Benny Jimbob Leonardo Wolfgang III was a curious boy. Carving ingots from the congealed remains of adventurers passed in the womb of gelatinous ooze, he pondered on intricacies of their deaths. He wore these trinkets like trophies; cursed fingers, lost teeth, errant tongues...and one very curious music box. They shook collected in this case, jangling to and fro like percussive reminders to never mess with a wizard...
Pulling our visions into messy arcane studies, pits flanked by dangerous ooze, and dark caverns of mystery, we rest our eye upon one of my favorite little critters in this whole game.
Sporting leathery skin and angry spikes, with claws for climbing, and a mouth often gaped, the Nothic is unnerving on its own, but its enormous, unblinking eye sets it far apart from its other cave kin. Despite its stark appearance, though, the Nothic can form rich bonds and motivations, even spilling themselves into an industry all their own.
A baleful eye peers out from the darkness, its gleam hinting at a weird intelligence and unnerving malevolence. Most times, a nothic is content to watch, weighing and analyzing the entities it encounters. Not particularly powerful, the elder evils bestowed upon the curious gothic a horrific gaze - an unblinking eye to rot the flesh from bones.
But the arcane nature and lust for knowledge has cursed the Nothic. Once wizards of their own make, their lives are twisted by the dark curse left behind by Vecna, the Whispered One. Vecna was a powerful lich who sought to transcend his undead form to godhood, and threatens to consume the material realm in his wrath.
A Nothic retains no awareness of their former glory, skulking amid the shadows in places rich in magical knowledge, their memories only strange dreams and hallucinations, twisted specters of liars and illusions. It is these memories, though, that grant them a unique magical insight to extract knowledge from the creatures they stalk. This information they may give, for a price, be it gold, magical artifacts, or secrets to be traded.
Their love of magic and obsession with artifacts drive them to infiltrate arcane sanctuaries and academies, some seeking a vague assertion that their state could be reversible, like a splinter in their mind. They covet magical script and scry, some going so far as to organize and categorize existing spaces. Some wizards even look upon the appearance of a Nothic as a blessing; a creature to keep safe their secrets in exchange for knowledge.
By The Numbers
Not prone to overt violence, the Nothic isn't built for battle. Their claws are negligible, and though they sport a decent AC (15), and a good average hit points, one can be felled by a few good rolls. That is, if you don't get caught in its Rotting Gaze first.
The iconic move can severely damage a low-level PC, and outright murder your wizard or sorcerer. And straight look at their basic numbers doesn't call into account what resources their coveted "sanctuary" may carry. A Nothic with a Blink scroll is infinitely more dangerous than one you'd find in a field, and a DM (like myself) that chooses to build upon the striated knowledge of a twisted once-wizard may find some curious surprises to spring on a low-level party.
Like I said, the Nothic uses to be a spell caster - a creature devoted to the arcane. This means that those cognitively aware enough of their own affliction would seek to remedy it. Which births Nothic alchemists and artificers, brewing elixirs and constructing shadows, seeking to silence the incessant voices of their fragmented memories.
For those who drink the ill-made elixirs, further mutations plague their forms. Orcish blood infuses their body with resistance; devilish magic turns their blood to smoke, their steps to shadow; Fey magic infuses the spines and spurs with wild magic that explodes with their emotions.
On the other side, the unhinged artifice breathes new terrifying life into their visage. An extra set of arms of offset their twitchy nature; electric infusers to inject them with strange mutagens, all the better to defend their workshop from intruders. If you were driven to mad industry to silence the voices in your head, what would you make?
See you at the table.
Easy setup. The lady in my life asked for a drink, and found this recipe on Pinterest...
So we tested it out.
The Recipe according to the internet:
5 oz Silver Tequila
2 oz Blueberry Liqueur
4 oz Lime Juice
2 oz Triple Sec
2 cups of Frozen Blueberries
1 cup of Ice
*Toss it all in a blender, churn it up, and pray. Makes 3-4 servings.
+ ...this is...a rough sipper.
+ The lime is a bit too much here. Lime is supposed to elevate the Tequila's iconic bite, but something in here makes it a weird soup.
+ Triple Sec is a decent thing, but it can't do much against the blueberry mash.
+ There's a drink here, but it seems confused.
+ I disagree with the silver tequila.
In case it wasn't obvious, this did not succeed.
So, I fixed it.
4 oz GOLD Tequila (might I suggest Patron)
2 oz Blueberry Liqueur
2 oz Lime Juice (sweetened)
1 oz Dry Curacao
1 oz Sweet and Sour Mix
*Throw into a shaker with a few ice cubes, shake the hell out of it, and strain into two glasses.
+ Lovely and boozy.
+ Dry Curacao is a beautiful replacement for Triple Sec that maintains its flavor without overpowering, and you don't need as much for the same effect.
+ Sweet and Sour with the Blueberry Liqueur creates that "blueberry juice" sense that the original was going for, and true that there's no fruit in this, but isn't better to taste good anyway?
The shaker is better than the blender. It's a concentrated dose, so we're making and drinking less, BUT it's stronger, so take it with some food.
Enjoy your blueberries, and happy new year.
(for more recipes, fiction, and content, visit my Patreon)
It is rare that I watch a show that sticks with me days after it is done.
In the deluge of modern entertainment, lasting power and rewatchability are rare properties. We can consume content at a record's pace, and sometimes its lesser folk are a blur of drawn-out content and characters that don't grow. We remember the best parts faintly, and hold fast to what we can, happy to discard the majority of the experience and move forward with little changed within.
It is rare that an art piece might grip us by the soul and pull our tethers to watch it over and over again, marveling at the subtle hues and colors and words and sparks hidden between the cracks of its foundation - that we might seek to dive deeper and deeper into its ocean, and drink every drop of the marrow within.
It is rare that a series holds weight in every episode, every scene, every carefully crafted word; not a wasted frame, nothing without intention or vibrancy. It is rare that a series might summon an endless array of discussion, documentary, analysis, and theoretical depth.
I have not felt this amount of depth since the close of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
This is high praise. Anyone who has seen Avatar to its completion understands its mantle of the "greatest animated series ever made." Subtle elements, powerful arcs, beautiful animation, and a maturity no one ever expected. Avatar made a world its viewers wanted to return to over and over again; fascinating, terrifying, exquisite, mystical.
And I tell you, from the bottom of my heart, that Arcane matches this in every aspect.
A Little Background
Arcane: League Of Legends is a 9-part animated series set in one of the game's many nations. In the industrial, stratified city of Piltover, embers of war threaten to ignite between the aristocratic "top-siders" and the undercity dwellers of Zaun, and caught between these threads resonates an emotional and driven story of two sisters driven apart and crashing back together over several years.
Fans of the game series will find a treasure trove of easter eggs and deeper content while still being taken along for the ride of the story as it sets up characters, provides context, and develops the world.
And yet, you don't need to know anything about League Of Legends to enjoy this. In fact, other than my minimal knowledge gleaned from strictly music videos, I know next to NOTHING. And I was BLOWN AWAY by this series. I've watched it three times through already.
