Hipsters & Dragons

Because roleplaying is social, creative, fun… and kinda cool!

Category: Resources

Review: Elminster’s Guide to Magic

If you’ve heard of the DMs Guild (an online marketplace for Dungeons & Dragons adventures, sourcebooks and supplements, written by everyone from Matt Mercer to yours truly), then you’ve probably heard of Elminster’s Guide to Magic. It’s been one of the best-selling products on the marketplace for some time now, with average review rating of over 4.5/5 at the time of publishing this post.

Having leafed through a copy recently I have to say I am not surprised in the slightest.

It’s a hefty tome (178 pages) of useful goodies, written by an experienced team of D&D creators, that includes:

  • 350+ new spells, including for bards, clerics, druids, paladins, rangers, sorcerers, warlocks and wizards (so for every spellcasting class basically!).
  • 50+ new magic items
  • A long list of magical trinkets
  • Lore about the magical factions of the Forgotten Realms
  • 8 new character archetypes.

That’s a lot of material right there, and exactly what many players, bored of casting thunderwave, haste and fireball are looking for.

The book is written in the voice of the sorcerer Ashemmon of Rhymanthiin, with the famous Elminster serving as a kind of editor, dropping in to make the odd droll remark or observation. Whilst it’s not written with quite the sparse craft and precision of a Wizards of the Coast official product, the prose is certainly better than you would expect of most community content and indeed rather funny at times. The formatting and artwork is also of high quality, giving the product a professional feel.

The best selling product on the DMs Guild is one to own

But let’s get to the meat already…

The New Spells

This book is all about the spells for me. As a player, learning the same old familiar incantations every day can get rather dull, whilst as a DM I want to be able to throw spells at PCs that they’ve never encountered before, thus bringing back some of the mystique and fear of enemy spellcasters back into the game. To this end I found plenty of new spells I would bring to my table. Ball lightning is a fun new way of blasting people (I think they actually converted it from an earlier edition of D&D), and one that carries on round after round, as your arcane artillery bounces around the battlefield. The spell freeze is so simple and brilliant that one wonders why it didn’t exist beforehand, abolish shadows is like light on steroids, and I like the cleric spell celestial fist – a damage dealing restrainer – a lot (although the saving throw once restrained should be Strength not Dexterity it seems to me!). Meanwhile spells like leaf into dagger and animal spy are hardly game changers, but have their charm (and uses).

Creating a spell is a tricky balancing business. It’s easy to get carried away and overpower them, whilst on the other hand, if the spell is any worse than those available who is going to bother to learn it? And by extension why bother create it? What is needed of course is new functionalities and subtle variations, operating at the same level of power as existing spells (at least those that are not grossly overpowered. I’m looking at you hypnotic pattern). If anything, my first impressions are that the publishers have erred on the side of caution and made their own creations a bit less powerful than the best available in the Player’s Handbook, rendering some of them redundant (to PCs at least. NPCs not driven to pick the optimal option every time could be perfect proponents of such spells, as per my comments above about throwing unfamiliar powers at parties). However I did as well find spells which seemed a little too powerful (at a glance at least). A few spells put me off by seeming too wordy and complicated, and there were many where, as a point of preference, I just didn’t like aesthetics of the spell’s effects (I could say the same of many in the Player’s Handbook as well!). A few could have been more accurately named.

If anything, rather than such a rich supply, I personally would have preferred a smaller tighter selection of spells that had been playtested to death. A bit like an album by your favourite artist, you’d prefer just the 5 or 6 great tracks to those same tracks, plus another half dozen that don’t stand out. Of course you can always discard what you don’t like… it’s just you need a bit more time to evaluate what’s hot and what’s not. Anyway considering the difficulty of pitching spells powers I think the publishers have done very well overall, with nothing falling too far either side of the mark (under vs overpowered) and plenty to get the creative juices flowing. It’s also worth noting that what I like and will use might be completely different to what someone else likes, so maybe we’ll forgive the publishers for opting for a high quantity product – it’s a more surefire way of providing something for everyone.

Magic Items (and trinkets)

I pretty much hate magic items as a rule. Not only do I dislike the high fantasy aesthetic, with players owning dozens of powerful arcane tools (give me a gritty Westerosi style setting instead please!), but they also unbalance play and detract from the much more satisfactory sensation of powering up via achieving new levels and experience-based abilities. But anyway, so as not to be a completely miserable bastard I took a look at what Elminster’s Guide to Magic has to offer on this front and found a few I really liked. Cat’s Eye Marble, conferring dark vision of 60ft is a lovely fix for the human in the party who has to lug a torch around every time they go underground, Leaf of Falling stops you having to learn feather fall every day (annoying use of a limited pool of prepared spells!), but a clear favourite is the Golden Tongue: This charm is the shape of a small golden tongue. It grants you advantage on Charisma (Persuasion) checks—however you are required to make your argument in rhyming couplets. If you fail to speak in rhyme when making the check, you take 1d8 psychic damage. Brilliant, that’s going in my next adventure for sure!

