D&D 5E [Let's Read] DM's Guild Ravenloft Sourcebooks

Libertad

Hero
dceZEzu.png


Tsolenka Pass focuses on using the expanded map scale to turn the journey to the Amber Temple into a perilous wilderness adventure. This section references Curse of Strahd Reloaded for various environmental hazards. Things the Gazetteer itself provides is a 2d6 random encounter table for threats specific to Barovia’s mountains, using Kasimir Velikov as a guide to help them survive the journey, and an upgraded Stat block for the goat monster Sangzor among other things.

The Amber Temple hints on how the dungeon is notorious for killing PCs even by Curse of Strahd standards, but not to pull punches given the party likely heard all sorts of warnings about it for quite some time. It talks about how the placement of threats in the temple can make the party engage in one big battle or a series of smaller ones to drain their resources. For changes, the Gazetteer says that the berserkers should be expanded on as being Mountainfolk seeking shelter. They can be persuaded to not fight the PCs, and this attempt auto-succeeds if one of them displays Sangzor’s pelt. Additionally, the possession feature of the Staff of Frost should come with a warning or remedy along with a saving throw to resist, given permanently changing a PC’s personality is kind of a dick move. Diamond dust is added to the Lich’s Lair so that it can be used to cast Greater Restoration in order to restore Exethanter’s memory or unlock the command words for the volumes in the library. The library itself is greatly expanded on, containing a book that can help restore Exethanter’s memory as well as wandering allips haunted by the secrets they discovered in life. A new Special Event is added to this section as well, in having Ezmerelda show up as a general counterweight to whatever the PCs have done so far to shake things up.

Last but not least, the Gazetteer goes over the Dark Gifts, mentioning that by RAW the PCs can lose control of their characters via a single bad die roll if they turn evil. Otherwise, many of the gifts’ consequences may be cosmetic and encourage them to treat the vestiges like a grocery store for permanent buffs. The Gazetteer makes mention of Curse of Strahd Reloaded’s alternate system along with Matt Mercer’s Corruption rules for a more gradual multi-stage corruption process.

iGxMQHj.png


Castle Ravenloft goes into detail on this dungeon crawl. Instead of being a “final dungeon” for PCs to put off until the end, it can be made into a two-parter. An earlier “social phase” may have Strahd invite the PCs to dinner, and his intentions at this point are non-hostile. As long as they observe Barovian guest law, the party can explore the castle in relative safety, providing a great opportunity to interact with the castle inhabitants out of combat. If a treasure is to be found in Castle Ravenloft, the PCs may even mount a daring heist and the Gazetteer suggests the Treasury being perfect for such an event. PCs can stay in the guest room during this phase, and if they take a long rest a group of green hags (who replace the Barovian Witches) attempt to steal personal articles or locks of hair from the PCs for spell components. PCs who catch them in the act won’t earn reprisals from Strahd, as due to his Lawful Evil nature he will denounce the hags for violating the guest law.

The bulk of this section deals with changes and additional guidance to various rooms in the Castle. For instance, details are given in the Chapel if Strahd seeks to wed Ireena, giving outlines for characters who would be involved. Such as Rahadin being the Count’s best man, and Van Richten or Ezmerelda (if still alive) are lurking in the shadows for the perfect moment to strike the darklord.

Although it’s detailed later in the Appendix, Lifting the Curse expands on an alternate ending idea addressing DMs who may feel that the cycle of Strahd’s saga makes victory hollow if the domain will inevitably reset. This section provides more background details and “win conditions” for PCs to break the domain’s curse for good: one of the PCs is Sergei’s reincarnation, resulting in a dramatic reveal when Strahd welcomes them as his sibling during dinner at Castle Ravenloft.

In this scenario, Strahd seeks to find atonement by gaining the forgiveness of Tatyana and Sergei. How? By doing the classic drop to one knee and ask Ireena to marry him. He will then ask the reincarnated-Sergei PC to bless their union. Of course this plot is doomed to fail, for Strahd is making everything all about himself. Additionally his means of “atonement” don’t involve him giving up anything material, like his power over Barovia or allowing Ireena to live her own life on her own terms. The curse befalling Barovia can be broken by reuniting the spirits of Tatyana and Sergei…but neither of them must have accepted a dark gift from the vestiges at the Amber Temple. In such a case, the reincarnation will instead become Barovia’s new darklord.

Epilogues provides one more post-game victory which incorporates the “good ending” from Lifting the Curse where the reincarnated souls of Tatyana and Sergei are reunited. It has a detailed boxed text of the sun returning to Barovia, describing its rays shining down on the various locations explored during the campaign. Additionally, a massive celebration will be thrown for the party in the Village of Barovia, giving PCs time to tie up loose ends and say farewells to friends if they wish to leave. If Ireena ends up married, another epilogue happens nine months later as she delivers a baby. PCs who left Barovia are heading back in Ezmerelda’s wagon for the news, and as the baby cries the midwife does as well, for this is a sign that souls have returned to the land. If Ireena didn’t survive or otherwise isn’t looking to have kids, another character can be substituted, such as Stefania Martikov at the winery as Urwin is reunited with his family.

Strahd Von Zarovich: A User’s Guide is a three-page course of how to run Strahd. It’s a mixture of role-play and tactical advice. For example, it expands on his disguise as Vasili von Holtz and how being able to walk the land under an alternate identity allows him to gain a second set of impressions when people don’t know he’s Strahd, and also because he likes it:

Vasili also offers something even more important to Strahd: a chance to be among people again. In Castle Ravenloft, he’s surrounded by sycophants and mindless undead. As Vasili, he can walk the streets of Vallaki without sending the crowd running away in terror. He probably appreciates this aspect more than he would ever let on.

And then there’s the fun of it. Strahd likes being Vasili because he enjoys fooling everyone and knowing something they don’t. Not to put too fine a point on it, Strahd is a sadist whose only remaining pleasure lies in tormenting others. While you don’t want to run anything just to be sadistic to your players, there is something so inherently cruel about his betrayal of the characters’ trust as Vasili that it speaks to an essential truth of his character even as he is pursuing other goals.

The section also goes over tactics where the DM can be more lenient with the use of metagame knowledge (to a limit) given Strahd’s control over Castle Ravenloft combined with his scrying and spy network. Additionally, it recommends two combat guides on Reddit for running him when initiative is rolled, so the book instead focuses on his strategist aspect while also making it narratively satisfying without abuse of wall hacks.

Monster Hunter’s Gear provides new equipment which is notably owned by Rudolf Van Richten. It includes a modified crossbow with an underslung that can fire alchemical vials, including new powdered silver that can blind and poison lycanthropes as well as remove their damage immunity. He also has 3 doses of ether which he can use to poison and knock unconscious a target for 4 hours. Finally, an intact copy of Van Richten’s Guide to Vampires can give the PCs metagame knowledge of the traits of vampire and vampire spawn from the Monster Manual. Depending on the campaign, the Guide may also have hints of Barovia’s cyclical nature with passages of Van Richten killing Strahd in a fashion similar to the original I6 Ravenloft module.

qmVoXmg.png


Monsters & NPCs includes the stat blocks of new and remodeled creatures not present in the base Curse of Strahd module. We’ve got stats for individual Black Banner adventurers as vampire spawn (as the base monster but with some minor racial and/or class features to individualize them), a buffed-up stat block of Clovin Belview (bard spells and a taunt debuff), a False Hydra (like the normal one but has a rechargeable song that causes a humanoid to become incapable of noticing or remembering its presence on a failed Wisdom save), Red Lukas (undead bandit boss monster specializing in mounted combat who can summon vargouilles and has legendary actions), a buffed-up version of Sangzor (a CR 6 beast with a Legendary Action to perform a mobile kick attack), a new Warlock of the Undead (a CR 7 NPC who can turn into a more frightening visage of their patron), a Werewolf Pack Leader (like a werewolf but stronger), a unique stat block for Kolyan Indirovich for the flashback sequence in the Village of Barovia, and stat blocks for existing monsters such as Allips, Bodaks, and the Gulthias Tree.

This section ends with a unique, buffed-up CR 17 version of Strahd for more experienced and larger parties. Beyond higher stats where it counts, he can cast up to 6th level spells and has a unique 21 AC for when he’s wearing his animated armor as the major differences.

Handouts is our final section of new and altered in-game texts the PCs can find. They’re also available as their own individual PDFs for sharing with gaming groups. They include the religious history of the Abbey of St. Markova* detailing how it was brought down when one of the saints to which it is named led a doomed rebellion against Strahd with the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind; angsty writings of Victor Vallakovich’s private diary; a reworked account of Van Richten’s Journal; and a Tome of Strahd with a slightly altered backstory in line with Lifting the Curse, where Strahd was killed by his guards and rose as a vampire before Tatyana’s death.

*The Gazetteer mentions that -ovia typically denotes a place name and that Markovia is already the name of another Domain of Dread. Markova is in line with Barovian naming conventions.

Overall Thoughts: The Barovia Gazetteer is a stellar guide for DMs seeking to run Curse of Strahd. It has just a little bit of everything, from expanded details on Barovian culture and economy for increased verisimilitude, rebalancing of problematic encounters and events, and fun suggestions for adding interesting twists to virtually every location. The “social phase” idea for Castle Ravenloft is a great idea in making the dungeon more “explorable” given that most gaming groups won’t get to experience the place in its entirety.

Overall I don’t have many complaints for this, and those that exist are rather minor. I would recommend its purchase for DMs both old and new seeking to run Curse of Strahd.

Join us next time as we sail the Whale Road, seax in hand, to visit Heorot: Beowulf’s Domain of Dread!
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Libertad

Hero
It should take the better part of a week, but I'm approaching the end of my Ravenloft sourcebook reviews. I will probably take a well-deserved break for November, but figured to share my next potential reviews to gauge reader interest. None of these are set in stone, and some are books I'm still reading.

JzZFxZH.png

The Heist of the Mad King's Jewel is an adventure path where the PCs advance a plot to rob a bank of a valued artifact in a gnome-run steampunk metropolis

gTVQuGJ.jpg

Dungeons of Drakkenheim is a dark fantasy adventure centering around the PCs delving into the ruined capital city of a once-great kingdom and battling a cosmic horror that threatens the entire world. Also politicking between various factions who have their own designs on Drakkenheim.

Ub9h8hw.jpg

Historica Arcanum: City of Crescent is an urban fantasy setting and adventure path taking place in 19th Century Istanbul/Constantinople. Monsters and spellcasters are part of a literal underground society and are wrapped up in a World of Darkness-style plot of politicking and conspiracy that can spell the fate or doom of the entire city and beyond.

PggCDKq.png
4RtbzjG.jpg

Inferno: Dante’s Guide to Hell & Virgilio’s Untold Tales is a setting and pseudo-adventure path where the PCs are lost souls cast down into Hell and are journeying to find salvation as Satan’s minions and other sinners thwart them at every turn.

oRlOg71.jpg
9Be0fSK.jpg

Corpus Malicious the Codex of Evil & Corpus Angelus the Codex of Good are spiritual sequels to 3rd Edition’s Books of Vile Darkness and Exalted Deeds, containing new gaming options and treatises on D&D’s morality system.

mNqzkLF.jpg

Awakened is a sourcebook for creating talking animal and plant PCs. Not anthros, not furries, but mundane animals who now have the ability to talk and think at sapience level.

srrmiMU.jpg

The Sentient Weapon, a New Combination of Race and Class turns all of those talking magic swords you find in treasure hoards into a playable option.

Awakened is much shorter than any of the above, so chances are I’ll review that first. Same for Sentient Weapon, which is around the same length.
 
Last edited:


dave2008

Legend
It should take the better part of a week, but I'm approaching the end of my Ravenloft sourcebook reviews. I will probably take a well-deserved break for November, but figured to share my next potential reviews to gauge reader interest. None of these are set in stone, and some are books I'm still reading.

JzZFxZH.png

The Heist of the Mad King's Jewel is an adventure path where the PCs advance a plot to rob a bank of a valued artifact in a gnome-run steampunk metropolis

gTVQuGJ.jpg

Dungeons of Drakkenheim is a dark fantasy adventure centering around the PCs delving into the ruined capital city of a once-great kingdom and battling a cosmic horror that threatens the entire world. Also politicking between various factions who have their own designs on Drakkenheim.

Ub9h8hw.jpg

Historica Arcanum: City of Crescent is an urban fantasy setting and adventure path taking place in 19th Century Istanbul/Constantinople. Monsters and spellcasters are part of a literal underground society and are wrapped up in a World of Darkness-style plot of politicking and conspiracy that can spell the fate or doom of the entire city and beyond.

PggCDKq.png
4RtbzjG.jpg

Inferno: Dante’s Guide to Hell & Virgilio’s Untold Tales is a setting and pseudo-adventure path where the PCs are lost souls cast down into Hell and are journeying to find salvation as Satan’s minions and other sinners thwart them at every turn.

oRlOg71.jpg
9Be0fSK.jpg

Corpus Malicious the Codex of Evil & Corpus Angelus the Codex of Good are spiritual sequels to 3rd Edition’s Books of Vile Darkness and Exalted Deeds, containing new gaming options and treatises on D&D’s morality system.

mNqzkLF.jpg

Awakened is a sourcebook for creating talking animal and plant PCs. Not anthros, not furries, but mundane animals who now have the ability to talk and think at sapience level.

srrmiMU.jpg

The Sentient Weapon, a New Combination of Race and Class turns all of those talking magic swords you find in treasure hoards into a playable option.

Awakened is much shorter than any of the above, so chances are I’ll review that first. Same for Sentient Weapon, which is around the same length.
Is this a preview of what you are reviewing next?
 


Libertad

Hero
soIX0TV.jpg

Product Link
Product Type: Location, Bestiary
CoS-Required? No

A year and a half ago I reviewed a 5e historical fantasy setting inspired by the saga of Beowulf, so upon seeing this book up on the DM’s Guild I knew that I had to review it.

Named after the famed mead fall in which the hero Beowulf fights Grendel each night, this Domain of Dread is a cold, early medieval domain inspired by the myths and legends of ancient Celtic and Nordic peoples. Dominated by a massive body of water known as the Whale Road, society is split up into semi-autonomous villages that praise and valorize mighty deeds of arms and keeping one’s word as their bond. But it is also a domain filled with monsters: trolls, wolves, giants, and worse things lurk in the uncharted wilds, and the bonds of loyalties and blood prices can cause ancestral feuds to spiral out of control. It is a realm of natural beauty, inspiring tales, good-hearted leaders, and trust forged from lifelong friendships, but it is also a land that is locked in a literal cycle of violence.

KUi5LyH.png


Settlements and Sites detail the major areas of Heorot. The domain is split up into several large regions, with Scyldingland, Geatland, Mycre, and Scylfingham comprising the human kingdoms. The Hranfolk, a nomadic group based off of the real-world Sami people, lair in the northern reaches, and the great mountains of Domesdæg in the northwest is a kingdom of fire giants, Dweorg Fells is home to the dweorg (a subrace of dwarf), and the Endless Ice of the far north is the dominion of first giants, dragons, and other monstrous horrors. Many of the population centers reference rules for Carousing in the Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and what kinds of complications and contacts can be made in those particular settlements. They also detail stat block references and numbers of NPCs and longships in case violence inevitably strikes, and most of the lords and ladies of the larger lands have their own unique entries. The book is a bit scattered in this last regard, where such characters are spread between 3 different areas: first a brief overview in this section, then in a section of their own labeled Lords of Heorot, and finally stat blocks in Friends and Foes. For ease of reading I’ll cover them all as they come if possible. Some commonalities I’ll note of Heorot’s significant NPCs is the Legendary Action to form a Shieldwall or Boar’s Snout, which grant free movement to nearby allies to enter into formations that can grant various benefits such as cover bonuses to AC and advantage on melee attacks in certain situations.

Scyldingland is famed for hosting the Hall of Heorot, a place full of good cheer and friendly competitions. But this happiness conceals a pall of fear and despair, for every night the monster Grendel comes to cause inevitable violence, and upon his death the Mere-Wife, his mother and the darklord of the domain, sets out to slay his killers. Due to the unique curse of the darklord she and Grendel are immortal, coming back to life as the people involved forget the incident (and those slain by them also arise). This amnesiac time loop remembered by none save those from outside the domain and a precious few NPCs who are in on the domain’s true nature. The region is also home to the town of Waelsing whose chieftain and family suffer from the cursed items of their own treasure hoard obtained from an ogre warlord; the dangerous Ettinmoors which hold a high concentration of ogres, ettins, trolls, and other minor giantkind; the Skjoldungen Isles that are rugged places only the largest of which have settlements of any size along with undead-haunted barrows; and the Mist Mere that houses the underwater grotto of Grendel and the Mere-Wife.

King Hrothgar and Queen Waltheow are the greatest authorities of the Scylding people, who are your typical “good-hearted rulers who need the PCs to keep their lands safe.” Hrothgar has become privately depressed over the nightly deaths of Grendel’s work. Which seems a bit of a contradiction, as the time loop would make him forget. PCs who slay Grendel are rewarded many great treasures along with warhorses, although due to the Darklord’s curse such boons are doomed to eventually leave their hands. In combat Hrothgar is your typical melee warrior with Legendary actions themed around granting boons and additional actions to allies. Queen Waltheow isn’t as much of a warrior, but she is a legendary alewife who can remove impurities from food and drink, her prepared meals have the benefits of Heroes Feast spell, and she can grant people Unfailing Inspiration a limited number of times per day to add 1d10 to a D20 roll once within the next 10 minutes…and if an ally nearby uses it, her Infectious Inspiration can bounce to another creature without expending the use!

I’m just imagining the Queen cheering on the PCs as they battle Grendel, making them more powerful past their mortal limits.

Geatland is the other major kingdom of Heorot from where Beowulf hails. In fact, this hero is the nephew of its king. The Geats and the Scyldings are on friendly terms due to the deep bonds between their leaders. It is due to this bond that Beowulf is amenable to traveling to Heorot Hall to stop Grendel’s rampages…again and again and again. Geatland is a heavily coastal region, and its cliffs are plagued by evil giant eagles. The High Hall is from where King Hygelac and Queen Hygd rule, with the latter being famously wise which makes her a fine ruler. The region’s more interesting places include the farming village of Greotan where a monstrous dullahan lives in a cave and emerges during low tide to ride and stalk prey among the farmland; the market town of Hrethelham, of which quality hirelings and magic items can be obtained; and the mountain range of Dragonhome, which is home to a particularly powerful dragon known as the Wyrm who is worshiped by a troll-led cult that regularly wars against the Geat-allied goliath tribes.

There’s not much to say about the King and Queen of the Geats save that the King possesses a magic ear horn that helps him hear normally due to his deafness, and the Queen possesses a modified Jug of Alchemy that generates honey, mead, and other alcoholic beverages. Silver and gold rings given in service for acts of heroism by the rulers act as Mist Tokens to Heorot.

Myrce is an independent city-state that peaceably trades with the other major kingdoms and the Hranfolk. Its greatest threat comes from the monsters of the forest who raid the town for cattle and people. Known as the Trollesweald, it is home mostly to trolls and some sceadugengan* spirits. Its King died in battle against an unknown foe, and Queen Modthryth is a half-elf woman whose disposition seems to only have improved after her husband’s death. Once a cruel and bitter ruler, she is now famed for her loyalty and kindness, remaining happily single. In terms of stats she is similar to the others, although due to worship of the Raven Queen she can magically teleport.

*This term is usually spelled without the last “n” from what I’ve seen, but this is how the sourcebook does it.

Scyflingham and Ravenswood is the territory of the Scylfing clan, whose wicked leader King Onela harbors a deep hatred for the Geats. When the Mists claimed the region, he was afflicted with a monstrous curse, where every night he turns into a two-headed monster known as a sorrowsworn and hunts the lands for hapless victims. None of his subjects know about this condition. The Ravenswood is a dangerous forest home to the dead spirits of Scylfing warriors who died at the hands of Geatish invaders.

In terms of stats King Onela has a human form that is pretty much a nonmagical melee warrior, but in his Sorrowsworn form he gains a variety of upgrades, such as gaining resistance against all damage while in darkness, natural hooklike weapons, and deals increased psychic damage to those who successfully damage him.

