Friday, September 25, 2020

Shadow Week: Shadowfell and the Plane of Shadow (Videos)

Had some more I wanted to do today with the Shadowfell, the Plane of Shadow and Ravenloft.  BUT.  I have a bunch of exams to write today.  So going to phone this one in with some videos.  But there is a lot of good material in these, so worth sharing I think.


Take each of these with a grain of salt. While these are their interpretations of the topics they are not always the interpretations I have made.   For example, the jury is out on whether or not I consider Ravenloft to be part of my Shadowfell. Certainly, I can see the realm of Nightmares here.  








And if you want some ambient mood music here is this one.

Kickstart Your Weekend: Hellbringers

Ok, this looks fun. 

Hellbringers: The Sacred Heart


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hellbringers/hellbringers-the-sacred-heart?ref=theotherside

From the Kickstarter page:

Lucifer, The Lord of Hell, has suddenly vanished without warning leaving the pact of the realm of death in unrest and on the brink of war. Now Lilith, his bride, must try and reclaim the realm in his absence, but not everyone wants to bow to her rule. With enemies at every turn, Lilith searches for the Sacred Heart to increase her power in order to gain the allies she needs to claim her missing husband's throne and restore peace to the kingdom. Filled with intrigue, epic battles, and a dash of humor,  this comic is sure to leave you wanting more!

Honestly, this looks rather fun. The art is varied, but it is all really good.

I think this would be great to have.

NIGHT SHIFT news!

So my writing partner and publisher have made a deal with  Studio 2 Publishing to distribute NIGHT SHIFT and other products from Elf Lair Games.


 You can read about it here

And below,


Thursday, September 24, 2020

Shadow Week: The Plane of Shadow and Shadar-kai

I have been talking a bit about the denizens of the Shadowfell and various Shadowy realms, but what I have not don't yet is go deeper into what the Shadowfell is or how it relates to the Demi-Plane, or Plane, of Shadow.

They are the same thing.  Ok next week...

Wait, you wanted a little more?  I suppose that a bit more is needed really. Especially since this all extends over many editions of the D&D game.

Manuals of the Planes

The idea of Planes goes all the way to the beginning of D&D really. Last week I talked about Elric and the works of Moorcock, planes are central, even essential to those stories. The same is true for D&D even if your characters never set foot off the Prime Material Plane. 

AD&D 1st Edition Manual of the Planes

The first ed MoP was a game-changer for my groups back then. Yes, a lot of the material here was cribbed from several sources; Q1, Dragon magazine, and other adventures.  But having it all one place was great and there were plenty of ideas to be had here. Though, like the Astra Dreadnought on the cover, there is not a lot here on the Demi-Plane of Shadow.  This would not be detailed until Dragon Magazine #213 for the AD&D 2nd Edition game.  Even Tales of the Outer Planes does not have anything on the Demi-Plane of Shadow.

Back then we did all sorts of mental gymnastics to square the Plane of Shadow with Ravenloft and/or the Demi-Plane of Nightmares (Mystara, in its 1st Edition version) and the Plane of Imprisonment.

There was no Manual of the Planes for AD&D 2nd ed.  That role was filled by the Planescape line.  

To get to the Plane of Shadow as it is described these days we need to move up to 3rd Edition.

D&D 3rd Edition Manual of the Planes

Like the 1st Ed version, this one was also a "game-changer." It was disliked by some for the very reason I liked it; it dared to remake the Planes.  In fact this book pointed it out that belief was largely what shaped how you viewed the planes.  I know this was touched on quite a bit in Planescape, but I didn't play a lot of Planescape so I don't know to what degree.  This should have really been a non-issue. Of course, belief changes the reality of the planes, they are all about belief. We saw that in Deities & Demigods and Legends and Lore previously. 

The planes are still largely the same so I am not going to get into the details here save for one.  The Plane of Shadow is introduced to us here. It is here we get the idea that the Plane of Shadow is a dark reflection of the Prime, or just like the narration from Tales from the Darkside told us. 

Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality.
But...there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit...a dark side.


The dark side is always there, waiting for us to enter — waiting to enter us. Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight.

