Wednesday, September 30, 2020

October Horror Movie Challenge: Getting Ready

I am getting ready for my annual October Horror Movie Challenge!


This year lacks a real theme save for "movies I have had laying around forever and I need to watch them or sell back the DVDs" and "movies I have been meaning to watch forever".

I am going to lean heavily on my preferred time of the late-60s to mid-70s.  And I have more than a few Italian horror films.


I have about 110 movies here.  Some I have already seen so won't do those. There are also more than a few overlaps.  I'll try to hit more than one per day, but often that is not really doable.  I'll also hit more over the weekends.

I am going to also try to include as much NIGHT SHIFT content as I can.

Let's see where I end up at the end of the next month!

Review: Pages from the Mages

As I mentioned earlier, The Pages from the Mages feature of Dragon Magazine was one of my favorite features and I looked forward to seeing what new spells Ed Greenwood would relay from the great sage Elminster.  I was very pleased when I saw that the entire collection was pulled together into a single tome.  The original Pages from the Mages spaned roughly 10 years from 1982 to 1992 and both editions of AD&D. 

For this review, I am considering both the original print version sold by TSR and the PDF version sold through DriveThruRPG.  Presently there is no Print on Demand option.

Pages from the Mages

The book is 128 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art with full color, full-page art.  Designed for the AD&D 2nd Edition game.
The PDF sells for $9.99 on DriveThruRPG.
The softcover book originally sold for $15.00 in 1995.

This book covers some 40 or so unique spell books from various spellcasters from the Forgotten Realms.  Some of these spellcasters are well known such as Elminster and others less so or at least nearly mythic in the Realms.  This is one of the book's greatest strengths. While this could have been just a collection of books with known spells, it is the stories and the myths behind the books that make this more.

While many of the spells found within these books are fairly well known, there are plenty of brand new and unique spells. This is what attracted me to the original Dragon magazine series.  Within these pages, there are 180 or so "new" spells.  I say new in quotes because most, if not all, these spells appeared first in the pages of Dragon magazine and then again in the pages of the hardcover Forgotten Realms Adventures for 2nd Edition.

Additionally, there are a number of new magic items and even a couple of new creatures.

The true value for me, as a DM and a player, is to provide these new spell books as potential treasure items or quest items.  Even saying the name of some of these books, like Aubayreer's Workbook, is enough to get my creative juices flowing. Where is it? Where has it been? What other secrets does it contain?

I often refer to a product as punching above its weight class.  This is one of those books.  While overtly designed for the 2nd Edition game there is nothing here that can't be used with any version of the D&D game, from Basic all the way to 5th edition with only the slightest bit of editing needed.

While I have a print copy and the PDF, a Print on Demand version would be fantastic. 

A complete list of the spells, spellbook, creatures and characters in this book can be found on the Forgotten Realms wiki, https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Pages_from_the_Mages






This Old Dragon: Retrospective, Pages from the Mages

Another This Old Dragon Retrospective today. Today I want to cover one of my favorite series in the run of Dragon, and one that had far fewer entries than I thought, Pages from the Mages. Again this series is by Ed Greenwood writing to us as Elminster. It's a wonder I wasn't a fan of the Realms until pretty much 2001.


The premise is laid out in the first installment, Elminster (or Ed, sometimes it is hard to say) wondering aloud why we don't find more unique spell-books in treasure hordes. He goes on to explain that such tomes are very rare.  The set up is solid and less in-universe than The Wizard's Three.  But like The Wizard's Three, this is used to give us some new spells and some magic tomes worthy to build an adventure around.  So let's join Ed and Elminster and pour through these pages of a nearly as legendary tome, Dragon Magazine, and see what treasures we can find.

Pages from the Mages

Our first entry is in Dragon #62 which has one of my all-time favorite covers; the paladin on horseback challenging three orcs.   This takes us all the way back to June 1982, the height of my D&D Basic/Expert days.  The magic books we discover here are:

    Mhzentul’s Runes, with details for making a Ring of Spell Storing. Rings that become guardian creatures (but no details) and the spells Fireball, Fire Shield, Fire Trap, and Delayed Blast Fire Ball.

    Nchaser’s Eiyromancia, this book gives us two new spells, Nulathoe’s Ninemen and Nchaser’s Glowing Globe.

