Thursday, 28 March 2019

Review of Marsie Vellan's Artificer class

This is a review of a playtest Artificer class (not the official one) for 5e D&D.You can get it here, PWYW.


Marsie's take on Artificer is less complicated, more open-ended and encouraging of shenanigans-based play than the current Unearthed Arcana playtest Artificer. If artificers in 5e are at all interesting to you, get thus, pay her a nonzero amount, encourage further development. This is a class I would happily allow in my game, and ask 5e DMs if I could play. I also want to start porting it to B/X.

Full Review

So I've found the Unearthed Arcana iterations of the Artificer pretty underwhelming. Here's why:

  • Long-winded class features
  • Asking players to keep track of a separate spell and infusion list.
  • A short list of "replicable magic items" that looks like it's meant to synch up with what you can buy in downtime in Adventurer's League play.
  • There's a nice bit of advice about describing your spells as magic items you make (e.g. a tiny mechanical spider that sutures wounds) but this doesn't following the logic of "well can another creature use this item then?". If I'm just refluffing spells, I might as well just play a wizard??

Basically, its class mechanics are designed to lock down any sort of shenanigans-based play, which is the entire point of being an artificer IMO. Marsie apparently agrees with me, because this class encourages the sort of play I relish. Let's unpack it.

You start off with Ardent Crafting, which lets you make items efficiently. You can make one common magic item, two pieces of nonmagical gear, plus one "signature item" which can either be nonmagic (max 25gp value) or from a short list of consumable magic items (e.g. potion of healing). You can make your signature item 1/day for free, but you have to spend gold for the others. You halve the GP requirement, but the time requirement seems to be unspecified. I would say a short rest.

Note your other known magic item can be any common magic item. This automatically makes this class far more interesting than the WotC offering. I'm already dreaming up an artificer who makes pots of awakening, and has a little family of shrubs tending to tasks in a safe haven :3

Importantly, these items only last until your next long rest before degrading. So you could make a tidy profit of at least 25gp per day as a town healer, but you can't stockpile potions this way, unless you take the Alchemist subclass at 3rd level. Otherwise, if you want to make permanent items, you need to spend weeks on it like anyone else.

(so I'll have to check with my DM about that pot of awakening. Maybe my artificer is heavily caffeinated and only benefits from a long rest every month or so)

The instructions for making these items are called "schema", and are kept in your "codex", which is also your spellbook. You can reverse-engineer magic items you possess to write more schema into your spellbook, or find schema as loot just as a wizard might find scrolls or spellbooks. At higher levels, you can learn schema for rarer categories of item.

As a side note, even though Ardent Crafting items degrade, a profit of at least 25gp per day, funneled into making a stockpile of permanent magic items, is nothing to sniff at. DMs, keep this in mind. You can enforce encumbrance rules, make up a threat that creates time pressure, or use common sense about how much money a village can afford to spend on healing potions.

At 2nd level you get spells. Paladin spell slot progression, you learn and prepare spells the same way a wizard does. You can also infuse your spells into objects, making them into one-use magic items. You can give these items to other people, and since they're based on your spells, not some bespoke list of combat-focused "+1 sword", "+1 armor" infusions, you can therefore give your allies neat utility effects.

Like the WotC class, you have to infuse items at the end of a long rest. At 5th level, you can infuse items after a short rest, making you more adaptive to problems encountered during the adventuring day.

The subclasses are Alchemist, Homonculist, and Saboteur.

Alchemist removes the "your items degrade" restriction with Ardent Crafting, as long as it's a consumable item like a potion. You can also convert crafting materials into gold (I assume at 3rd level this means "stable trade goods that are as fungible as gold", not a literal transmutation to gold), and administer potons as a bonus action. See above advice regarding encumbrance and time constraints.

Homonculist is a pet class. Unlike the silly, videogame-like "I summon a turret" subclass of the WotC version, you have to actually figure out how to bring your construct into the dungeon, royal ball, or suspicious village. The customisation options for the construct are interesting without being overwhelming. Note you have to spend your action to command the construct to attack.

Saboteur lets you activate your infused items from up to 60 ft away, and gives you proficiency with thieves' tools. It also gives you advantage at checking for traps, which makes me uncomfortable. Advantage is generally stronger than Expertise, and I don't think any class should be better than Rogue at finding traps. That minor complaint aside, this is my favourite subclass. Simple effects that open up even more shenanigans-based play.