SJg6RBI.png


Hranfolk Lands detail the wide-ranging regions patrolled by the nomadic Hranfolk. The terrain consists of hilly wide fjords and deep marshy valleys in a tundra climate. The Hranfolk have the ability to travel the Mists much like the Vistani, but unlike the Vistani they often settle down long-term in lands they find amenable based on animistic traditions. They view every living creature as having a connection to the spirit realm, and bears are a sacred animal in their culture to the point that they hunt them during special holidays and bury their bones in mounds after using the rest of the body. Hranfolk souls reincarnate into the bodies of descendents, and they often assign affectionate nicknames to family members like “Little Father” once a shaman identifies the particular reborn spirit. They make use of reindeer as mounts and beasts of burden, and are famed for their skis which they use to traverse snow-blanketed regions.

The closest thing the Hranfolk have to a city is Guokso, a year-round collection of roundhouses arranged around a giant spear-like plug of gray stone they can use to magically commune with their ancestors. The leaders of various clans traditionally dwell here so as to have a means of communication between each other. One other interesting place includes the village of Ridne, whose hunters can serve as guides into the treacherous Endless Ice and is also home to a community of arcanists who train with dweorg artisans in the nearby hills.

The high leaders of the Hranfolk are King Darbmu and his husband Kare, who is also King through wedlock. They do not take to blood feuds and politicking like other leaders of Heorot, instead prioritizing ways for their people to survive the coming winters and maintain spiritual balance with the natural world. PCs who earn their respect and trust can be gifted magical rune stones which are often stone-based magic items such as a Stone of Good Luck or various Ioun Stones. Statwise they are Hranfolk Hunters, a stat block akin to rangers with specialization in bows and thrown items, along with minor spellcasting and the ability to create Hunter’s Wards which act like Protection From Evil and Good.

Endless Ice and Godsfall dominate the domain’s far north, a perpetually frozen expanse of ice and snow. Its blizzards are without compare and are magically empowered (like Eldritch Storms in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything), earning them the moniker Thrym’s Howl. All sorts of arctic monsters can be fought here, although a grand waterfall known as Godsfall is home to fossergrim and nixies who may not be as hostile as others unless their home is polluted or otherwise disrespected. The Hranfolk way station of Biktadallat serves as a jumping-off point for expeditions into the Mists to journey to other domains.

Nifolham is a tribe of frost giants living in the Endless Ice. Their queen, Kvietea, has had a secret affair with King Rodfare of the Domesdæg fire giants, but due to a misunderstanding from a breakdown of communication Kvietea now hates the man she believes to have spurned her. She has also privately forsaken the traditional worship of Thrym in favor of the troll god Vaprak the Destroyer, who granted her immortality in exchange for more power and regeneration. Now she is building a cult whose members hunt down ice trolls to consume and gain their powers.

Queen Kvietea doesn’t have a stat block of her own. She uses the stats of a Frost Giant Everlasting One, which is a multi-headed giant who can regenerate like a troll and has a Barbarian-like Vaprak’s Rage ability.

Domesdæg is the mountainous land of the fire giants, whose King Rodfare was a legendary warrior who grew jealous of his younger, more vigorous children that were fast eclipsing him in his old age. He began an affair with Queen Kvitea as the result of a midlife crisis, and in a fit of drunken resentment killed all of his children via poisoning. This happened as the Mists of Ravenloft descended due to the Mere-Wife’s own misdeeds. When King Rodfare was slain by his own wife horrified by his actions, he awoke as an undead death knight. Faced with the great shame of kin-slaying, he’s become a more reserved ruler, delegating much of his duties to fire giant necromancers. Galdorscraf is a cave located in the eastern mountains, the domicile of three hags of different types who use their natural cunning and magic to encourage vengeance and resentment among the domain’s people. Many blood feuds have been exacerbated by their doing. For those who feel they are not powerful enough to slay their hated foes, the hags have a process where they can transform someone into an ooze known as a slithering tracker that is so hungry for revenge they know of no other path.

King Rodfare is one of the most powerful creatures in Heorot. As a CR 21 Fire Giant Death Knight, he is basically a paladin with punishing physical attacks, a variety of spells, and some unique AoE fire-based attacks. However, he doesn’t have Legendary or Lair actions, which blunts his ability as a boss monster in comparison to Grendel and the Mere-Wife.

Dweorg Fells is a hilly tundra east of Hranfolk Lands home to Heorot’s duergar, or dweorg in their own cultural dialect. They live entirely underground in a series of winding tunnels with cleverly-hidden entrances to the surface. The dweorg operate on a higher level of magic and technology than the rest of the domain, with their forces supplemented by all manner of clockwork constructs and whose smithies have produced more than a few items of legends sung about in bardic tales.

Whale Road is the central sea in the domain of Heorot. Virtually every culture has lands touching this body of water, and even the Hranfolk Lands have lakes and rivers running down into it. People travel in longships to raid and trade, and sailors make use of magical sunstones to avoid getting lost at sea during the day. We do get a generous assembly of tables for random encounters at sea suitable for every Tier of play. The unique locations are all notable islands, such as Draug Island which attracts undead spirits who died at sea and is home to a cave with runic engravings dedicated to the goddess Hel, or Storm’s Eye which is home to a storm giant oracle by the name of Wyndgyfu whose visions have stretched across time and space. The oracle can even tell the PCs of how to lift the darklord’s curse and rescue the domain from the Mists, but due to Ravenloft’s corruption she has become greedy and will only offer this insight in exchange for the hoard of the Wyrm of Dragonhome.

FxavRCn.png


The Mere-Wife and Grendel tell us the tragic tale of how Heorot became claimed by the Mists. Her name long forgotten, the Mere-Wife was a human woman who sought to become a warrior in a male-dominated society. But after being gravely wounded in one battle, she was kidnapped by an ogre from the Ettinmoors.

Content Warning: attempted sexual assault

The ogre sought to make her his sex slave, but the ogre’s brother was disgusted at this idea. An argument erupted, resulting in the death of the would-be rapist.

After being rescued by the ogre’s sibling, the Mere-Wife was able to see that not all monsters were irrevocably evil, and what began as a mutual respect and friendship turned into love. They had a son who they named Grendel, and while they could not return to human society due to generations of hate and fear of monsters, they lived a relatively happy life in the swamp. This happiness would end, when the ogre was ambushed and slain by trophy hunters. Grendel began to suffer from a congenital sickness, causing the Mere-Wife to hunt for him. Due to a mistake where Grendel mistook a human for an odd animal and ate him, a strange power was unlocked. B eating the flesh of humanoids Grendel became more powerful, partially nullifying his sickness. When the Mere-Wife began hunting humanoids for him to eat, the Dark Powers of Ravenloft took notice.

More tragedy ensued when Grendel began to grow curious about human society. He was particularly fascinated with music, and the instruments being played from Heorot Hall practically enchanted him. When he entered the Hall to sing and dance, the assembled people were horrified. They saw him as a dangerous monster who just burst into their homes. Many died that night from this misunderstanding, and as Grendel fled the Hall bleeding profusely the dreadful cycle began: for nearly ten years Grendel would hunt and eat more humans, growing more powerful until the Geatish hero Beowulf accepted a quest to find and slay him. The Mere-Wife, angered with rage, came to King Hrothgar and demanded a weregild. She was refused, for monsters were considered no better than beasts and the King said that Beowulf has done a great service in ridding the land of him. She killed everyone in the hall save for King Hrothgar, to let him suffer as she had in losing what was most precious to her. Then the Mists claimed the lands touching the Whale Road as a new Domain of Dread.

The Mere-Wife is the darklord of Heorot, and her curse is that she has to experience her own son dying in her arms whenever Beowulf or some other hero wounds him. Grendel’s monstrous vitality is such that he lives until he returns to their lair so that she can personally witness his death. While the Mere-Wife wishes to take Grendel somewhere safe and never be troubled again, they cannot leave the domain, which engenders in her and Grendel a resentment of the company and good cheer the humans experience in their mead halls and villages.

The cycle is such that Grendel and anyone killed by the Mere-Wife or her son preceding her act of vengeance is revived 1d4 days after Grendel’s death. None of the domain’s permanent inhabitants remember these killings or events that arise around them, and any treasure or gifts granted for slaying Grendel are magically restored to the previous owner’s possessions. The only people who can be aware of this cycle are visitors from outside the domain and Hranfolk NPCs, but even they must succeed on a Wisdom save in order to have even hazy memories of the events. The DC lowers over time, as the cycles become more and more prominent.

The only way to end this cycle and free Heorot from the Domains of Dread is to find the legendary sword Life Blade, completely wooden yet forged from the bark of the World Tree Yggdrasil. It is in the Mere-Wife’s lair and visible to only those from beyond the domain. Once she is slain with it her blood will warm the blade, melting it like spring’s arrival driving away the snow. This metaphor represents a release from a cold, harsh winter and the bloody violence wrought over the domain. Besides the storm giant oracle, Healgamen the Scop (famed bard in Heorot Hall) knows that the key to the Mere-Wife’s deaths lies in her lair, albeit he doesn’t know about the Life Blade specifically as his advice came to him in a dreamlike vision.

We have a table for 1d20 Adventures in Heorot which provide for minor quests and encounters besides the central plot of Grendel and the Mere-Wife, along with a 1d12 table of Travelers in the Mists who can be found around the domain’s edges. The Mists are known as the Ginnungagap by locals, perceived by them as a yawning void at the land’s extremities. Encounters in the Mists include Hranfolk and Vistani travelers, message-bearing ravens of the Keepers of the Feather, and even a warlock encouraging adventurers to visit the domain of Bluetspur in hopes of manipulating them into finding powerful treasures and knowledge. We have a detailed backstory and stat block for one particular wanderer, Wiglaf Weohstansson. A very distant cousin of Beowulf, Wiglaf was a former warrior serving under King Onela but found himself driven away from his former lord’s cruel ways. After maturing and learning more about the dangers of the world by studying with the Hranfolk, he grew wise to the role of the Mists and how other lands beyond Heorot were similarly cursed in cycles of mortal sins. He can be found in other Domains of Dread, but he has a soft spot for Heorot and seeks to find the means of freeing it from the Mists.

He also has romantic feelings for Beowulf, and hasn’t confessed this to him yet. Wiglaf’s stat block has him as a melee-based fighter with wereraven abilities. He isn’t immune to non-magical, non-silvered weapons but instead regenerates damage unless damaged from a silvered weapon.

t6Zb15o.png


The non-bestiary side of Heorot ends with New Magic Items, detailing 21 new treasures for PCs who hold the shieldwalls and brave the currents of the Whale Road. Some of the more interesting treasures include Aesir Vessels (drinking vessels that can turn liquids placed within into various magical potions and poisons depending on rarity), a Feather of Exaction (consumable item which increases one ability score to 20 permanently but decreases a random score by 1d12; a score of 0 kills the person), Figureheads (engraved visages of various animals at the heads of longships which can grant magical buffs to the entire crew), new Figurines of Wondrous Power (such as a giant goat whose meat can magically restore lost hit points or a pair of ravens which let the item’s owner cast animal messenger on one and beast sense on the other), a Hran Spirit Whistle (stabilizes a dying creature if blown on, but cursed to have a chance of having a ghost randomly possess a nearby target if the user isn’t a cleric, druid, or Hranfolk), Ogre-Etched Weapons (+1 weapons which do maximum damage when striking dragon type creatures and nullifies their breath weapon for a turn), Sunstone (a ship on which you’re a passenger cannot become lost during daylight hours), War Banner (fabric depicting either a fearsome beast or Norse deity of strength, can grant various benefits as an action to nearby allies), and the Warlord’s Helm (legendary helmet that grants +2 AC and Wisdom and Charisma saves, upgrades cover to the next highest type, once per turn can spend reaction to have a nearby ally make an extra melee attack).

The Life Blade is the most detailed magic item here. An artifact required to defeat the Mere-Wife for good, it is a +3 longsword that deals double the rolled weapon damage on a hit. Any target reduced to 0 hit points with it is also affected by Remove Curse, and due to being forged to be wielded by giants anyone with less than 18 Strength or isn’t at least Large size suffers disadvantage on attack rolls with it. It also has 9 charges which can be spent to cast a variety of spells, such as Goodberry, Heal, Plant Growth, and Summon Beast. Those who worship a Norse god or are Chaotic Good receive additional boons such as +2 Constitution, resistance to fire damage, and can use charges to cast the Barkskin spell. But those who don’t fit these qualifications gain negative traits such as automatically extinguishing nearby nonmagical fires, and all creatures of the dragon type are hostile to the wielder and have advantage on attack rolls against them. As the sword cannot be taken more than 100 feet where it was obtained and the battle fought in an underwater grotto, the nonmagical fire curse isn’t as bad. However, one of the creature types the Mere-Wife can randomly summon is a black dragon wyrmling, which can then come into play.

Thoughts So Far: Heorot is a cool domain reminiscent of British/Nordic dark ages fantasy. There are lots of interesting locales and characters which can inspire a variety of adventure ideas beyond the central conflict with the darklord. While a bit excessive in detail, the various settlement entries are well-equipped for defenses in case the PCs decide to raid, need to defend the village from a raid, or wish to gain some hired help for an adventure. I have to wonder if the author was inspired by the Followers system for Beowulf: Age of Heroes in this last regard.

The take on the original story of Beowulf is an interesting one, and does much to expand on the backstory and role of Grendel’s mother in a narratively satisfying way that fits in with the self-damned nature of Ravenloft’s darklords.

Join us next time as we cover new monsters and NPCs in Part 2: Friends & Foes!
 

Libertad

Hero
finally, I am up to date.

Any of the products stand out to you?

Is this a preview of what you are reviewing next?

Sort of. They serve as a "these are the books I have as my higher-priority reviews after Ravenloft," whenever that may be.

Thank you for this.

Wow, that's some really fantastic stuff.

You're welcome! I've been collecting these sourcebooks for quite some time, and it's been great seeing what the community has made these past few years. But with the relative dearth of discussion I wanted to do my part in highlighting what good books I can.
 
Last edited:

Hussar

Legend
But with the relative dearth of discussion I wanted to do my part in highlighting what good books I can.
I totally agree. One of the real shames is that the DM's Guild stuff often gets pooh poohed as amateur or poor quality and largely ignored. That hasn't ever been true and I've found the DM's Guild stuff invaluable when running a WotC adventure.
 

dave2008

Legend
You're welcome! I've been collecting these sourcebooks for quite some time, and it's been great seeing what the community has made these past few years. But with the relative dearth of discussion I wanted to do my part in highlighting what good books I can.
I really appreciate. It makes me wish the was a dedicated source (blog, website, zine, etc.) that would do this for the whole guild. If I hit the lottery that would be my per project and I would hire you to do the reviews! ;)
I totally agree. One of the real shames is that the DM's Guild stuff often gets pooh poohed as amateur or poor quality and largely ignored. That hasn't ever been true and I've found the DM's Guild stuff invaluable when running a WotC adventure.
I agree. The problem for many is that there is so much stuff it can be daunting to some. It is not overly difficult to focus on the best stuff, but it can be overwhelming at first. Do wish there was some type of semi-official area like the old adepts program but better. The authors of new WotC products have a habit of releasing additional content on the Guild, I wish the was a specific place you could find their work.
 

dave2008

Legend
soIX0TV.jpg

Product Link
Product Type: Location, Bestiary
CoS-Required? No

A year and a half ago I reviewed a 5e historical fantasy setting inspired by the saga of Beowulf, so upon seeing this book up on the DM’s Guild I knew that I had to review it.

Named after the famed mead fall in which the hero Beowulf fights Grendel each night, this Domain of Dread is a cold, early medieval domain inspired by the myths and legends of ancient Celtic and Nordic peoples. Dominated by a massive body of water known as the Whale Road, society is split up into semi-autonomous villages that praise and valorize mighty deeds of arms and keeping one’s word as their bond. But it is also a domain filled with monsters: trolls, wolves, giants, and worse things lurk in the uncharted wilds, and the bonds of loyalties and blood prices can cause ancestral feuds to spiral out of control. It is a realm of natural beauty, inspiring tales, good-hearted leaders, and trust forged from lifelong friendships, but it is also a land that is locked in a literal cycle of violence.

KUi5LyH.png


Settlements and Sites detail the major areas of Heorot. The domain is split up into several large regions, with Scyldingland, Geatland, Mycre, and Scylfingham comprising the human kingdoms. The Hranfolk, a nomadic group based off of the real-world Sami people, lair in the northern reaches, and the great mountains of Domesdæg in the northwest is a kingdom of fire giants, Dweorg Fells is home to the dweorg (a subrace of dwarf), and the Endless Ice of the far north is the dominion of first giants, dragons, and other monstrous horrors. Many of the population centers reference rules for Carousing in the Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and what kinds of complications and contacts can be made in those particular settlements. They also detail stat block references and numbers of NPCs and longships in case violence inevitably strikes, and most of the lords and ladies of the larger lands have their own unique entries. The book is a bit scattered in this last regard, where such characters are spread between 3 different areas: first a brief overview in this section, then in a section of their own labeled Lords of Heorot, and finally stat blocks in Friends and Foes. For ease of reading I’ll cover them all as they come if possible. Some commonalities I’ll note of Heorot’s significant NPCs is the Legendary Action to form a Shieldwall or Boar’s Snout, which grant free movement to nearby allies to enter into formations that can grant various benefits such as cover bonuses to AC and advantage on melee attacks in certain situations.

Scyldingland is famed for hosting the Hall of Heorot, a place full of good cheer and friendly competitions. But this happiness conceals a pall of fear and despair, for every night the monster Grendel comes to cause inevitable violence, and upon his death the Mere-Wife, his mother and the darklord of the domain, sets out to slay his killers. Due to the unique curse of the darklord she and Grendel are immortal, coming back to life as the people involved forget the incident (and those slain by them also arise). This amnesiac time loop remembered by none save those from outside the domain and a precious few NPCs who are in on the domain’s true nature. The region is also home to the town of Waelsing whose chieftain and family suffer from the cursed items of their own treasure hoard obtained from an ogre warlord; the dangerous Ettinmoors which hold a high concentration of ogres, ettins, trolls, and other minor giantkind; the Skjoldungen Isles that are rugged places only the largest of which have settlements of any size along with undead-haunted barrows; and the Mist Mere that houses the underwater grotto of Grendel and the Mere-Wife.

King Hrothgar and Queen Waltheow are the greatest authorities of the Scylding people, who are your typical “good-hearted rulers who need the PCs to keep their lands safe.” Hrothgar has become privately depressed over the nightly deaths of Grendel’s work. Which seems a bit of a contradiction, as the time loop would make him forget. PCs who slay Grendel are rewarded many great treasures along with warhorses, although due to the Darklord’s curse such boons are doomed to eventually leave their hands. In combat Hrothgar is your typical melee warrior with Legendary actions themed around granting boons and additional actions to allies. Queen Waltheow isn’t as much of a warrior, but she is a legendary alewife who can remove impurities from food and drink, her prepared meals have the benefits of Heroes Feast spell, and she can grant people Unfailing Inspiration a limited number of times per day to add 1d10 to a D20 roll once within the next 10 minutes…and if an ally nearby uses it, her Infectious Inspiration can bounce to another creature without expending the use!

I’m just imagining the Queen cheering on the PCs as they battle Grendel, making them more powerful past their mortal limits.

Geatland is the other major kingdom of Heorot from where Beowulf hails. In fact, this hero is the nephew of its king. The Geats and the Scyldings are on friendly terms due to the deep bonds between their leaders. It is due to this bond that Beowulf is amenable to traveling to Heorot Hall to stop Grendel’s rampages…again and again and again. Geatland is a heavily coastal region, and its cliffs are plagued by evil giant eagles. The High Hall is from where King Hygelac and Queen Hygd rule, with the latter being famously wise which makes her a fine ruler. The region’s more interesting places include the farming village of Greotan where a monstrous dullahan lives in a cave and emerges during low tide to ride and stalk prey among the farmland; the market town of Hrethelham, of which quality hirelings and magic items can be obtained; and the mountain range of Dragonhome, which is home to a particularly powerful dragon known as the Wyrm who is worshiped by a troll-led cult that regularly wars against the Geat-allied goliath tribes.

There’s not much to say about the King and Queen of the Geats save that the King possesses a magic ear horn that helps him hear normally due to his deafness, and the Queen possesses a modified Jug of Alchemy that generates honey, mead, and other alcoholic beverages. Silver and gold rings given in service for acts of heroism by the rulers act as Mist Tokens to Heorot.

Myrce is an independent city-state that peaceably trades with the other major kingdoms and the Hranfolk. Its greatest threat comes from the monsters of the forest who raid the town for cattle and people. Known as the Trollesweald, it is home mostly to trolls and some sceadugengan* spirits. Its King died in battle against an unknown foe, and Queen Modthryth is a half-elf woman whose disposition seems to only have improved after her husband’s death. Once a cruel and bitter ruler, she is now famed for her loyalty and kindness, remaining happily single. In terms of stats she is similar to the others, although due to worship of the Raven Queen she can magically teleport.

