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25 June 2018

Thri-Kreen: The Mind Mantids



It’s Friday night. The Enoach group is investigating strange happenings around the Storm Temple of Talos in the rich desert town of Asudem. Sentient weapons, sacks of gold, and far more are being stolen from locations such as the Sandstone Arcanum, the Shrine of Zet, and the Eight Goldmen Bank in Asudem. Believing the source to stem from the Storm Temple, the party decides to stake outside of the great stone structure. Night falls and the many moons of Aelonis fade into view. At first, nothing happens. The air remains dry and silent, the dragonborn of the party begin to get drowsy, and the moons glow faintly in the decorated sky. Then, Rhozur, a blue dragonborn monk portrayed by Gerald Steckley, hears a slight clicking noise, followed by a high hiss. Both are nearly inaudible. Rhozur perks up and peers at the temple.

Atop the structure’s roof is the silhouette of a large being with many limbs. In two, the creature wields long, spear-like weapons, curved at their tips. It spots Rhozur and immediately ducks behind an outcropping. Too slow. What ensues is a brutal, rooftop battle between the dragonborn party and a squad of thri-kreen. The party emerges victorious, scarred and bloody, but two of the thri-kreen managed to escape, bounding from roof to roof, silent save for their hissing. In the temple below, folks can be heard rummaging about. Something is awry. The time has arrived for the party to pay the clergy of the Storm Temple of Talos - and one of the PCs former mentor - a visit.
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Thri-kreen are one of the most fascinating monsters found in Dungeons and Dragons. They can be utilized in a variety of ways, from hard-hitting, low-level enemies to modified high-level antagonists with myriad interesting abilities on and off the battlefield. They made their first appearance in my Enoach group in Session 01, and I plan on their faction, the Aphid Alliance, to be the primary antagonists throughout that campaign.

From their four-armed shenanigans to their possible to wield psionics like no other race, thri-kreen are definitely one of the most interesting monsters to muse over. This week, in a new series retroactively started and named Musing Over Monsters, we’ll be discussing the mantis warriors first hatched in 1982.

Let’s roll!

Hatching the Mantis-Folk


Although most believe thri-kreen to originate from the awesome and grim setting of Darksun, they first appeared in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in a relatively unknown product: Monster cards. Although this item did not catch on in the D&D world, the thri-kreen sure did. The monster’s next appearance was in the AD&D Monster Manual II, in which they reprised their role as the monstrous mantis-men.

Then, they showed up in second edition AD&D in the Monstrous Compendium Forgotten Realms Appendix AND the Monstrous Manual. 2E also first marked their appearance in Dark Sun, under the name ‘Athasian thri-kreen.’ In addition, they became a playable race in Player’s Option: Skills and Powers - something 5E has yet to do. There’s also a second edition book titled, Thri-Kreen of Athas, which delves into the creatures better than I ever could. I highly recommend giving it a read! Second edition was where thri-kreen first became a true creature, fully fleshed out and interesting. 'Twas the golden age of the race, truly.

3E and 4E took awhile to include thri-kreen. In 3E, they appeared in the second Monster Manual as monsters, a playable race in Savage Species and the Expanded Psionics Handbook, and again as a Dark Sun playable race in the 319th issue of Dragon Magazine. In 4E, they made a single appearance - in the THIRD Monster Manual of that edition.

Now, for the first time in D&D history, thri-kreen appeared in the first 5E Monster Manual. Unluckily, though, they’ve not become a playable character race in D&D’s latest edition. Surely and hopefully they will soon. Many speculate that Dark Sun is on the horizon, and if that’s true, then thri-kreen as player characters shall surely accompany the setting.

All About These Buggers


Thri-kreen are insectoid creatures that resemble humanoid praying mantises. They are generally known for their inclusion in Dark Sun, their connection to psionics, and the environment they live in. The normal thri-kreen stands around six feet tall is colored a dirty gold and possesses a total of SIX limbs: One pair for locomotion and the other four for wielding weapons and casting spells.

