Starting today, we’re going to showcase a monthly “Creature Feature” the last Friday of every month for use in Dungeon Crawl Classics / Mutant Crawl Classics or any OSR-type game. First up: The fearsome Staguar!
Staguar (1, rarely travels in pack of 2-4 adults plus 3 to 4 juveniles): Init +3; Atk gore +6 melee (1d6+2) or claw +4 melee (1d4) or bite +4 melee (1d6); AC 16; HD 3d8+2; MV 50’, climb 20’; Act 2d20; SP stealth, bugle; SV Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +7 AL C.
Is this another mad design of noted teratologist Xultich? Only the most learned of sages could say with any certainty. What is known is that the staguar is a fierce predator, stalking and killing their prey to take back to their lairs.
The shape of the typical staguar male is that of a great stag with a mighty rack of horns it uses to gore it’s opponents. Instead of hooves, the long legs end in claws and it’s face has the feline predatory mien of it’s jaguar ancestors. The female staguar have less pronounced horns and juveniles almost none at all, with a corresponding dice chain reduction for that attack. Their coloration is typically spotted, but rumors persist of a more tawny colored “Stuma” in mountainous regions or the larger and more ferocious “Stiger” deep in the jungles.
A fearsome hunter equally at home in plains and forests, the staguar is an implacable predator able to leap from hiding to bring down creatures many times it’s size due to it’s strong jaws and raking claws. Staguars are quite good at stalking their prey. They receive a +8 bonus to sneaking silently and hiding in shadows.
The potentially sorcerous origin of the staguar has manifested in a peculiar way. The combination of jaguar’s roar and stag’s bugle has given the staguar the ability to strike fear into anyone who hears it. When threatened, the staguar can let loose a cacophonous bugling that scares off an attacker or rival. This is treated as the Scare spell cast at +8 on a d16 (see page 191 of the DCCRPG Rulebook). This ability is only present in the male of the species and during the rut season (usually the late autumn) the calls and challenges of adolescent males can make an area almost uninhabitable or gain the reputation for being haunted.
Alright, let’s jump right in….
What’s in it?
Tales from the Yawning Portal is Wizard’s latest release for 5th Edition, and is the same high production quality as their other releases. Unlike previous releases, it is a series of unconnected older adventures that have been converted up to 5th edition from previous editions of the game (ranging from several OD&D mods to some early 3rd edition modules, and some playtest content).
The adventures featured are:
- The Sunless Citadel
- The Forge of Fury
- Against the Giants Trilogy
- The Tomb of Horrors
- The Hidden Shrine of Tamaochan
- White Plume Mountain
- Dead in Thay
There is also a brief chapter for magic items (15 of these) and a chapter for monsters (39 of them). Also, starting of the book is a brief flavor detail for, you guessed it, the Yawning Portal Tavern.
Those are the facts. Now, the real question…
Should I Buy it?
This book is for grognards wanting to spare themselves the minimal trouble of converting a few old classic scenarios for their group, many of whom may not have played the mods. Alternately, it’s for newer players that have heard about classic mods and want to take a crack at them in 5E and see what all the fuss is about.
Tales from the Yawning Portal takes the heavy lifting out of conversion, cleans up some weird oddities from older mods, and generally makes the older content much more approachable for a newer player, primarily because old originals are perhaps hard to find and the trouble of converting some of these classics may be a little daunting.
So, do you need to buy it? No. You definitely do not.
Should you? Only if you want to revisit these classics. I personally do, but that’s not going to describe everyone.
This is a collection of classic mods first and a general game supplement second, or perhaps even third. In some ways I appreciate the fact that Wizards isn’t spamming their release schedule with Fiend Folios and Magic Item Compendiums in droves, forcing us to shell out for semi-mandatory releases. On the other hand, I feel like getting 39 monsters at a time is a somewhat slower financial torture. That, and now if I want to find a monster, I have to flip through Volo’s Guide to Monsters, or now Yawning Portal to find what I’m looking for in addition to the Monster Manual. It’s not really convenient or logical.
In a lot of ways, 5th Edition is a response (perhaps a kneejerk response) to the vitriol that arose as a result of the new ideas of 4th Edition. 4th Edition is commonly summarized as “a great game, just not dungeons and dragons”. As a result, 5th edition has a much more old school feel, without all that horrible THAC0. This is a slapshot right down the throats of all those geezers like myself that just want to play ancient modules until we die, and make other people play them too.