The Plane of Shadow gets 5½ to 6 pages in the MoP3.  Not bad.  The adjacent Feywild is not mentioned yet, nor is the Shadowfell. But there is enough detail here to keep you busy for a while.

For monsters of the Plane of Shadow we get Ephemera, Shadow-template creatures (not undead, but magical creatures, much like the Shadows of B/X and BECMI), and the Astral Dreadnought. 

D&D 4th Edition Manual of the Planes

Here we get some more changes to the Planes and even some I did not care for, but nothing that I could not adjust easy enough.

4e though does try to incorporate everything that has gone on before. The Feywild is introduced in it's full glory for example.  The Shadowfell is now a fully-realized Plane. Over 14 pages are spent on the Shadowfell and all of it is crunch-free.  The Shadar-Kai, introduced in 3rd edition and brought into fuller focus in the 4e Monster Manual (see below) are discussed and they are not the only inhabitants of the Shadowfell.

Again, monsters of shadow are detailed and there is even Paragon Path for characters. 

As you read through the various editions there is an evolution. A guided one? Not likely, more like one building on the others with other ideas added in. But there is a solid progression from one to the other.



Shadar-kai

Shadar-kai are older than most players are likely to know.  Much like Tieflings (2e introduced) and Dragonborn (3rd ed introduced, 1st ed inspired), the Shadar-kai were introduced as a "monster" race and then quickly given rules for player characters.  In this case, they were introduced in 3e.  But much like the Plane of Shadow/Shadowfell they call home they have changed over the years.

What has been constant is that Shadar-kai are a race of humanoids that have lived in the Plane of Shadow/Shadowfell for a aeons. They are pale skinned and have a fairly flat affect.  They lack the zeal of life and need to keep themselves excited or entertained or they begin to fade away.  What that means differs from edition to edition.

Fiend Folio, D&D 3rd Edition

The Shadar-kai are introduced here as a race of elves that have been living in the plane of Shadow. Their type is "fey" in the 3rd Editon and are also called the "Shadow Fey." Here they are mostly Neutral Evil and are considered to be a race of "bitter, determined people."  They have strange weapons and are prone to hiding and deceit. Rules are given for Shadar-kail characters but they have an ECL of 4 due to hit dice and powers. 

Monster Manual, D&D 4th Edition

Here Shadar-kai takes the stage as a playable race.  They are now humans (???) but much of their background is the same. They are dedicated to the Raven Queen so they fit in well with the entire D&D4/Shadowfell connections.  There is now ECL in 4e so they can start off as 1st level characters.

They were so popular for a while there we took to calling them the "new Drow."

Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, 5th Edition

I might be biased, but these are the best version of the Shadar-kai yet.  This one deftly combines the features of the 3rd and 4th editions versions and makes them Elves/Fey again. Though there is a lot more here with there creation and the creation of the other elven races (Eladrin, Elves, and Drow).


DumpStat does a pretty good deep dive into the Shadar-Kai and if you want more details than I have here it is a good read.

The Power Score also has done their typical quality work in their A Guide to the Shadar-Kai deep dive too. 

It would take a bit of work to square these with the Shadow Elves of Mystara/BECMI and the Shadow Fey from Kobold Press.  It might not matter for my uses anyway since Shadar-kai are not Open Gaming Content, neither are the Shadow Elves as presented in BECMI.  Shadow Fey are, via Kobold Press.  
But honestly I would want to do my own thing anyway.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Shadow Week: The Dusk Queen for Basic-era Games

Of all the Shadow Fey products I reviewed today it might be the Dusk Queen from Shadows of the Dusk Queen for 5th Edition that has my attention the most. While I am not yet sure how I am going to use her I thought I might try my had at converting her to Basic-era D&D and in particular as one of my witches.

She is a compelling figure.


In 5e she is a CR 7 monster. She is a medium fey with Innate (Charisma), Arcane (Intelligence), and Divine (Wisdom) spell casting.

She cast Arcane and Divine spells at the 7th level ability.  This gives her a lot of low-level spells.