    Book of the Silver Talon, this sought after tome has a number of good spells, Read Magic, Burning Hands, Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Erase, Write, Identify, Message, Shocking Grasp, Shield, Darkness 15’ Radius, Detect Invisibility, Knock, Ray of Enfeeblement, Web, Wizard Lock, Blink, Dispel Magic, Gust of Wind, Infravision, Phantasmal Force, and Protection From Normal Missiles.  Additionally, it has recipes for the ink for Read Magic, Buring Hands, Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Erase, Write, Identify, Message, Shocking Grasp, and Shield.  All in-universe and fluff, but fun all the same AND an often overlooked aspect of magic.

    Chambeeleon, the unique spellbook is described as a treasure.  In contains the spells, Water Breathing, Fly, Lightning Bolt, Fire Shield (cold flame version only), Ice Storm, Airy Water, Cone of Cold, Conjure Elemental (new version), Disintegrate, Glassee, Part Water, Spiritwrack, Cacodemon, Drawmij’s Instant Summons, Reverse Gravity, and Vanish. Which leads to the obvious conclusion that Drawmij was also moving between the planes between Greyhawk and the Realms.  This book is also considered to be a religious text by many priesthoods of aquatic gods.
 
In each case, we also get a little history and the last known or suspected whereabouts of the tomes. I say tomes, but thankfully Ed was not so limited in his thinking.  Some are books, some are collections of pages and others are stranger still.  I find it interesting that this entry is followed by the classic NPC class, the Scribe, also by Ed.

More Pages from the Mages

Our next entry comes from Dragon #69 which I also covered as part of my This Old Dragon Issue #69. Again a fantastic cover from the legendary Clyde Caldwell.  The article is titled "More Pages from the Mages" and has art by Jim Holloway. Interestingly there is a book in the art named "Holloway's Guide to Everything" could that be the next 5e book to come out?  The actual books covered here are:

    The Magister, this particular tome has no title so it is just called "the Magister". It consists of 16 sheets of parchment between two ivory covers.  It includes a treatise on illusion magic and the spells Change Self, Color Spray, Phantasmal Force, Detect Illusion, Mirror Image, Dispel Illusion, Nondetection, Massmorph, Shadow Door, Programmed Illusion, and True Sight.  There is also an alternate version of the Clone spell. There is also a lot of debate on what is exactly on the last page. 

    Seven Fingers (The Life of Thorstag), this tome is bound in leather. It describes the Void Card from the Deck of Many things. How wonderfully random! Yet so on point for an academically minded wizard.  There is also a recipe for Keoghtom’s Ointment, which may or may not be correct.  There is also some local history. 

    The Nathlum, is a rather non-descript book.  But there is some saying about books and covers.  This one will cause damage to anyone of Good alignment holding it! It includes recipes for poisons, so not all these books are limited to spells.  Something that honestly is not stressed enough. 

    The Workbook, there is no accurate description of this tome.  So Elminster isn't all-knowing (ok to be fair, Elminster and Ed would be the first to point this out).  This is rumored to include the spells Spendelarde’s Chaser, Caligarde’s Claw, Tulrun’s Tracer, Tasirin’s Haunted Sleep, Laeral’s Dancing Dweomer, Archveult’s Skybolt, and Dismind. All are new.

As I mentioned in my original post, back in the day I would go right for the spells, today I am more interested in the story behind the spellbooks.  Maybe the spells inside are some I have already seen, but that is not what makes it valuable to me now. It's the story, the history, maybe there is something really special about this book. Maybe the spellcaster is still alive. Maybe his/her enemies are and want this book.  My cup runneth over with ideas.

Pages From the Mages III

We jump to December 1984 and Dragon #92.  Damn. Another classic cover. This time it is "Bridge of Sorrows" by Denis Beauvais and he has updated it on his website.  what a great time to be a classic D&D fan.  This one is very special for me for many reasons. First, this was the very first PftM I had ever read. I didn't know a damn thing about the Realms (and I only know slightly more now) but as I mentioned in my This Old Dragon Issue #92 I remember going on a quest to recover Aubayreer's Workbook having only the glyph as a clue.  I don't remember all the details save that the quest was dangerous and the spells in the book were a bit anti-climatic given the quest.  Not that the spells are bad (hardly!) it is the quest was that hard.

This is also, at least from what I can tell, our very first mention of The Simbul, "the shapeshifting Mage-Queen".  I guess she is looking for a copy of this book too! I think I see a plot hook for my next Realms game (and playing on the events in The Simbul's gift).  MAYBE that quest was only half of the tale! Maybe the other half was really to get this book to The Simbul.  I am only 30+ years late.   Thank you Ed!  Of course, that is only one of FOUR magic books.  Let's have a look.

