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Wednesday, 25th May, 2011, 09:44 PM #1
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Review of Baba Yaga: Queen of the Wicked Fens by Escape Velocity Gaming
A great and terrible character in Slavic folklore, the witch Baba Yaga is a well-known persona to many fans of Dungeons & Dragons. From the earliest edition, this horrible hag of legend is an indelible figure in D&D Lore, and here taloned grasp has touched the history of more than one realm.
Her famous chicken-legged hut appeared as an artifact in the first AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide back in 1979, and the witch herself was given a feature article in Dragon Magazine some five years later. Baba Yaga became a key figure in the World of Greyhawk campaign setting in a number of ways, ranging from being the foster mother of the infamous witch Iggwilv – making her the foster grandmother of the dread Iuz – and she even had dealings with the Mad Mage Zagyg in the adventure setting Castle Greyhawk. Both Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine have had several articles and adventures mentioning the dread witch over the years, and she even had her own adventure module, The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga, in the mid-90s.
In D&D 4E, Baba Yaga now resides in the Feywild, deep in the swamp called The Murkendraw (according to the Manual of the Planes), and is a hag with the powers of one of the Archfey. But in this edition, there are no statistics for the infamous witch, other than a short couple of paragraphs in a sourcebook. Until now…
Escape Velocity Gaming has released a monster manual supplement on this (in)famous hag from legend and D&D lore, offering a way to bring her to life in D&D 4E in Baba Yaga: Queen of the Wicked Fens!
Baba Yaga: Queen of the Wicked Fens
- Designers: William C. Pfaff
- Illustrators: Otto A. Pessanha (cover), W. C. Pfaff, Debborah K. Pfaff, Jamie K. Pfaff, William H. Moran III (interior)
- Publisher: Escape Velocity Gaming
- Year: 2011
- Media: PDF (26 pages)
- Cost: $0.99 (available from RPGNow.com)
Baba Yaga: Queen of the Wicked Fens is a monster manual supplement designed to offer the legendary Slavic mythological witch BabaYaga to D&D 4E gamers. The supplement provides stat blocks for three incarnations of Baba Yaga in the Heroic, Paragon, and Epic Tiers of play. Each incarnation of Baba Yaga also has two types of “support” monsters which are designed for each of the three versions of the wicked witch. Finally, Baba Yaga: Queen of the Wicked Fens provides two Skill Challenges for interacting with the evil – but knowledgable – hag, and vehicle stats for her Mortar and her Hut.
The overall production quality of Baba Yaga: Queen of the Wicked Fens is fair at best, with many pages containing repetitive material, and some questionable monster statistics. While each version of Baba Yaga is given an updated Lore and Combat description in each Tier, her allies and minions are given the same two page write-up three times – once for each set of stat blocks. The stat blocks are in the standard MM3 format, but there are some monster design issues which will be addressed below.
And sadly, the artwork in Baba Yaga: Queen of the Wicked Fens is amateurish at best, and does little to enhance the readability of the PDF. While the cover art is passable, the interior illustrations of Baba Yaga herself and a new fey creature called a dziad are simply unpleasant to look at – and you have to look at the illustrations three times, as they appear with each of the stat blocks for all three tiers. Given that Baba Yaga has been portrayed numerous times in artwork and illustrations for many decades now, there are considerably more artistic renditions of the witch available from the public domain which could have been used to great effect in the supplement.
Baba Yaga and her Servants
The author of Baba Yaga: Queen of the Wicked Fens offers three incarnations of Baba Yaga, for the Heroic, Paragon, and Epic Tiers. At each tier, she is supplied with three minion allies – Day, Sun, and Night – which fight alongside her, and two versions of a fey imp or devil called a dziad. Day, Sun, and Night are cloaked riders on horses, which are described in the Russian fairy tale Vasilisa’s Doll. I had never heard of dziads prior to this work, but I managed to find a single reference to them under Wiki entry about the famed author Isaac Singer, who wrote, among other well-known works, a childrens’ story called Joseph & Koza – in it, the dziads are described as “lesser babas”.
