On Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Episode III Remix, Part I

A moment before we get into the work of remixing Episode III.

I've seen a lot of people giving Wolfgang Baur and Steven Winter a hard time for this adventure path.

I don't think it's fair to say that the module is bad or a failure simply because it compares negatively to some of the best adventure modules ever written (e.g. Masks of Nyarlathotep). This was written on a deadline as work for hire. Wolfgang has written one of the best modules ever written (Kingdom of the Ghouls from Dungeon Magazine #70). HotDQ is a huge project on a tight deadline with a rule set that is still in flux. It's not supposed to be wildly creative, it's supposed to show off the system. So my attempt at remixing it and any comments made are not designed to reflect negatively on either of the designers. Lots of people are running HotDQ as written and it's going fine.

Those people aren't me and likely aren't in the OSR. Onward with the remix.

A Dungeon

Obviously this was marked as "Party's first dungeon" and someone came in and did it by the numbers. There's an awful lot wrong with this dungeon. How many people got poisoned to death getting a sandwich?

Still, let's start from the beginning:

Assuming the characters returned from either rescuing Leosin or failing to do so, someone, Tarbaw Nighthill, Escobert the Red, Leosin, whoever, tells the character's that they need eyeballs on the camp and they are worried about whatever is being held in that cave.

If for some reason, they visited the cave when they were at the camp the first time, everything is as I've remixed it below, along with additional notes about increased troop strength. It's likely if they investigate the cave in chapter II, they will end up captured and back to the situation where they are sent back to start this chapter as chapter III.

That would confuse me, except this is meant to be run at Encounters and in game stores, hence the sharp division between chapter II and chapter III. Hell, a lot of these changes alone can double or triple the running time of these missions, which might not fit in well to 2 hour encounter sessions.

Abandoned Camp

Most of the facts here as noted in the module are fine. The issue comes that there is absolutely nothing interesting going on in the abandoned camp. Oh, except some scouts, who don't talk to anyone, unless they do, and then they say as little as possible. 

Here's a table of interesting things going on in the abandoned camp:

  • Two of the scouts are fighting over a tied up villagewoman
  • A lone Dragon-Dog is furiously digging somewhere in the rear of the camp.
  • A single cultist is painting a large wooden signboard with the phrase "Free Couch" and an arrow.
  • A group of three cultists stands on the north side of camp arguing about which way to go.
  • 1d4 of the scouts are standing around cutting meat.
None of these people are actively hostile to the players, none of them care much about what's going on in the cave. 

The Dragon Cave

"Episode 3 is familiar territory: an old-fashioned dungeon. This one is a dragon hatchery manned by a handful of cultists, some monsters, and everyone’s favorite low-level foe, kobolds. In a larger sense, it takes what players learned in episodes 1 and 2 and puts it all to the test: problem solving, risk assessment, exploration, and combat." - Steven Winter
 Obviously "make a dungeon" is a different thing than "make the best damn dungeon ever".

Aside: Let me tell you, there are some super boring and terrible one page dungeons. Making a dungeon interesting is hard, so I'm going to take what Steve Winter says above and try to merge that with the most interesting thing I can manage.

The dungeon is not strictly linear, nor is it flat, so that's excellent. Since kobolds are often skinned as trapmakers, and the dungeon is full of traps, we're going to go full on trap agency with this.

Structurally, I would add a connection between room 5 and room 9, as well as a secret path from 2 to 11.

Room 1: Cave Entrance

There are several nude corpses in this room. These are cultists who have taken the worm, unsuccessfully. Sometimes (quite frequently in fact) the kobolds burst from the gut and chest of the bearer, after eating their way out. All the players can tell is that the corpses in this room look like they have exploded from the inside out. The dragonclaw guards hide as normal.
Chapter II: In Chapter II, there are triple as many guards (6 instead of 2), and several of the cultists have yet to die, but are weakly moaning as they are eaten from the inside out. Instead of attacking, they call for reinforcements. Note that if the players a subtle, they could possibly sneak in this room and charm/sleep/alpha strike this group before an alarm is sounded.

Room 2: Concealed Passage

Other than the detritus of the dragonclaws "readiness", this area is unchanged. The DC 20 perception check should be made into a DC 20 passive perception check and should be automatic (as noted) for anyone who actually walks into the darkness.

Room 3: Fungus Garden 

Oh, you keep the violet fungi, but on a successful attack or if the characters fall into the fungus patch, require DC 10 Constitution saves. On a failure, the character begins to hallucinate

  1. Everyone the character sees turns melty and then is replaced by a reptillian doppelganger.
  2. Bugs start swarming out of the walls and floor and are covering the character's hands and arms. 
  3. The walls and room catch fire and you are unbearably hot, willing to do anything to cool off.
  4. A monkey ran up and stole you Macguffin, and then hid in random team-mates backpack. Once you find him he only steals something else and runs away. If anyone tries to reassure you, they must be in on it.
  5. You feel sick and the walls are closing in and you know you are going to die any minute.
  6. Everything is just, really, really, funny. Laugh out loud funny. Ringing echoing laughs.
Also, there is now a halfling named Tom Haverford who is naked and hanging upside down from the ceiling. He's lazy and obsessed with looking dapper. Rescuing Tom puts you in range of the fungus. He is awake or unconscious as you desire.   
Traps: Stair Trap: Passive Wisdom (perception) 20, Active Wisdom (Perception) 15. Automatic if inspecting the stairs before going down. 
Violet Fungus: Intelligence (Investigation) DC 15 to spot the correct path through the fungus or Intelligence (Nature) 15 to spot the fungus.  