    Aubayreer's Workbook, this "book" is a long strip of bark folded accordion-style between two pieces of wood with a rune carved on it.  The spells are read magic, burning hands, dancing lights, enlarge, identify, light, message, write, ESP, wizard lock, dispel magic, explosive runes, fireball, and extension I. There three special spells  hailcone (a version of ice storm), and two new spells, Aubayreer's phase trap and thunderlance.

    Orjalun's Arbatel, not to be overshadowed this book's pages are beaten and polished mithril! Lots of Realms-centric details here. In fact this might be where many of these topics saw print for the very first time. This one includes two new spells Encrypt and Secure.

    The Scalamagdrion, bound in the hide of some unknown creature this book has a little surprise. The spells included are (and in this order): Write, erase, tongues, message, unseen servant, wizard lock, identify, enchant an item, permanency, blink, disintegration, feeblemind, fly, death spell, flame arrow, delayed blast fireball, invisibility, levitate, conjure elemental, minor globe of invulnerability, wall of force, remove curse, and dispel magic.  The book also has a unique monster bound up in the pages that will protect the book! 

    The Tome of the Covenant, named for the group of four mages that gathered together to stop the onslaught of orc from the north.  What this entry makes obvious is exactly how much detail Ed had already put into the Realms. There are four new spells in this book, named for each one of the Covenant wizards. Grimwald's Greymantle, Agannazar's Scorcher, Illykur's Mantle, and the one that REALLY pissed me off, Presper's Moonbow.  It pissed me off because I had written a Moonbow spell myself. Only mine was clerical and it was a spell given by Artemis/Diana to her clerics. My DM at the time told me it was too powerful at 5th level and here comes Ed with a similar spell, similarly named and his was 4th level!  Back then it was known as "Luna's Moonbow" named after one of my earliest characters. Ah well.  Great minds I guess.

Pages from the Mages IV

We jump ahead to Dragon #97from May 1985.  I also covered this one in This Old Dragon Issue #97. Rereading this article years later is the one where I thought I should stop being such a spoiled Greyhawk twat and see what the Realms had to offer.  It would still be a long time before I'd actually do that.  This one also had a bit of a feel of the Wizard's Three to it. The books covered here were:

    Bowgentle's Book, a slim volume bound in black leather. It has a ton of spells in it, so many I wonder how "slim" it actually was.  Cantrips clean, dry, and bluelight, and the spells affect normal fires, hold portal, identify mending, push, read magic, sleep, continual light, darkness 15' radius, detect evil, detect invisibility, ESP forget, knock, levitate, locate object, magic mouth, rope trick, strength, wizard lock, blink, dispel magic, fireball, fly, hold person, infravision, Leomund's Tiny Hut, lightning bolt, protection from evil 10' radius, protection from normal missiles, slow, tongues, water breathing, charm monster, confusion, dimension door, enchanted weapon, fire shield (both versions), minor globe of invulnerability, polymorph other, polymorph self, remove curse, wizard eye, Bigby's Interposing Hand, cone of cold, hold monster, passwall, and wall of force.  The two new spells are dispel silence and Bowgengle's Fleeting Journey. 

    The Spellbook of Daimos, this one has no title on the cover and described as very fine. Very little is known about who or what "Daimos" is.  The spells included are, identify, magic missile, invisibility, levitate, web, fireball, monster summoning I (a variant), slow, suggestion, confusion, fear, fire trap, polymorph self animate dead, cloudkill, feeblemind, anti-magic shell, disintegrate, geas, globe of invulnerability, reincarnation, repulsion, Bigby's Grasping Hand, duo-dimension, power word stun, vanish, incendiary cloud, mind blank, astral spell, gate, and imprisonment.   The new spells are flame shroud, watchware, and great shout.

    Book of Num "the Mad", this one is interesting. It is loose pages held in place by two pieces of wood and a cord.  Num was a reclusive hermit who learned a bit of druidic lore.  There are a few more spells here. But what is more interesting are the new ones. Briartangle, Thorn spray, and Death chariot.

    Briel's Book of Shadows. Ok, the title has my attention. Though it has little to do with the Books of Shadows I am most often familiar with.  This one has the following new spell, Scatterspray. It does have some details on uses of Unicorn horns and a recipe for a Homonculous.