Finally, the spell list. The differences I found notable, compared to the WotC artificer, are:

1st: sanctuary
2nd: alter self, enlarge/reduce, lesser restoration, rope trick
3rd: blink, fly, gaseous form, haste, revivify
4th: stoneskin
5th: greater restoration

various Xanathar's spells (the WotC class is PHB-only), and some low-level damaging spells (the WotC class requires you to go Artillerist to get magic missile or thunderwave)
1st: feather fall, fog cloud, silent image, snare, Tenser's floating disc
2nd: find traps, knock, Nystul's magic aura, shatter, web
3rd: counterspell, Leomund's tiny hut, magic circle, nondetection, sending, tongues
4th: dimension door, hallucinatory terrain, locate creature
5th: awaken, passwall, scrying, teleportation circle, transmute rock to mud

I don't have strong opinions on which list is better. As a DM I'd be fine combining them to be honest The artificer is so limited in spells/day compared to a full caster that a broad spell list isn't going to make them unbalanced.

Final Thoughts:

This class is in playtest, so some vague wording is to be expected. I would like to see some work on the text to make it more easily understandable. e.g. I had to read over Ardent Crafting a few times to understand what it does, partly because an important aspect of it is in the next class feature. I'd also like to see a curated table of common magic items that are suitable as a starting schema. Apart from that, I have no real complaints. This is a great class, buy it.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

1d12 Portals to the Fey World

I'm writing a bunch of portals from our world to the fey world. The final list may have 36 entries? Here's 12 of them anyway.

The format of these is a little in flux. To be a better aid for the referee, I would like to come up with cryptic hints for each of these portals, something a divination spell or a selkie warlock might determine. But those hints haven't been forthcoming yet. I was never good at cryptic crosswords ;-)

If you like these, consider joining my patreon. I won't be putting any exclusive content on there, but you will get free download keys to anything I put on, and patrons at the $2 or $5 level can commission content from me.

  1. A tree felled by lightning, its stump, burned with Lichtenberg figures, has been carved into a tiny wooden temple. Make an effigy of yourself and place it at the temple gate. You will then fall into a slumber, and wake in the temple's replica on the other side.

  2. The land-catfish stalks the mudflats, three storeys tall, striding on four thin storklike legs. You must trick it into swallowing you. It is otherwise uninterested in human prey.

  3. Two hawthorn trees in eternal bloom, each on a lonely hill. Bring flowers from each to pollinate the other, then enter at the third point of the equilateral triangle. (obviously there are two such points, and both lead to the fey world. But one is foul, the other fair)

  4. A grove of baobab trees stands on an arid ridge. Their trunks bloat with water, they shed leaves in the dry season. One is audibly hollow, contains a spiral staircase down to an unseeable depth, magic "static" disrupts darkvision and dispels light. Only mundane light sources can be brought in.

  5. A well in the middle of the forest, water gleams obsidian. Cast a token of affection into the well, and a tendril of water will emerge, holding a stone face. Kiss the face to cross over.

  6. In a land where earth tremors are common stands a narrow arch of verdigris-crusted bronze, 50 ft wide and 100 ft high. A Fomorian croquet hoop, in phase with our own world. When the tremors start, their game is under way, and by swearing to obey the rules of the game, you may pass through and play. Mind the 50 ft diameter croquet balls!

  7. An old cottage, seemingly abandoned except porridge is bubbling over a firepit, about to burn. Quick! Stir widdershins thirteen times and the flames will turn violet, letting you pass through without harm.
    (note widdershins is counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere, clockwise in the southern)

  8. A bullaun stone, its central depression holding a cupful of rainwater. To cross over, make an offering by tipping all the water onto the ground and replacing it with wine. However, the bullaun stone has a shrine which visited by many who believe the rainwater has healing powers. They will not appreciate you wasting the water.

  9. A huge banksia pod, covered with dry bristles and embedded, woody beaklike fruits. Expose a fruit to fire and it will split open, revealing a cramped, winding tunnel. Crawl in the dark for what seems like hours to emerge in the fey world.

  10. A frigid, windblown island, albatrosses and beetles the only animals in sight. Wild herbs in bloom, but no trees. An abandoned spire of elven make stands in the island's centre, upper third covered with undulating metal bristles. Inside is a magic mirror, and a fine clockwork mechanism. The machine runs whisper-quiet, unspooling tape, punching needle holes in it, and letting it pile in a tangled heap on the floor. Bring the tape to the mirror, and you will be allowed to cross over with it.

  11. A grassy plain with a white stone monolith, surrounded by smaller red sandstone forms, weathered by wind into vague human shapes. At night they come alive, singing rock-people. Teach them a new song, and they will show you the secret path into the Alabaster City.

  12. A folded paper fortuneteller abandoned on the ground, glowing numerals on broad, waxy leaf. The inner tabs claim to tell your future. They don't, but if you commit the act described, you will cross over.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Selkie Spells and Warlock Options

Four selkie spells and some warlock options (a pact and six invocations) that I've been working on. The spells and most of the invocations are techniques selkies developed, often to solve various practical problems, but are not necessarily selkie-only. The Pact of the Skin and the two invocations which have it as a prerequisite do require the warlock to either be a selkie, or possess the sealskin of one. See the Pact of the Skin below for details.


Give these to any class you want. None of them are combat spells, and all of them are well within the “balance” guidelines for what those classes should be able to do.

