DMs Guild Review: The Amulet of Shavaka

A press copy of The Amulet of Shavaka was provided for the purposes of this review.

Designed by: Phil Beckwith
Published by: P.B. Publishing

DMs Guild ReviewOne theme I find lacking in the official Fifth Edition campaign books is a proper Arabian Nights adventure. I want mysterious deserts, dangerous tombs, exotic rituals, and forbidden threats.

The Amulet of Shavaka” is a self-contained one-shot dungeon that touches upon many of these themes. The 16-page adventure tasks the PCs with exploring a Mummy’s undead-filled tomb at the edge of a desert. It’s designed for a party of level 2 PCs (with adjustments for 1-3) with an estimated play time of 4-6 hours.

The story hook is as basic as they come. A character named Elel seeks out the PCs based on the stories he’s heard (though they’re level 2, how many famed stories can there be?). He’s been sent to retrieve an amulet from the Tomb of Shavaka and knows the location, but doesn’t want to go inside for reasons that will soon become clear. Continue reading “DMs Guild Review: The Amulet of Shavaka”

Advertisements

D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 33 Recap

In the spider-infested caves beneath Morgur’s Mound we deal with a demon in disguise.

Streamed, recorded and uploaded every week. Subscribe for our weekly adventures. Join us live on Fridays at 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern!

Previously on “Storm King’s Thunder”

I softly landed on the ground, glancing back across the chasm to nod at my companions. I crept up to the dead bodies, noting this area of the caves was seemingly the only section not covered in spider webs. 

Movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned to see a young man emerge from a shadowy corner. He wore a garish red shawl that nearly covered his body head to toe, and his limp gait suggested he was injured. 

“Are you here to save us?” He spoke weakly. My initial reaction was to move to help the man, but I remembered the hastily scrawled note we’d found in the dead mans hands.

I made no move. “Are you Jarys?” I asked flatly.

The man seemed surprised. “Yes! Thank goodness you’ve come.” He began to limp his way closer to me, and I caught myself stepping backward.

“What happened here?” I asked flatly.

“Those stone creatures, they killed my friends. I hid from them. They’re guarding this place. I can’t get out. But you can’t help me, can’t you?” It was a subtle change in his voice, and I caught it too late. His eyes glowed as his last sentence echoed through my mind like piercing light.

I blinked and the feeling faded. He looked at me expectantly.

I grinned. A battle of the mind? Very well.

I focused back on him, worming my way inside his mind until it lie bare before me. I inserted my will. He would not harm me nor my friends, and he would tell us exactly what happened here.

My heart sank a bit as he smiled back, even as I felt my will take hold.

“Clever,” he said, as his human form melted. He grew larger, turning a dark shade of red. Large horns sprouted from his head and a tail emerged from his back. “I will follow your commands. I will not harm you.” He whistled, the sound echoing off the cave walls. It was soon answered by terrible screaming coming from the depths of the chasm. “But my pets will.”

The mines beneath Morgur’s Mound weren’t as empty as we were hoping. The spider-infested caves gave way to a grisly scene, where a demonic creature had tricked an expedition into recovering the relic we were after.

We saw several bodies on the floor, cluing us into a recently ill-fated expedition. The guards at the entrance had been bludgeoned to death, presumably by the small army of rock constructs we’d defeated outside.

Spider webs blanketed the walls as we moved deeper. As we brushed too close to one web it exploded with swarms of spiders. Gross, but little threat to us. We took a proactive approach, blasting spider webs with cantrips and long-range attacks to clear our path.

This plan worked until we came to a small alcove. A body was clutching some items, but was surrounded in webbing. Our long-range assault destroyed some spiders, but the rest surged outward, at one point crawling all over Kazin and Bryseis. Korinn would use her Mage Hand to help brush them off Kazin while Bryseis used a Shield spell. After that it was squishing time. Continue reading “D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 33 Recap”

D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 32 Recap

We finally met up with Harshnag at Morgur’s Mound only to be attacked by our powerful new enemies.