Avoidance: Cultists know where not to walk.

Room 4: Stirge Lair

So, you have to avoid cat-sized deadly mosquitoes to get something to eat? No. Just no.

The bat storm is a nice idea, but the thought of every cultist needing to make a DC 10 Dexterity (Stealth) check just to eat or go get a lizard is a bit far-fetched. What is this room now?

Empty. A big, creepy, empty room that echos and casts shadows everywhere. It's hollow and it echos and it's a bit creepy, and every time the players enter it, you roll a random encounter check because it's the center of the complex.

Be sure to mention the spears leaning against the east exit by the stairs.

Room 5: Troglodyte Incursion

A real opportunity is missed here. The room setup and the player skill focus is good. Troglodytes attack is dull. Here are some other options for Troglodyte interactions.

  1. Busy inscribing religious pictograms on the wall, plenty eager and polite to acquire new worshipers, centered around sexual acts and giving birth. 
  2. Torturing an unlucky cultist, who is eager to be rescued. Troglodytes not hostile to party, believe that they are making him very happy due to his mouth noises.
  3. Room seems like a convenient place for sexual activity.
  4. Busy holding off an underdark invasion of driders
  5. Trying to scrape together enough dope for a second bowl
  6. Just looking to hang out and have a beer like excellent dudebros. All around good guys, just waiting for their dark god to destroy the world. 
No matter what happens, they think the party is a bunch of real jerks and aggressive pricks if they attack them. During the fight they constantly complain about how mean they are and want to know why they are so hostile.

Room 6: Meat Locker 

So the trap is foreshadowed well by the placement of the spears above.  Them leaning against the staircase provides the clue and explanation needed for the larder trap. The room is empty otherwise, which is fine, though I'm a fan of rot grubs being around in old meats.
Traps: Poisoned Hooks: Passive Wisdom (Perception) 20, Intelligence (Investigation) DC 15; The book makes it sound as if the hooks aren't visible, leading to the conclusion that it can't be perceived, but it can be investigated. Of course, specifically inspecting the curtain for traps will automatically discover the hooks.
Avoidance: Planting one of the spears in the ground to push the curtain aside. 

Tune in for Part II of the Episode III remix later this week, for the other 7 rooms. 

Hack & Slash 
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On a Useful Review of the 5th Edition Monster Manual

Review of core books are mind-numbingly imbecilic. If you're playing the game, you're going to buy the core books.

Here's what I think about it and a whole bunch of scans of pages of the manual.

  • Unlike the players handbook, this cover is stunning. It's not fantastic art. But it is attention getting. Also, if you look at the competition, it's pretty easy to say it's the best monster manual cover to date. (1st Edition, 2nd Edition, 3rd Edition, Pathfinder)
  • It has the worst griffon I have ever seen in any product ever. Apologies to the artist.
  • Most of the art is really good!
  • I like the watercolor marks behind the monsters.
  • I am sad about the "Page Tear" formatting effect. It looks nice, but it will certainly cause the book to appear dated as time passes. That's actually a major issue with a lot of the art, which is done digitally. Like it's clearly not real paint, and there is a lot to be said for the qualities of real paint!
  • Also, note the birth of the weirdly smooth monster form.
  • This is really what a bestiary should be. Like the monster descriptions are not filled with annoying bullshit. They are filled with legends, adventure ideas, history, and lore. 
  • It reminds me of the other monster manual worth owning.
  • The best art is the side art!
  • No monster creation rules?!
  • It's a weird collection of monsters that skews to low CR encounters. Is that because it's the first
    Look like anyone we know?
    monster collection? Because encounters should be made from multiple low CR creatures instead of large single monsters? Why include the angels? 
  • As noted by other people, there are huge stylistic shifts in the art. Mordrens are magical, weird, steampunk-like Despicable Me minions, whereas undead are Walking Dead Terrors. 
  • There's about 1 million shout-outs to older editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Check this Death Knight guy out →
  • Nice to read a monster manual with Mind Flayers, Beholders and OTHER PRODUCT IDENTITY RETAINED BY WOTC
  • Monsters are pretty simple and easy to run. There are a lot of suggestions on changing things up. There are no monsters with 8 gabillion powers that require a preparatory class in how to use them effectively.
  • Did I mention the monster text is actually really interesting, giving you ideas on how to use the monster, adventures, and ideas? It's a ton of text devoted to things in the book. Like, this is interesting even if you're not playing Dungeons & Dragons.
  • On the other hand, all the advice is, like in the players handbook, how to run a Dungeons & Dragons monster as a Dungeons & Dragons monster. Monsters are their archetypical Dungeons & Dragons selves. It's not fantastic, strange, or new, it's as maxed out Dungeons & Dragons as you can get.
  • There are a number of visual monster redesigns that are pretty interesting, including the cloaker and the piercer. 
  • The preliminary sketches cleaned up and used for backgrounds is a great touch.
  • There is no nudity. :-(
It is a monster manual that any gamer of any edition could sit down and read and be interested in. Like, non-gamers would read it, because it's basically talking about a bunch of cool monster stuff.

