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5E [Let's Read] Unbreakable Volume 1

Libertad

Explorer


The bamboo is strong, resilient, unbreakable.

-Morihei Ueshiba

There’s no denying that medieval Europe dominates the conceptual playspace of Dungeons & Dragons when it comes to fantasy counterpart cultures. And even on that note it draws most of its influence from Medieval Britain, with a multicultural sprinkling of various monsters. Official and fanmade worlds have been delving beyond these constraints, with Oriental Adventures being one of the most notable older works. However, much like the British-centrism of not-Europe, OA’s own focus draws heavily from Japanese pop culture with a smattering of Chinese influences here and there. Beyond this, a lot of Fantasy Asia write-ups tend to be by people with no strong ties or ancestry in the locations they’re deriving influence from, and the adoption of folklore, culture, and other features all too often ends up inaccurate or stereotypical.

Unbreakable is a 3rd party D&D project of adventures written by Asian creators, with emphasis on showcasing content beyond the stock archetypes seen in Western popular culture. It’s but one volume in a larger project of yet-to-be-released books. Each chapter lists a short biography and social media links of said writer, as well as what media and/or folkloric influences they used when said adventure derives inspiration from an existing work. There’s also Content Warnings for material that gaming groups may find objectionable or uncomfortable, and there’s brief talks of Safety Toolkits which are handily linked to in a Google Document. In terms of objectionable content nobody was edgy enough to portray sexual violence thankfully, although there are some darker inferences such as torture in one adventure and another centering around monsters that kill and eat children. But some of the CWs seem to be things that are either common enough in fiction that the types of people who would have trouble engaging with them in an adventure would be ill-pressed to play tabletop gaming in general: for example, the first adventure’s CW is Water & Storms, and the seventh lists Poverty & Shapeshifting under its CWs. But I cannot object too much, especially given that the opposite effect is far too common in most gaming groups.

Other commonalities of the adventures include separation of content into Chapters, pronunciation guides are given for proper names, and NPCs of note are given pronouns next to the first time their name appears. Quite a bit of the adventures have notable nonbinary characters, as seen through the use of they/them pronouns. But beyond these universalities it is very clear that the book has different authors. From writing style to mechanical design, the adventures differ greatly in content. They are also setting-agnostic; while they hint upon elements that point to specific cultural elements, most of the Unbreakable adventures take place in relatively isolated locales and city-states whose specific outlying regions and borders are left to the whims of the Dungeon Master.


Through the Dragon’s Gate

Our first adventure is scaled for 1st to 4th level characters and is a rather straightforward wilderness trek where the PCs visit a gold dragon’s abode to reverse a spate of weather-related disasters. The set-up involves a pair of dragons, Jin-Zhi and her daughter Jin-Hao, who watch over a mountain range with a village at its base. Jin-Zhi had a good relationship with the villagers, who often asked her to use her magic to bless the weather to avert famine and the worst of nature’s wrath. While on a business trip Jin-Hao was placed in charge of the mountain due to some convincing on her part, and in a case of mistaken identity was asked by the local magistrate to perform magic beyond her capabilities. Eager to prove herself, Jin-Hao inadvertently summoned a hailstorm which ruined the village’s crops and stranded the magistrate in the mountains. Jin-Zhi was none too pleased to learn about this turn of events and transformed her own daughter into a golden-scaled carp. The villagers are now angry at Jin-Zhi for “betraying” them and have resorted to overfishing the nearby river to avoid famine.

Enter the PCs, who come upon the village while on their travels and hear about the recent ill news. The initial arrival has some role-playing and skill checks to help the desperate villagers out, whether helping them get more fish or convincing them not to overfish. Jin-Hao is caught by a net, who in magic talking carp form is the immediate adventure hook: pretending to be a water spirit, she offers to help find out the fate of the missing magistrate and parley with the mountain’s dragon “as a fellow spirit.” The local villagers are either too busy attending to domestic duties, too resentful of the dragon, or too ill-equipped to make the dangerous mountain trek themselves.

Jin-Hao is willing to accompany the PCs, but is too prideful to be taken in a container of water and instead opts to swim along the river running down the mountain. The various encounters involve dangers along said river or involve persevering against the watery elements. One such encounter includes helping an ogre hermit find his lost maps (buried in his house’s rubble due to the hailstorm) in exchange for unblocking a dam of rocks, a nest of blood hawks lying in wait near a malfunctioning Boot of Levitation (formerly owned by the magistrate) which acts as a “sitting duck floating in mid-air” trap to those who step over it, and the use of skill checks and possible magic to track down the magistrate via finding his scattered belongings. Sadly Fa-Zhong, said magistrate, suffered injury to his legs from a lightning strike and believes that the dragon will be able to heal his wounds. He can still walk, but not very well. As the party is closer to the mountain’s peak than the village, he and Jin-Hao view this as the more prudent course of action.

The final part of the adventure takes place by a mountain lake, and Jin-Zhi’s lair is at the top of a flat mountain peak with an archway at the top marking the Dragon’s Gate. Carved to look like a pair of golden dragons, it transports those who pass through it into a beautiful grove. Magical protections prevent any form of approach besides manually climbing the cliffside via a damaging invisible force field, and Jin-Hao will warn the party as much.

Jin-Zhi will confront the party as they enter the grove, and Jin-Hao will intervene before any hostile misunderstandings on her mother’s part occur. She’ll explain to her mother and the party the truth of things and asks Jin-Zhi to heal the magistrate. Jin-Zhi proposes that she’ll grant this request and also teach her daughter the magic needed to restore the village’s crops should she be able to best her in combat. Jin-Hao says that this task is beyond her, and instead offers for the party to fight in her stead after all they’ve done in proving themselves along the way. Turns out this was a secret test of character by Jin-Zhi to see if her daughter learned her lesson in humility, and accepts these terms if the party does as well.

The duel with Jin-Zhi is not to the death: she is an Adult Gold Dragon, but attacks nonlethally and only in the form of a weaker animal shape. Said animals range from giant crabs to crocodiles, formidable opponents yet nothing too out of range for a party to handle. Jin-Zhi has a set of unique lair actions which can conjure mist for one round and to change shape into another animal form. She ceases combat after receiving a predetermined amount of damage from the party, which ranges from 40 to 80 depending on the overall numbers and level of said party. If the party’s KOed they will wake up in the lair, but overwise the ending to the adventure is more or less the same: the magistrate Fa-Zhong’s legs are healed, a spell is cast to restore the crops, and Jin-Zhi transforms her daughter back into dragon form and flies everyone down to the village to explain what happened. The villagers are understanding and apologies are given and accepted on both sides. For their troubles, the party is given a golden oyster that can produce a single-use Pearl of Power every 30 days.

Thoughts So Far: I find this to be a passable adventure, if a bit linear for my tastes. Its main weak point is that although suggestions are given for adjusting encounter difficulty, very low-level PCs play very differently than the upper limits of what the adventure suggests. 1st level PCs are very fragile and have a lot less resources to draw upon before requiring rests. I do like the relative sparsity of outright combat and in the case of the ogre a nonviolent alternative which would be good for such a low level. I admit that the final encounter with Jin-Zhi had a lot of tension lost given that the end result is the same whether or not the PCs manage to beat her in a duel. I get that she’s meant to be Lawful Good and is unlikely to let the villagers starve, but maybe something like offering the magical item as a “win condition” or only offering to do one of two miracles (healing Fa-Zhong or restoring the crops) on a loss would put some actual stakes in the fight.

Join us next time as we read Feeding the River, an adventure where the party must put a stop to a powerful pollution spirit despoiling nature and the riverside villages!

Author’s Notes & Acknowledgements said:
This adventure is based on the Chinese Proverb, “The Carp has leaped through the Dragon’s Gate.” In Chinese mythology, the Dragon’s Gate is a waterfall. It is said that if a carp is strong enough to swim up the turbulent river and over waterfall, it will transform into a dragon. This proverb is often used to demonstrate that if one exemplifies perseverance, success will eventually be achieved. The theme of this adventure plays on this proverb by also including a caveat - that one’s successes are not only due to personal skill, but also with the help of others.

I would like to thank Jacky Leung (Death by Mage), for inviting me to this project. It has been a great experience working with other Asian Americans and Asian Canadians as we bring our own experiences to this game we all love.
About the Author said:
Ethan Yen is a writer and content creator. Ethan can be reached at ethanyen.com or via Twitter @ethnyen]
 
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Libertad

Explorer

Feeding the River

This adventure is for four 4th-level-level PCs and is inspired by elements of Cambodian and Khmer culture. It’s less linear than its predecessor in that while it has a clear start and end point, there’s a smattering of encounters both fixed and random which can happen along the way and grant additional rewards and information about the eventual goal. It takes place along the Kr nhaom River which various communities use for transportation along with typical fishing and agricultural pursuits. Unfortunately a form of supernatural pollution afflicting it threatens all those living off its waters: fish grow sickly and die, monstrous oozes crawl up on land to attack people, and the water levels remain unnaturally low even during the monsoon season. The PCs, whether for reasons of a moral or mercenary nature, are incentivized to find the cause of this malaise and put a stop to it.

The bulk of the adventure takes place with the party on a boat ride (courteously lent by a local village) going down the Kr nhaom River, with an in-character map showcasing various settlements and other points of interest upon it. Their eventual goal will be the town of Pāk Lěb, whose magitech industry produces toxic byproducts which gave rise to a powerful spirit of pollution that is worsening things. There are 10 random encounters the PCs can find on the river, and not all of them are violent. A few act as stepping stones to future encounters and minor plots, such as an inhabitant of a stilt-village asking the party to find a lost wedding bangle in exchange for a minor monetary reward, or an apsara (water spirit) woman who when saved from a giant bat teaches the party a song to lead them to her people’s hidden grove in the Serpent’s Coil.

Speaking of which, the Serpent’s Coil is a region home to spirits and is left virtually untouched by mortals. Four inlets sprouting from the river lead into respective groves which ease house various trials the PCs can help with: the spirits of nature have their hands full dealing with the unnatural pollution, and easing their burden will help return things to a relative sense of normalcy. One trial involves helping a group of apsara complete a dance to cleanse the grove, which is a puzzle mini-game where the DM tells the players a group of Khmer words. Going by memory, the players match symbols to the words as the dance progresses. The second and third trials are more straightforward combats, where the PCs aid a group of naga warriors* fighting mutated minotaurs, or clearing out a nearby farm of crocodiles and oozes at the request of local rice spirits. The fourth trial comes at the request of a catfish spirit, where the PCs must free the rest of his school from various dangers (discarded nets, trapped in a closed-off pond of polluted water, etc). The completion of each trial gives a riddle or direct advice as to the source of the pollution.

*who are CR 1 humanoid shapechangers who can take a serpentine or hybrid form rather than the more explicitly magical snakes of typical D&D faire.

