EXCLUSIVE: New products for 2021

Happy April Fool’s!

D&D fans are always on the lookout for ways to spend their hard-earned cash. Now, in a world exclusive, Scroll for Initiative can reveal that the following D&D products are confirmed for autumn 2021. Merch, merch, merch!

Spelljammer: Adventures in Wild Space

The final frontier. May the Force be with you.
– Elminster

Finally, after years of hints, Spelljammer IS confirmed. The much beloved campaign setting was long overdue for a 5e reboot, and fans of the original sourcebooks will not be disappointed.

We can reveal that the new sourcebook willl contain:

  • Revised rules for ship combat, including heavy weapons, ramming, and hexcrawls between spheres
  • Two new playable races: the giff and the neogi
  • Four new subclasses
  • Stats for at least four new monsters, including comet steeds, radiant dragons, giant space hamsters, and more
  • A short introductory adventure: Lost Mine of Phandelver . . . in Space!
  • A 3D poster map

It is expected that the next few hardback adventures will focus on Wild Space. However, following in the tradition of 5th edition Forgotten Realms adventures, only ten percent of the Wild Space setting will actually appear.

An alternative cover design containing real space dust will be revealed next month on my YouTube channel (I just need to set it up first). Stay tuned!

Curse of Strahd: Kill Strahd Yet Again

Following the success of 2016’s Curse of Strahd and last year’s Curse of Strahd Revamped, fans will be delighted to learn that the next published adventure will be Kill Strahd Yet Again. Plot details are scant at this stage, but it’s rumoured that this $50 adventure will take adventurers back to Barovia to find that Strahd has once again . . . ah, you know the rest.

47th anniversary dragon and dice

To celebrate nearly 50 years since the original Dungeons & Dragons game was published, we can expect to see a new amethyst dice set, expected to retail for just $400. The dice set will come with a custom dice box and dice tray combo and an exclusive sticker set. There are also plans to release an amethyst dragon made of real plastic, which will be snapped up by collectors for the price of just $90!

Lifesize Tiamat model

Fans were delighted to learn this week that an official update of the Tiamat miniature is in the works: the biggest D&D mini yet. It’s expected to retail for under $400. What is yet to be revealed, however, is the lifesize Tiamat model, constructed at 1:1 scale. D&D fans with a spare garage/aircraft hangar will be able to house this magnificent mini biggie for just $24,000.

Player’s Handbook: Neckbeard Edition

D&D is as popular as it has ever been, and there’s no desire for a new edition any time soon. However, for some of the game’s oldest fans, D&D isn’t what it used to be, so a special edition Player’s Handbook is now in the works for December 2021.

If you’re a sexist and a racist uncomfortable with the concept of diversity, you will be pleased to see a return to the male pronoun throughout, and almost all the humans depicted in the artwork will be white men (because D&D IS EUROPEAN MEDIEVAL FANTASY GODDAMNIT!!!!1!). Some women females will be shown, but they will be depicted exclusively in boob plate and chainmail bikinis. Orcs will be back to their always-evil, pig-faced selves.

In terms of rule changes, Armour Class is likely to be replaced by THAC0, fighters will be renamed ‘fighting men’, and the grapple rules of 3rd edition will return with all their tactical crunch (get your flowcharts ready). Female characters will start with lower Strength scores, bards will be a complex multiclass option, and best of all, the rulebook will return to 9-point Futura. We can’t wait.

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1st-level adventures

Most D&D campaigns begin at 1st level. Because of this, it can be hard to create an adventure that feels fresh and original. It is also the deadliest level of D&D, and a relatively ordinary enemy can kill an adventurer in a single blow.

In this article, I look at how to plan a 1st-level adventure that is fun, exciting, original, and not too challenging.