*This term is usually spelled without the last “n” from what I’ve seen, but this is how the sourcebook does it.

Scyflingham and Ravenswood is the territory of the Scylfing clan, whose wicked leader King Onela harbors a deep hatred for the Geats. When the Mists claimed the region, he was afflicted with a monstrous curse, where every night he turns into a two-headed monster known as a sorrowsworn and hunts the lands for hapless victims. None of his subjects know about this condition. The Ravenswood is a dangerous forest home to the dead spirits of Scylfing warriors who died at the hands of Geatish invaders.

In terms of stats King Onela has a human form that is pretty much a nonmagical melee warrior, but in his Sorrowsworn form he gains a variety of upgrades, such as gaining resistance against all damage while in darkness, natural hooklike weapons, and deals increased psychic damage to those who successfully damage him.

SJg6RBI.png


Hranfolk Lands detail the wide-ranging regions patrolled by the nomadic Hranfolk. The terrain consists of hilly wide fjords and deep marshy valleys in a tundra climate. The Hranfolk have the ability to travel the Mists much like the Vistani, but unlike the Vistani they often settle down long-term in lands they find amenable based on animistic traditions. They view every living creature as having a connection to the spirit realm, and bears are a sacred animal in their culture to the point that they hunt them during special holidays and bury their bones in mounds after using the rest of the body. Hranfolk souls reincarnate into the bodies of descendents, and they often assign affectionate nicknames to family members like “Little Father” once a shaman identifies the particular reborn spirit. They make use of reindeer as mounts and beasts of burden, and are famed for their skis which they use to traverse snow-blanketed regions.

The closest thing the Hranfolk have to a city is Guokso, a year-round collection of roundhouses arranged around a giant spear-like plug of gray stone they can use to magically commune with their ancestors. The leaders of various clans traditionally dwell here so as to have a means of communication between each other. One other interesting place includes the village of Ridne, whose hunters can serve as guides into the treacherous Endless Ice and is also home to a community of arcanists who train with dweorg artisans in the nearby hills.

The high leaders of the Hranfolk are King Darbmu and his husband Kare, who is also King through wedlock. They do not take to blood feuds and politicking like other leaders of Heorot, instead prioritizing ways for their people to survive the coming winters and maintain spiritual balance with the natural world. PCs who earn their respect and trust can be gifted magical rune stones which are often stone-based magic items such as a Stone of Good Luck or various Ioun Stones. Statwise they are Hranfolk Hunters, a stat block akin to rangers with specialization in bows and thrown items, along with minor spellcasting and the ability to create Hunter’s Wards which act like Protection From Evil and Good.

Endless Ice and Godsfall dominate the domain’s far north, a perpetually frozen expanse of ice and snow. Its blizzards are without compare and are magically empowered (like Eldritch Storms in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything), earning them the moniker Thrym’s Howl. All sorts of arctic monsters can be fought here, although a grand waterfall known as Godsfall is home to fossergrim and nixies who may not be as hostile as others unless their home is polluted or otherwise disrespected. The Hranfolk way station of Biktadallat serves as a jumping-off point for expeditions into the Mists to journey to other domains.

Nifolham is a tribe of frost giants living in the Endless Ice. Their queen, Kvietea, has had a secret affair with King Rodfare of the Domesdæg fire giants, but due to a misunderstanding from a breakdown of communication Kvietea now hates the man she believes to have spurned her. She has also privately forsaken the traditional worship of Thrym in favor of the troll god Vaprak the Destroyer, who granted her immortality in exchange for more power and regeneration. Now she is building a cult whose members hunt down ice trolls to consume and gain their powers.

Queen Kvietea doesn’t have a stat block of her own. She uses the stats of a Frost Giant Everlasting One, which is a multi-headed giant who can regenerate like a troll and has a Barbarian-like Vaprak’s Rage ability.

Domesdæg is the mountainous land of the fire giants, whose King Rodfare was a legendary warrior who grew jealous of his younger, more vigorous children that were fast eclipsing him in his old age. He began an affair with Queen Kvitea as the result of a midlife crisis, and in a fit of drunken resentment killed all of his children via poisoning. This happened as the Mists of Ravenloft descended due to the Mere-Wife’s own misdeeds. When King Rodfare was slain by his own wife horrified by his actions, he awoke as an undead death knight. Faced with the great shame of kin-slaying, he’s become a more reserved ruler, delegating much of his duties to fire giant necromancers. Galdorscraf is a cave located in the eastern mountains, the domicile of three hags of different types who use their natural cunning and magic to encourage vengeance and resentment among the domain’s people. Many blood feuds have been exacerbated by their doing. For those who feel they are not powerful enough to slay their hated foes, the hags have a process where they can transform someone into an ooze known as a slithering tracker that is so hungry for revenge they know of no other path.

King Rodfare is one of the most powerful creatures in Heorot. As a CR 21 Fire Giant Death Knight, he is basically a paladin with punishing physical attacks, a variety of spells, and some unique AoE fire-based attacks. However, he doesn’t have Legendary or Lair actions, which blunts his ability as a boss monster in comparison to Grendel and the Mere-Wife.

Dweorg Fells is a hilly tundra east of Hranfolk Lands home to Heorot’s duergar, or dweorg in their own cultural dialect. They live entirely underground in a series of winding tunnels with cleverly-hidden entrances to the surface. The dweorg operate on a higher level of magic and technology than the rest of the domain, with their forces supplemented by all manner of clockwork constructs and whose smithies have produced more than a few items of legends sung about in bardic tales.

Whale Road is the central sea in the domain of Heorot. Virtually every culture has lands touching this body of water, and even the Hranfolk Lands have lakes and rivers running down into it. People travel in longships to raid and trade, and sailors make use of magical sunstones to avoid getting lost at sea during the day. We do get a generous assembly of tables for random encounters at sea suitable for every Tier of play. The unique locations are all notable islands, such as Draug Island which attracts undead spirits who died at sea and is home to a cave with runic engravings dedicated to the goddess Hel, or Storm’s Eye which is home to a storm giant oracle by the name of Wyndgyfu whose visions have stretched across time and space. The oracle can even tell the PCs of how to lift the darklord’s curse and rescue the domain from the Mists, but due to Ravenloft’s corruption she has become greedy and will only offer this insight in exchange for the hoard of the Wyrm of Dragonhome.

FxavRCn.png


The Mere-Wife and Grendel tell us the tragic tale of how Heorot became claimed by the Mists. Her name long forgotten, the Mere-Wife was a human woman who sought to become a warrior in a male-dominated society. But after being gravely wounded in one battle, she was kidnapped by an ogre from the Ettinmoors.

Content Warning: attempted sexual assault

The ogre sought to make her his sex slave, but the ogre’s brother was disgusted at this idea. An argument erupted, resulting in the death of the would-be rapist.

After being rescued by the ogre’s sibling, the Mere-Wife was able to see that not all monsters were irrevocably evil, and what began as a mutual respect and friendship turned into love. They had a son who they named Grendel, and while they could not return to human society due to generations of hate and fear of monsters, they lived a relatively happy life in the swamp. This happiness would end, when the ogre was ambushed and slain by trophy hunters. Grendel began to suffer from a congenital sickness, causing the Mere-Wife to hunt for him. Due to a mistake where Grendel mistook a human for an odd animal and ate him, a strange power was unlocked. B eating the flesh of humanoids Grendel became more powerful, partially nullifying his sickness. When the Mere-Wife began hunting humanoids for him to eat, the Dark Powers of Ravenloft took notice.

More tragedy ensued when Grendel began to grow curious about human society. He was particularly fascinated with music, and the instruments being played from Heorot Hall practically enchanted him. When he entered the Hall to sing and dance, the assembled people were horrified. They saw him as a dangerous monster who just burst into their homes. Many died that night from this misunderstanding, and as Grendel fled the Hall bleeding profusely the dreadful cycle began: for nearly ten years Grendel would hunt and eat more humans, growing more powerful until the Geatish hero Beowulf accepted a quest to find and slay him. The Mere-Wife, angered with rage, came to King Hrothgar and demanded a weregild. She was refused, for monsters were considered no better than beasts and the King said that Beowulf has done a great service in ridding the land of him. She killed everyone in the hall save for King Hrothgar, to let him suffer as she had in losing what was most precious to her. Then the Mists claimed the lands touching the Whale Road as a new Domain of Dread.

The Mere-Wife is the darklord of Heorot, and her curse is that she has to experience her own son dying in her arms whenever Beowulf or some other hero wounds him. Grendel’s monstrous vitality is such that he lives until he returns to their lair so that she can personally witness his death. While the Mere-Wife wishes to take Grendel somewhere safe and never be troubled again, they cannot leave the domain, which engenders in her and Grendel a resentment of the company and good cheer the humans experience in their mead halls and villages.

The cycle is such that Grendel and anyone killed by the Mere-Wife or her son preceding her act of vengeance is revived 1d4 days after Grendel’s death. None of the domain’s permanent inhabitants remember these killings or events that arise around them, and any treasure or gifts granted for slaying Grendel are magically restored to the previous owner’s possessions. The only people who can be aware of this cycle are visitors from outside the domain and Hranfolk NPCs, but even they must succeed on a Wisdom save in order to have even hazy memories of the events. The DC lowers over time, as the cycles become more and more prominent.

The only way to end this cycle and free Heorot from the Domains of Dread is to find the legendary sword Life Blade, completely wooden yet forged from the bark of the World Tree Yggdrasil. It is in the Mere-Wife’s lair and visible to only those from beyond the domain. Once she is slain with it her blood will warm the blade, melting it like spring’s arrival driving away the snow. This metaphor represents a release from a cold, harsh winter and the bloody violence wrought over the domain. Besides the storm giant oracle, Healgamen the Scop (famed bard in Heorot Hall) knows that the key to the Mere-Wife’s deaths lies in her lair, albeit he doesn’t know about the Life Blade specifically as his advice came to him in a dreamlike vision.

We have a table for 1d20 Adventures in Heorot which provide for minor quests and encounters besides the central plot of Grendel and the Mere-Wife, along with a 1d12 table of Travelers in the Mists who can be found around the domain’s edges. The Mists are known as the Ginnungagap by locals, perceived by them as a yawning void at the land’s extremities. Encounters in the Mists include Hranfolk and Vistani travelers, message-bearing ravens of the Keepers of the Feather, and even a warlock encouraging adventurers to visit the domain of Bluetspur in hopes of manipulating them into finding powerful treasures and knowledge. We have a detailed backstory and stat block for one particular wanderer, Wiglaf Weohstansson. A very distant cousin of Beowulf, Wiglaf was a former warrior serving under King Onela but found himself driven away from his former lord’s cruel ways. After maturing and learning more about the dangers of the world by studying with the Hranfolk, he grew wise to the role of the Mists and how other lands beyond Heorot were similarly cursed in cycles of mortal sins. He can be found in other Domains of Dread, but he has a soft spot for Heorot and seeks to find the means of freeing it from the Mists.

He also has romantic feelings for Beowulf, and hasn’t confessed this to him yet. Wiglaf’s stat block has him as a melee-based fighter with wereraven abilities. He isn’t immune to non-magical, non-silvered weapons but instead regenerates damage unless damaged from a silvered weapon.

t6Zb15o.png


The non-bestiary side of Heorot ends with New Magic Items, detailing 21 new treasures for PCs who hold the shieldwalls and brave the currents of the Whale Road. Some of the more interesting treasures include Aesir Vessels (drinking vessels that can turn liquids placed within into various magical potions and poisons depending on rarity), a Feather of Exaction (consumable item which increases one ability score to 20 permanently but decreases a random score by 1d12; a score of 0 kills the person), Figureheads (engraved visages of various animals at the heads of longships which can grant magical buffs to the entire crew), new Figurines of Wondrous Power (such as a giant goat whose meat can magically restore lost hit points or a pair of ravens which let the item’s owner cast animal messenger on one and beast sense on the other), a Hran Spirit Whistle (stabilizes a dying creature if blown on, but cursed to have a chance of having a ghost randomly possess a nearby target if the user isn’t a cleric, druid, or Hranfolk), Ogre-Etched Weapons (+1 weapons which do maximum damage when striking dragon type creatures and nullifies their breath weapon for a turn), Sunstone (a ship on which you’re a passenger cannot become lost during daylight hours), War Banner (fabric depicting either a fearsome beast or Norse deity of strength, can grant various benefits as an action to nearby allies), and the Warlord’s Helm (legendary helmet that grants +2 AC and Wisdom and Charisma saves, upgrades cover to the next highest type, once per turn can spend reaction to have a nearby ally make an extra melee attack).

The Life Blade is the most detailed magic item here. An artifact required to defeat the Mere-Wife for good, it is a +3 longsword that deals double the rolled weapon damage on a hit. Any target reduced to 0 hit points with it is also affected by Remove Curse, and due to being forged to be wielded by giants anyone with less than 18 Strength or isn’t at least Large size suffers disadvantage on attack rolls with it. It also has 9 charges which can be spent to cast a variety of spells, such as Goodberry, Heal, Plant Growth, and Summon Beast. Those who worship a Norse god or are Chaotic Good receive additional boons such as +2 Constitution, resistance to fire damage, and can use charges to cast the Barkskin spell. But those who don’t fit these qualifications gain negative traits such as automatically extinguishing nearby nonmagical fires, and all creatures of the dragon type are hostile to the wielder and have advantage on attack rolls against them. As the sword cannot be taken more than 100 feet where it was obtained and the battle fought in an underwater grotto, the nonmagical fire curse isn’t as bad. However, one of the creature types the Mere-Wife can randomly summon is a black dragon wyrmling, which can then come into play.

Thoughts So Far: Heorot is a cool domain reminiscent of British/Nordic dark ages fantasy. There are lots of interesting locales and characters which can inspire a variety of adventure ideas beyond the central conflict with the darklord. While a bit excessive in detail, the various settlement entries are well-equipped for defenses in case the PCs decide to raid, need to defend the village from a raid, or wish to gain some hired help for an adventure. I have to wonder if the author was inspired by the Followers system for Beowulf: Age of Heroes in this last regard.

The take on the original story of Beowulf is an interesting one, and does much to expand on the backstory and role of Grendel’s mother in a narratively satisfying way that fits in with the self-damned nature of Ravenloft’s darklords.

Join us next time as we cover new monsters and NPCs in Part 2: Friends & Foes!
This one sounds particularly interesting to me and I could potential make use of it outside of the Domains of Dread. I look forward to Part 2!
 

Libertad

Hero
Heorot Part 2: Friends & Foes

Making up half of the rest of Heorot, Friends and Foes provides us with 48 NPC and monster stat blocks which adventurers can encounter in this Domain of Dread. Quite a few of them have been reprinted from other 5th Edition sourcebooks, notably Rime of the Frostmaiden, or even converted from earlier Edition bestiaries. I already covered Heorot’s political leaders in the prior post, and going over every creature would make this review too long, so I’ll focus on what I think are the most interesting ones.

Amarok (CR 5) are magical wolves that are invisible and insubstantial in sunlight but appear fully-formed at night. They are revered as primordial spirits by druids and animistic faiths, but their true origins are unknown and they hunt and act without seeming rhyme or reason. They can eat the souls of people via Soul Cage, and their breaths have restorative powers that can cure exhaustion levels and diseases as well as hit point damage.

TnHYdl9.png


Beowulf (CR 16) is a great hero who underwent a troubling change when the Mists claimed Heorot. Whenever he takes to battle there’s an increasing chance he’ll transform into a fierce bear-like monster. Although he would make a great ally for PCs, he is unable to see the Life Blade and thus cannot wield it. Statwise he is a powerful melee-focused warrior who has Legendary Actions, gains various buffs when he fights unarmed and unarmored, can tear a limb from someone if they fail to escape his grapples by 10 or more, and every round in combat he has an increasing chance to turn into a bear or bear-human hybrid that grants him more powerful bite and claw attacks.

Bloodfire Oozes (CR 7-9 depending on size) are creations of fire giant necromancers made from slain trespassers. They have no will of their own and obey their creators, and in addition to spewing sulfur and bursting into flames they can also empower the damage of fire attacks within 60 feet.

Butsecarl (CR 3) are more powerful housecarls that serve as full-time warriors for a house or leader. They are melee fighters with the ability to Action Surge, Pack Tactics, and a special Repelling Strike where they can choose to deal half damage for the opportunity to push an enemy up to 10 feet away. There’s a sidebar for butsecarls with specialized roles on longships, with different ability scores, skills, and tool proficiencies.

Crawling Apocalypses (CR 6) are mollusk-like undead from the depths of the Whale Road, a danger to nearby communities when they wash up on shore. It can attack with barbed tentacles and its bite can inflict a unique disease known as bluerot. Bluerot causes boils and fevers along with Constitution and Charisma damage, but grants the ability to breathe underwater.

Dweorgs are a dwarven subrace blessed with magical innovations, and their origins are uncertain although Heorot’s inhabitants often tie them to Nordic mythology. They are the best crafters in the domain, although their greedy and vindictive ways often require a heavy price. We have a table for magic items they can craft for PCs separated by item rarity, GP cost, and possible services required. Dweorgs have multiple stat blocks, most being drawn from existing Duergar, although we have two new types: the Dweorg Alchemist (CR 1) and Dweorg Crafter (CR 6) who are basically Artificers that come equipped with magic items that lose their properties several days after their deaths.

3f7aioO.png


Grendel (CR 19) is a powerful monster who is predictably melee-focused. He is immune to the charmed and frightened conditions and has excellent Athletics (+12) for grappling. He can Regenerate 20 hit points per round and regain hit points when biting a helpless target, and his legendary actions include being able to stuff helpless and grappled targets into his Bag of Holding along with dealing automatic damage to objects when moving. If reduced to 0 Hit Points he doesn’t die, instead regaining hit points and can move extra-fast back to the Mere-Wife’s lair at which point he dies. Grendel has no real long-range attacks besides an AoE Hopeless Hail which deals psychic damage to creatures within 15 feet.

Healgamen the Scop (CR 5) serves King Hrothgar and Queen Waltheow of Heorot Hall. His abilities are so grand that his very tales can conjure spiritual echoes of characters from his sagas. He also possesses a Lyre of Building he plays every day to make Heorot Hall look timelessly new, giving rumors that the building is indestructible. In terms of stats Healgamen shines strongest when not in battle. He has the spells of a bard and can cast Augury or Legend Lore twice per day as Scaldic Visions. Twice per day he can perform a damaging Death Whisper in the form of a riddle (“What did Odin whisper in Balder’s ear before Balder’s corpse was burned?”) that causes psychic damage to a target on a failed save and forces them to spend their movement running away from Healgamen. Five times per day he can relate a particular Saga Tale to be of use. It is a 1d12 table of various named tales. For example, the Tale of the Draugur can turn a target invisible for one round and the target deals additional necrotic damage and the frightened condition to a target struck during this time. While Tale of Hugin and Munin lets the target add a d12 to any Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma check for the next 10 minutes.

Housecarl (CR 3) are the bread and butter of Heorot’s warriors, specialized to fight in shieldwalls. They are high-AC sword and board (or spear and board) fighters who can Shield Bash, have Pack Tactics, can shield an ally as per the Protection Fighting Style, and deal 3d6 extra damage to a creature once per turn when within 5 feet of an ally also engaging the enemy.

Hranfolk have a variety of stat blocks depending on their roles, although all have the ability to communicate with reindeer. Drovers (CR 1) take care of and herd reindeer, capable of gaining a variety of buffs when mounted on a deer and can restore hit points to the deer they tend. Shamans (CR 5) cast spells and wild shape as druids but have a variety of unique abilities such as a Thunder Drum that deals 2d6 thunder damage in a 100 foot range (wow!) along with being able to cast Ceremony and Contact Other Plane as part of their religious duties. Warriors (CR 5) are powerful fighters who make use of magical runes to better survive against the horrors of the Mists, with Battle Runes that grant various buffs and a Runic Shield which can force a nearby target to reroll an attack roll.

We also get two new weapons favored by the Hranfolk: the bolas deals a base 1 bludgeoning damage as a thrown weapon but can restrain a creature, and the atlatl basically improves the range of a thrown spear to 90/240 feet.