The town of Pāk Lěb sits at the delta of Kr nhaom. It is separated into two halves, with a bridge spanning from west to east connecting both sides. The western section of town is new and mostly under construction, and so the only places to dock are on the east. The PCs will encounter a group of oozes of various types attacking villagers and a shaman by the name of Sothy. Said shaman will join the party as a DMPC, asking them to come with her west across the bridge in order to track down the spirit she believes is responsible. The western section of town is full of slime monsters, and Sothy can aid the party with some minor druid spells and summon her tiger spirit familiar. Said familiar can either manifest as a ghostly claw ranged attack, or beneficially possess party members to grant them the Pounce ability of a tiger and advantage on Stealth rolls. Pretty sweet.

After some investigation, Sothy and the PCs reunite with the mayor and other villagers at the pollution’s source: a big iron and clay-producing factory. The PCs are granted 3 different suggestions of resolution: first, they can banish the spirit of pollution by destroying the physical objects binding it to this world so that Sothy can conduct a ritual to banish it; this option has the best long-term result for restoring the natural order. Alternatively, they can destroy the spirit like any other monster, which will halt the supernatural malaise but not undo the damage done. Finally, the mayor will offer more reward money than his initial offer if they find a means to enslave the spirit and force it to reabsorb the river’s pollution. Sothy is capable of enslaving the spirit, but will be against the idea unless a successful Persuasion check is made.

The spirit is an aberration that can make multiple claw attacks, as well as summon gray oozes and can cast a limited allotment of Druid spells (thunderwave, enhance ability, hold person, etc). It should not be very hard to defeat in straight combat, although if doing the exorcism route the PCs need to protect Sothy from its attacks for 1 minute on top of finding and destroying the binding objects, which is significantly more challenging.

Each solution grants an additional reward type: Sothy will grant the PCs a unique magical item (Fishing Cloak) that can transform into a binding net if exorcised; the PCs can harvest the spirit’s residue if it’s killed to imbue into a weapon or armor to grant additional damage or Resistance respectively regarding Poison; or they can earn 300 gp for enslaving the spirit on top of a 400 gp reward that the mayor gives regardless of the outcome. Each outcome also details what happens to the Kr nhaom region and how its people adapt: exorcism sees the waters restored to normal although Pāk Lěb hardly grows. Enslaving the spirit has the same result albeit the town becomes a major industrial hub, but the spirits of the land will leave. Killing results in the corruption being halted, but the tainted areas remain the same and the people adapt the best they can.

Thoughts So Far: I like this adventure. The mixture of straightforward encounters along with minor plot developments gives a sense of natural progression and relative freedom on the PC’s part to handle tasks as they wish. Rather than being strong-armed into any single option, completion of said tasks and encounters gives rewards and makes their future endeavors easier. The multiple means of dealing with the pollution spirit are cool, even if said solutions are a bit obvious in the “immoral yet materially rewarding” or “moral yet impractical” outcomes.

Join us next time as we explore an undead-haunted village in Drowned Souls of the Hidden Stream!

Acknowledgements said:
This adventure draws upon on Southeast Asian folklore and spiritualism. Nature is more than just nature; it has a life force that allows it to exist. When it is tainted, it becomes corrupted and causes an imbalance in the world. I had a lot of fun creating the challenges within the Serpent’s Coil that was more than just combat as well as drawing upon Southeast Asian folklore. Thank you to my dad for helping me with the Khmer translation for the mini-game. It means a lot to have reflected on my relationship with Cambodia culture and the effects of that disconnect due to intergenerational trauma.
Author Bio said:
Collette is a California-based writer and game designer. She has a strong passion for diversity and inclusivity either by creating or inspiring others to get into creating themselves. Her work can be found in Uncaged Volume 3, Book of Seasons: Solstice, and Friends Foes and Other Fine Folks. Follow her on Twitter @collettequach.
 

Libertad

Explorer

Drowned Souls of the Hidden Stream

This adventure is for 4-6 1st level PCs. It takes place entirely within Songxi, a low lying village near a bridge-dam known as the Hidden Stream. The avaricious Emperor Xie desired to build canal projects from the local river to create more farms and villages to exploit and tax the natural resources in spite of the risks, but fatal construction errors resulted in the flooding of Songxi. Those unable to escape the sudden rushing waters in time became caught between the realms of the living and undead, existing as semi-aware husks that seek to drown the living.

The solution to the woes of the flooded village lie in a dearly-departed couple. Leping was guardian to the local temple which housed the legendary Sword of Jixia, which he tried and failed to save from the flood. His wife, Duan, climbed to the temple’s roof to await her beloved but died of dehydration. Both became undead, and depending on how the PCs deal with them may determine whether or not the rest of Songxi’s souls will find true rest.

The adventure opens up with the PCs heading to Songxi for whatever kind of business would summon them to such a town (4 sample hooks are provided). Their first obstacle is the bamboo forest known as Fanyang which smells of rotten mulberry that a Religion check associates with an omen of flooding.* Survival checks are necessary in order to avoid natural hazards, which range from Exhaustion-generating dehydration to visibility-reducing heavy rain.

*the author notes that the phrase “mulberry fields” is an historical Chinese term associated with unstoppable changes to the world and how nature is beyond man’s control.

The village itself is thoroughly flooded, with only multi-story buildings poking up from the waterline. The stench of corpses and the faint sounds of crying in the surviving vine-choked structures can be heard. Proper skill checks will notice an absence of aquatic life, as the magically-enhanced plant growth catches fish and feeds upon their bodies once they starve to death. The PCs can traverse the village via jumping and climbing between the taller structures or swim, although a group of drowned souls will stalk the party throughout their travels. Said monsters number 4 to 10 depending upon the size of said party and how merciful the DM’s feeling. Exploration and the proper skill checks in some places can uncover minor belongings such as a Wand of Frost, and also uncover the sense of spiritual unease in the form of phantom noises of those in their final moments.

The Drowned Souls are new undead monsters in this adventure. They are not very strong, but they can cause an adjacent target to drown via 1d10 bludgeoning damage on a failed Constitution save instead of a normal slam attack which is quite deadly to level 1 characters. Although they can swim and fly, they must remain within 30 feet of a water source which can limit their mobility if PCs can reach a sufficiently tall building.

Exploring Songxi Temple will attract the attention of Duan, who is not immediately hostile and if approached nonviolently will tell the characters of what happened; they can also gain visions of those who died in the village via her Aura of Sorrow on a failed save. She’ll also add that the imperial rangers betrayed the people, slaughtering fleeing survivors under a hail of arrows. She begs the party to retrieve her husband and perform the proper funeral rites to lay him to rest. The rite involves the use of food offerings, cremation, incense, and joss paper which is automatically part of a Priest Pack for characters from a Chinese setting, but can also be found as items elsewhere in the temple.

Leping’s corpse can be found underwater, pinned beneath a pillar as it grips a sword wrapped in fine silk. Unfortunately he’s not as reasonable as his wife and will attack the party as a spirit on the first round of combat. He will then possess his own corpse on the second round, lifting the pillar off of his body effortlessly. He is a pretty tough ‘boss encounter’ for 1st-level PCs, being Resistant against nonmagical bludgeoning/piercing/slashing damage and against a variety of common energy types (acid, fire, lightning, cold, thunder). In ghost form he has a 1d8 necrotic touch attack that can grant half its damage as restored hit points. He’s actually less powerful when inside his corpse, although he can unleash foul gasses and fluids that impose the poisoned condition to nearby targets on a failed save whenever struck by an attack. Leping cannot move more than 50 feet from this corpse as a ghost, but both forms can fly meaning that a tactical retreat is unlikely.

If properly laid to rest, the remaining undead become inanimate corpses. The party may claim the Sword of Jixia as loot, which while it’s non-magical it ignores damage resistance that blocks against slashing attacks. Future plot hooks are hinted at in the conclusion, such as finding the sword’s paired dagger to “form a key to heaven,” or finding some incriminating orders upon the corpse of a ranger implicating Emperor Xie.

Thoughts So Far: I’m not as fond of this adventure as I am of the previous two, although that is more due to my biases against level 1 play. Beginning PCs are notoriously frail, where every attack can spell defeat. Although death saves and the Healing Word spell mute this lethality a bit, it is very possible for players to TPK from the Drowned Souls and unlike Through the Dragon’s Gate there’s not really a non-violent solution to bypassing the undead menaces save for Duan. Duan herself has stats and is tough yet manageable at this level, but I can see most PCs choosing to parley with her.

But overall the encounters in question are brief and there’s more emphasis on exploration and atmosphere, which is a good way to go about things.

Join us next time as we pull off an artifact auction heist in Bamboo in the Dark!

Author’s Notes and Acknowledgements said:
One of the major experiential inspirations for this game’s setting was Songxi, a fully restored Tang and Song Dynasty village in Pujiang China. Faithfully restored by the Chinese government, this village is home to a modern rural population that I had the honor of visiting during my time working in China as an archaeologist. Inspiration was also drawn from Houtouwan, a fishing village on the Chinese island of Shengshan. It was made a ghost town after the fishing supply was depleted by trawlers originating from Shanghai.
About the Author said:
Daniel Kwan is a Toronto-based podcaster, developmental editor, game designer, and educator. He is the co-host and GM of the ENnie Award nominated Asians Represent! Podcast (@aznsrepsent). As a designer, Daniel has published Zany Zoo, Wolf of the South, and Ross Rifles – a game he successfully funded on Kickstarter in 2019. He has also written for games like Haunted West and FlipTales. Daniel is also the cofounder of Level Up Gaming, an organization that provides adults with autism and other disabilities opportunities to develop their social skills through group gaming experiences.

You can reach Daniel at danielhkwan.com or via Twitter @danielhkwan
 

Libertad

Explorer

Bamboo in the Dark

This adventure is for 3-5 players and a very wide level range from 5th to 10th. It is different from the others we encountered so far in that it’s an open-ended plot in the vein of heist films. Taking place in the unnamed City, a big festival dedicated to folk hero Thánh Gióng is underway, and an auction of smuggled artifacts is being held in an undisclosed location. It’s possible that a stolen cultural treasure valuable to one or more PCs is up for sale; or they could be working for the local Magistrates (voluntarily or not) seeking to bust up the ring; or they could just be your typical murderhobos out for a quick gold piece. Regardless of their reasoning, not only do they need to find the hidden auction and get the artifacts, they have to get out of the city with their lives and freedom intact!

There’s a mini-system known as the Reputation Scale and Adversity Track, representing how covert the PCs have been overall. These are not binary states, but give general outlines for minor boons and complications that can affect each other to minor degrees. Reputation reflects how easy it is for PCs to covertly contact information sources, to what extent locals will be inclined to aid or hinder their ability to hide from authorities and/or criminals, and to what extent they’ll give up or sell minor items and favors. Adversity Track is akin to the “alert phases” of various stealth video games, where PCs who do a sloppy job will get more people on their tail. This has a sliding scale of negative consequences, from rumor mongering locals negatively affecting reputation, Magistrates looking to bring them in for questioning,* a contact becoming compromised, increased security at the auction, and/or the criminal factions sending out hit squads to kill the party.