These books really upped the number of spells included in each book.  Was this intentional? Is this the "Power creep" that was starting to enter the game at this point? It was 1985 and this was not an uncommon question to ask with the Unearthed Arcana now out (and now these spellbooks all have cantrips!) and classes like the Barbarian and Cavalier making people say "D&D is broken!"  The more things change I guess...

Pages from the Mages V

Dragon #100 from august 1985 was a great issue all around. From the Gord story, to Dragon Chess, to this. I really need to give it a proper This Old Dragon one day.  But until then Ed is back with some more magic.  
    Sabirine's Specular, the first book from a wizardess. It has a good collection of standard spells.  The new spells are Spell Engine, Catfeet, Snatch, Spark (Cantrip), Bladethirst, and Merald's Murderous Mist.
    Glanvyl's Workbook, what is neat about this book is it appears to be the book of a lesser magic-user and these are his notes. So like the workbook a student might have in a writing class.  There are three new cantrips, Horn, Listen, and Scorch. One new spell, Smoke ghost, which is level 4 so he had to be at least high enough level for that.  and the preparations for inks for the Haste and Lightning Bolt spell.
    The Red Book of War, this is a prayer book for clerics of the war god Tempus.  I liked seeing that spells for clerics were also offered.  These of course would differ from the arcane counterparts in many ways, or, at least they should.  Ed makes the effort here to show they do differ and that is nice. Many often forget this.  There are a number of prayers here that are common.  Also the new prayers/spells are Holy Flail, Reveal, Bladebless, and Sacred Link, one I enjoyed using back then.  None of these spells though would late make it to the AD&D 2nd published version of Pages from the Mages.
    The Alcaister, this is a book with a curse. Not the spell, but rather a poison worked into the pages that is still potent 600 years after it was written. Among the common spells it has three new cantrips, Cut, Gallop, and Sting. There is one new spell, Body Sympathy, and the last page of the spellbook is a gate! Destination determined at random.

Arcane Lore. Pages From the Mages, part VI

It is going to be a five-year jump and new edition until the next Pages comes in Dragon #164. The article has some subtle and overt changes. First there is a little more of the "in character" Elminster here.  Ed has had more time to write as the Elminster and I think this is part of the success of the novels. The overt change is now the spells are in AD&D 2nd Edition format.  Not too difficult to convert back (or even to any other edition) but it is noticed. It is December 1990, lets see what Ed and Elminster have for us. 
    Book of Shangalar the Black, a deeply paranoid wizard from 700 years ago you say?  I am sure this will be fun! There are only new spells in this short (4 page) spellbook. Bone Javelin, Negative Plane Protection, Repel Undead, and Bone Blade.  Well, the guy had a theme to be sure.
    The Glandar's Grimoire, now here is something else that is rarely done, at least in print.  This book is only a burnt remnant.  What is left of what is believed to be a much larger tome is four pages with new spells. Fellblade, Melisander's Harp, Disruption, and Immunity to Undeath.
    The Tome of the Wyvernwater Circle, this is a druids prayer book.  Now I know D&D druids are not historical druids that did not write anything down. So a "Druid book" still sounds odd to me.  But hey when in the Realms! This book has a few common spells and some new ones; Wailing Wind, Touchsickle, Flame Shield, and Mold Touch.
    The Hand of Helm, another clerical prayer book. This one is of unknown origin. It has 27 pages (and thus 27 spells; one spell per page in 2e), four of which are new;  Exaltation, Forceward, Mace of Odo, and Seeking Sword.

Is it because I know TSR had gone through some very radical changes between 1985 and 1990 that I think the tone of this article is different than the one in #100?  I can say that one thing for certain is that Ed Greenwood is more of a master of his craft here.  The history of the Realms is, for lack of a better word, thicker in these entries.  There is more background to the spellbooks and their place in Realms lore.  This is a positive thing in my mind in terms of writing.  It did make it hard to add them to my Greyhawk campaign, but by 1990 I was hard-core Ravenloft; shit just randomly popped out of the Mists all the time. If I needed one of these books I could make an excuse to get them there.



Pages From the Mages

It is now May 1992.  I am getting ready to graduate from University now and Dragon #181 is giving us our last Pages from the Mages.  It has been a fun trip.  A little bit of framing dialogue starts us off. I did notice we have gone from talking about "the Realms" to now saying "FORGOTTEN REALMS® setting" instead. 