So far, everything Wizards of the Coast has actually written and produced for 5th edition (and not farmed out) has been great. Only time will tell if the quality holds up. 

Ed Greenwood is under the impression that there's never going to be another world shaking realms event, so I'm interested in staying alive long enough to see how that's going to turn out. 

Carrion Crawler Redesign.
Definitely something I don't want in my house

Always a good sign when the get the Cockatrice Correct

And gnolls are pretty sweet looking!

The trend towards using real world animal design is nice!
(Also, note the notes scattered throughout the book)

A flaccid piercer impresses me. That takes some guts.

Hack & Slash 
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On Magical Hearts

A selection of unusual magical hearts. These hearts replace your actual heart, and are used by placing over the bare chest of the subject. After an extremely painful minute, they replace the owners actual heart. Only one heart may be used at any time. Often the hearts cause a death effect that prevents raise dead from functioning.

It is a serious thing to consider replacing your heart with magic.

Heart of Glass: This heart is a mixed blessing. The user will automatically fail any saves versus any mind-effecting spells or enchantment effects, but all targets of the users spells must save at -4 (or disadvantage)

Heart of Iron: This heart is a great boon to warriors, but robs them of their essential natures. Anyone possessing this heart gains and additional 2 hit points per hit die and a +4 (or advantage) to saves versus poison or anything affecting the body (including death checks). In addition, the time the wearer can hold their breath is tripled. However, their weight increases by +50%, and over time their alignment shifts towards neutral evil as they slowly lose the ability to empathize with those around them. Their problems and concerns seem more and more meaningless in relation to the users as each day passes, and his own needs seem more and more important. When the bearer dies, their body turns to iron, from which the heart can be extracted.

Heart of Blood: This heart is contained in a crystal glass case. When placed on the chest, the red
liquid inside slowly drains until empty, at which point the crystal case also dissolves into dust, being absorbed into the skin. The user is no longer subject to disease, illness, or any bleeding effects. They receive a +4 bonus (or advantage) on any death spells or effects, and their aging slows to 1/10th it's normal rate. They also regenerate 1 hit point a minute. The heart prevents any sort of protection from scrying for operating. In addition, their blood works as a healing elixir, curing disease and reducing aging by several months when drunk, as well as producing an overwhelmingly positive feeling of well-being. It is also highly, highly addictive, causing addiction after the first use and dependence soon after. The people who are denied this substance will go to any lengths to acquire it. This can be used to control people who become dependent on it, but there are no cases in which it has not been known to backfire. Upon the users demise, the body turns to red liquid, which then fills a crystal heart in the location of their corpse.

Crystal Heart: This is a heart of reflections and illusions. Any single illusion the caster performs that require concentration to function can be assigned to the heart. For example, an illusionist could cast two spells requiring concentration. Once a day the user can cast Mirror Image. Once a week the user can cast Vanish (Use the heart to create an illusionary double of the caster in reaction to an attack or at will, and turning the caster invisible). Any illusions cast by the caster have their saving throw difficulty class improved by 2 OR provide a -2 penalty to the targets save. The user also gets a +4 (or advantage) bonus on all deception rolls.
The experience of bearing the heart is difficult. Reality seems to fluctuate, and often the user gets glimpses into the shadow and ethereal plane. Often they become paranoid and isolative. They begin to become uncertain about what is real and what is not. When killed the user turns to crystal which crumbles, leaving behind only a crystal heart.

Fire Heart: This heart provides resistance to fire. Any spells you cast ignore the fire resistance of the target, and cause immune targets to be considered resistant. You become vulnerable to cold. Also, you become impassioned. You find it more difficult to stay calm, you mind often fixating on anything upsetting causing you to become angry. You find it difficult not to lash out at people and eventually become more and more chaotic. You must succeed at a DC 10 Constitution check in order to get enough sleep to prepare/regain spells during a long rest. If you cannot cast spells, you gain the ability to cast Fire Bolt at will as a ranged magical attack using Intelligence if you don't have another casting stat, burning hands 3 times and Scorcher once. (Concentration up to 1 minute, 20' line of fire, does 5d8 damage to first target and 3d8 damage to all other targets, Dex save for half). These uses refresh after a long rest (or 8 hours of sleep).

Ice Heart: You become immune to compulsions and mind-affecting effects. You become immune to charm. You have resistance to ice. You are vulnerable to fire. The ambient temperature around you drops by 20 degrees (f). Your alignment shifts towards neutral evil over time as you become less concerned with the welfare of other living beings. You can create and shape ice at will, requiring your focus and giving you a level of fatigue per every significant creation of ice (i.e. 10' x 10' x 10' cube in 1 minute). Going slower or reducing the amount of ice created or used will reduce the fatigue cost.

