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D&D 5E [Let's Read] Beowulf: Age of Heroes

Libertad

Adventurer
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As you can tell with my prior Supers & Sorcery review, I’m attracted to products which promise to do something novel and experimental. Back during the heyday of Min-Max Boards I had a mini-series known as Courtroom Reviews where I looked over D20 sourcebooks promising to revolutionize the rules or offer something unfulfilled in existing products. Beowulf: Age of Heroes sold itself on two things: a new beautiful setting inspired by a mythical early medieval Britain and Scandinavia, and rules for 5th Edition that can enable 1 on 1 duet style play. While I’ll be reviewing the book as a whole, I admit that the latter promise tempted me to check this out, but Beowulf: Age of Heroes has more than enough material to make it an interesting read beyond this.

There is one more thing to address that I feel is worth mentioning: the creators are keenly aware that many fascists and hate groups have a fetishized view of Northern Europe that has sadly permeated among fandoms of various subcultures, so to counteract this a donation to anti-racist charities is made with every sale of the book. Furthermore, the book notes that Northern Europe had explorers and traders of groups who in modern times would be classified as people of color, and that while not a truly egalitarian society women had more rights and privileges than is often assumed to be the case. Several of the pregenerated characters reflect this, such as an Arab exile who pissed off the wrong nobleman in Baghdad and is now taking refuge in the Whale Road, or various warrior women who are capable of defending themselves against man and monster alike.

Forward & Introduction

So why Beowulf? Well we have a foreword and introduction talking about the history of the Beowulf poem, which being the oldest known work of recorded English literature and one of the most translated, has been interpreted in many ways throughout the ages. And that’s not counting the malleable nature of oral traditions which preceded or replaced the written word when that wasn’t available. Beowulf: Age of Heroes is thus a reimagining of that mythical time, when the Anglo-Saxons set sail for a new home in the British Isles, where the ruins of the recently-collapsed Western Roman Empire stood as testament to a former time of grandeur now long gone, where the barrows and standing stones of prior generations held ancient secrets long lost to present-day sages, and the grim determinism of old religions meet in an uncertain dance with the new God of the Book and its liberating promise of universal salvation. The PC is a Hero, cut from the cloth of mighty warriors, rulers of men, vengeful monster-hunters, and explorers of the stormy Whale Road who achieve mighty deeds in a land brimming with monsters, foul magic, and the omnipresent threat of nature itself.

Furthermore, the structured nature of Beowulf-style tales of “travel to new realms, slay the monster” are by now tried and true literary tropes. But Age of Heroes structures things on both the player’s and GM’s side to facilitate 1 on 1 play, including a sample adventure within the book (and a free adventure which is a product all on its own that I won’t be reviewing just yet).

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One thing I’ll say about Beowulf: Age of Heroes is that its art is downright gorgeous. Every chapter starts out with a beautiful two-page spread, along with lines from the Old English poem pertinent to the subject matter. Our first chapter is fluff-heavy, detailing the world of early medieval Northern Europe. As this era in history is radically different from the typical castles, knights, and churches most people think of when they hear the Middle Ages, this section details things from an historical perspective to better immerse the reader. But as this is a game derived from folklore whose tellers prioritize a good story over historical accuracy, and set in a world where beasts of legend are real, the book also gives an ‘historical fantasy’ overlay closer to the kind of thing you’d imagine in a skald’s song rather than a dry academic treatise. The text acknowledges that much of the setting comes from an Anglo-Saxon perspective, but it does try to make note of other cultures and tribes, and even has a list of various notable groups of Europe during the Early Middle Ages. Some listed entries touch upon lands even farther south than Britain and Scandinavia, such as the Lombards of Italy and Visigoths of Spain.

So some broad overviews: the actual century isn’t marked, but it’s around the time the Angles, Jutes, and Saxons left their native Denmark due to rising sea levels and growing marshland to settle in the British Isles. The Roman Empire still stands in the east and the Islamic faith is forging a new Caliphate in the south, but in Northern Europe most of civilization are small plots of land organized into autonomous tribes and kingdoms rather than proper nation-states, where a warband of several dozen is considered a momentous event. Most travel is done by ship on the Whale Road, a term for the Northern and Baltic Seas, and barring a few trusted trade routes precious few people seek to settle further inland in continental Europe. Those lands are home to omnipresent dark forests, shadowy places of death filled with wolves, bears, bandits, and worse and whose soil is poor for farming. Most people are subsistence farmers, and division of labor is mostly specialists in various crafts: for example, blacksmithing, scops who are basically bards, and Christian monks who attend to spiritual duties.* The primary social venue in settlements was the meadhall, a communal longhouse that served as a multi-purpose eating place, courthouse where the local lord resolved disputes, and a place of retreat during raids by bandits and monsters.

*the priest as its own distinct social class doesn’t really exist among Anglo-Saxon pagan communities beyond community leaders overseeing the management of holidays and building of shrines. In these cases, “priestly duties” are very much a community effort.

In sparsely populated areas with only a few scribes and rune-carvers gifted in literacy, laws were not inviolate written tradition, instead being an informal series of oaths and gift-giving to cement trust and social bonds. Leaders of settlements were known as ring-givers, so called for the silver and golden rings worn on arms, fingers, necks, and other places which took on symbolic value in the dispensation of wealth. The payment of taxes, the sharing of loot obtained during voyages and raids, the payment of weregild (a life-price) for the death and injury of a community’s inhabitants, and hospitality of providing food and shelter to guests in exchange for respect and abiding by the laws of the household all share aspects of thess gift-giving and oath-based societal constructs. This is a culture where one’s word is one’s bond and to violate oaths and refusal to settle one’s debts within reason is one of the worst things a person can do.

We also have write-ups of more controversial material, or ones that often require care in their portrayal in gaming sessions. First off, the text notes that women had many privileges and rights as free men in Anglo-Saxon law, and the RPG makes no special import or distinction between genders in terms of the setting or in how people react to the PC and their Followers. The text later on does make mention of a common-held belief that women are innately better in the arts of divination and ascertaining the wyrd of others, and those who have a knack for it often gain a social role as wise women in communities. This is even the case in Christianity, who often culturally flavors such things as being visions from God. The use of fate and wyrd do have game mechanics, but gender has no bearing one way or the other in their manifestations.

Secondly, the discussion of slavery details how most slaves in Northern Europe were often indentured servants who sold themselves into bondage in order to avoid starvation. The text notes that while it wasn’t based on modern concepts of race and there were more ‘rights’ for the slaves at the time than the Transatlantic slave trade, it also notes that is it understandably uncomfortable material and shouldn’t necessarily be minimized into a “they didn’t have it so bad” mindset. The poem of Beowulf didn’t focus or elaborate on slavery much and that it’s reasonable for campaign to easily have all characters encountered be ‘free.’ Additionally, the cultural interpretation of Christianity in the region preached universal manumission as a virtue, and it was common in this era for many converted lords to free the slaves in their lands.

Moving on, our last major cultural section talks about faith and religion. The two major philosophies are the Old Ways, an all-encompassing term for the various European pagan practices, and the Church of the Book, aka Christianity.* The Old Ways are more fatalistic: there exist many gods, who don’t necessarily have to be moral paragons or figures that you like, and often have enough problems of their own in fighting fighting giants and other horrors. Humanity has no inherent special place in the cosmic order, and the world is doomed to destruction in a war with monsters. This is a reflection of the inevitable cycle of life, death, and conflict inherent to existence; this state of affairs isn’t necessarily good or evil, it merely is, and the best one can do is to adhere to a sustainable way of life and uphold values of strength, sacrifice, and self-determination. Sacrifices and rituals can earn favour from the Old Gods in exchange for blessings, such as magic amulets to ward off danger and divination from the words of spirits.

*albeit the sample Arab pregenerated PC for the Hermit’s Sanctuary standalone adventure has an alignment “of the Book,” and is noted as being “faithful to the One God, though his version seems somewhat different to those of the Northerners.” This likely implies that Jewish and Muslim characters would also count as being the same alignment in regards to the game’s faith alignment mechanics, which we’ll cover later.

We have a list of a few Gods of the Old Ways and their common names. They derive heavily from the Norse pantheon, including those classic standbys of Odin/Wodan/Wotan/etc and Thunor/Thor/Donar. The fact that different people use different names, rituals, and even tales of such beings is not seen as theologically troubling. They are gods, after all, and exist beyond the typical mortal constraints of time and fate. Finding their natures seemingly contradictory and hard to understand is but proof of their divinity.

The Church is a new religion to the region, and has its own explanation of the world and humanity’s place in it. Unlike the fatalistic Old Ways humanity is not doomed to the many cultural equivalents of Ragnarok, but that faith in the God of the Book and the actions of good works can help anyone earn spiritual salvation. Monsters of the world are the descendants of Cain the First Murderer, and God can help everyone resist them. Even the meekest slaves and sinners can do their part, if only they believe and repent. Adherents of the Church are mostly self-autonomous and some interpret God’s law in their own ways but acknowledge the leadership of Rome’s Pope. Through his aid they helped secure and copy many scholarly works via networks of monasteries and abbeys, which gave them a huge edge in using the gift of literacy for long-distance communication and economic bonds. Which they of course point to as God’s favor.

Christians at this point in history do not have the strength in numbers or force of arms to violently suppress the Old Ways in this region, so for now they mostly dedicate their conversions via rhetoric, trade, and economic aid. There are many people who in fact combine aspects of Christianity and the Old Ways, borrowing the teachings they find best apply to themselves and their communities, or are fence-sitters who for various reasons feel that they cannot take a definite stance on ultimate religious knowledge. Beowulf: Age of Heroes does not take a side in who is theologically right, and makes it so that both have elements of truth: treasures and rituals that appeal to pagan gods have just as much power as the relics of Saints, and monsters can be willing servants of Satan as often as they are giants seeking vengeance for their kin slain by Thor and Tyr.

But what everyone in the lands of the Whale Road believe in, be they pagan or Christian, is the power of Wyrd. To describe it in simplified terms for the benefit of an RPG, it is a cultural interpretation of something closest to fate or destiny. Everyone has a future and role to play in existence, for good or ill, but these things can be learned about and understood and thus influenced. A person’s wyrd can be found out via various omens and portents, both in divination rituals as well as knowing what to look for in the natural world. The wyrd of heroes is to achieve great things and be remembered by future generations for their skill and valor.

