Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Last week I showed off part of my plan to add desert giants from Tome of Beasts into the latest (and in my opinion greatest) fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons adventure, Storm King’s Thunder. I introduced you to the giant lord Emir Ayla Zeif and told you all about her plan to murder other giants and gather their skulls for a ritual that could free a Jotun giant from its pyramid prison. Desert giants were added to chapters 1 – 4 of Storm King’s Thunder.

This week I’m going to begin adding my own chapter to the book. This chapter would fall somewhere between chapters 5 and 9. Let’s call it Chapter 8.5: Pyramid of Desert Giants. This chapter shows off Zeif’s lair, Dorsnarg Pyramid.

First up, some maps I made using Pyromancer’s Dungeon Painter.

Base of Dorsnarg Pyramid

pog-75x75-numbers

 

Top of Dorsnarg Pyramid

pog-top-10x10-numbers

 

Next week we’ll talk about what exactly happens inside this pyramid, but for now, let’s cover the introductory materials of the chapter.

Chapter 8.5: Pyramid of Desert Giants

In this chapter the characters have an opportunity stop Emir Ayla Zeif before she releases Erlin the Great, an enraged Jotun giant, from his prison. If the characters obtain Zeif’s conch of teleportation, they can use it to teleport to Maelstrom, King Hekaton’s undersea citadel (see chapter 10, “Hold of the Storm Giants”). Obtaining the conch is their main goal here but the characters may take action to free or leave Erlin imprisoned. If characters may choose to let the Jotun out, he is ready for vengeance, but clever adventurers can direct this rage and use it to their benefit.

Desert and Jotun Giants

Before running this part of the adventure, review the information on desert and Jotun giants in the Tome of Beasts. It will help you roleplay the giants in this chapter.

The Obsessed Emir

Ayla Zeif has become obsessed with opening Erlin the Great’s prison ever since she deciphered a hidden meaning in the runes all desert giant inscribe onto their skins. Those inscriptions led her to Dorsnarg Pyramid where the Jotun is imprisoned and also contained instructions for a ritual that would unseal Erlin’s cell. Once the Jotun is free, Ayla hopes to use Erlin’s knowledge and strength to rise to the top of the ordning. She knows he once fought against the gods. During that war Erlin and his kind may have succeeded had not the rest of giants aided the cause of the gods and imprisoned the Jotun in places like Dorsnarg Pyramid. The emir believes freeing such a powerful being would make even the All-Father himself quake with fear and force the gods to crown her queen of all giants.

Since the hunt for giant skulls to power the unsealing ritual began, Ayla has focused on nothing else. Her husband and second-in-command, Calamed, runs the day-to-day operations of the pyramid. He keeps the rest of the desert giants fed, sheltered, and hunting for skulls. Ayla’s neglect has spurred Calamed into an affair with another giant, Mira Burma. What started as a fling has become true love. Calamed wishes to return to the desert giants old way of life as nomads, but he cannot openly challenge his wife or leave her without facing death.

When the characters arrive at Dorsnarg Pyramid, Ayla has all fifty skulls she needs to perform the unsealing ritual.

Farragut the Scribe of the Desert

Desert giants under Ayla’s command captured Farragut, a copper dragon known as the Scribe of the Desert. The dragon’s hobby is collecting pieces of lore with a particular interest in giant culture and history. She has Farragut studying the skin of long dead elder desert giants to decipher the unsealing ritual. Farragut works quickly and unhappily at his task, hoping Ayla’s promise of freedom isn’t a lie. In truth she plans to give the dragon to Erlin as a gift in which case the dragon’s fate would be short and bloody since the Jotun hates dragons.

Erlin the Great

Erlin the Great has been sealed in his prison for thousands of years. The magic of Dorsnarg Pyramid sustains the giant. He has no need for food, water, or air. Years of imprisonment have left the giant boiling with rage. Hatred keeps Erlin focused and sharp. Every minute of every day he curses the giants and gods who put him in the pyramid, sure that one day he will have his vengeance.

Dorsnarg Pyramid

Dosnarg Pyramid was buried by the sands long ago and only recently uncovered by desert giant excavators. The huge pyramid has a large ground level and smaller top level that holds Erlin’s actual prison connected by a hidden staircase. The pyramid’s main entrance is hidden. A false entrance contains traps and a mummified desert giant guardian. Once inside the actual pyramid the characters will have to contend with desert giants, their scorpion pets, and a host of traps and guardians left active within that don’t bother the giants. See the “Dorsnarg Pyramid: General Features” sidebar for more information on the pyramid.

Dorsnarg Pyramid: General Features

The following features are common throughout the pyramid.

Ceilings. Unless otherwise noted, interior chambers have 30-foot-high ceilings, with 20-foot-high passages and doorways connecting them.

Doors. Each of Dorsnarg Pyramid’s doors is 20 feet high and made of stone. Unless otherwise noted, the door is unlocked. Door handles are 10 feet above the floor. A Huge giant has no trouble opening a door. A smaller creature can attempt to open a door, provided that creature or some other helpful creature can reach the door’s handle and unlatch it. While the handle is unlatched, a creature must use an action to push or pull on the heavy door, opening it with a successful DC 16 Strength (Athletics) check. On a failed check, the door doesn’t open.

Illumination. All areas of the pyramid are brightly lit by magical stig runes that glow yellow on the walls. If one of these runes is carved out of the wall it no longer sheds light.

Oversized Furnishings and Objects. Most of the furnishings and other items in Dorsnarg Pyramid are sized for desert giants. Exceptions are noted in the text. Tables, benches, and other room fixtures are typically twice as high, long, and wide as their human-sized equivalents and roughly eight times the weight. Small and Medium creatures can scuttle under and clamber over giant-sized furniture, treating the spaces the furniture occupies as difficult terrain.

Reaching Dorsnarg Pyramid

The characters can travel to Dorsnarg Pyramid on foot or horseback. If the characters have an airship (see the “Airship of a Cult” section in chapter 4), they can land it pretty much anywhere outside the pyramid. The desert giant keeping watch outside the main door (see “Approaching the Pyramid”) spots the airship if it approaches within 1 mile of the stronghold and runs inside, putting the entire pyramid on alert (see “Denizens”). If the characters use the airship’s weaponry to attack Dorsnarg Pyramid, the defenders are smart enough to remain inside its impenetrable walls.

The characters might instead approach on a flying mount. They can obtain griffon mounts in Fireshear or hippogriff mounts in Hawk’s Nest. Neither settlement is close to Dorsnarg Pyramid, requiring the characters and their mounts to rest between flights. Characters mounted on hippogriffs can travel 54 miles per day (three 3-hour flights with 1-hour rests in between). Those mounted on griffons can travel 72 miles in the same amount of time. The desert giant keeping watch outside the main door (see “Approaching the Pyramid”) spot flying mounts that approach within a quarter mile of the stronghold and runs inside, putting the entire den on alert (see “Denizens”).

Approaching the Pyramid

Adventurers can approach Dorsnarg Pyramid from any direction. Those who come near the pyramid without taking efforts to conceal themselves are spotted by the desert giant in waiting in the sand (area 1), who quietly slips inside the hidden main door and alerts the guards in the complex. Characters stand a better chance of infiltrating the pyramid if they approach cautiously, taking advantage of the terrain and using darkness, fog, camouflage, or magic to conceal their movement. Regardless of how the characters approach the den, have them make a group Dexterity (Stealth) check contested by the desert giant’s Wisdom (Perception) check. The giant should make the check with disadvantage as it is buried in the sand.  If the characters take precautions, give them advantage on their checks. If they take none, impose disadvantage on their checks.

The characters may not notice the main door to the pyramid (see area 1). If they cannot detect the door, but remain hidden and watch the pyramid, eventually the guard from area 14C comes out and relieves the guard here. This allows the characters to witness the main entrance being used.

Denizens

The Dorsnarg Pyramid Roster table summarizes the locations of the pyramid’s inhabitants and indicates how those creatures react when intruders are detected. As soon as trespassers are spotted or combat erupts, the entire lower level of the pyramid goes on alert. As a consequence, adventurers might find themselves fighting several encounters’ worth of creatures at once. If Ayla Zeif dies, her husband takes over and leads the giants into the desert to be nomads once again. If Ayla and Calamed both die, the morale of Dorsnarg Pyramid’s other desert giants breaks, and they flee into the desert with their giant scorpion pets. The other guardians of the pyramid remain.

Dorsnarg Pyramid Roster
Area Creature(s) Book Notes
1 1 female desert giant Tome of Beasts The giant is hidden in the sand.
2 2 male desert giants Tome of Beasts The desert giants stay here to defend the skulls.
3 4 giant scorpions Monster Manual The giant scorpions stay here to guard the supplies.
6 1 female desert giant Tome of Beasts Investigates any sounds of combat in areas 1-9.
7 1 male desert giant Tome of Beasts Stays in this room if trouble breaks out and continues eating.
8 1 corpse mound Tome of Beasts The corpse mound omes out of the pit and attacks when non-giants enter the room.
9 Calamed Zeif Tome of Beasts If Calamed hears combat in areas 6-9, he investigates and offers to parlay with the characters.
10 6 dust thirsters Tome of Beasts The dust thirsters rise and attack from the coffins when non-giants enter the room.
11 1 oozasis Tome of Beasts The oozasis attacks any creature that gets near one of the bowls and remains hidden until then.
12 1 female desert giant Tome of Beasts If combat breaks out in areas 10-14 the giant goes to investigate.
13 1 adult copper dragon Monster Manual The dragon is chained to the floor and has only 20 hit points remaining.
14A 1 female desert giant Tome of Beasts If combat breaks out in areas 10-14 the giant goes to investigate.
14B 1 male desert giant Tome of Beasts If combat breaks out in areas 10-14 the giant goes to investigate.
14C 1 female desert giant Tome of Beasts If combat breaks out in areas 10-14 the giant goes to investigate.
16 1 desert giant mummy Appendix B The mummy rises to attack when the trap in area 17 is triggered.
17 Ayla Zeif, 1 fire elemental Tome of Beasts, Monster Manual Ayla remains in this area and summons the elemental if attacked.
18 Erlin the Great Tome of Beasts The Jotun is imprisoned here.

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Let’s add a new giant lord to Storm King’s Thunder!

Recently two of my favorite books came out for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. The first is Storm King’s Thunder. I love this new adventure for its scope, modularity, characters, lack of ticking clock, tie-ins to other published adventures, and original story. Then there’s the Tome of Beasts. This little number from Kobold Press is the unofficial sequel to the Monster Manual. It holds over 400 new creatures and fills in the monstrous gaps of its predecessor.

After I read Storm King’s Thunder, I immediately grabbed my copy of Tome of Beasts and flipped to G, looking to see what baddies I could add to the adventure. It was then that the nomadic, history-loving desert giant caught my eye. Why not add a desert giant lord to the events of Storm King’s Thunder? After all, the adventure (written by Chris Perkins) recommends I do just that.

The Plan

My plan is simple. I’m adding a desert giant lord to Storm King’s Thunder. I’ll be showing off the work right here on this blog so you can add your own giants to your play through and/or take what I’m writing for your own purposes. This is the first in a series of blog posts that outlines who this giant lord is, her plan to climb the ranks of the new ordning, and ways to work that plot into Storm King’s Thunder. The posts after will focus on the giant’s lair. At the end of the series we should have a fully form supplement you can download and add to your game in the form of a free PDF.

It’s Free!?!

Yep. Good news for you! I know you’re thinking, “James, why are you giving us more stuff for free? Don’t you value your work?” I sure do, but I’m making a product that’s actually impossible for me to sell. Since this PDF will tie directly into Storm King’s Thunder and therefore the Forgotten Realms, the only place I could sell it is on the Dungeon Masters Guild. Since the PDF also uses the third-party produced Tome of Beasts and the DMs Guild has weird rules about who owns your stuff once you post it on there, I’m also not able post on the DMs Guild. This add-on is something I want to make for my game anyway so I figured I’d share it for free! If you want to pay me back, buy something from me on the DMs Guild or stay tuned for a Patreon announcement!*

Meet the Giant!

Just who is this mysterious desert giant lord and what’s she up to? Below is information you can add to different chapters of Storm King’s Thunder.

Introduction

Add the following information to “The Giant Lords” section of the introduction.

Emir Ayla Zeif

Zeif, an emir of the nomadic desert giants, thinks the only true power is knowledge. She plans to secure her place in the ordning by freeing and speaking with a Jotun giant that her ancestors imprisoned long ago. By deciphering the knowledge desert giant elders inscribed onto their skin, she found the Jotun’s prison,Dorsnarg Pyramid, in Anauroch. The same information provided a ritual to unseal the Jotun’s cell, but it requires multiple cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giant skulls. Zeif wants to open the cell and speak with the Jotun, learn its ancient knowledge, and then form an alliance with the powerful being so none challenge her reign over all giant kind. To that end, she has sent the desert giant warriors of her tribe into the North so they can claim the heads of their kin to be used in the unsealing ritual.

Chapter 1

Add the following encounter to the “Unfriendly Skies” section of the “Tower of Zephyros” section of chapter 1.

Day 10: All I Want is Your Head

This encounter occurs of the tenth day of the party’s journey and occurs only if they are traveling to Goldenfields. A desert giant who is a member of Emir Ayla Zeif’s tribe spies the tower and assumes there is at least one cloud giant head inside that can be given to his leader.

Any character standing guard outside Zephyros’s tower or watching the sky from the tower’s aerie spots danger approaching if his or her passive Wisdom (Perception) score is 12 or higher.