Black Heart:This heart is condensed evil. Once absorbed, the user becomes immune to fear, and their eyes turn red, their hair black, and their veins turn black. Their blood is black and anyone attacking them with a non-reach piercing or slashing weapon must make a DC 10 Dexterity (DC 14 Reflex) save or take 1d6 acid damage. The user gains +2 Strength and Constitution, above normal human limits. Their alignment changes to Chaotic Evil instantly. The user gains Darkvision and rolls intimidation checks with advantage. The user can also spit acidic bile on one target within 10' once per day as a ranged attack. It does 2d8 damage per point of proficiency bonus (2d8 per 4 levels).

Seven magical hearts for your perusal. Note that several of these contain vague effects, such as shifting your alignment over time and powerful effects that are loosely defined. This requires some discussion and agreement between the Dungeon Master and the player about what works best for the game. Allowing a specific use to avoid fatigue of the ice heart (such as using it to ride on a path of ice through the air) should be worked out as specifics between the Dungeon Master and the player. Perhaps one such effect can be gained per level or a few (or one in Pathfinder) could be granted by a feat. Mechanical effects of some of the drawback are left up to individual Dungeon Masters also. A player who's unwilling to portray the change over time as the heart affects them is probably not a good candidate for these magical items.

For other cool magical items, check out the magical item tag!

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On Towns: Bellchapel

This is the town of Bellchapel, population 3910. It's in the east of the Highforest, nearby some mountains (or in any forested area with (wood) elves and clay deposits nearby). It's a town of red brick, and defended well by its elven archers. Bellchapel is famous for two massive carved gates, one on the east side of the city, and the other on the north. It has a thriving trade in rare elven metalwork, and is known for it's conservative hardworking population.



Lawful Good, mid-sized growing town, known for its gates and elven metalwork.

"Prudence is Industry" The north gate is named Prudence, and the east gate is called Industry. The motto is enameled in gold and enchanted to glow over the archstone of both gates.


Government: Representative government by a council of seven, of three elves and three men, with a democratic citywide open vote on the 7th seat. The seventh seat is traditionally held by an elf. Humans seats are limited to two terms of 3 years each, elves have no term limits, but may cycle their seat yearly. Elections for the 7th seat take place every 6 years.

Population: 420 human families (5 people) and assorted humans (2,229 humans total), 497 Elven households (2.2 elves) and assorted elves (1,095 elves total), 469 half-elves total, and around 5 halfling families (~25 halflings each) (117 halflings)

Languages Spoken: Common, most people know Silvanesti, Lyranesti, and Qualinesti, as well as Chondathan. You'll find a fair number who speak Illuskan, and Cormanthan. A few might speak D'tarig, and even Uloushinn.

Local Religions
  • Worship of Corellon Larethian is quite popular, with a large tree temple near the center of town, surrounded by delicate clay brickwork. 
  • There are several small shrines in the nearby woods to Rillifane Rallathil, carved into hallows of trees. 
  • There is a devoted cult to Grumbar, populated by brickworkers and brickmakers. They worship in low, squat, plain, brick buildings. These buildings are built three or four feet down into the earth, leaving only a elf height above ground. 
  • There is also a relatively loose group of people who worship at a church of Lathandar
  • Though there is no official worship service, many locals worship Mielikki.

Noteable NPC's:
  • Zander Filkoski is a Thayan Mage who runs a store called Magical Items. He is cruel and bald.  (Hu/M/W4)
  • Asham Ulmeeri is an expert crafter of jewelry. He owns Ulmeeri's Shield, a bustling craftsguild, and produces amulets, broaches, bracelets and more for sale, He is bookish and uses florid speech and long words. (1/2e/M/Expert10)
  • Belinase Adamchik is the most powerful cleric in town. She is a priest of Lathander and has strong opinions on local politics, as well as being very clean. (Hu/F/C5)
  • Benrodyr Aratári is the leader of the church of Corellon, as well as one of his paladins. He fidgets quite nervously for an elf and is always truthful. (Elf/M/Pa6)


  • Ulmeeri's Shield: Jewelry store/crafthouse, run by Asham and his wife Thame. Often hires adventurers to escort his goods to nearby trade routes.
  • Magical Items: The plainly named store, is as it appears, Small magical items (potions, scrolls, a few wands and a magical ring or amulet or two) for sale at exorbitant price or for. . .trade. Run by the Red Wizard Zander. Closed for 3 hours in the middle of the day (11-2).
  • Illustrius Remidies: An apothecaries, carrying some potions, run by the energetic half-elves, Fenwark Tiinotan and his wife Map
  • There are many jewelry shops and crafts guilds in town, but the most popular storefronts are the already listed Ulmeeri's and The Glittering Alexandrite, run by the married half-elves Pomme and Kora Urvina.
Inns: There is only Inn, in town, with less than a dozen rooms for rent, but there are several taverns. 
  • The Lock and Raven is the local inn, run by Bryman Fallacro, a human barbarian who is 6' 5" and walks with a limp (Hu/M/Bar7). He's retired, and his axe sits over the bar. They have a policy that no room may be rented more than three nights. There are only 10 rooms in the inn. He is married to a small wood elf named Amra Calaudra, no more than 4' high. (Elf/F/Com2)
  • The Great Jug, Open from 9 am to 8pm, run by the married half-elves, Brae and Wyatt Väivi. They serve several meats, a lot of wines, and a selection of non-human, beastman brews, the most popular of which is Thudrud at 1 gold a glass.
  • Equitrans's Faralin a noon to midnight pub that serves a popular pepperbread. Run by Ettard Equitrans, who has a nervious eye twitch. 
  • The Red Mead, run by Bret and Londa Delmar, who are flamboyant and a bit hefty both. They specalize in steaks and wines, along with a selection of reddish meads.