Crown of Perfect Recall

2nd-level transmutation

Casting Time: 10 minutes
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 day

You destroy a single written work, converting the text into a halo of glowing blue words orbiting your head. You have disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks while the halo is in effect.

This spell can be used on spellbooks and scrolls. At the referee's discretion, there is a chance of mishap.

By taking 10 minutes, you can regurgitate the words onto blank material, after which the spell ends. If there is insufficient material, roll on the following table to determine what happens.

If the spell ends or is dispelled before any regurgitation, the words are lost forever.

1d6 Consequence
1 Text squished, requires a microscope to read.
2 Text cuts off once material runs out, remainder is lost forever.
3 Text overflows onto the closest blank materials.
4 Text permanently etches itself onto your skin.
5 Target material somehow contains all the text without changing size, by some non-euclidean packing of its surface area.
6 Text rejects the target material and spills onto the ground as a lego-like mess of tiny glowing words. They gain sapience and start a society. Their society is structured along linguistic principles, and they wield punctuation marks as tiny tools and weapons. They hate you for dispossessing them of their home.

Knitted Servant

2nd-level transmutation

Casting Time: 1 hour
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (yarn and combustible salts worth 50 gp, which the spell consumes)
Duration: Permanent

You create a knitted servant. At a certain time each day, chosen when you cast the spell, the servant will animate and perform a programmed task. This can be any simple task that a human servant could do, such as fetching objects that match a given description, cleaning, mending, folding clothes, lighting fires, serving food, and pouring wine.

The servant cannot be given additional orders unless it is reprogrammed. Reprogramming a servant requires unraveling it and recasting the spell, though this doesn't require the expenditure of additional material components.

The servant has AC 10, 1 hit point, and a Strength of 2, and it can't attack. If it drops to 0 hit points, the spell ends.

If tasks cause two or more knitted servants to come within 10 ft of each other, their magic weaves tangle and corrupt each other’s programs. Roll on the table below to determine the form this corruption takes.

1d6 Consequence
1 Complete unraveling, both servants cease to function.
2 Servants swap nouns, e.g. a pair of servants programmed to "sweep the floor" and "fetch firewood" become "sweep firewood" and "fetch the floor"
3 One servant (chosen randomly) overwrites the others' programming with its own.
4 Time derailment. One servant (chosen randomly) now performs its task seven times a day, the other only once a week.
5 Both servants revert to an inert state, listening for new orders. They will interpret and follow, literally, the first imperative statement they overhear from any creature
6 Servants fall in a mechanistic simulation of love and elope. They travel 6 miles each day in a random direction, but continue performing their programmed tasks each day at the appropriate time, if possible.


2nd-level evocation (ritual)

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self (100 ft sphere)
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 hour

You change the current wind speed and direction. You can change wind speed one stage up or down on the following scale. The effect persists in a 100 ft radius sphere around you.

The spell ends prematurely if you no longer have a clear path to the sky. After the spell ends, the wind returns to normal.

Stage Wind Speed
1 Calm
2 Moderate
3 Strong
4 Gale
5 Storm

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd or higher level, the radius affected increases by 100ft for each slot level above 2nd.

For every two slot levels above 2nd, you can change the wind speed by an additional stage.

For example, if you cast this spell with a 6th level slot and the weather is currently calm, a radius of 500 ft is affected, and you can change the wind speed to anywhere from calm to a gale, as well as changing its direction.

Seafoam Clothes

1st-level transmutation (ritual)

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self (100 ft sphere)
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 hour

You fashion seawater into clothing on your body, of any appearance you wish. If iron (but not steel) touches the clothing, make a concentration saving throw (DC 15) or the clothing reverts to seawater.

Selkie Warlocks

The unbreakable bond between a selkie and their sealskin holds a mysterious power. Though most selkies are loath to tamper with such an integral part of their identity, those looking for quick power will find many otherworldly patrons eager to dig their claws in, all in the name of collaboration, of course.

Pact of the Skin

Your patron has taught you to exploit the magical bond between you and your sealskin. Choose a number of warlock spells you know equal to your proficiency bonus. You can cast those spells while in seal form.

Whenever your proficiency bonus increases, you add another spell to the list. Whenever you gain a warlock level, you can choose one spell on this list and replace it with another warlock spell you know.

This pact is exclusive to selkies. However, a warlock who acquires a selkie’s pelt can learn invocations that have this pact as a prerequisite. In this case, the invocations only function while the warlock has the sealskin on their person. The selkie must be alive, but does not have to be a warlock themselves.

Even after death, the pelts of selkie warlocks with this pact carry traces of the magic the warlock knows. These spells may be successfully discerned (and transcribed into a spellbook, if wizard) with an Intelligence (Arcana) check with a DC equal to the warlock's spell save DC.