Speeding up from beneath the tower is a huge, dark-skinned giant on the back of an enormous bird of prey. The giant’s skin is inscribed with runes and it carries a large falchion on its hip.

Alitook (a male N desert giant) rides on the back of a roc up to the tower. He lands, dismounts, and enters the tower’s first level, calling out a request in Giant to see the master or mistress of the tower. If any characters are around, Alitook instead approaches them and makes his request to them in polite Common.

Development

When Zephyros hears Alitook or if the characters tell the cloud giant about the approaching desert giant, Zephyros reacts with fear. Without explanation, he asks the characters to tell the desert giant something that will make him leave.

Alitook gladly speaks with the characters, asking them if there are any giants in the tower. The desert giant lies and says he is on a mission from Emir Ayla Zeif who wants to unite the giants in this time of trouble. A DC 12 Wisdom (Insight) check reveals Alitook isn’t here on a diplomatic quest. A DC 14 Charisma (Deception) check convinces Alitook that there are no cloud giants within the tower and he hops on his roc and leaves. If a character fails the check or mentions the presence of Zephyros, Alitook demands to see the cloud giant. If this request is refused, Alitook begins climbing the walls and if he sees Zephyros, he attacks.

If combat breaks out, Alitook tries to climb his way up the tower to get to Zephyros, attacking any creatures in his way. He has no rocks, so he can only make attacks with his falchion. His roc does no join the fray, but takes flight and begins circling the tower, waiting for Alitook to whistle for it. Zephyros casts mass suggestion to convince Alitook to leave and then greater invisibility so the desert giant cannot find him.

If reduced to 75 hit points, Alitook whistles for his roc and tries to flee. If Zephyros is killed, Alitook uses his next action to behead the cloud giant and then tries to flee on his roc with Zephyros’ head.

When Alitook is no longer a threat, Zephyros informs the characters of rumors he’s heard from other giants. Desert giants are coming out of Anauroch in droves murdering any cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giants they can find. They all say they work for Emir Ayla Zeif and all are looking to collect the heads of their victims. This is highly unusual for the nomadic and normally isolationist desert giants.

If Alitook is captured, a DC 14 Charisma (Intimidation) check gets him to reveal that Emir Ayla Zeif has read the inscriptions on the skin of elder desert giants and ordered the warriors of her tribe to seek the heads of other giants in order to recover lost knowledge. He does not know the specific purpose of the heads and under no circumstances reveals the location of Dorsnarg Pyramid.

The roc flees if Alitook is captured.

Treasure

Alitook has a sack containing 3d6 × 100 cp, 2d6 × 100 sp, 1d6 × 100 gp, and one mundane item, determined by rolling on the Items in a Giant’s Bag table in the introduction.

Chapter 2

During the battle at Bryn Shander, Goldenfields, or Triboar, odds are at least one of the giants involved will flee the scene if defeat is imminent or its goal is accomplished. When a giant flees and is out of the weapon ranges of most characters, but still within sight, two desert giants (named Naymar and Allyaia) come out of nowhere and overwhelm the giant. By the end of their second turn Naymar and Allyaia have knocked the other giant prone. By the end of their third, Naymar has decapitated the giant and handed the head to Allyaia. The giants then run off into the wilderness together.

If the desert giants are captured, a DC 14 Charisma (Intimidation) check gets them to reveal that Emir Ayla Zeif has read the inscriptions on the skin of elder desert giants and ordered the warriors of her tribe to seek the heads of cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giants in order to recover lost knowledge. They do not know the specific purpose of the heads and under no circumstances reveal the location of Dorsnarg Pyramid.

Treasure

Each desert giant has a sack containing 3d6 × 100 cp, 2d6 × 100 sp, 1d6 × 100 gp, and one mundane item, determined by rolling on the Items in a Giant’s Bag table in the introduction.

Chapter 3

Random Wilderness Encounters

Add the following text to any encounter involving giants in the “Random Wilderness Encounters” section of chapter 3.

At the start of the third round of combat, roll a d10. If the result is a 1, a desert giant appears and begins attacking any other giants. If the desert giant survives combat, it beheads any cloud, fire, frost, hill, or stone giants and ties the heads to its belt. The desert giant does not attack the characters unless they attack it first.

A DC 14 Charisma (Intimidation) or (Persuasion) check convinces the desert giant to reveal that Emir Ayla Zeif has read the inscriptions on the skin of elder desert giants and ordered the warriors of her tribe to seek the heads of cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giants in order to recover lost knowledge. It does not know the specific purpose of the heads and under no circumstances reveals the location of Dorsnarg Pyramid.

Treasure

The desert giant has a sack containing 3d6 × 100 cp, 2d6 × 100 sp, 1d6 × 100 gp, and one mundane item, determined by rolling on the Items in a Giant’s Bag table in the introduction.

Locations of the North

Make the following additions to the “Locations of the North” section of Chapter 3.

Travel

Any time the characters travel from one place to another, roll a d20. On a result of 1, they encounter a headless giant body along the way. Roll a d6 to determine the type of giant body they encounter: 1 for cloud, 2 for fire, 3 for frost, 4 for stone, and 5-6 for hill.

Ascore

Add the following suggested encounter to the “Ascore” section.

While the characters are in Ascore, they notice two desert giants (females named Yalaya and Rabira) pass by the ancient ruin. Each has the head of a frost giant tied to her belt. If approached by the characters, a DC 14 Charisma (Intimidation) or (Persuasion) check convinces them to reveal that Emir Ayla Zeif has read the inscriptions on the skin of elder desert giants and ordered the warriors of her tribe to seek the heads of cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giants in order to recover lost knowledge. If the characters know where to find any such giants nearby, the desert giants offer to reward them with 100 gp from their sacks (see “Treasure”). They do not know the specific purpose of the heads and under no circumstances reveal the location of Dorsnarg Pyramid.

If the characters try to follow the Yalaya and Rabira, they quickly get noticed by the clever giants on their home terrain. The giants creep over a dune out of sight and then bury themselves in the sand, rising up to take the characters by surprise, fighting to the death. They do not pursue any characters who flee. They simply do not want to be followed to Dorsnarg Pyramid at any cost.

Treasure. Each desert giant has a sack containing 3d6 × 100 cp, 2d6 × 100 sp, 1d6 × 100 gp, and one mundane item, determined by rolling on the Items in a Giant’s Bag table in the introduction.

Luskan

Add the following suggested encounter to the “Luskan” section.

A member of the Arcane Brotherhood, Vadul Sasson (male CN mage), recovered the body of a desert giant warrior outside of Luskan a tenday ago. He found the body a curiosity so far from the desert and ordered it taken into the tower so he could study the inscriptions on its skin.

A short time after the characters arrive in Luskan, three desert giants (two males named Amed and Fabreiz and a female named Marya), walk into Luskan’s harbor out toward the Hosttower of the Arcane and demand the body be returned. The dead desert giant, a male named Rahead, was looking for frost giants in the area so he could bring their heads to Emir Ayla Zeif when he took on too many foes at once and became overwhelmed. Desert giants reclaim the bodies of their dead, since the inscriptions on their bodies hold valuable information. The trio has tracked the body of Rahead here.

Reeling from the attack of the frost giants, Luskan’s mages of the Arcane Brotherhood have depleted of many of their spells and resources. The desert giants begin hurling stones at the Hosttower of the Arcane, demanding the return of their dead. If the characters do nothing, eventually Vadul exits the tower, pleading with giants to be patient while his servants prepare the body for transport. On their next turn, the giants are brought the body. Amed and Fabreiz carry it away while Marya crushes Vadul to death with a rock before joining her companions.

If the characters do intervene, they can convince the giants to calm down with a successful DC 16 Charisma (Persuasion) check made as an action. The giants calmly state their case and leave once Vadul hands over the body.

If the characters fail the check or intervene by attacking, Amed and Fabreiz attack them while Marya continues to hurl rocks at the Hosttower of the Arcane. Every round on initiative count 0, two mages from the Arcane Brotherhood cast spells of 2nd level or lower that hinder the giants or aid the characters from the mage’s spell list. They are out of higher level spell slots.

When one of the giants falls, the other two grab its body and flee.

If captured or calmed, a DC 16 Charisma (Intimidation) or (Persuasion) check convinces the giants to reveal their purpose in Luskan. If pumped for more information, they reveal Emir Ayla Zeif has read the inscriptions on the skin of elder desert giants and ordered the warriors of her tribe to seek the heads of cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giants in order to recover lost knowledge. If the characters know where to find any such giants nearby, the desert giants offer to reward them with 100 gp from their sacks (see “Treasure”). They do not know the specific purpose of the heads and under no circumstances reveal the location of Dorsnarg Pyramid.

Treasure. Each desert giant has a sack containing 3d6 × 100 cp, 2d6 × 100 sp, 1d6 × 100 gp, and one mundane item, determined by rolling on the Items in a Giant’s Bag table in the introduction.

Morgur’s Mound

Add the following text to the “Ancient Relic” section.

In addition to the gold-plated tooth, the character unearths a yellow silk scarf embroidered with the stig (light) rune. The scarf is nonmagical, 10 feet long, and 2 feet wide.

One Stone

Add the following text to the “Ancient Relic” section.

In addition to the boulder, the character finds the gilded tail of a giant scorpion. The tail is nonmagical, but it can be used as a weapon and has the same statistics as a pike.

Waterdeep

Add the following text to the “Suggested Encounter” section.

Three desert giants (two females named Kayga and Isa and a male named Dariq) have been tracking the castle of the cloud giants from the ground. Count Nimbolo invites the characters to a private spot just outside of Waterdeep to tell them about Sansuri, since his wife is friends with the villainous cloud giant.

When Nimbolo is alone with the characters, the desert giants strike, with the intention of taking the cloud giant’s head back to Zeif. Nimbolo joins the fight alongside the characters. The desert giants fight until one of them falls, then the other two grab their fallen ally’s body and flee.

If captured, a DC 14 Charisma (Intimidation) check convinces the giants to reveal Emir Ayla Zeif has read the inscriptions on the skin of elder desert giants and ordered the warriors of her tribe to seek the heads of cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giants in order to recover lost knowledge. They do not know the specific purpose of the heads and under no circumstances reveal the location of Dorsnarg Pyramid.

Treasure. Each desert giant has a sack containing 3d6 × 100 cp, 2d6 × 100 sp, 1d6 × 100 gp, and one mundane item, determined by rolling on the Items in a Giant’s Bag table in the introduction.

Chapter 4

Eye of the All-Father, Area 1
  • Add a pillar carved with the scene of a living desert giant inscribing runes onto its flesh and looking upon the body of a deceased desert giant.
Eye of the All-Father, Area 6
  • Add a statue of the desert giant god, Grumbar, to this room that carries a bronze falchion (weighing 700 pounds).
  • Add a stig (light) rune to the archway that corresponds to the falchion.
  • The stig rune’s trap corresponds to desert giants. When triggered, two sunburst spells go off at the same time, and the entire room is each spell’s area of effect.
Eye of the All-Father, Area 11
  • Add a statue of a desert giant
Words of the Oracle

Add the following question and answer.

What is Zeif’s plan? “To release an ancient power and gain its knowledge and protection.”

Quest for the Giant Relics

The silk scarf relic in Morgur’s Mound and scorpion tail in One Stone correspond to Zeif.

The Chosen Foe

Add the following text.

Emir Zeif

“Travel south past mountains, valley, and trees. At the edge of the wood, turn east until the sand runs through your toes and the sun scorches your head. Past the dwarf ruin turn south again until you find Dorsnarg Pyramid. It is prison to one and queen-maker to another. The conch you seek is in the latter’s possession.”

The mountains refer to the Spine of the World. The valley refers to the Valley of the Khedrun. The wood refers to Lurkwood. The dwarf run is Ascore. When the characters are ready to head there, continue with “Pyramid of the Desert Giants” in this document

Appendix C

Add the following text to the “New Giant Options” section.

Desert Giants

Some adult desert giants are trained to make whirlwind attacks with their enormous falchions, spinning their blades in powerful arcs that attack all nearby enemies. This ability is represented by the following action option:

Whirlwind Attack (Recharge 6). The giant makes a falchion attack against every creature it can see within 10 feet.

That’s it for now!

Part II – “Pyramid of the Desert Giants” coming next week!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

*Probably!

I want more runes items! You may have already picked up your copy of Storm King’s Thunder at your local friendly game store. Those who did may have found one of the first pictures in the book is of twenty different giant runes. I was excited when I first saw it because these runes must be tied to the rune magic we had heard so much about.

Turns out rune magic is very cool. Essentially you find a magic item with a particular giant rune on it and that item gives the wielder several benefits. You can also moves the rune from the item and apply it to a place or object that gets a new benefit. There’s only one problem. Of the twenty runes pictured at the start of the book, only eight are given magic items (or nine if you count the blod stone but I’m not for these purposes since it functions differently than the other rune items).

What’s a DM to do? Well make the other 12 into magic items of course! Below is my take on the other 12 runes in magic item form.

New Rune Magic Items

Bone of the Uven Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This femur of a dwarf is petrified to the point of being stone. The uven (enemy) rune is carved out and filled with silver on its top. The bone has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

After Him. When an enemy within 5 feet of you takes the Disengage action, you can move half your speed as a reaction.

Know Thy Enemy. As a bonus action, pick one enemy within 30 feet of you. You learn the enemies’s AC, hit points, and any damage immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

No Escape. You have advantage on opportunity attacks.