4W0emux.png


Leif Ratatosk (CR 2) is a gnome weresquirrel who claims to have been hatched from an acorn that fell from Yggdrasil’s branches. He can be encountered as one of the sample adventure hooks, being vaguely aware of a weapon that can end Heorot’s curse somewhere in the Mist Mere. Leif doesn’t have many truly unique abilities besides gnome racial traits and the ability to transform into a squirrel or hybrid form, although his lycanthropic damage immunities make him able to punch above his weight class against many of Heorot’s horrors.

We have a sidebar for PCs who become weresquirrels. Basically they get a huge boost to Dexterity, making it a 19 if the score is lower, and gain squirrel-like climbing speed and a bite attack while in squirrel or hybrid form. Forced alignment changes from embracing the curse moves them to Chaotic alignment.

The Mere-Wife (CR 22) is the Darklord of Heorot, and her lair is an underwater grotto in the Mist Mere. In combat she is a powerful opponent with a shadow-formed blade that can be used in melee and ranged combat. She also has a variety of innate spells geared towards illusion and misdirection, and can turn into mist like a vampire to retreat to her lair should she die from non-Life Blade injuries. She also gets new abilities and Legendary Actions if Grendel is present, such as being able to protect him with warding mists that can make attackers choose a new target, and move and attack nearby opponents that harmed her or Grendel. Her lair actions include tendrils of grappling water, magical darkness, and summoning monsters made of shadow.

Nicor (CR 11) are evil sea serpents made directly from the Dark Powers and are one of the most feared creatures on the Whale Road. They have powerful melee attacks and AoE sonic attacks, and have Legendary Actions that grant it additional movement and bite attacks.

Nithing (CR 2) is a general term for those exiled from communities for dishonorable behavior, but this stat block reflects those outcasts who made pacts with wicked entities so that they can survive in a world turned against them. They aren’t physically powerful nor do they have spellcasting, but they possess an ability to charm others and instill intense desires to approach them, the ability to deal psychic damage by leeching off their life force, and a form of lonesome-induced mental influence that causes a target to view all other creatures as enemies to attack.

Nixie (CR 1) are fey who dwell in lakes, streams, and ponds, and often magically charm humanoids to serve as guards and laborers. While so charmed they have a telepathic link with the nixie and can breathe underwater. Nixies who gather into groups of 10 or more are capable of casting a collective Geas spell on a humanoid with a duration of 1 year.

Sceadugenga (CR 6) are the physical manifestations of raw vengeance, living in the dark woods of Heorot and filled with an all-consuming desire to kill anyone they come across. They fight with phantasmal blades which impose disadvantage on saving throws to targets, are able to become invisible in dim light and darkness, and can mark targets with a Wrathful Hex that causes them to suffer additional damage from the Sceadugenga’s attacks.

Selkie (CR ½) are seals with fey ancestry, allowing them to transform into humanoids or seal-humanoid hybrids. Their songs are magically-empowered, capable of healing injuries and a variety of diseases and maladies, and they fight with longswords made of mithral.* Selkie prefer the sea, but often find themselves drawn to land where they fall in love with humanoids. A few of their kind are spellcasters, gaining nature-themed innate spells such as Animal Messenger (seals only), fog cloud, and Augury and Commune with Nature as rituals. In the case of Augury, we get unique means of sea-themed casting traditions such as studying the behavior of fish or throwing clam shells.

*How much does that sell for as loot? The book doesn’t say.

QRJ9u3X.png


The Wyrm (CR 22) is a unique fire-breathing dragon with a venomous bite, its hoard gathered from riches of the barrows of long-forgotten kingdoms. It has become lazy, content to protect its hoard and hunt animals in the mountains, yet the riches within have caused many hapless adventurers to cross paths and perish under its might. Statwise the Wyrm is well…a dragon, with powerful melee attacks, a Frightful Presence, Legendary Actions, and two types of breath weapons: your typical Fire Breath and a Sickening Slime that imposes disadvantage on various Strength abilities, saves, and attacks for 1 minute. Interestingly the Wyrm is sensitive to sunlight, suffering disadvantage on ability checks when affected. Its lair actions include tremors, noxious smoke, and magical darkness.

Overall Thoughts: The collection of new monsters is a welcome one, and are broad enough to be useful in non-Ravenloft campaigns. I do like how many of the humanoid NPCs have features which make them useful outside of direct combat, such as Waltheow’s inspirational abilities, the Dweorg magic item services, Healgamen’s bardic abilities, and the powers of the Selkie. There’s a nice variety of creature types as well, which in addition to the official monsters mentioned earlier helps Heorot from becoming too stale in the types of dangers to be found.

My main criticism is that a lot of the creatures, particularly those same humanoids, are a bit too specialized for melee. As in they don’t have reliable means of threatening flying and high-speed ranged attackers unless they get a bow or similar weapon. The Shieldwall and Boar’s Snout tactics of Heorot’s various leaders are cool and in line with early British and Scandinavian warfare, but for any spellcaster with AoE attacks this is a big glowing “FIREBALL NOW” sign. In some cases this is mitigated, like the final battle with the Mere-Wife taking place in an enclosed grotto or the fact that not all of Heorot’s leaders are the kind of people most gaming groups would seek to slay by default.

Another criticism I have are the Challenge Ratings of the darklord as well as several other prominent characters. Beowulf, King Rodfare, and the Wyrm are balanced for characters of at least Tier 3, and while Heorot has a diverse set of challenges and story ideas for all levels of play the central conflict isn’t the kind that would be friendly to lower-level parties. I suppose having the various hired help and Beowulf along for the ride is meant to help even the odds, although this runs the chance of being upshone by an NPC even if the PCs must be the ones to end the Darklord’s curse once found.

But overall, Heorot: Beowulf’s Domain of Dread is a cool domain that feels unique among Ravenloft products and has lots of material for at least several sessions worth of gaming. I certainly don’t regret its purchase, and it rates rather highly among the domain-centric sourcebooks I’ve read and reviewed so far.

Join us next time as we embark on a level 1-12 adventure path in the Realm of the Blood Queen!
 

Libertad

Hero
I totally agree. One of the real shames is that the DM's Guild stuff often gets pooh poohed as amateur or poor quality and largely ignored. That hasn't ever been true and I've found the DM's Guild stuff invaluable when running a WotC adventure.

I really appreciate. It makes me wish the was a dedicated source (blog, website, zine, etc.) that would do this for the whole guild. If I hit the lottery that would be my per project and I would hire you to do the reviews! ;)

I agree. The problem for many is that there is so much stuff it can be daunting to some. It is not overly difficult to focus on the best stuff, but it can be overwhelming at first. Do wish there was some type of semi-official area like the old adepts program but better. The authors of new WotC products have a habit of releasing additional content on the Guild, I wish the was a specific place you could find their work.

There hasn't been a Guild Adept product published in nearly 2 years, and there hasn't been frequent uploads since before even that.

I have noticed that EN World's news have been a good resource for finding more ambitious projects, particularly KickStarters, which I have used to hunt down new and less-talked about stuff. But even then that mostly covers new and upcoming stuff than products that have languished in obscurity for years.

In a strange way, I'm kind of hoping that the increasing skepticism towards WotC's production quality after Strixhaven and Spelljammer encourages others to look at more third party works. They'll still be the flagship in the industry for years, but at the very least I hope this opportunity is used to help people reconsider their stances towards third party works.

This one sounds particularly interesting to me and I could potential make use of it outside of the Domains of Dread. I look forward to Part 2!

Just posted now!

The next sourcebook, Realm of the Blood Queen, is a big one and is split into 4 parts. I hate to say it, but it may be the last product I review for this thread for October. I do have plans on reviewing One Night Strahd, but it may not be immediately afterwards given the size and scope. Chances are I may switch to reviewing smaller stuff after a break.
 

Libertad

Hero
KTg8Flf.png

Product Link
Product Type: Adventure, Location
Cos-Required? No

Realm of the Blood Queen is a 1st to 12th level adventure path set in a new Domain of Dread by the name of Wreythau (pronounced Ray-thauw). Ruled over by the slumbering vampire queen Czerina Gavranova, Wreythau is a kingdom of contrasts. Multiple factions vie for power and prestige, from the Church of the Morning Lord who has fallen far from their god’s teachings to become bloodthirsty fundamentalists, the druidic Old Faith and its beastfolk worshipers beyond the walls of civilization, the trenched-in aristocracy who owe allegiance to their sleeping ruler, and the Wreythian Merchant Consortium who owns practically every commerce save land ownership due to the remaining vestiges of noble birthright.

The overall curve of the adventure is that the PCs begin in a non-Ravenloftian campaign setting, bearing witness to the Merchant Consortium’s depredations. By tracking them down to their mist-shrouded land, the party gains the attention of the darklord Czerina, who seeks to mold the PCs into valued servants to wipe out the factional opposition and bring order to her domain. Or at least, that’s her plan before the PCs inevitably oppose her.

Realm of the Blood Queen has an interesting publishing history, or rather the lack of it. First off, in searching the author’s name of Cayce Corday, it appears that this is their first foray into self-publishing. Rather impressive, given that this book is a hefty 379 pages with a lot of professional artwork, most of it original and not WotC assets. Second off is that they have quite a bit of confidence in their work. The chapter detailing Raffenburg, the dark fantasy metropolis of the setting, is Pay What You Want on the Dungeon Master’s Guild. There was no fancy KickStarter or crowdfunding, and the book was initially published incomplete, split into 2 volumes with the second volume concluding the rest of the adventure path. Unfortunately this PDF has no bookmarks or index, which for a product of its size is disadvantageous for navigation.

There’s quite a bit of odes to the Strahd-centric Ravenloft adventures, and this is intentional. Czerina is obsessed with the PCs and she regularly makes her presence known throughout the campaign, much like Strahd. The PCs can come upon her personal journal to learn of her descent into villainy, much like Strahd. As darklord Czerina has an intimate tie to the land, although she is more druidic in nature in having made deals with the fey and in her eras of slumber she is aware of every slain animal, every tectonic plate shift, and every soul within the colony hive-mind of insects. Cayce also mentions that the Blood Queen was initially designed as a female version of Strahd before spinning off into her own concept.


In the centuries since, Czerina has reigned as an immortal Queen of Blood, the tortured tyrant of twisted land that would make Barovia seem pleasant in comparison.

Just as Strahd von Zarovich was bound to a Dark Power and ascended as the Dark Lord of Barovia, so too has Czerina Gavranova come into her unholy powers.

While I can understand taking inspiration from existing concepts, I feel that one weakens themselves when they do 1 for 1 comparisons within the text of the work. The Realm of the Blood Queen has a different feel and mood than Curse of Strahd, which I feel helps it stand out better. For one, it is still dark fantasy but of a more high fantasy feel. Nonhuman races are quite prominent and not unique travelers in the population centers. In spite of the darklord’s druidic influences much of the campaign takes place in and around major population centers, with forays into the wilderness much more brief in comparison. This adventure isn’t as open-world as Curse of Strahd: the major chapters are bottled off into individual entries and are often arranged so that PCs move on once they finish their business in the prior chapter or are unable to return. But within most of those chapters there’s a lot of freedom in how they can go accomplishing their tasks or responding to plot hooks, so it’s not exactly linear either.

QkNz0Cm.png


Player’s Guide to Wreythau outlines general DMing advice for horror and how to maintain tense atmosphere, followed up by an in-character description of this cursed land from a sailor’s not-so-tall tales. Stat generation is more generous, with a standard array of 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, and 8 or 27 point buy but with one ability score starting at 18 for free. This is due to the fact that encounters are designed to be more difficult than normal, thus the increased power for the PCs. Additionally, a more open-ended set of race generation is building off of Tasha’s Custom Lineages. New feats known as Character Creation Feats are given to be in line with broad fantasy species concepts: Flight Adept grants a character a rest-based limited fly speed, A Dash of Magic grants a free cantrip, Tough Hide gains +1 AC, etc. Sample hooks are given for every background and character class for why a PC would seek to journey to Wreythau, often tying them to some individual or faction from that realm. For instance, the Folk Hero is using herbs to delay a lycanthropic disease and learned that the Reinwald family can help cure them. While a Druid has noticed that an unnatural corruption is spreading across the wilds, with Wreythau being the epicenter.

KdNXYhb.png


Chapter 1: Welcome to Wreythau details the broader points of the domain’s history and politics along with the backstory of its darklord. Or as the book calls her, the Dark Lady. Czerina Gavranova was once the princess of the long-dead kingdom of Nostrovishte. The realm wasn’t very forward-thinking in being classically patriarchal, and her parents were angry at their inability to father a male heir as women couldn’t inherit titles and land. They named her Czerina out of spite, a variation on the name Czernobog of the monster of legend (and eventual Dark Power who would claim her as his champion), and her upbringing was a cruel and abusive one. She was trained as a warrior and mage, yet still not respected so she took out her rage by adopting the identity of a highwayman to take revenge on people who wronged her.

Czerina’s alternate identity became known as the Dark Rider, which would prove ideal when a neighboring kingdom invaded Nostrovishte. Many barons and dukes were killed during the invasion, and deciding to fight for her country the Dark Rider gathered unlikely allies from persecuted groups of the druidic Old Faith. Her leadership was effective, to the point that she was hailed as a savior. Feeling that she finally earned some respect, Czerina visited her parents yet again, giving them a magical gem as a prize taken in war that could theoretically grant one’s wish. Her mother spurned her, declaring loudly that she wished above everything to have a son.

This was the point at which Czerina realized that she would never be respected by her kin, and left the kingdom to live among the Old Faith. A royal son was born, Alexandros, who would become Tsar, and in time would protect his kingdom against the invading forces of Gulthias, the Champion of Czernobog. But Czerina slain him first, and would not repeat the same mistake as last time. She took over Gulthias’ mantle and was chosen as the champion of Czernobog. She then went to war against Alexandros, and in order to ensure victory she made a deal with the fairy Court of Night and Twilight. As part of the deal Czerina underwent a ritual to tie herself to the very land, becoming able to turn nature itself against Alexandros’ army. It was not enough, and when Czernobog offered to help her with just one more bargain she accepted. And so the land of Wreythau was torn from the Material Plane and made into a new Domain of Dread. Now, one of the Dark Powers had a champion of its own, to serve and mold as the entity saw fit. For the next thousand years the Dark Power engaged in a battle of wills with Czerina, stuck in a state of madness and pain from her fusion to the land as she bore continual witness to the countless minds that intersected the domain’s ecosystem.

We get some role-play advice regarding Czerina Gavranova. In short terms, she is basically an overconfident girlboss who sees something in the PCs, seeking out champions from across the Domains of Dread and beyond to test them. This is to make them stronger for the goal of uniting and solidifying her fractured kingdom. We also get personality traits to play up, both to show redeeming qualities (she is generous to those who serve her, is a woman of her word, is willing to accept criticism and advice if it will help make her more powerful) as well as ones that solidify her villainous status (she’s a sadist who justifies the suffering she causes as making people stronger, doesn’t value individual lives so much as they are useful to her grand plan of unification, hopes to grow as powerful as the gods to remake reality). Czerina will initially be polite and respectful to the PCs when they meet; even if they try to attack her or insult her she will still present an unflappable demeanor. But there are certain conversation topics that can get under her skin and reveal a more vicious side, such as dencouncing her right to rule or blame her for the death of Teadora (a friend from her backstory the PCs can learn about in her journal).

Glimpses of Wreythian History spans a little over 2,000 years of history (half that being after it becomes a Domain of Dread) although it can be summed up briefly this way. An evil druid known as Gulthias founded a religion that would become known as the Ghul Sildreth. Its goal was to turn all of nature into apex predators, and manipulated Wreythau’s ecosystem so that even the meagerest animals were dangerous to humanoids. His followers were exiled to an island where they built a new kingdom that would threaten other lands before Czerina overthrew them. Wreythau’s dwarves were given a mountain kingdom to rule over known as Barrukhirrim, but over time grew to fear Czerina’s power and started building weapons for the purposes of slaying her. Czerina’s spies learned of this and she unleashed a genocidal army upon Barrukhirrim, causing the kingdom to be renamed the Silver Graves over what was lost.

A paladin of Lathandar known as Frey attempted to lead a rebellion against Czerina, but lost. One of his angel followers, Temelloth, was captured and tortured into insanity. He was then released back into the world by Czerina for the lulz, and the angel made a pact with an unnamed Dark Power and formed a religious movement based off of warped teachings of the Morning Lord. The Church of the Morning Lord became very popular and the only real opposition to Czerina’s power structure. They aren’t a great alternative, for they are stereotypical religious fundamentalists who start oppressing and killing anyone who doesn’t meet their strict moral standards.

Sometime later, the Wreythian Merchant Consortium was founded to manage the kingdom’s economic affairs, intended by Czerina to form a centrally-planned economy to unify her country. But it basically turned into a monopolistic megacorp which prioritizes profit over patriotism. The Consortium found ways to travel beyond the domain and to various Material Plane worlds, resorting to persuasion, money, and kidnapping over the next several centuries to get the best and brightest to immigrate to Wreythau. The Consortium's depravations will be what attract the PC’s attention and get them involved in the adventure.

XKcIYvG.png


The People of Wreythau covers the overall culture and political power players of the domain. Although a once-cosmopolitan land connected to many realms, a millennia of being trapped in the Mists has caused its people to give in to infighting without an external threat to unite them. Resources became scarce, and due to Gulthias’ influence even the most harmless plants and animals were predators harmful to its citizens. Humans are the most numerous race, although other races have long since been assimilated into the greater human Wreythian culture.

Exceptions to this assimilation exist among the anthropomorphic animal races such as Tabaxi and Tortles; a curse that began a thousand years ago caused children to be born with warped animal-humanoid forms, which caused great social upheaval. Dubbed the Beastfolk, the survivors of the widespread violence were forced out of the major population centers to live among the wilds, causing even more of them to die from vicious wildlife. The survivors managed to build hidden communities managed by the Old Faith, who banded together with the Beastfolk out of mutual necessity. Beastfolk are a diverse people of their own, but due to this any races with significant animalistic traits are grouped in with them and persecuted. Tieflings are similarly hated (albeit not as much) due to the Church of the Morning Lord’s influence along with being seen as no different than demons and devils.

The Inquisition of the Morning Lord is the predominant religion in Wreythau, with centers of operations in the three major population centers and their headquarters being the Abbey in Leshehoff. In addition to counting the darklord as their enemy, the Inquisition also hunts the Beastfolk, followers of the Old Faith, and anyone bearing signs of corruption. Such signs are just as much based on propaganda and inaccurate superstitions to enforce social conformity as genuine means of evil detection. We get a list of 7 sample “signs of corruption,” along with how Inquisitors can subjectively interpret them in order to harass people.

The Order of Blood are a group of vampire knights pledged in service to the Dark Lady Czerina. Ysemgrin, its founder, was one of the warriors who turned upon Frey after doubts about his cause were manipulated by Czerina with a literal stab in the back during a momentous battle. The Order is currently experiencing a power struggle, with traditionalists seeking to honor their Vampire Queen and the tenets of strength through suffering. The renegades are a rising group who feel that the Order is acting too slowly and conservative in Czerina’s goal of national unification. Inspired by her legends as the Black Rider, they conduct acts of banditry upon travelers as well as more directly fighting the Beastfolk and Inquisition.

The Wreythian Merchant Consortium would all but dominate their homeland’s economy were it not for the remaining laws restricting land ownership to the nobility. Most of their leading members are rich and as such grew complacent in their lot in life, and don’t do much other than to preserve the status quo and keep the wheels of trade turning.

The House of Reinwald is a noble family of werewolves who have their roots in a tribe who received lycanthropy as blessings from the Fey. Most of these werewolves served Gulthias, but one group sided with Czerina and became the House of Reinwald. Supported by the Old Faith, they now have a prominent place in the leadership of Raffenburg, Wreythau’s largest city. They’re fond of wild parties and organizing hunts in forests which are a cover for their members to hunt down and kill people as a game of sport.

The Court of the Blood Queen is Czerina’s inner circle of trusted advisors. They include the Tax Collector Beleroth Haar An Thell, an ancient elven bladesinger who is Czerina’s husband and hopes to find a means of freeing his beloved from Czernobog’s influence; Lady Ysemgrin, who is the leader of the Order of Blood; Isidora, wife of Czerina, artist, and architect who designed the palace known as the Cairn in which the Dark Lady now lives; and R.K. Schryer,* a vampiric poet and playwright who is the leader of the Cult of Decadence, a group supernaturally inspired by Isidora’s artwork to commit acts of evil as part of an ethos that worships suffering.

*The book also spells his surname as Schreyer, and this is more frequent in going by CTRL + F.