The great thing about this book is that you get a lot of content, and a lot of short usable play hours with it. You can play pieces of it without having to feel married to it for a year (a complaint that some of us are feeling in our current Out of the Abyss campaign). Being able to play a few sessions, then stop, can be very welcome when seeking published content. Also, they snuck the ENTIRE GIANTS TRILOGY in here! That is Fricking Awesome! So there is good to be had.
The monsters, however, as well as the magic items, are there to support the rest of the published works and don’t really stand on their own as a supplement (nor do I believe they were held out to do so). Overall, it’s great to have on the shelf, but the home campaigner or the long haul campaigner is going to scratch their heads at this release. This is nostalgic potpourri and historical esoterica.
So, proceed with the knowledge of what this book is, and see if it is worthy of your shelf. It’s on mine, and I’m glad for it and look forward to sharing some old classic content with my group for a couple 3-shots.
A parting note:
One last thing I wanted to mention, and can’t seem to find a place to fit into this review, is the curious disappointment I have that the Yawning Portal, famous for it’s connection to Undermountain, is not at the head of a book for UNDERMOUNTAIN! It’s a fun way to connect these modules as tales from tavern-goers but something I hope Wizards will attempt in the months and years to come. That’s a classic that definitely belongs on the shelf.
The latest release for Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Age of Rebellion is the adventure Friends Like These. This review will endeavor to be spolier-light, but not spoiler-free so if you have any intention of playing this, and don’t want any information about the plot points, stop reading now.
Just us GMs? Good. This adventure is geared towards experienced rebels with the recommended earned XP at 150. The main mission is to gather what nearby allies and resources you can marshal to defend a foundry and turbolaser factory from impending Imperial attack. It is pretty well structured to provide a good amount of detail for likely approaches PCs will take when faced with the encounters while allowing a fair-amount of sandbox play with page references to various sections based on PC choices.
There is quite a bit of negotiation and social challenges in this adventure as well as personal and mass combat. There are several opportunities for any type of role to shine, but I would say it favors leader/face types of classes. The entire adventure is a race against time as Foundry Four on the planet Xornn has been tipped off that Imperials have discovered they are retrofitting freighters with turbolasers in support of the Rebels. An ambitious Imperial Captain is hoping to capture a navicomputer that holds the coordinates to the main rebel fleet and deliver this vital data to the Emperor. The Rebels are sending a massive fleet to counterattack and save the base, but it will arrive 5 hours after the Imperials. Can the heroes gather enough allies and prepare fortifications to hold out?
Each segment of the adventure has times associated with it, and PCs must weigh what they should spend that time on in order to give them the resources they need to hold out against the Empire. Eventually the PCs will discover the only options who can get there in time are 800 Mandalorian mercenaries and the Zygerrian slave armies of Prince Molec. Most Rebels aren’t too keen on slavery and so the adventure puts the PCs in a position of picking between bad options: collaborate with an empire built on slavery, or attempt to liberate those slaves against very long odds. The book allows for either approach, and highlights one of the strengths of this system: putting PCs in a no-win situation and letting them debate at the table how they want to approach the encounter.
This adventure is a bit different from the others as previous books were divided into three acts, and this is divided into four. It isn’t any longer than any of the other adventures, still weighing in at 96 pages, but is structured as fortifying Xornn, dealing with the Mandalorians, choosing how to handle the Zygerrians, and then the climactic battle. Included in the book are stats for creating a Mandalorian human PC. This seems a bit odd, considering PCs should have 150 earned XP going in to this adventure, but I supposed you could create new PCs specifically for this adventure. You would think they would then detail some Mandalorian gear, but other than a few bits in NPC stat blocks, there are no other details in this book. There is a page dedicated to slaver tech and weapons, but not Mandalorian arms and armor. I guess we’ll have to wait for No Disintegrations on that.
Overall, I think this will be an excellent adventure to run. I do wish there were more detailed maps for Foundry Four and the orbital and surface battles for act IV. There are some areas and details mentioned that are not very clear on the maps provided. Beyond that, I would recommend this for AGE GMs looking for a diverse adventure that will allow various types of PCs to shine, but I would discourage novice GMs from running this as there is a lot to keep track of and different paths your PCs can take. Once you’ve run several sessions and have a good feel for the curve balls your group and some wacky dice rolls can throw you, it will be a story your players certainly remember!
TLDR: If you’re running 5E, you need to buy this book.
When I heard that the next book in the 5E lineup was Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I was a little disappointed. I’ve never been much of a Forgotten Realms fan, and Volo’s Guide sounded like it was going to be a fluff piece with articles similar to the old Dragon Magazine “Ecology” pieces. While that’s great for magazine content, I didn’t get too excited about the prospect of a $45 book with minimal new information.