Not New Territory
Riot (the creators of League Of Legends) are no strangers to animation, having produced dozens of animated shorts to promote and expand the opportunities of their wildly popular game franchise, but here is something very different. This isn't a commercial or some random flex - this is a deep story with outstanding writing, animation, and music (Riot is one of those production companies that, as a musician, I can really get behind - they GET it).
Released in 3-episode "acts", the entire series is now live on Netflix, and it's all the animation community can talk about in recent weeks.
If anything, this story serves as the best possible introduction to this universe as a story-scape, as anyone who knows nothing is going to get a lot out of this just as a series, and anyone who knows more is going to explode.
A Story About Relationships
As any good writer knows, the power is never in the world-building, but the relationships found within. Our main leads hold distinct threads that bind them together in the paradigms they protect, and even if or when severed, continue to mold their own development.
The writers forged their story with this in mind as characters grow and change in profound and interesting ways over the course of the season - time skips included. At no point does a character act "out" of themselves to serve a different narrative or force conflict where there isn't one; everyone's actions make sense given their circumstances, and episode to episode, each of our ensemble cast pushes beyond any hope of a trope, fulfilling fully fleshed-out characters that you are rooting for.
It is this attention to characterization and detail that stands out the most to me. There isn't a character in the main squad that I dislike - even our villains - because their depth of growth and exploration imbues something tangible in them. These are less and less cartoons, and more and more like people; they behave naturally in the world that surrounds them. Which makes it that much more powerful when the story cuts swathes in them with broad strokes.
Give It A Shot
I know I'm speaking pretty general here, and what I am saying is all praise, but this entry is just a recommendation. Will I be doing a deeper editorial analysis on characterization and psychology? The answer is a resounding YES, but for now, I don't want to spoil a single drop of this for anyone.
If you trust my judgement even a modicum, go settle in and give it a watch. Then...we'll discuss.
See you soon.
Alcoholic bottles look pretty funky.
These bottles range from simple to scary (I'm looking at you, human skull vodka with flecks of rose gold mixed with blood), and are truly a deep dive masterclass in presentation. Maker to maker, the micro decisions involved in the glass used, the formation of the bottle, the height, cork, top, design, and art can be game changers. And this is especially true for new samplers of products. You've all seen my post on the Sexton Irish Whiskey - awesome bottle, great presentation, but not my favorite whiskey; disappointing, but they got the sale.
Now, I embrace sampler bottles ("little nips" they're often called). Tiny 50 mL bottles, some for just a buck or two, and I can experiment. But even those decisions are still framed in the overall presentation. The honeycomb ridged bottle of my honey liqueur drew me to its sampler, and now it's a staple on my shelf (Barenjager, for those of you interested). This is how I discovered my love of Jack Daniel's - Original, Honey, Fire - that 750 mL bottle is cool; easy to move like a handle and a beautiful lower 2/3 block that rests well and sturdy.
A large spread of certain "cheaper" brands tend toward the same bottle design. Hiram Walker uses the same design for every single liqueur in their suite; 750 mL high, with all vibrant, easily read labels. Vodka - Smirnoff, Ketel One, Grey Goose - follows a similar trend. Bacardi has its structure on lock. But then Wild Turkey shows up, and every pursuit is a different design; Longbranch is different from their standard which is different from their American Honey - all gorgeous bottles.
And each, though sometimes visually unique or at the very least a variation of an old design, is still industrially standardized for measurement. 750 mL for standard retail size, 375 mL for a smaller version, and 1.75 Liters (1750 mL) for those big Tito's jugs (Captain Morgan and Dewers, and many others do the same thing). You may see some even variable 500 mL rebels, or the strange skulls of 900 mL, but those tend to be your ballparks.
What this means is that when I find something I enjoy, whether by merit of its presentation or by discovery of its imbibing worth through taste and flexibility, chances are that the bottle it is delivered in...is still in my house. As I learn much about making bitters, wine, mead, syrups, and liqueurs all my own, I would be remiss to simply discard the numerous array of interesting bottles and containers I have collected through my personal explorations and mixology.
So when I opened my cabinet this morning and saw a certain 750 mL liqueur nearly depleted, and a certain drink nearing the end of its secondary staging (soon to be in dire need of bottling for its final aging), a keen thought emerged. Make a trio of cocktails, and FINALLY use up that old bottle of Blue Curacao.
2 oz Tequila
1 oz Blue Curacao
1 oz Lime Juice
Ice, salt on the rim, and a lime wedge
+ This is the classic margarita. Duh.
+ Refreshing, but I actually recommend the snooty tequila - get some gold Patron to avoid some of that burn.
+ Tastes like vacation.
1 oz Vodka
1 oz Gin
3/4 oz Blue Curacao
1 oz Orgeat
Splash of Lime Juice
2 oz soda water (recommending Soda Water with Lime)
+ This is super tasty
+ As a guy who can sometimes get ill with Blue Curacao, this feels like an excellent way to mitigate that triggered flavor.
+ Soda Water with some melted ice thins this into a bright lime soda; refreshing
+ Great little spice from the Gin
+ I would easily make this for myself.
Blue Island Iced Tea
Get ready for the beast.
1/2 oz each of the following: vodka, tequila, white rum, gin, blue curaçao
1 oz Lemon Juice
Fill with Ginger Ale (3 to 5 ounces)
+ The Ginger Ale is the defining feature here. It elevates the entire drink.
+ Strong, sweet, easy to drink...
+ ...do be careful, sweethearts.
And with that, my Blue Curacao bottle is empty and I can get back to more important things. ;)
Be responsible, my Smurfs.
It happens every once in a while. You're moving and grooving in a campaign, joking, laughing, having a blast - then the big bad shows up and things go sideways. They're tough, but you do your best, and the dice are all over the place. Characters are dropping left and right as they pull out all the stops to win, and the rival group's preparation throws the party off-guard. Then the tides begin to turn, and realization sets in - your players are going to lose.
HOW that happens, though, and what it means, is up to everyone at the table.
Sometimes D&D can be hard on you.
There's a beautiful immersive quality to tabletop gaming that invites fun and engaging storytelling, deep role-play (even if it's silly - my favorite), and impactful combat. But for all the moments of victory, laughter, and levity...sometimes things don't go the way you thought they would. Dice rolls don't play nice, your enemies came prepared, or stuff's going on in real life that colors what's happening. Does that mean it was a bad story? Not at all. A challenging encounter once in a while (and in this case, once in a LONG while, as most of the campaign is meant to be fun and light) makes the points of levity even stronger, and how characters rise from the ashes of a "defeat" can uncover new layers of immersion and growth.
The Fears Of A DM
In my Feywild campaign, there has been a consistent air of hilarious strangeness and dark undertones, with a side salad of irreverent quips and bonkers magic. At the table, we find our sweet spot in Social Interaction and Exploring this intriguing setting, while building up a network of knowledge on the many forces vying for control of this magical realm. Our best sessions are derived with zero combat and an army of NPCs to talk to and mess with.