Encounters in Wreythau cover new nature-related threats of the domain. Due to the Ghul Sildreth’s influence, nature is far more deadly. Sometimes the land itself acts to kill people, and furthering this we get two examples: Poisonous rain the color of blood can fall, causing damage to those unprotected (there are rules for waterproofing cloaks and tents via tallow, oil, and wax via the Survival skill to avoid taking damage), and Cursed Earth which manifests as random appearances of spiked pit traps. For the rain it is suggested to have it occur in outdoor battles where there is cover to be found, which serves as a convenient means of reshaping ideal movement and positioning on the spot.

hnaU4wH.png


The wildlife is similarly cursed: almost any plant can grow into huge carnivorous Assassin Vines, and Wreythian rats are Chaotic Evil and hunt in large aggressive packs. This is a problem to the point that every population center prioritizes pest control, as death by rat swarm is common in poorer and dirtier parts of communities. Even rabbits are predatory pack hunters, possessing lamprey-like mouths they use to clamp onto prey and weigh them down via sheer weight of numbers. Horses are also carnivorous hunters who hunt solitarily or in mated pairs. Although such horses can be domesticated, their temperamental attitudes cause the deaths of many stablehands each year.

We also have 2 sample encounters of a more supernatural variety: one is a festive party by fey who attempt to trick the PCs into engaging in an illusion concealing a grim reality: the wine is blood, the food are humanoid corpses, and sound from musical instruments being played are the cries of wounded animals. The other one is a troupe of undead musicians encountered on the road as part of a traveling caravan known as “Schryer’s Famous Players.” They are busy repairing their wagon and non-offensive, even calling out to the party to help lend a hand.

Scaling Relics of Legend details six unique magic items which can be obtained during the early parts of the adventure path. The properties of their powers means that characters can only attune to one of them at a time, and so serve as “signature magic items” for broad character archetypes. They have a default “resting state” for their initial abilities (usually a mundane item or casting focus, can summon item to hand as an action) along with +1 to +3 enhancements which are unlocked via certain prerequisites and levels (level 6 for +2, 9 for +3). Most of the prerequisites are rather grim, such as the Sword of Slaughter’s +2 level requiring killing a helpless enemy by dismemberment or the Book of Vile Darkness’ +3 bonus requiring you to drive at least one sentient creature insane. All +3 bonuses require sacrificing 9 sentient creatures a year to maintain it at that level of enhancement. Choosing not to continue to unlock or maintain a Relic’s powers due to the grim nature of empowerment will cause the item to disappear. It will reappear in the hands of a powerful enemy in the future to be determined by the DM. There is a ritual that can be used to “put a Relic to sleep” to safely get rid of it.

Staff of the Old Faith is for spellcasters and is nature-themed, usable only by spellcasters but not limited to druids and rangers. It acts as a quarterstaff and spellcasting focus of its current enhancement, can teach the wielder a new Druidic spell that can be swapped every level, and at +3 it increases one’s spellcasting modifier by +2.

Sword of Slaughter can actually take the shape of any melee weapon of the wielder’s choice provided they’re proficient with it. It acts as a weapon of its current enhancement, increases Dexterity by 2 at +2 and either Dexterity or Strength by 2 at +3 enhancement, and also at +2 it heals the wielder for 2d6 HP for every enemy they kill.

Shield of the Dead requires proficiency in shields. It acts as a shield of its enhancement, raises the wielder’s Constitution by +2 for every enhancement obtained, at +1 can redirect the damage of an ally within sight to themselves as a reaction, at +2 lets the wielder cast Life Transference without a spell slot once per long rest, and at +3 the shield can cast True Resurrection on the wielder once and refreshes upon the sacrifice of a sentient creature.

Dagger of Murder requires the wielder to have the Sneak Attack Ability. It acts as a dagger of its enhancement, at +1 adds +1d6 to the wielder’s Sneak Attack damage and another 1d6 at +3 enhancement, increases Dexterity by 2 each at +2 and +3 enhancement, and can allow the wielder to turn invisible (no duration given) as a bonus action which refreshes every time they kill a creature, and at +3 enhancement can teleport as a bonus action every time they turn invisible. I presume that this is done as a separate bonus action than the initial invisibility-turning, as you can only do one bonus action per round.

Book of Vile Darkness requires the wielder to cast arcane spells. At its resting state it grants proficiency in Taxidermy Tools, acts as a spellcasting focus of its enhancement, adds +2 to a character’s spellcasting modifier at +2 and +3 enhancement, and teaches one spell that you can cast from the sorcerer, warlock, or wizard spell list at +1 and +3 enhancement, and at +3 enhancement grants 1 bonus spell slot of the highest-level spell you can cast.

Bow of Whispers can take the form of either a shortbow or longbow, and must be proficient in that weapon’s use depending on the desired form. It is a weapon of its enhancement bonus, at +1 never runs out of arrows, deals an additional +1d6 bonus piercing damage at +1 and +3 enhancement, at +2 and +3 enhancement increases Dexterity by 2, and at +2 grants a permanent Pass Without Trace to the wielder as long as they have the weapon in their hands.

Dealing With Dead provides means of resurrection access in the campaign beyond the PC’s own capabilities. The first one is the archdruid Mata Yezinka, who if the PCs are allies of the Beastfolk (an easy option for most parties) can revive them as either a gift or for a favor depending on the circumstances. Czerina, once awakened from her slumber, can offer to revive fallen PCs as vampires. They don’t become true vampires initially, but have a progressive condition where growing bloodlust threatens to change them into a full vampire at which point they fall under DM control. The third option (which is rather late in the campaign) is being re-animated Frankenstein-style by the Mad Alchemist of Inbarev.

Thoughts So Far: The political setup of Wreythau is neat and full of plot hooks. The corrupted church, vampire knights, and werewolf nobles are all thematically gothic while being interesting concepts in their own right, and the addition of scaling magic items is a neat concept as well. The existence of sub-groups within most factions helps reflect the Dark Lady’s curse while giving the PCs opportunities to weaken them by empowering one group over the other.

But otherwise, I’m rather conflicted about the rest of things. For one, making all wildlife dangerous to the point that even animal domestication has a constant fatality rate stretches things to the point of disbelief. The utility of animal labor cannot be underestimated in pre-Industrial societies: oxes to plow fields, horses and mules for transportation, dogs for sentries and hunting, cattle for milk and meat, the list goes on. Wreythau is very much a medieval level of technology as opposed to a hunter-gatherer society, so it begs the question of how the domain’s denizens get around these shortcomings if they can’t even reliably hunt rabbits without the risk of death.

As for the Blood Queen herself, the parallels to Strahd are too numerous to the point that it’s hard to judge her on her own merits. Given that Wreythau has been a domain for a thousand years, this would make it the first one of its kind, predating even Barovia if we go by the canon timeline. On the other hand, Czerina has a unique role that separates her from that of Strahd: she isn’t initially hostile to the PCs, she is actually concerned with being a ruler first and foremost rather than pining over someone who will never reciprocate their feelings, and unlike Curse of Strahd there are enough big players in the domain with their own exclusive agendas that simply overthrowing Czerina isn’t enough to necessarily make Wreythau safer. In Curse of Strahd there are some villains who owe allegiance to the vampire count, but most of them do so defeating Strahd by campaign’s end should change Barovia for the better. In Realm of the Blood Queen you have a larger assortment of villains who if not necessarily darklords are effectively their own mini-Strahds who need to be taken care of for the good of Wreythau.

Join us next time as we begin our journey with a zombie plague in the nameless starting fantasy city, embark on a storm-swept voyage to Wreythau, and overthrow a tyrannical angel of the Church of the Morninglord!
 
Last edited:

Libertad

Hero
Realm of the Blood Queen, Part 2

wJByjoc.png


Chapter 2: the Drowned Dead marks the beginning of this adventure path, taking 1st level PCs to 3rd level by the end. This, and all the other adventures in Realm of the Blood Queen, use milestone progression. The adventure begins in Port Haven, a seaside city set in the campaign setting of the DM’s choice. The Wreythian Merchant Consortium imported deadly shipments of the Gulthias Flower into town, and their spores and pollen entered the water supply to infect and turn people into plant-controlled zombies. As to why the Consortium is doing this? Beleroth believes that spreading death and misery beyond the domain will make Czerina stronger to the point that she can awaken.

The first act begins innocently enough, where the PCs can go around town, interact with NPCs, and buy things. During this time they can gradually pick up clues about strange flowers for sale and pollen in the water supply. There’s even a book-seller who can sell tomes which inform the PCs about Wreythau, granting advantage on certain checks as appropriate. Eventually things come to a dreadful crescendo when a sailor collapses at an inn the PCs are staying at. Not long after he revives as a walking corpse that seeks to kill and infect others. The Gulthias Zombie is a stronger-than-normal kind, and noncombatant NPCs it hits die instantly and rise as very weak zombies. The book recommends having the main zombie attack NPCs first as a means of both increasing PC survivability while also demonstrating the need to destroy it before it causes more harm.

After the fight, the entire port will be put under quarantine, and PCs will have to hunker down and barricade the inn to make it through the night.* This can be accomplished via use of skills, tools, and magic, and failed checks cause more zombies to break through and enter into combat. The surviving PCs will have their capabilities recognized and vouched for, causing the Magistrate to hire them to investigate the source of the plague and the origin of the Gulthias flower shipment. In order to do that, the PCs will need to take a voyage to Wreythau, and it just so happens that a vessel known as the Pelican is the only ship willing to brave the journey.

*The book mentions that PCs who try to scale the quarantined walls of the neighborhood will be pushed back by archer guards. If they manage to overcome them, the book says that they may not be the heroic types suitable for this adventure and to start over with new characters.

The Pelican is an interesting multi-day voyage with a mixture of initial investigation and later combat. Captain Saltwind is a half-orc who is secretly a pirate, and he and his crew still talk like ones with phrases like “arrr matey!” The Pelican has several other passengers, each with their own secrets, such as Raum (charming masked elf who is an assassin and may kill another passenger who grows wise to him), Yasviga Reinwald (eldest daughter of the Reinwald leaders and seeks to turn one of the sailors she’s infatuated with into a werewolf), Rahved Mirsk (alchemist and wanted criminal who can give magical potions with strange side effects if PCs volunteer to be his test subjects), and Vara Skade (half-orc ranger who also counts the Wreythian Merchant Consortium as an enemy). Events during the voyage include learning more about Wreythau while having dinner with Captain Saltwind, discovering that the crew are pirates by going down into the hold after hearing strange noises, Raum attempting to covertly kill Vara, and Yasviga’s paramour becoming inordinately violent due to his lycanthropy. PCs who confront the Captain about him and his crew being pirates in a hostile manner will have him point out that a ship of his size needs at least 12 people to sail it as a bare minimum. Therefore, any supposed “victory” in their case will leave them stranded at sea.

When the Pelican starts to part the misty veil, the sailors begin painting Druidic runes on the ship to ward off the incoming leviathans that serve as Wreythau’s maritime defenses. But this won’t last, for Czerina herself seeks to test the PCs by destroying the ship. This begins a grueling ordeal where the PCs must aid the crew by attacking leviathan tentacles in combat as well as a skill challenge to help get the Pelican through intact. Successfully saving the ship manages to guide it into a controlled crash, saving most of the sailors. Failure crashes the ship, causing the PCs to have to swim to stay afloat. PCs at risk of drowning can experience one of three events: a vision from Czerina, asking who the PC is and she can answer one question in turn; finding the Dagger of Murder jutting out from a rocky shoal to climb to safety; a lightning bolt strikes the PC, doing no damage but giving them resistance to that damage type and also a personal eldritch mark indicating Czerina’s favor (advantage on certain social checks).

The rest of the chapter is a dungeon crawl among a ship graveyard. A group of cannibalistic mermaids will harry survivors, and ships and debris are spaced out enough that unathletic PCs and those without special movements will have to brave the waters more often than usual. Captain Saltwind died during the crash, and the named NPCs from the Pelican will be already on shore. Nameless NPC sailors accompanying the party will be the first targets for the mermaids which makes for a nice way to give a sense of danger to the players. One of the more notable vessels is Alexandros’ flagship, bedecked with religious iconography of Lathander. Within the vessel, certain skill checks ranging from History to Medicine can teach the party more about the events which happened here. The spirits of the former occupants exist as haunting visions, which impart more of the backstory of Wreythau’s history to the PCs. There’s also a spellbook and some magic items as treasure here. Another ship contains healing potions and healer’s kits along with a variety of paintings portraying figures and landscapes from Wreythau’s history, including Czerina. A set of magical paintings designed to sow dissent among the party will create two illusions of truthful events from the backstories of individual PCs…and a third painting will show one PC performing a variety of evil acts, such as worshiping demons and poisoning wells which are all (hopefully) false. The Sword of Slaughter and Shield of the Dead can also be found in this ship-crawl, although they are guarded by the spirit of Tsar Alexandros. The Tsar serves as a ghostly boss battle with Legendary and Lair actions, and can make use of his abilities to shove and knock opponents into nearby holes that drop into the surf below.

Characters who were overcome by mermaids may be held as hostages to be eaten later in an “optional” section of the area, where a magical Driftglobe is being used by them to sunbathe. PCs can negotiate with the mermaids for the driftglobe or any hostages, although the former is much more challenging to negotiate for. Otherwise the final section of the ship graveyard involves escaping to shore via a horizontally overtuned ship’s mast as a horde of Drowned Dead assail the party. These creatures have a grapple as their primary attack, and can vomit dealing acid damage on grappled targets as well as explode upon death.

PCs who come within sight of shore (hundreds of feet away) will see the NPC survivors getting attacked and captured by a dozen armored torch-bearing figures. These are members of the Inquisition of the Morning Lord, and this scene serves as part of a precursor to adventures involving that faction in Leshehoff.

Jhsyfkg.png


Chapter 3: Leshehoff opens this adventure path up considerably. While the prior chapter was rather linear overall save for dealing with the mysterious passengers, the lands surrounding Leshehoff give PCs more freedom in how they can go about accomplishing the main objectives. The barony of Leshehoff is one of Wreythau’s larger population centers, being a mostly rural region and a walled town of the same name. It is also home to the Abbey of St. Zharkov, the original headquarters of the Inquisition of the Morning Lord who serve as the primary antagonistic faction of this chapter.

As the PCs track down the Inquisitor’s path or otherwise follow the roads back to civilization, the book calls out suggestions to make use of earlier encounters to show off Wreythau’s dangerous wildlife. One of the predetermined encounters involves finding an abandoned baby within a circle of standing stones. It is a Beastfolk baby whose parents were killed by wild animals while they were trying to perform a ritual to protect and bless their child. Skill checks and appropriate languages (Druidic, Sylvan) can learn more about the standing stones, such as the fact that they’re connected to the Archfey Cailleach, the Queen of Winter. A group of Beastfolk will have followed the tracks of the parents to the standing stone, and will seek to take the baby into their care. They will not be initially hostile to the PCs unless they’re intent on taking the baby for themselves.

Should the party earn their trust, they will be taken to Caeltos Village, a settlement deep within the forest. The PCs may be able to find this village on their own but will not be allowed inside if they haven't first earned the Beastfolk’s trust. We get lists of the number of warriors and noncombatants in the village, along with houses of notable occupants and the goods and services they can provide PCs as well as text inserting local color and verisimilitude. For example, children are raised communally, moving out of their homes to live with a mentor who will apprentice them in a specific craft.

PCs have the opportunity to meet the archdruid Yezinka as part of a special event, and learn more about Wreythau and especially the Inquisition of the nearby town of Leshehoff. PCs can perform quests on behalf of the community, such as breaking into the Abbey to free captured Beastfolk (Yezinka mentions there are also relics of great power to be found there), and can gain honorary membership in their tribe by retrieving a sacred mortar and pestle also stolen by the Inquisition. There’s even a more light-hearted quest to gather supplies for an upcoming wedding, which include a mixture of typical stuff (barrels of wine, stuffing to make toys) and less conventional gifts (gold and silver to be melted into arm-rings, a chain shirt). Two quests can teach the party special spell-like abilities via rituals. The one that teaches a once per day DC 20 Zone of Truth spell involves performing open-ended deeds demonstrating truth and valor. The other, which casts True Resurrection on a character, involves collecting rare herbs to mimic the Astral Projection spell in order to engage in a duel with a spirit. Both quests give specific examples of how such deeds and items can be obtained in the adventure, now or in the future.

biFy97O.png


The town of Leshehoff is surrounded by acres of farmland linked together by fortified outposts, and its military force draws from both local recruits in the Town Watch and mercenaries working for the Merchant Consortium. Baroness Ekaterina Tornheim is the land’s official leader, although she is on strained terms with the Church of the Morning Lord. The Church suspects her of blasphemous opinions and seeks to overthrow her in order to institute a theocracy. The Consortium has a presence here, although they stay out of the Church’s and Baroness’ way in favor of searching for outlaws that have passed through here from other parts of the kingdom. Another worrisome thing is that the Tax Collector, one of Czerina’s most feared agents, is coming to visit and is a sign of great woe for settlements throughout Wreythau. Taxes aren’t just paid in gold, but in blood via offerings of people from the nation’s towns. Most return home, but some do not. He will appear in town once the major plot points are resolved.

After undergoing a cumbersome approval process (or fighting the Watch and being declared outlaws), the PCs can make their way into town. While here, things are a bit open-ended, with 8 unique and detailed locations and 5 minor quests for the PCs to do.

Barony Mansion is the fortified dwelling of Baroness Ekaterina Tornheim. Although she is weighed down by the realities of feudal hierarchies, her heart is in the right place and she seeks to protect her people, although like many nobles possesses a classist streak where she doesn’t believe that commoners know what is best for themselves. Vitkor Taravos, the Inquisition’s High Inquisitor, will seek to recruit the PCs into digging up dirt on the Baroness as a means of delegitimizing her rule. The Baroness does have some skeletons in her closet: although nobody likes the Beastfolk, the Baroness is considering making an alliance with the Renegades of the Order of Blood to kill them all. Additionally, a ghost haunts the grand ballroom to play music. The ghost is actually harmless and is a woman who was killed by her religious fanatic father who viewed the idea of women musicians as a grave sin. Ekaterina knows the ghost’s story and is one of the reasons why she is a foe of the Church. The ghost can peacefully pass on if the PCs find her old prison and play one of her written pieces to a live audience. The Baroness is also a wizard, her study a veritable treasure trove of tomes, spell components, and even a bestiary of Wreythau’s various monsters.

Market Square is where PCs can go to buy supplies, but due to Consortium price-gouging everything is double the normal price save for alchemical supplies. PCs may run into the High Inquisitor Viktor Tarasov here, where he’s making an example of a suspected heretic shopkeeper by torturing him in public. Ever the showman, he will diffuse any tensions of the PCs by declaring them holy and pure, only to imply that his word is holding back the town guard from arresting them. PCs who don’t resort to violence or freeing the shopkeeper will be instructed to meet with him later, where he reveals his suspicions regarding the Baroness. To sweeten the deal, Viktor promises hefty monetary rewards and divine spellcasting services, but they have to use genuine evidence and not falsified ones; the Inquisitor knows that the best lies start with a kernel of truth.

The Copper Crown Tavern is the best of its kind in town. Its owner, Cival, is a woman who is running an underground resistance ring against the Consortium and has dug out secret passageways beneath the establishment to house rebels and refugees. She may approach the PCs with a job offer to investigate the catacombs of the Abbey and retrieve what is basically a Tarokka Deck but is instead referred to as an Oracle Deck. The Deck was kept as contraband from its former owner who the Inquisition executed, and Cival believes that a powerful divination device will better help coordinate missions for the resistance.

Otherwise the Copper Crown has a gambling hall with a list of sample mini-games (drinking, Three-Dragon Ante, boxing and duels, etc) that are resolved as either skill challenges or opposed rolls, and the secret areas have a decent-sized armory of gear, alchemical items, and poisons.

Merchant Consortium Outpost serves as a warehouse for caravans passing through Leshehoff, and it has 10 armed guards working security. Vasili Radulesc is the Regional Director, a vampire spawn who has a pet armored tiger in his office that serves as an ideal means of defense. He will brush off PCs and initially not want anything to do with them, but if they provide information about Cival’s resistance movement he can part with information about the Gulthias flowers and Consortium shipping ledgers. The information obtained reveals that the Tax Collector, Beleroth Haar an Thell, gave crates of the flowers to the Consortium with specific instructions to send them to various places.

But what if the PCs want to obtain the ledgers without dealing with Vasili? The adventure doesn’t say where the ledgers are kept.