Embrace the fantastical

Low-level characters can seem a little underwhelming if you are used to playing at higher levels. But don’t forget how extraordinary even a D&D character can be, even at 1st level. A wizard can hurl bolts of fire over distances of 120 feet. A cleric can heal grievous injuries in seconds. A fighter can go toe-to-toe with multiple enemies and emerge unscathed. This is cool stuff! Lean into it.

Think about enemies, too. Sure, a giant rat is not an ancient red dragon. But a rat the size of a small dog is a horrifying thing. Mephits are fascinating, imp-like creatures of raw elemental energy. Stirges are hideous flying bloodsuckers. Twig blights are plants that have become animate, awakened by a great evil. Embrace the lore. If you as a DM treat goblins like boring low-level fodder, then your players will, too.

Lastly, think about locations. Even at 1st level, there are cool places for the players to explore. A forgotten crypt. An ancient watchtower. A secret wing of an old house, only recently unsealed. A good tip from Sly Flourish: if in doubt, make it big, old, or both. Even at 1st level, this is totally achievable.

Keep it simple

Kosmic Dungeon

1st-level is almost like a tutorial mode in a video game. You want it to be over fairly quickly. By default, a character hits 2nd level after 300 XP, and that’s actually more XP than you’d think: 24 goblins or twice as many kobolds. As a minimum, that’s eight ‘hard’ encounters. I would ditchXP and instead level up the party after your first session, even if it’s only two hours.

To that end, aim for something manageable and short. A five-room dungeon is perfect here. An adventure hook, one or two easy encounters, a puzzle of some kind, and a more challenging battle to finish on: you don’t need much more than this.

To avoid railroading, consider this: jot down three ideas for an adventures, pull out a servicable map for each one, and plan loosely from there. If in doubt, think about a few monsters you want to use, and go from there. Some examples:

  • a dark crypt, corrupted by evil (skeletons, swarm of bats)
  • rainy marshes (bullywugs, stirges)
  • a sea cave shrine to Blibdoolpoolp (kuo-toa)
  • a secret grove (pixies, sprites)
  • shadowy forests (needle blights, twig blights)

Similarly, you don’t need a world map or a whole adventure path lined up. Invent a village or a small town and go from there.

Encounter building

Mike Shea (Sly Flourish) has a brilliant post on building 1st-level encounters. Here are some of the key conclusions:

  • Include fewer monsters than characters.
  • Don’t go above CR ¼.
  • Keep average monster damage to 5 or less.
  • Cast aid on the party.
  • Level up quickly.

I agree with all of this advice. 1st level can be brutal. Lost Mine of Phandelver famously starts with a goblin encounter that is potentially lethal. Don’t kill the characters just as they’re getting started.

If it seems limiting, bear in mind that there are more than 60 monsters in the Monster Manual alone which are between CR ¼ and CR ⅛, and another 20 or so if you add Volo’s Guide to Monsters or Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. And these creatures are still challenging: Kobold Fight Club tells me that four creatures of CR ⅛ will be a medium encounter for four 1st-level adventurers, and four CR ¼ creatures is deadly.

Start somewhere

Don’t overthink your first adventure. So long as the players get to fight something, find some treasure, and have a fun NPC to interact with, they will have a great time. Plotting a whole campaign at this stage is probably a bad idea. A story will emerge overtime. Be a fan of the players, and let it happen.

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Die, Bard: A D&D Christmas Adventure Seed

A setting-neutral holiday one-shot for four 4th-level characters. Yippee-ki-yay, motherflumphers.

It is the night of the midwinter feast, and the party has been invited to the tower of archwizard Takagi for his annual celebrations.

At dusk, a long, black stagecoach pulls up outside, drawn by four black horses. A stout halfling with dark, curly hair is sitting in the driving box at the front. ‘Argyle,’ he says, introducing himself. ‘I’m your coachman. You’re gonna have to help me. This is my first time driving a coach . . .’ He seems to have forgotten that he is meant to open the door for them.