Fortunately for me, Wizards really outdid themselves in packaging a variety of things in this book that make it a very valuable addition to my growing 5E collection.
Volo’s Guide starts with the following disclaimer in small, easily missed print, under the cover attribution:
Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast does not vouch for, guarantee, or provide any promise regarding the validity of the information provided in this volume by Volothamp Geddarm. Do not trust Volo. Do not go on quests offered by Volo. Do not listen to Volo. Avoid being seen with him for risk of guilt by association. If Volo appears in your campaign, your DM is undoubtedly trying to kill your character in a manner that can be blamed on your own actions. The DM is probably trying to do that anyway, but with Volo’s appearance, you know for sure. We’re not convinced that Elminster’s commentary is all that trustworthy either, but he turned us into flumphs last time we mentioned him in one of these disclaimers.
I enjoy the fact that wizards is having fun with this volume, and it made me enjoy getting into the book a bit more than if I hadn’t noticed it. I also appreciate Wizards sold a special limited edition FLGS cover for only $5 more (pictured above) to help the local shops get a leg up.
The book is broken into three parts: Monster Lore, Character Races, and a Bestiary.
Monster Lore, the first 100 pages of the book, is what I had expected, but some crunch where I otherwise expected fluff for lifestyles of Beholders, Giants, Gnolls, Goblinoids, Hags, Kobolds, Mindflayers, Orcs and Yuan-Ti.
Examples of neat details that might constitute crunch include beholder charts detailing size, shape, texture, and a great random name generator, with tactics, variant eyestalk abilities, minions, treasure and a lair map. History, mindset, and biological function is laid out in a depth previously unvisited in text as far as I’m aware, allowing the GM a deeper background on this favorite of monsters.
The Chapters going forth are what I’d call asymmetrical, being that they don’t follow a routine pattern. Chapters on Giants have more details about origins, their habitat and personality traits. Gnolls have details on tactics, random traits and features, and tables to help build a gnollish warband. Mind Flayers have some magic items listed that are specific to their culture. Yuan-ti have a variety of charts detailing their variable physiology.
Each race detailed has a map of their typical lair, which gives some great examples where the trappings of the race might be otherwise somewhat mysterious (Mind-Flayers in particular).
Overall, these chapters are well written and flesh out the background of these common and popular monsters. Is it essential? No. Is it helpful? Yes. My fear had been that for $45.00 I was going to get that, and that be it. Fortunately, it goes on.
Now we start to hit things I can work with, and things that people invariably try to do on their own with varying degrees of success. I happen to currently be playing a kobold priest of Kurtulmak in our Out of the Abyss game, and have been playing a kobold trapper race variant my GM got off the internet somewhere. I yearned for canon guidance on what a kobold PC should look like. Fortunately, Volo delivers.
Races detailed are Aasimar, Firbolgs, Goliaths, Kenku, Lizardfolk, Tabaxi, and Tritons with a separate section for “Monstrous Adventurers” giving blocks for the already detailed bugbear, goblin, hobgoblin, kobold, orc and yuan-ti pureblood.
I’ve always been a guy that likes the idea of playing the monster as a PC, and this opens doors for me.
This, by far, seals the deal for this book being a must-have for the dedicated 5E player. 100 pages of new and classic monsters that were conspicuously absent from the Monster Manual. A few personal favorites include:
- Flail Snail!
- Several new Variant classed giants, very cool
- Shadow mastiff
- Spawn of Kyuss (Greyhawk?)
- Xvarts (Eric Mona must have been involved in this)
- Yeth Hound
- Many more!
Also a number of “Beasts” (including a rot grub swarm) and 21 new stock NPCs which are sure to prove super useful on an ongoing basis (in particular, it appears a mage of each spell casting school, archers, archdruid, war priest and so on). Not mentioned in my list are also special “classed” versions of various orcs, yuan-ti, hobgoblins, and so on, as well as some subcategories of other races like beholders that will prove useful in putting on games that utilize those species. This is where the book proves out its crunchiness but give me stat blocks that I can use to have a more interesting game.
Wizards has done a good job of bringing a little more than just the basics to each book it has published. Each adventure module has had a few spells and a few more general stat blocks that make each book tempting to pick up. This book, as a sourcebook, doubles down on that principle making there elements that you just can’t afford to miss. This book has extended value for the GM of your group, but remains optional for the player short of playing a racial variant. That said, I think anyone who picks it up is going to find it’s a great addition to their collection.
All Praise Kurtulmak!