Our chapter ends with New Rules for Beowulf: Age of Heroes. More a list of things to come than an in-depth entry, each detail has reference to page numbers, and throughout the book there’s useful cross-referencing when these new rules are mentioned. We’ll cover these in their own sections, save for three exceptions:

Firstly, Alignment as it exists in Dungeons & Dragons has no place in Beowulf. The Hero is presumed to be a “good person” in that they help others in need by fighting monsters who are a blight on communities. Instead alignment reflects one’s faith: Old Ways, Of the Book, or Neutral. Each alignment has its own set of Feats available only to that religion, and certain magic items can only be attuned by the right believer. An Alignment Die represents the Hero having the special attention of God, the Gods, or luck and whenever a D20 is about to be rolled with Advantage the player can choose one of the dice to be representative of their Alignment. Once the dice are rolled the Hero can gain Inspiration if the Alignment die is selected as the result of the roll, whether it succeeds or not. In the case of a failed roll the short-term loss narratively rewards the Hero with Inspiration due to their Wyrd aligning with them. This way of rolling dice can be used a theoretically infinite number of times, only limited by the amount of times that they can gain Advantage during the course of play.

Secondly, there are two new Conditions which can be inflicted on or protect foes: Defeated and Undefeatable. Even in a warrior culture most people do not want to die, and fights to the death are rare. All kinds of humans and monsters can be subject to the Defeated Condition via general preconditions listed in their stat block. Being reduced below a certain Hit Point value is the most common, but other things include exposing them to their signature weakness, hacking off a non-vital but important limb, and the loss of morale via a leader or number of allies falling in battle. The specifics of the Defeated condition can take many forms, from becoming doomed to die from wounds after slinking away,* surrendering in battle, becoming disarmed or transformed to a harmless state in some way, and so on. What is inviolate is that the foe cannot continue to fight or take advantage of the Hero and their Followers afterwards in a moment of deception: Defeated means Defeated.

*which in fact was the fate of Grendel in the poem.

The other condition, Undefeatable, is a special Condition that only the major villain of an adventure can have. It’s reserved for “capital-M Monsters” as the book calls them, who have unmatched endurance but whose vulnerable state can be learned and thus exploited by the Hero. Not only are they immune to the Defeated condition, they only take 1 point of damage maximum from any source of harm. The Undefeatable Condition is removed once the Hero exploits their weakness or via their 20th-level capstone class feature.

Thirdly, Spears Are Always Available. This weapon is iconic for its ease of crafting and use, and the Hero can always find a spear at hand. Be it from the armory of a ship or meadhall, a spare weapon handed over by an ally or picked off a fallen foe, or even taking up a nearby hefty tree branch and snapping off the end into a sharp point, the Hero is never unarmed unless they make the conscious decision to fight with their bare fists.

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Beyond just background, class, and feats, this 38-page chapter gives a player everything they need to build their starting Hero besides Followers who have a chapter all their own. To start with, the standard rules of 5th Edition are followed, with a few exceptions: first off, all Heroes are human: they have typical Human race things but add +2 to one ability score and +1 to another, are fluent in the Trader’s Tongue* and the language of their homeland, select one Feat they qualify for, and roll randomly or choose from a list of 12 Quirks. Quirks are mostly-passive abilities which give a Hero some useful feature or trick, and include options such as advantage on saves or resistance to certain harmful attacks, Darkvision of 60 feet, being able to move through the spaces of larger-sized creatures, or rerolling a natural 1 on an attack, ability check, or saving throw.

*an argot language used among sailors of the Baltic and North Seas.

Backgrounds exist in Beowulf, which more or less follow the PHB procedure of two skill proficiencies, bonus equipment, and Features. However, one interesting thing of note is that each one gives the PC a single Tool proficiency of their own choice. The Backgrounds are also reflective of a supposed role or destiny of the Hero, such as Avenger (a monster slaughtered your people and now you want to slay it), or the appropriately-named Chosen One (singled out for a special purpose by a prophecy). Additionally, the Features aren’t just role-play centric but have specific game mechanics that can directly aid the Hero. For example, the amnesiac Adrift’s feature allows the PC to spend Inspiration 1/adventure and choose an NPC who knows something of their past which can grant bonus XP when revealed, while Noble’s Blood can revive a Spent Follower* or restore Hit Dice equal to their proficiency bonus to a character as an action 1/long rest.

*Follower whose services and abilities are temporarily unusable.

The Hero Class is the only class available for play in Beowulf: Age of Heroes. They have a d8 Hit Die but start play with 10 + CON score (yes score, not modifier) in Hit Points at 1st level (d8 + CON modifier thereafter), can choose one uncommon save (STR/INT/CHA) and one common save (DEX/CON/WIS) in which to be proficient, and choose three skills of their choice in which to be proficient, and are a predictably martial class in having proficiency in all armor, shields, and weapons (including improvised weapons). For starting equipment they have a Hero’s Kit which contains common adventuring supplies, a spear, and can choose from an assortment of armor, shield, helmets, and melee and ranged weapons as bonus equipment. They already get a subclass at 1st level, and have 6 to choose from which are all strongly themed around an ability score.

Beyond their first level features, Heroes get predictable martial class features: a Fighting Style at 2nd level,* Ability Score Improvements/Feats every 4 levels but also at 6th, and an Extra Attack at 5th level. For more original features they can spend a bonus action, Inspiration, and Hit Dice to gain temporary HIt Points at 2nd level, can reroll a failed saving throw 1/long rest at 9th level, can counterattack in melee as a reaction at 11th level, can drop to 1 HP instead of 0 if they succeed at a CON save** at 15th, can deal bonus d8 damage and an automatic critical with a melee weapon by expending inspiration and shattering it at 17th level,*** and at 20th level can use a bonus action to remove the Undefeatable condition from a creature albeit having their own hit points reduced to 1/4th if above that value.

*which doesn’t have archery or 2-weapon fighting but does include 2 new ones: Shield-Strong gives +1 AC when you have a shield in one hand and spear in another, and Hammer-Handed which lets you make an unarmed or improvised weapon attack as a bonus action if you have at least one hand free.

**that increases every time it’s used between rests.

***the bonus damage is dependent on the number of positive qualities, or Gifts, the weapon has.

Many of the Hero’s class features center around melee combat, and lacking spells it would seem that they don’t have a good selection of choices. That being said, there’s some versatility in options among skills, tools, and the like along with the prior Backgrounds and later Feat and Follower options. And the subclasses known as Heroic Tales expand the class further. They have some things in common, notably the ability to impose the Defeated condition 1/long rest as an 18th level ability via some aspect of their trade.

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Bench Breaker are brawny, mighty-thewed warriors. They gain abilities focused around melee combat, forceful lifting and moving, and so on. At 1st level they can add Strength instead of Charisma to Intimidation checks. At 3rd, 7th, 10th, and 14th levels they can choose a Wrestling move that grants them new actions in combat, ranging from a higher based unarmed damage die, the ability to shove or grapple as a bonus action, can spend Inspiration to impose the Stunned condition on an unarmed strike if the creature fails a CON save, and dealing automatic 2d6 + STR damage every round while grappling as they choke a creature, among other things. At middle to higher levels they gain advantage on STR checks when breaking things and being moved against their will, add double proficiency when forcefully moving and damaging objects, at 14th level they can perform an inhumanly impossible feat of Strength by spending inspiration and rolling a GM-imposed check with disadvantage, and at 18th level can impose the Defeated Condition if an unarmed attack reduces a creature to less than one-fourth its max HP.

While a great subclass for unarmed fighters, it leans a bit heavily on the unarmed/grappling side of things, and doesn’t have as many options (particularly in Wrestling) for Heroes who aren’t Hammer-Handed or prefer to keep their hands occupied with weapons or shields. But all that being said, I am happy to see more options for unarmed combat (including a Feat or two later on), especially given how Beowulf himself beat Grendel without any weapons. Such a fighting style isn’t one you see very often in European fantasy without the imposition of a Monk class.

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Swift-Blessed rely on speed and reflexes to overcome the opposition. At 1st level they gain proficiency in Sleight of Hand if they didn’t have it already, and can use the skill to perform acts of legerdemain that can be passed off as magic to the unobservant eye and grant advantage (or disadvantage!) on an appropriate Charisma check. At 3rd level they can spend Inspiration to Dodge as a bonus action, at 7th level they gain the Rogue’s Evasion, at 10th level they can substitute Sleight of Hand vs an enemy’s Perception in lieu of an attack roll vs AC 1/rest and deal an automatic critical hit if they win, gain advantage on all DEX saves at 14th level, and at 18th level can impose the Defeated condition if a ranged attack reduces an enemy to 1/4th or less their max HP.

This subclass is rather defensive-minded, but its ability to get around an opponent’s defenses via Sleight of Hand and Dodge as a bonus action are very useful even if limited-use. I’m not keen on a class feature which can impose disadvantage depending on GM Fiat, as classes and subclasses by their nature are supposed to add more to a character rather than taking things away from them.

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Ox-Spirited Heroes can push themselves through the most Hellish of torments via superhuman endurance and willpower. At 1st level they gain advantage on all saves and checks to resist position, and at 3rd level they can spend a Hit Die as a bonus action to gain resistance against one damage type for 1 turn or to turn a critical hit into a normal hit. At 7th level they gain advantage on saves to avoid Exhaustion, at 10th level they can spend Inspiration as a bonus action to negate the Stunned and Paralyzed conditions, at 14th level can spend a bonus action 1/long rest to heal 10 + CON score (not modifier, score) in Hit Points, and at 18th level they impose the Defeated condition on a creature if it fails a CON save vs an effect and the Hero succeeds against the same effect.

This subclass doesn’t grab me like the others, although I suppose it’s because its abilities are more passive than active. The 18th level ability feels more situational, too; it brings to mind challenging an enemy to a drinking contest or some other testing of endurance which may not always be applicable in the heat of battle.