It might be possible then to make her into a multiclass spellcaster.  I think for this I want to use the OSE-Advanced rules and the Advanced Labyrinth Lord rules.  Both take Basic-era D&D and apply the Advanced classed to the rules. 

Neither ruleset has a "Shadow Fey" race. But I can modify the Drow to fit my needs here.  In OSE-Advanced Drow, and Elves, get a +1 to Dex and -1 to Con.  Shadow Fey in Pathfinder get +2 Dexterity +2 Charisma, -2 Constitution.  So I am thinking that in Basic-era games Shadow Fey gets +1 Dex +1 Cha, -2 Con.

Since this is a combination of Basic-era and Advanced-era I am going to go with a combination of my Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games and The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition. Some of The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition would also be good.

In an Advanced game, Elves can advance to levels in witch based on their Charisma score. For 18+ that gives us 9th level.  For Shadow Fey/Shadow Elves I might increase that to 11.

Witches can Multi-class as per the multi-class rules for witches found in The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games.  So multi-class Witch/Wizards are fine.

Offical Ruling:  Witches CANNOT multi-class with Warlocks.

I am leaving that on it's own line so it is clearer. A witch can advance as a witch and THEN switch off to a first level warlock; essentially betraying her coven.  A warlock can have a change of faith and then become a witch (but that is rare). These "dual classed" characters follow the Dual Class rules in the ruleset you are using.

The Dusk Queen


Female Shadow Elf, 7th level Magic-user / 7th level Umbal* Witch
(*Umbral witch is something I am working on. Will use a Mara witch for now)

Str: 9
Int: 18
Wis: 18
Dex: 15
Con: 12
Cha: 20

HP: 27 (7d4+7d4 / 2)
AC: 7* (+1 ring, dex) will cast a combination of  Death Armor, Immunity to Normal Weapons, Shield, and Protection from Normal Missiles prior to the start of combat

Shadow Fey/Elf Abilities: Detect Secret Doors, Immunity to ghoul paralysis, Infravision (90'), Light sensitivity, listening at doors

+1 to saves vs Charm, Hold, and Sleep spells

Languages Common, Elvish, Giant, Sylvan

Occult Powers
Familiar: Shadow Creature
Least: Shadow Step

Witch Spells
First Level: (3+3) Charm Person, Chill Touch, Color Spray, Ghostly Slashing, Mending, Quicken Healing 
Second Level: (2+3) Augury, Blindness/Deafness, Death Armor, Phantasmal Spirit, Second Sight
Third Level: (2+2) Dispel Magic, Hold Person, Immunity to Normal Weapons, Plague of Shadows
Fourth Level: (1+2) Nondetection, Intangible Cloak of Shadows, Phantom Lacerations, 

Magic-user Spells
First Level: (3) Dark, Shield, Ventriloquism
Second Level: (2) Invisibility, Phantasmal Force
Third Level: (2) Dispel Magic, Protection from Normal Missiles
Fourth Level: (1) Confusion

Actually, I like this version quite a bit. 

Shadow Week: Courts (and Realms) of the Shadow Fey

What is your favorite edition of D&D? Doesn't matter. This is the adventure you need to try.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Let's start at the end, go back to the beginning and work our way back to now.

Shadow Fey

Kobold Press has been around now for a bit and has put out some really quality products for various version of the D&D/Pathfinder game via the various open licenses available to them.  

The Shadow Fey are a race of elves known as the scáthsidhe, or shadow fey. Great name. I wish I had come up with it.  These fey are an elitist, snooty bunch, the worse qualities of Elf to be honest and that is what makes them so great.  They are not really related at all to the Shadow Elves of Mystara nor the Shadar-Kai of the Shadowfell and not even the Drow of many worlds.   But it is easy to see they all live in the same sort of world.  If we are to use D&D 4 & 5 terminologies they live in the area where the Shadowfell intersects the Feywild.  Or the darkest areas of the Land of Faerie.