If you’re searching for great thri-kreen art, look no further than Dark Sun. This setting is the reason thri-kreen are even thought about regularly, which is a shame. In Athas, thri-kreen are prominent. They’ve dominated a large region of land and are split into clutches, packs, and nations. They’ve mastered the concept of the hunt, domesticated a variety of creatures, such as the large, wasp-like insects known as the jalath’gak. Their personalities are varied, and their PC possibilities are immense; look no further than any Dark Sun supplement for D&D.

Most thri-kreen possess the ability to wield psionic abilities. In the Monster Manual, these powers are simple and not too powerful, but with an ounce of editing and creativity, you can easily turn these powers in boons both on and off the site of battle. Perhaps they can use these powers to read the minds of others, or even control their actions. Maybe their psionic abilities are strengthened when near a particular site or creature.

Thri-kreen are nomads native to deserts and plains. They roam in packs, constantly on the hunt, a force and ideal that shapes the lives of the thri-kreen. All thri-kreens carry the mindset of the hunt, the constant need to survive...and to thrive. They spend all their lives preparing for this moment, from the second they hatch from the egg to the first time they wield a weapon. The hunt is paramount to thri-kreen. Sometimes, the hunt can evolve to mean something greater. Instead of hunting for survival, perhaps an influential thri-kreen skews the hunt to mean the hunting of artifacts and treasures in human or dwarven lands. Maybe the hunt leads a pack of thri-kreen to desperately search for an individual (a PC?). The hunt and the hunter-mind of the thri-kreen can be used in a variety of ways by the DM.

Thri-Kreen Ideas


Thri-kreen make better monsters than PCs. There. I said it. That being stated, I’d still like to discuss their uses both by the DM and the players.

Player Characters


At the moment, there’s not a playable version of thri-kreen available. Thus, if you want to play as a mantidfolk, you must design it yourself! Unless you think up a reason for your character to NOT utilize all four of their arms, though, I think that most DMs will not be okay with a playable thri-kreen. If you’re able to play a thri-kreen in your game, here are a few PC ideas to kickstart your imagination:
  1. Thrown out from thri-kreen society at a young age due to your inability to communicate psionically, you thrived in the harsh wilderness of the desert. Somehow, you managed to learn how to hunt native beasts and interact with townsfolk for supplies. Over time, you developed a strange friendship with one of these people, who’s gone as far as to welcome you into their home during the night. However, they’ve not shown up to your previous two scheduled meetings, and you’ve been too afraid to seek them our in their home.
  2. You were taken from your roaming tribe over a decade ago to serve under a wealthy aristocrat. She took a liking to your race over a long period of observation and decided she wanted one under her direct supervision. Honestly, you’re nothing more than a glorified worker and bodyguard, but you’ve lived a healthy and rich life thus far. However, you’re growing tired of serving her every whim, and seek a new life outside her bindings.
  3. You are a thri-kreen who was polymorphed into a human by a terrible wizard or trap. Without your former powers (limbs and psionics), you must leave the desert wilds to find civilization and a way to reverse this curse.

Dungeon Masters


Thri-kreen are weak monsters in the Monster Manual, but you can easily transform them into formidable foes or interesting antagonists with a few tweaks or cool ideas. Here’s a few for you DMs out there:

  1. Thri-kreen have been attacking settlements across the desert, lead by a weapon master. This thri-kreen wields a battleaxe of flame, a scimitar of acid, a warhammer of stunning, and a spear of poison. It amassed these valuable artifacts over years of traveling across the desert, and has grown weary of living in the wilds; it seeks a home, a shelter in lands already civilized by other races. To spruce up this thri-kreen, give it four attacks a round, increased hit points, as well as two action surges. It’ll make a formidable foe for your PCs!
  2. A more-civilized guild of thri-kreen are being lead by a hardened mystic named Sternycha. He is old, emotionally cracked, and lustful for revenge. Instead of using melee weapons, he uses psionic powers to break the minds of his foes and thrust venom-tipped daggers. Sternycha is lanky, but arches his insectoid back and relies on a bone cane to walk. He personifies his race in all aspects: He’s old, angry, and crippled. On his being, he carries an amber ring of sand-walking, two healing potions, a sand-colored robe, four daggers tipped with scorpion venom, a scroll of invisibility, and a scarab preserved in a ruby: the symbol of his guild. To strengthen Sternycha, give his psionic attacks area of effect capabilities, allow him to mind control a PC once per long rest, and increase his armor class and hit points to a reasonable level for the party he's combating. 

