D&D Monster ENCyclopedia: Aarakocra
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    Monster ENCyclopedia: Aarakocra

    This is a series of posts about specific monsters from D&D's history. Each entry takes a look at the origin of one D&D creature, and tracks its appearances and evolution across different editions. Because this is the first post in this series, it starts with the first creature to appear in any A-Z of the denizens of the worlds of D&D, the aarakocra.
    Origins and evolution


    The aarakocra (or "bird-man" as the entry title suggests as an alternative) made its debut in the Fiend Folio, and is credited to Lawrence Schick. Compared to many of the other creatures in the book, the aarakocra gets a generous amount of space, with a full page dedicated to its appearance, combat tactics, reproductive cycle, and culture. All the key characteristics of aarakocra are established in this first entry: intelligent, neutral good avian humanoids; small, reclusive tribes residing in high mountain peaks; four-limbed, with two legs and two wings/arms; javelins and shrieking dives in combat; shaman leaders; bright plumage (at least for males!); and an extreme susceptibility to claustrophobia.

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    Fiend Folio (1981)

    Not all of the creatures from the Fiend Folio gained traction, but Gary Gygax must have liked the aarakocra enough to include a "Plateau of the Aarakocra" as an encounter location in the following year's WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. In return for driving away a group of rival griffons, the aarakocra may show the PCs to the adventure's eponymous temple, and even (if "hard pressed") reward them with a dozen gems.

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    Fiend Folio (1981)

    Jim Bambra and Phil Gallagher also made heavy use of aarakocra in UK7: Dark Clouds Gather, where they are one of the main factions in the adventure. A wizard has turned the human inhabitants of the village of Lurneslye against a group of nearby bird-man tribes by planting false evidence of attacks on caravans. The PCs must unravel the real situation, forge alliances with other aerial creatures, and eventually lead an assault on the cloud castle of the evil Yesorkh Pahyeh and her snow demon minions.

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    UK7: Dark Clouds Gather (1985)

    Dragon also provided support for the bird-men. Issue #124 dedicates an entire article to the aarakocra; The Wings of Eagles by J. E. Keeping fleshes out a PC version, who can become a cleric, fighter, or thief. Some of the cultural restrictions detailed in the original Fiend Folio article (reclusive nature, fixed neutral good alignment, and crippling claustrophobia) are relaxed for potential adventuring aarakocra, but the article does provide solid explanations for why adventuring bird-men might differ from their cultural norms. The article also introduces Krocaa as the god of the aarakocra, although as we'll see below, Syranita would later come along to beat up Krocaa and take his stuff. Accompanying the article is the same picture from the Fiend Folio, but with some limited, yet bright coloration added.

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    Dragon #124 (1987)

    Dragon #124 was the first issue with a substantial aarakocra article, but it wasn't the first time the bird-men were mentioned in the magazine. In issue #90, Gary includes them in a "definitive" list of charmable humaoids in his From the Sorceror's Scroll column, and Ay pronunseeAYshun gyd in issue #93 informs us that the correct way to say aarakocra is "@-ra-KO-kra".

    By the time AD&D 2nd Edition was published, the aarakocra had lost a bit of weight; the individual pictured in Monstrous Compendium Volume Two seems thin compared to his or her 1st Edition cousin. The species' coloration has also settled down slightly, with males described as generally "red, orange, and yellow" and females "brown and gray". Their organisation, combat tactics and culture remain unchanged, but there is a little more detail provided about aarakocra religious ceremonies and social activities.

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    Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989)

    The aarakocra on card #1 in the 1992 Trading Card set clearly comes from the same tribe as the one in the Monstrous Compendium, but this is a color illustration, so we can now see that a brown specimen is pictured. The means we're probably looking at a female, which may also explain the less beefy build.

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    AD&D Trading Cards (1992)

    The artwork in the follow year's Monstrous Manual is much closer to the original, although the color tends more towards reddish-purple than the orange or yellow described for typical males.