Alchemist’s Shop was the home of Marian and Sybilla Valborg, a married couple who worshiped the Old Faith. Marian was actually burned at the stake due to Sybilla offering testimony against her husband. She did this at Marian’s behest, hoping that this would allow him to take all the blame and deflect attention away from the rest of the family.

Now the shop is troubled by another malady. An evil spirit called Mr. Splinter by Sybilla’s daughter haunts the home, making threatening statements and appearing as a frightful shape in the corner of one’s visions. Certain skills and spells can detect Mr. Splinter and find out more about his nature. Sybilla has been reluctant to seek outside help in exorcizing the spirit, for she fears that the Inquisition will blame her for it and thus leave her daughter an orphan.

PCs have various ways to resolve this encounter; smuggling the family out of town to live with the Beastfolk is one option. Burning down the house will cause Mr. Splinter to move elsewhere and torment another family. Mr. Splinter can be banished via folkloric magic which involves creating mead brewed beneath the light of the full moon with non-conventional ingredients such as onyx and sea salt. If Mr. Splinter is tricked into drinking it, he will be banished.

The Blacksmith’s Guild is owned by an old dwarf who survived Czerina’s genocide. He settled in Leshehoff, teaching his skills to smiths he found worthy. He can tell the party much about the history of the dwarven kingdom, and if the PCs offer to take an intricate metal relief of his family tree to the Silver Graves he will craft them whatever they want. The Silver Graves are visited much later on in the adventure path, so this isn’t the kind of quest that can be done immediately.

Tailor’s Shop is owned by Madalina, although she and her husband mysteriously vanished after giving birth. In reality, their child was born a Beastfolk, and frightened for its safety she will confide in foreign adventurers in wanting a way out of this predicament to avoid the entire town coming out to kill them. Magical disguises are given as vague options in helping the child live a mostly-normal life, along with smuggling the family out of town to live with the Beastfolk. This last part has more detail, for the Church realizes that something’s fishy and posted a lookout near their home.

The Abbey of St. Zharkov is our largest and most-detailed location in town, and also serves as this chapter’s major dungeon crawl. It is a 12-room, 2-story complex that has varying levels of restricted areas. PCs who made a deal with Viktor may be allowed in certain areas under escort, but otherwise they will only be allowed inside the front-door chapel for mass. The inhabitants of the Abbey have a miserable life in spite of the building’s grand design. Acolytes live in communal dorms with no privacy, self-mutilation is mandatory for repenting of sins, and access to healing magic encouraged the Inquisition to subject trainees to particularly painful exercises. Dismemberment, burning, and maiming are regular parts of training. The armory contains tactical study manuals that can grant advantage on certain skills when fighting Inquisitors, and the librarian is secretly disenchanted with the faith and may serve as a useful ally and information source if he senses a kindred spirit among the PCs. In particular, he can let the party on to the fact that the Abbot isn’t a regular mortal at all! The personal quarters of the High Inquisitor contain non-magical treasure worth a pretty gold piece along with a personal journal explaining his plans to overthrow the Baroness. This journal can be used to sway the Baroness into taking action against the Church.

ltpaiEy.png


As for the Abbot, he is the angel Temelloth. He has a personal sanctum where he spends most of his time in, his immortal mind pondering cosmic mysteries. If the PCs helped the High Inquisitor, they will be allowed access to this chamber to receive a blessing from Temelloth (resurrection, a +2 item, +2 ability, etc). Otherwise he will attack anyone who breaks inside. Temelloth initially has a human guise, but if the PCs admit to the angel his true nature or reduce him to a quarter health, the celestial will transform and retreat, flying over Leshehoff and commanding the Inquisition to lay waste to the town.

The Catacombs is a 9-room, 2-story mini-dungeon next to but not part of the Abbey, serving as a prison and mass grave for those tried and executed by the Inquisition. The shipwrecked survivors of the Pelican are held here, along with several Beastfolk. The outside is guarded by 4 to 6 acolytes, but inside there are undead inquisitors serving as guards as well as various traps such as poison darts and a fire-breathing statue. One non-combat encounter involves a surprisingly friendly inquisitor known as the Rat Keeper. The Rat Keeper has never been the same after a powerful blow from a Beastfolk’s axe, and is sequestered away in the Catacombs to do odd jobs. He can tell the PCs about the prisoners, the traps, and that the librarian of the Abbey knows the Abbot’s true secret. All the while, rats scatter and rush across his body and beneath his clothes as he talks.

In addition to the Tarokka Deck (a unique magic item that can cast Augury, Divination, and Legend Lore once per day), other treasures include the Beastfolk’s sacred mortar and pestle, the Staff of the Old Faith, the Bow of Whispers, and the Book of Vile Darkness. If the elf assassin Raum is still alive, he will be held in a torture chamber where Anatole Vellekov, a half-orc warlock, is attempting to extract information from him.

So, what happens if the PCs manage to gain the Baroness’ aid to wage war on the Abbey? Or if a revealed Temelloth decides to lay waste to the town? Well, we get two unique events to play out. Assaulting the Abbey has the Town Guard assemble to lay siege to the structure while the PCs go after the Church’s leader, namely the High Inquisitor and the Abbot. At most the party will have to fight 34 nameless inquisitors of varying stat blocks, but spread out around the Abbey rather than all at once. Tarasov may flee to fight another day, coming back for revenge in the next chapter of Raffenburg. If Temelloth survives, he will lay waste to Leshehoff the next night.

As for what happens when you get a fallen angel angry? Temelloth will make use of fire-based ranged spells and Flyby Attacks to attack people, only flying down to melee once targets are weakened enough. PCs will be tasked with shepherding people to safety in sturdy houses, and suggests various battlemaps to be used as a multi-stage encounter between skirmishes with Temelloth. A short rest or two should also be given before the PCs perform the final fight in one of the buildings.

The other events in town involve the Baroness’ dealing with the Order of Blood. The first event involves one of their establishment knights visiting the Copper Crown Tavern; everyone is deathly afraid of him in spite of his polite and affable nature, and PCs who engage him in conversation can learn more about his Order. They also learn that he’s hunting for a renegade member known as Sir Hajek. The next event happens as the Baroness summons the PCs to have a private dinner with her, where she seeks to hire the the party to chart the movements of the Beastfolk in order to find the location of their villages. PCs who help her out with this will earn her confidence, where she tells them that she’s seeking out the Renegades of the Order of Blood to help her war against the Beastfolk (and possibly the Inquisition depending on how things unfold). The next event will involve her riding out at midnight for a private meeting with Sir Hajek; PCs may accompany her or shadow her, depending on circumstances.

The final event serves as the chapter epilogue once the PCs have completed the major quests in Leshehoff. The town descends into a panic as villagers spread word that the Tax Collector has arrived, causing people to rush indoors and close windows as a thunderous rainstorm appears. A knock on the door comes where the PCs are staying, and it is Beleroth. He will introduce himself with feigned politeness, and the Insight skill can reveal a simmering rage in his heart. His intention is to take the PCs to the Court of the Blood Queen, and that Wreythau’s leader wishes to speak to them on an important matter.

Beleroth has surreptitiously prepared a teleportation spell to activate in order to take himself and the PCs to the Cairn, with a magic piece of chalk mixed with Czerina’s blood as one of the components. Beleroth has applied the chalk to his hands, which he will use to mark them for teleportation. At first he will pass it off as a polite handshake. If the PCs decline even that, he will teleport them anyway, for he was casting the spell the whole time.

It might seem cruel to basically give the adventurers no choice over whether they go or not, but the chance of missing what comes next is a far worse result. Besides, it will help communicate to the players the power scale that they are dealing with. Furthermore, a brief moment of helplessness helps emphasize the horrific nature of their situation, being trapped in an evil land against their will, before they regain their agency.

While I understand that meeting the primary antagonist of this adventure is an important one, this may come off as surprisingly rail-roady given how much leeway the PCs had during the rest of this chapter.

As you can probably imagine, there’s a wide variety of outcomes depending on the PC’s actions in Leshehoff. As such, the milestone achievements aren’t as set in stone, although the book recommends that the big battle against the Abbey should only happen once the PCs reach 5th level. As for when they reach 4th, it should be after they help out with a few of the smaller side quests. A sample quest trajectory is provided at the end of the chapter based on one possible route a gaming group can take.

Thoughts So Far: Now this is what I’m talking about! The first two chapters of the adventure path proper are fun to read and have an interesting array of characters and challenges that can be completed in a variety of ways. Even the more railroady section on the Pelican is spiced up with some investigative role-playing elements with multiple avenues of resolution, and the town of Leshehoff is packed with double-dealings and secrets. Some of which are innocent or for a good cause, others not so much. It lines up well with Ravenloft’s nature, such as how those of good intentions can be willing to make deals with wicked figures or troubled townsfolk who cannot turn to the Inquisition for legitimate fears. The adventure also manages to do a good job of slowly escalating a sense of horror in various parts, particularly during the Pelican voyage or the initial outbreak of the Gulthias spores, slowly giving hints of things not seeming quite right before culminating in a more overt climax.

Not only that, just about every major area which can involve combat has its own gridded map both in the book and as handouts. This is a common aspect throughout the Realm of the Blood Queen which I appreciate.

If I had to give any points of criticism, it would be Temelloth the Abbot is an extremely powerful monster to throw at a level 5 party. His perpetual flying nature under open sky means that PCs without ideal long-range attacks won’t be able to harm him much, and even with his Legendary Actions and high movement speed even snipers will likely suffer disadvantage to hit. I presume that NPC allies such as the Baroness (who’s a respectable spellcaster in her own right) can help turn the tide, although Temelloth has a good chance of causing one or several deaths with how powerful he is. There’s also the Tax Collector’s Deus Ex Teleporta, although it’s a smaller critique.

Join us next time as we awaken the Blood Queen and visit the dark fantasy metropolis of Raffenburg!
 

Libertad

Hero
Realm of the Blood Queen, Part 3

0q11iQf.png


In Chapter 4: the Blood Queen Awakens, the party will meet the Dark Lady and primary antagonist of this adventure face to face. Once the PCs are teleported to the Cairn, Beleorth will either lead them to the guest rooms or if they try fighting him he may fight back for a few rounds. More for entertainment’s sake, before telling them to meet him at the top of the tower before Dimension Dooring away. If PCs attempt to leave, he will track them down in the wilds to knock out and teleport them to the tower in which Czerina sleeps.

The Cairn is a spooky looking castle overlooking a moat of lava, its front bridge leading up the gate of a carved demonic skull. The skull does a bit of trolling as the PCs walk up to it:

The carved head is also enchanted to be a guardian, granting the entranceway a faux sentience with an odd sense of humor. It’s been commanded to let the adventurers come and go as they please (and it will), though it will try to trick them into believing they must answer riddles in order to open the door. It does this by proclaiming “To avoid certain death, answer me these riddles three!” but won’t actually do anything if the players ignore it. It simply wants to amuse itself by playing a little prank.

In the main hall are a series of statues carved from characters wrought from Czerina’s personal history, programmed with a limited set of instructions. Some of the more interesting ones include the founder and Queen of Barrukhirrim who speaks venomously about Czerina turning on her people, a sexist knight who was one of Czerina’s first victims as the Black Rider, and a bard who speaks in the third person and can share secrets of the castle related what she’s seen and heard. The library is full of books on almost every subject, but a prominently-displayed journal known as the Mirror of Czerina Gavranova serves as her personal journal. It is magically enchanted to let the reader experience her past memories while dreaming, and there’s quite a bit of scenes to play out which are detailed in the Appendix at the back of this book. In fact, this is the only appendix, for just about every new thing in this sourcebook is detailed in the relevant section. The dining room contains a secret passage to a hidden treasury containing 41,100 gold pieces worth of coins and jewels, but a Swarm of Mimics posing as gold and jewels will attack the party if they attempt to steal the contents. The Swarm is a pretty strong yet straightforward melee monster which specializes in grappling and constricting, and whose adhesive imposes disadvantage on checks to escape their dangerous embrace.

PCs who ascend the tower will see a bio-organic interlay of viny Gulthias flowers mixed with blood-like pulsing veins covering the building’s interior. Beleroth will ask the PCs to voluntarily donate some of their blood into a chalice in order to awaken Czerina. If they refuse, the vines will reach out to damage the characters, which is enough for the ritual.

The Blood Queen will thank the party for awakening her, and make mention that they’ve met before by bringing up prior times in the module she appeared to them in visions. Additionally, she will grant each character one open-ended reward; the extent of what can be given is determined by the DM. Asking her to kill someone they don’t like is something she would be willing to do, although asking for magic items has her bring up that she cannot give anything more powerful than the scaling artifacts that the party possesses. Once this dealmaking is complete, Czerina will assign a task for the party: the city of Raffenburg is undergoing a political crisis, and in order to prevent further bloodshed they must go and claim the city in her name. Their reward is that they will be appointed the new rulers of Raffenburg. If the PCs refuse, she’ll ignore them and mention that doing the job herself will be “far less subtle,” and teleport them out of the Cairn to be placed near the city.

What if the PCs try to attack her? Well she’s a CR 26 end-game boss complete with legendary and lair actions, plus she has a unique quality where she’s immune to all damage that doesn’t originate from weapons enchanted by a special forge in the Silver Graves. She’ll laugh and let the party have their fun until they realize their futility.

u5t9hoV.png


Chapter 5: Raffenburg is actually available up as a Pay What You Want product on the Dungeon Master’s Guild. Serving as a dark fantasy metropolis sandbox, Cayce Corday sought to use this freebie as a means of showing off the strong points of the Realm of the Blood Queen. As far as choices go in making certain chapters free, this is a pretty good one.

Going forward, Czerina will take a more active affair in the PC’s business, to give the sense that she’s always watching. And she is, given her mental link with Wreythau’s abundant wildlife. She may use illusion magic to covertly stalk them, only to briefly appear to let a character see her before teleporting away. She may also appear to meet with them, particularly if a PC undergoes character development and is acting more or less violent than they were in the past.

Raffenburg is a city of around half a million souls arranged around a hill upon which the noble families live. It was in Castle Raffen that the Blood Queen slain her brother Tsar Alexandros and plunged the realm into the Mists. Raffenburg’s infrastructure is straining against its growing population, and what land is outside the walls is dedicated to farmland or dangerous wilderness. This is resulting in a steadily lowering standard of living, and the political power players aren’t interested in improving the lot of the commoners. The Church of the Morning Lord does run charities, but only shares their mercy with converts of the faith as a means of building up a power base. The House of Reinwald owns 60% of Raffenburg’s land, with the rest divided up by minor noble houses, and the majority of the population hate them for their unwillingness to care for them as the nobility is supposed to do. A burgeoning underground resistance of revolutionaries are plotting to slaughter the ruling class, and to reflect these tense conditions propaganda leaflets can be found scattered throughout the city. They range from anti-government declarations, new laws and orders passed by the city council, and mages advertising a pittance of coin for humanoid guinea pigs as part of their magical experiments. Traveling in the more lawless sections of town makes rotting dead bodies in the street a depressingly regular occurrence, and a Medicine check reveals that they were killed by weapons that the City Guard have as standard-issue.

Raffenburg’s power players are divided into several factions. The Authority are made up of the City Council who determine laws and policy, while the City Guard enforces them. While centuries ago Council members were chosen in elections, now each one inherits their title from family members, being nobles in everything but name. As for the City Guard, they are separated into the various districts which each have their own Guard Captain. Raffenburg has no jails or due process, meaning that resolution of lawbreaking is accomplished either by a bribe or suffering police violence as punishment. The Guard Captain of the Cathedral District has joined the Inquisition, meaning he and almost every guard in that district is supporting the Church and seeking to infiltrate the other districts for their planned theocratic overthrow. The other Captains are varying degrees of corrupt and/or violent, save for the Captain of the University District who is trying to reform the laws but is looked down upon by the other cops as a result.

Next we have the Consortium, who actually have three high-ranking members seeking to overturn the status quo by allying with the Revolution. These turncoats are Gheata sisters, owners of the Drowning Sun inn, brothel, and casino, and act as information brokers par excellence. Otherwise the Consortium in Raffenburg is much like it is everywhere else: ruled over by an out-of-touch vampire who prefers predictable stagnation over innovation.

The Revolution is a diverse collection of various people who’ve grown alienated by Raffenburg’s government: disenfranchised workers, artists and intellectuals, and others who want a better way of life for the majority. Cival from the Copper Crown Inn of Leshehoff is the leader, although she is secretly plotting to use the revolution as a means of bringing down the Consortium so she can rebuild it into a business with the original goals in mind of helping the people. Other revolutionary leaders are unaware of this, and if they learn of it will regard her as a traitor. We get details on the four other leaders as well, from a true believer idealist and propaganda distributor, a gangster who acts as their primary enforcer, a senior member of the Mason’s Guild who helps recruit artisans and builds safe houses, and a dwarven alchemist who supplies alchemical items and isn’t a genuine revolutionary so much as someone with a burning hatred of the Consortium.

The Cult of Decadence is a secret society headquartered in the Art District, made up of people corrupted by Isidora’s artwork who believe that all forms of beauty, wisdom, and transformation come from suffering. The terrible state of affairs in Raffenburg should be both preserved and encouraged in the belief that it will uplift the city’s residents into a post-mortal state of being. But mostly they just want to hurt people and do evil cult things.

The Church of the Morning Lord is headquartered in the Cathedral District. Unlike Leshehoff they are more covert, seeking to build up followers via charitable works and converting members of the City Guard. Father Lorreus, the highest-ranking member of the church, is based out of the Raffenburg Cathedral. Once they gather enough power or the time is right, they seek to take over the government and turn Raffenburg into a theocracy. Members of the Inquisition who escaped Leshehoff will certainly report the PC’s deeds to their superiors, which will cause them to be wanted by that district’s guards as outlaws.

The Reinwalds are the most powerful noble family in Raffenburg, the leaders of the county of the greater area. They are all werewolves, but due to gaining their state of being from fey they have greater self-control over their powers and are much stronger than usual, using modified Loup Garou stat blocks inspired by the monsters from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. Their primary means of gaining and maintaining power is by throwing revels to catch people in compromising positions for blackmail. Those who earned their favor may be inducted into the family with lycanthropy, which has made them a rather large family. Yasviga is the black wolf of the Reinwalds, who finds her parents and siblings creepy and homicidal. If freed from the Catacombs of the Abbey, she will be back in Raffenburg, and is set to be the next in line for inheritance. Ustinya and Karloff, two of her conniving siblings, hate her and seek to assassinate her. They already killed off several other brothers and sisters, so one more isn’t going to stop them now. Yasviga may even seek the party’s help in surviving her siblings’ murderous designs and thus gain control of the Reinwald family, in that order.

24pdCms.png


City Events details 3 events that can take place anywhere in the city, plus hooks to two plot-important events which are in specific areas I will discuss in the next section. They include a wagon of City Guards extorting belongings from slum-dwellers, and members of the Revolution are planning an ambush to hijack said wagons; Father Lorreus attempting to stir up a crowd in doubting the PCs due to learning of what happened in Leshehoff; and members of the Cult of Decadence performing a ritual murder in a public location.

In the case of the city guard, they have two different stat blocks and are pretty powerful in comparison to the average OGL Guard. City Guards are CR 3 NPCs clad in half plate and bear shields, and they can multi attack with a Lightning Sword that deals +1d6 lightning damage on top of longsword damage. Guard Arcanists (1 per patrol) are CR 6 wizards who have a variety of blasty and offensive spells plus some nice ones like Counterspell and Greater Invisibility. They also can shoot a magical reinforcement flare into the sky that can summon more Guards in 1 minute, but can be counterspelled as though it were a spell. The revolutionaries are more lightly armored with a Rogue’s Cunning Action, deal 2 more weapon dice worth of damage, and auto-crit against creatures they have advantage on attacks against in the first round of combat. Additionally they can throw 2 flasks of Acid Grenades which are like acid vials but stronger.

The Lightning Swords, Reinforcement Flare, and Acid Grenades are listed as actions for the NPCs, although it’s not clear if it’s equipment they have (in which case the PCs can get some nice loot) or are innate abilities which they channel into held objects.

As for the cultists, they are CR 2 NPCs who can cast spells as 4th level clerics, and if they carry out their sacrifice they will turn the corpse into a Decadence Demon. This is a new monster that mostly has melee attacks, but is built more for infiltration as it can change shape and has various subtle spells like invisibility and darkness at will and other spells once per day each such as gaseous form. It becomes vulnerable to all forms of damage if in the presence of beauty that is considered sublime. The ghost musician from Leshehoff has music that is considered sublime for these purposes.

