D&D tagged posts

One-Hour Review: Monster Vault – Threats to the Nentir Vale

Monster Vault - Threats to the Nentir Vale

After being so pleasantly surprised about the first Monster Vault I’ve been looking forward to the next installment of the product for a while. It was a surprise to see that it was based strictly on monsters for the Nentir Vale region of the core setting of D&D 4e, but with the Conquest of Nerath boardgame releasing around the same time and all of the Nerathi Legends articles which have been showing up in Dragon it wasn’t that much of a surprise. What was unexpected, however, was the news a month or two ago that this new Monster Vault would be presenting monsters in factions to help DMs craft stories around them. This seems like a neat and helpful idea, though it does remind me of the old Monstrous Compendia, some of which were very specialized for various settings and had only limited utility for other games. With Threats to the Nentir Vale in my hands I’m anxious to see which side of the fence it ends up on.

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Spicing Up Halflings

Halfling Sneakthief by Alexis Alvarez

They are dressed in bright colors… but they seldom wear shoes, since their feet had tough leathery soles and were clad in a thick curling hair… Their faces were as a rule good-natured rather than beautiful, broad, bright-eyed, red-cheeked, with mouths apt to laughter and to eating and drinking… six meals a day (when they could get them). They were hospitable and delighted in parties, and in presents, which they gave away freely and eagerly accepted.”
– From “
Concerning Hobbits,” The Fellowship of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

The halflings of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) are derived ultimately from the hobbits of the Lord of the Rings books. This should come as no surprise to anyone, even though the franchise has tried for some time to differentiate them. In most campaign settings, one expects to find halflings in small holes with circular doors and smoking pipes stuffed with South Farthing weed. In my experience, even in settings where the culture and image of halflings is drastically changed (such as the Talenta tribesmen of Eberron and the Jagged Cliffs cannibals of Dark Sun), most halfling PCs fall into the “cheerful and light-fingered” sort. For aspiring DMs and players out there, what can shake halflings free of the Ghost of Hobbits past? Simply put, we need to focus on the internal rather than giving them a new paint job.

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Crunchy Dish: Natronized Bugs

In parts of the world dominated by jungle, large game is sometimes difficult to find. There are abundant creatures to feed from but many societies there favor large amounts of small prey to a single large kill. The prime example of this is the swarms of insects which cover the jungle floor, ready to be scooped up, dried, and consumed in handfuls. Of course, some insects in the jungle are much larger than foreigners would expect, with beetles commonly the size of a slingstone and spiders bigger than an open palm. In the wildest parts of the jungle insects get even bigger and explorers have brought back stories of ants the size of a dwarven man in colonies which extend for miles.

Just as small size is no impediment to hunting for jungle cultures, the large size of these giant insects is not intimidating either. Giant ants, beetles, and spiders all make ready prey and, when properly prepared, can even improve the hunter’s senses for the next prey. Though it is rare in the jungle, warrior cultures trade for natron with merchants from drier regions and use this salt in rituals similar to the ones that create mummy. The precious natron is portioned out in much smaller amounts, however, so that only a tiny spark of the creature’s life force remains. These treats still provide excellent food, though, and a part of the creature’s power for the eater.

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As In a Mirror Darkly – Hacking Campaign Settings

Mirrors Cover

Those of you who have been reading the site for a while know that I like to mix games together. It’s not that I don’t think D&D 4e is strong enough on its own, far from it. I just don’t think it has a lock on the good ideas, and I think it’s especially important to step outside your comfort zone if your goal is to make something a little different. Also, I think the guys at White Wolf do an amazing job and their games are second in my playing only because I discovered D&D well before the World of Darkness. Who knows how things might have been different if that weren’t the case?

And that sort of brings me to my topic today. Recently, White Wolf published a great (and brave) book entitled Mirrors which is essentially a way to overhaul their game system and setting from start to finish. The sentiment for making the book seems to be “hey, we think we really nailed what we were going for, but if you want to try something different here are our new ideas.” Still, you have to give these guys credit for putting it on the line like this.