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    Monstrous Manual (1993)

    AD&D 2nd Edition also supported aarakocra as playable races. PHBR10: The Complete Book of Humanoids reflected similar classes to those in Dragon #124, with support for shaman, fighter, and thief aarakocra. The aarakocra lifespan has shrunk since 1st Edition though; in the Dragon article venerable aarakocra might hope to live to between 101-150 year, but by 2nd Edition, this has halved to just 52-74 years. The support for playable aarakocra continued in the Player's Option series, with aarakocra covered as an optional race in Skills & Powers.

    After appearing in core monster books in AD&D 1st and 2nd Edition, the aarakocra was relegated to campaign-specific monster books in 3rd Edition (Monsters of Faerūn) and 4th Edition (Dark Sun Creature Catalog). These appearances are covered in the campaign setting sections below.

    Aarakocra gods


    As noted above, Dragon #124 introduced Krocaa as the god of the aarakocra, but he did not gain traction and was replaced by Syranita in Monster Mythology, an AD&D 2nd Edition book detailing the gods of the monstrous races. However, another little known aarakocra god predated even Krocaa. Several of the original Fiend Folio creatures first appeared in the pages of White Dwarf magazine, so in White Dwarf #39, gods are presented for a number of the humanoid races from the Fiend Folio, including aarakocra. Their god was called K'ooriall (or Skylord), and much like Krocaa, was basically just an over-sized male aarakocra.

    In Monster Mythology, the male gods have been swept aside and replaced with Syranita, who appears as a female aarakocra with silver skin and pink-god feathers. She is said to enjoy close friendships with number of other gods, including Aerdrie Faenya of the elves, and Stronmaus, the giant god of sun, skies, and weather. The these three deities often ride the air currents of the planes together. The god of the eagles (Remnis) is also on excellent terms with the aarakocra diety, and Syranita has friends among the djinn, janni and human sky gods.

    Syranita is also a member of a group of primarily aquatic deities known as the asathalfinare, along with Deep Sashelas (of the aquatic elves), Surminare (the selkie god), Trishina (the dolphin goddess) and some other fringe members. Because of her relationship with more than one grouping of gods, Syranita often plays a role in bringing other groups of gods together.

    UK7: Dark Clouds Gather mentions yet another aarakocra god, named Chikurra, but other than noting that he (or she?) provides visions to aarakocra shaman, the adventure contains no further details of this diety.

    Aarakocra and other monsters


    From the beginning, aarakocra have had a "respectful" relationship with giant eagles, and connections to air elementals. According to the Fiend Folio, five aarakocra can summon an air elemental by performing an intricate aerial dance.

    The Ecology of the Bird Maiden in Dragon #218, suggests that aarakocra teach bird maidens important rituals and duties in a place called the Crown of All Feathers, but sadly doesn't explain why the bird-men might be the custodians of bird-maiden lore.

    According to Monster Mythology, the urd race was created about when the god Kuraulyek stole magical wings from Syranita to escape from Kurtulmak, god of kobolds. After his escape, he created the urds (a type of winged kobold) to rival Kurtulmak's kobold followers. A similar ancestral link is suggested to the underground race of dire corbies, in Drizzt Do'Urden's Guide to the Underdark, with both aarakocra and dire corbies said to have descended from the same avian creator race.

    Athasian aarakocra prize the teeth of silt drakes (detailed in Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium Appendix II: Terrors Beyond Tyr) as badges of courage.

    Aarakocra magic items


    There are few magic items associated with the aarakocra. Greyhawk Adventures describes a white cloak known as Wings of the Rakers, which was created by a wizard who was fond of the bird people, and wanted to enhance his time with them. As well as acting as wings of flying, the cloak also gifts its wearer with knowledge of the aarakocra language and combat maneuvres.

    The Mask of the Aarakocra is a psionic item found almost exclusively in the Dark Sun setting, and detailed in Bazaar of the Bizarre in Dragon #244. It grants the wearer some of the attributes of giant eagles, but other than the name, appears to have little direct connection to aarakocra.