It's in Combat and conflict that the veils struggle, and the dark side of the setting pulls into focus.
This is a High Magic setting full of Fey and wizards and chronomancy and Queen Mab. Campfires sing to you, trapping those entranced in an endless dance of death. The grass needs compliments or it will kill you. The dreaded Theater looms in the dark forests, luring unsuspecting travelers into its immortal troupe. And the evergreen kings and queens of this realm care little for the fleeting lives of a few amusing PCs.
This means that when clashes happen, there are often elements of chaos that are hard to predict. That said, that was one of the selling points of the campaign. A "wild" version of magic and mischief that can swing some things in and out of your favor, but never too far as to push your success to pure luck. A voyeuristic Archfey that finds the actions of a PC intriguing, and grants them a mote of possibility. A character's plant affinity granting them transport across the map. Pockets of void magic that provide inverse effects of certain spells.
But in Combat, the dice can add a variability that can sometimes be less hilarious, and more tragic.
When my party is frustrated, I am frustrated. When they are sad, I am sad. When they struggle, I struggle. I am not a DM that supports adversarial gaming; it is not a "DM vs Players" mindset over here. Do I challenge them? Of course! But when they're feeling it, I'm right there with them. I WANT them to beat my big bads; I want them to win the day, so when they don't, I feel like I lost too. And I don't want them to hurt, I want them to feel energized to return. They didn't sign up for a trauma center EVERY week.
Hmm. Let me get into this a bit more so you can understand where we're coming from.
The Lead Up
The Feywild Warriors have been trekking around the Ionian Feywild for 12 levels now. We do milestones, and they tend toward less combat and more interaction. They're lovable children, when you think about it, as most of the PCs are around 17-19, one doesn't even know his age, and then we've got an old fighter into his 50s that acts like their dad (found family, you get it). We've got a Dragonborn Fighter (Terhune), a Werewolf Druid (Buddy), a Tiefling Wild Magic Sorlock (Bry) and her elemental familiar (Soot), a Tiefling Bard/Fighter (Akita), and a Human Battle Master Fighter (Taman). Because they're so dang adorable and well-intentioned, they've accumulated quite the entourage of NPCs. Alannah - a Paladin/Tempest Cleric (wife of Taman); Essian - a half-elven War Mage, Alannah's ward; Vali - a human Rogue and now girlfriend to Akita (she went to the Feywild to find Akita, so that's love); Broty - a young Tanarukk (who has imprinted on the two tieflings and views them as little sisters)...poor guy has an intelligence of 5.
ALSO, along the way, they have happened upon another adventuring party led by a character they presumed killed in their first adventure. A bridge guard who survived The Massacre Of Sentry at the hands of a Black Knight and joined up with another party to help him seek righteous vengeance. His name is Jenkins Carpenter, or Jink for short, and he is avenging the death of his brother, Leroy Carpenter (yes, I am that guy). Jenkins is joined by Nessa, a High Elf Ranger/Rogue, Remy the Lizardfolk Barbarian, and Sloan the Dwarven something (seriously, I don't think he knows what class he is).
This literal army of deadly kittens have built powerful bonds between each other as they navigate the dangerous wilds of the Fey realm, each strengthening and redefining the odd family dynamic of those that face threat together. All the while, dark forces move into position. The Winter Court has occupied the City Of Astrazalian - a neutral ground between the Fey Courts - and is using it as a military position (that's not okay); an orcish army led by a tiefling warlord marches on the West; a gnoll army marches Northwest (and threatens to clash); the stars (spirits of guidance in the Fey Realm) are falling from the sky and being collected by the Whispering Rock guild and their seemingly corrupted leader, Montblanc (doesn't help that Terhune, Taman, Alannah, and Essian were all once members of this guild, whoopsie)... And all of this seems orchestrated by a small group of individuals that call themselves The Four Gears.
The party has had fleeting encounters with each of them.
Hush, the Black Knight/Silencekeeper - the first real threat the party saw in their inciting incident on a bridge. Simple stuff; they all met, hung out, antics ensued, they went to bed. Woke up and the bridge town was burning down, and this jerk was coming through killing folks. They tried to distract them, but the bridge collapsed, and now the Black Knight haunts their nightmares as they catch drifting news of their exploits.
Albrecht, the Kingslayer - a cleric of multiple gods (it seems), the party has mostly witnessed the aftermath of Albrecht's handiwork. The guy has a huge distaste for small fey, burning spryte villages and darkling conclaves to the ground. In a way, he's been knocking out lesser leaders to pin focus on larger forces. He is surgical and pragmatic, but his true intentions are unclear.
Eon, the Kingmaker - a silver-tongued lavender tiefling wizard of deep knowledge and cunning, Eon has aided the party in navigating the gnoll army early in the campaign, but he has only become more creepy as time goes on. He took a liking to his fellow tieflings, but holds no love for other races. Seeing the growing power in Bry and a possible kinship, he has been invasive in contacting her, much to the worry of his fellows, even going so far as to bind himself to a promise not to kill her companions. A promise that may spell his undoing, but it is entirely possible that he is playing a different kind of game.
Arameis Salfurion, the Whisper - an aasimar of unknown origin, this entity is known only through word of mouth and fleeting visions before death. Most recent word has it that he serves as a consultant to Montblanc and his guild, and may be behind the collection of Fallen Stars. He has been seen as an after-image of a Contingency spell woven into the symbol of the Whispering Rock Guild - set to turn people to dust if they broach certain topics of discussion. Luckily, Alannah and Essian's abjurative abilities tipped them off before it was too late, and Taman and Terhune had already forcibly resigned.
In the Ionian Feywild, there are forces that serve as great equalizers. None are more powerful or resolute than the Erlking and his Wild Hunt. He is appointed by the Stars, so his legend is known among the denizens of the Fey far and wide. He holds no Court of his own, though many claim to be of it. In truth, he calls the honored dead to his banners - ancient Eladrin warriors culled by his Hunt in days long past and sworn into servitude to wash the realm of dangerous chaos. He and his Hunt are the last bastion of defense and the grand hammer that allows the Fey Courts to sit on their thrones and raise their goblets in indifference. In other words, if crap gets real, the Erlking will take care of it.
Thing is, the stars are falling and war is brewing, and no horns of the Hunt are blaring. The Fey Lords and Ladies are only mildly concerned, as is their way, but the lesser fey - like the extricated Autumn Court, or the Darkling clans - know that something is wrong, and that they'll be hit by the brunt of it long before Summer feels a tickle.
Though they be young, the party has heroes in it, and those that lack heroics still garner a sense of justice. There is wrong happening around them, and though they often move on to their next adventure, the wave is catching up to them - threatening to drown. They conclude that they have two real choices: 1) Get someone to plane shift them to the Material Plane (where most of them are from), cozy up at Taman's house with his wife, get adopted, and wait till this all blows over; or 2) locate the Erlking and his crown, so evil can be stopped.