  • There's a fair bit of prostitution that legally occurs after nightlamps are lit, within the area known as the Fire Cresent, a small apostrophe shaped brick walk in a public park. A license for prostitution must be purchased from the council. Many of the independent workers receive magical beauty aids from Darla Ager (Hu/F/W2).
  • Fairwall Charnel is a bricked-off haunted part of town that no one visits or lives in. At night disgusting chewing sounds and spectral howls can be heard coming from within.
  • There's a local belief that abstaining from sex for 40 days and nights once reaching the age of majority puts you at risk for misfortune. 
Men for Hire:
  • Borb Barblug Half orc ex-lumberjack, looking to get out of town. Levels as a Barbarian/Fighter
  • Prince d'Maggot Skeleton who wears a bird mask and fine robes. Is a fighter. Wants a meat body.
  • Bryant Geary, The hawk. His face reminds you of an eagle, and his grey eyes are like liquid metal. He's got a full beard and mustache, but feminine traits. 0-level, but planning on being a wizard.
  • Corbett (longshadow if pressed) is a short man with long fingers. He is balding and wears fingerless leather gloves. Grins and laconic.
  • Norvell Longarm is strong, wears a nose ring. Shaved down the center of his head. Likes to grapple things. Brave. Smarter than he looks. Has tattoos he regrets. 
Resources: Animals (Furs), Climate Type (Sub-Artic), Geography (high, moderate, low mountains, Rolling hills), Hunting/Game (deer), Mines (Iron, gold, silver, gems), Quarry (Stone, Clay), Timber


Obstacles: Harsh Conditions (High local monster populations), Population (Xenophobic population, Judgemental population), Unquiet dead.

Adventure Seeds and Local News:
  • A new tax has been enacted on craftwork, upsetting many of the local merchants. Xaemarra Calaumystar, a prominent crafter is upset and she wants to do something about it.
  • The Council of Morticians has commissioned the building of a new Guildhouse. This might have something to do with the increased issues with undead, but Stedd Amblecrown, the head Mortician isn't talking.  
    • They are also suffering a number of setbacks, accidental deaths, and fires. Is it sabotage?
  • The Munsex Shops, a series of clothing shops, will be boarded up due to unexplained supernatural occurrences. Miri Everwood, the owners daughter has been sneaking into the shops at night to practice her summoning magic. Unknown to her, she has cursed the store, letting in evil nature spirits. Alonsid Everwood can't do business while the hauntings continue.
  • An auction of smuggled goods that the guard have recently seized will be held tomorrow outside the Lock and Raven. They belong to Ariadne Sphaerideion, a Zentarhim agent, who is going to take steps to get them back. 

Names: Jhaumrithe Moondown [Female Elf; FRCS]
Orlpar Amalith [Male Elf; FRCS]
Imizael Braegen [Female Elf; FRCS]
Saevel Eveningfall [Male Elf; FRCS]
Aravilar Amalith [Male Elf; FRCS]
Faelar Laelithar [Male Elf; FRCS]
Dorn Evenwood [Chondathan Human Male; FRCS]
Bran Stormwind [Illuskan Human Male; FRCS]
Sikhil Saqarastar [Durpari Human Male; FRCS]
Lynneth Gelebraes [Aglarondan Human Female; FRCS]
Natali Dotsk [Damaran Human Female; FRCS]
Hilur [Uluik Human Male; FRCS]
Idim Taw Harr [Shaaran Human Female; FRCS]
Aelthas Uthelienn [Aglarondan Human Male; FRCS]

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On a Limited Chance

Just a heads up, the chance to get the Hack & Slash Compendium I for Pay What You Want ends next Monday. The print price will also increase then from 4.99 to 6.99. In addition I've put On the Non-Player Character on sale till then, at over 50% off!
50% off in Print at Lulu.
50% off in .pdf at Lulu.
50% off in .pdf at RPGnow

That's not all, I've updated a reference card with instructions on using On the Non-Player Character with 5th edition!

So if you're curious about a method of resolving social situations via player skill, rather than by personal social skill or character skill, or you're looking for a mechanical solution to provide objectivity for social interactions and relies on your ability to gather information and make intelligent choices, then check it out now before the sale ends!

Click Me to Download!
At RPGnow!
So if you want to pick up either of these great books, now is the time!