    It is apparently possible to use body parts of aarakocra to create potions of extra-healing, or at least was in the Forgotten Realms historical subsetting of Netheril: Empire of Magic.

    Dark Sun


    The aarakocra have been part of Athas since the initial Dark Sun Boxed Set, but like most things in this setting, the Athasian aarakocra are twisted. In appearance, they are coal black, with featherless heads, and red eyes. They are also evil, and a lot meaner than ordinary aarakocra. If the PCs assist the aarakocra in the boxed set's adventure A Little knowledge, they get no reward; if they speak to them, the aarakocra "intentionally give the replies they think most likely to get the party killed". Such is life under the dark sun!

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    Dark Sun Boxed Set (1991)

    The Athasian version of the aarakocra received a significantly expanded write up in Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium Appendix II: Terrors Beyond Tyr. It clarifies that not all Athasian aarakocra are evil, but they do all share the same dark-plumed vulture-like appearance. They also possess some minor psionic abilities.

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    Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium II: Terrors Beyond Tyr (1995)

    The expanded and revised Dark Sun Campaign Setting published later the same year includes aarakocra as a player character race, and a decade later, Paizo included the aarakocra as a playable race in the D&D 3.5 Dark Sun Player's Handbook, in Dragon #319.

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    Dragon #319 (2004)

    The Athasian version of the aarakocra was the only representation of the race in D&D 4th Edition. The Dark Sun Creature Catalog describes the race, and provides stat blocks for three variations: Aarakocra Diver, Aarakocra Warrior and Aarakocra Windcaller. A fourth Aarakocra Darter appears in Dark Sun Threats in Dungeon #187, and there is an aarakocra encounter in the adventure Cruel as a Desert Wind in Dungeon #202. There is also a 4th Edition playable race version of the aarakocra in the Ashes of Athas adventure AOA2-1: Plotting the Course, which becomes available to players whose characters die in the adventure. Curiously, the 4th Edition Athasian Aarakocra no longer seem to be black in color, with the illustration reflecting the brighter colors of ordinary aarakocra.

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    Dark Sun Creature Catalog (2010)

    Dragonlance


    Aarakocra make their first appearance in the Dragonlance setting in DL7: Dragons of Light, when the Heroes of the Lance encounter representatives of an aarakocra king, who seems to rule over a group of 120 aarakocra living in Foghaven Vale in Southern Ergoth. At least in the D&D versions of the Dragonlance setting, aarakocra don't get much more coverage than this.

    There is a mention of a possible link between the kyrie (Krynn's other bird people) and aarakocra in the novel The Odyssey of Gilthanas, and in the 3.5 version of Dragons of Winter, the clan of aarakocra in Southern Ergoth is replaced by a group of kyrie who call themselves the "Aara-Kocra" clan. Author Cam Banks notes that this was because the writing team didn't have access to aarakocra stats at the time, and had already devoted a lot of space to the kyrie in the Bestiary of Krynn.

    Curiously, the most coverage the bird men get in the Dragonlance setting is in The Bestiary, an accessory produced for the SAGA Game Rules version of Dragonlance. They get a page of fairly vanilla background, but also some interesting hints that Krynnish aarakocra may have recently started to cultivate fields of corn and wheat. There's also a sly mention in Caramon Majere's in-character aarakocra description of the vale-dwelling tribe from Dragons of Light. Accompanying the write-up is a new color illustration.

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    The Bestiary (1998)

    Greyhawk


    Much like in the Dragonlance setting, Greyhawk was fairly quickly to adopt the bird-men as inhabitants of Oerth; they make an appearance in WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun as noted above. And also as in Krynn, the aarakocra are never more than bit-players in the Greyhawk setting. From the Ashes notes that there are small tribes of aarakocra living in the Lortmils and Yatils mountains. This is also supported in the Player's Guide to Greyhawk which contains a short entry for aarakocra, describing them as inhabitants of mountainous regions, particularly in and around the Thillonrian Peninsula and the Lortmils.