Thri-Kreen in Aelonis


Thri-kreen exist in my homegrown world of Aelonis as a remnant race. Once, they were prominent and large stretches of land were under their sway. Aph was the name of their empire. This empire controlled a huge swath of Enoach, a desert region splattered with rocky plateaus and grand canyons. Their leaders had mastered psionics, communing with the mysterious force known as ki, and preserving their dead in pseudo-living conditions. Aph’s primary enemies were the formians (antfolk) and yuan-ti (snakefolk). The formians held the subterranean lands below the desert, and the yuan-ti ruled the various cavern systems nearby rivers and canyons. Yet, neither of these were the downfall of the thri-kreen. In fact, each of these powerful civilizations was annihilated by the same force: Elemental chaos.

In a cataclysmic event, a cabal of sand giant seers living in the center of the desert accidentally or purposefully (it’s debated) awakened an elemental primordial that caused an eruption from the Elemental Chaos to envelop Enoach. The ensuing chaos collapsed all of the civilizations presiding over the desert and saw the rise of four, elemental domains: Ogremocha, Yanis, Aqor, and Imixia, each controlled by an elemental entity released from the primordial. This was thousands of years ago; the thri-kreen have never forgotten.

Nowadays, most thri-kreen roam the desert in small packs, rummaging for food, valuables, and a true home. For those unsatisfied with this existence, there is the Aphid Alliance, a great thieves’ guild based in the port city of Lairo. The members of this organization seek to topple each of the elemental domains and reinstate the empire of Aph. Over time, they’ve acquired wealth, magic, and power throughout Enoach. Some of the Aphid Alliance have even remastered the psionic abilities unlocked by their ancestors. To accomplish their massive goal, the thri-kreen have resorted to allying themselves with their ancient enemies - an alliance that will surely not last if they succeed.

Creating an interesting and short history for a specific monster in your world is something I’d recommend doing, especially if you’ll be using them a lot in a campaign or adventure. The time it takes is minimal and the amount of plot hooks and character that comes from a brief history is immense.

In Summary


Thri-kreen are badass monsters capable of becoming interesting characters portrayed by both PCs and DMs. They have a long history in D&D and deserve to be utilized in more campaigns. Remember:
  1. The thri-kreen first appeared in the second set of Monster Cards for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as insectoid warriors that looked like a humanoid praying mantis. Their golden age was second edition, where they were fully fleshed out as a monster and people.
  2. These humanoid mantids have strong ties to Dark Sun, psionics, and deserts.
  3. Thri-kreen player characters can be interesting, but these creatures make spectacular, uneasy allies or intelligent antagonists.
  4. Creating a short history for a specific creature or race personal for your world or setting can give you and your players tons to work with.
If you'd like to check out a few more Musing Over Monsters articles, such as one on elves, a little diddy of halflings and gnomes, or a 'quick' lesson on the gith, look no further than RJD20.com.

We’re returning to Legendary Lessons next week and discussing the role of reality in our favorite fantasy roleplaying game…

Until next time, fare thee well!

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 June 2018

Accepting the Flow


It’s Friday night. Everyone’s gathered around the table. Tonight is my group’s first delve into Dungeons and Dragons in years. We’re playing fifth edition and I’m the dungeon master. I have a few notes, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, and my dice pushed behind my third edition DM screen - I’m ready to go. We begin outside a small farming village, and the group roleplays for the first time in a while. People laugh, roll some dice, and awkwardly move their way toward the village. Eventually, they arrive and see that the village is under siege by kobolds, robed humans, and an enormous blue dragon - oh my! Being the righteous adventurers that they are, the group bumbles into the fray, slaying kobolds and fighting their way toward the village’s keep. They make it, meet with the mayor, and decide to stake out on the battlements. As darts and rocks from the kobolds on the ground below fly past the group, and the great blue dragon breathes lightning from his guzzle, one of the characters, a human ranger, tries to take a pot shot at the draconic beast. The guy who plays him, Ian Clink, rolls a natural 20 - and we use a critical hit chart (something I outlawed after this adventure, an old remnant of 3.5E). He rolls a percentile die - and rolls a 93 - pierce heart, instant death. A level one ranger, using the rules I instated, just killed an enormous blue dragon. The table erupts. My mind races, “Do I let this happen?”
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Moments such as the one described above happen all the time in the wonderful game of Dungeons and Dragons. That’s the benefit of playing an RPG in which the simulation plays out in your mind; there’s no true limitations on the graphics or outcomes, thus everything is possible. It’s why we love the D&D.