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Riddle-Reavers use knowledge and cunning in addition to martial skill in order to overcome foes. At 1st level they gain the incredibly useful ability to identify all resistances, immunities, and vulnerabilities of a creature by studying it as an action. At 3rd level they can grant Inspiration to themselves and a number of allies equal to their Intelligence modifier if they spend 1 minute preparing for and studying a challenge.* At 7th level they gain advantage on saves vs illusions, disguises, and sensory trickery, and at 10th level they gain advantage on saves against a creature’s special feature provided that they observe or gain knowledge about the feature in some way. At 14th-level they can bestow the 7th and 10th level advantages on allies who can see and hear them within 30 feet. At 18th level they can impose the Defeated condition on a foe if they spend an action and the enemy has less HP than them; if these circumstances are met and the enemy fails an INT save, they are Defeated.

*but can only benefit in such a way a number of times equal to their Intelligence modifier per rest.

The features of the Riddle-Reaver are useful in how open-ended they are, and they make for good team players with their Followers.

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Council-Callers are wise beyond their years and mortal nature, relying upon common sense and worldly experience to find answers in the most hopeless and confusing trials. At 1st level they gain advantage in Insight checks to discern something about a creature who shares their alignment, which is pretty situational.* At 3rd level they can effectively cast the Augury spell 1/long rest, and at 7th level they can spend Inspiration to reroll an attack, save, or ability check before knowing whether or not the result is successful. At 10th level they can roll two d20 when finishing a long rest, and can replace the results of a roll made by a creature within 30 feet with one of these rolls.** At 14th level they gain advantage on all WIsdom saving throws, and at 18th level can impose the Defeated condition by spending a bonus action and succeeding at an Insight check of DC 20 + double the creature’s WIsdom modifier, and next round the Hero reveals the creature’s secret and thus the Defeated condition by spending an action.

*and in terms of a Christian PC nigh-useless against monsters who aren’t the type to pledge allegiance to the Abrahamic God. I take it this is more for social and investigative encounters, which are actually quite important in the adventure structure of Beowulf: Age of Heroes.

**each such die result may be used this way only once.

The Council-Caller subclass has very open-ended and useful abilities, with only the 1st level feature being of potentially limited usefulness. Like Riddle-Reaver it’s very much a thinking person’s subclass which shines best in the hands of a creative player.

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Honey-Tongued are those whose forces of personality can stir the hearts of others, inspiring fearful dread and loving trust in equal measure. At 1st level if they spend Inspiration on a Charisma check when making a first impression, a successful result produces a dramatic or otherwise improbable reaction in the Hero’s favor. At 3rd level they can impose advantage or disadvantage on a creature’s attack/save/ability check within 30 feet as a reaction a number of times per rest equal to their Charisma modifier. At 7th level they and their allies within 10 feet have advantage on saves vs charms and enchantments, and at 10th level they can dispel a magical effect on another creature (not just mind-afflicting ones) 1/rest via an Intimidation or Persuasion check against the DC of the original saving throw. At 14th level they can cause all creatures within 60 feet to stop fighting on a failed Wisdom save 1/rest; if nobody has made an attack roll at the beginning of their next turn they can talk to the crowd uninterrupted for 1 minute. At 18th level they can impose the Defeated condition by succeeding on an Intimidation check DC equal to 20 plus twice the creature’s Charisma modifier, provided that it’s current HP is lower than the Hero’s.

This subclass is broadly useful, with a bit of an unexpected anti-magic aspect among the mid-range class features. The “speak really good” abilities are a bit more open-ended in the results they can impose, although the 3rd level feature is really good both for helping one’s Followers and for hindering foes in general.

I intended to have the rest of the chapter in one post, but this is getting rather long so I’m going to separate them into two sections.

Thoughts So Far: The book does a great job at portraying an evocative historical fantasy feel of an otherwise ill-understood era in both flavor text and mechanics. It is by no means weighty in the words department, but it has just enough detail to get across the right feel.

The Hero Class, while being more freeform in options than most martial classes, is partially concerning on account that such archetypes don’t approach the brevity of options that spells can give, and some of the subclasses felt more open-ended than others. However, between the Alignment Die and some of the later new rules such as Followers, there looks to be enough options to take both in combat and outside it for a player to feel like they have a healthy array of tactical decisions.

One thing I really like is the Defeated Condition. Although a GM with verisimilitude on their mind can get around it easily enough, a lot of tabletop RPGs (and especially video game RPGs) have almost every combat be one to the death. Although it enshrines it in specific mechanics, the imposition of overcoming a foe once a certain circumstance is met is one I like and can see myself incorporating into mainstream D&D.

Join us next time as we cover the rest of Part 2, from new equipment, ships, feats, and more!
 
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vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
I can see myself running a multi-players low-magic campaign using only the hero class, maybe with a new archetype using the warlock spellcasting sans cantrips and a tailored spell list.
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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Equipment & Ships is our next major section for outfitting our Hero and seeing what kinds of services they can pay for in the lands of the Whale Road. There’s no unified currency in this region, so wealth is an abstracted measure of coins, jewelry, trade goods, and other such sundries represented in Pounds, Shilling, and Pences. 1 Pound is equal to 40 Shillings, and 1 Shilling is equal to 6 Pences, so 240 Pences equal a Pound.

Before going into this section further, Beowulf adds a new mini-system of Gifts and Burdens for equipment, ships, and creatures (both Followers and monsters/NPCs). Basically Gifts are positive qualities, Burdens are negative, and both Gifts and Burdens are referred to as ‘tags’ in terms of mechanical descriptors. Some are inherent aspects of a creature or object and cannot be rid of, but others can be added over the course of play from training and good fortune or from damage and other negative circumstances. Equipment and Ships with Gifts often command a fair price and/or the use of a sufficiently skilled craftsperson, while Burdens can decrease the value of an item for sale if a buyer is willing to risk their negative qualities.

For weapons and armor, the fancy accoutrements of plate armor, greatswords, crossbows, and other metal-intensive and advanced pieces of gear are not available. We have new lists of era-appropriate wargear, including helmets as their own entry and two new shields who have their own special properties which are useful in combat: Cone-Boss Shields can be used to bash enemies,* while Metal-Rimmed Shields have a ring of iron which makes them Robust.** For helmets there’s a typical +1 AC that you can start out with, but there’s also a fancy Sutton Hoo style helmet with a facemask that grants +2 AC as well as the Robust Gift (but also the Noisy Burden which imposes disadvantage on Stealth checks). On that note, quite a few pieces of equipment have new Properties that can be invoked in combat: weapons with the Hooked property can disarm a foe on a critical hit in addition to their regular effects, while Splintering Weapons can destroy a shield or helmet on a critical hit.

*but only with the use of the Bashing Strike feat which limits its usability for most builds.

**can spend inspiration to negate a Critical Hit or Splintering Strike.

For armor, most of it are varying degrees of mail, ranging from the humble Weaponshirt (basically an undergarment gambeson) to various layers of protective mail. It’s not difficult to get a decent AC with the right choice in starting gear: 16 at the bare minimum for a 10 DEX character with a mail corslet (13 + DEX AC), an iron-ribbed helm (+1 AC), and shield (+2 AC), or 14 if they choose to fight with a two-handed or dual-wielding weapons. A Hero who doesn’t mind being loud and obvious can get the heaviest armor, a knee-length mail hauberk (16 AC) and aforementioned helmet which gives them a 17 AC. A Hero who prioritizes defense first and foremost can have a 19 AC by adding a shield to these last two entries, and at 2nd level raise that to a 20 or even 21 at 2nd level with the shield-and-spear fighting style and/or the +2 AC face-mask helmet. As one can guess, helmets and shields are more important to make up for the lack of ‘heavy’ armor in the setting. Weapons tend to be mostly-wooden shafts and grips tipped with metal at the end, ranging from daggers to all manner of spears and axes. Some cultural groups are particularly renowned for certain weapons, such as the Seaxes of the Saxons (daggers and shortswords basically) or the deadly two-handed Dane Axes which are considered the province of the strongest warriors and madmen who forgo the use of shields. Swords are much like longswords and have no particularly high damage dice (d8) or special properties, but are considered mighty status symbols for their expense in material and the fact that they have no “tool” purposes like a dagger or hunting bow. This positions them as weapons solely for battle.

Afterwards we have various lists of common prices for various objects, services, and fines and wergilds for improper and criminal activity. Northern Europe at this time lacks the elaborate trade networks, banks, and bazaars of more established empires, so most communities exchange goods via labor, barter, and the social trust of favors and oaths. They can still place the value of worth of an object, but in the case of smaller communities and poor villagers coins and luxury items can only go so far and are typically reserved for ring-giving. Heroes who earned the trust and goodwill of a local community and ruler will be given required tools, gifts, and repairs to their ship provided that they can return the favor with services rendered (such as killing a Monster troubling their kingdom or village).

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Ships are so special they get a section of their own. Vessels common on the Whale Road are Nordic-style longships which are relatively small and exposed to the elements. In short, there are two Ship Types, the small and mobile Long-sided Ship and the slower yet sturdy Wide-beamed Ship. Long-sided ships can sail quicker to destinations as well as being better able to flee from pirates and other threats at sea (its Speed value), but Wide-beamed Ships can sail for longer periods before requiring resupply (its Range value). The size of a crew (who are not Followers but considered their own kind of hireling for the Hero) is 12 along with 6 passengers; any more can affect the Speed and Range of a ship barring the appropriate Gifts, and said ship can even suffer the Encumbered Burden as a result. Crew wages and Ship upkeep and repairs costs Pounds, with more expense in the case of damage-related Burdens to the ship.