*PCs working with them may get a talking-to about being “a loose cannon” and waste several hours on a first offense, although further offenses will get them tossed in jail for being an unreliable asset.

As you can tell, this is the kind of adventure where the fewer fights the PCs get in, the better things can work out. A clean get-away with nobody the wiser is an ideal solution, but the writer realized that making everything go pear-shaped as soon as initiative is rolled is not fair either. For that, a house rule for Stealth Combat is employed. What this means is that presuming the PCs aren’t being intentionally loud and flashy, characters beyond 30 feet of a fight when initiative is rolled will not notice provided that the following conditions are filled: the PCs have surprise on an enemy, combat lasts no longer than 2 rounds, and no spells higher than 2nd level are cast barring cases of the DM’s discretion. Additionally, most people do not want to die and will seek shelter if combat turns against them. Given the sheer crowds around town, it’s not amiss for PCs and NPCs to disappear among the chaos of the crowds or simply outmaneuver pursuers, and people’s memories aren’t perfect for finer details when in a panic or fleeing to safety. Furthermore, failed skill checks “fail forward” rather than hitting PCs at a dead end: a failed Investigation may give a lead or clue but give the party less time to prepare should they follow up on it, while a poor Charisma-based skill check may impact Reputation/Adversity.

The adventure is divided into 3 chapters, although given the open-ended nature are less about locations and encounters and more the general phases of a heist set-up. Chapter 1: the Legwork outlines the City and ways of traversing it, the 3 adversarial factions, and sample contacts. The City’s divided districts which are typical for fantasy settlements: Sticks are the haphazard urban slum, the Scales are the docks, the Temple Ward has shrines and festival rituals, etc. But a notable feature is that waterways criss-cross through most of the districts and “water taxis” regularly ply their trade ferrying people when going on foot would be too slow, crowded, or otherwise impractical. The seven Sources of information all use Commoner stats, but they all can tell the PCs different things and have preferred stomping grounds should the party be in need of finding them.

There are three Adversarial Factions, albeit one of them may be allies of convenience for the PCs. Each faction has 4-5 NPCs, with their own names, stat block references, and brief personality traits and physical descriptions. Furthermore, they all have goals which put each other at cross-purposes which clever PCs can use to their advantage. The Smugglers are the ones bringing in the artifacts for auction and are organizing the events under the guise of a legitimate business. Statwise they tend towards martial pursuits (Assassin, Bandit, Veteran) although their boss, Lien Phan, is a Mage who has a unique jade longsword she is proficient with and can use as an arcane focus. The Magistrates all share the Knight stat block and represent the local government. They are aware of a smuggling ring operating in the City but do not know the location, and are rather conspicuous in their uniforms and positions. They will prioritize safety of civilians, even if it means letting criminals flee. The Rival Crew are a group of adventurers after the same things the PCs are, and act at a cross-purpose. Although it’s possible to team up with them, they have no intention of sharing and will betray the PCs when convenient. Their stat blocks are the most versatile and closest to a typical adventuring party: they use the Priest, Gladiator, Veteran, and Spy archetypes.

All of these stat blocks are freely available on 5esrd, and there’s a few commonalities. None of them have very high Passive Perception scores, ranging from 10 to 13 on average with the Spy stat as the highest at 16. The spellcasters’ magic isn’t optimized to guard against enchantment and illusion spells, which I assure you players will pick for their PCs if running this adventure as a one-shot. Granted this isn’t going to make things trivial, particularly when the whole party has to roll for sneaking around, but rather the most common opposition aren’t geared towards thwarting thief types which seems rather odd.

*Detect Magic and Dispel Magic are the most obvious options, but would be the types deployed once they realize that something is wrong.

Chapter 2: the Job centers on the Deck, a high-class invitation-only club. The auction takes place at 9 PM after a big fireworks festival begins which the PCs can learn during the Legwork phase. If the Magistrates are in cahoots with the PCs they will tell them to infiltrate the place and confirm any suspicious activity. They don’t have a warrant and thus cannot just barge in and risk the guilty parties fleeing. If they’re blackmailing the PCs they’ll order them to make arrests and confiscate the evidence themselves. If the party’s willingly working with them they’ll be on standby for a signal of some kind, but in either case if the Deck is in a state of “high alert” then the Magistrates will raid the Deck 10 rounds after alarms are raised.


The Deck itself is a two-story, 13 room building filled with civilians and a few NPC guards in addition to the Smugglers. Rival Crew members will be in disguise and/or staking the place out, barring any interventions the PCs done that may change up their tactics. PCs disguised as civilians will be patted down by guards looking for hidden weapons, and they’re canny enough in the magical arts to identify spell component pouches and staves disguised as “an old man’s walking stick.” High-security areas or ones with heavy traffic will have a pair or more of guards by default, and there are various events and distractions for PCs to take advantage of: examples given are waiters on smoke breaks, laborers carrying in crates of food to smuggle things in, a storage space where confiscated items are kept, and so on. There’s also a password-only secret casino in a back room, and an adjacent high-security vault room that contains the smuggled items. Said vault can also be accessed via the banquet hall via dumbwaiter. This is how said items are transported up for the auction. In cases of high alert the vault will be reinforced with a magical Alarm spell, and if a fight breaks out that’s not Stealth Combat there’s a list of who shows up first and in what order based on rounds the combat lasts.

The items for auction range from non-magical jewelry and art objects to a forged map and plate armor with magnanimous stories behind them. But the two items most of interest to PCs include the magical staff Tre Dang Nga, a weapon once wielded by Thánh Gióng, and the unnamed McGuffin personalized to one or more PCs’ backstories. The bidders are rich and the gold piece values can easily run into the five or six-figure digits for the most valuable items, which more or less precludes simply buying them.

Chapter 3: the Getaway is the shortest of the chapters and includes brief advice on how to resolve things once the PCs get their hands on the valuables. The book advises against letting them easily exit the way they came back, both for drama’s sake and to show that no plan survives contact with the enemy. A grease fire in the kitchen may block off that section of the Deck for escape, for example, and if the PCs were sloppy in covering up evidence (tampered/destroyed locks, unconscious bodies, etc) then a 1 on a 1d6 roll per vulnerability means that someone discovers it and puts the Deck on a state of heightened alert. If the PCs need to lie low then the DM should ask them what plans they have in mind for safehouses, rendezvous points, friendly contacts, etc. Such scenes would not be RPed out individually, but if the players have a convincing enough argument that may let them bypass one or more obstacles when fleeing the City.

There’s also mention of a standoff/showdown with one of the rival groups as a climax after the PCs escape and are enjoying their just desserts, albeit it’s an optional suggestion more in line with heist movies. I don’t really watch that subgenre, so I cannot comment on how appropriate this is or not. Personally I feel that a successful getaway is it’s own reward.

The Tre Dang Nga staff has its own stats. It requires attunement by a Lawful Good character, but once attuned is quite powerful: a +3 quarterstaff with the Versatile and Reach properties, can cast a small array of spells, grants a bonus attack when alone and outnumbered in melee, and extra speed for your mount. It can unlock even more spells if the character is attuned to Thánh Gióng’s legendary armor, but said item is not detailed in this adventure and meant to be found as a plot hook for future adventures.

Thoughts So Far: I really like Bamboo in the Dark due to the fact that it’s unconventional and open-ended in how it can be resolved. I have not played it so I cannot speak to the quality of the Reputation/Adversity system, but it seems that the adventure did a good job of covering the most pertinent information and outcomes for the Dungeon Master. If there are any weak points, it would be the fact that the adventure could use a second editing pass. Although not a constant, there were sentences which were either too long or constructed oddly in that the information delivered was not clear:

Example said:
Rail thin, his own person is disheveled to the exact point one imagines is the exact degree of unkempt he can get away with without being reprimanded, and is accompanied by a perfectly groomed happy-go-lucky white haired Pekingese-Shih Tzu mix named Tazz who Sgt. Hoang does not seem to mind draws most of the attention.
So does Sgt. Hoang (a Magistrate NPC) not mind that his pet draws more attention than him, or is it an animal whose annoying ways don’t bother him but bother everyone else?

Beyond this, the adventure requires a more specific party set-up than others. Although it’s possible to go in loud, the fact that the heist must be accomplished within a specific time frame means that classes and archetypes focused around short rests instead of long ones will shine better. Furthermore, the large number of NPCs that can get involved in combat at once means that a rather unsubtle party can get in over their heads and risk an enemy faction getting away with the goods if they tip their hands too early. To the adventure’s credit it advertises this in the initial pitch, but if running Unbreakable as a series of adventures for the same group it may take some tinkering in case you have one too many Fighters and not enough Arcane Tricksters.

Join us next time as we go on a firebending dungeon crawl in Hearts Aflame at Lan Biang!

Author’s Notes & Acknowledgements said:
Much thanks and love to my friends & family who listened to me stress over this project and helped workshop and playtest the many versions of this module. And thanks to the Unbreakable team for the opportunity to share my first written adventure and helping bring Asian stories by Asian people to the tabletop space.
Author Bio said:
Kevin Nguyen is a 2nd generation Vietnamese-American in Orange County, California quietly running & designing (but rarely finishing) tabletop games, painting miniatures, and trying to reconnect with his roots.
 

Libertad

Explorer

Hearts Aflame at Lan Biang

So far our adventures explored a treacherous mountain pass, a polluted river, a flooded town, and a fantasy heist in the middle of a big city. But we’ve been missing something iconic lately: a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl, and this adventure is ready to deliver for a party of 4-5 6th level PCs!

The mountain of Lan Biang is famed for its temple’s everburning flame and the order of mystics protecting it. But the fire’s been out for three days, and the nearby village fears an ill omen has come to pass. The adventure starts up at the village, and the PCs can learn a bit about the temple: it’s home to a group of monks famed for being able to manipulate fire in supernatural ways. As the party ascends the mountain steps they encounter a jaguar...on the run from something even more vicious, a bipedal crystalline monster!

Two rounds into combat a monk by the name of Ai Hoang joins the battle. When the monster’s reduced to less than 50 hit points its heart is exposed (a hint at its weakness) but eventually it dies. The crystals around its head crack off, revealing the face of a person. It is one of the senior monks, who tells Ai and the party that a dire curse afflicts the people of the temple by transforming them into crystalline monsters. He hints that “as long as our hearts burn with hope, darkness can never take us.”

After giving him a tearful farewell and decent burial, Ai joins the party. She’s a younger and more impulsive member of the order, and can fill them in on the basics: they’re ascetic martial artists who learned how to manipulate fire to do supernatural feats, that said element represents hope to them, and that she initially thought the monsters were invaders who trapped the rest of her order (she was away at the time the curse fell). The day the flame was snuffed out was when another order of white-robed monks visited the temple and gave a silver chalice as a gift to Lan Biang, and she suspects a connection.