However, that doesn’t mean we as dungeon masters do not question the validity of the above situation actually playing out. When Ian rolled the percentile die, I realized the onus was on me to create a somewhat believable but epic outcome to the roll. That’s hard to do, right? How does puny archer take out an infuriated dragon? I’d be lying if I said the thought of letting the dragon live did not run through my head. Yet, I didn’t let the thought consume me. Who cares if it’s not entirely plausible? Who cares if it makes absolutely zero sense!? Make it sensible. Go with the flow. I hastily decided that the ranger hit the single weak spot in the dragon’s scales, ran through the creature’s heart, and caused the dragon to crash into the keep below. Amidst the cries of the cultists fleeing, the party roared with amazement and laughter.

In this week’s Legendary Lesson, we’ll be talking about accepting the flow of a Dungeons and Dragons game by listening to the players’ dice and running with the players’ ideas.

Let’s roll!

Listen to the Dice, Sometimes


My group often spouts the ancient gamer proverb, “The dice never lie.” If Ian’s ranger was never meant to kill the raging blue dragon, the percentile dice wouldn’t have landed on nine and three. If the poor kobold warlock was meant to avoid the crushing boulder trap, the player's d20 roll would have been above a two. If the firbolg warlock was not supposed to rally from the dead and turn the tides of the battle against a forbidden evil, his player wouldn’t have rolled a natural twenty on his death saving throw. Dice and the element of chance that accompanies them are fundamental to D&D.

We should listen to the dice and accept whatever fate they bring upon us. Sometimes. When the player rolls, we should ALWAYS respect those rolls. Don’t alter DCs or completely discount their roll, ever. However, I’m of the opinion that DMs can alter their own rolls if they deem it necessary. This act is often called ‘fudging the dice’ and is frowned upon in many circles, but it can be used a variety of beneficial ways. For example, if you sense that the end of the campaign is upon you because of incredible dice rolls on your part (the monsters are ANNIHILATING the PCs), don’t be afraid to have the hot dice go cold.

Over time, I’ve moved far, far away from the advice I just prescribed above, but I will still use it if necessary. If the party were on the edge of death after a two year, fantastic campaign in a combat that was supposed to be inconsequential or simple, then I might fudge the dice. It all depends on the moment, the mood in the room. You need to be able to read it and realize that listening to the dice is not always necessary.

Accept Player Ideas


As I discussed last week in Creating Collaboratively, players and DMs should be building the story together. If you’re the dungeon master, and I’m assuming you are, the onus is on you to construct the story, but your players are always throwing ideas your way, even if you’re not aware of it.
  1. “Does the ragged half orc ruffian have a weapon other than a longsword?”
  2. “Is there a cubby or cliff somewhere in this decrepit cavern?”
  3. “Are there any inscriptions on the tombs of these long-forgotten paladins?”
All of these questions can be used to build on to the campaign, all you have to do is respond positively to them. Doing so is easy if you simply follow this rule: Always respond to your players with either: “Yes, and…” or “Yes, but…” or “No, but…” or some other variation. Don’t outright reject your players ideas; instead, build on them!

  1. "Yes, but the weapon is kept in a sheathe glittering with gems. It looks strange, small, and curved. Whatever arm he's keeping, it's exotic and foreign to you."
  2. "No, but the stalactites on the cavern's ceiling form a sort of barrier where something or someone could be hidden. The foul stench wafting around the room could be hidden there...Maybe the green dragon waits above."
  3. "Yes, and they're written in celestial, a script you've studied for many years. The inscription reads, 'To those who guard the unfaithful against the night below, we are with you, always.' The word 'unfaithful' is partially scratched over, as if someone tried to remove it from the sentence."