A Ship’s Burdens tend to reflect things such as Damaged impairing its functions, Encumbered slowing down its Speed and Range, and Missing Crew which also further decrease Speed and Range. Gifts include things such as a Musician who can improve a crew’s timing and morale in the form of +1 Speed, Extra Stores that increase Range, Reinforced that grants advantage on Constitution saves, and other such things. There’s a short but sweet section on Ship Combat, detailing special actions for maneuvering and and setting up Boarding actions, as well as what Burdens are placed on a ship based on the damage it sustains. Typically speaking most enemies don’t seek to directly damage ships; pirates and raiders want to kill the crew but also obtain a seaworthy vessel and its cargo, while monsters of the hungering variety would rather bite through inches of metal containing succulent manflesh than several feet of wood that may or may not be guarding edible things. Even when the Hero loses a ship, it is always a temporary setback rather than a permanent loss or ‘game over’ condition. Basic ships without many Gifts can be easily obtained narrative-wise, but higher-quality vessels require an investment of favors and gifts costing a minimum of 20-30 Pounds. As such ship loss in Beowulf is more akin to the removal of upgrades; still a punishment, but a financial setback more than anything.

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Our last major section of this chapter presents us with 27 new Heroic Feats! The vast majority require some sort of prerequisite: 13 are alignment-specific, 11 require a certain ability score of 13 or higher, and 3 have no prerequisites at all! I won’t cover every feat here, instead selecting a few of the more interesting ones.

Armour of Faith is Church-specific and grants +1 to a mental ability score along with advantage on INT/WIS/CHA saves vs magical effects; Cunning Movement is akin to the Rogue’s 2nd level class feature in letting the Hero take Dash, Disengage, or Hide as a bonus action along with +1 to Dexterity; Feral Brutality has a host of features, including +1 Strength, advantage on initiative rolls, can two-weapon fight with non-light weapons, and do 1d6 damage with unarmed strikes; the Church-specific Divine Strike, Old Ways-specific Words of Doom, and alignment-irrelevant Foe Mockery are similar in that they grant Prayer/Doom/Mockery Points which refresh every long rest. Prayer and Doom points can be spent to add bonus damage in proficiency and convert the total damage into radiant or force respectively, while Mockery Points subtract from a creature’s d20 roll equal to the Hero’s Charisma modifier as a reaction; Hordebreaker grants +1 to Charisma and imposes the Coward condition on nearby allies on a failed saving throw when the Hero kills an opponent 1/long rest. The Coward condition causes enemies from then on to become Defeated when the next ally of theirs is witnessed being killed; Natural Communion and Remembered Secret are both Old Ways-specific, granting a respective +1 WIS or +1 INT and grant abilities which allow the user to ascertain knowledge in a supernatural way. In Natural Communion’s case the Hero can ask local spirits about the area, while for Remembered Secret they can choose every time they select this feat whether they can sense nearby magical items and creatures, learn the tongue of a broad type of beast, or can automatically stabilize a dying creature with a touch; Skill Adept is one of the prerequisite-free ones, allowing the Hero to choose 3 skills, granting proficiency in ones in which they previously weren’t proficient and doubling the proficiency bonus for skills in which they were; Warrior’s Rest grants +1 CHA and grants a Healing Pool equal to 5 times CHA modifier: during a short rest the Hero can sing a song, restoring HP of themselves and/or an ally on a 1 for 1 basis, and 10 HP worth to remove a condition (the Healing Pool refreshes every long rest).

Warrior’s Rest sounds like it’s tailor-made to help Followers, right? Well the feature is a bit limited in use in this regard. Although we’ll cover them in the next Chapter, Followers don’t really have full stat blocks; they make Death Saving Throws, but they don’t have Hit Points or Hit Die, and in the sample adventure in this book allied NPCs with full stat blocks are converted into Followers upon joining the Hero which seems to be the implied default expectation in Beowulf: Age of Heroes. Sort of like how bosses in a video game RPG don’t have their original abilities or Hit Points once they join the party. As such it limits Warrior’s Rest a bit, making it primarily a “self-healing” type of thing in terms of HP restoration.

Our chapter ends with discussion on campaigns that have More Than One Player. A short list of suggestions for balance concerns is given, such as getting rid of or having fewer Followers depending on group size. There’s also talk on using the Hero class as-is, with 8 + CON modifier HP at 1st level instead, or allowing the use of ‘outsider classes.’ In regards to development and playtesting, the authors assert that a Hero with a full set of Followers has an equivalent power to a typical 4-person party in 5e, saying that using this playstyle in non-Beowulf adventures should be seamless. The only concern is at higher levels when using parties with two Heroes or less than full Followers, due to the amount of monsters with Legendary and/or Lair actions along with the typical discussion of miscellaneous factors beyond just the build of the PCs. I should note that Followers are not akin to fully-classed PCs in typical D&D games and modules, although I’ll cover that properly in the next chapter.

Thoughts So Far: The new equipment and feats are flavorful and neat, and the use of Gifts and Burdens to further customize gear is an interesting one, although I don’t much care for the ‘critical hit’ only ones given how rare those kind of rolls are. Although Followers will be covered later, most Beowulf players will have no shortage of action economy choices for their Actions, Reactions, and Bonus Actions between the Hero’s various class and subclass features and the Feats. This is nice on account that for many PCs the latter two often end up an afterthought for certain builds.

Join us next time as we cover Part 3: Followers!
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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Note: So as an unrelated aside I heard from a reader that the poetic text boxes in the various opening chapter pages aren’t from the Beowulf poem proper. I’m unsure of their origin or if they were made wholesale for the book. I still find them enjoyably thematic, but I’d be interested in hearing from more experienced voices about this one way or the other.

This relatively short chapter details a rather vital aspect of Beowulf’s campaign rules: the loyal allies, hired help, and unlikely team-ups forming a “secondary party” for the otherwise lone Hero. Followers are a special kind of NPC with their own rules: they add +0 to all d20 rolls (although they can gain advantage/disadvantage), they don’t have AC or Hit Points and instead of suffering damage they suffer death saving throws as appropriate to their gift/burden/context-specific environmental feature, and in combat they roll initiative as a group in what is known as the Follower Turn.

In combat and other round-by-round tense situations the Hero can Activate a Follower during the Follower Turn as well as on their own turn as a reaction, which triggers the use of a Gift (and in some cases a Burden first). In a few special cases certain abilities can cause multiple Followers to activate during the same turn. Additionally, some Gifts, Burdens, and other circumstances can cause a Follower to be Spent, meaning that they cannot be Activated again until a long rest is taken or if a special ability or item on the part of the Hero “revives” them. This represents the Follower succumbing to injury, exhaustion, returning to the ship or meadhall, or simply having their big narrative moment and thus fades into the background. At the end of each adventure, Followers have the chance to be improved, and the player may make a number of choices up to the Hero’s proficiency bonus:* give one Follower a new temporary Gift, transform a temporary gift into a permanent one, or make a Burden temporary. Temporary Gifts and Burdens will be removed from play after completion of the next adventure unless made permanent, and the player cannot choose a temporary Gift to become Permanent as part of the same “level up” phase.

*but gain an additional choice if they act as the game’s scribe in writing a detailed account of a Follower’s story between adventures, which will be covered later in this post.

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Followers otherwise don’t have any other Skills/Proficiencies/etc beyond these rules besides some suggested GM Fiat of granting advantage to the Hero for certain situations. The Hero can have a maximum number of Followers equal to twice their proficiency bonus plus their Charisma modifier. Recruiting above this limit for longer than is reasonable can impose the Malcontent Burden on them all, which causes them to refuse to act on a Natural 1 when activated. Nonhuman Followers can be recruited in rare circumstances, most especially Noble Animals who are otherwise natural beasts possessed of a keen intellect. Simple Warriors are ‘basic’ follower types who can automatically be recruited at any center of civilization and start play with four appropriately martial Gifts. The two remaining Follower types are the broader Potential Followers who can be recruited during an adventure and likelier to have unusual Gifts and Burdens, and Assistants who temporarily join the Hero out of circumstance but may become permanent Followers depending on certain criteria during the course of the adventure.

Followers don’t really take damage in combat or are directly targeted by monsters supposedly, as the text notes that they only ever roll death saving throws as the result of their Gifts and Burdens. They can die normally as the result of failed death saving throws, but the player may voluntarily declare a Follower to be Slain rather than killed normally in a dramatically-appropriate ultimate sacrifice, granting bonus Experience representative of the rest of the party reflecting upon their service and experiencing character development as a result. Of course, a Hero who has Followers die under their watch has consequences, such as families demanding wergild and other Followers gaining the Untrusting Burden if too many of their comrades die serving the Hero over the course of play (number equal to the Hero’s level + proficiency bonus).

Follower Burdens and Gifts are short, mostly one-sentence entries which convey role-playing and/or mechanics descriptions. There are 23 Burdens and 66 Gifts, which is a great amount for making Followers feel diverse and distinct. Some Gifts (particularly the RP-centric ones) are extra starting Gifts and don’t count towards their total number, while others can only be selected as an initial choice and cannot be gained later. A few represent advanced training and must be gained after going on adventures with the Hero, gained only be gained during specific encounters, or are initially possessed by Potential Followers and Assistants of remarkable skill.

For Burdens, about half (11) of them impose disadvantage on a common type of check (Awkward on Charisma checks, Deaf on checks requiring hearing, etc), while some are more reflective of loss of morale and/or negative personality types. Death-Marked is a bit GM Fiat, indicating that someone out there wants the Follower dead and is willing to act on this hatred. In another case, Mute means the Follower cannot (or refuses to) speak. The Envious Burden (which can be gotten if a Follower is paid much less than everyone else) requires a generous payment in shillings at the end of a voyage/adventure or a DC 20 Persuasion check or else they leave the party, while Untrusting forces the Follower to succeed on a DC 10 Wisdom save in order to be activated in dangerous situations. There’s one oddly-placed Burden called Eager where they provide the Hero advantage on recruitment checks (Persuasion checks to recruit new Followers) which sounds more like a Gift. However tis exact text is repeated as a Burden for a sample Follower in the free standalone Hermit’s Sanctuary adventure, so I’m unsure what to make of it. As a recruitment check is the Hero rolling vs a static DC and not a contested roll, this is all the more confusing.

