to race. With this jump came a variety of subraces, such as high elves, gray elves, black elves, and wood elves. Three of these would remain mainstream in the current edition, and one would become one of the classic villain races of this wonderful hobby.

Second, third, and fourth edition saw the expansion of elf lore, from the tribalistic and savage elves of Athas in the Elves of Athas to the graceful elves of the Forgotten Realms in Races of Faerun. In fourth edition, elves were split into three subraces: drow, eladrin, and sylvan, a design choice that didn’t transfer to the current edition.

Now, in fifth edition, elves remain a playable race with a variety of subrace options: high, wood, and dark, with more set to come with Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. I'd speculate that the book will include player favorites such as winged and aquatic elves. Both will make a great addition to 5E's growing list of interesting PC races. I think that Mordenkainen's will also expand upon the conflict between the drow and other elves, as well as the mysterious fey ancestry of the race.

Elves as a race have fey ancestry but were created by a singular god. From their point of creation onward, their race experienced a series of tumultuous events, from the banishment of the drow to the Underdark, to the slow disappearance of the eladrin.

Luckily, from this rich history, there’s a lot of play on as both a player and a dungeon master, which is what I’m talking about next!

Using Elves as a Player


Elves are already a prominent player character race, but they’re often portrayed as mysterious rangers who emerge from the wilderness, or incredible spellcasters invested in mortal affairs. Here are a few ideas for unconventional but interesting elf characters connected to elf history.

  • You grew up in a noble house, left there by your parents who claimed they could not protect you. The noble family, humans, taught you the ways of the wealthy and privileged. You learned to sing, dance, and play the flute. Thankfully, you were a natural. Words peacefully flow from your lips, and your music makes even the hardiest man melt. Your life has been wonderful, thus far. During your weekly performances in the amphitheater, though, you’ve noticed an individual intently watching you, always in a different spot, always with the same blood red eyes. Their presence makes you uneasy, and, strangely, causes your parent’s words of warning to echo in your mind. Could this being be the creature they were terrified they couldn’t protect me from?
  • You are a dwarf raised by wood elves.
  • You are a wood elf who’s lived in the Feywild your entire life, surrounded by mystical imagery and explosive, random magic. You’re attuned to this way of life, but something has been off recently. Dark vines and bloody flowers are creeping up all around your serene home, along with indestructible, pale spider webs. Something is awry.
Remember: Your character need not be an elf to be connected to elves, and not elves need to be from the deep forest.

Using Elves as a Dungeon Master


Elves can be allies. Elves can be enemies. Elves have thousands of years of history. Elves are an unlimited font of content for dungeon masters.
  • The mountains to the west where the ancient relic is hidden were once ruled by giants, then orcs, and then dwarves. However, now they are controlled by the ruthless wood elves who were driven from their nearby forest home by a tribe of vicious gnolls. The elves have taken to slaying any who dare travel in their newfound territory until the gnolls are driven from the nearby woodland. This gives options for the adventurers: Face the fury of the mountain elves to find the artifact or delve into the gnoll-infested woods beforehand to gain the favor of the elves.
  • During the first stirrings of elves, their ancestors wove an immense tapestry depicting the story of their creation. Days turned to months, and months turned to years and the majestic cloth was lost to villainy or carelessness. Now, an eccentric elf priest is on the hunt for this relic, seeking to confirm their race’s creation story once and for all. Perhaps pieces of the tapestry are scattered across the land, in the hands of various factions. Maybe the cloth is hidden in the ruins of a decrepit elven metropolis, overgrown in a serene woodland. That’s for you and your players to discover!
  • Giantkind is being manipulated by an outside force. Something dark and sinister. Hill giants are moving to assault once safe farms, frost giants are raiding lumberers in peaceful snow lands, and fire giants are destabilizing volcanos to demolish nearby cities. It turns out, all of these giant factions are working in cohesion. They are working toward a greater goal; they are preparing the world for her arrival. Deep below the ground, the drow are stationed, using giantkind as puppets to prepare the world for the greatest show imaginable: The arrival of their queen, Lolth. What I’m not so subtlety hinting at here is Against the Giants, a fantastic adventure that can easily be adapted for fifth edition! In this mega-module, the dark elves are the masterminds, and giantkind are the puppets.

Elves are interesting, whether as a race or a piece of your campaign. Use them, and get ready to learn even more about them in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

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