Before we go any further, there’s a bit of an unconventional game mechanic for saving the monks instead of killing them. Crystalline constructs are new monsters who come in 3 varieties: hulking, spear-throwing, and small. They’re more or less straightforward dumb bruiser monsters, although the former two are actual possessed monks, while small versions can pop off of the hulking one and thus aren’t ‘people’ of their own. When they’re reduced beneath a certain number of hit points they go berserk and their heart becomes exposed. A heart is attacked with disadvantage, but someone wielding Lan Biang fire that deals 20 or more damage in a round to it turns the monster into the original unconscious character.

So what’s the deal with Lan Biang fire? Not just any mundane or magical flames will do: special braziers in the temple are lit or can be lit by a Lan Biang monk, who can carry said fire in their bare hands and deal additional damage with it on their attacks. Other people can carry the flames as well, although they automatically take more fire damage every round and it doubles for every turn they hold the fire in their hands; the monks only suffer 1d6, but can avoid this damage if they drop or get rid of the fire before the end of their turn.

It’s possible for the PCs to save up to 6 monks beyond Ai. While the adventure claims that the combat gets harder “because they have more people to keep safe,” the monks all share the same stat block and are rather capable fighters in their own right. Due to action economy it shouldn’t be very hard for them and PCs to overwhelm their opponents, even if the amount of brazier flames in a given room are limited.

The dungeon has four rooms, each with a lit and unlit brazier and a number of crystalline constructs to fight. The temple entrance is a rather flat and featureless plane, although the reliquary room has spear-throwing constructs with the lit brazier on a second-floor balcony. The third room is a narrow hallway with a gauntlet of crystal constructs of all kinds, where one must take the lit brazier at the start through up to two unlit braziers at the respective middle and end portions of the room.

The final room is the high altar at the top of the mountain, with five unlit braziers and a silver chalice sitting where the Lan Biang’s eternal fire once burned. The artifact pulls a One Ring and telepathically promises offers of ultimate power and riches, and Ai begins to fall to temptation as crystalline growths slowly appear on her body. She needs the moral support of the PCs to resist the urge via goold role-playing or an appropriate DC 14 check that increases by 1 for every retry. The chalice will summon ectoplasm to fashion into a large transparent body bound by silver spiked chains.

This adventure’s boss fight is a pretty cool one, and the terrain alone has quite a bit of variety: the dry detritus can light the entire area on fire if exposed to enough Lan Biang fire damage, and it is possible to knock people off the ledge which the chalice spirit is eager to do as it can teleport back into the arena if it itself is knocked out of the ring. The chalice spirit has a pair of spiked chain reach weapons that can grapple on a hit, and a recharge ability to summon small crystal constructs or heal them if it reaches the maximum summon number of six. It can also automatically snuff out multiple braziers per turn based on a die roll. As a reaction it can send tempting visions to a target to stun them for 1 round on a failed Wisdom save, and as a Legendary Action can do the same thing but to all Lan Biang monks at once once when it drops below 65 hit points.

All in all a rather creative climax with a variety of options on both sides.

Once destroyed any remaining crystalline constructs shatter, the threat dispersed for good. The monks are not a wealthy people, but can part with some funds up to 2,500 gold (which makes them sound pretty wealthy) and can teach the PCs their secrets if at least one monk survived. Said special ability teaches the Control Flames cantrip, and also gives a character a 10d6 dice pool that can be spent as a bonus action to spend any number of dice from the pool to reduce incoming fire damage by that amount. The latter ability is recharged after a long or short rest while within sight of an open flame. Sounds really neat, although given that it’s a bonus action and not a reaction means that it requires some foresight in order to use. It also doesn’t specifically state if the spent d6s eventually fade if not used in time.

Thoughts So Far: It’s a rather small dungeon, and it doesn’t have much in the ways of traps or treasure, but the ‘puzzle monster’ aspect as well as the climactic battle with the chalice spirit makes up for it. My main concerns are that a party that realizes the riddle of the heart weak point can gain a significant advantage if they successfully rescue multiple monks. One thing that springs to mind is the off chance that the party contains a Monk with the Way of Four Elements subclass, particularly if they have fire magic. I can see such a player making the argument that they should be able to manipulate the Lan Biang brazier flames with reduced risk. While it may not be rules-legal, I as DM would allow such an option considering that the Four Ways Monk is an overall underpowered class and that this can give them a chance to shine.

Join us next time as we cover the Lost Children, a Nepalese horror story!

Author’s Notes and Acknowledgements said:
It’s never too late to reconnect with a piece of your familial or cultural history.
Author Bio said:
Steve is a recent addition to the Toronto-based podcast Asians Represent. Specifically he’s part of their actual play Dungeons & Da Asians where the crew plays in an unabashedly Asian-inspired setting. He works full-time as a business consultant and spends the rest of his time pursuing cooking, lifting heavy stuff, crossfitting (with relatively few injuries), talking about education, and working on D&D module design - often all on Twitter (@DeeEmSteve). Sometimes he also sleeps. If you asked him what he likes most about TTRPGs, he’d say it’s their capacity to help build empathy. If you asked him after a few drinks, he’d make a lot of loud noises and start flexing on you. He means well.
 

Libertad

Explorer

The Lost Children

This is one of the darker adventures in Unbreakable, with a bit of a horror tinge to it. It is designed for 3 to 7 characters of 5th thru 10th level, which is a pretty wide range; albeit the adventure says that it is optimized for 5 PCs of 8th level. The Lost Children takes place in the environs of Kankala Lake Village and the surrounding mountainous terrain, with Nepalese inspiration throughout. A pair of shapeshifting monsters known as lakhey preyed upon orphaned children of the village for generations, spacing out their murders over time so as not to tip people off too much. Although an old woman who escaped them long ago, and a village girl worried about the loss of her adopted brother, will put the PCs on their trail.

The adventure opens up as the PCs are going through a mountain pass. Coming upon a stray goat with a tag stating its ownership and home, Kankala Lake contains the closest center of civilization. The people here are subsistence farmers and herders, and have little to give besides food and a place to sleep. The goat belongs to Kiran, a farmer and father of five plus the orphan boy Imay. An elderly couple also passed through the village days ago, commenting upon being childless and wishing they could adopt a child like Imay before leaving for the lake. Not-so-coincidentally, Imay disappeared not long after. Kiran is already stretched thin tending to his biological children, and PCs may pick up that a part of him is relieved that he has one less mouth to feed.

Further investigation will lead the party to Punthakhu Maincha, an elderly woman selling marionettes in the shape of people, animals, and demons. If the party’s polite enough to sit around for a spell at her behest she will speak of times past, including various hints about the lakheys and how the intelligence of animals is often taken for granted. She’s dismissed as being senile by other villagers, but her tales have a hint of truth, for in reality Punthakhu Maincha was one of the few children lucky and skillful enough to escape the lakheys’ capture.

Eventually the proper adventure hook will come in as Daxa, one of Kiran’s daughters, approaches the PCs to find Imay, believing that the elderly couple kidnapped him. She has no money or items of worth to pay the party besides a doll, so ideally the PCs will be the more charitable types in seeking out this danger.

In reality the elderly couple are just a pair of normal good-intentioned people, but the lakhey fear that they may expose them, for they already killed Imay. One of them took the boy’s form to accompany them out of the village and plans to drown the couple in the lake.

The majority of the adventure is a wilderness trek with several set-point encounters that lead the PCs closer to the lakheys. The monster at one point will try to misdirect and trick the party by taking on the form of Daxa, although only one of them will do this at a time. There are points when canny animals in the area will warn the PCs of trouble directly or otherwise, such as a crow giving warning caws as the PCs approach a shallow graveyard full of the lakheys’ victims. Said corpses are now undead skeletons of children who aren’t initially hostile, but can be appeased and laid to rest via good role-play. The skeletons are mute and thus pantomime, and give the PCs hand-puppets imbued with single-use spells as a reward, along with their spirits aiding the party in combat with the lackeys later on.

The next major encounter is a bamboo hut where the lakheys live, and the ghost of a mouse can offer the party information in exchange for food, telling them about the lackeys. The hut is also home to the ghost of Ratna, Punthakhu Maincha’s sister who was unlucky enough to die and can offer to help the party if they play a game of Bagh-Chal with her. She’s a bad player and sore loser and will attack the party if her ego’s bruised. If peacefully parlayed, Ratna will explain how she and her sister had an abusive mother and did not believe Punthaku Maincha about the lakheys after she escaped. But her mother believed the part about the lakhey’s hut bearing treasure, and sent Ratna out of the house to steal from it. Ratna died at the monster’s hands when they took the guise of an elderly couple promising to give her a better life..

The final encounter takes place down at the lake, the elderly couple are bathing down by it. The lakheys, disguised as Imay and Daxa, are near a second bamboo hut and will try to trick the party into distrusting the elderly couple. But they do not trust the PCs to do things properly should they seek to kill the “monsters,” and will try to trap the party in the hut which they’ll then set on fire before going down to the lake and doing the dark deed themselves. That is, unless the party escapes and catches up in time. The waters by the lakeshore are home to a strong whirlpool, and the lakheys will use the murkiness of the water to conceal themselves from attacks if possible and shapechange out of sight to further confuse the party. If the PCs managed to pacify the skeleton children, their spirits will manifest as a damaging aura attack that hurts the lakheys and halves their speed.

Statwise the lakheys are fiends who can see in the dark and have advantage on saves versus all magical effects. Their primary means of attack is via multiattack with claws or a manifested glaive which can cause the target to bleed on a failed Constitution save. Said glave deals more damage with every strike it makes against such a wounded target. They can shapechange into other humanoids, but besides this they don’t have much in the way of other major attacks or abilities.

There are two major ways for the adventure to resolve. Either the lakheys are defeated, or they trick the PCs into killing the elderly couple. The latter has a grimmer resolution, as the party receives news several weeks later of the village being wiped out,* but if they brought the monsters to justice then they can lay Ratna’s soul to rest. Three new magic items are also provided at the adventure’s end: Animal Friendship Bracelet (discovered at the grave) that can allow communication with animals; Chattering Coal (lakhey’s hut) that acts as a magical voice recorder that is activated when spit upon; and Bowl of Nourishing (reward from the elderly couple) that can turn a single grain of rice placed inside into a bunch of yomari dumplings that can feed five people.

*kind of wondering what caused the lakheys to go nuclear, considering that they’ve been the type to play the long con for decades.

Thoughts So Far: This adventure is more of a side trek or encounter in terms of its brevity. There aren’t really any mandatory fights per se, and all of them can be resolved either via role-play or in the last case the party falling for the monsters’ trick. This means that PCs may very well nova the final fight by dumping their major spells and rest-based abilities then and there. Another factor is that due to being fiends, a party with a paladin may very well easily see right through the lakhey’s trickery, although given that the second one is located at the lake near the end it’s not so much an adventure bypasser as the party having an advantage: “okay you know this child’s actually a shapeshifting devil, but now you have a shapeshifting devil on your hands!” I did like the lake fight, which makes up for the enemy’s lack of ranged attacks by dividing the party’s attention between safeguarding the couple and defeating the monsters.