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There’s a lot more Gifts which have more mechanical bite to them. There’s a healthy assortment that grant either the Hero or the Follower advantage on some type of roll. But some of the more interesting ones include Bearded Axe (grant the Hero advantage on all attacks rolls for a turn and the target of their attacks cannot benefit from a shield), Engage (every Follower with this Gift is activated to occupy up to 2 opponents per Follower, preventing them from attacking the Hero for up to 3 turns if a sufficient distance away, after which point said Followers must start rolling death saves), Healer (Hero regains half of their Hit Dice), Weapon-Bearer (every Follower with this Gift is activated, dealing 1d6 damage on a hit; Noble Animals deal only 1d4 but have advantage on the rolls), Learned (Old Ways follower is literate in Ogham** and can interpret various clues about the ancient world), Mounted (roll weapon damage dice twice and keep best result against unmounted enemies), Prophetic (Hero rerolls a failed saving throw), Rescue the Hero (every Follower with this gift activates and makes a death saving throw, rescuing the Hero from certain death and allowing them to take a long rest), Scout (make a Stealth check to explore a nearby area, reporting their findings to the Hero on a success), and Shieldwall (every Follower with this Gift protects the hero, allowing the Hero to spend Hit Die to heal if there’s at least 4 shield-bearers including the Hero and can Engage with enemies for up to 1 more round without needing to make death saves).

*Legends is a new Intelligence-based skill in Beowulf. It replaces Arcana and History and covers everything from history and politics to folkloric knowledge and the ways of the supernatural.

**Ogham is an ancient runic alphabet commonly found on rune-carved surfaces, standing stones, and other ancient edifices of religious and cultural significance

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There is one Gift that throws a wrench in the “don’t worry about Followers save for their Gifts and Burdens,” and that’s Meek. A Follower with this Gift won’t be targeted by enemies unless they are the only target within range. That then brings up the inevitable question of whether or not Followers can suffer death saving throws in combat as a result of independent monster attacks, and what value to assign their Armor Class once they’re attacked in such a way. I feel that this Gift was a holdover from an earlier draft. Another Gift that raises more questions than it answers is Quick, where the text states “this Follower can use their own reaction to move anywhere within reason.” So does this mean that Followers have Actions, Bonus Actions, and Reactions of their own? The Follower Turn at the beginning of the chapter indicates that only one Follower can be activated during this Turn (or the PC’s Turn when the Hero spends a reaction) unless a Gift specifies that those with the same tag can act all at once. Finally, there are also Gifts which grant Followers advantages on various saving throws, and not just death saves, which implies that they too can be afflicted with negative Conditions.

At the most basic level, Followers aren’t the best combatants offensively. The +0 on attack rolls means that against high-AC opponents they’re only likely to land a lucky blow via overwhelming numbers and gaining Advantage. Most Weapon-Bearers deal a simple 1d6 damage die that doubles on a crit, or 1d4 with Advantage in the case of a Noble Animal’s natural weapons. But there are many Gifts which can make them fight better: Deadly Strike allows the Follower to spend Inspiration to turn a successful hit into a critical hit, Heavy War-Hand makes a Weapon-Bearer deal twice the normal amount of weapon damage dice, Multiple Strikes allows a Follower to make two attacks instead of one, Sneak Attacker deals 1d6 bonus damage like the Rogue class feature of the same name, and Two-Handed Blow turns the d6 damage die into a d8 for human Weapon-Bearers. And finally, the Hunter can grant Advantage on a Nature or Survival check as well as make a 1d6 ranged arrow attack with Advantage against a target within 80 feet. Unlike the Weapon-Bearer Gifts, Hunter does not activate Followers with the same Gift as a group, meaning that you can’t rain down a hail of arrows on one’s foes this way.

All of these abilities are pretty nice, but since there are precious few ways to give them straight bonuses on rolls* Followers as individual combatants aren’t really extraordinary. However, as even a Charisma 10 Hero can have as many as four Followers and a Charisma-focused one may have around seven at low Levels, their potential damage can get pretty high.

*One exception being the Noble Animal-restricted Animal Wisdom that can add 1d6 to any skill check undertaken by themselves, the Hero, or an ally.

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This chapter concerns itself with the structuring of adventures and the types of stuff you’d find in a “DM’s Guide” equivalent sourcebook for Beowulf: Age of Heroes. Much like the poem of the same name, the RPG is very formulaic in the structure of adventures: the Hero learns of a danger, the Hero and their Followers take a voyage/journey to the source of the danger, they visit the meadhall of a community and learn more about the local troubles, the Hero encounters the Monster and makes use of learned knowledge to overcome it, and the day is saved and the Hero’s party is rewarded. Rinse and repeat.

A Portent is generated at the start of every adventure, forming the first line of a poem-style description akin to a couplet. Tables of nouns and adjectives are rolled, and results can add Inspiration Tokens to one of three Pools: the Hero Pool, the Follower Pool, or the Monster Pool. There are four tokens available at the start of play, and tokens can be spent from the pool to grant the appropriate character Inspiration (with the Monster Pool being for GM-controlled characters in general). This effectively makes Inspiration a stackable resource rather than a binary “have it/don’t have it” mechanic. Combined with the Alignment Die, this is a good way of having Inspiration come up in play more often and not be so quickly forgotten by GMs and players.

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The Voyage is when the Hero, their Followers, and their naval crew set sail on the Whale Road. There are suggestions for land-bound travel, although this section focuses on sea-based affairs. The Voyage generates 1-3 Challenges depending on its length before the vessel reaches its destination. Challenges are akin to random encounters, with tables separated by the type of Challenge, and can range from Followers getting involved in a religious debate, encountering pirates and monsters at sea, or dealing with particularly agreeable or disagreeable weather. Most Challenges are capable of imposing a Gift or Burden on the Ship and/or Followers, making it so that no Voyage is ever uneventful. One particularly notable and deadly Challenge involves a meteor falling from the sky, outright killing a Follower on a failed DC 5 DEX save, but granting them a very nice Gift that is only ever temporary: Sign From Above, granting the Follower advantage on all saving throws.

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Meadhalls and Mystery is when the Hero’s vessel makes landfall at the troubled community. There’s a bit of fluff and cultural detail, talking about how most lands have “shore guards” to keep watch of the sea and hail travelers and/or report back to the community in the case of trouble. At the meadhall or social gathering spot, the Hero has the chance to learn more about the Monster and its secrets. Plot-relevant NPCs have Social Stat Blocks, indicating relevant skills to earn their trust, advantage/disadvantage on rolls based on the Hero’s background and actions, potential ‘side-quests’ relevant to the character, and other ways in which Followers can help improve the Hero’s chances of overcoming these social challenges. Beowulf subscribes to the “fail forward” philosophy, where the Hero can still have a direction to be pointed in if a roll fails, but with a price of some kind. For example, an offended NPC may abruptly leave the meadhall, leaving a strategic location unguarded which the Monster and/or other evildoers may take advantage of. Another failed roll may involve a local scribe or runist mentioning that they’re too busy to help and need to excuse themselves to research, which indicates to the Hero that they’re in possession of useful material.

Generally speaking, at the very least there should be opportunities for the Hero to learn where the monster lives, its strengths and weaknesses, and how to defeat it. There’s also talk of what kinds of activities people may do at the meadhall based upon their social class and occupation, other popular social gathering spots for the rare community or culture that doesn’t have a meadhall, and ways in which the Hero may find and recruit Noble Animals who typically aren’t the types to loiter in such places.

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Exploration is an all-fluff chapter telling the GM how to make the setting feel alive in the description of common terrain and their particular cultural relevance to the native peoples. Being an historical fantasy setting, particular attention is paid to the more supernatural elements as well. The Dark Forest is an all-encompassing term for the vast woodlands further inland, widely recognized as territory belonging to elves, beasts, and unnatural monsters. Northern Europe is open to plenty of stationary bodies of freshwater, along with a wide variety of wetlands from swamps to fens to bogs. Said wetlands became so endemic in Denmark that the Anglo-Saxons left to seek better terrain elsewhere. Long stretches of open land known as heaths and moors are places where nothing taller than heather and wiry grasses grow, and such places are often associated with desolation and lack of shelter. Innumerable islands dot the Whale Road, many uncharted or sparsely settled, which are perfect opportunities for the PC to come upon some otherwise isolated or “undiscovered” community.

Although their boundaries didn’t touch the more northern reaches, the Roman Empire made headway in parts of Northern Europe. They long since receded to the eastern Mediterranean where they still hold power, but here the extent of their legacy are crumbling ruins and the few texts in Latin maintained by devotees to the God of the Book. The expansive roads, buildings, walls, and forums hint at a population and technology far in excess of the current era, which have caused the Anglo-Saxons and other indigenous groups to refer to the ancient Romans as “the giants.” The other vaguely-defined human civilization is “the Ancients,” a catch-all term for the cultural remnants of indigenous Europeans who built barrow-mounds, standing stones, and ruins. The works of both the ancients and the giants are known to contain lost knowledge and magical workings, although their lands are often cursed and home to strange Monsters and inhuman guardians ill-understood by most people. They are thus avoided by all save for desperate salvagers and enterprising sorcerers.

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The Monster talks about creating the climactic villain of a Beowulf adventure. Although the Hero is likely to fight many lesser foes of supernatural disposition over the course of play, the capital-M Monster is the primary foe responsible for a community’s woes that cannot be felled by simple violence. In the lands of the Whale Road there are various types of commonly-known monsters, although the taxonomic classification by origin and species hasn’t really caught on yet. Most people don’t care how a monster came to be or if it’s related to other kinds of monsters: to most, a monster is a monster.

The Monster of an adventure has the Undefeatable Condition, which increases its Challenge Rating by 2, making them seemingly immortal. As such it is not common for the Monster to make an immediate appearance save by cautious and clever use by the GM, instead appearing after a slow build-up of dreadful premonition as the Hero’s party begins to piece together events over time. GM advice is given on how to construct a Monster’s lair, who would know about the Monster’s weakness or how such knowledge may be found, the goals of the Monster, and how to leave behind clues and evidence of its nature and actions.

Although it’s covered in the Monster chapter, I feel it necessary to tell it here: ordinary humans, no matter how wicked they may be, cannot be the Monster of a tale. They may serve Monsters or even gain fell powers from them or trafficking in the dark arts, but when a man becomes a Monster this reflects a warping of their own sense of being that they are no longer one of us.