Warlock Invocations

Fey crossing

You can expend a spell slot to sense the direction towards the nearest gateway to the realm of Faerie. An active fey crossing is detectable from 12 miles away, while a dormant one is detectable from 6 miles away.

Additionally, you have a strong intuitive sense of the means by which one can open such a crossing. When you touch a fey crossing, you automatically receive a clue from the referee without the need for an ability check. This can take the form of a short phrase, cryptic rhyme, or riddle.

Fog Sight

You can see through fog (including clouds, haze, or steam) unimpeded to a distance of 120 ft. and through heavy fog beyond that distance as though it were only light fog.

At the referee's discretion, this also applies to clouds of ice (such as cirrus clouds), of other chemicals such as those exuded by certain trees, or to dust clouds.

Lore of Shifting

Prerequisites: 5th level, Pact of the Skin

You learn the alter self spell. It counts as a warlock spell for you, but does not count against the number of warlock spells you know.

When you cast alter self, its range is Touch instead of Self. Regardless of target, you choose the form taken, and can change it with an action, but an unwilling creature can resist the spell with a Wisdom saving throw.

Additionally, when you cast alter self, it has the following form option and “At Higher Levels” text:

Flight Adaptation. The creature’s weight halves, and its arms change into wings. They can be the wings of a bird, bat, or any other animal. The creature gains a fly speed equal to its walking speed, but cannot hold or wear items on its wings (rings, gloves, etc. are forced off by the transformation), nor can it use them to perform somatic components of spells.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 2nd. The same form must be chosen for each target, and when you use your action to change the chosen form, all affected targets change form together.

Skin Puppet

Prerequisites: 5th level, Pact of the Skin

You learn the animate dead spell. It counts as a warlock spell for you, but does not count against the number of warlock spells you know.

When you cast animate dead, you can target an unattended skin or hide. This includes suits of leather, studded leather, or hide armor. It also includes a selkie’s sealskin, even if that selkie is still alive.

Some special cases follow:

  • If you are a selkie and animate your own sealskin, you can use your action to dismiss the spell.
  • Animated hides use the stats for animated objects (reproduced below), except they are undead, and can squeeze through spaces two size categories smaller than them.
  • Animating skin that is still attached to a corpse merely produces a zombie.
Animated Object Statistics
Size HP AC Str Dex Attack
Tiny 20 18 4 18 +8 to hit, 1d4 + 4 damage
Small 25 16 6 14 +6 to hit, 1d8 + 2 damage
Medium 40 13 10 12 +5 to hit, 2d6 + 1 damage
Large 50 10 14 10 +6 to hit, 2d10 + 2 damage
Huge 80 10 18 8 +8 to hit, 2d12 + 4 damage

Weather Augur

You learn the augury spell. It counts as a warlock spell for you, but does not count against the number of warlock spells you know.

If you are outdoors and clouds are visible, you can cast augury without the normal material components.


You learn the druidcraft cantrip.

You add the following spells to your warlock class spell list, though not to your spells known; you must still select them normally:

1st: create or destroy water, fog cloud
2nd: magewind1, gust of wind
3rd: call lightning, sleet storm
4th: control water, ice storm
5th: commune with nature, conjure elemental2
8th: control weather
9th: storm of vengeance
1 new spell, see above
2 air or water elemental only.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Eight Magic Items for Selkies

I'm a bit of a selkie tragic, it's true. I have a lot of stuff written for them -- see the selkie tag, but it's a matter of getting it into a form that's presentable, intelligible, and ultimately, gameable. That's going to take a while. For now, here's some magic items a selkie might make or possess.

Some of these are items created to solve problems selkies have, such as securing their sealskin from theft, or having a weapon once one resumes human form. Others are included for the aesthetic.

If you like these, check out my dungeon. It has four more magic items, plus a few thousand words of other weird stuff for your players to find. Or you could buy me a ko-fi?

Bad Penny

Wondrous Item, Uncommon

This silver piece is obviously clipped and the lustre looks off, like the metal's been debased.

There is a 2-in-6 chance an NPC will refuse it unless it’s hidden in a large transaction.

The penny bears a subtle charm of teleportation. Regardless of whether it's discarded, given away, or used in payment, it will always return to your person after a certain amount of time. Roll a d4 to determine units of time (seconds, minutes, hours, days). The penny takes 1d6 × that time unit to return to you.

Cobble of Conversion

Wondrous Item, Rare

This flat beach cobble has a hole in it that looks naturally worn. It is astonishingly heavy.

Pouring seawater through the hole turns it to freshwater, and vice versa. The rock stores extracted salt within its mineral matrix, and will stop converting freshwater if it runs out. When found, it holds d100 pounds of salt. Seawater has roughly 3 pounds of salt per 10 gallons.

If the stored salt exceeds 255 pounds, the rock explodes in a spray of rock shards and salt. The explosion deals 10d6 piercing damage to all creatures in a 30-foot-radius sphere. A creature takes half damage if they succeed on a DC 20 Dexterity saving throw.