Prepared for both outcomes, I did not nudge a thing, but the group voted - option 2 was the way.
So they ventured to the savage dark forests of The Fading City, seeking an audience with its undead Fey Ranger King...Lord Calenon Thrayn. Turns out, two armies also threaten to converge upon the city, so the party must sneak past in order to get inside first. Which, they just barely do so, as orcs begin to pour into the city hot on their heels. Luckily, the city has a defense mechanism: the Fog Of Purity. Creatures that pass into this Fog undergo strange, random trials that measure a piece of their soul - some are straight forward, some are outright weird, and in clear Feywild fashion, it's pretty random. Long story short, a few of the smarter captains emerge from the Fog deep into the dark forest that permeates the city...knee deep in dinosaurs and gigantic beasts. Our heroes, however, emerge before a guide - a little Fey kitty - that leads them to Thrayn.
Much discussion later, we discover that the Erlking's Crown is hidden in the Material Plane. As part of Shinealestra's lore, the city will phase to the Material Plane every night at midnight, its forest of nightmare creatures becoming a prized hunting ground for only the bravest of hunters. It returns to the Fey Realm at first light, at dawn. The castle flips, our resident human Taman and his wife rejoice at seeing a normal sky and normal grass, and the army of squirrels is led by a pack of sentient mushrooms with messenger bags to their next destination.
After a clutch phantasmal force on a nasty T-Rex, the original party plus a Jenkins makes it through just before the cave mouth closes, leaving their allies to fight the dino. Trusting each other, they have a chat with an Elder Being, get a very needed Long Rest in a time bubble, and push their way into a teleportation chamber. The werewolf, rocking his child-like intelligence, bounds through the portal before the others can stop him. He is seemingly atomized (think Dr. Manhattan, you weirdos), and while the players at the table contemplate if I just killed a character, Bry notes that the transportation runes have been tampered with. Conclusion - they still work, they just don't go to the right place. Four fragmented sendings and a lot of swearing later, Buddy returns, Bry fixes the portal, and our Taman has the brilliant idea to scan the area with a See Invisibility item. Good thing, too, as Eon's voice creeps into our Sorcerer's head, and they watch him drop into the fixed portal, before they all jump in after him.
They feather fall down into ruins; gravestones and sarcophagi overgrown with moss and fallen trees. Bry's nature affinity clears the path to a throne, a skeletal guardian, and a crown...before urging everyone to look up. Eon, silhouetted by a dark sky, floats above them. "Thank you for showing us the way..." He summons Minute Meteors...and detonates the Delayed Blast Fireball under their feet.
Why This Was Tricky
I crafted this particular encounter without a clear idea of how it was going to end. Not that I've ever shunted PCs into certain positions to reach a specific outcome, but sometimes you can foresee the three basic endings in a battle. Get to know a party well enough, and you get a pretty good idea how most things are going to play out. But this time, there were certain variables that made things tricky.
1) THE DICE WERE BEING JERKS - I award inspiration, give advantage where I can, and overall support my players given the wacky setting we all agreed to...it just wasn't helping! Saving throws getting botched, attack rolls whiffing, amazing ideas with simple checks falling flat. On both sides! And, you know, maybe that's a good story, too. This is a group that buys into that variability; I like to think we're charging up for those legendary three Nat 20's in a row moment. (it's happened, let's let it happen again).
2) THESE ENEMIES HAD TIME - They have been plotting, preparing, and hiding. I can't spoil a lot here, but their abilities are based on rules, magic items, and preparation. They are a counter-party, and this is their moment. They had a plan. Eon shows first and distracts while Hush goes for the crown, and the third waits in the wings for the most opportune moment. They are smart - flawed, but we'll get to that - and deadly.
3) THEY'RE PUTTING IT ALL ON THE TABLE - This being such a clutch moment for The Four Gears party, they're going to burn a bunch of resources to achieve their goal, making them LOOK very powerful for a limited time. IF our heroes can hold out against that onslaught, that's another chance in the PCs' favor.
4) MANY WAYS TO "WIN" - with an Ancient Artifact in play, there are a plethora of ways this could go down. We just finished a segment where at least two of our PCs saw visions of themselves wearing the crown, so we know it's possible. Holding the crown has one effect (it can't be stowed in a container, btw), while WEARING it has another. On top of this, despite Eon's destructive forces, his connection with the party can be exploited; whether that flips him to the other side or pisses off his companions enough to cut him loose, that's another win in the PCs's direction - he DID make a blood pact not to kill them. Throw in our Amplified Wild Magic (Feywild custom), a reluctant warlock pact, burgeoning tiefling rage powers, our Taman's random ability to nullify certain magical effects (I have to roll for it - dice were jerks, see above), and a custom druidic circle all about ripping and tearing, and there's a surfeit of possibility here.
How It Played Out
This was tough challenge against prepared, patient enemies. And for a PC party that has done pretty well flying by the seat of their pants into most encounters, I foresaw that this could be a tougher go this time around.
After eating the explosion, the party scatters while Eon attempts to place Bry into stasis - keen to remove her safely from the fight. Taman, in a cool reaction that I will allow, pushes Bry out of the way, and becomes inert for a round instead! Meanwhile, the perception-level-stupid-high Buddy notices that someone invisible might be making their way to the crown.
Akita decides on her own to polymorph into a super fast, super squishy bird and bum rush the crown. An invisible Hush cuts her out of the form as she flies by, but Akita maintains her momentum to land on the throne, hands already on the crown. With Jenkins and Buddy sprinting to help (the natural 2 on Jenkins's acrobatics did not help), Akita weighs her life choices as the skeleton wriggles to life and begins to wrestle with the tiefling to keep the crown.
Hush, now visible, puts on full display the completely legal and totally unfair mechanics of the Echo Knight and proceeds to tank a clutch polymorph (on an Echo), phase from one Echo to another, and one-shot our resident NPC Jenkins (who's just trying to avenge his brother, my guy, come on now!) with a Nat 20 great sword + sneak attack. With Jenkins making death saves in front of Buddy, Hush cleans her blade and silently squares off against our druid.
On the other side of the battlefield, Bry begins to show just how much she's grown as a mage as she not only deflects blows from Eon, but shatters his wards. The surges of Amplified Wild Magic elevate stones around her, and continue to build up inside her, threatening a cataclysmic burst. Terhune hides, and does his best to stay hidden while taking sniper shots at Eon. Both, due to obstructions, are unaware of Buddy and Jenkins's battle, nor are they fully aware of Akita's predicament.
Akita wrestles the crown, and the skeleton guarding it, off the throne. She does so with such primal force that the throne, its pedestal, and the plinth of stone it rests on, slide free in a shower of stone and dust. In the debris, a focused Akita pulls the crown free, its desiccated husk filling with new florid life and personality akin to her own. And crawling from the opened tomb under the throne, are the honored skeleton guard of the Erlking, watching their potential queen eagerly.