    Galadaster's Orizon. This book is actually considered to be a "lesser work" in the eyes of the wizard-turned-lich Galadaster, but this is all that survived of his tower's destruction. Among the common spells there are three new ones. Firestaff, Geirdorn's Grappling Grasp, and Morgannaver's Sting.
    Arcanabula of Jume, another book from a wizardess (rare in this collection of books). This one is written in the secret language of Illusionists (which are, as a class, slightly different in 2nd Ed) and is a traveling spellbook. It has four new spells, Dark Mirror, Shadow Hand, Prismatic Eye, and Shadow Gauntlet.
    Laeral's Libram. I was just about to comment that while these books are fantastic, none of the names have the recognition factor of say a Tenser, Bigby, or even Melf.  Then along last comes Laeral. Now here is someone famous enough that I have box of her dice sitting next me! Laeral Silverhand is of course one of the famous Seven Sisters. So not just a name, but a Name. This spellbook has the common spells of feather fall, magic missile, spider climb, and forcewave.  As well as the new spells of Laeral's Aqueous Column, Jhanifer's Deliquescence, and Blackstaff.  The blackstaff spell was created by another Name, Khelben Arunsun.  This one would be worthy of a quest to be sure.
    Tasso's Arcanabula.  Our last spellbook comes from an illusionist named Tasso.  Tasso is almost a  "Name." I recognize it, but I am not sure if it was because of this article or some other Realms book I read. The spell book has what I consider to be the common illusionist spells and four new ones. Tasso's Shriek, Shadow Bolt, Shadow Skeleton, and Prismatic Blade.  That's where I have heard of him. I have used that Prismatic Blade spell before,

After this series, the Wizard's Three took over as our source of spells from Ed.

I have read that Ed created this series based on his love of some of the named spells in the AD&D Player's Handbook.  He wanted to know more about the characters and how they came to be associated with those spells.  I think that he showed his love here in this series. I also think it was made clear that sometimes the spell creator's name gets added to a spell not just by the creator, but by those who chronicle the spell, spellbook, or spellcaster later. Sometimes centuries later. 

We got away from this but now it looks like it is coming back. especially with the recent Mordenkainen, Xanathur, and now Tasha books coming out from WotC.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons Animated Series: Requiem The Final Episode

Well here is an unexpected treat.

Growing up I didn't watch much of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. I caught it when I could, but I worked most Saturdays and didn't always see it.  This was also back before DVRs or even on-demand viewing, so unless recorded it on VHS, well I missed out.

Many years later I picked it up on DVD when it was packaged with some wonderful 3rd Edition content. This was about the same time my oldest was getting interested in D&D and the D&D animated series was the perfect gateway drug for him.  If it is possible to wear out a DVD then he would have done it.

On the DVD extras were a lot of neat little things. One of them was the script for Requiem, the last episode of the series.  Written by series writer Michael Reeves it detailed the last adventure of Hank, Eric, Diana, Bobby, Sheila and Uni. It had been put on as a radio play in 2006 and was also included in the DVD release. 

Now some enterprising animators pulled together clips from the series and new animations to give us the final episode in full animated form.

Watch it while you can.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsNHTnY6HQg

I think they did a pretty good job, to be honest, all things considered.  

New Page: Appendix O and the Purpose of Research

I just published a new Page and you can see the link above. It is my version of the classic "Appendix N."  But mine comes after it and it is more about the occult, witches, vampires, and other horror related topics.

So I am calling it Appendix O.

Just a small portion of my library.

If you are interested in seeing the sites on the web that I found useful or have good witch content then check out my other page Witch Links.

If you want to know what movies I have been influenced by to write witch, vampire, and other horror-related content then check out my October Horror Movie Challange.

And occasionally I do make an Appendix N post. 

Nothing in the citations will tell you how to play a better game of D&D, Ghosts of Albion, NIGHT SHIFT, or any other RPG.

Nor will they allow you rebuild one of my books or classes from just the content they have.  They all however have lead me to a place where those books could be written. 

Current research pile.

Also, this is not scholarly-level research here. I did not come up with a thesis statement, a research question, or anything like that and then carried out a systematic literature review.  This is 100% books that were within my grasp at the time (eg growing up in a small midwest town with a larger than average personal and public libraries), then access to one of the largest open shelve university libraries in the state, and of course then the internet.  These are titles that captured my attention at the time and then left a mark on my RPG writing. 

As with all my Pages here, I'll update this one periodically. In fact looking at the pictures above I see there are a few entries that I missed.