Join us next time as we overthrow a rakshasa tyrant in the midst of a dreadful monsoon in the Lost Rathi!

Author’s Notes & Acknowledgements said:
This adventure was inspired by the Nepalese folktale Dhon Cholechā. It takes place decades after Punthakhu Maincha supposedly escaped from the lakheys.
Author Bio said:
Kat Kruger is Dungeon Master on the actual play podcast d20 Dames and Chief Wordsmith at Steampunk Unicorn Studio. With over ten years’ experience writing in the entertainment and gaming industries she offers a wide gamut of storytelling, workshop, and publishing services. Her D&D adventures from d20 Dames and Adventurer’s League can be found on DMs Guild. She is also the Story Architect for Multiverse. Follow her on Twitter / Instagram @katkruger.
 

Libertad

Explorer

The Lost Rathi

This adventure takes place in the South Asian-inspired city of Nagajari, and is a rather dramatic power increase in being designed for 4 PCs of 15th level. The set-up is that crown prince Raja Harkesh Divyaali is in need of some elite help in dealing with a warband approaching the city. He’s heard word of a legendary warrior known as the Rathi living in the city’s slums, who he hopes to recruit in defending the city with their martial prowess.

The reality of the situation is much darker. The sitting Raja is a rakshasa in disguise that murdered the true prince and now wears his form. Although the city was oppressive before in having segregated tiers breaking people up by castes, the prince’s policies have only grown worse since. The vaunted warband are actually a group of holy warriors who received a divine vision of a hidden evil within Nagajari, and the rakshasa hopes to manipulate the Rathi, a champion of the oppressed, into fighting against them. Better that his enemies fight among themselves than realize the true danger.

There’s yet another party that can throw things for a loop independent of the various power players and factions: Mother Nature herself! The Monsoon Die is a rather important game mechanic that persists throughout the entirety of the Lost Rathi, representing an incoming tropical storm that will do great damage to the city and the surrounding environs. The die begins at d20 and is rolled with the advent of every new scene and important combats, with lower results representing the gradual worsening of weather. A cumulative penalty modifier is applied the more results that are the same to ensure that things won’t remain calm and pleasant forever, and the Monsoon Die itself gets smaller and smaller depending on how the PCs interact. Violent, cruel, and otherwise dishonorable actions downgrade the d20 to a d12 to a d10 and so on, to a minimum d4.

The adventure’s onset is an investigatory one, with an interview with the Raja and the promised payment for finding the Rathi (600 GP plus 1 personalized magic item per PC). The major leads in this investigation point to the slums where the lowest castes live, and most people go out of their way to avoid the party due to negative experiences with the government and its representatives. They’ll even refuse monetary bribes, knowing that it “is a tool for the rich and poison for the poor,” which seems...a bit strange. I can get refusal for fear of the money making them a target to others especially if offered openly in the street, or protecting the Rathi out of principle given his guardianship of the district. But the adventure contradicts itself on this point, saying that most NPCs the party interact with make a deal for monetary or information gain unless otherwise stated in order to leave the city or climb higher in the caste system.

But honeyed words and skill checks of that kind can get the PCs farther, although using Intimidation and failing or getting into fights will cause everyone to flee the streets as the Rathi appears as the last man standing face to face with the party. Yes, failing forward can bring an early end to the investigation!

Otherwise, there are three major areas for sleuthing. The first is an alleyway shop home to a firbolg merchant by the name of Vistal. His wares all come from a magic bag that can draw a single non-magical item form anywhere in the world provided that said item exists somewhere. He does not deal in coin, and for those seeking information or his wares he will ask for each PC to relive an emotional moment. As they tell him their past, they will suddenly remember him being there as an observer and in that memory he will tell them where to find the Rathi. They can also get the same information for using violence, although he’ll disappear in a puff of Exhaustion-causing smoke; the party will relive a memory of Vistal meeting the Rathi earlier today, discussing meeting in Kapoor’s Kitchen.

The second place is the Red Makaan, a haphazard public housing unit. The Rathi lives in one of the rooms, and the PCs can get entry to it via either convincing the local clerk to let them in or breaking in via skullduggery (this lowers the Monsoon Die). The Rathi’s room has a Glyph of Warding trap and a hidden compartment containing coded notes and maps revealing robberies against the Raja’s various assets (both ones that already happened and in the planning stages).

The final place is Kapoor’s Kitchen, a local restaurant. The owner is a terrible liar and will try (and most certainly fail) to convince the party not to explore the kitchen. The Rathi and his dog eat in the back for privacy rather than the normal tables. PCs who gain her trust learn that the Rathi is part of a vigilante network who steal from Nagajari’s government and dispense the funds to much-needed charitable causes. The fact that the Raja has earlier cut funding to said causes out of spite and is taxing the poor even harder to the point of violence is the reason why much of the slums tolerates the Rathi and support his cause.

Regardless of how they go about things, eventually the PCs will come face to face with the Rathi, or he’ll find them first. But before the PCs can talk with or subdue him, shouts erupt and bells start ringing throughout the city warning of the warband’s imminent arrival. The Rathi will state as much, and his attention will quickly move to leaving the city post-haste to confront them. Although the Rathi has stats (a souped-up Assassin with better stats all-around and can make 4 attacks per round), the adventure gets a bit rail-roady in that the PCs are incapable of keeping up with him and must make Survival checks to follow his trail, but the result is the same as they will eventually catch up with him as he is let past the front gates by a sympathetic guardsman. These are 15th-level PCs we’re talking about, fast travel in three dimensions is easily within their capabilities!

So what happens if the PCs realize that they set out in doing what the Raja wanted and decide to report back for their reward? The adventure sadly, does not have an answer for this scenario.

When approaching the warband the Rathi is the slash first, ask questions later type, although a successful skill check (either Persuasion or identifying the warband’s banner as belonging to that of Bravika, a peaceful and righteous god) can stay his hand. If they fail these checks...well the rest of this encounter presumes that the PCs make peaceful contact with the warband.

The warband are in fact holy monks who came here after experiencing a shared vision of an evil presence residing within Nagajira’s walls. Their leader, Nima Kolivan, is a middle-aged woman (no stats are given, but the in-game text identifies her as a paladin) who will explain as such to the party, and offer to share this vision with them should they desire. As she’s aware that the unknown evil will notice this ritual, Nima suggests that a few PCs stand guard while the others participate in the trance. The Rathi will be among the guards in this case.

The vision and the ensuing combat technically take place simultaneously, but the adventure advises the DM to run them one after another or at the same time depending on what works best for their table. The vision involves the party going through a dreamlike Nagajari as a shapeshifting imposter leaves a trail of ruin before it comes to inhabit the palace. The only real danger is damaging psychic screams from tormented spirits that pop up when the party fails skill checks as the vision progresses. In the real world, the Raja dispatched six hell hounds to follow the magical residue from the ritual-vision and slay those partaking of it. The pilgrims will disperse as the Rathi guards the NPCs, leaving the PCs standing guard to prevent them from attacking Nima. If she’s hit, then the PCs in the vision will suffer psychic damage.

At this point the party will become aware that the current Raja is the source of the evil, and the monsoon begins in earnest. Nima’s order sneaks all of her warriors into the city one at a time (how big is this warband? How can they do this so quickly? Is high-level magic involved?), and the PCs are tasked with performing open-ended skill challenges describing how they prepare the city’s slums to withstand the storm. Given Nagajari’s tiered nature, the low-caste districts will flood first and the worst. Regardless of their efforts, Nima and the Rathi will accompany the party to the Raja’s palace to overthrow the pretender-king. The rakshasha already knows the jig is up and has a retinue of hell hounds and loyal guards at his side when they arrive. The Raja dramatically shapeshifts into his true form by breaking an amulet in his hands, and during the battle the monsoon will get more violent. This will cause both NPCs to depart combat to save more civilians, albeit not during the same round. Depending on the result of the skill checks one or both friendly NPCs may either live or die due to the monsoon.

The Lost Rathi’s resolution has four different outcomes, depending on the surviving NPCs and the overall success of the party’s skill challenges. The best outcomes grant the Raja’s granted monetary reward plus a bonus magic item from Nima, the Rathi, and/or grateful citizens, with less rewards for worse results. The absolute worst outcome causes most of the city’s inhabitants to die from the flood, and the surviving citizens had enough of the upper class’ shit and lead a violent revolution against the rich.

Thoughts So Far: I like the concept of the adventure, as well as the Monsoon Die mechanic. The investigatory route has a bit of a node-based mystery design which I like, and while brief is just the right size for what is intended to be a single-session one-shot.

However, the adventure itself can use a little more polish, particularly in handling circumstances where the PCs go off the beaten path or resolve things in ways the plot didn’t intend. What if the party attacks the warband? What if they subdue the Rathi and bring him back to the Raja? What if after learning about the government’s brutality, the PCs decide that they’re being used as pawns and give up the hunt for the Rathi to instead confront the Raja? Nima is also in need of a stat block or stat block reference, and the Rathi is surprisingly a glass cannon for the level at which he appears. Four attacks per round and sneak attack is nothing to sneeze at, but his low Armor Class and Hit Points mean that the average 15th level martial character is probably a better fighter than him.

Join us next time as we enter a high-stakes mahjong tournament in the Den of Broken Tiles!

Author’s Notes & Acknowledgements said:
Thank you to Kyle Allen Devich for consistently encouraging me to take the next step. Thank you to Sam Miller for reminding me that words can be magical, even when it felt like magic was gone. Thank you to my roommate from college for introducing me to TTRPGs, none of this would have been possible without you choosing to share your passions with us. And as always, thank you to Benjamin Vargas, gone, but always by my side.
Author Bio said:
Russ Wilde is a South-Asian nonbinary person from Pennsylvania. They are the GM for Prism Pals, an All-Ages LGBTQ+ D&D 5E podcast. They are outspoken about their experiences as an QPOC, and will continue to fight for equity and justice as long as they can. You can find them on twitter @RussWildest.
 

Libertad

Explorer

Den of Broken Tiles

This rather short adventure is suitable for 4 12th level PCs. One of the party members has been invited to a top-tier mahjong tournament at the Den of Broken Tiles. This gambler’s guild is actually a secret society that uses the games as a front to make clandestine deals and control national politics. Organized by the wizard Jaan’dik, his mysterious grand prize is the servitude of a captured wish-granting spirit by the name of Pilandok, who he plans on selling to the highest bidder after demonstrating its power to the lucky winner.

The adventure takes place in Illrooco Province, a rather mountainous region populated mostly by tribes living in rather large villages. While the PCs are venturing to the local tournament they come upon a talking rizali dragon (pseudodragon) by the name of Kiza in need of help. She mentions that her friend Pilandok has been kidnapped by a wicked sorcerer. She only managed to escape said spellcaster’s mental control, and given that the sorcerer is capable of changing their physical appearance she’s reluctant in accompanying the party to the tournament or anywhere else she can be easily seen.