Whether by fear or force, Bry pushes Eon further into the ruin, and he doubles over in pain in the air; the arcane agreement he made threatens to be broken, so he sends healing words to Jenkins as Buddy rushes to help Akita (and more skeletons rise around her). Hush shifts her Echo closer to a hidden Terhune, and finally Taman has someone to fight.
Without structuring the rest of this in a play-by-play, a few things happen in quick succession that turn this whole thing sideways:
1) Bry's Wild Magic begins to manifest in telekinetic ways, flinging terrain across the map (one of which knocking Hush prone, to Taman's delight).
2) Hush shows her hand by raging, and a real threat comes into play, one that hits exponentially harder and is way more difficult to wound. ...But at least she's finally HAPPY to have an opponent worth fighting.
3) Eon's arcane agreement begins to debilitate and damage him the more hurt the PCs become; his allies do not share his values. The lavender tiefling becomes so overwhelmed by Bry and maintaining his arcane deal that he fails his saving throw to not become Entangled in a terrain hazard, and a few more failed saves later, becomes a sitting duck for the enraged Sorceress. ...So Bry intentionally devotes her resources and ire to immolate Eon, but not before he relinquishes his Staff Of Balance (Chronomancy) to her, somehow happy that she is the one to kill him.
4) At the precipice, the Skeleton Guard ache for a choice, and Akita hesitates. Instead, Buddy makes the decision FOR HER, forcing the crown onto her head. Her wounds disappear, the Skeletons bow, and her sight opens to the hundreds of spirit warriors now at her command. This transformation takes time (3 rounds), and she can interact with her growing powers each turn, but again, it takes time.
Quick Aside - My Little Rant On Fighters
Fighters should absolutely NOT be equipment-dependent. It is freaking ludicrous.
Also, WHY can't a Battle Master use Commander's Strike on a spell caster and that spell caster burn their Reaction to cast a cantrip? "Because a spell isn't a weapon." Yeah, yeah. Well, in the Feywild (purely as a product of the PCs being exposed to such a high magic surge area, and not because that was one of the most sad I've seen my Fighters), you can! So there.
It's not like Hush's abilities are broken, but she's rocking three classes (Fighter - Echo Knight, Rogue - Swashbuckler, Barbarian - Zealot) to gain the features to make her feel effective in combat. She isn't loaded up with crazy gear (good gear, nasty gear, but not ludicrous), and remember, they were prepared; so its feasible to get there, HOWEVER, you should not be required to multi-class in order to make your primary class effective.
Our PC party (at the moment) has TWO fighters; a Battle Master and a legit archer build, but with all this magic getting flung around, it can be easy to feel behind the pack, and vanilla fighter deserves better. Yet, in every campaign I have run, the fighter gains (through organic storytelling, questing, growth, and other such good stuff, mind you) a home-brew boon of some effect, to help off-set the distinct power creep from the other classes.
How It Ended
As Akita rises up and the crown begins to take hold...Albrecht, the leader of the Gears, appears from behind a veil of invisibility. Flying next to Akita, he grapples her (one hand on her throat, the other to her sternum) and channels divinity, attempting to interrupt her life force and fell her in one strike. She saves, allowing Buddy time to leap onto both of them, biting onto Albrecht's arm. Akita, in her second round, summons the skeletons and shades to help, and they begin to drift toward them.
Hush, seeing an opportunity, fells Terhune a second time. Then, with a sickening stab and a twist, ends his life then and there in front of Taman. As Bry puts the finishing touches on her murder-immolation across the map, Albrecht quickens a Banishment - "No hard feelings, pup" - and boops poor Buddy on the nose, hurling him into the Astral Sea. With Akita still in his grasp and at death's door, Albrecht uses a Deathly Grasp on her throat, wrenching her into unconsciousness. As her body goes limp on the ruined pedestal, he snatches the crown, calling out to Hush that it's time to leave.
Hush is hesitant, now that she has a worthy opponent all to herself, but she abides. Taman and a renewed Jenkins get some good hits in (Sentinel, bitch!), but she's able to scrape close enough over the next turn. Albrecht regards the dying Akita, and reaches out, stabilizing the girl (Spare The Dying - Grave Cleric). He then cracks the tiny Gem Of Recall, and pulls himself and Hush far and away from this plane. The Skeletons and Shades of the Hunt...are pulled with them.
And the party is left alone in silent, mossy ruins. Jenkins slumps to his knees as Taman sprints to Akita and pulls her back to consciousness. She sits up in silence, and Taman rushes back to Terhune's still body, Jenkins with him. Taman pulls a strange fruit from his pack; something he nicked many sessions ago - a Fruit Of Restoration (what kind? No one knows!) - he opens up Terhune's mouth and forces it down his throat. They watch as vines and earth begin to cover, then swallow the silver dragonborn's body, a Reincarnation-like spell taking effect.
A minute passes, and Buddy does not return to them. But somewhere in the Astral Sea, he is meeting a Githyanki pirate and Werewolf Vampire Hunter, picked up by an Astral Spelljammer vessel hell-bent on outrunning a Dreadnought. I'm sure he'll be fine.
Proof Of Concept and The Lowest Point
The Feywild is a land that, on the surface, might appear more silly than serious. However, the consistent theming of this campaign yields specific truths of the setting.
1) Fey and their realm are mischievous, dark, and often twisted entities who care very little for the mortal coil. Just because it looks nice, doesn't mean it's safe. Even the "jokes" of the Fey can be deadly.
2) Magic, though not at its most raw, perpetuates all living things here. So, weird stuff abounds, and it's pretty common.
3) There are rules, and they are numerous, for navigating the Fey realms safely; but many do not know them, and they often change dependent on a plethora of factors.
4) Fey and their ilk are often unreliable narrators, choosing interpretation over hard facts; this laces their words and veils their intentions - a true Theater Of Life.
5) Study of this realm yields immense power, but it requires extensive time, focus, and energy. Even a little bit of digging reveals the dark tone beneath the whimsy (consistent from the beginning of the campaign). ...we just really saw this one, this time. :(
It was stated before that this group has done quite well just stumbling through. Sometimes the PCs plan a little here and there, but mostly they do exceptional when they fly by the skin of their teeth. These PLAYERS are top-notch; they bring vibrant expression, creativity, knowledge, and joy to the table, which only deepens our collective world, and they PAY ATTENTION, no worries. And all have expressed that they brought creatures to the table who are "inexperienced" in at least one important skill each. Good! This found family has done amazing things in the face of overwhelming odds - by luck, creativity, allies, and pure unadulterated pun power!
This is the first time that they were unsuccessful, in the traditional sense. The bad guys "got away." One of the party is missing, another is dead (but not for long!), and the others are grappling with their decisions - some made BY them, others made FOR them. From the DM's side, I offer opportunities for choices, but the distinct choices are specified and executed by these veteran players. They are organic, in the moment, sometimes snap character decisions. Which means, another reason why I love this party, we now have a huge opportunity...
We get to DEAL WITH THOSE DECISIONS.
Cultivating Aftermath and The Arc Of A Character
Every character in this party was struck down in this session. Whether it be the very real severing of physical mortality, or the denser psychological dread of vengeance, or the helplessness of being a human in a world of fairies. For many, this could be described as their lowest point.