In Summary


Generally, dungeon masters and players should accept the flow of the game. D&D inherently is a storytelling, hack n’ slash game that uses dice as the main mechanic. The dice and the sheer ingenuity of the players can make for epic and unforgettable moments. Don’t stifle them. Remember:
  1. Listen to the dice, sometimes. Never change your players' rolls. Change yours if the fate of the campaign/players' fun is at stake.
  2. Accept player ideas. Use, “Yes, and…” or “Yes, but…” or “No, but…”
Until next time, fare thee well!

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.

11 June 2018

Creating Collaboratively


It’s Friday night. The party is about to assemble for the first time (an epic moment, I know). However, before the adventure begins, I ask each player questions about their character and about my own world. As they put the finishing touches on their character sheets and sharpen their pencils, I bounce from player to player. Kristi’s elf rogue had a mentor, so I posit, “Kristi, what’s the name of Zara’s mentor, what did he do, and was his business shady?” She thinks, smiles, responds, and now she’s created a small piece of my world. I turn to Tom, who’s character almost perished at the hands of a demonic cult. “Tom, what’s this cult’s name, what do they worship, and who stopped them from accomplishing their vile task?” He looks up in the air, looks side to side, opens his mouth once, as if ready to respond, closes it, thinks a tad more, and then comes up with some awesome information. Tom is building the world, along with Kristi, the rest of the players, and me, the dungeon master.

Many professional writers posit that the best stories focus not on the plot, but the characters within the plot. This can be repurposed for Dungeons and Dragons: The best campaigns focus not on the adventure, but the player characters going on the adventure. However, I’d take it a step further: The best campaigns focus on the player characters and are partially built by the players.

I'm glad to be back to writing Legendary Lessons after my brief stint going over the big sections of Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes. Those articles were intrinsically different than these, and you can expect more of them in the future!

However, this week, we’re delving into the topic of collaborative worldbuilding, and why working with your players to build a campaign creates a more satisfying story.

Let’s roll!

Trusting Your Players


Before we go any further, let me make this clear: Allowing your players to create bits of your world requires mutual trust. Luckily, this level of trust should be accessible by folks sitting down around a table, and, if it’s not, talk to your players about striving toward it. Remember, communication is key. Don’t let your distrust boil into anger; eventually, this could be the downfall of your group. It’s best to ensure that everyone playing understands that each person is at the table to have a fantastic and fantastical time.

Once it’s clear that everyone is present to have fun, let them know the world everyone’s in is one of your creation, and you’d like to share the ability to create with the players as well. Alert them that this comes with a caveat: They MUST take the world seriously. If asked what perches on the decrepit gate, they MUST not respond with, “A living turd!” If everyone understands the tone, setting, and goal of the game, then you should be able to trust your players with what I’m about to go over.

Thus, without further ado, let’s delve into the bulk of today’s article: Collaborating with your players both before and during actual adventuring.

Pre-Adventure Prep


The first time you collaborate with your players to build something wonderful should be before the campaign or adventure begins. I’ve gone over this briefly in a previous article, but today, I’m going to dive into this dense and important piece of advice.


The key to playing a fantastic campaign is setting a solid framework for the many adventures to come. Accomplishing this is easy, fast, and fun.

The first step is contacting each of your players, and learn about the character they’d like to play. Once that’s done, write an email, call them on the phone, or send them a text message with a few questions within. Each question should relate to the campaign, their character, or the player’s preferences. In addition, it shouldn’t be too long, and you should encourage the player to put as much effort as they’d like into the questions. One sentence is as good as four paragraphs.

With a little effort on their part, you’ll have a plethora of information to build on for your campaign. And, if you do this for each player, you’ll have an IMMENSE amount of possible plot hooks and NPCs to pull from. And the best part? They’ll feel as if they contributed to the world, and they’ll feel more connected to these specific plots and NPCs. They will have created collaboratively with you, and they will be more invested in your campaign.

Confused? Not following? Want to just see an example? No worries, I have you covered. Let’s go through a quick example of this in action.

I’m about to start a new campaign set in the Elemental Plane of Fire. I’ve alerted the party that they’ll begin aboard a slave vessel roaring across the Lava Sea, and asked each of them to send me brief character concepts.

One of my players, named Guy Jr, sends me the following: I feel like playing a kobold warlock. I think he will have a fiendish patron, maybe a devil, and be from the Material Plane.