Look at this sweet reference .pdf for 5th edition! It's purdy! It's all on one page!

You can check out the other handouts and forms for the book here!

Curious about what's in the book? You can see a lot of examples under the On the Non-Player Character tag!

Reviews at Paper & Pencils, Gorgonmilk, Deep Delving, and Necropraxis.

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On the Visual History of the Illithid

How does the Dungeons and Dragons Monster depiction change through time? There was some question about this recently and it seemed like a quite interesting subject. I'm no art critic, though I do have a Bachelor's Degree in Art, so I'm not completely out of my wheelhouse. Imma just gonna give my opinions. You got different ones? Share 'em! Let's take a look.

Mind Flayer (Illithid)

First image of a Mind Flayer

Monster Manual (1977)
Here we see a number of interesting features, a large head with very wide eyes containing pupils, a high collar rich looking robe, with a skull hanging from the harness.

It's important to note that artistically, everything we're going to be looking at is fundamentally illustrative. These images are designed as tools, rather then their point being a work of art.

Not that they can't be both.

This creature was inspired by the cover of the paperback edition of The Burrowers Beneath by Brian Lumley, a Cthulhu Mythos story. so from the book image below, we get the creature illustrated to the above. 

I find the use of an irregular octogon surrounding the Mind Flayer to be an interesting artifact.  Although several creatures in the monster manual have boarders, most are square. Only two other creatures, the Bugbear and Type V demons have Octogonal borders and both of their borders are more regular. Each pane of the Mind Flayer Border is of a different length, no two matching.

Also, that robe is hella-baggy. Apparently fashion shows in the underdark have the burlap sack-dress as the height of fashion. This explains why drow women usually eschew the dress and just wear the harness.

Rogues Gallery, Erol Otus
This picture from the Rogues Gallery, a book of pre-generated Non-Player Characters contains this image of a mind flayer being attacked by a druid's insect swarm. This image by Otus is uncharacteristically constrained and filled with detailed line-work. One also notes that the pupils have disappeared from the eyes of the mind flayer and the face has taken on a much stronger octopus like feel. It retains the long clawed fingers and the characteristic high collared robe with decorative hems. This book also contains an image of a furry baby umber hulk, as well as statistics (honest un-inflated ones from play) of many classic characters.

This image of a mind flayer from S2, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks Illustration book 1980, continues the pupil-less eyes. This is missing the characteristic high collared robe, trading it in for "futuristic space clothing". Here we see the first definition of the body of the mind flayer, which appears to be a very fit, very thin man who spends a lot of time at the gym doing squats to look good in his spandex future-clothes.

Dragon Magazine #72
D1 Descent into the Depths
This image on the left from 1983 in Dragon Magazine is really interesting because it clearly portrays the mind flayer as having backwards knees like a bird or hoofed creature. The Illithid retains the pupil-less eyes and wears no robe, though still is wearing the skull covered harness. This one also has arcane symbols and spikes on the shoulders as some sort of proto-dungeon punk. The creature is thin, almost skeletal.

Monster Compendium

Second Edition

Once Second Edition is released, there's a bizarre divide in the depiction of the Mind Flayer. With the release of the new monster compendium, there's a depiction of a mind flayer with a beggars robe and some dapper hat with a red tassel. A beak is visible in the middle of his spread tentacles and his eyes appear as round hook like objects. Also, his robe is over a striped dress and he is wearing a pair of zori.

On the other hand, the same year that image was released, Dragon Magazine ran an article on the home world of the mind flayers, called the sunset world. This presents a radically different image of mind flayers then had been previously seen. These creatures look like they are wearing gas mask helmets, and their head and collar resembles some sort of elephantine beast. They lack the requisite skull dangling from the neck, but in spite of all the plants on their homeworld being black, they somehow manage to make those stylish tweed robes.

Illithids at this point become both more common and more "cool" due to a certain scimitar wielding elf and his connection with the underdark, and images of these creatures exploded in popularity, from settings such as Spelljammer (1989) to the Illithiad (1998) late in the section edition run. As is common in the second edition run, the fantasy became more "grounded" in the fantastic realism phase of fantasy art, driven primarily from the influence of Elmore's consummate work near the start of the period, Dragonslayers and Proud of it.
Some color, indicating a pale pink skin color.
They continue to have an obsession with garish fashion.

From the Illithiad.
Sweet pants bro.
Fred Fields Illithiad Cover
This piece by Fred Fields, TSR illustrator and Fine artist, is the cover of The Illithiad and keeps the robed aspect, but reinvisons them as Cephelopods hanging off the front of a giant brain. 

The whole composition says brain, from the halo around the brain to the fact that everyone is either pointing to the brain or looking at it. It's at the apex of the triangular composition.


It also makes them look like guys who got beat up in school, which I think is why immediately after you flip the cover they turn back into octopuses on really thin and fit scrawny bodies. (skinny guys fight till they're burger.)
At the point of this publication, there were an explosion of interpretations of illithids. Here's an example by James Crabtree of an expressionistic hulking beast, coming out of some whole to eat you. 