It can be a rough place to be in as a character, let alone a PLAYER. Several members have talked openly about the "mistakes" they made during the fight; things they could have done differently if the dice had cooperated; musings on certain game mechanics and gear load out... And yet, each came out with a plan to process this experience. Maybe we take some extra time before our next session, but we WILL have another session, and many more after that. This story WILL continue. Where it goes, is up to us.
In all great stories, especially ones that we share, this moment occurs. Some hit it harder than others, but they share the same term. We have entered The Abyss in our heroic journey. It is the space diametrically opposed by our Call To Adventure (our first few sessions). Often this is a Death and Rebirth - for some, perhaps more literally than others - and what comes next is a Transformation; rising action, rebuilding momentum, standing back up with lessons learned.
Initially I was concerned with the low energy post-session. With so many mirthful games under our belts, it felt WRONG to end the session like that. I became obsessed with the idea that I had led them astray; wounded them somehow. And what we all needed was a little extra time to process the events, and hatch a plan moving forward. What we've done, at last, is setup an arc for just about everyone. Our innocent, fun-loving Sorceress just straight-up murdered a dude (he was probably bad news, but still); our werewolf is Lost In Space, dealing with the guilt of putting the crown on Akita; Akita is grappling with being robbed of her choice, and yet craving the crown for the good it could do; Terhune, literally dead, drifts through his Ethereal past as his body and soul are reconstructed anew; Jenkins sits in silence, feeling weak and a waste of space, completely unable to enact his vengeance; and Taman, the old fighter and tactician, the hero of this story and the glue of this group, couldn't protect his adopted family even if he tried.
That is an Abyss.
And, as anyone who has struggled their own depression knows, the first step out of the dark is the hardest. But with every step, you will be stronger for it. You will stumble, you will learn, you will heal, and you will keep moving forward.
This time: Death (close Phase I)
Next time: the steps toward Rebirth. (open Phase II)
See you at the table.
Legacy In The Fleets Of Spelljammer
Aberrant, magical beasts of arachnid legs and eel bodies, the Neogi are another remnant of a more alien dungeons & dragons experience. Often described as the blend of a wolf spider and a giant eel, Neogi are monstrous to behold. These telepathic, mind-controlling masters of intellect and technology once roamed the extraplanar space and time of the Spelljammer ethos.
A society built upon cunning, opportunity, and devious plots, these aberrants sought power and prestige among the stars. Their ships, often called Mindspiders, drifted through the Astral Sea, or its legacy name - The Sea Of Night, within the Realmspace (a whole other fascinating can of illithid). Some of their ships could even shift into other planes, and prey upon the Githyanki and Djinn vessels across known space.
-- A Neogi Mindspider, primed for assault --
Might and Magic
As with all intelligent societies, the Neogi have a curious relationship with their gods and their roles.
Gender is not a thing in Neogi society, a fact that extends to its deities. These entities are more complex; built from the concert of certain barbaric ideas. For example, one deity personifies torture, pain, and suffering; while another stems from the chaos of creation; still another is fueled by envy or jealousy (the Neogi's understanding of "love").
But the Neogi's relationship and interpretation of these entities is particularly interesting. Unlike many other societies, Neogi culture dictates that the gods of their pantheon do not take tribute from their followers; it is very much the opposite. These mythic creatures are instead demanded favors and boons regularly; these gods, the Neogi believe, are merely servants of the Neogi race, and therefore MUST provide. For a deity to fail in this endeavor would mean their destruction, and devouring, as another more powerful "servant" would take their place.
However, the Neogi, always primed for chances at greater power, would not settle for their servant gods. In their journeys across realms, Neogi shamans (warlocks) would strike pacts with the powerful entities they came across - most notably some of the literal Elder Evils of D&D's legacy: Acamar, Caiphon, Gibbeth, and HADAR (you heard me). They took these greater beings on as mentors and helped further their influence in the known and unknown cosmos.
Science and Industry
Though their bodies and visage would lead one to believe only in a monstrous, primitive society, the Neogi are highly advanced in many studies and disciplines. The stratification of roles and duty can even be observed in how they paint or tattoo their furry abdomens, certain colors denoting specific trades and responsibilities.
With little empathy for other creatures, the Neogi are accomplished "flesh weavers" and necromancers, using the parts and pieces of numerous other species, slaves, and failed experiments to produce terrible and fascinating new monstrocities. It is rumored among Loremasters that these arachnid "mad scientists" are responsible for the creation of the Gray Render... Though no others can prove such a claim. The poor Umber Hulk and its cousins have been summarily studied, dissected, mutated, and raised from certain death by these practices, the dreaded Undead Hulk - an Umber Hulk flesh golem of regenerating pincers and necrotic spray - finding a home as both a Neogi guard dog and their prime enforcer.
Aforementioned warlocks and the few wizards of their clans were both motivated and industrial, forging new and modified versions of spells to adapt and support their war parties, and extend their dark rituals.
Speaking of rituals - this is how more Neogi are created. You see, as a Neogi reaches the end of its life and its memory begins to fade, a Neogi Priest will inject a powerful venom into the aging Neogi and perform an ancient ritual. Usually small or medium creatures, this elder Neogi will swell to a 20-foot behemoth called a Great Old Master. This mutated creature will remember nothing of its old life and will be driven only to eat, growing as large as possible. Those with Feeder striations in their fur must now gather as much food for the Great Old Master, as it eats and creates eggs inside its massive body. After two months of growth, the eggs hatch, killing the Old Master. The 20 to 40 new Neogi spawn then feed on the Old Master's corpse...and each other, until the strongest of the cluster survive.
By The Numbers (5th Edition)
In 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, you'll likely run across the Neogi in three forms - the Hatchling, the standard Neogi and the Master. Let's break them down.
HATCHLING (tiny) - young and fledgling (AC 10-11; HP Level 1 Wizard), these are dangerous in large numbers and simple on their own. Just don't wake up their older siblings.
NEOGI (small) - better natural armor (AC 15-16) and multi-attack makes this bugger a tougher beast to tango with, but this standard beastie comes with the main thing that makes these critters tick. The Neogi has an Enslave ability (Short or Long Rest dependent) that pushes a Wisdom save. Fail that, and you're charmed by the creature for one DAY (and it knocks out your Reactions - bummer). Oh and did I mention that the Neogi talks to you telepathically during this whole thing out to a distance of one mile? *shudder*
MASTER (medium) - not to be confused with the "Great Old" variety, these nasty variations on a theme get everything their small counterparts do (plus more than double their HP pool), and are freaking spellcasters! Looks like these masters went all in for the Hadar fan club with a slice of Confused Bard, so be ready for some telepathic Vicious Mockery while being whalloped with Eldritch Blast for good measure. Be careful too, they can function as a 7th-9th level caster, so that spell save may be meaner than you think at low level. And I know I mentioned the "Hadar vibe", but any DM that does their research can mix up that power set to match another Elder Evil (wink-wink).