Streamed, recorded and uploaded every week. Subscribe for our weekly adventures. Join us live on Fridays at 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern!

Previously on “Storm King’s Thunder”

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Due to DM’s holiday office party, next week’s session will need to be rescheduled. Stay tuned to my blog for the announcement.

The massive frost giant emerged from behind the hill. Even for a frost giant he was battle-worn and grizzled, proudly wearing the skull of a dragon upon his head, and wielding a greataxe with glowing runes.

“Halfred,” his deep voice boomed, “is that you?”

I looked at Halfred, whose face broke out into a wide grin. He practically waved back. 

Harshnag mentioned the name of Halfred’s friend and mentor, which lit up the halfling’s face even more. Harshnag had been put on the same path as us, hunting the Ostorian relics. He also knew why that was important, but before he could explain, his eyes turned sharp and he gripped his axe, motioning behind us.

We turned and saw a small army of rock-like creatures approaching our direction.  “I don’t know much of these creatures,” Harshnag said, “but they’ve been watching the mound, stock-still. Seems they were waiting for you.”

The creatures resembled walking boulders with arms. They approached slowly, and I could see each hefting a large warhmmer. My heart sank as I saw their leader. He looked exactly like T.I.M., but adorned in blood red robes.

They stopped suddenly, as if each acted in accordance to the leader’s will. The leader turned to us and spoke in a frighteningly monotone voice, “You are neither we seek. Where are the one like me and the traitor?”

Continue reading “D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 32 Recap”

DMs Guild Review: Minotaur’s Betrayal

A press copy of Minotaur’s Betrayal was provided for the purposes of this review.

Designed by: JVC Perry and Phil Beckwith
Published by: P.B. Publishing

DMs Guild ReviewI was generally disappointed with the first adventure in P.B. Publishing’s Minotaur Trilogy. It was a short, single mini-dungeon that didn’t do much with the intriguing minotaur premise. The next adventure in the Minotaur Trilogy, “Minotaur’s Betrayal,” does a better job utilizing the honorable warrior race while also offering a huge dungeon complex as you and your minotaur buddies take the fight directly to a massive orc stronghold.

“Minotaur’s Betrayal” is a combat-heavy adventure featuring a mega-dungeon full of orcs, designed for a party of 6th level for 3-5 hours. That estimated play time is completely bananas, as the dungeon crawl alone would take my group at least two or three multi-hour sessions to get through.

NOTE: This adventure makes extensive use of Volo’s Guide to Monsters in regards to Orc statblocks and information.

As part two of a trilogy, “Minotaur’s Betrayal” picks up after you’ve earned the minotaurs’ trust in the first adventure, “Minotaur’s Bargain.” You don’t need to play that adventure at all, however, and there are notes for skipping a few sections in the beginning in Chapter 1. If you do run “Minotaur’s Bargain” first it would help flush out the Minotaur race, and give the later death of their leader and titular betrayal a lot more meaning – though as I mentioned in my review that first adventure is very light on role-playing.

As a reward for making it through the arena in “Minotaur’s Bargain,” your party is given six Minotaur Veterans. These are slightly beefier CR 4 minotaurs, including one named Minotaur Veteran called Perseus with max HP. Your goal is to return to the town that sent you, in order to help stage a defense against a large orc raiding party, as detailed in Chapter 2.

While travelling there are two scripted encounters where orc forces harry the party, specifically trying to kill Perseus and the minotaurs, first mounted on Aurochs during the day, then on Giant Bats during a stealthy ambush at night. This helps drive home the orcs as a powerful, relentless foe and nicely foreshadows later events.

The orcs are the primary threat throughout the adventure, and while the story does some cool things with them, it also somewhat limits the focus of the Minotaurs, save for a single scenario about halfway through.

The orc attack on the town is actually a diversion, as they show up with only about a dozen forces lead by a sadistic, custom-built Troll NPC named Fleshrend (CR 6). It’s here you can start if you just want to jump in with this adventure first.

DMs Guild review

This is a big combat encounter including the PCs, Minotaur allies, town militia, and orc invaders. As a DM this would absolutely overwhelm me and my party, but thankfully it’s designed to end in Round 4, when the attackers see the signal (smoke in the distance) and retreat. The party can alter the climactic encounter at the end of the adventure if they manage to defeat Fleshrend or any of the forces here, however.

The smoke is coming from the Minotaur campsite. Turns out the attack on the town was to distract the PCs and Perseus’ crew. A Minotaur traitor named Theron staged a coup by allying with the nearby orcs. He stole an orcish relic – the Banner of Grummsh, guarded by the Minotaurs, and in exchange they helped him storm the camp and murder the Minotaur leader, Astarte.

Now we’re talking! I love this surprise attack that pulls the rug out from our heroes. The Minotaurs race back to their camp and the PCs should follow (incurring 2 levels of exhaustion – ouch!). The PCs and Minotaurs can either directly confront Theron and his cronies or sneak inside to gather information.

Story-wise this is by far the most interesting section of the adventure, but it’s also shockingly the most limited, spelled out in only two pages. There’s a solid description of the tortured and slain Astarte (I would totally leave her clinging to life to deliver some awesome final death lines) but limited notes on how to role-play Theron, and nothing on how to treat a non-combat or non-stealth approach.

The PCs need to learn that Theron paid the orcs with the Banner of Grummsh, a powerful custom-built Wondrous Item that ties into orcish lore in some neat ways (wait I thought this trilogy was all about Minotaurs?). The Banner was hidden away by Astarte and handed over to the orcs. The Minotaurs demand vengeance on the orcs and task the PCs with retrieving the Banner from the nearby stronghold in Varg-Kala, the mega-dungeon complex that takes up all of Chapter 3 and a solid two-thirds of the adventure.

DMs Guild review

Varg-Kala is awesome. It’s a sprawling network of connected caves, with a central chamber that’s over 200 feet across, and an underground (er, more underground) sewer system – 14 total areas. There are three optional side entrances you can employ if your characters carefully search (or if you just want them to enter a certain way) as well as a proper main entrance guarded by a ruined tower.

Varg-Kala feels like an actual living dungeon, with most orcs living their daily lives around their huts, shrines, fighting pit, pig pen, rookery, and nursery.

There are several fun events the PCs can stumble into, including a Gollum-like figure living in the sewers, several potential allies-as-prisoners, and the final confrontation with the orc War Chief – and possibly Fleshrend if he survived the battle in Chapter 2. There are mountains of tasty loot to be found that would be the envy of any dragon hoard, while the prisoners let the PCs feel like heroes instead of bloodthirsty treasure-hunters (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

By the end the PCs (and minotaur allies) should have crushed the orcs, retrieved the Banner of Grummsh and put Perseus in charge of what’s left of the minotaur camp. “Minotaur’s Betrayal” is a solid adventure that includes a little bit of everything. I love a meaty dungeon crawl, though much of the minotaur flavoring will come from your interactions with the PCs via Perseus. Keeping he and his horned buddies alive in the dungeon could prove quite challenging but hopefully remain an enjoyable side objective.

Part three of The Minotaur Trilogy (coming early next year) teases that both warrior races will have to come together to fight a new Abyssal threat that’s unleashed from the Banner’s usage, which sounds like an appropriately epic climax to the series. I’m looking forward to it!

Pros:

  • Varg-Kala is a huge, impressive dungeon with multiple entrances, neat NPC interactions, and tons of encounters and treasures.
  • Uses all the orc information in Volo’s Guide to Monsters to create a fully believable orc society.
  • Minotaur ally NPCs are a great addition, and notes for using them in the final dungeon are solid (they don’t exactly like stealth, for example).
  • Notes for adjusting every single encounter for 5th, 7th, and 8th level parties.

Cons:

  • Though there’s some neat story moments with the titular betrayal, the adventure does far more with exploring orc culture and society than the actual minotaurs.
  • Perseus can (and should) be a major NPC ally to the party, but he’s barely given any notes on role-playing or personality.
  • The most story-intensive scene of the adventure (confronting Theron) is given the least amount of attention.
  • Only the small Ruined Tower map is given color, and there’s no map at all for the town siege.

The Verdict: With significant story beats culminating in a massive dungeon crawl, Minotaur’s Betrayal is a much improved sequel by enlisting an exciting orcs versus Minotaurs theme.

A press copy of Minotaur’s Betrayal was provided for the purposes of this review.

D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 31 Recap

The heist turns into an epic clash of dragons as we take on the pair of blue dragons who are not happy about their stolen hoard.

Streamed, recorded and uploaded every week. Subscribe for our weekly adventures. Join us live on Fridays at 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern!

Previously on “Storm King’s Thunder”

I ran outside of the beached ship, and chaos raged around me. A loud snap followed by a monstrous roar raged in the air nearby, as I saw one of the dragons plummet to the ground, wrapped in a large net.

Just in the distance I could see Halfred floating in the air, holding a crossbow as big as his body.

“You think to evade me?” a mocking voice boomed to the south, signaling the other dragon’s pursuit. Who was he after? I only now realized that our party-wide invisibility prevented us from actually seeing other in a moment of crisis.

The dragons had no such problems. The southern dragon unleashed a blast of lighting inside a circle of pure blackness that had sprung up around the dock. Bryseis? Hopefully she survived.

The other dragon ripped out of its netting, called for his brother, deftly leapt behind Felgolos and unleashed a white-hot shot of lighting from his mouth. 

Our bronze dragon ally shrugged it off but smoke rose from poor T.I.M.’s blackened, charred body. He remained standing, miraculously. 

I turned just in time to see the the southern dragon leap off the nearby ruined building and hurtle straight for us.
Continue reading “D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 31 Recap”

D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 30 Recap

We we agree to help Felgolos infiltrate a pair of blue dragon lairs in the ruins of Ascore.

Streamed, recorded and uploaded every week. Subscribe for our weekly adventures. Join us live on Fridays at 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern!

Previously on “Storm King’s Thunder”

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Due to our DM traveling for Thanksgiving Holiday our session next week has been moved to SATURDAY, November 25.

We carefully walked through the lengthy dark tunnel under the mountains. We weren’t expecting any danger but you can never be too cautious when approaching a dragon’s lair, let alone two of them.

After about a mile the ground began to shake around us. We glanced around in a panic as rocks began to fall. I had a horrifying flash of all of us being buried alive in here.

Then as soon as it started it stopped. We sported fresh new cuts and bruises.

In the dim light of my darkvision I saw Felgolos shrug sheepishly. “Just my bad luck,” he said. “This kinda stuff happens when I’m…not good.”

We glanced at each other. Felgolos was a damn dragon, but in his current situation he was almost more of a liability than an asset. But he was still our friend and we were determined to help.

We emerged from the tunnel into what looked like a completely different world. Windswept buildings lie cracked and broken upon the sandy remains of an old port town. A rotting dock jutted into the desert sand, leading to a pair of ships, one half sunken into the desert.

Great shadows passed over the ruined buildings. We glanced up and saw them – a pair of blue dragons flying high above the clear skies. Felgolos motioned us back inside the lip of the tunnel as a shadow passed over us. “That, uh, that would be them.”

Continue reading “D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 30 Recap”

DMs Guild Review: Mini-Dungeons #1: Caves

A press copy of Mini-Dungeons #1: Caves was provided for the purposes of this review.

Designed by: Phil Beckwith and Chris Bissette
Published by: P.B. Publishing

dms guildA mini-dungeon fills the gap between a one or two-room single encounter cave and a sprawling dungeon that contains a dozen or more areas. The 3-in-1 mini-dungeon compilation, “Mini-Dungeons #1: Caves,” contains three such in-between dungeons of about half a dozen rooms each, co-designed by Chris Bissette of Loot the Room and Phil Beckwith of P.B. Publishing.

“Mini-Dungeons #1: Caves” includes a short, overarching narrative to tie all three previously released dungeons together, should you want to add them all at once. This pseudo-campaign adds a single NPC captive orc who motivates the PCs to travel from the first dungeon to the second, while their overall goal is to reach the third dungeon, along with some random encounters on the way.

It’s a weak thread as these dungeons were not initially designed to have anything to do with each other. Otherwise you can drop thesm anywhere you’d like your players to encounter a self-contained, combat-heavy side quest.

I’ll go over each dungeon separately but in general the first dungeon is designed for a level 2-5 party (Tier 1), while the other two are higher level and range from level 5 to 8 (Tier 2). Each one is designed as a one-shot with play times of only a few hours, though in my experience any combat-heavy scenarios always take significantly longer to play.

Mini-Dungeon 1: Lizardfolk Tunnels

If you have read my review of “Struggle in Three Horn Valley” you may recognize the Lizardfolk Tunnels, as it’s included as one of the possible encounters in that adventure. It ends up as the weakest dungeon here, which is more a testament to how great the other two dungeons are.

dms guildThe story hook presents the PCs with a woman whose husband has been recently murdered by lizardfolk. Her two children have been dragged off to the nearby caves. She is having a remarkably awful day, but hopefully the stalwart PCs can salvage some of it.

The Lizardfolk Tunnels are a standard cave dungeon with not much going for it. It features, you guessed it, lizardfolk. Near the entrance the PCs can rescue one of the kids from a sacrificial altar, then proceed room-to-room battling lizards until they reach the arena at the bottom. There they find the other captive kid and a lizard king boss fight.

It’s not a horrible design but there’s nothing particularly memorable about it, nor are there any notable traps, secrets, or environmental hazards. An overhang with a giant eagle nest has potential interest, but the PCs aren’t meant to actually interact with it at all.

The map itself is drawn in an isometric or cut-away style. While I do like this art style it’s not usable in virtual tabletops like Roll20, forcing me to rebuild a top-down battle map.

Mini-Dungeon 2: The Cavern of One-Eye

A cave filled with orcs isn’t usually the most compelling dungeon design, but The Cavern of One-Eye does some really fun things in its design, including poisonous rooms, multiple secret paths and ledges, an alarm system, and rescuing a potential cyclops ally!

The inciting story hook is almost the exact same as the Lizardfolk Tunnels. The PCs meet a bedraggled merchant outside the caves. His caravan has been ransacked, his goods stolen, and his body guard taken captive. Into the caves we go!

dms guild

The orc-filled caves present some fun challenges and silly role-playing opportunities right from the beginning. Two-headed Ettins can always be a lot of fun for a DM to role-play, and one can be found at the entrance (arguing with itself, naturally) with another deeper towards the back.

The PCs should notice a goblin on a ledge next to an alarm system that’s strung throughout the caves. The PCs have a chance to catch the goblin unawares and prevent a horde of orcs from descending upon them.

The cave has a central path that branches off into multiple rooms, giving the party several choices on how to tackle the dungeon. They won’t be able to miss the poisonous, disease-filled sick room with an orc Hand of Yurtus. The Cavern of One-Eye effectively uses the additional orc statblocks from Volo’s Guide to Monsters. If you don’t own that supplement sourcebook it wouldn’t be difficult to simply design your own orc variants.

The first two side rooms contain secret passageways that lead deeper into the cave complex, letting the PCs scout ahead, spy on foes, and plan their next moves. I love this design as it gives as many options as possible to a well-organized party.

The final room reveals the fun twist – the merchant’s bodyguard is a god damn cyclops! The party can calm him down and free him, resulting in a really fun, powerful ally in the final battle.

The final boss orc is actually asleep in the back, which may make the final battle a bit too easy depending on how cautious your players are. But it’s also a neat chance to reward a more stealthy and planned approach.

The map itself looks great, with a top-down design I can easily slot into Roll20. It’s also a very roomy cave, which makes sense given it is a home to ettins, and that orcs were able to drag a captured cyclops inside. Big thumbs up to making an otherwise standard orc cave a lot of fun.

Mini-Dungeon 3: The Lair of Frostingbite

The third mini-dungeon is a combination mine shaft and white dragon lair, which is pretty damn cool. Though it’s a bit trickier to drop anywhere in a campaign as it requires a snowy mountainous region on the outside.

The story hook is a little different and slightly less heroic. The local town’s shepard pleads with the heroes to investigate his missing livestock. The PCs follow the tracks that lead into an old abandoned mine shaft in the mountains.

dms guild

The mine shaft is a fantastic idea for a mini-dungeon. After an initial corridor of pit traps and ambushing kobolds, the party comes across two mine carts that lead into darkness, high above a sprawling cavern.

Special rules are given for operating and running the mine craft ride: the party and kobolds roll for initiative, and the cart travels 50 feet to the east on Initiative roll 20. Every round or so the DM (or a player) rolls a d4 to consult what terrible hazard occurs, from hitting stalactites to possibly getting knocked out of the cart by a flurry of bats.

About halfway along the ride the north track splits off into a dead end that careens into darkness. The PCs have to quickly pull a lever as they speed by or risk a memorable 60-ft crash into the depths!

I love this gauntlet of challenges and skill checks, and using nearby kobold archers as more of a trap hazard rather than a standard fight. If (hopefully when!) anyone falls into the pit below they’re swarmed by quaggoths in the dark.

When they reach the end the PCs find the remains of the farmer’s livestock, which is being fed to the young white dragon by the sycophantic kobolds. Then they have to ascend mine shafts while the kobolds hurl offal at them, ha! I love that all these hazards and challenges make the otherwise forgettable kobold a complete pain in the ass for the PCs to deal with.

dms guild

One last hazard remains: walking along a narrow icy path to the dragon’s lair. There’s a lot of potential falling damage as any PC who fails the saving throw slides back to the front.

The final room provides a climactic boss battle against the young white dragon. I love that the adventure includes tips for running the white dragon Frostingbite, right down to her round-to-round actions. She uses her flight to flit in and out of the cavern to get surprise advantage on her attacks, which is not something I would have otherwise considered.

Like the Cavern of One-Eye, The Lair of Frostingbite is designed in a functional top-down grid style, though for some reason it lacks a gridless version of the map. But I love the use of numerous traps, hazards, and elevation in creating a challenging little journey to battle a dragon.

Pros:

  • The Cavern of One-Eye and The Lair of Frostingbite are fantastic, well-designed mini-dungeons with usable maps.
  • The Cavern of One-Eye: The secret passages and captured cyclops ally give PCs lots of fun choices to make, rewarding stealth and tactics.
  • The Lair of Frostingbite: The mine shaft presents a unique round-by-round challenge filled with skill checks, saving throws, and memorable danger.
  • Each hostile encounter includes notes on adjusting the difficulty for three different level ranges in an easy-to-read sidebar.
  • Fantastic monster art throughout the adventure.

Cons:

  • The Lizardfolk Tunnels is a fairly boring, standard room-to-room cave design.
  • The Lizardfolk Tunnels map is isometric, and not usable in virtual tabletops like Roll20.
  • The overarching narrative that links all three dungeons is weak at best, mostly just adding a series of random encounters between dungeons.

The Verdict: The first cave dungeon is standard at best but the other two are well-designed mini-dungeons that provide plenty of fun challenges.

A press copy of Mini-Dungeons #1: Caves was provided for the purposes of this review.