The tournament itself is held at a traveler’s hostel by the name of Sinigang house, and is populated by guards who will search people coming in for weapons. There are also representatives of the Den of Broken Tiles who act as referees, as well as three contestants eager to participate in the mahjong tournament who have guards of their own. Jaan’dik also disguises himself as Mama Esca, Sinigang House’s original owner, who he left for dead in a cave after her refusal to host the tournament in the first place. Each contestant is a person of rather notable political power, even if their role is not obvious: we have the representative of a corrupt official, a nobleman who plays not for the money but for the thrill, and the daughter of a gambler whose father is believed dead and she’s hoping to use the grand prize as a means of finding him. This last character is rather important, so we’ll mention her by name: Daiami. Before the tournament begins the PCs can interact with them and gather rumors of varying truthfulness about recent goings-on and can also hear said rumors while playing. Jaan’dik appears to introduce the rules and mention the prize, claiming that the winner will get to meet a diwata in the flesh and request their heart’s desire from it in addition to the buy-in gold of all the contestants. If asked why he didn’t make use of the power himself, Jaan’dik claims that he has “already made his wish.”

There are two means of resolving the mahjong tournament: either it’s done as a skill challenge where the contestant PC must roll 5 successes before rolling 3 failures, and can use any skill with which they are proficient provided that it can be justified. Cheating and getting away with it counts as 2 successes, but the tiles (which are a mimic in disguise) are capable of detecting both mundane and magical means if the PC fails a Deception check and will come to life and attack the guilty party for 5 rounds. Regardless of the fight’s outcome, said cheater will be ejected from the tournament. The other means of playing is simulating a real mahjong game, with suggested alterations in a sidebar:


I do not know the rules of mahjong, so I cannot comment one way or another as to the fastidiousness of these house rules. If the contestant PC loses then Daiami will win. Jaan’dik will teleport into the room and invite everyone to follow him into an underground chamber, even the losers. The trail eventually ends at an arcane circle surrounding Pilandok, a sleeping mouse deer. The truth of the matter is that Pilandok is not bound by the circle’s powers and can leave at any time, but is pretending to be captured because he thinks it will be funny to see the reaction on Jaan’dik’s face when he nonchalantly walks out of the circle and says “no” to the wish.

When this happens then Jaan’dik will fly into a rage and use his magic to try and kill all of the witnesses. The three Den members will attempt to defend him during a bout of confusion, although being weaponless they can’t do much and will surrender once Jaan’dik escapes or is subdued. The wizard himself casts spells as an archmage and has access to some pretty powerful magic including but not limited to Time Stop, Globe of Invulnerability, and the quintessential Fireball. He also cast a few long-term buff spells before combat, and he can summon elementals to fight at his side. As for Pilandok, he is more of a mobile support character, possessing little in the way of direct offense (besides the vicious mockery cantrip) but can heal targets by rubbing his fur against them, and grant inspiration once per year to a target in the form of luck, and has a few utility spells.

Pilandok will explain to surviving PCs that a renowned gambler by the name of Esca lived at Sinigang House in a life of post-fame anonymity, and refused the idea for the tournament being held at the place. Jaan’dik overpowered and left her for dead in a cave in order to host the tournament, and Pilandok did his part in helping her recover before his fake-capture. The real Esca, once found, can wrap up a loose plot thread by telling Daiami the real fate of her father, which is meant to be a future adventure hook. Pilandok will not offer a wish, but he will give the PCs a Ring of Steady Nerves that grants advantage on Dexterity/Charisma checks involving finesse and saves vs psychic damage, but transforms the wielder into a mouse deer for a limited time if they fail said save.

In addition to Jaan’dik, Pilandok, and the Tile Mimics, we also have stats for a mouse deer. It’s a CR 0 tiny beast that has 1 hit point and a bite that deals 1 hp of damage, but like Pilandok has a yearly lucky aura inspiration ability.

Thoughts So Far: I am a sucker for competitive mini-games as a change of pace from the dungeon-crawling faire of D&D, so I love the idea of a high-stakes mahjong tournament. The adventure’s weak point is that it has only one real combat encounter, and depending on the party make-up can be very easy or very difficult. PCs who have been disarmed of essential offensive gear by the guards may have little choice but to retreat, but otherwise they may be able to overwhelm Jaan’dik if they get lucky on initiative. The tie-in hook with Kiza talking about a wicked sorcerer is a premonition, but barring her use as the sample adventure hook in the first place (PC receives a letter for help) her presence may seem like a red herring if the party decides that this “evil mage on the loose” is a higher priority than a mahjong tournament.

Jaan’dik’s impersonation of Esca feels a bit unnecessary in complication, and there’s no real means of tipping the PCs off to something being amiss unless they have reason to use divination magic directly on his disguised self. Given that Jaan’dik appears as his real self upon the tournament’s completion, I feel that said plot element could be excised. It would be far more straightforward for Kiza to know what Jaan’dik looks like, but given the hostage situation cannot immediately make a scene at the tournament without risking the ire of everyone else in the house and the safety of her friend. A more covert approach can give the rest of the party time to snoop around while the contestant PC plays and buys them time.

Join us next time as we perform food delivery service to Chinese Hell in A Cargo of Melons for the Courts of the Dead!

Author’s Notes & Acknowledgements said:
When my dad first told me about a deer in the Philippines the size of a mouse that he held in his hand when he was younger, I thought he was joking or just making stuff up or maybe even just talking nonsense, like he was remembering a dream and confusing it with a memory of something real. And although I have traveled there on several occasions, so much of the Philippines is still a mystery to me, and the line between fantasy and reality is easily blurred. The plants and wildlife especially can seem far-fetched in concept but often stranger than fiction in reality. The flying lizard and the mouse-deer are just two such examples.

Mahjong was such a big part of my childhood, I’m happy to bring it into the ttrpg realm. Just thinking and writing about it brings back fond memories of my grandmother who unfortunately suffered from Alzheimer’s later in life. But mahjong was one of those things she never forgot and which always seemed to smooth over those rough moments of confusion brought on by the disease. Esca, the inn’s proprietor, is loosely based on, and my tribute to, Mama Z, may she rest in peace.

A very special thanks to my wife and family who are my whole reason for being and without whose love and support none of this would be possible.

Shoutout as well to all the mentors and role models I’ve had along the way including Ashley Warren, 1d6 Adventurers, Mike Myler, and Travis Legge.
Author Bio said:
Anthony Alipio has recently stumbled into a nexus of TTRPG creativity and hopes never to escape. He is the author of Seven Grains of Rice for Mike Myler’s Mists of Akuma setting, Dreams and Nightmares for Onyx Path’s Slarecian Vault, along with several collaborations with the creators of the Uncaged Anthology (including A Riddle in Time found in Volume IV of the series). You can find him on twitter @dm_fromscratch and support his caffeine addiction via Buy @dm_fromscratch a Coffee. ko-fi.com/insomna.
 

Libertad

Explorer

A Cargo of Melons for the Courts of the Dead

The power spike in Unbreakable’s latter adventures continues as we reach the penultimate module, suitable for 4 PCs of 17th to 20th (!) level. It begins simply enough: deliver a giant salamander-demon’s melons to her bureaucrat son in Chinese Hell so her tears will stop flooding the land. Errr...not so simple.

The immediate adventure hook is that a series of dangerous floods are plaguing the surrounding region, and the PCs get caught up in the middle of one while in a village (and requiring skill checks to stay safe). Given that they’re probably one of the few high-level people in the entire world, the party’s taken to be the best suited to handling the problem. Tracking the floods to their source finds a giant salamander demon (she’s not evil) by the name of Niangniang weeping by the riverbed. Once the PCs get her attention she stops crying, causing the water levels to suddenly drop, and she expresses genuine remorse for the destruction she’s caused. Visiting her at home, she describes the source of her woes: her son Xiao Wei is a high-ranking bureaucrat in Diyu. Niangniang sought to grow him the best cantaloupe melons she’s ever made, his favorite food, upon his return for a family reunion. But he’s too busy to leave on account of his job and she’s upset at the fact that said melons will spoil given that she’s too old to make the trip herself. She says that her son is rather wealthy, and would surely compensate the PCs for their trip.

The hook presumes that the PCs agree to this errand, and they will get 2 giant cantaloupes (20 pounds each, 1 more via a simple Persuasion check) per PC. They might be giant demon-brewed melons, but they’re still normal melons and can break easily especially in combat and damaging environments. Taking precautionary measures such as a Bag of Holding or extradimensional storage space can avert this scenario. Diyu can be trivially reached via Plane Shift, although if the party does not have access to such a spell then they can either go through a nearby dragon turtle’s underground stream or drink vials of poison supplied by Niangniang to go there themselves. She mentions that they will surely be resurrected by her son because “the Yama Kings owe him a favor.” Although the adventure doesn’t exactly spell it out right now, food and other objects can spawn with souls passing through the afterlife provided that they’re nearby.

Diyu is its own plane of existence whose primary purpose is in sorting out the spirits of the dead. It is a rather grim place, where mortal souls are put into various layers of Hell dedicated to specific tortures (Hell of the Mountain of Knives, Hell of Boiling Feces, etc) to cleanse them of sin in order for them to be properly reincarnated. The will of the Yama Kings is such that those who enter Diyu cannot leave without going through the reincarnation process, showing proper paperwork that indicates an error in their entry, or being an immortal creature who can come and go as they please. Furthermore, people’s bodies can still decay and feel pain, but nobody dies here, meaning that characters that are “killed” are restored to full health in 8 hours.

The PC’s first obstacle is the DEVIL GATE OF THE WORLD OF DARKNESS* where two giant animal-headed sentries usher in newly-arrived souls. They are not very fond of spellcasters who use resurrection magic to “cheat death,” and any PC who benefited from such a spell has disadvantage on all Charisma checks with them. They do not recognize the name and description of Xiao Wei, and will bar entry to suspicious visitors unless they actually died. The party in this case must find another way in, which can include disguise, skill checks, fighting through a legion of demonic guards, or convincing them that the melons are offerings for the festival as several possible routes.

*the letters of the gate’s sign are huge and in gold.

Youdu is the capital city of Diyu, and there’s a big festival being set up: an approaching holiday in the mortal world involving almsgiving and sacrifice to the spirits will cause said items and food to manifest in the afterlife, and everyone’s looking forward to this. Xiao Wei can be found via the ol’ sleuthing and divination magic routines, although failed checks will take up time and “fail forward” in making a future encounter difficult. Eventually the party will find said salamander-demon being shaken down for late loan payments by mogui thugs (use oni stats). Xiao Wei will come clean once the PCs explain their mission: his real name is Yiwei, and Xio Wei is merely an affectionate nickname his mother calls him all the time. He’s but a low-level functionary in Diyu’s government struggling to get by, but he exaggerated his position in order to avoid disappointing his mother. His parents always placed high standards on him, and he avoided coming home because he knows that he’s a terrible liar when it comes to family.

As such, he cannot pay an appreciable sum for delivering the melons (which he does appreciate, by the way) and that the only real way to get out of Diyu is via the reincarnation process and outlines the restrictions of Diyu’s planar properties mentioned above. Yiwei suggests that inspecting the Birth & Death records in Senluo Palace is their best bet in making a case to the Yama Kings, but nobody will be allowed within there due to the festival unless they bring food. PCs can “buy” their way in if they have any remaining melons, although if they dawdled a bit in their investigation then everyone’s stuffed and only 2 PCs total can be permitted via the melon gifts. The Record Halls are a vast featureless room stretching as far as the eye can see, with shelves full of scrolls holding the names and identities of every mortal creature that exists or has ever existed stretching for just as long. The party will eventually find their records with the salamander-demon’s help (and he can forge them to appear as a clerical error if the PCs did indeed die to come here), although failed skill checks will bring suspicious guards down upon them.

The PCs are more than free to leave upon showing the Yama Kings this evidence, who are in a good mood after the feast. They’ll ask what clerk caught the error, saying only someone perceptive and dedicated to their work could have noticed this. Recommending Yiwei to them will be great for his career, although he’s now conflicted given that he won’t be home for a very long time as a result and asks the PCs what he should do. Should he visit his family, but at the risk of having some other dedicated worker pass him by in the otherworldly hierarchy? Or should he stay and take this opportunity while it’s certain? The adventure has two resolutions based upon this: if he stays then Yiwei will send a letter back to Niangniang explaining the truth, and she’ll be disappointed at this but mentions they’re always welcome to visit. If he comes home, then they’ll reunite in a tearful reunion, and he’ll tell the truth. This causes an argument, but their relationship will be better long-term as opposed to the letter route as they’ll eventually make up. PCs will be rewarded eventually with a 30,000 gp bank note from the underworld if Yiwei stayed, or that amount of gp worth of giant cantaloupes due to him helping out his mother in the garden.

This adventure’s appendix has stats for a giant salamander demon. It’s a Challenge Rating 13 fiend that can actually be of any alignment. Its primary offensive methods include physically powerful bite and tail attacks along with a rechargeable AoE acidic spit that deals damage over time. Their strongest stat is a 27 Wisdom, and they have a small array of innate spells ranging from utility (control weather, water breathing) to debuffs (poison spray, blindness/deafness, grease).

Thoughts So Far: A thing I’ve noticed about Unbreakable’s higher-level adventures is that they appear built around providing solutions to challenges for parties that may have few or no spellcasters. There’s not much in the way of shutting down entire spells like is normally the case in a lot of high-level modules, although being unable to Plane Shift out of Diyu is a rather notable exception. Barring the mogui thugs it’s also a combat-lite adventure, much like the Lost Children or Bamboo in the Dark. For what it’s worth the ten Yama Kings do have stats (as pit fiends) meaning that it is theoretically possible that the PCs may opt to get their release from Hell via force.

Otherwise I don’t have very strong feelings one way or another. I can see many groups try to find more immediate solutions to the flood problem, including killing Niangniang, although that approach is rather callous.

Join us next time as we gather all the animals of the Chinese Zodiac to attend a legendary hermit’s going-away party (to the spirit world) in The Last Guest!

Author’s Notes & Acknowledgements said:
This is a story based less on Chinese mythology than Chinese-American mythology. It’s about leaving home, not understanding your parents, not understanding your children, and the little ways we say “I love you” when we don’t know how to say “I love you.” My dearest, heartfelt thanks to my mom, who’d bring me peaches when we ran out of cantaloupe.
Author Bio said:
KC Shi is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. You can contact her at kcaishi@gmail.com, or find her on Twitter at @kc_shi_.* Ask her about bees.
*This twitter account URL doesn’t seem to exist, but this seems to be her Twitter proper.
 

Libertad

Explorer

The Last Guest

This adventure is designed for 4 PCs of levels 18 to 20 and marks the final chapter of Unbreakable. The Jade Hermit, a legendary monk and long-time friend of the PCs, is aware of his final hours and seeks to bring his old friends together for one last “going away” party before he must depart from this world. Beyond our heroes, twelve of the Jade Hermit’s animal friends are ascended godlike exemplars of their animal species who correspond to the Chinese Zodiac. There’s also Peydan, the Lord of Cats. Said Cat Lord was pranked by the Prince of Mice and Rats some time ago, which caused him to be unable to achieve the same vaunted status as the other animals. This has made Peydan very resentful, and over the years he’s sabotaged things from behind the scenes to break up their friendships and prevent anyone besides himself from attending the Jade Hermit’s final celebration. The PCs must visit with as many animal lords as they can, handling their problems in order to help them attend the party.

The PCs do not have an infinite or vague timeframe in order to complete this task. The Jade Hermit will pass away in 4 days once the adventure begins, and visiting the various zodiac animal realms, completing their challenges, and failing checks on said challenges eats up a predetermined amount of hours in addition to the ones the PCs spend doing rests, casting lengthy spells, and so on and so forth. We even have a Fate Clock handout to keep track of time, divided into 4 12-piece circles with each piece representing 2 hours. There is no binary success/failure in regards to the zodiac animals’ recruitment, but the more animals that attend the banquet the more magic items the party can get from them as a reward.

When the PCs come to the lonesome monastery in which the Jade Hermit resides, he’ll exchange pleasantries and treat them to hospitality. He’ll then tell them of how much time he has left in the mortal world, as well as his relationship with the various zodiac animals and the Lord of Cats. Most of the monastery’s students have long since graduated, leaving the monastery in a state of disrepair over the years, and the relationships between his animal friends grew more bitter over a series of small arguments and disputes that blew up over time. As a favor he asks the PCs if they can reach out to the animals and convince them to come together for a banquet one last time. To make good on this, the Jade Hermit gives the party a Zodiac Compass that can manipulate a portal in the monastery’s garden to lead them to the Misty Wilds. In this extraplanar realm of beasts and nature, the compass can direct the party to the twelve zodiac realms in any order they please. As for the Lord of Cats, he’s been visiting the Jade Hermit frequently and should be coming soon to help with preparations according to him.

Peydan, the Lord of Cats, is a recurring foe in this adventure. He’ll appear initially as the PCs enter the Misty Wilds and then two more times after they complete 4 and 8 of the zodiac animals’ tasks, his efforts subtle at first but growing more desperate and confrontational along the way. There’s also a d12 table of random encounters the PCs can come upon, although thankfully said encounters do not take up any time on the Fate Clocks regardless of their resolution. There’s even sidebars for how to roleplay each zodiac animal, as well as a table of what Peydan has said to each animal in order to keep them preoccupied in their realm. Peydan’s words become more spiteful, abusive, and harmful after the aforementioned 4 and 8 marks pass. This serves as a gradual revelation that the Lord of Cats is a terrible person.

The Snake Realm is home to Bailel, who is afflicted with a powerful toxin that prevents her from reincarnating. If she dies she will be forever slain. Her apprentice can brew a cure but they’re currently estranged from each other, so the PCs will have to track her down and win her over to save Bailel. As for the party using their own magic and skills...there’s no information given on this route even though they can very well have access to the best spells in the game. :/

The Boar Realm is home to Chengfu, who is searching for a mythical golden truffle to present as a gift to the Jade Hermit. Payden fed him the idea to keep him on a perpetual hunt for an item that most certainly could not exist, although said truffle does indeed exist if the PCs get really good at finding it on a skill challenge. Alternatively they can convince the boar to abandon his quest, making him realize that being at the banquet is a gift all its own.

The Dog Realm is home to the hound Gin, an elderly canine who worked with the zodiac rabbit Tourou on building a rocket ship to go to the moon together. But arguments and accusations of sabotage made the project a failure. Upon hearing rumors from Peydan that her friend completed the rocket without her, she found little motivation to do anything else besides living day to day. The PCs can resolve this via helping build a rocket ship as a skill challenge, instilling a sense of hope in her and lifting her spirits to attend the banquet.

The Ox Realm is home to the bovine Po, who perpetually rages on a stormy flat plain. He’ll charge and attack the PCs, and can be subdued via combat as well as a variety of spells and other similar features that can bring reason to his addled mind. Once subdued he’ll apologize for his behavior, explaining that his rage stems from failing the Jade Hermit in an important task. Eve since Po’s been unable to look him in the eye. Role-playing and Charisma skills can help convince him to let bygones be bygones, although failing a check causes him to angrily attack the character (a shove that’s damaging due to his strength, not outright combat).

The Rooster Realm Is a beautiful tower with innumerable hallways and chambers. The fully-staffed palace has workers and guards who will escort the party to the owner of the house, the Rooster Mei (who is female but the zodiac title of Rooster can be held by those of all genders). She is afflicted with a terrible curse and will not meet the party unless they consent to being blindfolded in her presence (a skill check convinces them to look upon her to help her), and is thus too ashamed to visit the monastery. The PCs can help her out via a combination of skill checks and appropriate spells, with more powerful healing magic removing more layers of the curse. See, something like this could’ve been helpful game design in the Snake Realm!

The Dragon Realm is the dominion of Fou Long, a magnificent specimen of dragonkind afflicted with a years-long illness. Like the snake realm the only cure is gathering local herbs to brew into a potion which is done via a series of skill checks. Although said checks have some rather trivial set-ups that can easily be overcome via a trifling spell or low-level solution: berries growing on a tree jutting out from a sheer cliff face? Have your familiar fly up and pluck them off!

The other dragons of the realm are starting to be affected from their lords’ illness and are losing their sense of reason, and as such are why they could not do this task themselves for Fou Long. The PCs can try to drag the dragon’s body to the monastery in his sick state (which he’ll consent to), but this will cost more time than finding a cure and the local dragons will attack what they view as a kidnapping.

The Rabbit Realm is home to Tourou the hare. He’s fallen into a depression from the loss of his friendship with Gin, and Payden has been telling him lies to make things seem more hopeless than they are. As such he has no inclination to visit the monastery. The party can help alleviate Tourou’s depression by looking around and finding items symbolizing happier times and good old-fashioned Persuasion checks. Failed results will only draw him further into his shell.

The Horse Realm is a rather strange island dotted with mirror-like crystal shards and surrounded by a sea of acid. Jie the zodiac horse has fallen in love (platonically) with his own reflection and is trapped in a prison of his own ego. He will be spooked by the party and dash off at a fast gallop or cast teleport if they can keep up. He will also do this if they try to break the crystals, but they can snap him to his senses by using Charisma skills. But in order to do this they will first need to bait him into a trap (using pretty and rare items as bait helps).

The Tiger Realm is a flight of stars stretching infinitely in both directions amidst a starry void. Zhen Yao the tiger is stumped on a riddle which will help her reach the top, and although she’s stuck on it for years she feels that at any moment she’ll solve it. Physical travel in either direction will cause one to loop back eventually should they not solve the riddle: “Journey without it and you will never prevail, but if you have too much of it you will surely fail.” An Insight skill check can help decipher the riddle’s answer as confidence if the PCs cannot guess it on their own. The climber of the stairs needs just enough confidence to undertake the seemingly impossible trek, but not enough to the point that it blinds them to their own failures. Thus, completing the riddle requires a Charisma saving throw to climb the stairs to the end, although failing this check imposes disadvantage on all ability checks and saving throws until someone reaches the top of the steps. An Amulet of the Planes awaits as the reward, and Zhen Yao lets the party keep it now that she can go to the banquet.

The Monkey Realm is appropriately a rainforest filled with stone ruins. Monkey statues pointing in specific directions lead the PCs to a rather strange court proceeding. The zodiac monkey Demao is arguing against copies of himself, as judge, jury, defendant, and plaintiff. The PCs are asked to represent the Accused as a neutral third party, and the charges revolve around the situation of the ends justifying the means. In fighting a greater evil, the Accused resorted to evil acts themselves, including property damage and unintentional deaths. Without such actions the greater evil would’ve won and done more harm in the long run. The trial is conducted via opposed skill checks, and Charisma saving throws are done during cross-examination to avoid disadvantage on future checks.

When the trial ends Demao will thank the party for ensuring that justice is done regardless of the outcome, but if he’s been found guilty then a Charisma ability check will be needed to get him to attend the banquet instead of performing a centuries-long self-penance for his wicked ways.

The Sheep Realm is a scenic grass field which can induce sleepiness even in those immune to such bodily functions. The zodiac sheep Bo is in a deep dream somewhere in the field, and the party must find her either physically or contact her via a shared dreamscape. Skill challenges are performed to find her, and failing a check still makes progression but takes more time on the Fate Clock and forces a fight with a nightmare balor demon. Bo will apologize for the inconvenience once found and awakened, giving them a Mantle of Spell Resistance for their troubles.

The Rat Realm is strangely bereft of its zodiac animal, Hao. The rat is unable to escape an intricate dungeon-trap constructed by Payden, for he’s the most aware of the Lord of Cat’s bad behavior and our feline friend didn’t want him blabbing his mouth off to the other animals. The dungeon is a small 3-room course: each room has a puzzle and accompanying trap and guardians necessary to overcome to progress further, and Hao is held in an adamantine cage at the end. Once freed he’ll reveal the reason for the Lord of Cat’s enmity with him and not to trust Peydan if they’re still in need of recruiting the other zodiac animals.

Once the final hours are nearly upon the party and they recruited as many zodiac animals as possible, Payden confronts them in the monastery’s garden. He’s angry at their interference and gives them a set of demands: leave the monastery and don’t inform the Jade Hermit the reason for their departure, give Payden the Zodiac Compass (so that he can destroy it), and destroy the portal in the garden so the rest of the animals cannot arrive. How the PCs deal with Payden affects the outcome of the ending.

The PCs can comply with Payden’s demands, which will leave the Jade Hermit a saddened, hopeless man as he realizes he will die alone (if told the truth) or be happy that at least Payden and the PCs are there and begins the festivities (if lied to about the animals’ being unable to come)...which kind of makes Payden’s threat empty if he doesn’t do anything and the PCs stay. Probably doesn’t want to murder them while within the Jade Hermit’s vicinity is my guess.

If the PCs trick Payden into thinking they’re on his side in order to get past him or otherwise are able to inform the Jade Hermit of the Lord of Cats’ treachery without violence, then the Jade Hermit will banish Payden from the world of mortals forever via calling upon the authority of spirits. If the PCs manage through some clever role-playing to get Payden to realize the error of his ways and at least try to hope that he’ll be forgiven, he’ll come clean to the Jade Hermit and Zodiac Animals of his bad behavior. He’s forgiven, and everyone’s happy.

If the PCs take the violent option and fight Payden, then the last zodiac animal the PCs helped will join them in battle, capable of taking a special lair action on behalf of the party dependent upon their specific animal form. Payden also has his own lair actions, ranging from summoning distracting ethereal cats imposing disadvantage on attacks and saves, a psychic AoE screaming meow, and a sphere of concealing darkness. Once defeated, the rest of the zodiac animals will have mixed feelings upon hearing the news of his death, but will understand that Payden brought this on himself. The Jade Hermit hopes that his next life is pleasant and gives him a proper funeral.

The adventure also has a stat block entry for Zodiac Nobles representing the pinnacle of said animals, and Payden also uses this stat block even though he’s not part of the vaunted order. They’re very tough CR 23 fey whose lowest ability score is an 18 Constitution, and they have a powerful primary slam attack for melee and an elemental bolt that can deal a variety of damage types for ranged. They also have a variety of druid and nature-based innate magic with a focus on utility and AoE elemental damage. In addition to Legendary Resistance they also get Legendary Actions: there’s the typical bonus Attack and Teleport, but they can also burn a spell slot to cast Dispel Magic or regain a spell slot of 3rd level or lower which is really nice. Each specific zodiac animal also has a short entry of minor unique abilities, from proficient skills and saves to movement speeds and immunities. Snake has a rather peculiar ability, for she can use sorcerer metamagic to enhance her spells, which makes me wonder if snakes are associated strongly with magic in Chinese folklore or something.

Thoughts So Far: I really like this adventure. The use of time tracking really lines up nicely with 5th Edition’s rest-based system and D&D’s resource management as a whole. I also like how there’s no binary win condition, where PCs can get more rewards the more animals they recruit. I cannot honestly see most groups complying with Peydan’s demands, and I can also see a lot of them going straight to violence. The open-ended nature of how to accomplish the various challenges is something I like, although the snake and dragon felt a bit samey and oddly railroady. The other zodiac lairs that leave things open-ended are the best means of adventure writing when it comes to high-level campaigns.

Concluding Thoughts: Unbreakable is a great book. The adventures have a lot of variety and can be fun for one-shots or a short arc. The authors and artists do a great job in bringing their own personal touches to the product in a way that any single person would not be able to so easily replicate. For the first volume of a larger project this is a very promising start, and I look forward to seeing what else the Unbreakable Anthology has to offer us in the future.

As for what I’ll review next, I have several ideas but I’ll have to think about it. For the next few days I’m going to relax and see what inspires me.

Author’s Notes & Acknowledgements said:
This adventure was written and dedicated to my late great-grandmother. She was a wonderful caretaker and lived a vibrant, full life. She will always be missed. Inspired by the story of the twelve animals of the zodiac, including additional media such as Fruits Basket and Journey to the West, this is a story of forgiveness, redemption, and accepting the death of a loved one. This adventure was also inspired by my great grandfather, who held a banquet with his friends and family several days prior to his death, making the trip to see them despite his failing health. To quote Gandalf the White, “End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take.” Death of a loved one can be especially difficult trauma for many; when running this adventure, please take extra care with the players.
Author Bio said:
Jacky Leung is a best-selling freelance RPG writer and designer who has contributed to numerous publications, including the Uncaged Anthology, Artifacts of the Guild, and more on the DMsGuild. You can find his indie RPG projects at deathbymage.itch.io. Additionally, Jacky has editorial credentials for several publications on DriveThruRPG, including Godkillers and Power Outage. Jacky also writes articles about D&D and other RPGs on his blog at deathbymage.com.
Artist Bios said:
Anthony Alipio is not an artist. Well, except for that one harpy for Uncaged Anthology Volume 3. Oh, and that Krampus for 12 Days of Midwinter. He supposes the sphinxes in Uncaged Anthology Volume 4 might count as well. Not to mention the hulking crystal construct in this book. So at some point, Anthony may have to accept the fact that people who do art are generally considered artists. But until then, Anthony is a writer—who occasionally does art.
For news on his latest creative projects you can follow him on Twitter @dm_fromscratch, find more of his work at @dm_fromscratch | Linktree and support his work via https://ko-fi.com/insomna.
Art featured on pages 107, 125, 172.

Caroline Amaba is a Filipino-American creative—artist, writer, game designer—and general internet denizen. She lives her day as a software engineer, and goes into the night playing, talking, and [wanting to] make & play more games. This is Caroline’s second major TTRPG publication as Layout Designer (and spot artist), her first being Cursed Hearts in the Unbreakable Anthology, Volume 4. When not doing any of the above, she’s climbing, flying-trapeze-ing, cooking, or foodie-ing.
Follow her on Twitter / Instagram @clineamb, and more of her work at carolineamaba.com
Art featured on pages 110, 114-117 (maps),
136, 150, 159, 161, 164, 180, 188-9, 191, 205.

Alison Huang is an Australian-based artist who loves to use her skills to bring more diversity and representation into the world. When she’s not making illustrations, she’s writing, and participating in too many game jams. She can be found on Twitter at @Drazillion.
Art featured on pages 16, 64, 95, 141.

Kari Kawachi is a freelance illustrator who currently lives around Seattle, Washington. Originally hailing from Honolulu, Hawaii, she has been obsessed with art, storytelling, and role-playing for as long as she’s been alive. She enjoys painting characters, scenery, and just about anything that sparks the imagination. She has previously worked on other 5E anthology supplements such as Friends, Foes, And Other Fine Folks, Book of Seasons: Solstice, and the lightweight TTRPG Witchpunks. She can be found on twitter under the handle @yutrio.
Art featured on 34, 39, 40, 183.

Xrystina Marcos is an artist from the Philippines, specializing in dark and creepy pieces. She also designs and plays tabletop role playing games as a hobby.
Art featured on 132, 134, 139.
Editors & More said:
Editors
Jazz Eisinger is a cis demisexual woman writer, game designer, editor, and actualplay podcaster. She is the creator of a local Indiana monthly meetup group, ABCRPG (Always Be Creating RolePlaying Games). Jazz currently lives with her spouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, and can usually be found at Gen Con in the seminar and panel spaces. You can read more of her musings and find links to her current projects on Twitter at @orangelikejazz.

Lynne M. Meyer is a Bisexual interfaith and diversity educator and activist, holds a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Master of Jewish Studies from Spertus Institute. An advocate for inclusive gaming, Lynne brings her professional background to her work as a game designer. Named a 2019 New Voices in Gaming scholar, she is best known as a writer and editor for the acclaimed Uncaged anthology, a collection of myth- and folklorethemed adventures written for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Lynne is chronic illness warrior, devotee of Hekate, and lover of cats and good coffee. Connect with Lynne on Twitter at @Lynne_M_Meyer.

Echo Roanoke is a writer, editor, gamemaster, and game creator from Indiana. She holds an MA in Literary Studies with a Creative Writing Emphasis from Eastern Illinois University. You can follow her on Twitter at @echoroanoke.

Special Thanks to...
Ashley Warren - Ashley Warren launched the ambitious project of the Uncaged Anthology in late 2018 and saw the first volume’s release by early 2019. Later that year, it would be nominated for an ENnie award. Her leadership and direction of the project inspired and offered opportunities for many up and coming tabletop RPG writers and artists. This movement would spawn nearly a dozen spin-off anthologies and collaborative endeavors, including Unbreakable. We want to give special thanks to Ashley, the head medusa who inspired a vibrant and determined generation of creators dedicated to telling new and diverse stories.

Seersword Dice - “Violet Incantation” dice set pictured in photo on page 174.
seersword.com
 

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