Now, each of these creatures has the Mental Fortitude of an Elf and Spider Climb, so watch your six. What they lack in empathy, they make up for in numbers, and if they're following that Spartan Chuck-E-Cheese childhood, you can bet that what's coming for you ain't no pushover.
Closing Thoughts and Interpretations
The Neogi are a Legacy Monster.
Given their expansive and extensive lore dating back to second edition (2e), not to mention their pronounced influence within the Spelljammer history, their current iteration and inclusion feels lackluster. There are dozens of fascinating creatures with deep history and ethos in Faerun and worlds beyond that are offered only a tiny passage in Volo's Guide, or Mordenkainen's Tome, or the Monster Manual talking about them, and, unfortunately, many of these passages end with a "nobody really knows" and a shrug (flips page).
To say that these are missed opportunities isn't exactly fair, either. At its core, 5th Edition is intended to be accessible. You don't want to bury the DM in mountains of back-logged history (some of it quite problematic today) just to get an interesting critter on the board. So instead, I offer up my own approach:
This awesome monster can be a one-off. A "well, that was weird, moving on" type moment. OR, much like what happens when I do my research for each of these, this monster is a launching point of inspiration. Truthfully, I hadn't yet considered the Neogi's place in my homebrew setting, but you can BET I've got one mixing now. The rabbit hole I jumped into has some really cool avenues to play with, and I can twist and turn and mutate them however I see fit.
These things have a huge spider motif going for them - could they be distantly connected to Lolth? Maybe the Drow that serve her hate Neogi, because they believe their banners as an affront to their queen! You don't know (shrugs and cackles in DM).
My point is that for every moment of disappointment found in a feature, creature, or spell, there can instead be a tiny mote of inspiration, leading you to a setting with greater depth, immersion, and personal craft.
A twig snaps,
A child cries.
I draw a knife,
The lantern lies.
"Hope," it whispers,
A fire warm.
But follow it, my dears,
And summon the swarm...
At A Glance
Will-O-Wisps are evil wisps of light that lift from malevolent corpses and haunt both battlefields and the lonely reaches of dark forests. Bound by dark magic, they lure unwary creatures into quicksand, lava flows, and monster lairs, reveling in the agony of their victims. Evil creatures that fall prey to the false hope of a Will-O-Wisp often become one themselves, and tend to gather in places of oppressive sorrow and death; graveyards, ghost towns, and dark forests of murder. Spiraling in these desolate places of lost hope and fragmented memory, they pull creatures toward dismal fates and feed on their misery.
Dungeons and Dragons, and its many branches, are not the only interpreters of this creature.
The story of the Will-O-Wisp harkens back hundreds of years in European and Asian folklore. These "ghost-lights" were sometimes evil spirits, other times witches or supernatural beings transformed. Whatever the influence, the creatures never spelled good fortune for those who saw them.
My own experience in the folklore of these lights ties back into Scottish folklore specifically, where the creatures were simply the spirits and fairies of the forest. I think that this simplified interpretation led my own writing down the fey path for these entities. The luring, however, was always a gimmick. I remember distinct dreams of following these wisps of dancing light and smoke as they percolated through a dense wooded trail. At the end, however, was not my demise; instead, a mysterious hooked staff covered in ancient vines. It would whisper to me like wordless whispers of the spirits that brought me there...
By The Numbers
These tiny undead orbs are quick (high AC), fast (50-60 feet hover speed), and resistant to a bunch of damage types, if not outright IMMUNE (lightning and poison). But if you can land one or two good hits on them, even at low level, you should be okay. Trouble is, they rarely move alone; where one appears, many more follow.
WoW's are Invisible until they attack (a little shock) or use their very scary "Consume Life" ability, so you literally won't see them coming. That latter ability is what makes these critters one of the nastiest in the Monster Manual, even at higher levels. Any creature with a low Constitution saving throw, even an epic hero, can straight up die from its effect. Die, not go unconscious, not become incapacitated. They die. DC 10 is standard, but that 5% chance Natural 1 could kill your character outright without a clutch Revivify in your back pocket.
Don't try to grapple these suckers either; they'll pass right through you, and their Dexterity save is stupid high. You see a swarm, you run, or let loose a big freaking fire ball...then run faster.
Will-O-Wisps In Io
Though the origins of the creature rarely differ, their intentions in Io are often less miserable. They are also HEAVILY influenced by the plane that they exist in.
WoWs of the Feywild will be more innocent and mischievous - still deadly, mind you - but their souls of dead sprites and nymphs don't understand the weight of their actions. It's tragic, really. These playful spirits are drawing creatures into their sight to feel not so alone...which kills their new friends anyway.
WoWs of the Shadowfell carry a sorrowful weight and an unending desire to consume the living. These spirits are tormented by the wales of their own death that they seek rebirth by draining the life force from other beings. This usually manifests in alternative versions of their Consume Life ability, wherein they don't kill the target. Instead, they inhabit their body, siphoning the creature of each of its attributes until only a husk remains...and a Wight is born instead.
The more I write on these creatures, the greater the permutations and variations that manifest across the planes. I consider what is in the Monster Manual as fact for the Material Plane, but as any Horizon Walker knows...Planeshift is one helluva drug.
Be safe out there, and beware the lights that drift in the forest.
Will-O-Wisps can be found all over Dungeons & Dragons, but for 5th Edition, look no further than the classic Monster Manual.
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Displacer Beasts roamed the endless twilight of the Feywild for ages, until they were captured, bred, and trained by the Unseelie Court. The Soldiers Of Winter bred the beasts to reinforce their own ferocious nature, utilizing them to hunt unicorns, pegasi, and other mythical, wondrous creatures. However, it was only a matter of time before these malevolent prides broke away from their cruel masters.
Running and breeding freely in the Feywild, the Displacer Beasts soon came to the attention of the Seelie Court. With Blink Dog companions of their own, the rivalry was palpable, and the Summer Court drove the Displacer Beasts to the edges of the wild. To this day, Displacer Beasts and Blink Dogs attack each other on sight, an ancient violence.
By The Numbers
The Displacer Beast is a strong and agile adversary. What it lacks in AC (12-14), it makes up for with multiple attacks, decent speed (40-50), and good pool of hit points (80-130). Some versions of the monstrosity don't even include its menacing claws, the stat block only exploring its strange spined tentacles. ...This is a dumb choice; it's a freaking badass panther with six legs - use them. Some variants include a pouncing mechanic where the Displacer Beast can knock a creature down, and take a rending attack on their prone form for free, opting to slash with their claws or bite into their food.
What makes the Displacer Beast particularly dangerous are its other key mechanics:
1. Avoidance - basically Evasion for monsters. Made the save - no damage. Failed the save - half damage. Means that they're hardier than you would expect.
2. Displacement - attacks against the creature have disadvantage until it actually gets hit, and this passive power recharges at end of its turns. Abilities like Sentinel, where a creature's speed can be made 0, will also interrupt this ability, but you still have to HIT IT first.