    Forgotten Realms


    Until D&D 3.0, the aarakocra had not had a very strong association with any one campaign setting, despite appearing on Oerth, Krynn and Faerūn. However, their inclusion in Monsters of Faerūn bound them more closely to the Forgotten Realms. The physical description, combat tactics, culture and even the ability to summon air elementals are consistent with earlier editions, and some of the descriptive text has clearly been adapted from the Monstrous Manual. There is a special "In the Realms" entry included, which suggests that aarakocra originated in Maztica, and that they only ever had four established colonies in Faerūn. These are listed as the Star Mounts within the High Forest (which has recently been destroyed by a rampaging dragon), the Storm Horns in Cormyr, the Cloven Mountains on the Vilhon Reach, and the Mistcliffs in Chult.

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    Monsters of Faerūn (2001)

    There were also plenty of mentions of aarakocra in the Realms prior to Monsters of Faerūn. FR5: The Savage Frontier mentioned the (doomed) colony in the Star Mounts, as well as hinting at a common ancestor race for lizardmen, bullywugs and aarakocra. The North boxed set mentions aarakocra as one of the descendants of this common ancestor race, as well as going into more detail about the decline of the five aeries in the Star Mounts. As this point in the history of the Realms, there are still 47 bird-men left in the High Forest, but they are not yet extinct. The Netheril: Empire of Magic boxed set notes that there was a clutch of aarakocra living in the Sanguine Mountain. Unfortunately, they were wiped out after an archwizard discovered that potions of extra-healing could be created from a mixture of aarakocra body parts.

    The Forgotten Realms also spawned a Malatran version of the aarakocra, first published in Polyhedron #121 as supporting material for the Living Jungle campaign, and then later republished on the RPGA web site (still visible thanks to the WayBack Machine). There doesn't seem to be much difference between a Malatran and ordinary aarakocra though, so it isn't clear why an entirely new Monstrous Compendium entry was needed.

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    Polyhedron #121 (1996)

    Aarakocra were clearly more welcome in the Living Jungle than in the Living City. The City of Ravens Bluff classifies aarakocra as monsters, and notes that: "Monsters, from aarakocra to zombies, may not be brought into the city without a license obtained from city authorities. Permits are only available to those who demonstrate a legitimate need to have such a creature within the city limits."

    Once the position of the aarakocra as a Forgotten Realms creature was cemented in Monster of Faerūn, the amount of support they received grew. Unapproachable East documents a small group of bird-men living in Mauberg's Oak in the Forest of Lethyr. A series of articles on the Wizards of the Coast (incorrectly titled Aarakocran Portals -- the adjective form of "aarakocra" doesn't have an "n", people!), expands on the bird-men settlements listed in Monsters of Faerūn, noting that two of them (the Star Mounts and Cloven Mountains settlements) are now connected by a permanent portal. We also learn that some of the survivors of the Star Mounts tribe have formed an organisation known as the Nest of Retribution, dedicated to seeking revenge against Elaacrimalicros, the dragon who destroyed their home. The Portals article series also details a new colony of "secluded, barbaric" aarakocra living on the high mesas in Anauroch and an enslaved tribe who lived peacefully in the steppes of the Hordelands before their capture.

    In Races of Faerūn the aarakocra get a full write up as a playable race. Their Maztican origins are made concrete, and a date for the arrival of the first aarakocra colonists is established (418 DR, the Year of the Eagle's Flight). We also learn that Faerūnian aarakocra do not worship Syranita, but instead revere her close friend, Aerdrie Faenya. The Avariel entry in Races of Faerūn suggests that there is a good relationship between the avariel and the aarakocra, which makes sense, but which doesn't appear to have been explored previously.

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    Races of Faerūn (2003)

    By the time we reach the post-spellplague Forgotten Realms of 4th Edition, the relationship between the avariel and the aarakocra no longer seems so cordial, with the Backdrop: Chessenta article in Dungeon #178 describing the floating isles of Adder Hills as "home to warring tribes of aarakocra and avariel, neither of which welcome outsiders into their lands".