It's nice because both the body and the face appear to be threatening, as in some large hideous brain eating creature, instead of looking like something that's going to talk like the architect from the second matrix movie. This looks like it's going to rip your head off and not move like a bad special effect. The dissonant alien colors (yellow/blue) increase the feeling of unease, and in general form it resembles someone in a deep-see diving uniform, calling back to what an experience in the underdark should be like. 

That said, it isn't very mindflayerish.

This illustration on the left, also from the illithiad  found in a section called "Performance Eating" is lurid like spanking comics of the 20th century. It's roughly done, dehumanizing to the woman and emphasizing the horror and helplessness of some creature that feeds not just on your flesh, but also on your brain!
The illustration also implies the true horror of what the creature is doing, as not only is it sharing the experience of eating the brain with the faceless innumerable illithid audience behind him, but also the thralls who must not only watch but experience the horror of brain eating for themselves. 

Check out my sweet flute

3rd Edition

Moving on to the Dungeon-Punk aesthetic of third edition, we get our new mind flayer design in the Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 Monster Manual.

Apparently this mind flayer has some tailor thralls, because the clothing is starting to fit the actual form of the creature. In true Dungeon-Punk style, we get lots of chains, pointy bits, and bandages on the creature. 

It's at this point in the historical deception that the color blue and purple begins to be strongly associated with Mind Flayers. Compare above to the pinkish skin tones with the blueish-purple used in this picture and the ones following from books like Lords of Madness. 
Lords of Madness Cover and
Interior art by Wayne England
and Ed Cox 

Elder Brain

Note that although these illustrations have become all in full color and a lot more detailed then previous illustrations, there moving in the general form towards being more boring. 

Above, in first and second edition you have examples of strange alien like creatures, bug swarms, lazers and Illithids in space suits, some guy playing a bizzare musical instrument, an illithid in space being disarmed by a treasure carrying pirate.

Once we reach third edition, it's illithid standing and putting a brain in a jar. Illithid standing. Illitihid casting a spell. Here's another example of an "Exciting" fight.

So, there's an "off-kilter" and "exciting" composition in some "dramatic" duel. And by no means is this a critique of Wayne Renyolds—more power to any artist that influences the design of Role-Playing Games for years and becomes the face of the gaming juggernaut that is Pathfinder. 

But you can hear the camera shutter. It's just two dudes that don't like each other. It's not interesting in the sense that it makes me wonder what's happening in the picture and it's not interesting in the sense that I'm interested in the form and depiction of line and color. In the book it fills space and comes across as some sort of static noise. Even the exciting parts of the picture—the tail parts of the Illithid robe and the ponytails of the Gith seem static and uninteresting. 

If you'll indulge me, I'll link two pieces by my favorite illustrator Russ Nicholson to make my point. 
Interesting Combat Pose
Interesting Static Pose

In both of these pieces, there's tension and interest in every line. You can lose yourself in them a bit.

Back to the Mind Flayers.

4th Edition

These guys are starting a band—ARE YOU READY TO ROCK!
In 4th edition, the mind flayers go full purple with their skin color and become anime battlemasters. This pose, in my humble opinion, makes them less threatening than any of the above options, because they are looking to fight me—and I know I can win a fight.
5e Mind Flayer

This 5th edition Mind flayer picture is an improvement, I'd say.

I leave you with "The Virgin of Cthulupe"

Hack & Slash 
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On Hamlets: Sodby

Brendan over at Necropraxis wrote a nice comment about how it's all dungeons and monsters and magic items, but what about towns and villages?

My primary concern with towns and villages aren't large centers, but the fact that there is some sort of small hamlet settlement every 4 miles or so in civilized lands, containing somewhere between 10-40 families.

Now I've done some work before on creating a settlement stat blog that is actually useful, so I'm going to continue to use that as a format.

Here is the village of Sodby (name courtesy of Jeff's Gameblog Hamlet Name Generator) in the Forgotten Realms. It lies on the southern Sword Coast, in the Western Heartlands. (Or, you know, wherever you want to put it).



Lawful Neutral (With evil tendencies)
Modest hamlet on a roadside, known for its swine. It is the birthplace of the mercenary tyrant Filthbeard, a halfling who rides his corrupted boar lover. The town has a large number of retired ex-military and ex-mercenary population.

"Focus Et Ventus": "Hearth and wind" is the motto printed on a weathered polished granite stone outside of town.


Government: Ostensibly City Council, but really it's a "dictatorship" run by Tessa Hazlett, a human female level 2 fighter who is irreverent and rude.
Population: 12 human families (64 people), 2 halfling families (12 people), 1 Moon Elf, 1 Orc. Total population: 79 people, 7 cows, 18 dogs, 144 pigs, 1 donkey.
Languages Spoken: Common, Chondathan, Daraktan, Illuskan
Local Religions: There is a small shrine to Shaundakul, as well as a group of worshipers of Malar.
Worship of Shaundakul involves joyful meditation and feasting. 
Worship of Malar, involves practicing humility, and black robed prayer services in the nearby woods. Sometimes referred to locally as the bitter god.
Notable NPCs:
  • Tessa Hazlett, Captain of the guard. Irreverent, Rude defacto ruler (Hu/F/F2)
  • Halain Argenta, Deputy, second in command. Optimistic, doesn't make promises. Is missing teeth. (Hu/F/F4)
  • Kira Himelin, Eccentric wizard, cares for ailing mother. Repeats phrases, miserly, has startling grey hair. (Hu/F/W6)
  • Sapphira Ifft, Mayor, concerned primarily about her worm research, leaves Tessa to run the town. Distracted, distinctive jeweler.  (Hu/F/Arist 2)
  • Dafyn Defalvio, Smith. Stoic, kindly, well regarded in town. Balding on top with white hair and beard. 65 Years old. (Or/M/Expert 3)
  • Noch Jaffer, Cotton's Supply owner, slurs a bit, happy, helpful. Large store, quite well off. Looking for wife. Unattractive but Charisma 13. (Hu/M/Arist 1)
  • Lyn Fairwine, Lyn's Festhaus owner, interested in stories and tales from the road. Red hair. (Hf/F/Com 2)
  • Anneth Fairwine, Singer at Lyn's Festhaus, extremely attractive and nice (Ch 17) Asexual. Talented Singer. (Hf/F/Ex2)
  • Apper Gallo, Well-mannered owner of the tavern The Sign of the Grey Stump. Missing right arm above elbow.
  • Neanne Disk, Owner of The Wolf beggar. Taciturn, smirks, nice.
  • Grellyn Diantoni Priest of Malar, friendly, hirsute. (Hu/M/Clr1) 
  • Opal Tenwand, Priest of Shandakul, keeps up the shrine and provides services (Elf/M/Com2)



  • Splendids: Splended smith's is a blacksmiths run by Dafyn Defalvio, an old Orcish Smith. He's over sixty winters and is training several of the young men to take over when he retires. 
  • Kira's: This shop (Kira's Fantasy Potion and Reagent Emporium) is run by Kira Himelin, and sells very minor potions, a handful of scrolls and local alchemical reagents. It is a small (12' x 8') shack, stuffed to the brim, and one of the door hinges is broken making it hard to open. She runs the shop officially two days a tenday, from mid-morning to early evening. 
  • Cotton's is a large, successful general store run by Noch Jaffer, who slurs a bit when he speaks. His father was Cotton, but is now dead. 


  • Lyn's Festhaus: Fameous for herbed pork ribs. 4 rooms for rent. Run by Lyn Fairwine (Hf/F/Com2) Her husband and sons assist her in running the inn. Her daughter Anneth (Hf/F/Ex2) is a talented singer, and sings most nights. 
  • The Sign of the Grey Stump: This is where most of the older men and women who have spent time in combat come to drink. It is run by Alper Gallo, (Hu/M/War2) a well mannered man who is missing his right arm above the elbow.
  • The Wolf Beggar: This is a small tavern where many of the younger people drink. It's a bit louder, and more prone to fistfights and violence, though it's usually over minor things like women. It's run by Neanne Disk (Hu/F/Rog3) who's seen enough to keep it in line.


  • There are a lot of pigs, pig farms, areas for pigs, slop buckets, and pig signs and emblems around town. People are likely to snort, in good nature—but do so frequently without even realizing it. 
  • Matchless Garrison is a half-mile outside of town, and is covered in skulls and desiccated heads of enemies, criminals and other threats nearby.
  • The town, in spite of the large pig population has no horses and is in general very clean and well kept up, due to the prevalence of ex-military. 
  • Nearby lies Arunway Graves, a patch of bare grey earth. It is a mass grave of those who died in a fire in 1172 DR. 
  • Hartriding Statue is a statue of a pig riding a 28 point deer in the center of town, carved from granite

Resources: Animals (Pigs/boars); Climate: Temperate; Geography (rolling hills, light forest); Medicinal & Alchemical Plants and Herbs


Obstacles: Insular, Corruption (Mercenary Populous), some Religious Zealotry
Adventure Seeds:

  • A pig follows the party and appears to be quite friendly and intelligent. It refuses to leave them alone. If they leave town it attempts to follow and they are accused of pig-napping.
  • Garrace Braganera (Hu/F/War2), a member of the town guard, died under mysterious circumstances recently.
  • Grellyn Diantoni (Hu/M/Clr1) Holds ceremonies for Malar outside of town and is (unsurprisingly perhaps) a wereboar, looking to find other fanatical people to convert. He has several prospects. He has cast the worship as being wild with the nature of pigs, and his services are peaceful and respectful. He is well thought of in town.

Names: Lander Stonar [Illuskan Human Male; FRCS]
Rhivaun Wyndael [Dambrathan Human Male; FRCS]
Kethra Brightwood [Illuskan Human Female; FRCS]
Rowan Greycastle [Chondathan Human Female; FRCS]
Helm Greycastle [Chondathan Human Male; FRCS]
Dorn Evenwood [Chondathan Human Male; FRCS]
Tessele Buckman [Chondathan Human Female; FRCS]

Hack & Slash 
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