In response, I’d message him the following: Awesome! Here’s a few questions I’d like you to answer before we begin the campaign to give me some ideas about how to connect your character to the campaign.
  1. Why are you a slave aboard this vessel?
  2. What is your patron’s name, appearance, and personality?
  3. How long have you been a warlock?
  4. Who is an ally you’ve made aboard this vessel?
  5. Where is this vessel currently sailing?
Feel free to answer all or none of the questions with as much or as little detail as you’d like. If you think of anything else concerning your character, just message me!

Ideally, he responds and I implement his ideas into the campaign. Then, we’re done. We’ve created together before the campaign has begun.

However, that’s not the only time we can do so...

Creating While Playing


As dungeon masters, we improv constantly while playing Dungeons and Dragons, weaving new parts of the world and story from absolutely nothing. Improvisation is exhilarating, challenging, and an experience that should be shared across both sides of the screen. Thus, I ask you to give your players the opportunity to create bits and pieces of the story while it unfolds before the entire table. Luckily, this can be used in a variety of ways with various levels of effect. Right now, let’s focus on two different strategies: Asking questions and giving them control.

The first strategy is simple to conceptualize, but it’s a powerful and varied tool. The premise is as follows: During play, ask one of your players a question, and give them the freedom to answer it.

Questions can be as simple and inconsequential as, “What is the goblin’s name?” OR they can be as complex and important as, “Where is the seventh piece of the Rod of Seven Parts hidden?” You can load questions, or leave their answers completely up to the player. You can limit them, as well. A few other questions could be:
  1. What guards the fire giant stronghold gates?
  2. Who is the cult leader?
  3. Why is the rat swarm charging toward your group?
  4. What type of sword sits in the dragon’s hoard?
Regardless of what question you ask, using this gives players a sense of freedom and excitement. It gives them the chance to create a meaningful piece of the story other than their characters. Most of the time, folks seem to take the game more seriously, as well. If they’re building pieces of the story as it’s unfolding, it keeps them engaged and invested in the minute-to-minute gameplay, as well as in the long-term growth of their characters.

The second strategy is a tad risky, but can lead to a ton of excitement. Basically, you hand your reins over to a single player, or a group of players, and let them portray characters other than their own.

For example, imagine your group is entering a stronghold, but each character must be questioned individually by a council who runs the place. Instead of YOU portraying each different character, have your players take them over and allow THEM to question each PC. It’s a fun exercise in improv, and allows the players to be characters other than their own, which may be refreshing in a long campaign. Other ideas include:

  1. The players portray historical figures during a flashback session to an integral moment in your world’s history.
  2. A magical curse causes the character’s to switch personalities, but not bodies, forcing the players to portray a PC other than their own.
  3. The dungeon master gives a single player a powerful NPC to portray, perhaps someone inherently related to their own character.
Use this with caution! If your players tend to treat everyone fair, and understand the power you’re temporarily handing them, go wild. It can lead to exciting and unexpected story beats.

In Summary


The trick to playing the best possible version of Dungeons and Dragons is to play with folks who you can trust, folks with whom you can form a cohesive bond that withstands even the hottest dragon breath. Using this mutual trust and respect, your group can reach new creative heights not by merely reacting to a world of the dungeon master’s making, but by each player actively influencing and developing the atmosphere of the world. Remember:
  1. Dungeon masters must trust their players as much as their players trust them. This bond must be established before the campaign begins.
  2. Don’t wait until the campaign is underway to let players build. Instead, do it during character creation.
  3. Challenge and excite players by allowing them to come up with story elements on the spot. What’s behind the smashed wooden door? Who murdered the king in cold blood? When does the potion of death take effect? The player is no longer Dani Dregon, the halfling rogue; she’s now Demetress Calas, an esteemed mage of the Seventh Spire with the power to decide the other PCs fate!
The next time you play, try out some of these tips. Most of the time, your own players are the most valuable and evocative tools at your disposal. Use them. Collaborate with them. Create with them.

Until next week, farewell, dungeoneers and dungeon masters!

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.

04 June 2018

Above and Below Waterdeep!