Argyle is a little nervous: it is indeed his first day driving a coach, not that he’s bad at it. He is also chatty (bordering on nosey) and asks lots of questions about the adventurers and the party that they are going to. He knows lots of songs and poems for the midwinter festival, and he enjoys singing loudly while he’s driving the stagecoach. Beyond that, he wants the adventurers to sit back and relax. Encounter idea: seven gremlins (use goblin stats) and one king gremlin (goblin boss) try to stop the coach.

The archwizard’s tower comes into view in the dying light: an impressive structure of salmon-pink stone and gleaming grey crystal, nearly 500 feet tall. Night has fallen by the time Argyle has drawn up the coach. ‘You go upstairs to the party,’ he says. ‘I’ll wait in the coach house till the end of the evening.’ He forgets, again, that he’s meant to open the door for them.

The archwizard’s tower

Cubicle 7

The entrance hall is beautiful yet sterile. It is also deserted, except for a guard sitting behind a massive front desk. A large teddy bear sits on the chair next to him. The guard checks the characters’ tickets and looks up their names in a guest list. If asked about the teddy bear, he jokes that it didn’t have a guest ticket. (The bear is actually a gift for his girlfriend.) 

Weapons are not allowed in the tower. Characters who wish to conceal a weapon with the ‘light’ property can attempt to do so with a DC 15 Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check. The DC for any other weapon is at least 30. Armour (with the exception of padded armour) is also not allowed, and neither are shields.

When the party is ready, the guard will lead them to a magical platform that acts as an extremely fast elevator. The celebrations are being held on the 30th floor.

The Midwinter Feast

Wizards of the Coast

The 30th floor is dense with people. Waiters carry trays of wine and fruit punch from guest to guest. A tall fir tree stands at the centre of the room, decorated with ribbons, silver tinsel, candy d20s, and magic lights. Some of the guests throw streamers over the characters. Some of the guests dance. Others try to kiss the adventurers. Through the crystal panes of the tower walls, the party can see the lamplit city far beneath them.

Here’s an opportunity for the players to roleplay some social encounters:

  • Holly (half-elf noble) is a successful ex-adventurer and mother of two.
  • Ellis (dwarf noble) a stylish, successful, and rather sleazy merchant who can’t stop sniffing for some reason.
  • Takagi, a kind-hearted, well educated mage and the host for the evening.
  • Bruce (human veteran), a tough off-duty watchman annd Holly’s ex-husband.

At some point, one of Takagi’s servants comes to find the adventurers. Argyle is trying to call them on one of Takagi’s sending stones upstairs, but when the party get there, Argyle is singing to himself again and doesn’t pick up.

Party’s over

Wizards of the Coast

At this point, the tower is seized by Gruber the Bard and his gang of heavily armed mercenaries! The adventurers can hear the sound of lightning bolts and melee combat from downstairs. The party guests are herded in the centre of the chamber and the tables are pulled back. Many people are whimpering.

The leader of the mercenaries is a tiefling dressed in a colourful entertainer’s outfit. He is impeccably dressed, lean and handsome, and walks to the front of the crowd like he owns the place. He puts away his wand of lightning bolt and unfurls a vellum scroll.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he begins, soothingly, ‘due to this kingdom’s legacy of greed, it is about to be taught a lesson in real power. You . . . will be witnesses. If our demands are not met, however, you may become participants instead.’ He gives a sad smile and checks his notes. ‘Now, where is . . . “Takagi”?  Where is the archwizard who . . . used to be in charge here?’

The archwizard is shoved forward. He is worried, but far from cowed. Gruber steps towards him and extends a hand. ‘Archwizard Takagi,’ he says. ‘How do you do? I am Gruber the Bard. Nice robes, by the way. I have some like that myself.’

Takagi turns to the crowd and seeks out the adventurers. ‘Get to safety,’ he cries, ‘and seek help!’ With that, he casts teleport from a scroll, and the adventuring party disappears . . .

To be continued!

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