The first incarnation of Baba Yaga is “the Wrathful”, and portrayed as a Level 9 Solo Brute. She has the physical damage capabilities appropriate to a MM3 Brute monster of 9th level, and also has a number of traits which make her very difficult to fight, including immunity to combat advantage from flanking, automatic saves for certain ongoing effects, and the ability to remove all combat conditions by using an Action Point. She is accompanied by the three Riders, which are considered only minions, although she can resurrect all three of them once in a combat. As Heroic Tier minions, these Riders do far more damage than other minions of the same level, and can inflict combat conditions such as knocking a character prone.
Baba Yaga’s second incarnation, “the Wicked”, is designed to be a Level 18 Solo Artillery monster, but only has one ranged attack. This attack is very underpowered for her level, although her physical attacks are still on a Brute scale, which makes the monster design a bit questionable. Conversely, her Rider minions are now vastly underpowered, doing less damage than a minon should at Paragon Tier, although retaining the abilities to knock characters prone – which would actually be of a detriment to working with an Artillery Solo, given that prone characters are harder to hit at range!
In her final incarnation, Baba Yaga “the Wise” is a Level 31 Solo Controller, purported to be “on par with the most powerful demons, devils, and demigods of the realms”. Sadly, the witch falls short of this as a Controller, still being more of a physical combatant. She has two Controller powers, an At Will and a Daily, but only the Daily is on par with the damage output of MM3 monsters, per the errata, using the Limited Damage output properly to affect several enemies. She has an At Will close blast which slows her foes but uses a damage output for multiple targets of a monster 5 or 6 levels lower than she is. Her Rider minons are now doing about half the expected damage for their level, and the whole encounter should provide no appreciable concern for Epic Level characters.
The dziad creatures on the other hand are simply bizarre, described as “vaguely feline blobs of forest debris, dziads are malign fey who enjoy antagonizing anyone journeying into their muddy domains”. The illustration of the dziads - nor their stat blocks - does little to clear up the overall surreal description. There are two designs for each Tier - an Elite Lurker and Elite Controller – the stat blocks provide a strange combination of powers for these denizens of the forest, who consider Baba Yago to be their de facto queen. They apparently serve as Baba Yaga’s spies and wardens around her hut, and report any activity by heroes in the area to her. The author does not describe what sort of encounter group might be created for the dziad, which makes them feel a bit unfinished and unpolished as monsters.
Given the folk lore of Baba Yaga, I thought the nature of her support monsters should have been reversed. Her Riders would make excellent Elite monsters, forming an encounter all on their own during the course of the adventure where characters would be seeking Baba Yaga out. And the dziads, already known as “lesser babas”, would have made excellent minions to harass charactes while battling the witch. Additionally, Baba Yaga is also known to have other servants in her service according to myth, but these are not discussed in this work.
The author does create a decent Skill Challenge in Seeking the Witch’s Knowledge, and offers a secondary lead-up challenge called Azure Rose Tea – serving the tea is a way to make Baba Yaga more biddable during the primary challenge. The skill challenges are written generically, allowing them to be used in all three tiers of play. Baba Yaga’s vehicles – her mortar and hut – are given only basic stats, and can only be piloted by the witch herself, so serve little purpose from a game mechanic stand-point.
Overall Score: 1.9 out of 5.0
Given the long and rich history of Baba Yaga in D&D Lore, as well as her place in Slavic myth and folklore, Baba Yaga: Queen of the Wicked Fens is simply a disappointing piece of D&D 4E content. From all aspects of production quality, artistic illustrations, and monster design, Baba Yaga: Queen of the Wicked Fens fails to live up to all the content about this infamous witch that has proceeded it from official, if outdated, sources. While it is true that the PDF of Baba Yaga: Queen of the Wicked Fens is a cheap buy at only 99 cents, your cash might go to better use by grabbing your favorite fast food snack off the “dollar menu”, and enjoy a quick nosh while you write up your own version of this iconic witch for your own D&D 4E campaign.
So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!
Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
- Presentation: 1.75
- - Design: 2.0
- - Illustrations: 1.5
- Content: 2.5
- - Crunch: 2.5
- - Fluff: 2.5
- Value: 2
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