The Purpose of Research

Back when I was getting my Ph.D. in Ed. Psych my advisor was going over my records and my Master's Thesis and asked me why I did not go into Cognitive Psychology, which is what my academic life had been up to that point.  I told him I was (and am) more interested in how people learn.  We talked about my Master's Thesis where I showed that it takes about 550 ms to activate a memory from long-term memory when it had been properly primed by a queue. It was situated in the current Information Processing theories of the time.  My advisor, who was one of the nicest people you could ever meet, looked at me and said "so what?"  I was floored. So what? I spent months working on that theory, and then more weeks writing the software to test it, weeks testing undergrads, weeks of eating nothing but popcorn and pineapple while writing a 180-page thesis.  So what??  And, he was right.  I was in an Ed. Psych program now, not Cog Psych. My research had to mean something. If I could not tell that Fourth Grade teacher at CPS what my research meant to her then why should I do it?

This page came about not because I kept getting asked for it. That is true and a good enough reason, but the real reason is I am constantly going back and re-examining my own work and research.

I love to research for research's sake. But that is not the degree I ended up with. Research is fun, but it needs a goal.  Appendix O started out without a goal in mind.  But that doesn't mean I can't have one now.

Presently I am working on two books for my "Basic-era Games" banner; "The Basic Bestiary" and "The High Witchcraft" books.  I wanted at least one of these to be ready by Halloween.  That's not going to happen.  The Basic Bestiary is moving along well, but not as fast as I would like.  High Witchcraft...that's another matter.

I have been calling High Witchcraft my last book on Witches.  I want that to mean something.  But I think I am setting up too many mental roadblocks for myself. So I am going back to my first assumptions. Back to my first "research questions" as it were.  It might take me a little longer, but I want something really good. Something that is worthy of being called my "last witch book."


Basic Bestiary is moving along fine.  I have a ton of material, I just need to edit it.

The Secret Order is a call back to the witches of Dragon Magazine (but not setting them up the same way, I gotta do my own thing) and to that very strange time between 1981 and 1983 when we freely mixed in both Basic and Advanced D&D concepts.  I am publishing it with my "Basic-Era Compatible" logo as opposed to "Labyrinth Lord" or "Old-School Essentials" (and either of those would be fine) because I do want a lot more freedom to express my witch how I want. 

For the cover art, I am a huge fan of the Pre-Raphaelites. So there was really only one choice for the high Witchcraft book and that was "Astarte Syriaca" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  Astarte was one of the Goddesses I researched the most in those early days of my first witch.  I even made my first version of Larina a worshipper of Astarte, and not the more obvious Hecate.

For the Basic Bestiary I wanted a Pre-Raphaelite, but "The Nightmare" by Henry Fuseli was calling to me. I always loved that painting. 

Back to the books!

Monday, September 28, 2020

Monstrous Monday: Apple Sprites

It is officially Autumn now, so our family tradition is to head out to the apple orchards to pick apples and buy some items from the local farm stands.  This got me thinking about the mischievous, but elusive Apple Sprites.

Apple Sprite
Tiny Faerie
Frequency: Very Rare
Number Appearing: 0 (1-6)
Alignment: Neutral (Chaotic Good)
Movement: 120' (40') [12"]
Armor Class: 5 [14]
Hit Dice: 1d4 (2 hp)
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1hp
Special: Only harmed by cold iron, turn invisible.
Size: Tiny
Save: Elf 1
Morale: 4 (7)
Treasure Hoard Class: None; see below
XP: 5

Apple Sprites, also known as Apple Fairies or Apple Cherubs, a small faerie folk that live in apple trees. They are typically hard to see due to their coloration and size. In the spring their hair is light green and their skin is the pink and white of apple blossoms. As the season moves on their skin takes on the reds and golds of the apples they live near. Their wings shite from the whites and pink of apple blossoms to greens, to reds and yellows. They are shy and elusive in the Spring and Summer months (Morale 4) but as Autumn sets in, usually between Lughnasadh and Samhain, they become more active and bolder (Morale 7).  Apple Sprites hibernate in the winter, sleeping in nests of up to six. They remain invisible during hibernation and can not be discovered. 

Their only real attack is to throw apples at passersby. They will do this, turn invisible and laugh.  It is more irritating than damage causing.  