My question is, though, what if you used Mirrors to hack not the World of Darkness, but a D&D campaign setting. Everyone likes to change things up now and again, and if you don’t want to start from scratch I think this book’s approach is an interesting one.

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Crunchy Dish: Moonglow


If you’ve never met a shadar-kai before, you might suppose that the “dark fey” are lacking in the chaos and emotion of other fey. If so, you’re sorely mistaken. The shadar-kai are not twisted by a lack of emotion but by a storm of feelings and passions. They are blown about by their impulses, unable to focus the way their eladrin cousins can on one thing for centuries, except revengeor obsession. Food and drink take a similar twist in the darkened corts of the shadar-kai. Instead of the bright, sharp wines and mouthwatering fruits of the Feywild, there are the earthy teas and ashen meats of the Shadowfell. One drink in particular exmplifies the fickleness of the dark fey and the shadowy character of the Shadowfell: the infamous moonglow, which some called “bottled rage.”

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One-Hour Review: Heroes of Shadow

Heroes of Shadow Cover by Christopher Moeller

Ask and ye shall receive. I have been waiting months for the next D&D releases after their few cancellations. Since I wasn’t terribly interested in the Essentials products (but was pleasantly surprised) it’s been some time since I’ve looked forward to a release. But Heroes of Shadow is something that plays to my peak interests in D&D, as I said yesterday, and I’ve been bugging my local game store about it for some time. When I stopped in to get some more gaming paper, then, and saw it on the shelf I abandoned my other plans and grabbed it immediately. Below is my first hour with the book.

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Crunchy Dish – The Elven Market

Today’s crunchy dishes are written for the Dark Sun campaign setting. Things are turned on their head in this desert world and elves, far from being friendly forest-dwellers, are vicious wanderers and bandits who come to the cities only for trade in exotic goods.

The elves of Athas trade dangerous and exotic goods in the sorcerer-kings’ cities, probably the only reason they are tolerated. They bring trade goods from other cities and even from locations that they keep to themselves. In an environment where most live and die in the same sprawling metropolis, people are strongly drawn to the strange and new and the elves find a ready body of customers for their novel wares. In almost every city stands an ever-changing Elven Market where desert tribes come to trade these goods, and often the food items create the most draw. Sometimes the elves have food from distant areas when the local yield was too small for the city population, and other times the elves are pressing the food items to sell them before they perish. For a few truly exotic items, however, there is a genuine need because, simply put, the elves are able to procure things for which there is no substitute.

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Skills on the Fly

I’m going to come out and say it: D&D 4th Edition doesn’t have a skills system. That may sound strange if you open your Player’s Handbook to Chapter 5: Skills, but really it’s true. This is far from a criticism. For some RPGs, what D&D 4E uses for skills would be a limitation that holds back the game, but for 4E’s exception-based design, this really enhances the game’s flexibility and balance.

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Panning for Gold

Panning for Gold

One of the most commonly cited tricks in a DM’s toolbox is theft. Everyone from Wizards of the Coast professionals to long-time gaming gurus to the yokels that run this site have espoused the wisdom of using material that is already developed and tested. Why reinvent the wheel when there is a book full of Ferrari specs sitting on your bookshelf? However, veteran DMs who already use this technique fully sometimes forget that it can extend past WotC and third party 4e materials. Recently, I advised DMs to find inspirations in the real world to adapt or lift wholesale into their games but today I’m going to be talking about other worlds. Specifically, I want to take a look at other gaming systems for inspiration.

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Crunchy Dishes – Gnome Brittle


Castles & Cooks
is a niche site, to be sure. The connections between gaming and cooking are sometimes hard to see but there are enough for us to have a good time and try to give you material each week. As authors are inspired, we sometimes put culinary fiction set in some RPG world, but true crossovers between the Castle-part and the Cook-part (so to speak) are not as common as we would like.

To remedy that, we’d like to announce the addition of a new segment on the site: Crunchy Dishes. Thursdays from now on will include some in-game recipes as well as real life ones.While we won’t be telling you how to make these magically infused dishes (obviously) we will tell you how they can play a part in your campaign and spice things up a little. Pun intended.

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