Showing posts with label 5e. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 5e. Show all posts

Monday, January 20, 2020

Weekend Gaming: Dungeons & Dragons & Dinners & Dramaturges

I have not done a weekend gaming post in forever, despite having a game or two going every weekend.  If you follow me on Facebook or my personal Instagram page then one thing is pretty obvious.  My family and I LOVE food.  My wife has won baking awards, my oldest son is in culinary school, my youngest loves to experiment in the kitchen and even I have won 1st place in my local chili cook-off for my "Mississippi Queen" Chili.

It should be no surprise then we LOVE to cook for our D&D sessions.  My oldest son runs three D&D 5e campaigns, one Call of Cthulhu game (3 of which my youngest son is a part of), and I have my three D&D games that meet more rarely, but the bottom line is we have anywhere from two to three groups here every week and we cook for all of them.

These are all high school and college-age kids, so other than one or two other than my kids, their palettes are still forming.  I mean in our groups we have people from South Korea, Equador, Mexico, Spain, and even a 2nd generation Greek (the Greek Orthodox Church is just down the road), so we have ethnicities all covered. So we still like to branch out a bit from just plain old "gamer faire" of burgers, hot dogs and chips, though we still do those a lot.  We have made chili for them (of course), homemade mac-n-cheese (they are still kids), but homemade enchiladas, pulled smoked pork, bbq chicken, homemade ramen (complete with soy marinaded eggs), eclair cakes, banana bread, tacos, homemade chicken sandwiches (because fuck Chik-fil-a), homemade pizza, mini pies,  and homemade wings of various spiciness from mild to "oh dear god make it stop mommy!"





Fortunately for us, we love to cook all this.  My wife has a huge garden (over 2,200 square feet) where we can grow an absolute ton of veggies, so that helps.  In fact, there are many times throughout the year where we don't even need to buy vegetables (and we eat a lot of veggies).

You can see my wife's garden from space!
We only have a couple of food allergies to deal with, but that fine with us. 
The great thing is that everyone wants to come here now for the games!  Yeah it means we have a lot of cooking to do, but we enjoy it and we know some of these guys in college with my oldest don't get a homecooked meal very often.

Today's game is Liam's college group and on the menu is the Curse of Strahd and Taco Pie.  Yeah, not haute cuisine, but it is still homemade AND we used enchilada sauce made from our own dried peppers, garden onions, and tomato sauce (yes, we make our own tomato sauce). 





Much better than a bag of chips and a Mountain Dew.

Monstrous Monday will return next week.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Going Wild for Wildemount

Wizards of the Coast just announced their next book for Dungeons & Dragons 5e and it has some sections of the fandom wailing in lamentations, but the vast majority excited about it.

Explorer's Guide to Wildemount will be out in Spring 2020 and it covers the part of the world from the highly successful Critical Role webseries.  Now I can already hear the older crowd bitching and moaning about it and all I can say is "typical".

There are people out there complaining that "Wizards has pissed off half their fans".  I would argue that "half" is really exaggerating it by quite a bit, but even so then they are at least pleasing the other half.

There are others that are also talking about how they won't be buying this. Ok. That's fine you don't need to buy every D&D book.  I enjoy 5e and I don't even have every book.  I have most, but I don't have them all.

But even then, these people are often the same ones that will claim never to have bought a WotC D&D book ever anyway, so they were never the audience.

Personally, I think this is a really intelligent move on Wizard's part.

Critical Role is hugely successful.

The Kickstarter for just the animated series brought in $11,385,449.   And this book, announced just 48 hours or so ago, has all the relevant #1 spots on Amazon.


Note that's not just #1 in the D&D categories, that is #1 in Books.  All of them.

Would I, as an old-school gamer, love to have seen Greyhawk or Mystara?  Of course!  Do I *need* them? No, not really.  I have everything I need for those worlds now.  I have MORE than what I need for my home-brew world now.  New worlds are always fun to read and maybe I can use some things from that book in my world. Or maybe not.  Who knows yet.

I do know that some sections of our hobby need to lighten the hell up and let people enjoy things.



Monday, August 26, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Idea

Today's topic is Idea.