    Planescape


    The Planescape setting provides more information on Syranita, who shares an aerial realm on the border of Ysgard and Arborea with Aerdrie Faenya. Planes of Conflict also details the aarakocra settlement of Precipice on the second layer of Elysium. They share this home with giant eagles and avariel (who call themselves "al karak elam" in the Planescape setting). These co-habitants also assist them in defending Precipice from occasional raid by bands of gargoyles and margoyles.

    Spelljammer


    There aren't that many avian humanoids in D&D (at least compared to the very large number of ground-dwelling humanoids), so it's not surprising that the Spelljammer setting has aarakocra dwelling on some of the gas planets it details. Greyspace notes that there are aarakocra living on Edill, the massive air body located in the crystal sphere associated with the Greyhawk setting.

    Similarly, Coliar is the second planet from the sun in Realmspace, and it is inhabited by tribes of lizard men and aarakocra who are constantly fighting over territory. This conflict has lead these aarkocra to be more warlike than most; they are said to trade the naturally occurring gems of Coliar for smoke powder and weapons that they can use against the lizard men "terrorists".

    5th Edition


    The first hint of the aarakocra in 5th Edition came from The Tome Show interview with Mike Mearls, in which he described them as generally neutral good and aligned to elemental air (because of their elemental summoning ability). In addition, they now have a role as opponents of elemental evil. Aarakocra journey to the Material Plane from the Plane of Air, where they take up residence in high places, to observe and serve as sentinels for good-aligned factions opposed to elemental evil. Gargoyles are also spelled out as specific foes for the aarakocra, which is a nice link back to the inhabitants of the settlement of Precipice in Planescape.

    The 5th Edition Monster Manual expands on this new lore, making the bird-men servants of the Wind Dukes of Aaqa. In addition to standing against the forces of elemental evil, aarakocra search for the seven shards of the Rod of Seven Parts, a powerful magic item which was shattered during the interplanar war between the Wind Dukes and the Queen of Chaos.

    Perhaps surprisingly, given how faithful the latest edition is to the accumulated history of most monsters, the physiology of the aarakocra has changed significantly in the Monster Manual. Instead of front limbs which function as both wings and arms, the bird-men now have completely separate wings and arms, giving them six limbs in total.

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    Monster Manual (2014)

    Miniatures


    The first set of miniatures for 5th Edition was Icons of the Realms: Tyranny of Dragons produced under licence by WizKids. This set of prepainted minis included an aarakocra (figure 37/51) and it reflects the new six-limbed body structure of the bird-men. (The same figure is included in Attack Wing: Dungeons & Dragons Wave Two.)

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    Icons of the Realms: Tyranny of Dragons (2014)

    And to wrap back to (nearly) where we started, this isn't the first aarakocra mini. Back in 1984, during a brief period when TSR produced its own lead miniatures, a blister pack containing a phoenix and an aarakocra was released. It's interesting to compare two miniatures produced thirty years apart. (Image credit: DnD Lead web site.)

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    TSR 5608: Phoenix and Aarakocra (1984)

    Aarakocra names


    Akthag, Alekra Donakkis, Arisai Heliwing, Arraako, Awnunaak, Bra'rrk, Breeka, Cawthra, Cesare, Chir'kawta, Driikaak, Gazziija, Ikarrika, Jaahksik Fireeyes, Jirriock, Kariko, Kekko Cloud-Brother, Kilkirillan, Kirraka, Kraah, Krekara, Kre'keke'lar, Krekkekelar, Ks'treevak, Lisako, Loniimas Sky's Son, Nakaaka, Qita, Roarrawka, Saakrak, Skamsaar Click-claws, Tcho'eh, Thraka Cloud Glider, Troho, Wuorlah.