Once the Hero has defeated the Monster come Rest and Rewards. For those that use XP tracking, a table of sample rewards are divided into four categories (Monster, lesser Enemies, Meetings, & Investigation), while Achievement Rewards are similar to the Milestone system. In the latter case, gaining 6-7 Achievement Rewards from proper categories over a few adventures propels the Hero to the next level. Rewards, the generation of potential magical items in the monster’s hoard, and payment of crew (being generous in the payment grants the Loyal Crew Gift) are discussed, and Downtime between adventures provides suggestions on things the Hero can do in their spare time: Research that can grant useful information, Recuperation that can end negative Conditions and/or grant advantage vs diseases and poison for 24 hours on the next adventure, training in a new language or tool proficiency, and so on and so forth. This is on top of the actions used for upgrading Followers; Downtime indicates how the Hero self-improves.

Player Journal provides player-facing activities to help aid the GM in the creation of the story. Journals are basically creative writing exercises expanding upon a character, place, or event, sometimes retelling what already happened but from a relevant perspective in-character. The Hero Journal can grant bonus XP/Advancement checkmarks, while Follower journals grant a bonus choice for Gift attainment/Burden removal.

I recall times where some gaming groups assign a player to be a “campaign scribe” in summarizing events of today’s session, and in exchange get in-game boons for this task. The Player Journal system more or less codifies this as a rule, and is especially appropriate for duet play.

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This chapter details the various rewards that can cross a Hero’s path during their adventures. The first section details sample tables and instructions on creating fancy valuable objects pertinent to the era, but the bulk of this section covers loot of the more magical variety.

Magical items from the base 5th Edition rules can be imported, but the book has some advice: Heroes may be learned in mystical ways, but they aren’t practitioners of sorcerous arts and so mostly concern themselves with magical items that have straightforward practical effects which don’t require deeply-honed arcane knowledge.

Talismans are common magical items primarily designed to be worn in order to avert misfortune or bring good fortune. They have once-per-day abilities which are activated in a certain way (prayer to a god, rubbing it or holding it alofted, swearing an oath, etc) and the effects typically grant Inspiration under a certain condition, turn a critical hit into a normal hit, restore hit points, or grant advantage on a certain skill type for 1 minute after spending Inspiration. Amulets are more powerful and typically have ‘charges’ which refresh every day such as spending inspiration to make a spent Follower unspent, gain Darkvision, or grant advantage on a specific kind of roll. Greater Amulets have always active powers such as breathing underwater, allowing the wearer to jump 3 times their normal distance, resistance vs a specific energy type, advantage on all saving throws, and the like.

Magical Weapons and Armour gain static attack/damage/AC bonuses, but they must have some kind of cultural significance or expert craftsmanship per +1 value. For example, pattern welding is a smithing technique which makes a weapon count as magical for purposes of damage resistance/immunity along with the +1 enhancement. Other means of creating/enhancing further +1s include weapons with names that become widely known in song and tale or are gifted via ritual gift-giving for a great service; ones etched with mysterious runes; and weapons found in ancestor graves and barrows (but are typically warded with curses and unliving guardians). There’s also “dwarf made” weapons and armor that in reality reflect any exceptional craftsmanship, and grant bonus damage equal to the wielder’s proficiency or an AC bonus equal to half said proficiency. Finally, there’s a sidebar which gives inspiration for coming up with Old English names for weapons and armour of renown.

Healing Treasures represent various herbs, salves, and medicines. They are never for sale and locally produced for times of great need or given as rewards to a Hero. They are rather ho-hum, restoring hit points and removing Conditions and diseases. But in regards to being used on Followers we get more interesting effects: healing items can cause a spent Follower to become unspent, gain a temporary Gift, or have a duration-based Gift last an extra round

Treasures of the Book and Hoards of the Old Gods are alignment-specific treasures and take on cultural aesthetics. Christian-style magic items include the bones of saints, engraved crosses, tablets inscribed with the Lord’s Prayer and such, while artifacts of the Old Ways can be more versatile ranging from hammer pendants, rune-engraved antlers, and carved wooden heads in the likeness of a deity. Both types of treasures impart once per day abilities, ranging from turning undead to adding Inspiration Tokens to a Hero/Follower Pool to imposing the stunned condition as an AoE against creatures of an opposing alignment/faith. There do exist “unaligned/neutral” treasures that tend to be merely extraordinary items unconnected to the supernatural, or possessed of powers unknown to both pagans and Christians. The neutral-aligned effects are more down to earth, like gaining advantage on any Intelligence check (particularly in the case of scholarly texts) or adding proficiency bonus to restored Hit Points during a short rest.

Magical Animals are the final type of treasure and are different from Noble Animals in that they are less active and only good for a neat trick or two at most. They can scout out areas, provide warnings, grant Inspiration to their owner 1/day, grant advantage on relevant skill checks in which they can be of assistance, or restore Hit Points 1/day via comfort and companionship or “magical spittle.” Gross.

Thoughts So Far: Although I have yet to test it out in play, the Follower system seems to have great potential in shoring up a lone PC’s short-comings. Given that the Hero can gain a lot of Followers over time it is approaching more of a “minion” style than that of relatively-equal sidekicks. The Gifts & Burden sub-systems are at once easily understood yet have enough variety in choices, and the use of encounters, being spent, awarding of treasure, and actions undertaken by the Hero during adventures keep Followers from feeling static and unchanging while also requiring canny management in the rest-based encounter system that is D&D 5th Edition.

The chapters on Adventure structure and Treasure had some useful material and provided great means of fleshing out the setting, although nothing in the way of being revolutionary. Overall, these chapters are nice additions for the GM in helping run campaigns that feel authentically Beowulfian.

Join us next time as we cover the sample adventure in Part 6: the Three Ogre Brothers!
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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This is an introductory adventure scaled for a Hero of 1st to 2nd level. The book suggests running the free Hermit’s Sanctuary adventure first, given that one follows the formula outlined in Part Four more closely, and in such a case the Hero may have leveled up at its completion. Otherwise, a 1st level PC may level up in the middle of the adventure, which is also accounted for.

The backdrop for this adventure is that Eotenalond was ruled over by an ogre warlord who slain the rightful human king. He died with three sons and didn’t appoint any of them to be his heir, for they all had positive and negative qualities in equal measure: his oldest was strong but neither brave nor cunning, the middle one brave but neither cunning nor strong, and the youngest was cunning but neither strong nor brave. The ogre king decided to have his now-gone dwarf servant build each of them a weapon, making them immune to immortal harm save for the weapons of each other as long as their respective weapons remain within their care, and that the last one standing shall be the heir. The ogres realized that their father sought to pit them against each other, and slain him; but even so that didn’t encourage any mutual trust, for each brother still feared the day when the others turned against them.

So naturally the Ogre Lands became fractious plots of lands engaged in a cold war ruled over by their respective ogre brothers, and the people suffer under their cruel and greedy ways. Enter the Hero, who embarks on a voyage there after a suitable adventure hook and Voyage Challenges. Upon reaching landfall the crew spots a lonely lighthouse amid the storm-wrought shore. Within this safe haven is an impromptu temple to the God of the Book and three figures, a father and two brothers, who can be interacted with as in the Meadhall and Mystery rules to illuminate the PCs further on the ogres. The Hero can also inspect the painted shutters of the chapel to learn of the region’s recent history via illustrations as well as the ogre brothers’ weaknesses upon a high enough Investigation check. The Hero can also learn that the family’s sole daughter ran away and they do not wish to speak of her. After being offered shelter from the torrential weather, the Hero and Followers will wake up to a now-ruined chapel and no trace of the men left behind. Said men were in fact ghosts of the prior human king and his sons.

Social stat blocks are provided for the trio, and give good outlines on how the Hero can gain advantage/disadvantage with skill checks, along with the results of information gained based on the degrees of success and failure. Even in cases of failed rolls the Hero can gain something, such as an added token to the Follower/Hero Pool and some information (albeit not the juiciest bits).

The adventure is technically a sandbox in that the ogre brothers’ lands can be resolved out of order, but some are closer to the lighthouse and shore than others so they're detailed as such: the Fens of Braegde, the marshlands claimed by the youngest and most cunning ogre of the same name; the Grasslands of Magan, claimed by the strongest and oldest of the brothers; and finally the mountainous Slopes of Bald, claimed by the bravest of the brothers.

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The Fens of Braegde are not ideal for farming, so most of its inhabitants make a living harvesting peat that makes for a useful fuel source and raising pigs to dig for tubers. The Hero has the chance to interact with several community figures here, as well as the opportunity to recruit two new Followers depending on their actions: Sverra is a respected peat gatherer who can tell the Hero about Braegde’s tricky ways and the defenses of his crannog, and will join the party if they discover the ogres’ weakness (and is in turn promised a position of power in the new order). The other potential follower is Helge the Fen Witch, who is actually the sole living heir of the last human king and the sister/daughter of which the lighthouse ghosts spoke of. The necklace she wears is the last piece of her family’s jewelry, which Braegde wants in order to legitimize his rule and thus something she refuses to give up. The Hero can learn that she became estranged from her family when they converted to the God of the Book, and she remained a proud adherent of the Old Ways.

Braegde lives in a fort supported by stilts over a swampy moat. A bridge is the sole easy means of crossing, although it’s possible to swim up and climb to the roundhouse. To prevent such a scenario the ogre made use of a horse-sized Moat Snake as a carnivorous guardian, which is fed just enough to keep it hungry but not enough that it weakens from starvation. Beyond said monster, Braegde keeps a retinue of 13 guards of unscrupulous character (Bandits led by a Fallen warrior). Braegde is smart enough to know that appearances of honor are important, and will act the part of a magnamious guest if the Hero comes nonviolently to the fort. He hopes to use the bonds of hospitality to get them to feed his moat snake and retrieve Helge’s jewelry which he insists is rightfully his.

The adventure offers various means of resolution and planning, but assumes a violent end to Braegde’s rule as the outcome. Sample plans include challenging the ogre to a riddle contest in betting their life or service against a loan of his sword (to be used to fight one of his brothers), or infiltrating the fortress to steal Braegde’s sword and turn it upon the ogre or use against the others.