The shadow fey are present in a number of books from Kobold Press, most notably their two large monster tomes for 5e, The Tome of Beasts for 5th Edition and the Creature Codex for 5th Edition.  Even without knowing much of their background, they are a very interesting race.  They look a bit like a cross between an elf and tiefling. So members are elven, but many also have horns.  I suppose that a satyr is a better comparison.  But it is a reminder, visually, that these are not your Grognards' elves. They can be medium or small creatures. 

Kobold Press has gone all-in on the Shadow Fey. Here are a few products that they have published to support these beings and their courts.

Pathfinder

Dark Fey

This is a 22-page bestiary and guide to the creatures found in the realms of the Shadow Fey.  Based on the Courts of the Shadow Fey this really is a must-have if you plan to play any part of the Shadow Fey adventure or even just want some less-that light fey to encounter.

Advanced Races 11: Shadow Fey (Pathfinder RPG)

This 19 page PDF gives us the Shadow Fey as a playable race. There is some history of the Shado Fey here and even a few more creatures. Additionally, there are some new class archetypes, racial powers, and some new feats.  While it says Pathfinder on the cover there is enough here to use in any game. 

This book in particular makes them more than "drow with horns" or "bad tempered elves."


Dungeons & Dragons 5e

Shadows of the Dusk Queen for 5th Edition

This is a short-ish adventure for 8th level characters in a fairy tale romp. Not a "Disney" fairy tale, but a Brother's Grimm one. A shadowy evil, but sad Queen, needs to reconstitute her broken magic mirror that contains her life force. Doing so will make her powerful again. The PCs have found the five magical shards.

A great little adventure full of dark fairy tale tropes. Easy to run in a session or two and makes for a nice side quest after running the Courts of the Shadow Fey. The Dusk Queen herself is an interesting character that might work well in my War of the Witch Queens Campaign.  In that of course she would need to win at the end of this adventure.

Deep Magic: Shadow Magic for 5th Edition

This 12 page PDF is part of Kobold Press' Deep Magic series. It presents a new Sorcerous Bloodline (Shadow Bloodline), a new Warlock Patron (The Light Eater), and a new Rouge Archetype (The Whisper).  There are also, as expected, new Shadow themed spells. Not explicitly tied in with their Courts of the Shadow Fey, but certainly 100% compatible and thematically appropriate.


These books are all fantastic additions, but the place where they got their start was an adventure for the 4th edition of D&D, Courts of the Shadow Fey.

Courts of the Shadow Fey

This adventure began as a 4th edition adventure for Paragon Tier characters designed to take them from 12th to 15th level.  So remember what I was saying yesterday about an entire 4th edition campaign taking place in the Plane of Shadow?  Well, this can be a significant part of that.

The adventure was then converted over to Pathfinder (with some little oddities here and there) for characters of 7th level to 10th.

Sometime later the adventure was rewritten for 5th edition D&D, with new art and layout. Still for characters level 7th to 10th.

All three were written by Wolfgang Baur.  Ben McFarland aided in the Pathfinder conversion, Dan Dillon helped with the D&D5 rewrite.  The first two versions featured fantastic art by Stephanie Law (which makes me want to convert it to Blue Rose!) and the 5e version features art from Marcel Marcado, who captures our two shadow fey sovereigns. 

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition version, 101 pages. 
Pathfinder version, 130 pages
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition version, 150 pages

This is part adventure and part sandbox, which is really fantastic because there is so much potential here. Much in the same way the D series introduced us to the drow via an adventure, this introduces us to the Shadow Fey.  We meet their sovereigns, the Queen of Night and Magic of the Summer Court and the Moonlit King of the Winter Court.  These are NOT the Seelie and Unseelie of Earth's Faerie Realm, although there are comparisons.  We begin the adventure with the town of Zobek against a backdrop of the King and Queen in their exchange of power.  The adventure kicks in when a Priest of the Sun God is nearly assassinated.  This has my attention already.  Zobek is occupied by Shadow Fey and to find the culprit(s) (who soon make an assassination attempt at the PCs!) the party will need to not only navigate the treachery of the Shadow Lands (Shadow Plane, Shaowfell...) they must also navigate the treachery on the Fey Courts!

One of the key features of this adventure/product is the number of NPCs.  This is not a list of names with professions, these are fully stated out NPCs and each version of the adventure takes advantage of the rules being used.