If the Decadence Demon takes enough damage it will attempt to flee, returning later to stalk the PCs as they adventure around the city in order to make their lives terrible.

As for Father Lorreus, the encounter is not intended to be combat, but if the PCs act violent this will confirm to the assembled crowd that the party are dangerous psychopaths not to be trusted. Statwise he is a CR 10 character who can cast spells as a 13th level Cleric, has Legendary Actions, and a special anointment that gives him a natural armor of 18. The PCs will get the opportunity to kill him later if they desire during the next chapter.

The two “major events” are as follows: R.K Schreyer holding a play where the PCs are intended to be the stars of the show…but the violence is real! The other event involves receiving an invitation to the Reinwald’s party. In reality the werewolves seek to drug and hunt down the PCs and other partygoers in a forest, but if Yasviga is alive and well she can serve as a valuable ally.

Welcome to Raffenburg! gives us a bird’s eye view of the city, overviewing 16 locations of note along with side quests. Additionally it lists recommended levels for various events, with most being in the 5-6 range.

City Gates is triggered when the party attempts to go to Raffenburg via one of the major gates. The place is well-defended with barricades, siege weapons, and nearly a dozen sentries. The guards are as crooked as a fractal curve and have a variety of real and fake taxes to get gold out of the PCs. If a party member has an overt symbol of the Blood Queen’s authority (given to her as a reward in the prior chapter if asked for it) this encounter can be waived, but word will spread that the Tax Collector’s agents arrived early and will cause more panic throughout the city.

PCs who end up on the wrong side of the law will be hunted through the city, although it won’t be hard for the party to evade the guards and hired bounty hunters. But if they wish to visit various places peacefully without arousing suspicion they will need to use disguises or gain the aid of a high-up faction member to clear their names.

The Grand Marketplace is a specialized assortment of vendors operating in the Market District, with Consortium-approved guilds selling all manner of goods.

The House of the Drowning Sun is one of the most well-known establishments in Raffenburg. Serving as a multi-purpose inn, brothel, and casino, it serves as a neutral ground for the city’s various factions. Anca, Sorina, and Ileana are three half-elf sisters who run it and are secretly sympathetic to the Revolutionaries. Being accomplished warriors and spellcasters in their own right, many of the House’s rooms and objects are specially enchanted to serve as ideal security measures, such as the kitchen which detects the presence of any poisons in the food or drink. The House has a multi-level map and is the likely place the PCs will stay, and they and various NPC patrons of the establishment can give them hooks to other events around town.

Skalek’s Icy Delights is a frozen food store that makes use of a cold-generating artifact rescued from the Silver Graves in order to store and make ice cream, slushies, and other delicious desserts. Skalek, the owner, is a dwarf and feels that as long as something from his fallen kingdom can bring joy to others then he is honoring his peoples’ legacy. The artifact can have its effects enhanced via blood sacrifice, possibly causing a county-wide blizzard which will lead to famine for hundreds of thousands of people. Fortunately Skalek doesn’t have such evil ambitions nor knows of this use for the artifact.

Menagerie Livestock Market is a specialized storefront that buys and sells the most dangerous and valuable creatures, their blood and meat turned into valuable items, components, and ingredients. By nightfall the proprietors turn the stables into an impromptu arena, where people can duel captured beasts. We get two stat blocks for Wreythian-enhanced mundane animals: a Huge-sized Wreythian Bear (CR 12, immunity to being frightened and can deal a lot of damage via multiattack) and the Wreythian Dire Wolf (CR 6, has Spider Climb and can heal HP to itself with every bite attack). The book notes that no mundane wolves exist in Wreythau, and that Wreythian bears hibernate for months and more frequently than regular bears, as their unstoppable rampages would’ve depleted the island of prey long ago.

The Reinwald Estate is surrounded by a ring of hundreds of acres of forest, territory they value more than their own castle. The most likely way the PCs may get involved is if they receive an invitation to one of the family’s legendary parties, which may let Yasviga fill them in on her family’s depredations and a means of preparing them for the inevitable hunt.

The Estate is a 4 story, 19 room castle-crawl which goes into detail on the location’s occupants, defenses, and treasures. During the party PCs can meet other well-to-do NPCs in the Grand Hall and learn about other interesting things in the land. There will also be a “dance-off” that is a set of opposed skill checks which everyone loves to watch, and can serve as a means of distraction for other characters to go off sneaking. Two different rooms have a shrine to the manifestation of Summer and Winter, with massive skulls from unknown slain creatures. In both cases, rituals can be performed to summon a Courtier fey from either the Summer or Winter Courts, and can be asked a question on any subject (“anything”) and receive a truthful answer. However, the Fey expects payment of some task in 4 weeks or a magic item, and PCs who renegade on the deal will have the Fey teleport to attack and kill them. Both courtiers have their own stat blocks, and are rather powerful CR 10 creatures. The Winter one can cast a variety of weather and cold-based innate spells as well as teleport, while the Summer fey is more physically-inclined with a fearsome presence that can impose an AoE frightened condition.

Additionally, the various paintings, sculptures, and artwork can trigger more learned information with the right skill checks (History, Nature, etc), the bedroom of the head chef has many recipes which can sell for hundreds of gold pieces, and a solarium with a private set of letters reveals the Reinwald’s plans to use an upcoming coup to take over the city council. These letters provide valuable data to the other factions, or blackmail material for anyone with the stones to threaten a family of werewolves. Yasviga’s private room has concealed silver weapons and a diary talking about her less than ideal upbringing, tipping off her loyalties. The Estate’s third floor is an indoor “hunting ground,” a maze full of trapped rooms to chase people through; a magical alarm triggers if uninvited guests enter this floor, which in the PC’s case will soon find themselves hunted through the maze.

The related Event to this area is simply called the Hunt, and takes place in the forests surrounding the Reinwald Estate. In this case the PCs will be drugged and captured during the party and released in the forest for the Reinwalds to hunt them down with a head start of a few hours. If they’re conspiring with Yasviga, she will catch up with the party, giving them silver weapons and will help them ambush her siblings. In such a case she will fight her brother Karloff and become separated from the party, while the PCs will fight Ustinya.

As mentioned before, the Count, Countess, Ustinya, and Karloff all have stat blocks based off of the Loup Garou, but with some alterations here and there. For example, Ustinya has a longbow and legendary action (costs 3 actions) where she shoots every target within range, the Count has a +2 longsword he uses in humanoid form and a 20 Strength instead of the usual 18, and the Countess casts spells as a 12th-level druid.

The book mentions that even fighting just Ustinya will be a deadly battle, and they’re not lying. At 6th level a Fighter with 16 Constitution will have 58 hit points if using the average level up results. A d8 Hit Die class with 12 Constitution will have 39 hit points the same way.

Combined with her Legendary Actions, a blood frenzy to grant advantage on attacks, and Multiatttack she can easily severely wound or even drop an unlucky character in one or two rounds. She’s also immune to the Charmed and Frightened Conditions, has darkvision 120 feet, and a passive Perception of 23, making it rather hard to out-trick or hide from her.

University of Raffenburg is a source of pride for the city, for its many innovations are of great aid to the various Guilds and factions. It is also the only place where one can legally buy magical items and services which makes it another “neutral ground” as all factions value its resources. That still doesn’t prevent them from fighting over it, but it’s more subtle and behind-the-scenes.

ZyiHUg9.png


We have a sample adventure, Lost In the Stacks, that is a dungeon crawl through a special library demiplane housed in the University. Known informally as the Stacks, the realm was built by the Blood Queen herself and the shelves reshape seemingly of their own accord to make it an unmappable maze. The library is home to just a single but very powerful monster: the Book Worm. Appearing as a giant worm-like being that can burrow through rapidly-repairing book shelves, it guards the library’s valuables and will stalk and attack PCs who try to steal the various artifacts. It won’t go in for the kill immediately; it’s fond of swallowing a target whole, burrowing away, and then vomiting them up elsewhere in the library to be separated from the party.

Statwise the Book Worm is incredibly strong. This adventure is meant for level 6 characters, and the monster is CR 15 with 18 AC and 247 hit points. Furthermore, its bite attack has an amazing +14 to hit, can deal 22 damage, swallowed targets take 21 damage per round, and it can also use a tail stinger with the same bonus to hit but can deal potentially up to 61 damage from the initial physical attack plus poison damage on a failed save. Oh, and it can Multiattack with its bite and stinger! The Book Worm can very easily one-shot a PC, even if it’s striking to weaken rather than kill. On the plus side, the Book Worm automatically triggers opportunity attacks whenever it attacks a creature.

PCs who manage to survive, evade, or even kill the Book Worm have the opportunity to take advantage of one or more of the Stacks’ special artifacts. For example, there’s a magic mirror which can change their appearance into whatever they most wish they can look like; the skull of a pit fiend who can grant a bonus spell in exchange for their immortal soul, angel feathers, or other “infernal bargain” stuff; a magic set of five rings, and the wearer of the “dominant one” can cast Geas on anyone wearing the other four at the cost of having a finger consumed; an instrument that takes the form of something the wielder can play and can be used to cast Summon Greater Demon, but once the duration ends the demon remains on the plane and is free-willed; a cursed teleportation circle which can transport a character into a warded-off section of library, and the daughter of Baroness Tornheim* is trapped here; and a teddy bear that mentally influences an onlooker to carry it with them at all times but when the owner’s asleep will animate and go on a killing spree.

*She was sent to study in Raffenburg to place her further away from the Baroness’ enemies in Leshehoff.

University Prosthetics Department can create magical prosthetic limbs for people, but due to their expenses only the rich can reliably take advantage of their services. There are gold piece costs for prosthetic replacements, including ones that are enhanced with spell effects.

The Grand Theatre looks like a domed palace and is one of Raffenburg’s most well-regarded institutions. It is the other big major event of this chapter, being geared for 5th-6th level PCs. Every year, the Cult of Decadence puts on a performance where a combination of powerful enchantment and illusion magic are used to get the actors to kill each other under the guise of a play, and several hundred regular audience members have become magically brainwashed into joining the Cult. The play for this year is intended to serve as a sacrificial ritual to summon demons into the world for the upcoming revolution. But when the PCs arrive in town, Isidora wishes to see them in action and seeks to have them take roles in the play, whether they want to or not.

There’s a variety of hooks the PCs can take to investigate the play, such as tracking down an unleashed Decadence Demon or finding out from interrogated Cult members their ties to the Grand Theatre. R.K. Schreyer can be encountered, and he is a jerk who loves to give back-handed compliments to see how people react. Various skill checks and proper use of magic can find enchantment runes woven into costumes, along with runes carved beneath every seat.

The play itself is the Last Tsar, a dramatic re-enactment of the Blood Queen’s fratricidal war against Alexandros and is a predictably bloody war play. It is highly realistic, for the people are really dying, but audience members are enchanted to believe that it’s fake and the corpses of the slain cast members are then possessed by demons so they can stand back up as though everything is fine. During intermission an usher will ask the most warrior-looking PC to take the role of an executioner, for “the actor playing is sick and we want to have a professional to safely perform it.” In reality they’re trying to get the PC to conduct a beheading, with a poorly-made “prosthetic” designed to look fake.

If the play continues unhindered then every actor save the actress playing Czerina will die. But chances are the PCs may intervene at any point. R.K. Schreyer, 4 Stage Technicians, and enchanted actors and a mob of enchanted audience members are potential opposition. The Actors aren’t very powerful nor are the audience members, the latter of which will merely resort to using the Help action for the former. But an option is given to turn the latter into a Mob which is a very tough CR 9 swarm that can deal some punishing melee attacks (40 or 27 damage depending on remaining HP). The Stage Technicans are CR 3 NPCs who can cast spells as 7th-level wizards, specializing in illusion. However, they can cast counterspell, which they will use to foil any attempts at magical dispelling the PCs try to do. They act as a “reserve force” and won’t directly attack unless the PCs fight them directly.

Finally, R.K. Schreyer is a very powerful CR 15 vampire who lacks Children of the Night. They have more playwright-themed skills, with Performance and Persuasion at +14 each. Additionally, he can cast spells as a 9th level wizard, specializing in enhancement and illusion including dominate person, phantasmal killer, and greater invisibility.

Ordinarily this would be a very lethal encounter if everyone plays to their fullest. The Stage Technicans can easily shut down magic with their magic, a DM who uses the Enchanted Mob alternative can quickly crush to death most non-martial PCs, and R.K. Schreyer can use Dominate Person and Charm to take limited control of PCs. However, the Cult’s primary goal is not to kill the PCs, but cause as much innocent death as possible. The enemies, even the enchanted ones, will be attacking nonlethally. If the PCs start lethally attacking audience members and actors, they aren’t going to intervene. Schreyer will mostly cast Vicious Mockery to get under the characters’ skin and deploy Counterspell for anti-dispelling measures. He may even be arrogant enough to tell the PCs about the ritual. Schreyer will flee once five actors are saved (knocking them out or casting Dispel Magic counts, as enemies won’t go after downed targets) or killed.

That being said, managing to save the remaining actors is still a tall order. PCs who go after the Stage Technicians are going to throw one or several powerful wizards into the fray, and that’s saying nothing about the action economy of 5 actors plus the audience plus a playwright vampire. Enemies who focus on one or a few PCs will very likely down them in a round depending on the roll of the die.

The House of Gisella is home to Raffenburg’s most famous tailor. Gisella is a stuck-up classist who always finds something to criticize in even the most well-groomed individuals, but she can sell a variety of fancy clothes. And a few useful ones too, such as clothing that can mimic the defensive properties of armor, hidden pockets, and enchanted clothes that can change appearance.

Banka de Borostok Paternalis is the largest bank in Raffenburg, owned by the Borostok noble family and operating at the Consortium’s behest. It can provide monetary exchanges, loans, insurance, and even securely store items on a monthly rate. The book notes that the bank has the most powerful magical protections in the city, and that planning a heist is beyond the scope of the campaign.

The Wreythian Courier Service is a division of the Consortium, maintaining Wreythau’s highways and transporting things between population centers. We have a list of services for sending letters, shipments of goods, and traveling. We also learn that there are laws forbidding non-Courier people from freely using the nation’s highways, which effectively restrict the vast majority of the population to their local hometowns.

The Mercenary Guild is self-explanatory and gains much of its members from the more ambitious gang members who want a better life for themselves. They have several varieties of mercs who can be lent out on a per-day basis. We have stat blocks for Bodyguards (CR 6, advantage on melee attacks if they take damage, have a +1 weapon they can Multiattack with, and as a reaction can take half the damage of a client within 5 feet) and Bounty Hunters (CR 7, can teleport up to 30 feet as part of their movement, can Multiattack with a special Spiked Chain weapon which can impose one of three additional effects on a hit).

If the PCs wish to hire them, the Bodyguards cost one platinum for a day’s worth of work or “several” for a month…which seems a pretty hefty discount. Bounty Hunters charge hundreds of gold per job.

At this point, it’s likely that the PCs have enough gold to hire one or several mercenaries, especially if they located Czerina’s secret treasure room or found one of the Stacks’ “artifacts” which is basically treasure worth nearly 7k gold. The stat blocks for these NPCs are quite powerful, and at this point in the game it’s likely they can do a better job than equivalent-level martial classes. The Bounty Hunter’s also immune to charmed, exhaustion, and frightened conditions which reduces their chances of being mind-controlled and turned against the party.

The Hunting Guild doesn’t have much interesting stuff besides costing 5 gold for a yearly license and has an extensive research catalog of Wreythian wildlife.

The Brewer’s Guild has a monopoly on Raffenburg’s alcohol production, and can brew special drinks made from Wreythau’s mutated wildlife. A few examples are given, all of which grant the drinker the ability to cast a spell but only if they fail a Constitution save to become drunk (and thus the poisoned condition). The spell lasts until they sober up or its normal duration expires, whichever comes first.

Thoughts So Far: The meeting with the Blood Queen is overall a fine way to introduce the major antagonist of the story. However, there is one tiny plot hole; a plot hole the majority of gaming groups are unlikely to trigger, but one that can happen nonetheless. As it is possible to complete Leshehoff by siding with the Church of the Morning Lord and overthrowing the Baroness, this is not only the “evil path” but one that puts Czerina’s greatest opposition in control of the town. I cannot imagine that the Blood Queen would look at the PCs so fondly if they do this.

Additionally, the “she can give the PCs anything” is a bit too open-ended. It does mention limits like if they ask for powerful magic items, but otherwise there should be some suggestions.

Raffenburg is a stellar chapter. The themes of desperation and oppression permeate through the characters and locations, and even despite its high-magic nature it’s clear that such wonders have not worked out for the betterment of the people. There’s a lot of interesting places and Events to trigger in a non-linear fashion, and the Stacks quest with the Book Worm does a good job of eliciting the fears of being hunted in an unfamiliar locale along with giving a risk-reward tradeoff for PCs that seek one or more artifacts.

My main points of criticism would be the lethality of several encounters, as discussed above. Additionally, the hireable mercenaries are a bit too cheap for the powers of their stat blocks. I imagine that they can be useful in turning the tide against the Reinwalds or the Book Worm, but that would require some forethought on the PC’s actions plus the sheer action economy may unbalance encounters a bit too far in the other direction.

Join us next time as we finish this review with a bloody revolution, find a legendary forge in a deserted dwarven kingdom, and sever the last allies of the Blood Queen to overthrow the Dark Lady herself!
 



Libertad

Hero
Realm of the Blood Queen, Part 4

The last fourth of this adventure sees a remarkably faster level-up process spread between 4 smaller chapters. While we had some pretty expansive sandboxes in Leshehoff and Reinwald, going forward the chapters are smaller and more self-contained with more direct and immediate goals.

P6s2QDb.png


Chapter 6: Revolution is the big culmination for the PC’s activities in Raffenburg, with a variety of possible outcomes. The various Faction leaders are going to a Solstice Masquerade Ball, and during this time the Revolutionaries seek to assassinate the members of the Council and the Guard Captains. The PCs, once they attend or sneak in, have the opportunity to aid the Revolutionaries or go after their own desired faction leaders in what becomes a very chaotic scene in the banquet hall.

Barring exceptional circumstances, the PCs will only have the opportunity to assassinate the leader(s) of one faction. If they cook up a particularly ingenious plan or perform with flying colors in combat, they may be able to take down two at the DM’s discretion. But otherwise the chaos from the Revolutionary insurgency will quickly scatter the other VIPs of Raffenburg, causing them to retreat to their own strongholds as similar uprisings happen across the rest of the city. During that time, the PCs have enough time to assault the stronghold of one other faction leader to take out another group.

Each faction leader functions as their own boss battle and most have their own hired minions to aid them. The Revolutionaries are Cival and either 4 guerillas or one of the Gheata sisters, the Authority faction are noncombatant Councilors protected by Guard Captains and Bodyguards (the easiest faction to take out), the Consortium is the vampire Valya Fyodorovna who has been poisoned with holy water during the masquerade and can’t regenerate hit points, the Cult of Decadence is led by the vampire Isidora (vampire with legendary actions and can use reality-changing magical paint), the Church of the Morning Lord pits the PCs against Father Lorreus and High Inquisitor Viktor Tarasov if he’s still alive, and the Count and Countess of the House of Reinwald are by themselves. The werewolves act differently than the other factions in that if they’re attacked they will prioritize fleeing; to better their odds they will transform into dire wolves and flee in front of witnesses, which even if the PCs fail to kill them will effectively unmask their true nature as Old Faith-aligned animalistic monsters. This will make the Reinwalds lose their prestige in Raffenburg’s political machine.

The end of the banquet assassination levels the PCs up to 7, at which point the whole city is undergoing a revolution. The party needs to eliminate one more faction leader to restore things to a period of pseudo-calm. Depending on who lives there are various suggested encounters, such as the escaped Reinwalds holing up in the slums and hunting poor people, or animals escaping from the Livestock Market to spread further panic and death. We even get 5 stat blocks for different CR 9 mobs related to various factions, such as a mob of City Guards, Morning Lord fanatics, or Cult-summoned demons! The Church of the Morning Lord and Cult of Decadence have their own detailed strongholds which act as short dungeon crawls. The other faction leaders have areas previously detailed, and the PCs level up to 8 upon killing this second (or third) faction leader.

Generally speaking, the only real way for the lot of Raffenburg’s common folk to improve is for the Revolutionaries to have their more effective leaders alive, so going after Cival or otherwise sabotaging the assassination attempt will merely perpetuate the city’s misery. It won’t be long before the Blood Queen teleports the PCs back for an audience, asking them a series of questions on how they’d regard their progress in bringing order to Raffenburg. Her last question asks if the party will pledge themselves to her, and even if they refuse she still won’t give up on them. Her next assignment is for the party to kill the Baron of Inbarev, the third major population center of Wreythau, as she found his recent rulership increasingly unpalatable. At this point she’ll teleport the party out of the Cairn, where they will be in the wilderness with Inbarev and the Silver Graves equally distant from each other in case the party wishes to play the chapters out of order.