An interesting thing to note about the dwarf-forged ogre weapons. Although they take different forms and damage types, each of them is sized enough to deal 2d8 to 2d10 damage. However they have the Massive burden, meaning any Hero with Strength less than 15 cannot apply their STR bonus to the damage roll for they require all their might just to control the weapon. Additionally the ogres lose the Undefeatable quality when the weapon leaves their own hands, meaning that Followers and other sources of damage can harm them normally when such conditions are met.

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The Grasslands of Magan are flatlands whose inhabitants raise and breed herds of horses. Magan has two pressing concerns to his rule beyond his rival brothers: one is the presence of the famed wild horse (and recruitable Noble Animal) Thunderclip who he wishes to claim as a mount of his own. The other is the warrior Ejnar, something of a recent folk hero known only as the Outrider who has been striking out against Magan’s forces and has yet to be caught. Thunderclip only shows up to gallop among the plains on the stormiest of nights, and Magan is plotting to organize a small cavalry of warriors to find and capture the steed which the PCs can take advantage of. The PCs can take hospitality from a local farming family (complete with their own Social Stat Block) to learn the lay of the land and hooks regarding Magan’s plots.

Battle with Magan will most likely take place during the Storm Hunt for Thunderclip or at his hall. Unlike Braegde, he has little concern for hospitality and wants nothing to do with the Hero unless he believes they can be used to capture Thunderclip and/or kill the Outrider. Beyond the man himself are an unspecified number of mounted Raiders and his second-in-command is the woman Hjördis, who is as cruel as Magan himself. Like Braegde’s encounter the adventure outlines various tactics and opportunities for the PC to turn things in their favor, from intimidating Hjördis enough that she won’t aid her master in combat, recruiting Thunderclip and/or Ejnar to ambush Magan during the Storm Hunt,* challenging Magan to single combat** or tests of competitive strength in order to earn hospitality or suitable stakes that don’t involve giving up his ogreclub weapon.

*damn, I’m getting Twilight Princess flashbacks now.

**which neither Magan nor his minions will honor, unless the Hero intimidates them sufficiently during the social encounter or Ejnar and other Followers occupy them to ensure that the duel remains honorable.

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The Slopes of Bald detail the last ogre brother who presides over an enclosed mountain fortress. This segment of the adventure is the most straightforward: Bald isn’t one for intrigue, and his local trouble involves a young frost dragon by the name of Grimrik who is a partial convert to the God of the Book after a faithful human by the name of Ingrunn started to read him fascinating tales from the Bible. The PCs can meet Ingrunn in a hut which he retreated to to escape from ‘worldly temptations,’ and his word can help bring Advantage in negotiations with Grimrik in forming an alliance against Bald.

Yes, Grimrik can be recruited as a follower. He’s actually quite young for a frost dragon (Medium size) but as a follower he has a nice array of Gifts to boost his melee combat capabilities. The narrative reason as to why he doesn’t use his breath weapon is to avoid friendly fire.

Bald’s minions are the Cold Iron Guard, so named for their well-armed, well-armored wargear. They have their own stat blocks rather than using generic human enemies from the following Monsters chapter, as CR ½ humans armed with Great Spears and armor that grants them 17 AC. Bald will show the minimum respect to his guests for ‘hospitality,’ but the cold, dark longhouse and his obsessive running of fingers along his greataxe indicates that he knows why the Hero is here and that their meeting will eventually end in violence. This is only if he’s aware that the party has one or more of his brothers’ weapons. Otherwise a successful Deception/Persuasion check can convince Bald to let the party accompany him on a ‘dragon hunt,’ where he plans to betray and kill the Hero and his Followers...which can also be a means for Ingrunn and/or Grimrik to ambush Bald’s guards or spring to the rescue depending on what is dramatically appropriate.

Once all three ogres have been dealt with, the Hero is rewarded by the various communities, but the fun doesn’t end there. Depending on the alliances the Hero made and the promises they gave, the lands may unite into one (most likely under Helge) or become separate kingdoms with varying degrees of cooperativeness. Resolutions for the various lands and potential leadership candidates are given, including Grimrik, who will laugh and automatically turn it down to the relief of everyone as he has little desire to ‘meddle in human squabbles.’ Beyond this we have a list of experience awards for the adventures’ encounters, 3 full-page battlemaps for the respective ogres’ halls, and 7 index cards of all the potentially recruitable Followers for this adventure.

Thoughts So Far: This adventure has quite a lot going for it; enough narrative freedom for the Hero to resolve things in various ways, and various investigation/social encounters which can “fail forward” even on less than ideal rolls. The overall plot is straightforward, but the various twists and turns, from the magical horse to a Christian dragon ally, are pleasantly unexpected to the point that I can see this being a rather memorable adventure.

One interesting thing to highlight is how the game rules manage to blunt the omnipresent lethality of low-level adventures. The Ogres are some pretty heavy hitters in melee combat, although the higher starting Hit Points, likely high AC, and use of Followers should give even a 1st-level PC enough of a fighting chance. I certainly cannot see this as a suitable 1st or 2nd level adventure for a standard 5e game. Beyond this, there are some concerns to raise: the first is that the simple “kick in the door” style play cannot work given the Undefeatable nature of Monsters in Beowulf, which should be emphasized to new players even if the setting and inspired stories are at their heart ones of glorious battles. The other is that the adventure is non-standard in having 3 capital-M Monsters rather than 1, which if done as a player’s first exposure to Beowulf may make them think most monsters in the game are like this.

Join us next time as we finish up this book in Part 7: Monsters and the Appendix!
 

dave2008

Legend
Thank you for the review. I am pretty sure I actually backed the Kickstarter, but I don't remember if I got the PDF! Your post has reminded me to go check
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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The final chapter of Beowulf: Age of Heroes is also the longest, culminating in 65 pages before hitting an Appendix. Granted, a fair portion of the chapter is artwork and stat blocks, so this Let’s Read Entry may not be as long as it ordinarily would be. The authors drew inspiration from the poem itself as well as other contemporary writings, folktales, and oral traditions of the region and era. The text prioritizes using the Old English spelling of a monster’s name, along with modern names and spellings. The book’s bestiary functions more or less the same as other 5e sourcebooks, with a few key differences.

1. Monsters can gain Inspiration thanks to the Monster Pool, so some special abilities require them to spend it.
2. Every monster has a sample list of Gifts and Burdens to adjust their difficulty. Some of them are significant enough to change their Challenge Rating, which in turn can affect their Proficiency Bonus. In such a case, variable entries for relevant categories are given.
3. Every monster has a brief list of how the Defeated condition can be imposed upon them. The vast majority can suffer this by dipping below a certain HP value, but some other effects are given as well.
4. Barring the entries for human enemies, every monster also has discussion of how they can become the Monster and thus Undefeatable in an adventure. 1-2 means of overcoming this condition are also provided for GM inspiration.
5. Monsters are sorted alphabetically by category, said categories being folkloric rather than by typical 5e monster type. Within those categories, individual monster entries are organized alphabetically.

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Ceorlcund are creatures who are seemingly human but possessed of obvious monstrous disposition, or were once human that trafficked in dark magic or fell prey to a curse that twisted them on the inside. Galdre are sorcerers who gained immortal status but at the cost of turning into barely-living husks held together by shadows. They can inflict harm with but a gaze, and they have the most Gifts of any monster by far with a wide selection of magical features: plunging an area into darkness, teleport a la Misty Step, change a creature’s size, charm creatures, etc. Haegtes, or Fury-Witches, can afflict people of any gender and most commonly befall humans who become obsessed with an all-consuming hatred. They are very much melee-based fighters who can enter a barbarian-style rage and have natural claw attacks, and their Gifts include those of the Galdre’s Magical Features as well as others such as a Climb speed, the ability to take on a magical illusion, and mimicking other sounds and voices. Healfhundingas, or Wulvers, are dog-headed humanoids who live in their own communities but are capable of peaceful interactions with humans. Conflict is most common when some outside Monster corrupts a Wulver leader with its fell influence as well as the typical troubles of land disputes, religious conflict with the Church, and famine reducing many to raiding. Hreoplings, or Screamers, are short humanoids who shout in an incomprehensible language. Some have knowledge of primal earth magic that can elevate some of their number to undead forms, which is a Gift. They seem to be perpetual wanderers and outcasts, inevitably coming into conflict when humans settle in their territory.

Healfhundingas and Hreoplings are the stereotypical fractional CR humanoids with few natural abilities. Their Gifts are reflective of this in giving them better weapons, increased Strength, and more HD and thus Hit Points, although the Hreoplings have some more supernatural Gifts like Grave Travel where they can teleport between barrow-mounds (provided they’re undead).

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Deofol are fiends who are most active at night and of relatively unknown origin. Nihtgengas, or night-demons, hunt for unguarded humans at night to strangle to death, and their stat block and Gifts reflect them as being stealthy ambush predators. Sceadugenga, or shadow-walkers, are gaunt Huge-sized four-armed fiends who kidnap people to draw into dark mists never to be seen again. They are large bruisers who exude a poisonous stech and whose limbs can be individually attacked, and their Gifts tend to enhance their natural attacks.

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Eotenas are lesser giants who are far shorter than their true Gigantas brethren but are still notably bigger and stronger than humans. Ogres are obese humanoids who crave the taste of human flesh and are possessed of a desire to rule over an area, which makes them tyrants of humanity and bitter foes towards their own kind. Trolls are dumber than ogres and don’t possess any pretense of civilization and act more akin to two-legged animals. Both of them are pretty close to their standard 5e stat blocks in mechanics, although trolls have a connection to water which can be incorporated as a weakness when they’re the Monster of the story.

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Firas are regular human enemies shorn of any special features. They include the ever-iconic Bandits and Raiders who at CR 1/8th are perhaps the weakest enemies in this chapter. What separates them is that raiders’ weapons and Gifts tend to emphasize mobility and long-reach weapons, while bandits are more generic long-seax wielding melee brutes.