These were all labelled Wondrous Items, but there’s actually a list of Magical Trinkets that I like even more. Little treasures like a malachite figurine carved in the shape of a dragonfly, which flies around and kills any flies or mosquitoes in your presence and a crystal goldfish. When held, it enables you to hold your breath for 2 minutes longer can add fun and flavour to the game without any worry of unbalancing it. If nothing else they inspire the imagination!

Factions & Archetypes

I haven’t had time to go through all the factions and I’m not sure how many of them have been homebrewed vs. already alive in Realm’s lore (having taken up D&D again after a 20 years break, I’m seriously behind on my lore!), but anyway I do see some good material there for DMs to delve into for their campaigns. As for the new archetypes… it seems like homebrewing these are more or less an obsession for all DMs Guild creators, but they are almost always amongst the content I’m least likely to use. For one thing there are so many cool archetypes I haven’t had a chance to play in the Player’s Handbook and now in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything that there doesn’t strike me as any need for any more. The other is that these really do need more playtesting than a few rogue authors, no matter how experienced, can manage alone. WoTC have a massive team and vast community to draw on, and I don’t see myself playing anything other than their tried and tested archetypes, well ever, really. But maybe you’re different?

Other Stuff

There’s a few other bits and bobs in this supplement, such as a library of arcane texts (just for flavour), potential names of wizard towers, something about verbal components (turning the geek level right up to 11), and a pretty useful ‘Advice for Young Wizards’ section that most beginner to mid-level player can learn a few valuable lessons from.

Hipsters’ Conclusion

Elminster’s Guide to Magic is not perfect (although I suppose neither are the official WoTC products!) and you’re going to have do some sifting to separate the bits you like from the bits you don’t, and I sense a bit of tinkering here and there too, but given the depth and breadth of the content, for 15 dollars it has to be one of the best value-for-money products on the DMs Guild – if not the best. Every type of spellcaster is going to benefit from having a copy in their library, not just in terms of powering up, but in terms of unveiling exciting new possibilities. Meanwhile DMs who enjoy pitting their parties against nefarious evil spellcasters will love the looks of surprises on their PCs’ faces as they unveil new trick after new trick from up their baggy black sleeves. What’s more the material has a near infinite shelf life and is going to remain useful to you adventure after adventure, campaign after campaign. (Obviously when you buy an adventure you tend to only play it once!).

Buy It

You can buy Elminster’s Guide to Magic via the DMs Guild.

Finally, before you go, I have also homebrewed a few of my very own 5e spells for wizards which you can check out on this here blog. They will form part of a published adventure coming to the DMs Guild very soon!

Disclosure: I was gifted a free copy of this supplement. 

Saboteur: A New Roguish Archetype by the Kind GM

So recently I got in touch with fellow DM, blogger and Rogue-lover, Chris from the Kind GM and he was nice enough to send me a free copy of his 5e homebrew Roguish archetype, the Saboteur, which he co-authored with his friend Anastasios. I quote:

A cloaked figure slinks down a dark alleyway, and soon after the building behind it explodes in flames. A man hidden high in a tree watches with a grin as a flurry of spikes erupt from the forest floor, impaling a group of bandits. Saboteurs are experts at constructing traps and various other mechanisms and substances that allow them to create mayhem without placing themselves in direct danger.

A kind of arcane terrorist, the Saboteur’s weapon of choice are the traps he (or she) carries around with him (or her… I’m just going to continue using masculine form, from now!), which number his Rogue level times two. The archetype lists eight different types of trap, such as the Blaster Bomb (think hand grenade), Fire Nova Mine (think flaming landmine) and Thunderblast Trap (think Thunderwave in mine form), and a 3rd level Saboteur knows how to construct three of them.

Deploying a trap takes one action, whilst restocking them takes a long rest (they work a bit like spell slots in that respect). A PC can deploy different types of triggers such as pressure plate, tripwire or timer (and when they reach 9th level a remote trigger).

The result is a sneaky bastard who can cause absolute havoc on the battlefield… especially if he is expecting you.

Pros

I think this is a highly original archetype, and a chance to play a completely different type of character than exists in the Player’s Handbook.

A lot of creativity has gone into the traps and as well I think it opens the path for a lot of creativity for the PC on how they would deploy their arcane snares and wreak maximum chaos.

The archetype is properly laid out in the form of an official Rogue archetype.

Cons

I have a few questions about the gameplay, and how it would pan out in a session. For example Chris and Anastasios write:

When someone aware of your traps triggers one of them, they make the saving throws for its effects with advantage.

But one imagines that if a creature spots a trap they would then take care not to trigger it. Also there is a DC calculator for trap saving throws, but not for spotting the traps. (One imagines it might be the same however).

Also I found the mechanic that traps are automatically restocked during a long rest and kept in a magic satchel a bit too convenient. It seems that arcane traps should take some time to construct and not be something that effectively construct themselves when you’re having a nice sleep. So maybe I’d have advocated a saboteur with less traps, that are more powerful, but kept in a normal satchel (Bags of Holding, which is effectively what these satchels seem to be, are something I loathe about D&D… but I’ll write about that another time). The traps needn’t be that big, especially as they seem to be constructed at least partially using magic, so I don’t see a need for an additional magical item to hold them in. Related to this point, I think a more accurate name for this class would be Arcane Saboteur.