Gift of Vengeance. You can transfer the bone’s magic to a nonmagical item – a weapon or a suit of armor – by tracing the uven rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the bone is destroyed, and the rune appears in silver on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Weapon. The weapon is now an uncommon magic weapon that requires attunement. When a creature hits you with an attack and deals damage, you have advantage on attack rolls made against that creature using this weapon until the end of your next turn.
  • Armor. The armor is now an uncommon magic item that requires attunement. When a creature hits you with an attack and deals damage and you are wearing the armor, you have resistance against damage from all other attacks made by that creature until the end of your next turn.
Branch of the Liv Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This curving birch branch is 2 feet long and three inches thick. Small buds make it seem as if leaves could spring out of the branch at any second. The liv (life) rune is burned into the side of the branch. The branch has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Healing Grace. Whenever you cast a spell of 1st level or higher to restore hit points to a creature, the creature regains 1 additional hit point.

Remove Harmful Condition. As an action, you touch one willing creature and immediately end any blinded, deafened, poisoned, paralyzed, or stunned condition afflicting it. You can also use this ability to remove one level of exhaustion from a creature. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Spare the Dying. As an action you can cast the spare the dying.

Gift of Life. You can transfer the branch’s magic to the corpse of a creature that has been dead has been dead for no more than 200 years, that didn’t die of old age, and that isn’t undead by tracing the uven rune on it with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the branch to be within 5 feet of you. If the creature’s soul is free and willing, the target returns to life with all its hit points. This process neutralizes all poisons, cures all diseases, and removes all curses afflicting the creature when it died. This process closes all wounds and restores any missing body parts. At the end of the transfer, the branch is destroyed, and the creature has a black tattoo of the rune appear somewhere on its body.

Diamond of the Stig Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This diamond is a three-inch-radius sphere cut so the light within it dazzles. Close inspection reveals the light burning within is in the shape of a stig (light) rune. The diamond has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Beacon of Hope. As an action you can cast beacon of hope. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Blinding Burst. As an action, your body erupts with radiant light in a 30-foot radius. All creatures in the area must succeed on a DC 17 Constitution saving throw or be blinded for 1 minute. A creature blinded in this way can repeat this saving throw at the end of its turn, ending the blinded condition on a success. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Radiant Friend. You have resistance to radiant damage.

Shed Light. As an action the diamond sheds bright light in a 60-foot radius and dim light for an additional 60. You can use another action to make the bright light go down to a 5-foot radius and dim light for an additional 5.

Gift of Light. You can transfer the diamond’s magic to a nonmagical item – a weapon or a torch – by tracing the stig rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the diamond is destroyed, and the rune appears in yellow on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Weapon. The weapon is now an uncommon magic weapon. It deals an extra 1d6 radiant damage to any target it hits.
  • Torch. The torch is now an uncommon magic item that requires attunement. This torch never burns out. As an action you can cause the torch to ignite, causing it shed bright light in a 20-foot radius and dim light for an additional 20. You can use another action to extinguish the flame. While the flame is lit and you hold the torch, all creatures you choose within 20 feet of you have advantage on saving throws againsted being charmed or frightened.
Emerald of the Kong Rune

Wondrous item, very rare (requires attunement)

This emerald is cut into a rhomboid shape, three inches on each side and three inches thick. A gold kong (king) rune is clearly seen within its core. The emerald has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Inspiring Leadership. As an action you can speak a magic word of inspiration to one creature you can see within 30 feet of you. That creature has advantage on attack rolls and saving throws against being frightened until the end of your next turn. Once you use this property twice, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Natural Leader. You have advantage on Charisma (Intimidation) and (Persuasion) ability checks made to influence creatures of the same type as you.

Ruler’s Command. At the start of your turn, one creature of your choice within 5 feet of you can take the Help action as a reaction. Once you use this property twice, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Gift of the King. You can transfer the emerald’s magic to a nonmagical item – a crown or a ring – by tracing the kong rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the emerald is destroyed, and the rune appears in gold on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Crown. The crown is now a rare magic item that requires attunement. While you wear it, you have advantage on all Charisma (Persuasion) checks.
  • Ring. The ring is now a rare magic item that requires attunement. While you wear it you can speak, read, and write any language and communicate telepathically with any creature that understands a language within 30 feet.
Fan of the Skye Rune

Wondrous item, very rare (requires attunement)

This sky blue folding hand fan is rather dainty for a giant, but almost three times the size what a human would normally use. When unfolded, a white skye (cloud) rune can be seen in the middle of the fan. The fan has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Cloud Carpet. You can spend 1 minute creating a 15-foot square of cloud 1 foot thick. The cloud can carry up to 10,000 pounds, can hover, has a fly speed of 60 feet, and moves according to your spoken directions, provided you are within 30 feet. The cloud lasts for 1 hour. Once you use this property, you  can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

Fog Cloud. As an action, you can cast fog cloud.

Gust of Wind. As an action, you can cast gust of wind.

Gift of Cloud. You can transfer the fan’s magic to a nonmagical item – a pair of boots, a cloak, or a suit of armor – by tracing the skye rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the fan is destroyed, and the rune appears in white on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Armor. The armor is now a rare magic item that requires attunement. As a reaction when you are hit by an attack you can turn your entire body into cloud stuff until the end of your next turn. While you are made of cloud stuff you are resistant to all damage. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
  • Boots/Cloak. The pair of boots or cloak is now a rare magic item that requires attunement. You gain a fly speed equal to your walking speed and can hover while you wear this item.
Finger of the Dod Rune

Wondrous item, very rare (requires attunement)

This preserved finger of a frost giant is gray and shriveled. It is 3 feet long and 1 foot thick. The flesh beneath its fingernail is carved with a bloody dod (death) rune. The finger has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Animate Dead. As an action, you can cast animate dead. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

Death’s Sacrifice. When you deal damage to a creature and it dies as a result, you gain 10 temporary hit points.

Necrotic Friend. You gain resistance to necrotic damage.

Respect of the Dead. You have advantage on Charisma ability checks made to influence undead creatures.

Gift of Death. You can transfer the finger’s magic to the corpse of a creature that isn’t undead by tracing the dod rune on it with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the finger to be within 5 feet of you. The target rises as a wraith under you control. You decide what action the wraith will take and where it will move during its next turn, or you can issue a general command, such as to guard a particular chamber or corridor. If you issue no commands, the wraith only defends itself against hostile creatures. Once given an order, the creature continues to follow it until its task is complete. At the end of the transfer, the finger is destroyed, and the wraith has the rune floating somewhere within its incorporeal form.

Horn of the Uvar Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This curved horn comes from a giant ram. It is 3 feet long and capped with a silver mouthpiece. The horn is emblazoned with a blue uvar (storm) rune. The horn has the following properties.

Lightning’s Call. As an action you can blow the horn. Up to 8 creatures of your choice within 60 feet who can hear the horn and are holding at least one weapon, each have one weapon they are wielding of their choice covered in crackling lightning for 1 minute. During this time the weapons deal an extra 1d6 lightning damage and are magical. A weapon loses these properties if it is dropped or stowed. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Storm Friend. While the horn is on your person, you are resistant to lightning and thunder damage.

Thunderous Blast. As an action, you can blow a 60-foot cone of thunder from the horn. Creatures in the area must make a DC 17 Constitution saving throw. Creatures who fail take 22 (5d8) thunder damage and are pushed 10 feet away from you. Creatures who succeed take only half damage and aren’t pushed. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Gift of Storm. You can transfer the horn’s magic to a nonmagical item – a weapon or a boat – by tracing the uvar rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the horn is destroyed, and the rune appears in blue on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Weapon. The weapon is now a rare magic weapon that requires attunement. It deals an extra 1d6 thunder damage to any target it hits. When you score a critical hit with the weapon, the target must succeed on a DC 17 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.
  • Boat. The boat is now a rare magic item. Nothing short of total destruction can capsize the vessel.
Horseshoe of the Ferd Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This horseshoe is made from black steel and connected to a chain so it can be worn around the neck. The ferd (journey) rune is emblazoned in green on the item. The horseshoe has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Born to Journey. You and up to six other creatures you choose who travel within 60 feet of you can travel for 12 hours a day before having to make a Constitution saving throw against exhaustion.

Fleet Feet. Your walking speed increases by 5 feet.

Safe Place. You can spend 1 hour creating a permanent teleportation circle on a firm surface without using any material components. Once this circle is created you can spend another hour moving it to a new location on a firm surface of your choice. There can only be one permanent teleportation circle created by this item in existence at a time. When you attune to the item, a previous permanent teleportation circle created by a previously attuned creature disappears.

Gift of Travel. You can transfer the horseshoe’s magic to a nonmagical item – a suit of barding for a mount or a pair of boots – by tracing the ferd rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the horseshoe is destroyed, and the rune appears in green on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Barding. The barding is now an uncommon magic item. A mount wearing this barding can gallop for up to 8 hours before needing to slow down or be swapped out.
  • Boots. The boots are now a rare magic item that requires attunement. You gain a climbing speed and a swimming speed equal to your walking speed while you wear them.
Skull of the Hellig Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This human skull is gilded. A black hellig (sacred) rune is emblazoned on its top. The skull has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Religious Expert. You have advantage on Intelligence (Religion) checks.

Reveal Truths. You can cast the following spells without expending any material components (spell save DC 17): augury, detect evil and good, divination, and zone of truth. After casting a spell from the skull, you must complete a long rest before you can cast the same spell from the skull again.

Gift of Sacred Ground. You can transfer the skull’s magic to a place by tracing the hellig rune there with your finger. The point where you trace it becomes the center of a spherical area of magic that has a 100-foot radius. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the skull to be within 5 feet of you. At the end, the skull is destroyed, and the whole area is under the effect of a hallow spell (spell save DC 17) that cannot be dispelled by normal means. You choose all of the spell’s variables.

Stone of the Fjell Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This rough-hewn, gray stone is six inches around. It is carved with a deep fjell (mountain) rune. The stone has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Create Tunnel. If you spend 1 minute touching a solid surface, at the end of that minute a circular hole opens in the surface that is up to 10 feet in diameter and 100 feet long. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Fists of Stone. You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls with unarmed attacks.

Mountain’s Strength. You have advantage on Strength saving throws.

Gift of the Mountain. You can transfer the stone’s magic to a nonmagical item – a belt or a pair of goggles – by tracing the fjell rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the stone is destroyed, and the rune appears in gray on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Belt. The belt is now a rare magic item that requires attunement. While you wear it, you can cast stoneskin on yourself as an action requiring no material components and no concentration. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
  • Goggles. The pari of goggles is now a rare magic item that requires attunement. While you wear the goggles, you can use an action to force one creature that can see you to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the creature is instantly petrified. Otherwise, a creature that fails the save begins to turn to stone and is restrained. The restrained creature must repeat the saving throw at the end of its next turn, becoming petrified on a failure or ending the effect on a success. The petrification lasts until the creature is freed by the greater restoration spell or other magic. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
Toe of the Haug Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This preserved pinky toe of a hill giant is shriveled with age. It is 2 feet long and 1 foot thick. A red haug (hill) rune is carved into the bottom of the toe. The toe has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Giant Grass. As an action you touch a point on the ground and grass 10 feet tall grows in a 10-foot-square area centered on that point. Creatures in the grass are heavily obscured. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Healing Meal. As an action you can consume a nonmagical, Tiny or smaller object held by you and regain 2d4+4 hit points. The object you consume is destroyed. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a long rest.

Hurl Earth. As action you can dig up a chunk of dirt from soft earth and hurl it as a weapon with which you are proficient. The earth petrifies mid throw and becomes a rock. The rock deals 1d10 bludgeoning damage and has the thrown (20/60) property.

Gift of the Hill. You can transfer the toe’s magic to a nonmagical item – a pair of boots or a cloak – by tracing the haug rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the toe is destroyed, and the rune appears in red on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Boots. The pair of boots is now an uncommon magic item that requires attunement. While you wear the boots, you can use your action to stomp on the ground and release a shockwave in a 20-foot radius. Each creature touching the ground in the area (except for you) must succeed on a DC 17 Strength saving throw or be pushed 30 feet into the air and then fall back to the ground and land prone. A creature who fails this saving throw takes 10 (3d6) bludgeoning damage from the fall. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
  • Cloak. The cloak is now an uncommon magic item that requires attunement. While you wear it, you gain a burrowing speed equal to your walking speed.
Vial of the Blod Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This clear crystal, needle-tipped vial is seems the appropriate size for a Medium or Small creature. The giants who crafted them liked this smaller size because it made the vials easier to conceal. The vial is marked with a red blod (blood) rune. The vial has the following properties.

Charm of Blood. As an action you can draw the blood of a creature by touching the empty vial to it. The vial momentarily numbs the area of the body from which the blood is drawn. To do this without being noticed you must make a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check opposed by the target’s Wisdom (Perception) check. If you drink all the creature’s blood from the vial as an action within 24 hours of drawing it, that creature must succeed on a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw or it is charmed by you for 4 hours or until you or your companions do anything harmful to it. The charmed creature regards you as a friendly acquaintance. When the effect ends, the creature knows it was charmed by you. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a long rest.

Impersonate Other. As an action you can draw the blood of a creature who is the same size and type as you by touching the empty vial to it. The vial momentarily numbs the area of the body from which the blood is drawn. To do this without being noticed you must make a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check opposed by the target’s Wisdom (Perception) check. If you drink all the creature’s blood from the vial as an action within 24 hours of drawing it, your physical appearance changes to match that of the target’s. All of your equipment and statistics stay the same. This change lasts 6 hours, or until you dismiss it as an action. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a long rest.

Vial Weapon. You can wield the vial as a melee weapon with which you are proficient. The vial deals 1d4 piercing damage and has the light and finesse properties. When you make an attack and deal damage with the vial you can use your reaction to regain a number of hit points equal to the damage you dealt to the creature. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Gift of Blood. You can transfer the vial’s magic to a nonmagical item – a melee weapon or a diamond – by tracing the blood rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the vial is destroyed, and the rune appears in red on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Diamond. The diamond is now a blod stone (see Storm King’s Thunder Appendix B). The blood of the creature inside the blod stone is the same blood from the same creature that was inside the vial when the transfer took place. If the vial is empty when attempting to transfer the magic to a diamond, the transfer cannot be completed.
  • Weapon. The weapon is now an uncommon magic weapon. When you make an attack and deal damage with the weapon you can use your reaction to regain a number of hit points equal to the damage you dealt to the creature. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

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This article first appeared in Johnn Four‘s Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #696.

It is time to put on your acting hat. Roleplaying NPC Mannerisms Part I revealed the importance of distinct, specific non-player character mannerisms. When a great game master inhabits an NPC, the character’s physical and verbal mannerisms help set it apart from the rest, reveal motivations, hint at history, and create a richer story.

This article builds upon the first by providing four NPC archetypes with corresponding physical and verbal mannerisms. Use the advice from that first article combined with the archetypes found here to roleplay NPCs to perfection.

How to Use These Archetypes

The descriptions and examples in this article are meant to be used as a base for creating NPCs. If you are a beginner GM or uncomfortable with acting, you can just follow the bullet points given at the end of each archetype and you will play a great character.

If you are an experienced GM who has been playing NPCs for years, use the bullet points but add one or more mannerisms each time you roleplay an NPC of that archetype. Make it a different mannerism each time to set Town Guard #1 apart from Town Guard #2. The players will definitely remember that #1 is a nose picker and #2 stutters.

Accents are always optional, but you are encouraged to give them a shot. Who cares if they are not perfect? You’re doing this for fun. If you do not quite nail the Ks of a Russian accent, no one is going to fire you. No one can even question your accent if you’re playing in a fantasy world. So what if your Spanish accent sounds like a combination of Bulgarian and Australian? Those countries do not exist in the world you create. That is just the accent of a person from Breland! Accents get better with practice, so feel free to go all out.

The most important guideline of all is to have fun with NPC mannerisms. The more you enjoy playing an NPC, the more the players will enjoy interacting with you. If you are having a blast playing your characters, your players will be more enthusiastic about playing theirs. As the GM, you set the tone for the game. If you appear awkward and forced, the entire game will feel that way. So relax – you are among friends and playing a tabletop roleplaying game. That is the best. Enjoy it!

Ancient Evil

Gods, demons, aliens, and other ancient evils often appear in our games. These superpowers should make your players quake with awe and fall to their knees…or at least convince them these are forces to be reckoned with.

Matt Mercer, professional voice actor and the GM of the hit web series Critical Role, did an amazing job playing the shadow demon Orthax. Mercer enters, leans quite far over the screen, and sticks his neck out with his head forward and up. This gives him a strange, unsettling appearance. While he is physically lower than the players, the position of his head suggests utter confidence. This unnatural posture immediately translates to otherworldly. The confidence of his tilted head suggests a powerful being who knows its capabilities.

Then Mercer speaks as Orthax. He brings his voice into a low register, which screams power. He adds a growl to his voice and some heavy breathing at the end of his sentences. These vocal qualities inform the players of the danger Orthax poses and his evil nature. They also give anyone hearing the voice the impression this being is just at the edge of its control. It could snap at any moment and unleash its otherworldly fury on the PCs.

When playing an ancient evil:

  • Lean far forward
  • Stick out your neck and raise your head
  • Speak in a very low register
  • Add a growl and heavy breathing to your voice

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement personnel are police officers, space marines, and town guards. They are in gatehouses, towers, streets, prisons, bars, and more, keeping the peace, taking a bribe, and chasing after thieves. These NPCs are often among the first a party of adventurers meets in a settlement. They provide information and directions.

Roleplaying them can be a pretty uninteresting encounter, but only if you play them as uninteresting people.

Let’s take another look at Matt Mercer. In this clip he’s playing a town guard in episode 1 of Critical Role. He first describes a pair of city watch dwarves observing the PCs. Immediately after describing them, Mercer takes on the physical posture of one guard. He mimes holding a spear comfortably, with a relaxed bent arm, and leans back. The NPC’s posture indicates he is comfortable with his weapon and at ease in his own city. Law enforcement should feel comfortable within the walls of cities where they wield authority.

When he opens his mouth to speak as one of the guards, the real magic begins. He leans back even further to show how relaxed the guard is even when talking to a group of well-armed strangers. His volume is a bit louder than normal, and his voice is steady and confident. It is a clear display of authority without being threatening. After all, the guard has no reason to distrust the adventurers at the moment.

As the guard speaks, he uses big arm movements. Mercer extends his arms fully to point to various landmarks and tilts his head in the opposite direction of his hand to give the impression his arms are even longer than they are. This action is another indicator of the guard being in his comfort zone. He has no fear that the adventurers or anyone else will accost him, so he feels fine leaving his arms wide open.

When playing law enforcement….

  • Lean back in a relaxed posture
  • Use big arm movements
  • Raise the volume of your voice
  • Keep your voice steady

Mercer sets his guard apart from the rest by making him a rather jovial fellow. He cocks his head to the side, indicating interest in the person he is speaking with, and lets the register of his voice get higher when the guard cracks a joke or gets excited. If you want a jovial town guard, add these mannerisms:

  • Tilt your head slightly to one side
  • Raise the register of your voice when you are excited

One final note on this scene. At the beginning of the encounter, Mercer briefly portrays both guards speaking to one another. You can tell them apart become he leans one way and speaks with a high voice before turning around to face the opposite direct and lowering his vocal register to be the other guard. It is simple and genius. A quick turn and a deeper voice make all the difference between the two.

Seducer

Seducers are manipulators who exude sex appeal. They are the kind of people who are attractive to everyone in some way. They are great performers, con artists, politicians, and business people. These NPCs can wrap anyone around their little fingers, and use their good looks and beguiling wit to make others do their dirty work.

We turn to the GM of GMs, Chris Perkins. In this clip from a 2012 Pax Acquisitions Inc. game, Perkins plays a seductress dark elf who convinces the plucky band of adventurers to steal gems for her. We hear her voice before we see any of her physical mannerisms, as she’s sneaking up on the PCs in the dark. It is husky and breathless, vocal qualities scientifically proven to be attractive. She speaks with a sultry lower tone, and to make things extra sexy, Perkins gives her a French accent (which is largely considered one of the world’s most romantic languages).

When she comes out of the shadows, Perkins displays the woman’s physical mannerisms. He tilts his head down slightly and looks up at the person he is talking to, which gives him a submissive air. When he speaks, he picks a specific individual to focus his attention on and keeps constant eye contact while leaning toward that person. This behavior makes a player feel singled out and special. An attractive person empowers them by giving undivided attention.

When playing a seducer….

  • Tilt your head down slightly
  • Focus your attention on each player one at a time
  • Lean toward the focus of your attention and maintain eye contact
  • Lower the tone of your voice
  • Make your voice husky and breathy
  • Use a French accent (optional)

Superior Intellectuals

Haughty wizards, know-it-all telepaths, and pedantic scientists are just a few of the people who fall into the superior intellectual archetype. They are the smartest people in the room and know it. Because of their smarts, these NPCs think themselves above every other living being. Odds are the players will cross paths with someone like as they seek an intelligent being to help them unravel some mystery.

Watch again as Chris Perkins portrays Flabbergast in the latest PAX Acquisitions, Inc. game. Like Mercer, he begins by describing the NPC. Then Perkins sticks out his neck just a bit so the rest his body is led by his head. This indicates he is intellectually focused. He then raises his chin and looks down his nose at the players, signaling Flabbergast’s belief that he is far more intelligent than the group. These physical mannerisms suggest a smart, conceited individual. They are enhanced by the fact that Perkins has chosen to stand. It literally puts him above the players.

Perkins then produces a voice which can only be described as nasally Alan Rickman. The nasal quality sells Flabbergast as an intellectual, and the low tone of voice mixed with disdain and condescension leaves no question that this wizard believes he is the smartest guy in the room.

The superior intellectual keeps his movements small and close. In general, these people are untrusting of others because everyone else is too stupid to do anything right. Perkins keeps his wrists loose and close to his body as he pets a phantom cat, or keeps his hands folded in front of him. These movements suggest the wizard is guarded, untrusting, and physically unimpressive.

When playing superior intellectuals…

  • Lead with your head
  • Tilt your chin up
  • Lower your voice
  • Use a nasally voice with condescension and disdain
  • Use small, weak movements
  • Stand (optional)

Flabbergast’s cat is a nice touch. It demonstrates the wizard prefers the company of animals to people and makes him an instantly distinct and memorable NPC.

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This article first appeared in Johnn Four‘s Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #693.

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Memorable non-player characters are distinct. Whether you created an NPC or it came out of a published adventure, it is up to you as game master to make each quest giver, tavern goer, and orc slaver different from the rest.

The key to creating a believable, distinct cast lies in your performances. This might seem daunting, especially since every other player at the table has only one character to worry about while you have dozens.

The truth is, even the least accomplished actors can create great NPCs by relying on mannerisms. With a little prep and some simple acting tricks I’ll supply you with today, you will play princesses and warlords with equal confidence, and your players will no longer confuse the innkeeper at the Dancing Goat with the bartender at the Ugly Banshee.

Importance of Mannerisms

Mannerisms are qualities that distinguish one character from another. These qualities must be actionable and can be displayed visually or audibly. A soft spot for animals or a short temper are not mannerisms. The way a nearsighted old woman gets close to someone’s face whenever she has a conversation is. The actions of your NPCs are just as important a part of their characterization as their internal thoughts, emotions, and ambitions.

NPCs are remembered in large part because of their mannerisms, not because they have a good heart or a conservative agenda. Yoda would be just one of many weird aliens if he didn’t speak backwards. Players get to know the intimate thoughts of NPCs over time, but mannerisms create first and lasting impressions.

Distinctions

Just like real life, people remember the superficial about others they know only as acquaintances. Giving every NPC one or more distinct mannerisms will help your players draw distinctions between them. If you present one knight as blonde and another as brunette, it is difficult for players to know the difference between them since one actor is playing both characters (unless you bring wigs to your games!). But if you give one knight an accent and the other a stutter, the players will not only instantly be able to tell the knights apart throughout the entire interaction, they will also recognize the duo and remember who is who the next time they come upon the couple if you reintroduce those mannerisms.

Draw Players In

Mannerisms do more for your game than help players distinguish between and remember NPCs. They give your players a better idea of the person before them and hint at backstory, internal thoughts, and hidden emotions. A teen who constantly wrings his hands has a mannerism that indicates he’s a worrywart, even though his words may show a tough exterior.

These little indicators give your players a more subtle, complex view of the NPCs. Ultimately, it creates layered characters who are well-rounded. In turn, those NPCs provide a richer story experience to all involved in the game.

Diversity

If you want a believable story, NPC mannerisms will help create a diverse world that mimics our own. Think of the people you interact with every day. Their physical and verbal behaviors immediately spring to mind. If you want your NPCs to become real people in the minds of your players, then mannerisms are the answer. No person is a perfect robot who simply recites box text.

Fun

The final reason you should be ready to give every NPC distinct mannerisms – fun. Acting is a huge part of role-playing games. It is right there in the name. If you give each NPC a mannerism or two, you will have a better time playing the role and the players will have more fun interacting with the character.

If you are not having a blast playing the NPC, players will know it and become as bored with your performance as you are. Having a few mannerisms to draw on will ease your mind and help you become the NPC.

Mannerisms give you ways of acting that are entertaining to perform and watch.

Types of Mannerisms

There are two main types of mannerisms you can play comfortably at a table: physical and verbal.

Physical – Physicalities and Behaviors

Physicalities are mannerisms that affect the ways NPCs carry themselves. Perfect posture, slumped shoulders, and a cocked head for example. They define the way an NPC moves and sits. They are the first characteristics of any NPC noticed by the players, so set yourself up for success by choosing the right way to sit or stand before you even open your mouth to speak as that person.

Behaviors are physical actions your NPCs take that can be both conscious and unconscious. Facial twitching, nail biting, head scratching, finger-pointing, and more fall under the category of behaviors. Remember to keep these behaviors consistent and don’t give up. If you want mannerisms to do their job and help define the NPC, commitment is key.

Verbal – Accents, Tones, and Speech Patterns

Of all the mannerisms out there, it seems accents are the most intimidating to GMs. It makes sense. Some professional actors work for years on a specific accent and still can’t quite nail the sound. You don’t need to worry the way those actors do.

For one thing, you are doing this for fun. If you do not quite nail the Rs in an Irish brogue, the studio is not going to fire you. Odds are your players will not notice or care. If you’re playing in a fantasy world, no one can even question your accent. So what if your French accent sounds like a combination of German and Italian? Those countries do not exist in the world. What your players are hearing is the accent of a person from Waterdeep!

Tones help define your NPCs’ voices beyond accents. If all dwarves in your world speak with a Scottish brogue, then it will be difficult to tell every dwarf apart. But if the dwarf king has a high, nasally voice while the captain of the guard has a scratchy, gruff voice and the chief alchemist has a deep, soulful voice, then you’ve got some definition between each.

Speech patterns define the rhythms and habits NPCs have while speaking. Using as few words as possible, being extra loquacious, always using a particular turn of phrase, or turning every statement into a question are all examples of speech pattern mannerisms. Just like physical behaviors, commitment to speech patterns is key in using them to help define the NPC.

Inspiration for Mannerism Creation

While you can think about many NPCs and assign them mannerisms during your preparation time, it helps to have a list of mannerisms at your side for those times the players go somewhere unexpected and you find yourself creating on the spot. It even helps to have the same list with you during preparation time so you can remember mannerisms as you create NPCs.

Fiction

One of the first places to draw inspiration from is fiction. Your favorite movies, television shows, books, comics, and more are full of distinct characters. Ask yourself what specific mannerisms you love about your favorite characters. Copy those mannerisms down in a list.

When drawing from books and comic books in particular, do not be afraid to go back and read your favorite dialogue scenes aloud. As you do, get into it and really become the characters. You will find yourself giving them physicalities you did not picture in your head. That is more you can mine for your game. Add them to the list!

Real Life

Pull from real life too. The people you see every day at work and your family are some of the best places to pull from because you know them so well. Many people pull from the mannerisms of old teachers and professors, since so much time is spent observing them as they lecture. Celebrities and politicians are a gold mine for unique mannerisms. Go ahead and write all the ones you can think of on your list.

Mix & Match

Once you have your list, remember that you probably do not want to recreate a character who already exists in fiction or real life. It might seem fun to make a real estate mogul who sounds exactly like Donald Trump, but your portrayal could turn your game into a Saturday Night Live sketch.

If your NPC superhero The Terrific Tarantula-Man is exactly like Spidey, the similarities will remind your players they are playing a game in a fictional world and break the immersion.

Mix and match mannerisms to create totally new people.

Imagine an old lady with Professor Xavier’s accent plus Wolverine’s cigar-smoking habit and liberal use of the word “bub,” and you’ve got yourself quite a character!

Let each new mannerism you add to your list inspire others. Maybe you remember your father always runs his fingers through his hair. As you write down this mannerism, it could bring new ones to mind, like people who pull at their arm hair or constantly brush their hair out of their eyes. Add them to the list.

Once you have a full list, you can use it to make a random NPC mannerism table like the one found at the end of this article.

Playing Mannerisms

The key to pulling off effective NPC mannerisms is your level of comfort acting them out. The less nervous and more committed you are to the mannerisms, the better you inhabit the entire character. Even if you’re not one of those GMs who did improv in high school, you can be an amazing storyteller who inhabits many different people by taking a breath, telling yourself all you do is for fun, and really going for it.

If you’re not an actor or experienced GM, start small. Assign NPCs mannerisms you feel comfortable playing and only put the same sort on your random table.

Give each NPC just one distinct mannerism to start, so you don’t have to worry about scratching your head and making up nonsense curses at the same time. One mannerism is enough to make a memorable NPC.

If you’re picking a physical mannerism, make sure it is one you can do comfortably for a few minutes without hurting yourself. Remember this is for your own enjoyment as well.

Practice

Practice your NPC mannerisms to get comfortable. If you know your PCs are going to meet with someone from your cast and you already assigned that NPC a mannerism, say impromptu lines in that character’s voice as part of your preparation. Try to have the interaction the NPC might have with the characters during the game. If you cannot think of anything to say, grab your favorite book and read a passage aloud as the NPC for practice.

Specificity

The more specific you can make a mannerism, the better. If the characters meet an old wizard who strokes his long beard, decide exactly how this movement occurs. A raised pinky with a twisting wrist is distinct, memorable, and says a lot about the wizard’s personality. The pinky suggests he’s got a proper upbringing in a noble house while the twisting wrists might give away he’s a bit of a nervous nelly.

If you were to rub your chin a different way each time the PCs meet this wizard, the mannerism is not as effective or fun to play.

[Comment from Johnn: take a selfie while practicing the mannerism to remind yourself how to portray NPC in the future.]

Even if you’re creating an NPC on the spot, take a moment to think about how the character would execute its mannerisms and get specific with your movements, tone of voice, vocal patterns, and posture to really give unique performances.

Commitment

Commitment is the second most important factor when it comes to NPC mannerisms. If you are comfortable with acting this will come easy, but you can force yourself to commit if you are feeling a little nervous. Go ahead and do that accent full on or pick your nose with gusto in front of your friends. Maintain the mannerism throughout the entire interaction and see what a difference it makes.

Dropping a mannerism partway through an interaction because you are uncomfortable will not do anybody any good. When it comes to NPC mannerisms, if you are going to do it, do it all the way and do not look back until the NPC makes an exit.

Don’t Be Perfect

The most important factor in displaying the mannerisms of your NPCs is fun. If you remind yourself your accents do not need to be perfect, that it is fine to laugh at yourself, and you should relish playing the NPCs, using mannerisms in your games will be some of the most fun you and your players have at the table.

How Matt Mercer Portrays a Maiden

Take a look at this video of Matt Mercer playing an NPC in the Geek & Sundry special, “D&Diesel.” In addition to being the fantastic GM of the web series “Critical Role,” Mercer is also a professional voice actor. He knows how to inhabit any NPC on the spot, even when he is under the pressure of playing with Vin Diesel on camera.

In the clip provided, Mercer plays a distressed maiden. He begins with a quick description of the character and then immediately begins enacting her physical mannerisms before speaking as the maiden. He slumps his shoulders and sticks his head out, leaning forward on the table to give the maiden a round-shouldered, frightened appearance.

Mercer then quickly darts his eyes all around the table, looking each of his players in the eye without moving his head. He does not allow his eyes to focus on any one player, but keeps them moving as he speaks. We know based on posture and the behavior of her eyes the NPC is terrified before she even opens her mouth.

Given Mercer’s career, the characterization and mannerisms become even sharper when he speaks. He has chosen a higher register to indicate the character is a young woman, but to make her distinct from other NPC young ladies and give her a deeper emotional feel, he gives her a breathy voice. She takes her time speaking with huge breaths between each sentence. These verbal mannerisms suggest a meek nature. When those verbal mannerisms are coupled with the physical, the character becomes unique, distinct, and interesting. Mercer throws in a British accent for good measure, medieval feel, and further distinction.

As the woman becomes more scared or confused, her mannerisms become bigger and more erratic. Her eyes dart more, her breathy voice almost sounds like she just ran a mile as she swallows air, her posture becomes even meeker, and her vocal pitch approaches the height of Mercer’s range. Our own real-life mannerisms tend to become more obvious when we are in an excited state because we lose a bit of control, so Mercer does that with his NPCs. Keep that in mind as your NPCs get joyful, terrified, surprised, and angry.

As the clip continues, Mercer reveals this young woman is not quite what she seems. She is a hag eager to sacrifice the player characters to her sister. As her motives change, Mercer keeps the NPC’s original verbal and physical mannerisms, but changes her attitude. This keeps her recognizable, but her new attitude changes the meaning behind the mannerisms.

Her hunched posture suggests her twisted, evil form. The hag’s darting eyes have a crazed wickedness to them. The voice is still high and breathy, but the breathing is more controlled, suggesting seductive evil rather than meek terror. All the mannerisms are still a part of the NPC’s portrayal. The character is the same, but her emotional state has completely changed.

In summary, here are the mannerisms Mercer used to play an elf maiden. You can think of the mannerisms listed below as a sort of stat block. Try creating these for your NPCs.

Maiden Mannerism List
  • Slump shoulders
  • Stick out neck
  • Dart eyes constantly
  • High voice
  • Breathy voice
  • British accent (optional)

Mannerism Table

If your game is tonight and you need some random mannerisms right now, we’ve got you covered. Use the table below to get started, and ignore or change any of the mannerisms you do not want to play.

Choose or flip a coin to decide if you want to give your NPC a physical or verbal mannerism and then roll on the appropriate table.

If you are an experienced GM who already plays an NPC mannerism comfortably, roll once (or more) on each table.

Physical Mannerisms

The NPC…

  1. has perfect posture
  2. slumps his/her shoulders
  3. picks his/her nose
  4. scratches his/her head
  5. clears his/her throat often
  6. blinks more than the normal person
  7. cannot look anyone in the eye
  8. is a close talker
  9. cracks his/her knuckles
  10. bites his/her nails
  11. picks at his/her ears
  12. runs his/her fingers through his/her hair
  13. inhales deeply before speaking
  14. rubs his/her chin
  15. stares without blinking for long periods of time
  16. breathes heavily
  17. cannot sit still
  18. has a face that cannot stop twitching
  19. belches uncontrollably
  20. constantly rubs his/her own shoulder
Verbal Mannerisms

The NPC…

  1. has a scratchy voice
  2. has a deep voice
  3. has a high voice
  4. uses the phrase over and over
  5. ends all sentences with a phrase that make them a questions (e.g. “you know?” or “do you follow?”)
  6. creates nonsense cuss words
  7. has a smooth, soulful voice
  8. has a Germanic accent similar to German/Russian
  9. has a Romance language accent similar to Spanish/Italian/French
  10. repeats whatever is said to him back before responding
  11. uses only gender neutral pronouns
  12. calls everyone by the wrong name
  13. stutters
  14. uses the same nickname for everyone
  15. has an American Southern accent
  16. speaks only in short sentences or nods
  17. uses far more words than necessary
  18. says “umm” for a long time before speaking
  19. speaks rapidly
  20. over-enunciates everything

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Quick announcement: The meaty World Builder Blog posts will now come every Thursday, since episodes of Have Spellbook, Will Travel drop on Wednesdays and I don’t want to overload you.

Time for even more aberrations!

A few weeks ago I made the case for needing more high challenge rating aberrations than the ones in the Monster Manual for my soon-to-be-published Exploration Age campaign setting. There’s only 19 total aberration stat blocks in the book, and the highest CR is 14 (beholder in lair), so you might want some more aberrations for your world too! That’s why I’m sharing them on this blog.

In that post I showed off the Lovecraft-inspired moonbeast. Then in a later post I presented my hound of Tindalos and after that my gug. In this post I’m showing off my fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons version of the dimensional shambler!

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rich Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rich Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

Dimensional Shambler

Dimensional shamblers are 5-foot tall hairless beasts of humanoid form. Tight grey and red skin binds their unnerving crouched form. Their hands sport cruel claws and their almost simian head can open terrifyingly wide to reveal rows of canine teeth. Very little is known about their motivations, but theories abound.

Hunters of Intelligent Life. Dimensional shamblers cross the multiverse using their innate plane-shifting abilities looking for prey. While no one is certain what exactly attracts shamblers to a particular prey, they seem to be drawn to intelligent humanoids who use magic to travel to and summon creatures from other planes. While such victims appear to be a shambler’s preferred target, they are known to abduct any creature with above animal intelligence. A shambler can spend years tracking a single target.

Soul-Devouring Torturers. While dimensional shamblers are powerful combatants and known to kill large groups of humanoids, they much prefer to drag off a single intelligent creature from a fight. They will carry these victims to forgotten corners of the multiverse and bathe them in a ooze-like substance called gray mire. The gray mire painfully devours and nourishes a victim over the course of weeks as the shambler watches, never resting. Eventually the victim’s body is completely destroyed by the mire, leaving only their soul which is devoured by the shambler.

Power in Numbers. While dimensional shamblers often work alone, they do cross paths in the multiverse. Sometimes these horrors agree to work together to capture prey. A strange bond forms between shamblers who agree to work together, increasing each’s power exponentially.

Dimensional Shambler

Medium aberration, chaotic evil


Armor Class 17 (natural armor)

Hit Points 171 (18d8 + 90)

Speed 30 ft.


STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
20 (+5)  16 (+3) 20 (+5) 10 (+0) 14 (+2) 20 (+5)

Saving Throws Dex +7, Int +4, Wis +6, Cha +9

Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons

Damage Immunities psychic

Condition Immunities exhaustion, charmed

Skills Perception +6, Stealth +7, Survival +7

Senses truesight 120 ft. passive perception 16

Languages Deep Speech, telepathy 120 ft.

Challenge 12 (8,400 XP)


Aggressive Plane Shift. When the shambler casts plane shift any creatures it is grappling must succeed on a DC 17 Charisma saving throw or be teleported with the shambler. If the shambler is touching an unconscious creature when it casts this spell, that creature is automatically transported with the shambler.

Hypnotic Presence. Creatures who start their turns within 30 feet of the shambler and can see the creature must succeed on a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw or become paralyzed for 1 minute. A paralyzed creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the shambler’s Hypnotic Presence (and the hypnotice presence of all dimensional shamblers) for the next 24 hours.

Spellcasting. The shambler’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 17). The shambler can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:

At-will: dimension door, misty step

3/day: dominate monsterplane shift, telekinesis

Strength in Numbers. The DC of the shambler’s spells and Hypnotic Presence ability increases by 1 (to a maximum of 20) for every other dimensional shambler within 100 feet on the same plane.

Actions

Multiattack. The shambler can make three attacks: two with its claws, and one with its bite.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 16 (2d10 + 5) piercing damage.

Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d6 + 5) slashing damage and the target is grappled (escaped DC 17). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained and the shambler can’t use its claws to attack another target.

Create Gray Mire. The shambler touches any 10-foot-square area of natural ground such as dirt, stone, grass, sand, or ice and it becomes a 5-f00t-deep pool of gray mire. Creatures who enter or start their turns in the area must succeed on a DC 17 Constitution saving throw or become paralyzed for 24 hours. During this time the gray mire nourishes them, so they don’t need to eat, sleep, or breathe, but it also eats away at their flesh, dealing 1 necrotic damage which cannot be reduced in anyway. The target’s hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the damage taken effect. This reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest outside of a pool of gray mire. If a creature’s hit point maximum is reduced to 0 by this effect, it is consumed by the pool and any dimensional shamblers nearby regain 171 hit points. At the end of 24 hours of being paralyzed, the creature must succeed on another DC 17 Constitution saving throw or suffer the same effect if it still in the pool.

The pool counts as difficult terrain. Creatures who start their turn in the pool or enter the pool on their turn must succeed on a DC 17 Strength saving throw or become grappled by the mire until the start of their next turn. A creature who is in the pool can be pulled out of it by another creature not in the pool who can reach the creature in the pool with a DC 17 Strength check made as an action. Being pulled from the pool ends any grappled or paralyzed condition caused by the mire.

Dimensional shamblers are immune to the effects of the gray mire.

PDF

Would you like this Lovecraftian beastie to threaten your players’ characters? Grab it now in its own PDF or alongside a lot of Exploration Age’s monsters! Like the icebreaker shark, gaping maw, morchia, and mystauk.

Dimensional Shambler

All Monsters

If you liked these creatures be sure to check out my other offerings in the Free Game Resources section of this site and my Pay What You Want products on the DMs Guild for backgrounds, magic items, optional rules, and more.

Playtest it up!

Now I ask you my readers to please go forth and test this nasty. Throw it at your players and see how they fare! If you have any feedback for my monster please leave it in the comments below or email me (james.introcaso@gmail.com). If you tell me your name and the names of your players I’ll give you credit as playtesters in the Exploration Age Campaign Guide!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

This is a guest post from Geoffrey Winn, host of the amazing Appendix N Podcast on The Tome Show network. Geoff was on a recent episode of my podcast, The Round Table, where we chatted about what it would take to create a Middle-earth campaign setting for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. That conversation inspired this series of posts here on World Builder Blog. If you enjoy this post, check out Part I: Introduction and the Region of EriadorPart II: WilderlandPart III: Gondor, Rohan, and MordorPart IV: Other Places, Other Times, and Part V: The Lords of Middle-earth.

Part VI: The Lords of Middle-earth – The Mannish Races248px-Aragorn2

Give me some men who are stout-hearted men,

Who will fight, for the right they adore.

Throughout this blog I have talked about Men more than any other race, and so you may be wondering what there is left to say. Why an entire article? Despite J. R. R. Tolkien’s most famous novels being from the point of view of hobbits and despite The Silmarillion being mostly about the Elves, it is Men who dominate Middle-earth. From the Second Age onward, it is Men who drive history forward and define the political landscape.

Tolkien preferred to use the terms “Man,” “Men” and “Mannish” (yes, a real word in the dictionary and everything) when talking about the human race. He probably preferred to use these words because of their German roots; he disliked anything having to do with Latin. These words apply to the entire race (i.e., “mankind), not just males. When talking about female humans, it is most appropriate to simply say “Women.” Always capitalize to make it clear you are talking about the race of Mortal Men and Women, not males and females of another race.

Was Tolkien a bit sexist? Probably. He was a conservative Catholic man who lived in the early 20th Century. Most of his friends and professional colleagues were probably men, and as critics will point out, female characters are few and far between in his works. All this is to say, if you find it inappropriate to say “Men” all the time in your roleplaying group, you can say “Mortals” or “Humans” or whatever you like. You don’t have to do it the way Tolkien did.

The Secondborn Children

When Eru Ilúvatar (a.k.a., “God”) created the world, he told the Valar about two races that would appear at some point in the world’s history – Elves and Men. The Valar were fascinated about these races, primarily because Eru had told them almost nothing about them. Just like fans waiting for their favorite author’s next book to come out, they went down into the world and eagerly waited untold numbers of years to see what they believed would be their Master’s finest creations.

Elves were interesting because they talked, and nothing had ever done that before. Elves wrote poetry and songs and built amazing things. To the Valar, they were like little siblings, sometimes rebellious, but still very close to themselves in nature.

Men were interesting because they did something the Elves did not do; they died. Despite the fact that plants and animals also died – and Elves, too, if you hit them hard enough – Men did it better than anything else the Valar had seen. Over and over again. In spectacular fashion. Death was called the “Gift of Men,” a gift from Ilúvatar to his Secondborn Children. When Elves died, their souls traveled to the Halls of Mandos, from which they could be revived. However, when Men died, they left the world entirely, and even the Valar did not know what happened to them.

Death, and the fear or acceptance of it, was a major theme in all of Tolkien’s writings; and I would argue it was a major theme in his life. By the age of 12, Tolkien had lost both of his parents. He fought in the Somme during the Great War, and by the end of that conflict, all but one of his friends was dead. His writing, his art, and his poetry was, among other things, an attempt to cope with the horrors of death.

It’s also important to remember Tolkien’s Catholic faith and that Tolkien’s stories are taking place in a world that predates Abraham. The ideas presented in the Bible about Heaven, sin, redemption, etc., haven’t been revealed to anyone yet, probably not even the Valar. This gives Morgoth (and later Sauron) ample opportunity to control Men through lies about death and what it means for their souls.

To play up this angle, Men in Middle-earth should be weak against necromancy and undead. They should have penalties to saves against fear effects, death effects, and anything that reminds them of their own mortality.

Men in the First Age – The Edain and the Easterlings

The stories of the First Age in The Silmarillion pretty much exclusively take place in Beleriand. Tolkien describes Men migrating west from Hildórien, a place to the far east that does not appear on any map. Presumably the Middle-earth we know from the Third Age lies to the east of Beleriand, but none of the nations we know of exist yet. Outside of Beleriand there are simply primitive tribes of Men wandering about, running away from monsters and Elves alike.

Within Beleriand, we have two primary groups. The Edain are the first to arrive, and they eventually split into three houses – The House of Bëor, the House of Haleth, and the House of Marach. Most of the Mannish heroes of The Silmarillion come from the House of Bëor; they are your typical strong, wise hero-types. The House of Haleth are reclusive forest-folk. The House of Marach are tall, blonde and warlike. As a whole, the Edain are generally good people, loyal to Elves, and enemies of Morgoth.

“Edain” is the plural; “Adan” is the singular.

The Easterlings seem to have arrived in Beleriand later, and they were mostly (though not entirely) servants of Morgoth. Confusingly, the Easterlings of the First Age have nothing to do with the Easterlings of the Third Age, described in previous blog articles. These Easterlings are also called Swarthy Men because they had dark skin, eyes and hair. They come across as more brutish and less cultured than the Edain, typical of Tolkien’s “bad guy” races.

Because everything about the First Age is bigger, badder, more epic, Men of the First Age should start out with extra hit dice, levels, ability score bonuses, or all three. They should be less powerful than the godlike Elves, but they should still be able to stand up to giant monsters. Men of the First Age generally serve an Elf-lord, and they would go on missions for him. They may be outlaws, like Túrin Turambar; or, like the House of Haleth, they may be trying to fend for themselves in a small community in the wilderness.

Men of the West – The Númenóreans and the Dúnedain

As a reward of their service to the Elves, the Edain were blessed with longer lives, greater physical attributes, and they were given the island of Númenor to rule. Eventually, the Númenóreans built ships and explored the entire world, creating a vast empire. The fear of death was their downfall. Even with their long lives, the Númenóreans grew jealous of the immortal Elves. Sauron lied and manipulated the last King of Númenor into sailing west in an attempt to conquer the Valar. As expected, this failed; Númenor was destroyed. The survivors were either Dúnedain (good) or Black Númenóreans (evil).

Dúnedain culture was essentially a continuation of Númenórean culture. In the Third Age, they built two great kingdoms – Arnor and Gondor. As has already been covered elsewhere, the story of the Third Age is largely about how Sauron gradually ground these two kingdoms to dust, until they were almost too weak to oppose him… almost!

“Dúnedain” is the plural; “Dúnadan” is the singular.

The Black Númenóreans ruled the Havens of Umbar for a little over a thousand years into the Third Age. Although they’re not really mentioned after that time, it’s entirely possible that Black Númenórean villains were running around doing evil things right up until the War of the Ring, acting as a dark mirror to the Dúnedain. There were probably not very many of them, not enough to be whole nations unto themselves. Instead, imagine a few, small families clinging to their old, evil traditions, ruling the lesser Men of the South. The Mouth of Sauron is sometimes interpreted as being a Black Númenórean.

All three of these groups – the Númenóreans, the Dúnedain and the Black Númenoreans – should be considered their own race, separate from other Men. I will simply use “Dúnedain” to refer to all three of them. They should be given higher ability scores, extra feats and skills, bonuses to saving throws and the like. Their strengths and their lifespans seem to be partially tied to their own purity of spirit. In other words, a Dúnadan’s inner strength will manifest outwardly as physical strength, good looks, and long life. Dúnedain also seem to have a talent for magic, at least in the Second and early Third Age. Most of the colossal statues and cities in The Lord of the Rings were built by Dúnedain. Isildur was able to curse an entire civilization into 3000 years of undeath for betraying him.

Their fear of death is even more pronounced. Tolkien describes how the latter Númenórean kings and the Gondorian kings and stewards would sit and brood upon their own deaths, spending more time building elaborate tombs and monuments to themselves than ruling. Tolkien seemed to find “dotage” more appalling than death – the idea that a Man would continue to live long after losing his mental and physical abilities. To this end, Aragorn had the ability to choose the time of his own death, to simply will himself into the afterlife, to avoid this fate. It is possible that other Dúnedain had this ability, or even all of them.

Lesser Men of the Third Age

The Dúnedain used the term “Middle Men” or “Men of Twilight” to refer to other types of Men that weren’t actively trying to kill them – the Rohirrim, the Bree-folk, and the Men of Dale, to name a few. The enemies of the Dúnedain were called “Men of Darkness” or “Men of Shadow.”

Mechanically, there is no reason to differentiate between all these different peoples. Simply use the “Human” rules for your game. Add backgrounds, traits, skill bonuses, or whatever your system uses to suggest the culture they come from. The same thinking applies to the Edain and Easterlings of the First Age, although as previously mentioned they should be given extra hit dice or levels to reflect the dangerous world they live in.

The Woses, also called the Drûgs or the Drúedain, are a special category. They are ugly and brutish, which is unusual among Tolkien’s “good” races. They are present in all ages and live pretty much wherever there is a forest. Woses should be physically weak and not very adept with arcane magic, but they excel at stealth, forestry and druidic magic.

Hobbits are also possibly related to Men. They first appear in the Upper Anduin Vale in the middle of the Third Age, living very close to the fierce Northmen and the savage ancestors of Beorn. While traveling through Rohan, Merry Brandybuck notices that the language of the Rohirrim bears a striking similarity to the old language of the Hobbits – of course Tolkien would choose to make one of his heroes a language enthusiast like himself!

I hope this article has been enlightening and entertaining, and not too redundant. While I have talked about a lot of these subjects when covering the various realms inhabited by Men, I felt an article about Men as a race was still needed. My next article will be about Hobbits, Dwarves and whatever other races I can fit in!

Part I: Introduction and the Region of Eriador

Part II: Wilderland

Part III: Gondor, Rohan, & Mordor

Part IV: Other Places, Other Times

Part V: The Lords of Middle-earth

Listen to Geoffrey Winn discuss the literature that influenced the creation of D&D every month on the Appendix N Podcast on The Tome Show network!

Let’s make some more aberrations!

A few weeks ago I made the case for needing more high challenge rating aberrations than the ones in the Monster Manual for my soon-to-be-published Exploration Age campaign setting. There’s only 19 total aberration stat blocks in the book, and the highest CR is 14 (beholder in lair), so you might want some more aberrations for your world too! That’s why I’m sharing them on this blog.

In that post I showed off the Lovecraft-inspired moonbeast. Then in a later post I presented my hound of Tindalos. In this post I’m showing off my fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons version of the gug!

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rich Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rich Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

Gug

Gugs are fur-covered, vertically mouthed, bug-eyed, spindly limbed giants. These horrifying creatures are constantly hungry and able to fit in almost any space. The aberrations stalk deep underground tunnels for unsuspecting prey.

Driven by Hunger. The gugs’ strange metabolism means the beast is always hungry. As such these alien monsters eat anything that has flesh – living or undead. They will even eat another gug if starving, but the creatures are civilized and only resort to such actions when desperate.

Smart Stalkers. Gugs’ hunger keeps them on the prowl, making them dangerous hunters. Practiced gugs surprise their prey by using their odd, flexible anatomies to drop from impossibly high cave ceilings and leaping out of tiny crevasses. Gugs are used to feeling hungry, so they are patient when hunting, waiting for days clinging to a wall or shoved into a crack.

Cities of Gugs. Gugs live together in the deepest underground caverns in enormous cities of massive towers. A single king or queen has absolute control over the lives of all the other gugs in the city. When the gugs return to the city after a hunt, they must bring a portion of each kill to the monarch.

Gug

Huge aberration, chaotic evil


Armor Class 20 (natural armor)

Hit Points 262 (21d12 + 126)

Speed 50 ft., climb 50 ft.


STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
26 (+8)  20 (+5) 22 (+6) 14 (+2) 20 (+5) 14 (+2)

Saving Throws Dex +11, Int +8, Wis +11, Cha +12

Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons

Damage Immunities poison

Condition Immunities exhaustion, poisoned, prone

Skills Perception +11, Stealth +11, Survival +11

Senses darkvision 120 ft. passive perception 21

Languages Deep Speech, telepathy 120 ft.

Challenge 19 (22,000 XP)


Amorphous. The gug can move through a space as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing.

Fall Damage Immunity. The gug can fall any distance and does not take fall damage.

Horrifying Visage. Creatures who start their turns within 30 feet of the gug and can see the creature must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened of the gug for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the gug’s Horrifying Visage for the next 24 hours.

Magic Resistance. The gug has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Magic Weapons. The gug’s weapon attacks are magical.

Spider Climb. The gug can climb difficult surfaces, including upside down on ceilings, without needing to make an ability check.

Actions

Multiattack. The gug can make five attacks: four with its claws, and one attack with its bite or swallow.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +14 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 24 (3d10 + 8) piercing damage. If the target is a creature, it is grappled (escape DC 20). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained, and the gug can’t bite another target.

Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +14 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 21 (3d8 + 8) slashing damage.

Swallow. The gug makes one bite attack against a Medium or smaller target it is grappling. If the attack hits, the target is swallowed and the grapple ends. The swallowed target is blinded and restrained, it has total cover against attacks and other effects outside the gug. A swallowed creature takes 35 (10d6) acid damage at the start of its turn. If a swallowed creature dies as a result of taking acid damage from this ability, the gug regains 50 hit points.

If the gug takes 50 damage or more on a single turn from a creature inside it, the gug must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw at the end of that turn or regurgitate all swallowed creatures, which fall prone in a space within 10 feet of the gug. If the gug dies, a swallowed creature is no longer restrained by it and can escape from the corpse using 15 feet of movement, exiting prone.

PDF

Would you like this Lovecraftian beastie to threaten your players’ characters? Grab it now in its own PDF or alongside a lot of Exploration Age’s monsters! Like the icebreaker shark, gaping maw, morchia, and mystauk.

All Monsters

Gug

If you liked these creatures be sure to check out my other offerings in the Free Game Resources section of this site and my Pay What You Want products on the DMs Guild for backgrounds, magic items, optional rules, and more.

Playtest it up!

Now I ask you my readers to please go forth and test this nasty. Throw it at your players and see how they fare! If you have any feedback for my monster please leave it in the comments below or email me (james.introcaso@gmail.com). If you tell me your name and the names of your players I’ll give you credit as playtesters in the Exploration Age Campaign Guide!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

This is a guest post from Geoffrey Winn, host of the amazing Appendix N Podcast on The Tome Show network. Geoff was on a recent episode of my podcast, The Round Table, where we chatted about what it would take to create a Middle-earth campaign setting for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. That conversation inspired this series of posts here on World Builder Blog. If you enjoy this post, check out Part I: Introduction and the Region of EriadorPart II: WilderlandPart III: Gondor, Rohan, and Mordor, and Part IV: Other Places, Other Times.

Part V: The Lords of Middle-earth – The Valar, the Maiar, and the Elves

Now that I’ve described the geography of Middle-earth, I want to talk about the races – usually your first choice when making a character in Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder!

The structure of the next three articles is based loosely on the Lords of Middle-earth series for MERP. If you happen to come across these in a rummage sale or at a used bookstore, I highly recommend picking them up. They are, quite simply, game stats for every single named character in Tolkien’s legendarium. My favorite parts are the full biographies of all the Nazgûl – completely made up by the MERP writers of course, and highly controversial, but still fun to read.

The Valar

The Valar are the gods of Middle-earth. They are intangible spirits that wear bodies like clothes. Their name means “the Powers” in Elvish, which interestingly is also a term used for deities in the Planescape campaign setting for AD&D.

The Valar, their names, their origins, and their roles in the world, are described in the first two parts of The Silmarillion: the Ainulindalë and the Valaquenta. I’m going to avoid repeating all that information here. There are only 15 Valar (8 male, 7 female), and only one is evil. The eight greatest Valar are called the “Exalted,” and these should be presented first to new players who are unfamiliar with Middle-earth beyond the basics.

If you simply want to use the Valar the way you would use deities in any other D&D campaign, that is perfectly acceptable. You don’t have to look far to find listings of the Valar along with information that would be useful for a campaign, such as their portfolios, alignments, suggested domains, etc. There could be a Temple of Manwë in the middle of Minas Tirith with clerics who sell potions and scrolls at standard rulebook price. It’s your game, go for it!

However, if you are striving for a more “authentic” Middle-earth feel, it’s important to understand two things. One, Tolkien was a devout Catholic; and two, Middle-earth is supposed to be Earth in the distant past. The Valar are not simply stand-ins for pagan deities. There is only one true deity in Middle-earth, and that is the Biblical God, called “Eru Illúvatar” by the Elves. The Valar are really powerful angels who were so enamored of God’s Creation that they chose to dwell in the world, govern in God’s name, and protect the world from evil.

The Valar are not worshipped by people in Middle-earth, at least not people that Tolkien considered wise and educated. Most races and cultures probably do not know the Valar exist, or have sketchy knowledge at best. Of all the races, the Elves have dealt most closely with the Valar. Men only know what the Elves have chosen to tell them. Those races that serve Sauron (or Morgoth in the First Age) have probably been duped to believe that Sauron (or Morgoth) is the only true deity.

Among the races that “know better,” from Tolkien’s perspective, there does not appear to be much in the way of organized religion. What few religious ceremonies we know about are held outdoors, usually in a high place open to the sky, and conducted by someone the Valar have appointed to lead the ritual, usually a king. Wise Men of Gondor (and Númenor in the Second Age) probably viewed the Valar more like exalted teachers, to be revered for their knowledge and guiding examples, but not to be worshipped as deities.

The Maiar

With the Maiar, we begin to discuss beings that could actually appear with statblocks in your game. The Valar and the Maiar are really the same “race” of angelic spirits, but whereas there are only a few Valar and their roles are well-defined, there can be infinite numbers of Maiar. Where the Valar serve the role of “gods” in a D&D campaign, the Maiar can be any creature that would be classified as an outsider, elemental, fey, or incorporeal undead.

In The Lord of the Rings, we encounter several characters who are Maiar – Gandalf, Saruman, Sauron, the Balrog, Tom Bombadil and Goldberry. Aragorn has at least one ancestor who is a Maia: Melian, Queen of Doriath. She was cool. Look her up. From this list, we see that Maiar exist in many different forms and power levels. In general, however, the Maiar seem to be elemental or nature spirits. Since there are so many of them, and they can be tied to almost any object or idea, they actually seem to have a lot in common with the kami of Japanese mythology.

Like the Valar, the Maiar are intangible spirits who only wear bodies when they wish to be seen. Their physical forms are called fána. A powerful Maia might be able to shift between multiple fána, while a weaker Maia might only have one. Sauron had several forms in the First and Second Age, but by the time of The Lord of the Rings, he had used up his power and wasn’t able to take shape anymore (a theme in Tolkien’s writings: evil is wasteful).

The Five Wizards, the Istari, are a special case. These Maiar were hand-selected by the Valar and sent to Middle-earth with a specific mission – educate and advise the peoples of Middle-earth, prevent Sauron’s return to power, and do so without seeking rulership or power. The Wizards could only appear as old men; they could not go incorporeal. Their memories were altered in such a way that many of their powers were unavailable to them. They knew they were Maiar, but they only remembered their former lives in their dreams.

If you wish to include some of the more fantastic D&D races in your Middle-earth game, you could simply say they are very weak Maiar or half-Maiar. This works for planetouched races or any race with an elemental theme, such as the genasi, goliaths or aasimar. Tieflings could also work if you “re-skin” them as fire-themed Maiar, rather than fiends.

As NPCs, Maiar can serve as patrons to any spellcaster that requires one, such as D&D’s warlocks or Pathfinder’s witches and oracles. They make good quest-givers, since they have unusual needs and may have limited power away from their homes. They can also be interesting villains. One storyline in The Lord of the Rings Online featured a water-themed Maia, the Red Woman, who became corrupted and turned into a monster when her environment was polluted.

The Elves

J. R. R. Tolkien basically invented Elves as we know them today. Before Tolkien, Elves were diminutive creatures with butterfly wings that would mend your shoes or curdle your milk. Thanks to Tolkien, Elves are now badass immortal ninja warrior-poets.

It’s also safe to say that Elves would not be a core racial option in Dungeons & Dragons if it hadn’t been for Tolkien. Even so, D&D Elves are still a watered-down version of the originals. That may be okay for your campaign, especially if game balance is important to you. If you do decide to make your Elves more like Middle-earth Elves, you may want to consider a campaign where the entire party is Elves.

Tolkien’s Elves are immortal. They do not age beyond adulthood, and they cannot be killed by disease or poison, only violence or extreme grief. Elves’ souls are “bound to the world,” meaning even after they die, they do not go to Heaven. Their souls go to the Halls of Mandos in Valinor (still a part of the physical world, not another plane of existence), and they can return to Middle-earth any time they want. In Tolkien’s writings, most Elves find this to be simply too much trouble and elect to wait out eternity in the Halls of Mandos, but PCs will almost certainly take advantage of unlimited free resurrections if given to them.

Elves seem to be physically and mentally superior to other races in every way. Harsh weather does not bother them. They need little food and water to survive. They can recall any memory from their long lives almost perfectly. Elves can seemingly talk to any creature, even stones and trees, due to their curiosity about everything in the world.

It’s worth noting that we spend very little time with “common” Elves in Tolkien’s writings. Most Elf characters are lords, princes, and other very important people. This may be why Elves seem so amazing. Lineage and rank definitely play a part in an individual Elf’s prowess.

It’s also worth noting that almost everything we read about Elves was supposedly written from the Elves’ point of view. The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion are supposed to be English translations of Bilbo’s writings, and Bilbo’s writings were translations of Elvish books that he found in Rivendell. Naturally, Elves would play up their own abilities in their history books and downplay everyone else.

Elves in the First Age

The First Age seems like the ideal time to run an Elf campaign. The Elves are at the height of their power. Later Ages are all about the fallout from First Age events. If The Silmarillion is too dry and boring for you, try listening to Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-earth to get a sense of what I’m talking about. These Elves rage and scream across the world. They betray and murder. They love deeply and disastrously. They swear oaths and reap bitter fruits.

An Elf campaign in the First Age should start at a high level. All the PCs should be Elves, with Men serving as henchmen or followers. The campaign might even start before the First Age, in Valinor, and end with the fall of Beleriand, with years or centuries occurring between play sessions. Elves are immortal, and their stories are told across long spans of time.

Although there are many, many subgroups of Elves defined by Tolkien, for game purposes you should divide Elves into Calaquendi (Light Elves) and Moriquendi (Dark Elves). I’m going to use the terms Light Elves and Dark Elves throughout this article to avoid confusing people who haven’t read The Silmarillion. For my purposes, Light Elves are those Elves who travelled to Valinor, the home of the Valar, and saw the light of the Two Trees before they were destroyed. The Dark Elves never made this journey, either because they refused or because they got sidetracked by the beauty of Middle-earth itself. The Light Elves have more personal power and more knowledge gained from living in close proximity to the Valar for all that time, and even descendents of the Light Elves born after the destruction of the trees retain some of this. The Dark Elves have less power but seem more in touch with the physical world. Unlike drow in Dungeons & Dragons, Dark Elves in Middle-earth are not inherently evil and have no distinctive appearance that separates them from Light Elves.

In The Silmarillion, the main group of Light Elves driving the action are the Noldor (High Elves). They return to Middle-earth at the dawn of the First Age in pursuit of Morgoth the Enemy, against whom they have sworn an oath of vengeance. The Noldor are proud to the point of arrogance, and some of the Noldor are downright villainous. Almost immediately, the Noldor are opposed by a group of Dark Elves called the Sindar (Grey Elves). The Sindar simply want to live peacefully, and they blame the Noldor for bringing evil to Middle-earth. The Sindar are not always the good guys either, however. Their secretive nature and refusal to lend aid at critical times often allows evil to get the upper hand.

In game terms, Light Elves and Dark Elves should be treated as different races. Smaller subgroups, such as the Noldor, Sindar, Teleri, Avari, Nandor, etc., should be handled through backgrounds, feats, traits, or variant rules.

Elves in the Second and Third Age

The distinction between Light Elves, Dark Elves and various subgroups seems to largely disappear after the First Age. The Ring-smiths of Eregion continue the tradition of the proud, arrogant Noldor, and they meet the same fate as their predecessors. By the Third Age, Galadriel is the only powerful Noldor leader left. Thranduil and Cirdan are both Sindar. Elrond is a special case, but we will get to him later. The “common” Elves merge into nations based on geography rather than ethnicity.

Elves in the Third Age are still physically and mentally superior to other races. Legolas could see farther than any of his companions, shoot more accurately, and keep his balance without even trying. He was not troubled by cold weather, and supernatural terror held no sway over him. Only the Balrog of Moria made him lose his cool. The Fellowship of the Ring is perhaps not the best example of a balanced party, as each of its members had wildly different power levels. If you’re trying to run a balanced campaign, Elves in the Third Age should be NPCs and quest-givers, not party members.

Elves in the Third Age understand that their role in history is almost at an end, and some are afraid that it already has ended. Although they are immortal, they begin to experience great sorrow that causes them to slowly fade away. Their souls are bound to the world, and so they cannot truly leave; they simply become invisible, intangible ghosts. The only cure for this fading is to travel West, over the sea to Valinor, which still lies within the physical world and is protected by the grace of the Valar. For this reason, Elves in the Third Age are weak against anything that causes them emotional pain. Seeing or hearing the ocean causes them to long for the West and gradually forget all worldly concerns. If you are playing an Elf PC in the Third Age, this should be a big part of your character’s story.

Half-Elves

Half-Elves in Middle-earth are rare and special. There were only two marriages between Elf and Man in the First Age. The first union was between Beren and Lúthien; the second was between Tuor and Idril. The descendents of these two couples eventually met and married each other, which leads us to Elrond and his brother, Elros.

Elrond and Elros were given a choice after the Fall of Beleriand. Elrond chose to be an Elf and stay with his Elven kindred. Elros chose to be a Man, and he became the first king of Númenor, from which all the kings of Númenor, Gondor, Arnor and Arthedain were descended. Aragorn is Elros’ descendent, which, yes, technically makes him a very distant cousin to Arwen.

Arwen, the daughter of Elrond, was an immortal Elf until she met and fell in love with Aragorn. Presumably she continued to be an Elf, even after they were married, but she ceased to be immortal. We do not know if she aged as mortals do. After Aragorn’s death, we are told that she simply travelled to Lothlórien and laid herself down on the hill where they had met. Whether she died of old age, exposure, or simply grief, we do not know, nor do we know who dug her grave.

From this, we can infer that all Half-Elves start out as immortal until they are given a choice to be otherwise. Usually, Half-Elves choose mortality because they are in love with a mortal and wish to be with that mortal, even after death. We do not know precisely why Elros chose mortality, but presumably it was out of responsibility to his people. We also do not know what Eldarion, the son of Aragorn and Arwen chose, or if he was given a choice.

As mentioned in my discussion of Gondor, the Men of Dol Amroth are supposedly Half-Elven, or at least the ruling family is. Tolkien did write a story, never published, naming Galador and Mithrellas as the progenitors of this line. Please consider all that I have said about Half-Elves before deciding whether or not this is true in your campaign or just a fairy-tale.

Part I: Introduction and the Region of Eriador

Part II: Wilderland

Part III: Gondor, Rohan, & Mordor

Part IV: Other Places, Other Times

Part VI: The Mannish Races

Listen to Geoffrey Winn discuss the literature that influenced the creation of D&D every month on the Appendix N Podcast on The Tome Show network!

This is a guest post from Geoffrey Winn, host of the amazing Appendix N Podcast on The Tome Show network. Geoff was on a recent episode of my podcast, The Round Table, where we chatted about what it would take to create a Middle-earth campaign setting for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. That conversation inspired this series of posts here on World Builder Blog. If you enjoy this post, check out Part I: Introduction and the Region of EriadorPart II: Wilderland, and Part III: Gondor, Rohan, and Mordor.

Part IV: Other Places, Other Times

Now that I have talked about the three main geographical regions of Middle-earth, I want to talk about those areas on the edge of the map. They are ripe for exploration, precisely because there is not a lot known about these places. I also want to talk about campaigns in the First and Second Ages, when the world looks very different.

Playing outside the main areas of Middle-earth has its share of problems. The game may lose the “feel” of Middle-earth in these areas. It may start to feel simply like alternate history or Hyborean Age, or really any “generic” fantasy world with fantasy versions of real-world places. The GM will have to create every town and NPC without so much as a model to work with.

If you’re okay with putting in the hard work and having a story that is only tangentially connected to the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, feel free to explore these settings. If not, these may simply be places for the PCs to hear about. Maybe an NPC journeyed through one of these far-off places and brought a curse or an artifact back!

The Far North

To the north of Eriador lies the Icebay of Forochel. The region is inhabited by the Lossoth. Tolkien probably envisioned them as being Finnish, Icelandic or possibly even Laplanders. They were primitive; they could not understand metal weapons or sailing boats. However, they knew how to survive in a harsh, cold environment.

The Lossoth seem to be mostly good-hearted. Unlike the Dunlendings, Southrons and Easterlings, they simply hadn’t come to the attention of the Dark Powers, and so they haven’t been manipulated to mistrust and fear the Free Peoples of Middle-earth. When King Arvedui, the last king of Arnor, was fleeing the armies of the Witch-King, the Lossoth were helpful, even though in the end they could not save him. They recovered the heirlooms of his house after he died and returned them to his descendents, which is how Aragorn was able to still have them in his day.

North of Angmar and the Grey Mountains lies Forodwaith, also called simply the Northern Waste. Forochel could be considered a part of Forodwaith. I touched upon this area when I described the Grey Mountains in my Wilderland article. There are Men living here, also called the Forodwaith. We know even less about them than we do about the Lossoth. As far as we know, it is simply a cold, empty area. However, in your campaign, it could be full of frost giants, white dragons, enchanted ice palaces, or whatever else you like.

And of course, at the utmost north of the world lies Utumno, the stronghold of Morgoth that was supposedly destroyed and buried before the First Age began.

The East and the South

East and south of the Iron Hills lies the Sea of Rhûn. The Sea lies within a larger region that is also called Rhûn, which simply means “east” in Elvish. The eastern side of Mordor is the only side that isn’t completely blocked by impassible mountains.

People from the East are called Easterlings. They might hail from around the Sea of Rhûn, the open area between the Sea and Mirkwood, or further east off the map entirely. Their cultures probably resembled various ancient nomadic cultures from the Eurasian steppe. Two specific sub-groupings of Easterlings were the Wainriders and the Balchoch, both of whom were noted for using chariots in combat.

There were probably lots of other groups of Easterlings that Tolkien simply didn’t describe. The Men of Dorwinion, a place briefly mentioned in The Hobbit, may have been Easterlings who peacefully sold wine to the Lake-men. Most of the groups living near the Lonely Mountain were probably similarly peaceful groups who simply wanted to do business.

The region south of Gondor and Mordor is called Harad, which simply means, you guessed it, “south” in Elvish. Harad is sometimes separated into Near Harad, which is visible on the map, and Far Harad, which isn’t. Somewhere further down the coast, also not on the map, lies the Haven of Umbar, home of the Corsairs.

The Corsairs of Umbar were Gondor’s most organized, long-term enemies. Umbar was originally built by Númenóreans just like most of Gondor’s cities. The rulers are Black Númenóreans, sort of the evil twins to the modern Dúnedain of Gondor. Black Númenóreans make great campaign villains when you get tired of orc chieftains and Nazgûl.

Near Harad can probably be understood to resemble Byzantium and the Middle East. Far Harad is definitely supposed to be Africa, as the people from Far Harad are black and ride elephants. There is also the region of Khand, and the people from there are called Variags. I have no idea what their deal is. They like battle-axes. That’s all I got.

Taken altogether, the Easterlings and the Southrons are simply soldiers for Sauron’s war machine. They have been manipulated by Sauron for centuries into thinking that Elves, Dúnedain and Rohirrim are their enemies, and that Middle-earth should properly belong to them, if they are strong enough to take it. Adventurers from Middle-earth will find little welcome or safe haven if they venture into Easterling or Southron lands. Even if they find a town that hasn’t drunk the Sauron juice, spies will almost certainly report their location to servants of the Dark Lord.

The most exciting thing to me about these regions is the chance to delve into one of the great unsolved mysteries of Middle-earth, the whereabouts and fate of the Blue Wizards. Two Wizards wearing blue arrived in Middle-earth with Saruman, Radagast and Gandalf, but they disappeared early on and were never heard from again. Tolkien himself never really decided what to do with these guys. He went back and forth on it in his own private notes and letters. They could be good guys, leading small pockets of resistance that are ultimately doomed. They could be bad guys, founders of black magic cults, attempting to carve out small realms for themselves as Saruman did. You get to decide!

The Deep Places of the Earth

I want to talk briefly about the world below Middle-earth. If you like the Underdark as it exists in Dungeons & Dragons, you can certainly use all those concepts in a Middle-earth game.

The Misty Mountains are riddled with networks of tunnels and caverns, and these may certainly connect to the Grey Mountains in the north and the White Mountains in the south. Orcs who know the way could travel anywhere in Middle-earth without ever seeing the sun.

The Dwarves delved too deeply in Moria and awoke the Balrog, who had apparently been trapped there since the First Age. Does this mean that Moria connects to the ancient strongholds of Angband or Utumno, or both? After Gandalf plummets from the bridge in Moria, he describes monsters too horrible to name. They seem to be reminiscent of the Ragnarok serpent as they gnaw upon the roots of the world. Creepy!

The Blue Mountains also have connections to the First Age. The dwarven cities of Belegost and Nogrod supposedly existed in these mountains and were destroyed at the end of the First Age. Thorin’s family lived in the Blue Mountains after Smaug drove them out of the Lonely Mountain. Perhaps they thought they could find these lost ruins, but they never did. Perhaps adventurers could find them!

The First Age

Having covered every possible region of Middle-earth where adventures could happen, let us now travel back in time.

The First Age began with the first rising of the sun and moon in the sky, and it ended with the destruction of Beleriand. The story of the First Age is told in The Silmarillion. A GM who has not read and thoroughly understood The Silmarillion should not run a First Age campaign. If you need a quick review, you can read my friend Jeff Wikstrom’s summary of The Silmarillion.

The First Age can be exciting for players because you have a whole new continent to explore. It is an epic time. The monsters are larger than life. We’re talking dragons, werewolves and vampires here. We’re talking not just one balrog but entire armies of balrogs. Sauron himself is little more than a lieutenant of Morgoth, the Great Enemy at this time. Perhaps there are other unique beings, equal in power to Sauron, doing terrible deeds across the land.

Who can stand up to these monsters? Epic-level godlike super-Elves, of course. The Elves of the First Age are at the peak of their abilities. They craft magic items, argue with gods, and fight with each other as often as they fight against evil. When they can’t be bothered to stir from their hidden fortress kingdoms, they train loyal Men to be their eyes and ears and hands. A family of Men may take great pride in serving a particular Elf-lord for generations.

The trouble with the First Age is the difficulty in telling original stories. This age is when the legends are made that will shape future ages. The latter ages are pretty much defined by the actions of Fëanor, Beren, Lúthien, Túrin Turambar, Eärendil and the rest. The PCs may feel like they are treading between the legs of giants here, even if they are epic-level super-Elves themselves. Finally, Beleriand ceases to exist beyond this age, meaning anything the PCs create – kingdoms, alliances, friendships – will disappear.

It may be better to use the First Age in flashback. Perhaps a PC in the Third Age finds a magic sword in a dungeon. In the next session, the PCs could play First Age heroes who wield the sword, explaining its story. In Middle-earth, the origins of something like a sword are often a big part of its significance.

The Second Age

The Second Age begins with the destruction of Beleriand and the creation of Númenor. It ends with the destruction of Númenor, the first defeat of Sauron, and the establishment of Gondor and Arnor in Middle-earth. To me, the Second Age is more interesting for adventures than the First Age.

This is the time of Númenor, the great island empire. Númenor was Middle-earth’s version of Atlantis. The Númenóreans were responsible for a lot of the huge, wondrous structures we see in The Lord of the Rings, such as Isengard, the Pillars of the Argonath, and the seven-tiered city of Minas Tirith. We are told that the Númenóreans had mastered ocean travel, and they could sail all around the world, which was flat at this time.

What is happening in Middle-earth at this time? Aside from the Elves involved in creating the Rings of Power, we really don’t know a whole lot. The places we know from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were wilderness. However, we know that Númenóreans did come to Middle-earth in their ships. Some of them started small kingdoms of their own. The ruins of Vinyalondë, described in my discussion of Eriador, are the results of one such attempt. The Haven of Umbar is another.

In the Second Age, PCs are explorers from Númenor conquering the wilderness. You could play an entire campaign revolving around building a town, gathering resources, dealing with natives, and so on. Will the town survive into the Third Age, or will it be lost to history? The PCs might have to deal with other Númenóreans who have unjustly exploited the peoples of Middle-earth. Meanwhile, back home, petty nobles squabble with each other over money and politics. A PC may have to swiftly return to Númenor to help her family, abandoning all her hard work in Middle-earth.

The Fourth Age

At first glance, a campaign set in the Fourth Age seems like a great idea. Characters can use The Lord of the Rings as a background and forge ahead with new stories. You can have new plots, new bad guys, and not worry about messing up canon.

Unfortunately, Middle-earth just doesn’t feel like Middle-earth anymore. The Elves are largely gone. The Wizards are gone. Sauron is gone for good, and there are no rings to deal with. Everything magical and fantastic slowly fades away as the world transforms into the world we know, our Earth.

Tolkien tried to write a sequel to The Lord of the Rings set in the Fourth Age called The New Shadow. He didn’t get very far. Ultimately, he decided there just wasn’t any interesting story to tell.

If none of that bothers you, go ahead and have adventures in the Fourth Age. Adventures could involve going into Mordor, the East and the South, undoing the evil of Sauron. PCs could free slaves and try to convince the peoples of those lands that Sauron had lied to them. One or both of the Blue Wizards could be the villain of this campaign, having decided to take Sauron’s place. One final mystery remains – where is Radagast?

Playing with History

What if Sauron won? Suddenly, you have post-apocalyptic Middle-earth. The entire world is covered in shadow, and there is a burning red eye in the sky at all times. PCs need to avoid orc patrols everywhere they go. Is Gandalf organizing a secret hobbit resistance? Could the PCs steal a ship and sail into the West, as Eärendil did, and appeal to the gods for help? What would that help look like? (I think it looks like awesome weapons and armor for the PCs!)

Fantasy Flight Games published an amazing series of books for D&D 3rd Edition called Midnight that basically dealt with this topic. Go pester them for a 5th Edition update!

What if Galadriel took the One Ring and became a Dark Queen? What if the Witch-King was unable to conquer Arnor, but instead Gondor became abandoned after the Great Plague? What if the Lonely Mountain never fell to Smaug, so there was no need for Bilbo to travel over the Misty Mountains, and he never found the One Ring…? In your game, you don’t have to follow the books. Do your own thing. Drop your PCs into any time period, and just see what happens when you mess with it.

What possibilities can you think of?

Part I: Introduction & the Region of Eriador

Part II: Wilderland

Part III: Gondor, Rohan, & Mordor

Part V: The Lords of Middle-earth

Part VI: The Mannish Races

Listen to Geoffrey Winn discuss the literature that influenced the creation of D&D every month on the Appendix N Podcast on The Tome Show network!