Apple Sprites have no treasure but like other denizens of enchanted apple orchards (Apple Tree Man and Epimēlides) can be lured and bribed with hard apple cider. If given cider the Apple Sprites can direct the adventurers to a spot in the forest where treasure (Type A x2) is hidden.  Though their favorite trick is direct the adventures to other tribes of Apple Sprites, who will demand more cider, and then direct to another tribe and keep the party wandering the orchard for hours while the sprites drink the cider and laugh. 

Apple Sprites speak sylvan and elven, one or two per tribe speak enough common to converse. 

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.

The Craft of the Wise, now in Hardcover

The customers asked for it and so I am going to deliver.

The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition is now available in A5 Hardcover version.


The Softcover version is Letter-sized, 8.5" x 11".  This works with your B/X, BECMI, or other OSR books.

The Hardcover is A5 sized, 148mm X 210mm, (8.3" x 5.8").  This is the same size as the OSE books and roughly the same size as my Warlock book (which is Digest size 6"x9").




The content and art are the same for each, so the layout is different.



This is an experiment.  If the sales on this are good then I will consider A5 or Digest sized versions of my other Basic Era Witch series books.

You can get it now at DriveThruRPG.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Shadow Week: Review, GAZ13 The Shadow Elves

Today is the start of my "Shadow Week" where I am going to spend some time with various Shadow Elves and Shadow Fey products. Today in lieu of a Monstrous Monday I want to talk about a classic Basic D&D (BECMI) resource, GAZ13 The Shadow Elves.

The world of Mystara/The Known World doesn't have Drow, but they do have Shadow Elves that fill the same ecological niche, but not the same mythological niche.  Like the drow, the shadow elves do live underground, are harmed by bright light and separated from the main, light elf, race many centuries ago. And that is where the similarities end.  

To understand the Shadow Elves best it is helpful to understand a bit about the world of Mystara and their Immortals.

For the unintiated Mystara does not have gods, but rather immortals, that help guide the affairs of mortals. The immortals in question here are Rafiel and Atzanteotl.  I will deal with them in the review, but sufice to say that Immortals of Mystara tend to meddle in the affairs of entire races.  Shadow Elves are a prime example.   This book is also one of the first introductions to the Hollow World of Mystara.

GAZ13 The Shadow Elves

This book is a 103 pdf, larger PoD book.  It was originally published in 1990 and it was written by Carl Sargent and Gary Thomas. Cover art is by the fantastic Clyde Caldwell with interior art by the equally fantastic Stephen Fabian.   The book was designed for the Dungeons & Dragons, aka Basic or BECM line.  I am reviewing the PDF and PoD version from DriveThruRPG.

The book is split up into a Player's Section and a Dungeon Master's Section. While each is numbered starting at "1".  The table of contents (printed) starts with the Players Section, but the book (PDF and POD, and hyperlinked bookmarks) start with the DMs section and then the Player's section. The Player's section does say "READ THIS BOOKLET FIRST!"  So I think I am going to star with the Player's Section.  This only makes sense since all DMs are also players.

Player's Section

This 32-page section introduces us to the book and to the Shadow Elves. This section also includes the very helpful "Other Books to Use" which gives some resources that would be helpful for a player dealing with the lands of the Shadow Elves, mostly GAZ 5, The Elves of Alheim and GAZ 10 The Orcs of Thar.  I also found that GAZ3 The Principalities of Glantri was also useful. 


Here we are introduced to the Immortal Rafiel and how he and his works have really guided the Shadow Elves to their modern state after their split with the Light Elves. This covers the history of the Shadow Elves as they know it. It is an interesting read and does exactly what it supposed to do, separates the Shadow Elves from the more popular Drow. You get an idea for the size of the Shadow elf realms (larger than any other country covered by the GAZ series.) and how the various settlements/cities are connected.  You get an overview/example of a day in the life a Shadow Elf. The importance of the Shadow Elf shamans (clerics) and the "Soul" crystals in the birth of a new Shadow Elf is covered and how important each birth is.  (This is something that is actually revisited in 5th Edition D&D Elves).  

There is a great section on Creating and Playing a Shadow Elf. This speaks to the strength of D&D BECMI. It can easily allow a new race/class without "breaking the rules" as it were.  Shadow Elves can advance farther than surface elves. This is explained by their unique nature.  New skills for Shadow Elves are also covered.  There are also many "new" spells for Shadow Elves.  I say "new" since many are from AD&D or alterations of other D&D spells.  Additionally, you can play a Shadow Elf shaman (cleric).  It is one of the best examples of playing a D&D / BECMI Shaman.  The Shaman has a few more spells, most of these are newer though there are some reused AD&D spells.  Note: I say "reused" not imply that these spells are somehow lesser, they are not.  They are all (for the most part) new to D&D BECMI, but players of other editions will recognize them.  