For those of a more proper challenge, we start with the well-armed but ultimately cowardly Braggarts who become easily Defeated if they suffer the Frightened condition or have no allies within sight at the start of their turn. The Fallen once served a ruler who they outlived, considered a dishonorable fate in Anglo-Saxon culture; they are pretty tough CR 2 enemies with an AC 17 and a Parry that can add +2 to that value, and their Beaded Axes and Angons can render a foe weapon or shieldless on a critical hit. Oathbreakers are the lowest of the low and are held together as roving societies of violent outcasts motivated by material survival, which makes them all the more vicious with Multiattacks and their swords and war bows. Finally, Schemers are basically wannabe Wormtongues who sow strife in communities with their words. They possess magical amulets which grant them resistance to normal weapon damage and can succeed at a saving throw 2/day, and can pronounce words of doom and destruction which can impart psychic damage; they’re remarkably easy to Defeat, which happens if they fail a DC 10 Charisma save in combat when they take any amount of damage.

One other thing I noticed in the Fira entry. Some Gifts allow a human to be mounted, granting them advantage on melee attack rolls against unmounted creatures (this also exists as a Gift for followers). Directly attacking a horse is considered unheroic and if the Hero does it or orders a Follower to do so they impose the Troubled Condition on their Followers. In my Northlands Saga review I also happened to notice a similar setting reluctance in exposing horses to danger. With the help of a Norwegian friend we found a Wikipedia article that lent some credence to this. They were primarily used for transportation and held religious significance among the pagan communities. There is evidence of them being used in combat and in some rare cases being slaughtered for meat, however, suggesting that people still manage to find exceptions.

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Gigantas are true giants who live at the edge of the world. Although huge and powerful they are none too smart. One-eyed Giants are remnants of a formerly-great civilization who now exist as but a few tribes within the Dark Forest. Two-Headed Giants have better natural vision and can be cleverer on account that two heads are literally better than one for scheming. Both monsters are rather standard middle-CR Huge melee brutes, but they have a good assortment of Gifts that can enhance their combat prowess.

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Gryrefugol are ‘evil birds’ with likely supernatural origins. Eormenultur are horse-sized beasts with bronze beaks (or iron beaks and even metal feathers as Gifts) who are nimble fliers, while the Nihthroc (night-ravens) are said to be spies for the Old Gods and thus only come out at night. The latter birds are not very strong, being CR 1/4th creatures. They do have advantage on sight-based Perception checks and can perfectly recall any detail in the last 24 hours.

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Mererunan are mighty creatures of the sea, natural and otherwise. The hwael and kraken have the Siege Monster ability, where they deal double damage to objects and structures which makes them deadly against ships. Hwael are mundane yet still dangerous whales, and those of a more evil disposition have been known to pose their backs as false islands to then sink and drown sailors once they set afoot (this is one of its Gifts). The Kraken is lower-CR than its Monster Manual counterpart but it is still a giant tentacular horror who can spurt a blinding, poisonous ink cloud. Its Gifts can grant it Legendary Resistance and actions along with immunity to non-magical non-energy damage sources among other things. Rounding out this section is the low-CR Nicor, humanoids who can transform into seals via a special skin cloak. They sometimes marry humans during times of peace, and it is said that they are the sworn enemies of sea dragons and their spears are designed to cut through their hides.

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Orcneas are the walking dead, souls cursed or voluntarily tasked with staying in the mortal world until certain preconditions are fulfilled. The Dreag are revenants obsessed with accomplishing some purpose in life; in a few cases it can be an honourable one for Heroes to assist, but sometimes their good intentions are warped or they rise to perform wicked ends instead. They are CR ½ undead who can Multiattack and fight with shield and spear. Heags are tomb guardians who patrol ruins and barrow mounds; they are well-equipped with ornate armor fashioned during more prosperous ages, manifesting in a high 20 AC. They are very much endurance/defense focused undead, regenerating hit points when inside their burial area, can avoid dropping to 0 HP vs non-radiant and non-critical damage on a successful CON save, and can Parry to raise their AC as a reaction. Some of their Gifts include Magical Features to boot.

Mearcstapa, or March-Steppers, are mist-like undead with disproportionately-stretched bodies. They are said to arise when a corpse is not given a proper burial or who are disturbed from such a rest, being forced to wander the world. They can Multiattack with a great spear and and make a retaliatory reaction attack, and they are constantly surrounded by mists granting them obscurement vs ranged attacks. Some of their Gifts boost their combat abilities directly, but they also get the ability to create a magical disguise or expand their personal fog into a larger radius.

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Wideor are mundane animals of the land, detailing bears and wolves. They are similar to their monster manual entries, but can become Monsters via supernatural interference. We also learn that the word Aarth, the proper Anglo-Saxon name for bears, is bad luck to say in the belief that it summons them. Instead they’re called Bera, the brown one, instead. And instead of stats for normal wolves, we have Evil Wolves who live in the darkest reaches of the Forest, possessed of uncanny intellect and are known to be the pets and servants of more powerful evil creatures. They are akin to dire wolves statwise but have 9 Intelligence and can speak the Trader’s Tongue.

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Wyrmas are to dragons what ogres and trolls are to true giants: poor excuses for their mightier brethren, but still dangerous to most humans. Wyrmas are serpents who make their lairs in the wilderness and are mostly of animal intelligence. They are prominent in Biblical folklore, and those who are throwbacks to the serpent who tempted Eve have sapience and speak the tongues of humans, manifesting in a Gift of the same abilities along with the ability to charm targets who fail a Wisdom save. Otherwise, the Snaca and Merenaedre, Serpent and Lake Serpent respectively, are huge beasts who can swallow smaller targets. The former can constrict opponents while the latter can spit powerful blasts of water and mud that can respectively damage opponents and impose disadvantage on attack rolls. Lake Serpents are more magical and can select from Magical Features as Gifts.

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Wyrmeynnes are actual dragons and are suitably the highest-CR enemies in this bestiary. There are many types throughout the world, but four species are presented here. They all have appropriate lair actions (and legendary with the right Gifts), and a list of sample universal Gifts are provided irregardless of species. Each one also has their own species-specific Gifts. Their great ages mean that they speak a high number of languages: all but the air dragons speak Ancients, Draconic, English, Latin, and Trader’s Tongue. Ligdraca, or fire dragons, are the typical fire-breathing kind with powerful scorching breath and prefer to live in mountainous regions with hot geological activity. Lyftfloga, or air dragons, are capable of flying to other worlds with their wings and live exclusively in the highest places in the world. Sometimes they are of friendly disposition, flying down to the lowlands to advise a human ruler in some course of action. Statwise they’re similar to Fire Dragons but with an icy breath, and can speak every language in existence along with a natural telepathy. Saedracan, or sea dragons, call the deepest and most remote reaches of the world’s oceans their home, and are amphibious and can breathe lightning. Ythgewinnes, or lake dragons, are the smallest breed (about the size of horses) who bitterly fight each other for freshwater territory. This variety has a non-damaging breath weapon which emits a thick fog cloud that it can see through but others cannot.

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Ylves and Dweorhas, or elves and dwarves, are special cases. They are nigh-unknown supernatural entities who can take all manner of forms and are in a state of existence somewhere between mortals and gods. As such they do not have proper game statistics and are not overcome by typical martial prowess. Although both elves and dwarves have traits similar to their folkloric inspirations, they aren’t really a categorized species even if some of them share similarities in habitat and personalities. Elves are selfish, mysterious beings who have long memories and live in places of nature far from humanity. Dwarves are more approachable and are known to craft the highest-quality items and wargear; they are more understandable than elves, often motivated to collect rare items and feel jealousy towards other dwarves of greater power and status. They live under the ground and know much about the rare metals of the world and all manner of dead things buried beneath.

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The true final section of Beowulf: Age of Heroes summarizes material that can’t easily fit in the rest of the book. Most of it concerns details on generating material on the GM’s side, including lists of Old English names, the generation of communities, meadhalls, monster lairs, and interesting details about NPCs. Material from earlier chapters is reprinted here such as the Portent Table, and character sheets for Heroes and index card-style templates for Followers are provided and can be filled in. And our true final section is the Beowulf Reading List, a bibliography the writers used in the research of this era in the making of this sourcebook. I’ll repeat it here for those interested parties:

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Thoughts So Far: The monsters are overall pretty cool, and I like how much they can be customized via the use of Gifts and Burdens. There was one choice that puzzled me: Magic Resistance grants advantage on saves vs magic, and is considered powerful enough to increase their CR by 1. This would be a great boon in a normal 5e campaign, but in Beowulf where the Hero and their Followers are more or less non-magical, this will hardly see use save against certain magic items. But overall I have few complaints for this chapter.

Final Thoughts: Third party publishing for Dungeons & Dragons is a fraught one. All too often there remains the risk of one’s work passing into obscurity. Proper game design and balance often have no role to play in whether or not a product becomes a best-seller, and many Dungeon Masters refuse to use any non-official sourcebooks at their gaming table due to such concerns. Compounding this are many people who try to fit square peg genres into the dungeon-crawling fantasy round hole, trying to turn 5th Edition into a genre it cannot adequately support.



Beowulf: Age of Heroes manages to more or less avert many of these perils. Albeit set in a very different campaign setting than most in its ruleset, the concept, culture, and formula maps well enough to 5th Edition. Material in this book is easy to reference and manage, and it’s clear that a lot of love and care was put into it. But perhaps of greatest interest to those who wouldn’t be ordinarily inclined towards Dark Ages historical fantasy, the rules for 1 on 1 style play look functional to this reader’s perspective. They may take some work in adapting to a more standard high fantasy setting, but Beowulf provides a solid skeleton in which to build upon.



In short, Beowulf: Age of Heroes more than deserves its spotlight, and is a world in which I can see myself both running and playing. I look forward to seeing more of what Handiwork Games has to offer in the future, both for this line of products and others.



As for myself, I plan on Let’s Reading Seas of Vodari next. I’ve been promising to review that one for quite some time, and after enough procrastination I should use the energy from my writer’s inspiration to get out some drafts this weekend.
 
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Volund

Explorer
I backed the pdf, but wish I had added the book, too. It's gorgeous. I have run Hermit's Sanctuary a few times on Roll20 and my players liked it even though only one managed to defeat the Monster. Overall I love the integration of the Beowulf setting into 5e. The creators have done a great job supporting the game, releasing a third adventure, Horror at Herrogate, VTT maps and tokens for all three adventures, and other GM resources.
 




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