Driftwood Club

Weapon (club or staff), Uncommon (requires attunement)

This looks like a piece of driftwood.

You use a d8 damage die when attacking with this weapon.

You can will it to follow you when you swim. It does so in a way that appears natural, following water currents where possible. When you leave the water it will wash up some time later and distance away, though always within 100 ft and 10 minutes.

An observer can tell the movement is unnatural with an Intelligence (Investigation) check made with disadvantage, versus your spell save DC, or DC 10 if you are not a spellcaster.

Glamered Lockbox

Wondrous Item, Rare

A mossy boulder. You can hear a faint echo of childish laughter

This weatherproof lockbox requires no key, it instead has a combination lock of great cunning (DC 20 to pick or bypass).

It is glamered to look like a rock, like many such fairy charms this can be dispelled with a channel divinity attempt in addition to the usual dispel magic.

Sand Dollar Skeleton

Wondrous Item, Uncommon

A five-lobed hand-sized disc of chalk, bleached white.

This sea urchin skeleton, or test, can conjure a huge spectral sand dollar once per lunar month. This functions as the floating disc spell, except you can direct the disc to move anywhere within range (i.e. it doesn't have to follow you). The conjured sand dollar lasts until the next sunrise.

If you snap the test in half, you instead conjure twelve spectral sand dollars.

Seaglass Ring

Wondrous Item, Rare

A chunky ring of green, pitted seaglass. If immersed in water, its colour drains away.

The wearer of this ring is invisible while fully underwater. However, their body and any worn or held items become as fragile as glass.

  • All worn armour is ignored, and their AC becomes 10 + their Dex modifier.
  • Spells such as shatter affect them accordingly.
  • If they suffer physical chips and breaks, these remain when the ring is removed.
  • If reduced to 0 hp, they shatter and die without making death saving throws.

Secret Seashell

Wondrous Item, Uncommon

A spiraling seashell, pearlescent lavender, that tapers to an imperceptibly thin point.

If the owner of this seashell brings it to a place on the ocean or shore, they can perform a 10 minute ritual where they bind the seashell to that location.

After that, as long as they’re on the same plane, they can listen to the seashell’s hole and hear the ambient noise at that location. Performing the ritual again at a different location causes the shell to forget its original binding.

This is divination magic that can be blocked by measures such as nondetection or private sanctum.

Starskin Weapon

Weapon or Wondrous Item (any metal), Rare

This velvet-black weapon is decorated with dim motes of light reminiscent of stars. As you shift it, the motes slide across its surface.

Pilgrims from the firmament once visited our world, offering exotic materials harvested from their celestial home for the right to visit sites they considered sacred.

These weapons are a recent invention, born of experimentation with the now-dwindling, much-coveted supply of firmament. Dissolving firmament in aqua regia, then bonding it to a steel surface, produces a material which always shows an accurate starry sky among other useful properties. Every navigator who has resorted to dead reckoning on an overcast open sea dreams of finding one of these rumoured marvels.

While any steel object can be treated this way, daggers and shortswords are most common.

A starskin weapon has the following properties:

  • It will not rust.
  • It is a magic weapon that deals radiant damage instead of its normal damage type.
  • It always show the stars as though its surface was a mirror that only reflects their light, and did so regardless of intervening obstacles. This allows navigation by the stars, but any ability checks to do so are made at disadvantage, owing to the limited field of view.
  • The stars illuminate with dim light out to 5 ft, but are of course visible from much further away.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Sea Cave of the Selkie

I have a dungeon adventure for sale at, Sea Cave of the Selkie. I'm quite proud of it, and hope you check it out.

The module has ten keyed rooms, three NPC/monster descriptions, four magic items, and one riddle. It is ~4,500 words, though I have done my best to keep the writing terse, evocative, and in service of play at all times.

Suggested price is $3, with a minimum of $1 if you're strapped for cash (aren't we all).

If you review modules, particularly those of an OSR nature, hit me up on twitter for a free download key (it doesn't require an itch account). I don't care how small your blog/channel/podcast is -- obviously a big audience is great for exposure and hopefully sales, but I also want feedback to continue learning and growing as an RPG writer.

Cartography is by Pat Eyler -- @mountain_foot, patreon
Internal illustration is by Anna Aphelion -- portfolio

The wordcount is also a little deceptive -- to make the module accessible for referees who use a screenreader, all the room keys describe their interconnectivity in a way that that doesn't require reference to a map.


(note the hyperlinks don't go anywhere, they do in the actual dungeon!)

3. Lichen Garden

Stone-eating lichen in a variety of colours are growing in rectilinear plots. Some stones are freshly scraped clean.

Secrets: The witch uses most of the lichen as pigments and is unaware of their other effects, except the one she uses to keep her kidnapped townsfolk comatose. Characters identify one lichen on the table below for each of the following categories they fall under.