Ok. Pause. At this point, there are several good reasons to get this. There is a mystery. There is the Shadow Plane deal. There are Fey Courts. Plus there are plenty of mechanics involved to aid the GM and Players in navigating the labyrinth that can be high court intrigue.  In some ways, it makes me happy to have all three versions since I can get different points of view on how to handle different things.  Granted the 4e and Pathfinder versions are similar enough to make the differences be system-specific, but the 5e rewrite really gives me a newer point of view.  Yes, in each case I am seeing a lot of repeated text. That is what I am supposed to see. What idiot is going to buy all three versions except for me?

So we have all that, and we have not gotten into duels of honor (there is a dueling system!), various factions jockeying for control, and how the PCs fit into all that. New creatures. New demons! New magic. Survive a duel? Dude...you are not going to survive diner! 

The Pathfinder/4e versions are a little basic to look at since the was the start of Open Design/Kobold Press.  But Stephanie Law's art is so great to look at that I don't care.  The 5e version is several orders of magnitude better in terms of design. The art is still wonderful but I miss Stephanie Law's vision.


This is one of those adventures where I always find something new with each reading.  I have been pouring over this for the last three weeks and each time I am blown away by the shear potential that lays before me. I feel like I need to reread my history of the Tudors to get my courtly machinations down correctly, but this book certainly helps.  

The party's climax comes with gaining an audience with the Moonlit King himself! What happens? There are many potential outcomes and possibilities. 

If I ever run a Shadow themed campaign then this is at the top of my list. 
If I ever run a pure 4e game, then this is at the top of my list.

I plan to steal ideas from this for other adventures even if I run it as is. 

I purchased all three of the PDFs just have them. It is that much fun.  Also whenever I feel the need to run it I am likely to grab the Print version of the 5e rules. Though I might instead print out the PDFs and collate them so that the material I need/want is where I want it.  Use colored sticky tabs for various plot points.

For example, if I were to merge these with other fey related products then maybe I would consider Autumn and Spring courts here instead of Winter and Summer.  Why?  The shadow fey are creatures of well, shadow. Half-light and half-darkness. I am reviewing this on the Autumn Equinox, half-light, half dark. I did this on purpose.  If I use the Summer and Winter courts for the Seelie and the Unseelie then these could be the Spring (Queen of Magic) and Autumn (Moonlit King) courts and little it lost.  In fact, much is gained. Most of my players, thanks to years of Ghosts of Albion, have come to expect certain things out of the Fey courts as I run them. Dangerous to assume really, but still, they do.  By renaming these into Spring and Autumn I can change those expectations. And it gives me four equal and competing courts.

Regardless of which edition you choose, there is a great adventure/sandbox/resource to be had here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Shadow Week: The Shadows of 4e

It seems not many people like 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons these days.  While not surprising it is a bit disappointing. There was a solid game there and some fantastic lore built.  Creatively the authors were at the top of their design game even if the execution was a little short of the design goals.  Never the less I like to page through my 4e books as use the a lot of the fluff, and even a little bit of the crunch, for my 5e and Basic-era games. 


The following products helped define the Shadowfell, a region in the D&D Universe adjacent or part of the Plane of Shadow and connected to the Prime Material like the Feywild (Land of Faerie) is.  Essentially the Shadowfell would be that part of our world where TV shows like The Twilight Zone or Tales From the Darkside would have occurred.  So as you can imagine I was drawn to it rather quickly.

In every case I am reviewing the PDF and physical copy of the product.

H1 Keep on the Shadowfell & Quick-Start Rules

The Keep on the Shadowfell was the first-ever adventure published for the D&D 4 game.  We are introduced to the game world and the rules via a quick-start set of rules included with the game.  Nearly everything you need to get started with the D&D 4 game is here.  The adventure itself is designed to invoke memories of another keep, the Keep on the Borderlands, but here ante has been raised.  The keep is not near some giant monstrous humanoid condo, but on the veil between the material plane and the mysterious Shadowfell.   There is a lot more going on and it can feel very combat heavy and even a touch predictable.  But that is fine for a 1st adventure.  Everyone is still too busy figuring out moves and markings and surges to worry whether or not rumor X or rumor Y turns out to be true.  