Ideas come from a lot of different places.  For example, this weekend's big idea came from my desire to do something big.


I am wrapping up my first big D&D 5 campaign, The Order of the Platinum Dragon, which will end in the Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits, but instead of using the "Steampunk" spider ship, I am going with the fan-created adventure Skein Of The Death Mother by John A. Turcotte.

My idea is to do something really special.

I have 5 2ft x 2ft pieces of a shitty particle-board.  I have tubing, I have some LED lights. I have a ton of plastic spiders and a few broken mini-figures. I will get some spider-webs from the Halloween store, some gaming paper, some paint.  I bet there are some maps I can print too.

I am going to build some giant "geomorphs".

The plan is not really to replicate the map above but to get the feel of it.  I am likely to make rooms close to 13, 21 and 26 above, but also do some of the clusters of smaller rooms too.

I have 5  boards, so I figure I can "geomorph" them enough to build something really cool and flexible.

It should not take me too long, unless I get loss in the details, but it should still be fun.

Friday, August 23, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Surprise

Today's topic is Surprise.

What is the most surprising thing you ever witnessed in a game?  I have to say it was a game my older son ran for my youngest son and the sheep.


It was so surprising because of how crazy it all was and how much noise we heard coming from the basement.

So it goes like this.  The party was supposed to get to the next town to get to a job.  The job was what the adventure was supposed to be about. Simple right?  So they all decide to take a short cut through a field and stay off the main road.  They ask what is in the field.  My oldest, not having planned this bit out (because why should he) rolled and said "Sheep".

The players freaked out.  They all wanted to have sheep as pets or animal companions.  So they spent a long time chasing sheep, trying to charm them or casting any spells they could think of.  By this time some of the players got tired of chasing sheep so they started killing them. Next thing the players they started try and raise the sheep from the dead, others wanted to bring them back as zombies.  Then the characters started attacking each other, the zombie sheep started to attack the characters.  By the end of the night, some four hours later, the sheep were all dead, the countryside was on fire, and at least three characters (out of six) were dead.

There was so much yelling and laughing and shouting.  We were laughing our asses off upstairs.

Every kid downstairs had to tell us their version of the story.

I know I am not doing the story any justice here. But it was so damn funny to hear them tell it.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Kickstart Your Weekend: The Lost City of Gaxmoor 5E

This one is easy to back.

The Lost City of Gaxmoor 5E


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/676918054/the-lost-city-of-gaxmoor-5e?ref=theotherside

From the Kickstarter Page:

The Lost City of Gaxmoor 5E is a sandbox adventure we are converting to the 5th Edition of the world's most popular role playing game. Designed for characters that range from 1st to 10th level. It is the brain child of and written by Ernie and Luke Gygax, the sons of the legendary co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons Gary Gygax. If this campaign is successful, The Lost City of Gaxmoor 5E will be released in a Full Color, 128+ page book that includes a fold out map of the city that retails for $39.99.
I will admit I don't know the history behind Gaxmoor save that Ernie and Luke created it and it was one of the few times Gary was a player.  This, added to the long friendship between Gary and the Chenault brothers, gives this much more than a whiff of credibility.  This is the closest to something from the Old Master himself.

There is a lot going on in this Kickstarter.  Not sure what level I will pledge yet, but I know I will!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Mystery

Today's topic is Mystery.

I think everyone loves a good mystery, especially in their RPGs.

Building a true sense of mystery though requires work and the subtle use of clues, hints, rumors, and innuendos.   I have found, more times than not, the best way to it is to involve the players right away.


Not in the way of getting them all to pitch in in some shared Game Mastering role.  That certainly works for some games, but not all.  No by this I mean take their speculations and let them run away with them. 

Here are some examples.

In my Come Endless Darkness 5e campaign, I am spreading te greater mystery over three different campaigns.  No one set of characters or players has the full picture.  At least not until I get them (or what's left of them) in a room once they reach 18th level or so.  The mystery right now is so vague as to not even be there. Yet.  Some of the players in the Order of the Platinum Dragon game are beginning to suspect.  Maybe some of the characters in the Second Campaign are as well.  But I know no one in the Into the Nentir Vale suspect the larger mystery.

Of course, each campaign has its own mysteries.
For the Order of the Platinum Dragon, it has been "what has happened to the Sun?" and then "who killed all the Sun Gods?"  And now it is, or soon will be, "there is no way Lolth could do this on her own!"
For the Second Campaign, the mystery has been "why are all these 'gods' of the lizard and scally folk rising up?"  A little less tangible, but it is getting them there.
And finally in Into the Nentir Vale it has been simply, "We know Orcus is rising as a power, but why?"

Clues in each one will add to the other.  Overly complicated?  Maybe.  Fun?  Definitely.

In fact, this is where my players came into it.  Originally I saw the Second Campaign's big mover and shaker to be the Mind Flayers.  THEY were going to be the ones behind the scenes.  BUT as the game went on and it became more distinct from the Order of the Platinum Dragon game and more and more lizardfolk, nagas and Yuan-ti showed up the players began to weave this huge conspiracy theory around them.   IT was so compelling and, really, so out there, that I had to reward them by altering my own plans to fit more of their elements.

I am NOT giving them everything, but I am giving them enough that their own enthusiasm is sending down a trail.  The ending will remain the same, the mystery still comes to the same conclusion, but now we go about it on a different path.

Other little tidbits that keep coming up.  On our "crazy board" above we still have listed "Where is Cynder".  Cynder was an elven elemental fire wizard that just stopped going with the group. We totally forgot about her, well at least I did.  Even though she was only one session of the Order of the Platinum Dragon, she will show up later in Into the Nentir Vale and maybe the Second Campaign.
There is something to her, I just don't know what yet!

Another hook I was going to use was the Ranger Elmo from T1.  He was going to show up in the Abyss when the Order got there (at Gen Con), but the players never really engaged with the guy.  HOWEVER they did engage a lot with this random elf woman that had been following them since the A Series.    They again decided she had to be important even if originally each of those encounters were with different elves.  My players decided she was the same person each time and figured she knew something.  A few quick jots in my notebook and Evelyn, the Princess Escalla was born!  She was an Elven Ranger/Enchanter and was key to the Elven resistance movement in the Underdark.

It has been a glorious set of mysteries and neither the characters nor the players have figured out the ultimate mystery.  That Tharizdûn, through Asmodeus, is manipulating the demons to get what he wants; his resurrection and freedom from his cage.

It's going to be great.



Sunday, August 4, 2019

Back from Gen Con!

I just got back from Gen Con 2019!

Took the whole family and we had a great time.  In fact, it was one of the best Gen Cons in recent memory.  We played a lot of D&D 5 and Call of Cthulhu 7th ed.  I got in a game of Blue Rose and a public playtest of Cthulhu Tech 2.0.





More details later. Tired and needing some Chicago style pizza.  Indy is great, but their pizza sucks.

Friday, August 2, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Unique

Today's topic is Unique.

I have to say I have had a lot of very interesting and fun RPG related experiences.  But for my money my favorite unique experience was the night after a freak storm we played Castle Amber by candlelight.




It was about five years ago and we had just converted our 1st Ed AD&D game we had started at Gen Con that year to the brand new 5e.  We had a freak storm and we had lost power for several days. 

We spent the day cooking everything from our freezer and sharing the food with all our neighbors who were doing the same (the retired actuary down the street gave us steaks for my wife's homegrown tomatoes and he STILL thinks he got the better deal). 

My wife and kids still talk about that adventure.  In fact, this was the start of our Come Endless Darkness campaign.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Monstrous Monday: Demonic Trolls

Gearing up for the big finale of the Order of the Platinum Dragon game this week.  Five-six years, spread out, has now come down to the big confrontation between the forces of Good and the forces of Chaos.  This weekend the Order will face off against Lolth.

I have been planning this one for years.  Knowing full well the history of how Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits was written and produced and knowing while it can be epic in scope, it often falls a little flat.  Well, I have worked that out a bit and even have adapted several other adventures such as Skein of the Death Mother and the original version of Queen of Lies.

But there are still somethings in the Q1 module that needs to be changed.  One, oft mentioned bit, is that the characters get to the Abyss and they are assaulted by trolls and gnolls.  Wait. Trolls? Gnolls?  These creatures seem a little too mundane for the ultra weirdness that is the Abyss.
Now one hand gnolls have evolved since the late 70s, early 80s to become more and more demonically influenced.   So these I can keep, just maybe turn up the evil a bit.  But Trolls?  Like Tom, Bert, and William from the Hobbit?  No that can't be right.

But if I go with Demonic Trolls, now there is something else.



We know two things.  1. Trolls regenerate after they are damaged.  2. The Abyss corrupts the life found in it to adapt to the environment in twisted ways.  That last one is from the 4th Ed version of the Demonomicon.    So what happens when you put these together?  Demon Trolls.  And if they are in the Demonweb?  Demonic Spider Trolls.

Here are Demonic Trolls for the Blueholme Journeymanne Rules, my current "Basic" of choice these days.

TROLL, DEMONIC
AC: 2
HD: 12d8
Move: 45
Attacks: 2 claws, 1 bite or weapon
Damage: 1d6 (claw) x2/ 2d6 (bite) or weapon
Special: Bite save vs. Poison 2d6 (half with save)
XP: 2,300
Alignment: CE
Treasure: None
Abilities: +3 Strength, +2 Dexterity,  -4 Charisma
Climb Surfaces +25%, Hear Noise +15%, Read Languages -10%, Read Scrolls -10%, Use Wand -15%

Regenerates 1d6+6 hp at the start of it's turn.

And for D&D 5e.

Demonic Troll
Large Fiend, chaotic evil

Armor Class 17 (natural armor)
Hit Points 108 (12d10 + 48)
Speed 45 ft., climb 45 ft.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
22 (+6)     18 (+4)     18 (+4)     8 (-1)     10 (0)     4 (-3)    

Skills Perception +6, Stealth +9
Senses darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 15
Languages Abyssal, Undercommon
Challenge 6 (2,300 XP)


TRAITS

Keen Smell: The demonic troll has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.

Regeneration: The demoic troll regains 15 Hit Points at the start of its turn. If the demonic troll takes acid or fire damage, this trait doesn't function at the start of the demonic troll's next turn. The demonic troll dies only if it starts its turn with 0 Hit Points and doesn't Regenerate.

Spider Climb. The demonic troll can climb difficult surfaces, including upside down on ceilings, without needing to make an ability check.

ACTIONS

Multiattack. The demonic troll makes two attacks, either with it's claws or bite.

Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 9 (1d6+6) slashing damage.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6 + 6) piercing damage plus 7 (2d6) poison damage.

Trolls may also use a melee or improvised weapon.

Description

Demonic trolls are the result of trolls becoming captured or lost in the Abyss. Their natural regenerative powers combined with the Abyss' computing influences create true monsters.  Their intellect is lowered as they become deranged with blood lust, but their strength and speed become truly monstrous.

They will often adopt demonic features such as horns, wings, a forked tail, or any number of thousands of possible mutations.  Often they pick up traits of whatever abyssal plane they are on.  Trolls in the Demonweb, for example, will have spider-like features.  Trolls in the layers of Juiblex will have ooze like features and seem to melt and reform as the attack.

Regeneration
The regeneration powers of the demonic troll are horrifying.  If the troll looses a limb it can hold the limb to the wound to reattach it.  Or it can pick up any severed limb and that will re-attach as well.  Left over severed limbs will regrow into new trolls, altered by the environment.


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

D&D Essentials Kit: Unboxing and Review

Today I want to spend some time with the new D&D Essentials Kit.  I had held off buying this when it first came out.  It was only available at Target stores and it is designed to get people up and going in the D&D 5 game that does not have prior experience with D&D.  That is not me. Plus buying one means that someone new might not get a copy.  But I kept hearing really good things about it and the sales I have heard are really good.  So I opted to pick up a copy now.

Since I prefer to buy my game materials from my favorite local game store, I will pick up another one when they are released to games stores in September.  I am likely going to donate that copy to my kid's local high school gaming club.  It will be well recieved I am sure.

So for $25 what does the Essentials Kit have and what can you do with it?  According to the back of the box we have:
  • 64 Page Rulebook
  • Dragon of Icespire Peak Adventure
  • Double-sided poster map
  • DM's screen
  • 6 blank character sheets
  • 11 polyhedral dice
  • 81 cards describing magic-items, NPC and conditions
  • Access codes for D&D Beyond


Opening up the box we see:


The adventure has a familiar feel of all the D&D 5 books.


Cards.



The map of the Sword Coast.


The DM's screen.  It is similar to the DM's screen sold separately, but this is made of thinner material.


Character sheets. These are thicker paper than photocopier paper.


The rulebook covers nearly everything characters will need for levels 1 to 6.



And dice. 1d4, 4d6s, 1d8, 1d10, 1d%, 1d12 and 2d20s.

The Essentials Kit covers a bunch of material and it is a fantastic introduction to the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition game.  The rules are clear, cover all the necessary topics and items.

The Essentials Kit is designed to work with the Starter Kit, but in truth I felt the Essentials can stand on it's own.


Certainly together they make for a complete game.  The Starter Set has more monsters and another adventure. 

I think that there was a missed opportunity here to call these the Basic and Expert sets.



The easy comparison here is to the various Basic Sets we have gotten over the years for D&D.



One of the complaints of the Starter Set was the lack of character creation rules. There were some other complaints that I felt were overblown. But let's look at this new box and ask the basic question "can I run a D&D game with just this box?"

The answer is yes, of course you can.  But are the elements here? Certainly.
I went through my Holmes and Moldvay Basic sets (Metzer is similar enough to Moldvay for this) and picked out rules sections to see what they have and how the Essentials compares.

This is what I came up with:

Item/Rule/Topic D&D 5e Essentials Holmes Basic Moldvay Basic
Character Creation Yes Yes Yes
Ability Generation 4d6, drop lowest or array 3d6 3d6
Character Races Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human
Character Classes Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief
and Race-as-class
Levels 1 to 6 1 to 3 1 to 3
Spells Yes (Bard, Cleric & Wizard) Yes (Cleric & Magic-user) Yes (Cleric & Magic-user)
Equipment Yes Yes Yes
Combat Yes Yes Yes
Monsters Yes, in included adventure Yes Yes
Magic Items Yes Yes Yes
DM's Section Yes, in included adventure Yes Yes
Running Adventures Yes Yes Yes
Sample Adventure No (but includes a full adventure) Yes Yes
Full Adventure Dragon of Icespire Peak B1 Search of the Unknown B2 Keep on the Borderlands
Character Sheets Yes No No* (but a page you can copy)
Dice Yes (11) No (Chits) Yes (6)

All three sets align well in terms of what you have.  You can start a character, choose one of four races and one of five classes and take them from 1st to 6th level with this box. And with this box there are already blank character sheets.

Like the boxes of old, save for my Holmes set made during the Great Dice Drought, all have dice.  All have included adventures and all have character creation rules.
Will Dragon of Icespire Peak go down in history like Keep on the Borderlands?  No. But it is still a very fine adventure.

The weak point of this boxed set as a complete game are the lack of a huge variety of Monsters.  Holmes featured 58 monsters.  Moldvay had over 70, more with variants and sub-types. Essentials has 33.  Still, a good amount and all three sets cover the same ones.  I don't see this as an issue since monsters can be downloaded from the SRD or the online Basic Game.  The Starter Kit also has Monsters as well.

So. The new Essentials Kit is a great starting place for people wanting to learn D&D 5 and have never played D&D before.  It is also good for anyone new to D&D 5 but has played other games in the past; though I would direct those folks to the Player's Handbook.

At 25 bucks the entry price is low enough for a casual gamer. 

The woman at the register at Target asked me if the game was for me or my kids.  I admitted it was for me, but my kids play.  She was telling me how popular the set has been and it was flying off the shelves.  I told her I knew, since this was the fourth Target I had been at in the Chicago'burbs looking for it.  She said her son had asked for it and she got it for him.  Now he and all his friends play at her house.  Cheaper than a video game and she knew where they were and what they were doing to whole time.

I think. No. I KNOW that Wizards of the Coast did the right thing putting this in Target stores.  If this gets the word out more about our hobby, then fantastic.

My next plan is to do some sample characters.  I have a new Bard, Cleric or Druid, and a Fighter I want to try out using just this box and do the same characters with the new Pathfinder.  Could be fun to see which character creation process "feels" the best.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Happy Anniversary!

No regular post today, it's my 24th Wedding Anniversary!
24 years ago I stood on a beach in Ocho Rios, Jamaica and I said "I Do" to my best friend.
It's been a wonderful ride so far.  Two houses, two kids, 8 different jobs, and 21 season of gardens (missing one due to a move and no gardens when we lived in an apartment).  I wouldn't change a thing.

To keep this RPG related I got a commission from one of my Featured Artist, Ben Honeycutt, to do a portrait of my wife's and mine D&D 5 characters.  Or, more closely, us cosplaying as our characters. ;)



These are our characters Johan IV (Paladin) and Lana (Fighter)



These were based on our minis and our engagement photo from 1995.




Friday, July 12, 2019

Willow & Tara: 5e Modern variant

My Facebook friend Ron McNiel has been playing around with a 5e inspired modern game variant and he decided to do his own reboot of Buffy.  It looks pretty fun, to be honest, and you can see all his details here.  Looks like he is using this as a test run for his next campaign so looking forward to hearing what he does.


In the meantime here are his versions of Willow & Tara for his game, complete with new casting.

Tara Maclay, played by Violett Beane

Click for larger

Ron: I present you Tara Maclay (Violett Beane) - is a shy, quiet, and nervous person. She often finds her self stuttering when she speaks, especially when Willow is around. Not much is known about Tara, because she is afraid to open up to others because of her verbally abusive father and brother. She harbors a secret, a secret her father drilled into her, something about a family curse that was bestowed on the women of her family that would manifest on their 20th birthday. She began to believe her father about the curse, because her mom became ill. She has a small rebellious streak that she indulges from time to time, such as lying to her father and staying out all night. Being relatively new to Sunnydale High, having recently moved to Sunnydale (for the best care for her mother), she doesn't have much friends, until Willow introduces herself, which would spark something deep down inside of her.


Willow Rosenberg, played by Emily Rudd

Click for larger

Ron: I present Willow Danielle Rosenberg (Emily Rudd) – is a consistently sweet, trusting, gentle, intelligent, and caring person. She is a somewhat naive, painfully shy nerd who has a hopeless crush on her best friend Xander. She is very friendly and understanding, though she is not afraid to be tough. While still having a easily nervous nature. She is incredibly loyal and supportive to her friends, especially Buffy and Xander as she almost never openly criticizes their decisions with hostility even when she disagreed, a factor in her understanding nature. She normally does not display fits of extreme anger toward those who done her wrong, even if they were her close friends, retaining a calm and receptive demeanor, never forgetting. She is often speaks in strange speeches and phrases, something she shares with her best friend Buffy, which could often confuse those around her who aren’t used to it. She is greatly emotional and prone to senseless babble when nervous (which is another similarity to Buffy). She is also very determined to get things done when she feels they are important. It is sometimes hard for people to change her mind, a sign of this being her "Resolve Face." She does not hold grudges against people. In fact, she is usually one of the first to forgive people for their mistakes, even if large ones, being incredibly forgiving. Another notable trait of hers is her remarkable ability to put aside grudges and personal feelings to get an important task done which she has done on numerous occasions. She doesn’t often let personal feelings cloud her judgment either, making her very responsible and level-headed. One of her amazing gifts is with computers and cracking codes. She also seems to be the only one out of the Scooby Gang that actually enjoys going to school and doing homework as well as tutoring, much to the confusion of Buffy and Xander.


This looks great!  He has done the other characters, but these are my favorites.

You can see my own "reboot" of the series here:

Monday, July 1, 2019

Monstrous Monday: Mystical Companions (5e)

Over the weekend I was thinking about my Magic School game and what I want to add to it.  One thing became instantly obvious to me was I needed to have familiars. Nearly every 5e game I have run the players have wanted pets, animal companions and familiars.   Thankfully for me, I already own the perfect book.


The Troll Lord's Mystical Companions is the update to their fantastic Book of Familiars.   It comes in two flavors, A Castles & Crusades version, and a D&D 5th Edition version.   I have both in digital and PDF formats, but today I am going to focus solely on the 5th Edition version.  Yes, they are in fact different enough that two separate reviews are really needed.

I was always going to use this book in my Magic School games, whether that game used an Old-School ruleset (like Castles & Crusades or BECMI D&D) or (now) D&D 5th Edition.  I think that highly of it.

Mystical Companions for 5th Edition Role Playing
208 pages. Full-color covers and interior art. PDF and Hardcover.
For this review, I am reading primarily from the digital PDF version, but it applies to the hardcover as well.  I purchased both the 5e and C&C versions at Gary Con and received my PDFs via Kickstarter.
Spend any time reading my blog or reviews and one thing is obvious. I love my spellcasters and familiars.  I have often felt the rules for familiars are quite under-developed in many games and familiars, or animal companions of any sort, are often an under-utilized or a forgotten aspect of the game and lives of the characters.
So far every 5th Edition game I have run the players have wanted an animal companion of some sort.  While the rules in the game are fine enough, there is plenty of room for improvement.  Thankfully, the Troll Lords believe the same thing.
I have mentioned that this book is an update and replacement to their Book of Familiars, it is, and it is more than that.

A quick look over the table of contents reveals that we are getting an animal companion for every class.  I feel that this appropriate and looking forward to reading the details.
Now before I go on I do want to point out that unlike some third-party books this one is NOT "plug and play".  You must make plans to add these animal companions from the start.  In one game I tried to tack on these rules in an on-going game and ran into some issues.  In another game, I used this from the start and everything went much more smoothly.  I guess think about it as getting a real-life pet.  You are going to do a little work and thought beforehand.  Once I did this THEN adding these to an ongoing game was much easier.  This is NOT like adding a new spell or magic item to your game, this is a new, but highly compatible sub-system.

Chapter 1: Introduction
Here the purpose of the book is laid out and how the authors made certain decisions on how to incorporate this new material into the game.  There is a section here that bares repeating since I have heard this complaint online.
A WORD OF EXPLANATION: This book requires that you have access to the three core rulebooks for the 5th edition rules, or at very least to the Basic Rules document that is freely available online. Throughout this book, we have used the terms ‘CK,’ and “Castle Keeper” to indicate the game master or person running the game, and ‘player character’ or ‘PC’ to refer to the characters created for the game. In addition, when you see terms like, “Game Master’s Guide” or “5th Edition Monster Tome,” these refer to the Core Rulebooks for the 5th Edition fantasy rules set.
So if you see "CK" or "Castle Keeper" in this book, it's not shoddy editing, but a design choice.  Hey, they like CK better than GM.  And since they can't say DM then CK is just as good as anything else.
There are rules to what an OGL publisher can and can't say, so I can't fault them here.

Here the other sub-systems are described.
Advantages.  Advantages are Feats. They are gained the same way and used, mostly, in the same way.  The difference in wording here (at least for me) helps differentiate the "feats" from this book from all the other feats you can get in the Core rules or other publishers.  In play, this has been a boon since I know immediately that an Advantage on a sheet means something from this book and not another book on my shelf. 
Paths. Time has been kind to Troll Lords here.  When this book first came out in 2017 not a lot of 3P publishers were doing paths yet and there was some confusion about what these were.  Now everyone has a new path (read: sub-class, kit, path, option) for the 12 core classes.   These CAN slot right into a game like anything else from any 3PP.
Tricks. Things your animal companion can do.
Rituals. How you can get your animal companion.  I mean there has to be some magic right?
New Familiars and Animals.  Kinda what it says on the tin to be honest.

Animal Companion vs. Familiar.  While rules in the book cover book and treat them somewhat interchangeably an Animal Companion is more like a loyal pet or friend.  A Familiar is a creature summoned to work with the PC.  Animal Companions are free willed, familiars are not.

Chapter 1 also covers the basics of familiars. A point. A familiar/Animal companion "character" sheet would be GREAT here, but there isn't one.  Ah well, can have everything I guess.