ZDsk0aW.png


Chapter 7: Inbarev is positively short in comparison to the lengthy sandboxes of Leshehoff and Raffenburg. The town is ruled over by Moritz Hartrick the Mad Alchemist, a Frankein-style amoral scientist who over the past few centuries has built an army of construct beings known as the Crafted to serve as his own private army and labor force. Most live a life of toil and drudgery, but they are elevated among the Born, the last remaining living citizens of Inbarev who are now a persecuted minority group which the Mad Alchemist seeks to drive out of town. While the Born hate and fear the Crafted, not all Crafted are loyal to the Mad Alchemist, and a good-hearted construct known as Henrietta is forming a silent rebellion of like-minded Crafted who seek more in life. While overthrowing the Mad Alchemist is certainly a good thing to do, Czerina’s reasons are more practical: with no more living beings, Inbarev will have no more blood tax.

Inbarev and its outskirts are well-secured, and in addition to typical construct monsters there are new ones such as the Homunculus Swarms (scouts who can read minds) placed at checkpoints and towering War Machines (big grappling bruisers with toxic breaths) guarding major centers of industry. PCs who aid Henrietta will be given magic items specifically designed to counter the Homunculi’s mind-detecting capabilities as well as access to sewer tunnels beneath the streets. There’s also the Zlattovs, the last remaining minor nobility in Inbarev who can rally the Born in an uprising but are paranoid and may betray the PCs after the battle. PCs who come to Inbarev as official representatives of the Blood Queen can nonviolently meet with Hartrick during a festive dinner, and he has a task of his own for the party: kill off the rest of the Born in the city and then flee, or find a way to remove them without violence. This task must be done in a week, and to sweeten the deal he will offer them 500 platinum pieces each and promise to make them immortal via the Elixir of Life (this is a lie). And in case the PCs decide to use the dinner as a chance to kill him, the dining table chairs are trapped with restraints along with lightning towers that can electrocute the floor.

It is indeed possible to non-violently remove the Born by convincing them to immigrate to Raffenburg, Leshehoff, or Wolf Lake if Yasviga is in control of the Reinwald family. If the PCs are on good terms with Baroness Tornheim the Leshehoff option can work, although any mass migration will be dangerous due to the Wreythian wildlife.

Otherwise, defeating Hartrick can be done via utilizing a large distraction to draw off a large amount of his construct forces (such as the Born and/or Crafted rebelling) or just sneaking in covertly. The mad Alchemist is predictably a 20th level Artificer spellcaster with Legendary Actions, and will most certainly have construct minions guarding him and immediate areas. We have a full-page map in which the battle takes place, along with hazards such as vats of acid beneath perilous catwalks.

PCs who kill the Mad Alchemist have the opportunity to appoint a new ruler for Inbarev. Henrietta will be the best, as the Zlattovs will seek to destroy the rest of the Crafted in a second civil war and leave the town little better than ruins. Regardless, the PCs will level up.

75vVmh5.png


Chapter 8: the Silver Graves can technically be accessed before Inbarev. Unlike the prior chapters the adventure hooks here aren’t as strong beyond some general information-gathering the party may have been able to do over the course of the campaign. Still, the module makes the assumption that the PCs will go here rather than it being optional, and the major boon to be found is a Forge that can create weapons that can harm the Blood Queen.

The Silver Graves is pretty much a pure dungeon crawl in a haunted mountain city, where ghostly impressions of dead dwarves reveal more about its history. Unlike in some other settings and domains the dwarves of Wreythau don’t shy away from magic, and there’s quite a few rooms and traps empowered with magical features such as anti-gravity lifts that serve as elevators. A shrine contains holy texts explaining how the Forge of the Ancestors can channel the spirits of the land in a mystical feedback loop. Weapons created in this process can cut off the Blood Queen’s connection to the land, thus being able to harm and even kill her.

Much like the Stacks in Raffenburg, the Silver Graves are haunted by an overpowered burrowing monster known as the Guardian. It is a creation of the Mad Alchemist, and the only two things in life it loves are digging and killing things. It is a CR 16 creature with tremorsense, a host of condition immunities, is immune to nonmagical attacks that aren’t adamantine, can squeeze into small spaces, has Legendary Actions as well as a Multiattack with held and natural weapons, and with a rechargeable Drill attack that deals 15d6 force damage. It doesn’t want to kill the PCs initially, and will initially inflict enough harm and terror to drive down their morale.

The Forge of the Ancestors is a special multi-room subsection of the dungeon that has a rolling boulder trap and several puzzles and skill checks required to activate it. Animated statues possessed by the souls of great artisans serve as the Forge’s archives and can mentor PCs in how to operate the massive device.

Of course, nothing can be that simple. During the crafting process the undead hordes of the mountain will be attracted to the sound, arriving in waves. PCs can seal themselves within the Forge and wait them out until the crafting is done but they will need to leave eventually. In addition to undead fought earlier in the adventure we have new stat blocks for Zombie Clots (foul-smelling undead who can throw lumps of itself to damage and restrain), Throngs of Barrukhirrim (undead mob that acts like a grappling swarm), and Exploding Spore Zombies (weak zombies that explode upon death).

Once the PCs leave the Silver Graves, they will come face to face with a very unhappy Czerina. She knows what they’ve been up to, and feeling betrayed will ask them why they’re seeking the “power of my enemies.” She will interrogate their motives, bringing up earlier conversations and shared dreams from the Mirror, and even her more manipulative actions she’ll view as having done the party a favor. She will ask the PCs to hand over the Forge weapons and drink her blood. PCs who accept this last offer lead the story into a Nonstandard Game Over, as her blood will enchant the characters and transform them into vampire spawn.

If they refuse she will fight them. But not to the death; she will teleport back to the Cairn once she takes over 100 damage or if she knocks out most of the PCs. The party will level up, and from then on the Order of Blood will actively hunt them.

Ns4Eg0N.png


Chapter 9: the Ruins of Nemeth is our penultimate chapter, where the archdruid Mata Yezinka will find the PCs wherever they are and explain to them the next thing they must do in order to further dissolve Czerina’s remaining power. The Ruins of Nemeth are an island where Gulthias and his followers were first banished and is now home to a race of evil fey known as the Corrupted Sidhe. The PCs must venture to the ruins and convince them to renew their allegiance to the Court of Night and Twilight instead of their current ally Czerina.

As to why, the Court is ruled by an Archfey known as the Queen of Terror, who the Corrupted Sidhe seek to summon into Wreythau. A being of such power will attract the attention of Czernobog, given that Czerina made a pact with her before the Dark Power. Czernobog will rightfully fear that she wishes to take his favored champion for herself. With the Blood Queen’s patron and former patron thus occupied, then Czerina’s soul can be claimed and re-entered into the cycle of reincarnation, robbing Wreythau of a Dark Lady and sending the land back to the Material Plane. Yezinka is cagey with this information due to the sensitive nature of what must be done, but PCs who detect she’s hiding something can learn it from her. In such a case, she will give the party the Soul Vessel, a magic item (that isn’t described in this adventure beyond being a pure plot device) that can trap Czerina’s soul and if released onto the Material Plane will let her reincarnate. Oddly enough, sensing Yezinka’s motives is the only way to get the Soul Vessel and thus the “good ending” of this campaign, which feels like a bit of an oversight if the only way this plan can work is if someone is physically present when Czerina dies. Certainly the archdruid would be aware that the PCs are one of the few people who can stand up to her!

The Court of the Corrupted Sidhe is initially a role-playing encounter, where the fey nobles are hearing petitions from three different factions: the Reinwalds (those who are left alive), the Followers of Agrona (a more militant faction of the Beastfolk who seek no truce nor quarter with the rest of Wreythau), and the Court of the Blood Queen (represented by Beleroth and Ysemgrin). The PCs have 12 hours to speak with or fight the other factions in order to perform a process of elimination, as the Court has only enough patience to ally with one group. There’s a variety of ways the PCs can get the factions to renege on their deals and let the party bargain with the Fey. The Followers of Agrona are single-minded zealots and can only be persuaded via trial by combat, but the Reinwalds have a variety of means of resolution: a PC marrying into their family, Yasviga being the highest-ranking one if her siblings and parents are dead, or making the werewolves look bad in front of the fey. As for the Court of the Blood Queen, Beleroth may open up to the PCs if they earn his trust, revealing that he mourns the person Czerina has become but doesn’t want to see her soul lost. If the PCs reveal a way for her to pass on peacefully via Yezinka’s plan, that can earn his confidence and support, turning on Ysemgrin and helping the PCs during the final battle.

However they go about it, PCs who prove themselves the worthiest group for an alliance can earn the Corrupted Sidhe’s confidence. The adventure is actually rather railroady in that earning their trust is something that must happen, but should be played off to the players as though there’s a chance of failure:

Now, if the adventurers haven’t been able to neutralize all of the other petitioners, then the adventurers will have a much more difficult task laid out before them. You could reduce this conflict to opposing Persuasion rolls, or you could simply have the adventurers each make their case and prepare to back it up with force of arms. In either case, this is actually one of those instances where there should only be the illusion of failure unless you have a plan that will make the end of the campaign that much more dramatic.

Completing this chapter levels the PCs up to 12, which is not 1 but 2 levels! The only place left to go now is the Cairn for a final battle with Czerina!

Chapter 10: the Cairn is the final chapter of the Realm of the Blood Queen, and is pretty much one long multi-room battle against Czerina. First off, I’ll begin by posting a screenshot of the Dark Lady’s stat block:

xL4GTSw.png


Czerina is a very powerful final encounter. You might notice one other factor: as the Forge of the Ancestors crafts weapons and not fancier things like wands or staves barring DM discretion,* this would mean that any sources of damage not utilizing said weapons won’t affect the Blood Queen. Which would include most spells. However, the “resistance to necrotic and poison damage” under The Mantle of Wreythau leaves me rather confused, as it implies that damage sources of these types can still deal half damage to her rather than 0. Characters reliant on spells, companions, and/or unarmed and natural weapons for damage are going to be at a distinct disadvantage here. Additionally, while she is CR 26 Czerina’s stats and attacks are calculated as though she has a Proficiency Bonus of +6 rather than +8. Then again, she’s powerful enough that this isn’t a big deal.

*The adventure is overall pretty vague as to what exactly can be crafted in the Forge of the Ancestors.

You might notice that her lair actions aren’t present. Every room (there are 6) in which the battle takes place has its own unique Lair Action: the entrance to the Cairn is preceded by a Road of Skulls which can grasp and restrain targets, the throne room can summon powerful gusts of wind, the arcane laboratory casts Cloudkill, etc. Every room also describes Czerina’s tactics, how many turns she’ll remain within, and what she’s most likely to say and do in them.

The final portion of the battle should take place in an outdoor garden, and when the killing blow is struck sunlight will come on down, and her final words will be “the petals are so beautiful in the sunlight. I must show Teadora…”

There’s additional descriptive text if the PCs have the Soul Vessel, where her corpse glows as a silver wisp rises from it into the urn. The Epilogue has brief descriptions for several possible endings. If Wreythau and Czerina are freed from the Domains of Dread then the land will gradually become more livable, the Beastfolk’s curse is lifted, and Czerina will reincarnate into the child of a loving family. The Old Faith will prosper if the Church of the Morning Lord is destroyed, and if a civil war was averted in Inbarev the Born and Crafted will live with each other on more peaceable terms.

If the PCs failed to capture and thus liberate Czerina’s soul, Wreythau will remain a Domain of Dread although Czernobog will choose a new champion. And in such a land, there are many wicked folk who will eagerly rise to the occasion…

If the PCs die in battle, they will be resurrected as slaves of the Blood Queen, sent to the Material Plane to spread her influence in a campaign of terror.

Appendix: the Mirror of Czerina Gavranova is the Tome of Strahd equivalent for Realm of the Blood Queen, the artifact showing a sequence of magical dreamlike visions that serve as social puzzles built off of Czerina’s life story in order to learn more about her. There are 7 different entries detailing her childhood up to her rise as the Blood Queen of Wreythau. The Mirror is also the only means in the campaign that the PCs can learn about Teadora Vadimovna, Czerina’s childhood friend who perished under vague circumstances. But it’s heavily implied that Czerina’s father killed her as an object lesson after finding his daughter and her friend playing a game pretending to be rulers after stealing his royal scepter. Some of the more interesting Entries include being tutors hired to train Czerina in the martial and magical arts; serving under Czerina’s war council during the foreign invasion, complete with a map of a small region and enemy camps where the PCs have to convince her on an ideal plan of action; and one where the PCs take the roles of assassins Czerina’s parents hired to kill their daughter while she was living with the druids, only for their efforts to fail.

This isn’t just for character development. PCs who experience all of the Mirror Entries can stun Czerina for one round during the final encounter by mentioning something poignant from her past.

Thoughts So Far: Whereas the early campaign was slower and more methodical in giving the PCs many adventures and opportunities to explore the domain of Wreythau, the final four chapters speed things up quite rapidly. I can understand why, as this book is already rather lengthy, but it is a bit to its detriment in that the inevitable “turn on Czerina” adventure comes a bit too suddenly with the Silver Graves. The alliance with the fey needing a “victory” also feels a bit restrictive; the consequences for failure should simply lock the PCs out of the good ending, and maybe the distraction of Czernobog can further weaken Czerina in the final battle as a reward. The Forge of the Silver Graves needs a stronger hook, as well as more specifics on what can be crafted. As the scaling magic items which the PCs likely made use of during the campaign cannot be “enhanced” in the Forge, it may feel a bit of a letdown if such weapons cannot be used in the final fight.

Overall Thoughts: Realm of the Blood Queen is an ambitious module with a lot of interesting and cool features. The domain of Wreythau is a deep and multi-faceted island that has a world beyond that of the darklord’s own ambitions, which is a common factor in some of Ravenloft’s best official domains. While not a true sandbox, there’s a reasonable amount of open-ended paths and conclusions for PCs to feel like they have a hand in shaping the fate of Wreythau rather than the DM leading them around by the nose. While I have not had the opportunity to run or playtest it, the description of some of the more climactic and “boss” encounters paints the scene of interesting and dynamic battles. Even the more mundane stores and services in the major population centers have interesting features like the spell-imbued alcohol in Raffenburg, which makes exploring the cities and going shopping entertaining events in their own right. The ample maps are very DM-friendly, and the stellar artwork is a treat to look at.

That being said, the adventure has several things holding it back. In spite of the sandboxy nature of several adventures there are portions where the railroad tracks come in suddenly, such as with the final chapters or the mandatory teleportation to the Cairn that happens twice. And in spite of the domain’s history having prominent druidic and nature themes, the bulk of the adventure takes place in urban population centers which I feel is a missed opportunity. And besides a few cases like in Chapter 9, many of the chapters feel a bit self-contained in that there aren’t explanations for what may happen if PCs call upon favors from allies made in prior adventures. The Beastfolk are really only bit players in Chapter 3 despite being a major factor in Wreythau’s history, while nothing is mentioned of what kinds of power and privilege PCs may be able to exert once they become rulers of Raffenburg.

There’s also the fact that for much of the campaign, the quests Czerina sent the PCs on can be justifiably argued by certain gaming groups that she’s not the most dangerous threat to the domain. When the PCs first arrive in Wreythau it is the Church of the Morning Lord who serves as the major bad guy group, the ruling class of Raffenburg are okay with the city falling into poverty and suffering, and the Mad Alchemist of Inbarev is an unambiguously wicked ruler. Compare this to Curse of Strahd; even discounting the antagonist’s predatory obsession with Ireena, there are many opportunities the PCs have to see how Barovia’s people suffer under the vampire count. That adventure all but pushes the PCs into having an antagonistic relationship with Strahd unless they go out of their way to appease him.

While I cannot fully judge the adventure without playing, overall I’d say it holds up as a strong module that gives a DM a lot to work with. The weak points are more easily fixable than having to change around huge swathes of the campaign in order for it to work. If this is Cayce Corday’s first foray into tabletop publishing, this is a truly impressive effort on their part.

As for what I’ll review next? I’ve posted this on some forums but not others, but this is going to be my last Ravenloft review for October. I’ve been writing almost every day for most of this month, and looking back I posted 15 reviews in a little under 3 weeks. If I keep going I know that I’m going to hit some major writer’s burnout. It’s still a ways away, but I’d like to save some energy for eventually reviewing One Night Strahd, as well as Shadows of the Dragon Queen sometime this December or new year.

But there are still some Ravenloft sourcebooks I feel deserve your attention, and even if I can’t do in-depth reviews I can at least give them shoutouts. But I’ll save that for the next post, for this one is long enough already.
 

Libertad

Hero
While I did my best to showcase the lesser-known products on the Dungeon Master’s Guild, my reviews have just barely scratched the surface. Below are other sourcebooks I figured that people will find interesting but which I currently don’t have the time to review. Barring expectations that put up the entire book as a free preview, I own all of the following and either read or skimmed them enough that I feel confident in including them.

Allies Against the Night uses the Sidekick rules from Tasha’s to turn some of the most famous characters in the Demiplane of Dread into adventuring companions for your Mist-delving parties. Includes Curse of Strahd’s Ezmerelda d’Avenir, the elven detective Alanik Ray, S from the 3e Gazetteers, and two versions of Rudolf Van Richten (original Rogue and 5e Cleric) among other options.

Barovian Nights 101 Ravenloft Encounters packs a bunch of events and combat encounters for parties to meet during Curse of Strahd. Also includes various prepared spell selections for Strahd and new content such as new Dark Gifts and familiars conjured inside Barovia.

The Book of Night: A Ravenloft Player Companion includes over 40 new subclasses themed around the Demiplane of Dread, such as a Tarokka-focused bard, rangers who learn to draw upon the powers of the Mists, and the classic Shadow Dancer rogue!

Darklords of Ravenloft expands upon the darklords in the 2020 Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, giving them full stat blocks for various tiers of play.

Dark Ritual on the House on the Hill is a product I have yet to either read or skim, but the entire book is available as a Full-Size Preview so you can’t go wrong with checking it out.

Dread Metrol is a domain created by Keith Baker, where the Cyran capital was claimed by the Mists during the Mourning and its queen-turned-darklord wages a futile effort to maintain a hold over a dying city besieged by undead invaders. Personally speaking I’m not as gungho about this (feels too much like 5e Falkovnia), but as Keith Baker has a huge fanbase I still figured to include it.

Dreams of Solitude Ravenloft Campaign is a community project of 30 different adventures for a wide reach of levels.

d’Avenir’s and Van Richten’s Pocketbooks to Ravenloft provide new domains and PC options. Like pretty much every other book written by Christian Zeuch, the entire book is also uploaded as a free Full-Size Preview.

Masquerade of the Red Death Player’s Guide updates the Gothic Earth setting to 5th Edition.

Mordenkainen in Barovia provides an alternate stat block for the archmage ally in Curse of Strahd to be suitable as a long-term party member while still capturing the flavor of the character.

One Night Strahd is an entirely new mini-campaign inspired by Curse of Strahd.

Ravenloft Player’s Compendium is another PC-centric sourcebook for Ravenloft, with new subclasses, feats, spells, and more.

She Is the Ancient is an alternate take on the Curse of Strahd campaign that alters the genders as well as backstories of a sizable number of characters from that campaign. Notably de-emphasizing Strahd’s sexually preadtor nature towards Ireena and avoiding other problematic tropes in the module.

Strahd’s Dark Servants gives 10 new unique minions for the Darklord of Barovia, such as the traveling executioner Scharfrichter or the Dusk Elf hunter the Last Stalker.

Tarokka Deck Unleashed is a new resource for incorporating the Tarokka Deck into one’s games, making use of the Inspiration system to fuel the drawing of cards with their own unique benefits (and extra ones if your alignment matches that of the drawn card).

The Cyre 1313, the Mourning Rail Expands upon this Eberron-origin domain from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. A domain in a haunted magical train, what more needs to be said?

Van Richten’s Encyclopedia of Darklords & Domains is a 2-volume series (this bundle also has the hardcovers, PDFs are cheaper) updating practically every pre-5e Ravenloft domain to 5th Edition. For those who weren’t very impressed by Van Richten’s Guide in 2020, this still has the Core and other 2e/3e chronology intact.
 


An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top