Displacer Beasts In Io
Displacer Beasts were once the prized jailers and guards of the nobility that filled the upper ranks of the Unseelie Court. After the Massacre At Harrowhome, however, their prized position grew scattered, and one too many instances of their allegiance being swayed fell dim upon the Dread Queen Mab. In the Ruins of the Season, deep in the harrowed halls of the broken citadels of beasts and men, prides of Displacer Beasts roam and hunt.
But not all nobility has turned a blind eye to these creatures with a love for the kill. Excellent trackers, a Displacer Beast may sometimes roam with hunters and assassins of a deadly order. Creatures contracted to hunt their own, these "Skipjacks" utilize the Displacer Beast as a dangerous ally in their pursuit of their fellow Fey.
Variant: Displacer Alpha
An Alpha is the king of a Displacer Pride, and it got there by vicious rite and ritual combat.
In the dark wilds of the Feywild, variants of the Displacer Beast have emerged. Brandishing a living cloak of up to nine tentacles, these larger and stronger mutations are intelligent, calculating, cruel, and linguistic. This allows cunning tactics and maneuvers for the prides they command.
In addition to a superior size (Huge) and strength (20-22), an Alpha brandishes layered cords of muscle and bone; armored spurs beneath their shifting fur and ethereal displacement (AC of 16-17). The multitude of tendrils that they command grant them unique properties - like grappling, poisoning, and restraining their prey. An Alpha is also a master of its ethereal displacement, able to teleport short distances without sacrificing momentum as part of their Pounce feature.
If an Alpha is ever usurped by another within the Pride, they are exiled - a Disgraced Alpha. These lonely mutations wander the dark wastes to either seize another throne or serve some greater being than themselves. Whatever the circumstance, they are not to be trifled with.
Legend Of The Shift King
GM's Note: Since the first campaign I ran in this custom setting, there have been old tapestries, panoramas, ancient texts, and obscure references that player-characters have stumbled across. Each lore drop would be a tiny morsel of a much larger picture; an eight-legged displacer beast with boney spurs around the jaw-line, multiple tendrils lifting from its back like a living mantle, and a crown of black and silver spines protruding from its head. This regal creature was always set upon a high rock surrounded by hundreds of other beasts, each bowing to it as if it were their king.
The first time this image was presented, I remember my players vigorously writing it down. At any point following this, any players to be present during this strange initial reveal would bring it up again if ever they fell into an encounter with a Displacer Pride, but little came of it.
Will we see more? Only my players can tell you...
Tread safely under the borealis of the Feywild.
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Today we'll swing by an old classic, its punchy siblings, and practice our alchemy in the construction of my own version.
Our case study falls the Alabama.
Simple cocktail; just a couple ingredients and some sour mix. Let's try it out to get a feel for its many variations.
1.5 oz Brandy
1/2 oz Triple Sec
Fill with Sour Mix (2 oz recommended)
+ Simple and sweet
+ Brandy and fruit is a always a great match
+ Reason this is a classic
+ Might even be "too" sweet
Alabama Slammer and its MANY Cousins
As is customary with so many older recipes, every braggart and boon under the pale white moon has had their way in the alchemical variations on a simple idea. Some of these get pretty involved, but each holds to one dynamic truth: Southern Comfort pairs well with Amaretto. The rest is garnish, displayed for you now.
Alabama Slammer (original) RECIPE
3/4 oz Orange Vodka (or just Vodka)
3/4 oz Southern Comfort
3/4 oz Amaretto
Dash of Sloe Gin or Grenadine
Fill with Orange Juice
+ This is Hawaiian Fruit Punch
+ A tiki drink if there ever was one
+ Sweet and masked (you could load this up with stronger liquors and no one would notice...which might be the point)
+ Orange foundation
Alabama Slammer 2
1 oz Vodka
1 oz Southern Comfort
Dash of Sloe Gin or Grenadine
Fill with Orange Juice
Shake and pour over ice
Alabama Slammer 3
1 oz Southern Comfort
1 oz Amaretto
Dash of Sloe Gin or Grenadine
Fill with Orange Juice
Shake and pour over ice
Alabama Slammer 4
1/2 oz Southern Comfort
1/2 oz Triple Sec
1/2 oz Galliano (a sweet, herbal liqueur)
1/2 oz Sloe Gin
Fill with Orange Juice
Shake and pour over ice
Alabama Slammer 5
1/2 oz Whiskey (Rye recommended)
1/2 oz Southern Comfort
1/2 oz Amaretto
1/2 oz Sloe Gin
Fill with Orange Juice
Shake and pour over ice.
My Take - Orlandin Slammer
For those paying attention (at your chair or on the floor, you do you), you might have picked up on the basic flavor profile presented by these tiki tocks (tiki-cocktail = tock...I made a word). The core of the drink is a fruity whiskey with an oak-y, cherry finish; the cloak is the orange juice - acidic, sweet, and masking.
By now you all know my struggles in the Nine Hells Of GERD, so I made a rendition that I believe honors the original intention of the Slammer while lowering its acid content and using less ingredients.
Original Recipe - The Orland Slammer
1/2 Dry Curacao (the richer Triple Sec)
3/4 oz Orange Vodka
3/4 oz Bird Dog Black Cherry Whiskey
2 oz Sour Mix
+ Dry Curacao does some heavy lifting and elevates the vodka
+ Orange punch with less cloy
+ Sweet and satisfying
+ Slight burn on the back
+ Bird Dog made something special that functions just as well as the Southern Comfort/Amaretto pairing, and it gets it done with a lower volume.
Imbibe well, my dear friends.
Found another "classic" deep in the tomes. It's not every day that we get to weave in some absinthe, so let's get started.
1/4 oz Absinthe
1/2 oz Midori
1/2 oz Pineapple Juice
1/4 oz Grenadine
+ Despite its name, the "bite" here is non-existent; this is a sweet, licorice vehicle.
+ Midori is a difficult flavor to mask, so if you're here for melon, you won't be disappointed.
+ The licorice of the Absinthe behaves much like my honey liqueurs; it comes through in pleasant intervals.
+ The pineapple, as expected, is mega strong. With the Midori here, you're getting quite the fruit bomb. It barely tastes alcoholic.
1/4 oz Absinthe
1/2 oz Midori
1/2 oz Cranberry Juice
1/4 oz Grenadine
Splash of Curacao
1 Draw of Blackstrap Bitters
+ In an effort to add new colors to this mixture, the Cranberry and Midori do so in visual and profile. I appreciate Cranberry because it cuts the blast of melon down to allow for other flavors to shine.
+ There are still great measures of sweet here, but the Blackstrap mingles well with Curacao to add darker notes.
+ Great vehicle for licorice.
+ In fact, the combo of Curacao's bitter orange + the smoky Blackstrap + the repeated pulses of Absinthe is really something interesting.
+ Highly recommend ice for this one.
All in all, this was a transformative experiment and I highly recommend anything that's going to woof your howl.
...No, I don't know what that means. ;)
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
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