    References


    Fiend Folio, p8 (July 1981)
    WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, p6-7 (July 1982)
    White Dwarf #39, p10, "Inhuman Gods" (March 1983)
    Dragon #90, p16, "Hold that person!" (October 1984)
    Dragon #93, p24, "Ay pronunseeAYshun gyd" (January 1985)
    DL7: Dragons of Light, p24 (May 1985)
    UK7: Dark Clouds Gather (July 1985)
    Dragon #124, p34, "The Wings of Eagles" (July 1987)
    FR5: The Savage Frontier, p3, 50 (August 1988)
    Greyhawk Adventures, p86 (August 1988)
    Monstrous Compendium, Volume Two (August 1989)
    SJR2: Realmspace, p12 (January 1991)
    Dark Sun Boxed Set, Player Card #8 (September 1991)
    Monster Mythology, p94 (April 1992)
    1992 Trading Cards Factory Set, card 1/750 (September 1992)
    From the Ashes, Atlas of the Flanaess, p56, 79 (October 1992)
    SJR6: Greyspace, p36 (November 1992)
    PHBR10: The Complete Book of Humanoids, p16 (April 1993)
    Monstrous Manual, p5 (June 1993)
    Planes of Conflict, Liber Benevolentiae, p32, 60 (July 1994)
    Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium Appendix II: Terrors Beyond Tyr, p8 (March 1995)
    Dragon #218, p94, "The Ecology of the Bird Maiden" (June 1995)
    Player's Option: Skills & Powers, p41 (September 1995)
    Dark Sun Campaign Setting Expanded and Revised, The Age of Heroes, p9 (October 1995)
    The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier, The Wilderness, p7, 51 (April 1996)
    Polyhedron #121, p11, "New Character Races" (July 1996)
    Netheril: Empire of Magic, The Winds of Netheril, p86 (October 1996)
    Dragon #244, p80, "Bazaar of the Bizarre" (February 1998)
    Player's Guide to Greyhawk, p40 (June 1998)
    The Bestiary, p199 (September 1998)
    The City of Ravens Bluff, p75 (October 1998)
    The Odyssey of Gilthanas, p168 (August 1999)
    Drizzt Do'Urden's Guide to the Underdark, p29 (November 1999)
    Monsters of Faerūn, p11 (February 2001)
    Wizards of the Coast web site, "Aarakocran Portals" (January 2002)
    Races of Faerūn, p131 (March 2003)
    Unapproachable East, p117 (May 2003)
    Dragon #319, p19, Dark Sun Player's Handbook (May 2004)
    Dragons of Winter, p74-75 (November 2007)
    Dungeon #178, p72, "Backdrop Chessenta" (May 2010)
    Dark Sun Creature Catalog, p10-11 (August 2010)
    Dungeon #187, "Dark Sun Threats" (February 2011)
    AOA2-1: Plotting the Course, p28 (June 2011)
    Dungeon #202, "Cruel as a Desert Wind" (May 2012)
    Monster Manual, p12 (September 2014)

    Other ENCyclopedia entries


    Visit the Monster ENCyclopedia index for links to other entries in this series.
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  2. #2
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    This is excellent!

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    This really needs to also be published on a blog -- even something as simple as Blogger -- for posterity's sake.

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    I very much agree. This will get lost in the forums. Blog this, good writer, blog this!

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    Wow.

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    Man, I tried to do something like this, but I do not have access to the depth of D&D material that Echohawk does. Very cool write-up.
    [RIGHT]Jacob J. Driscoll
    [B][I]Astral Plane Campaign[/I][/B]: Take [URL="http://www.dmsguild.com/product/193314/Hereos-of-the-Eternal-Classes-of-the-Astral-Plane"]your heroes[/URL] and [URL="http://www.dmsguild.com/product/190331/People-of-the-Eternal-Races-of-the-Astral-Plane"]your people[/URL] and come to [URL="http://www.dmsguild.com/product/198238/The-Athar-Citadel"][B]The Athar Citadel[/B][/URL], where those who reject the gods learn to wield divine magic!
    [/RIGHT]

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    Use to use them all the time.

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    How fantastic! I'll feature these on the news page. Thank you, @Echohawk!

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    I always look forward to reading a post by @Echohawk , because I know for sure that it's going to be constructive and insightful.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dd.stevenson View Post
    I always look forward to reading a post by @Echohawk , because I know for sure that it's going to be constructive and insightful.
    This!

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