It is here we are introduced to the newest god of the D&D pantheon, the Raven Queen, and this adventure starts an epic quest between the forces of good and the forces of evil in the form of Orcus.  Eventually, in later adventures the players will learn that Orcus is trying to steal the Raven Queen's power and become a God.  So there are also, er...shadows of the Throne of Bloodstone series (1e) here and eventually Dead Gods (2e).  It is also here we are re-introduced to the Shadar-kai, a humanoid race that lives in the Shadowfell and how it has changed them. It changed them a lot actually since in 3e they were elves.  Here they are human.  In 5e they will become elves again.  

I ran this adventure using the 4e rules and then again years later converting it to 5e.  It ran fantastic each time.  I also wrote up a set of conversion for BECMI style D&D Basic. I have run it, but it looks like it should work well with that too.  I start the characters off at 5th level for that. 

If you can find a copy in print it is a fun introduction to the D&D 4 game. The PDF is free at DriveThruRPG so it only costs you a click. 

Player's Option: Heroes of Shadow (4e)

The Shadowfell is now a feature of the D&D 4 landscape and many products have discussed it including many of the adventures and Monster Manuals.  With the Player's Option book we get classes and races based on the shadow realms and how they can be used.

One of D&D4's greatest strengths was it's modularity.  Adding or subtracting material from the game was easier than ever before.  It is a feature that 5e adopted, though not as radically as 4e.  Adding more classes then never felt like a bloat since you could limit the number of classes or races or any other feature.  The Player's Option books were that in execution. Heroes of Shadow introduces the Assassin class, the Blackguard Paladin option, the Vampire class, the Binder option for Warlocks, and additions to other classes such as clerics (death domain),  warlocks (gloom pact for hexblades), and the Necromancy and Nethermancy schools for wizards.  Since classes are so detailed this covers the majority of the book.

The Vampire class should be mentioned since it is different.  The idea behind it is that no matter what a person was before this, they are now a vampire and they can progress in power as a vampire.  Not for everyone, I am sure but there was an elegance to it that can't be denied. It also worked quite well to be honest.

There are some new races of course. The Revenant is back from the dead with the power of the Raven Queen with them. The Shade has traded some of their mortality for Shadow stuff.  This is the best version of the Shade since 1st ed. The Vryloka are living vampires, one of my favorites in 4e, and variations on Dwarves, Elves/Eladrin, Halflings and Humans.

There are new Paragon Paths for many classes and Epic Level Destinies.  A handful of new feats and some new equipment. 

It is a fun set of options that really had the feel of the shadow-soaked 4e world down. 

Plenty of great ideas for a 5e game using the same classes (all have 5e counterparts) or as fluff for other versions of the game. 

The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond (4e)

Gloomwrought is a large city located in the Shadowfell. This product came in a box with a 128-page Campaign Guide, a 32-page Encounter book, a poster map of Gloomwrought, monster counters, and a 30-card deck of Despair cards.  The Despair cards were a nice feature since they could add to the mood of "gloom, despair, and agony on me."  While the cards had mechanical effects, the vast bulk of this product is fluff.  The crunch amounts to some NPCs and encounters, all easily converted. There are a couple of monsters, but they analogs in every other version of D&D. 

Gloomwrought gets the most ink here and that is fine. The city is something of a crossroads in the Shadowfell and it is likely where characters will end up.  

One of the nice things about the D&D4 Shadowfell line being done is it is now easier to go back and include something like Gloomwrought in the HPE series of adventures that had come out three years prior.  In fact, it is entirely possible to make ALL your D&D 4 experiences live and act within the Shadowfell if one chooses.  I find this personally satisfying since my 2nd Ed AD&D experiences are largely molded by my chosen campaign world of Ravenloft. 

Use with BECMI or 5e

If you look back at my "sunk costs" posts I have been building this idea of running the HPE series with either BECMI or 5e from a 4e conversion.  These books could work rather well with those ideas.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...