The player's section has a yellowish background. It does not make it difficult to read at all, but it does make it visually separate from the DM's section.

Dungeon Master's Section

This section is 64-pages with inserts.  The Immortal Rafiel is the primary focus of this section, or at least his importance is stressed.  He was not the genesis of the Shadow Elves, but he certainly shaped their evolution. He is the center of their religious life and since religion features so much in their everyday life, Rafiel is central to everything. 

While the Player's Section gives us the Shadow Elves as they see themselves, this section gives us Shadow Elves and their history as the Immortals see it.  Their story begins 6,000 years ago (5,000 BC) when Mystara was young and Blackmoor was a magical and technological global power.  The elves were living in what would become Glantri until 3,000 BC when Blackmoor was destroyed and the Great Rain of Fire happened. Mystara was knocked off her axis and ice caps melted and new ones froze.  The Shadow Elves sought safety and sanctuary underground.  

Here they encountered the followers of Atzanteotl, and evil Immortal, and some began to follow him, but most moved on and soon found Rafiel.   Now here is where things get uniquely "Mystara". Rafiel was a Nuclear Physicist in Blackmoor.  The explosion that nearly destroyed Mystara was his reactor. OR his reactor saved him when the Rain of Fire ( not to be confused with the Rain of Colorless Fire from Greyhawk) happened.  In any case, this former human now leads and protects the Shadow Elves. Back to history, there is a nice objective timeline that covers what the Shadow Elves have done in their time below the surface.  Including learning that others did survive (they thought all life had perished) and what they want to do about Alfhiem. Here you learn also that there are some false beliefs purposely put into the player's section that are corrected here.  For example, the "Soul Crystals" do not contain or house the souls of elves as all Shadow Elves believe, instead they are bits of the Radiance (from under Glantri) that are the nuclear equivalent of magic or the magical equivalent of nuclear energy.  Science and Magic get blended a lot when dealing with Blackmoor. 

Shamans and their roles are also covered in more detail here.  It is here since there are secrets that a Shama learns as they progress in levels that are supposed to remain unknown to them at lower levels. A really nice way of doing it if you ask me. This includes some new Shamanic spells. 


The geography of the Shadow Elves' lands is covered. Including the towns, major cities, and the passageways in between. Also covered are the possible location of more soul crystals and how many.  We also see the different types of animals living near or with the Shadow Elves including the "Skinwing" or a flying dinosaur they use for patrols.  This is reminiscent of both the Mahars of Pellucidar and the running lizards of the drow.  A couple of other monsters are presented, but I would have liked to have seen some more. Likely these would have been covered in other Gaz products. 

There is a neat little section on what everyone else thinks of the Shadow Elves include Glantri scholars, orcs, elves in Alfheim, and a dwarf.  Later on, we also get what Shadow Elves in other lands are up too. 

Several important NPCs are also covered including Rafiel and Atzanteotl. 


There is also a Shadow Elf specific character sheet.  I stress function over form. 

The PDF has maps you can print out and the Print version has the maps bound in the pages. 

The text is easy to read if it is a scan of a printed document. 

The PDF is $9.99 and the softcover POD + PDF is $18.00.  If you are getting the POD it is worth it to add the $2 to get the PDF to print out the maps and character sheets.

Using this Book and Shadow Elves

If you are unfamiliar with Mystara then some of the ideas mentioned inside will sound "out there" to other D&D players. Nuclear explosions? Post-Apocalypic Elves? Immortal physicists? Aztec like humans living in a Hollow Earth?  But they are all perfectly sensible in a Mystara campaign.  

The writing of this Gazzateer is top-notch, easily one of the best, and right up there with GAZ 3.  The Shadow Elves are also a little more interesting than Drow in my opinion.  Their lives make perfect sense once you see things from their own point of view. They would in fact make a fine replacement for the Drow in many games. 

The player's section would work "AS IS" for most versions of D&D.   Shadow Elf Shamans are easily converted to future D&D Clerics.  Adding them as a race or type of elf is also very easy.

Honestly, they are perfect for anyone that wants to play a Drow but wants something that is a little different. 

For my Week of Shadow, I want to come back to these guys a little later and see how they might fit in to other types of Shadow Elves / Shadow Fey.

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