The list of Advantages (again, these are just like Feats) are presented.  There are more here and some might complain about giving up a Feat or Ability advancement for a Familiar, but these are all quite balanced in my experience.  You give up one "power" (feat, advancement) for another.   Quite implicit in 5th Edition's design really.  Not only that it is actually quite elegant once you use it.

The best part about this?  You can take the Summon Familiar Advantage/Feat multiple times (Wizards get it for free at first level) so you can have multiple familiars.  I don't do multiple familiars often, but when I do, I really want to do it.  Though my son runs a game with this book and he describes the group of PCs and their companions as a "traveling zoo".   One girl even has a sheep as an animal companion.  Why? No idea. But this book supports it.

Another great piece of advice from Chapter 1 bears repeating (coping) here.
Give yourself a visual reminder of your familiar’s presence. Write “REMEMBER THE FAMILIAR” to a Post-It note and stick it to the table in front of you. Or make it a point to buy and use a miniature for your familiar.
Good advice. I am a fan of the Wardlings minis from WizKids.


or getting a custom mini with a familiar from Hero Forge.


Chapters 2 through 13 all work in a similar fashion.
Each core class is covered with attention given to special Animal Companions, Familiars or Mounts as appropriate.  Different animals are discussed and a new Path is given that focuses on having an animal companion.

For example, the Barbarian (the last class you might think needs a familiar) has the Nature Fetish Path and the Horseman Path (Dothraki anyone?) The Barbarian chapter is quite good really in that it really shows that animals really do need to be a bigger part of a barbarians' (and all characters) lives.   Reading this chapter has made me want to play a barbarian for the first time EVER since they became an option to me in 1985-1986 or so.  No content just to talk about familiars and paths, the barbarian chapter also covers special mounts.

The other chapters are as equally robust.  There are sections on the Paladin's mount and Ranger's companions but also familiars for rogues and clerics and others that you might not think need animal companions.  I particularly like the Rogue's path, the Shadow Pact.  How's that work?  Well, Rogues can take creatures of shadow as familiars!  Tell me that is not cool.

As expected the familiars of the Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard are ALL very, very different from each other and really reflect what the classes do now.  Back in the 3e days Wizards and Sorcerer wre 100% interchangeable in terms of role.  The differences were largely fluff.  Since 4e this is less true and now in 5e they are very different sorts of classes.  In 4e Sorcerers and Warlocks filled similar roles.  Again in 5e they are very different. This book reflects the new 5e differences.
Naturally there can be overlap.  The chapter on Wizards talks about how the Wizard rituals can be used by sorcerers for example. 

Appendix A: Familiars and Companions. This covers the familiars and "normal" animals in 5e Stat blocks.
Appendix B: New Monsters. New monsters.
Appendix C: New Spells. New spells, as expected.
Likewise, Appendix D: New Magic Items and Artifacts.

Appendix E though is something different.  This covers Dragon Riders.  While many of the same rules are used here as for familiars this takes them to a new place and should be considered optional.
This is the Appendix/Chapter that my son grabbed this book from me for, BUT he opted not use their Dragon Riders but kept the book anyway for everything else.

A Dragon Rider is a Path that can be added to any class, but some have more use for it than others.  If the idea of PC Dragon Riders concerns you, then keep in mind it is being sold as "optional".  And also Dragon Riders of some form or another have been around since the dawn of the game.  If it is something you want, then there is plenty here for you to use.
If I ever ran a Magic School game with this then Dragon Riders would be included.

We end with a robust index and the OGL section.

A note about art. There is not as much in this book as other Troll Lord books, but what is here is from the fabulous Peter Bradley and Jason Walton, who also gives us the cover art.

Your results may vary, but this book has quickly gone from a neat oddity to one of our must-have books for my 5e games. My son uses it in the games he has run so much that I have not seen the book in months since it is now in with all of his books.

Do you need this book?  I say yes, but only if you are adding animals of any sort to your game, be they pets, familiars, mounts, companions or all the way up to Dragon Riders.
This is one of my 3PP books for 5e. One of the best really.

I should also point out that this book is a stretch goal for the Amazing Adventures 5E RPG Kickstarter.  Pledge at the $55 level and you can get a copy of this book.  Which is fantastic if you ask me.
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