Last weekend, a plethora of actors, comedy icons, Twitch streamers, and proponents of Dungeons and Dragons participated in an epic, three-day live stream that showcased the latest D&D storyline. This hearty troupe laughed and played alongside the D&D team, and created an entertaining event that truly showed why D&D is one of the greatest games to exist. In addition, we learned that D&D’s next storyline involves Waterdeep, the City of Splendors, and what lies below the sprawling metropolis.

The campaign comes in two parts: Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage. 

I could not be more excited about this next release.

Let’s briefly delve into why this is!

What We Know


Wizards of the Coast will be releasing two adventure books this fall: Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage.

The former will take adventurers on an urban romp through the most splendid city in the Forgotten Realms and is levels 1-5. The goal of the PCs is to protect a hoard of gold, called dragons in Waterdeep (hence the name Dragon Heist), from a certain villain. In addition, the book will act as a sourcebook on Waterdeep and a resource for those who wish to run urban adventures. Chris Perkins designed the adventure around the idea of the dungeon master choosing one of four villains to drive the adventure forward. Each villain, supposedly, is connected to a season (spring, summer, fall, winter) and has an entirely different agenda than the others. The possible villains are Jarlaxle, a flamboyant drow mastermind, Xanathar, a psychopathic beholder gang boss, Manshoon, rather, a clone of Manshoon, a great archmage, and the Cassalanters, a noble house in Waterdeep. The different villains and seasons attached them give Dragon Heist replayability, or, if you’re crazy, a vast amount of villainy to include in a single campaign!

The latter and second part of the Waterdeep series will take adventurers below Waterdeep, into the massive dungeon of Undermountain and is levels 6-20. Yes, you read that correctly, this, two-part series will be the first official fifth edition campaign that takes PCs from level one to level twenty! Within Undermountain awaits an immense variety of vicious traps, drooling monsters, pompous villainy, and unimaginable treasures. We know that Halaster Blackcloak, the creator of Undermountain, resides within, but, other than that little tidbit, we’re unsure as to why the PCs will be delving into Faerun’s greatest dungeon. I'm eager to learn more!

Thoughts and Speculation


I was raised on Baldur’s Gate, Diablo, and Neverwinter Nights. I vividly remember Neverwinter Night’s second expansion, Hordes of the Underdark. That module was my first introduction to Waterdeep and Undermountain. Into the depths of Halaster’s dungeon, I delved, battling through haunted crypts, trapped devils, and legions of drow, duergar, and other Underdark evils enslaved by or allied with Halaster. I loved every bit of it. The madness of the Undermountain, the tranquility of Waterdeep, the sin of Halaster, and the evil of the dark elves, everything melded together perfectly. And that was fifteen years ago. Today, with my reading, writing, and comprehension level far surpassing 6-8 year old me, I’m prepared and hyped for fifth edition’s version of Waterdeep and Undermountain.

From what we’ve heard, in addition to both books being adventures, the books can serve as a resource to DMs and players, something I use all of the WOTC adventures as. Dragon Heist is set in the entire city of Waterdeep. Using that metropolis as an example, DMs will be able to deduce the mystery of running interesting urban adventures. Expansions on topics such as chase sequences, downtime, and combat and roleplaying in a pure city environment are to be expected. Dungeon of the Mad Mage will most definitely be a huge inspiration to those looking to run mega-dungeon campaigns or insert dungeons into their current ones. We’ve heard that each level of Undermountain has its own tone, environment, and villains. This aspect may be heightened because WOTC pulled in a plethora of freelancers to assist them with this massive undertaking. Whatever’s within Undermountain, I’m sure it will be fantastic; WOTC has not disappointed me thus far.

In Summary


The newest D&D storyline comes in two parts and looks absolutely incredible from what we’ve witnessed. Remember:

  1. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, an urban romp through the City of Splendors, in which the adventurers strive to keep a hoard of gold away from one of four villains, goes through levels 1-5 and focuses on roleplaying.
  2. Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, a delve into Faerun’s greatest dungeon, designed by Halaster Blackcloak, spans levels 6-20, becoming fifth edition’s first module designed for PCs to hit the level cap.
That’s it! I’m incredibly excited for this module, and will definitely be picking it up in game stores when it releases in September and November.

Next week, we're finally returning to Legendary Lessons!

Until next time, farewell, friends.

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