  • Dwarves and other ground-dwellers
  • Wilderness-oriented class or background
  • Trained herbalist or alchemist

Any character identifying a lichen also misidentifies a lichen — for these, roll once for description and once for effect.

Though I have also put some thought into usability for sighted referees. Here is the dungeon map, hover the cursor over room keys to get cursory info on each dungeon room.

A referee-facing print version of this map is forthcoming. It needs more work to lay out information in a way that's readable.

Why Is This HTML and not PDF?

Mostly because my fumbling attempts at screenreader accessibility have been in HTML so far.

However, if you excuse me for tilting at windmills, I think PDF's monopoly as the format for digitally distributed rulesets and adventures is undeserved. I'm still a beginner at web design (as you can tell from earlier fumblings on this blog), and this adventure doesn't use any javascript.

But imagine:

  • a map you can drag tokens around upon without needing to upload it to some (powerful, but slow) site like Roll20
  • a random encounter table (particularly a complex or nested one) you can just click a button for.
  • a dropdown ruleset selection, that converts all ability/skill check names & DCs, inline stats for monsters, the destination of all external links to spells & monsters to the correct online SRD, etc.

And all of this within the webpage, no talking to some external server needed. The OSR has been on fire with creating hyperfunctional print layouts, but not as much with screen layouts. I think it's time to change that.

Anyway, that's enough for now. If you run this adventure, tell me about it! Especially if a character eats 10 pounds of magic guano, or gets bestowed with the jumbo shrimp oxymoronic boon.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Review of "Books & Libraries", a DMs Guild supplement

sometimes it's correct to judge a book by its cover :-)
Books & Libraries is a 40-page supplement written by RPGPapercrafts, available on the DM's Guild. It's written for 5e D&D, but relatively low on system-specific stats and mechanics. It also assumes a game set in the Forgotten Realms.

Disclosure: unlike my previous reviews of stuff I happened to buy, this one was solicited, and I received a free review copy.

Art Impressions

I love this art style. Watercolour-and-pen illustrations, and a variety of watercolour wash backgrounds replacing the typical faux-parchment background. It gives the otherwise stock DM's Guild &/or Homebrewery layout a breath of fresh air.

Book Categories

There's a page of tables for generating a book's appearance and condition. There are some liberties taken here with book terminology, i.e. a "codex" here really refers to the category of magical book described on page 21, not the medieval innovation (replacing the scroll) of binding separate sheets to a spine, i.e. what we think of as a "book" these days. But for generating a "codex bound in dyed leather, ancient and falling apart, written in Deep Speech" it functions fine.

The random table for book contents is weighted towards the magical ones. Great for generating the stash of books on a wizard's shelf, not so good for a public library.


A catchall for all the non-magical books. A d100 table of Fairytale names and subjects, another d100 table of Compendia (i.e. nonfiction) names and subjects. For books of Verse, a d8 table of music type, and some sample lyrics for five songs. The Compendia and lyrics are heavily tied to the Realms, if using for another setting I'd print it out and rewrite names & topics before play.

Overall, these tables are vanilla D&D fantasy. This isn't at all meant as a slight -- I quite like having tools for running a world of familiar fantasy tropes to then contrast against the "not in Kansas anymore" high weirdness of many dungeons.

The risk is that the tables end up saying nothing you couldn't have come up with on the spot. Here though, I think the author succeeds. I've run adventures where players have looted a wizard's shelf of (nonmagical) books, only had a super-terse table of broad subject matters on hand, and had to tell them "OK I'll come back next week with their names and topics".

Skill Guides

Has a solid mechanic for rewarding regular study with minor bonuses to individual skill rolls. I personally like the lack of granularity in 5e's skill system and don't miss the days of minor +1 bonuses to various rolls, but if my players wanted their characters to learn and grow through finding an in-universe manual these rules will work just fine.

Religious Works

Has a lovely little mechanic for when a character studies religious prophecies. Basically it's an Intelligence (Religion) check over the course of a day, with different levels of success. But each level of success is tied to something concrete, like "reveals an important name", or "foretells next move of an important figure", or "several doctrines speak of a foe's vulnerability". This gives a lot of tactility and is a better springboard for DM improvisation. It reminds me of some of the better Dungeon World moves.

I found the material on studying cosmological models relatively weak, but there's a great idea here of minor rewards for characters who apply established game world spiritual principles to the situation (e.g. the Rule of Threes, or the Unity of Rings). It's similar, but not quite the same as, campaign aspects in Fate. I want to write a bunch of these for an Ancient Greek setting, or a setting inspired by early medieval theological debate.

Illuminated Manuscripts have minor mechanical benefits for people who pray to the corresponding deity. For example, if you regularly pray to Lolth with her manuscript, you get +5 temporary HP (maximum of 20) for every Good-aligned creature you kill or enslave. These rules are a good way of emphasising the gods' heavy, interventionist presence in the Realms in a way that isn't specific to clerics and paladins. However there is little insight about the nature of these devotional services, just a restatement of the god's basic tenets and goals.

Trap Books

Three stat-blocks (CR 1/2, 1, and 2) for monsters disguised as books. A d12 table of Subliminal Books. These implant a compulsion in their reader, e.g. to pick up any gold coins seen, or knock on every wooden door. A d12 table of Spell Snare books, which unleash a spell (or similar effect) when read, such as being sucked inside a Planar Novel, or showing a vision of a horrible future.

Arcane Publications

This section has six spellbooks for characters to find, with notes about their owner's history and some custom spells (13 in total) custom spells said owner developed.

Three spellbooks let you attach a unique rider effect, called an Alteration, to any spell cast from the book. This involves spending a bonus action and making an Intelligence (Arcana) check. The rider effects always offer a quite low DC 5 saving throw, so I think for my own game I'd omit the ability check. But I really like this mechanic, and think any game with a wizard PC would benefit from a unique rider per book, enforcing encumbrance for PCs who want to lug multiple tomes around, of course!

About half of the custom spells are non-combat and quite creative, I particularly like track treasure, ward hoard, and spider nest. The wording is at times vague -- I'm not sure if spider nest is supposed to last indefinitely, though as a 7th level spell, I would rule it that way. The damaging spells are fine, though 5e isn't exactly lacking for combat spells. Mutilation's damage is quite low (especially given the name!). I think it could be safely quadrupled to 8d10 damage, given its other limitations (short range, single target, save negates all damage even though it's an atypical save).

Ten excellent scrolls of unique, mostly utility magical effects. Since they're not specific spells, anyone can cast from them. My favourites are scroll of lies (a reverse "zone of truth" effect), scroll of illusionary hole (very Looney Tunes), scroll of snail invasion (conjures 100 ravenous snails!), and scroll of radiant shield (which I would rule makes you immune to all nonmagical damage (falling, lava, huge crushing trap) for a round, not just attacks.

Magical sheet music requires you to be proficient with the specified instrument group, and to be a spellcaster (not necessarily bard). Much like the scrolls, these are excellent and encourage creative problem solving. Some are one-time-use, others have a number of uses that renew daily. I like Serenade of the Dead, which lets you move dead creature around (they don't rise as undead). I also like Ode to the Raven, which magically mutates all participants for an hour. In particular, I love that there's no maximum number of participants, a needless balancing measure that plagues a lot of 5e design. You can totally use this to evacuate a whole city from an invading army by helping them safely jump off a sheer cliff or something. Great stuff.

Secret Codices

The Archivist, who judges your conduct,
silent and unseen. Until you read a book describing
yourself, in the room you're standing in,
being watched by a fey creature...
These are a rather odd concept that took a couple of read-throughs to understand, but they've really grown on me. These are books that describe a location (often the location or room in which they're found). When you read one, you gain mystical awareness of a particular kind of secret at the location, such as a secret door, or a hidden enemy stalking you. They only work when within the location described. They can function as an incentive to travel somewhere, if found outside the keyed location. Or they could be quite effective for evoking wonder or dread if found and read within their keyed location.

The d12 table of rooms the secret doors may lead to is a good one for improvisational DMing. The d12 table of enemies I feel would benefit from some purple prose describing the enemy's appearance, even motivations (after all, it's a book, it can be an omniscient narrator) instead of just linking to a stat block and describing how the creature enters/manifests. The other three codices have no random tables, and are more like adventure set pieces: the hidden archivist, the hidden, orbiting sanctuary of Selune, and the hidden Ring of Power, cast into the void.

Eldritch Volumes

What self-respecting supplement on magic books would omit these? Unsurprisingly, they interact with the madness rules in the DMG, and optionally, the Sanity system. Four eldritch beings are described. Each has three volumes, which can be found and read out of order. The more volumes you read, the more abilities (and madnesses) you unlock. Once you've read one volume, if you encounter another, you must make a Wisdom save if you want to avoid reading it.

A straightforward approach. What I like about these is that the four beings specified are deliberately vague, each with a certain emotional/behavioural core to how they corrupt people. For example, the Volumes of Neg Hamaaar promise salvation through inner peace, and teach its readers rituals of dissociation, mindlessness, and finally, obedience.

Generally the mechanical benefits are +2 to a couple of skills for reading one volume. Two volumes will teach you a ritual roughly equal to a low-level spell, with a minor roleplaying cost attached (vivisecting an animal, destroying someone else's property), three volumes teaches you the final sacrifice (crushing and eating twenty moths, cutting off an arm) with a more permanent boon attached.

The author notes that the books can be quite disruptive to a campaign, and not everyone is OK with their character being slowly corrupted, so one should check in with their players.

Planar Novels

Except for maybe the spell scrolls and sheet music, this was my favourite part of the supplement. A lovely nod to the Linking Books of Myst, though the demiplanes they link to are less pocket-worlds and more "holodeck simulations". There's the entertaining suggestion of just describing white-space or unresponsive NPCs if the players act or move outside the novel parameters. One instance where railroading is actually a useful technique.

The two example mini-adventures (each one page) are an educational book that teaches apprentice mages about different cantrips, and an epic that tells of the downfall of a city.

If the book is destroyed, you are ejected from it, taking damage. If you "die" inside the book, you extit unharmed. But hey, holodeck safety protocols were far from infallible, so I'm sure some planar novel with damaged binding or a missing page is out there, just waiting to kill its readers.

Sentient Books

Four animate books, two good & two evil, each with a backstory and statblock (including spells they can cast). Their spells tend toward utility and noncombat, so like Tom Riddle's diary, they're intended as mastermind adversaries or strange NPCs to encounter, not as powerful monsters. I kinda question the need for stat blocks at all here.

The Rest of the Book


Some notes about different kinds of library, e.g. bookshop, temple scriptorium, city archives. A page of tables to determine subject matter the library specialises in, the kinds of scholars it might have. With only a page here, it can't go into much detail.

More interesting is a page of sample fantastic library ideas, designed to fit within the Forgotten Realms but adaptable elsewhere. For example, the Spires of the Sun, white twisted stalagmite buildings, each dedicated to the local sun deity, but all working as part of a cooperative network. Or a Storm Giant's Observatory, full of 10-foot high books detailing giant prophecies. Amusingly, most books are locked shut, but the mechanisms are so huge a thief can simply reach inside the keyway and manipulate the insides.

Canonical Books and Libraries

A section of famous canonical books, with links to their Forgotten Realms wiki entries. I like this nod towards useability, and it's effective at freeing bits of Realmslore from their exhausing web of canon, making them actually gameable again. I would have preferred more pages of libraries & books inspired by the Realms or by other things the author enjoys, but that kind of worldbuilding is obviously much harder, and I'm aware that cutting 4 pages of a PDF that summarise other material doesn't mean there's "space" for 4 pages of new ideas.

Script Handouts

Finally some nice, handwritten examples of various Forgotten Realms scripts. Useful if you want a quick handout to give characters a feel for a race's or Outsider's script, I don't have the patience to see if they translate to anything.


The art-heavy PDF makes my old laptop struggle, but I've experienced a lot worse. Apart from that, the layout is generally excellent. I only counted two sections that break onto the next page, let alone paragraphs or sentences -- there's more thought put here into page spreads than WotC puts into official hardcovers.
There are minor breaks from the WotC style guide, this isn't inherently bad (I'm no fan of it) but it does mean certain game rules don't always stand out from the rest of the body text. e.g. in some sections, calls for skill checks are bolded, in others, they are not.

Spells in creature stat blocks link to their entries. Many pieces of lore link to their fandom wiki entries. No internal hyperlinking or bookmarking though, e.g. from the table of book types on p.5 to the page detailing each type.

I unfortunately find it near-impossible to copy-paste the correct text the correct text, e.g. to send the effect of an illuminated manuscript's boon to a player. I'd probably resort to screenshots. The PDF also doesn't have separate layers for images/backgrounds and text, making it hard to print.

Final Thoughts

I think one thing that would have benefited this book is a bunch of book titles, one-line summaries, longer descriptions, and library descriptions, that deliberately flout Forgotten Realms lore. This either lets DMs spice up their game by assuming these works' claims as true, or lets them seed the world with incorrect information. Not every book is, or should be, reliable. Look at our world, where medieval bestiaries described bears as literally licking their cubs into shape. Or heretical traditions within various faiths.

There's unfortunately some parts of the book that have a lot less to say than other sections. The opening paragraph of each section is often pretty handwavy and can generally be skipped. Some sections (arcane publications, planar novels) are far more creative than others (trap books, illuminated manuscripts). Some sections needed a little more attention to detail or another editing pass.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have this, as-is, as a print-on-demand softcover. It breaks down Realmslore in a way that is focused and runnable at the table. If you're running a game in the Realms, this is great, 5 stars, you should buy ASAP.

If you're running a game with very different setting assumptions, e.g. noninterventionist gods, libraries are primarily in dungeons built by borderline-unintelligible civilisations? Its use will be more limited. You might get use out of the secret codices, eldritch volumes, or arcane pubs, but a lot of the other material will be unusable as-is.

If you're like me, someone who likes to mix a comfortable, familiar overworld to make excursions to the underworld feel strange and rule-breaking, then the majority of it will be useful as-is. The best of the material is pretty system-neutral, and can easily be applied to other editions of D&D or other fantasy tRPGs.

At the very least, many of the ideas in here have sparked my own imagination, and I want to write some supplementary tables for various book categories. You could also supplement the weird elements with something like The Stygian Library by Emmy ‘Cavegirl’ Allen.

I look forward to whatever the author puts out next.