Finally, whilst I feel the class is pretty balanced, I think at lower levels this class is going to feel a bit overpowered compared to other Rogues. Maybe the number of traps should be more in line with the number of spell slots of an Arcane Trickster.

Final Verdict

Overall this is a really fun archetype, that might need a tiny bit of fine-tuning in order to fit on your table. A lot of creativity has gone into it and if you’re looking to play a Rogue with new potential this could be just the product for you.

You can buy it on the DM’s Guild right here. Average rating is 4.5/5 and it costs just 99 cents, so a low risk investment.

I would also highly advise you to check out Chris’ blog, which has a tonne of useful reviews and extensive lists of 5th edition resources.

Pssst… if you love Rogues don’t forget to read about my homebrew 5e Assassins Guild (The White Scorpions), my sample Rogue Assassin and my guide on how to play a cold-blooded contractual killer!

The White Scorpions: An Assassins’ Guild (5e D&D)

A bit like a football defense, festival ticket system, or wedding seating plan, crime is better when it’s organised. The lone wolf assassin may be good at the actual art of killing people, but who answers his emails, does his PR and marketing and collects his invoices? If he lives anywhere in the multiverse, then the answer should be his guild.

Admin. aside, there’s a reason every Dungeons & Dragons player should sign up their Rogue Assassin to a local guild, and that’s because a well thought out guild adds so much flavour to your PC, as they become part of a credible entity with a mission statement, code of conduct, mode of operations, insignia and other fantasy lore that will make roleplaying said character that much more enjoyable.

Every Dungeons & Dragons player should sign up their Rogue Assassin to a local guild… because a well thought out guild adds so much flavour to your PC, as they become part of a credible entity with a mission statement, code of conduct, mode of operations, insignia and other fantasy lore…

One of the first things I did after I was given an Assassin to play in my first 5e D&D session (after a 20 year hiatus from the game!) was start to work on the background of my cold-blooded killer. I asked myself many questions, such as: what could have happened to get her into the killing game? How did she attain her knowledge of stealth, poison and dealing deadly blows? But perhaps the most formative question I asked was how could she still be a nice person to be around, if slitting people’s throats was her profession? I didn’t want her to be that forever menacing character of slim principles who none of the other PCs could trust, mostly because it’s no fun for the rest of the party wondering if their beloved character who they’ve been playing for months / years is likely to be poisoned in the night by someone who is supposed to be on their side (this inter-party tension might be fun for a short time, but it soon wears thin!), but also because I myself prefer to play D&D as a team game, using our collective minds and abilities to overcome obstacles and challenges that come before us.

In short I wanted to play a good-aligned assassin.

So I asked myself, who kills without mercy, using any means necessary, but still has their principles and moral high ground. The answer was: vigilantes. People with a belief system, that in their mind at least, vindicates them going above and beyond the law to deliver their own vision of justice. And from this seed The Order of the White Scorpions were born.

As someone who enjoys attention to detail I created enough lore about the White Scorpions to publish a small book… and so that’s exactly what I’ve done, in the hope that others will enjoy playing an agent of this guild as much as I have over the last year or two.

The guide is on sale via the DMsGuide for the princely sum of $2.99. For the price of a cheap coffee here’s what you get:

What do you get with this e-book?

  • An introduction to The White Scorpions
  • A history of The White Scorpions
  • A mission statement
  • Secret signs for identifying one another
  • Three Maxims
  • Official Motto
  • Unofficial Motto
  • Organisational structure of the guild
  • Details on the Order’s secret tongue / cant
  • Favoured killing methods
  • Details on Necrodicta (death sentences)
  • Details and rules for a new poison – Deathstalker Scorpion Venom
  • A special dagger owned by each agent in the Order
  • Training methods
  • Scary initiation ceremony (including gameplay rules)
  • Duties, rules and regulations – a table of rules and punishments
  • Role of religion in the Order (and a prophecy)
  • Rules for adventuring as a White Scorpion
  • A fully developed new background: Trainee Assassin (for those characters who wish to join the guild at Level 1).
  • Character backgrounds and stat blocks of four prominent guild members, including Grandmaster Oblivion, and Xenia ‘Nightsting’ Zanetti.
  • Dungeon Master’s Class – 15 strong adventure hooks, and some general tips for bringing an assassin’s backstory into the game.

Who should buy this e-book and why?

1) Anyone playing a Rogue Assassin in 5th edition D&D. Because, for some loose change, you’ll be able to add so much more depth to your character and increase the amount of fun you have at the table with your PC.

2) Dungeon Masters with a Rogue Assassin in their party, especially if your adventure hasn’t begun yet. The Adventure Hooks section of the guide is very thorough and gives you 15 ideas you incorporate or base an adventure around, along with some advice on DMing with a Rogue Assassin at the table.

>>> Buy The White Scorpions Assassins Guild for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons <<<

This is my first ever product, so I’m excited to release it online into the www.ilderness. And if I make a few sales here and there I might even be able to carve out the time to write more material!

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén