dnd

The Starlight Relic

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Last week I released my fourth (!!!) one-shot adventure, The Starlight Relic. This is my fourth title in four months and I promised myself that I would take a break after launching it... naturally, I took about a day "off" from writing before starting the outline for my next adventure, so, oops! I just can't stay away. 

The Starlight Relic is designed for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, as are my other titles, and specifically for level 7 characters. I had actually been asked to write a higher-level adventure and was happy to oblige! I'll take any excuse to implement interesting monsters and creatures into my stories, and it helps when the characters have a few levels under their belt. 

In Prague on my honeymoon.

In Prague on my honeymoon.

This story is another chapter in my full campaign, A Requiem of Wings, which follows an ongoing war between angels and demons in a realm called Emberez. This is the first one-shot I've released that takes place in a different region of Emberez; unlike West Emberez — which is where A Night of Masks and Monsters and Labyrinth of Thorns are set and is somewhat Italian/Mediterranean in aesthetic — East Emberez is more Eastern European. West Emberez is the seat of the seraphic order known as the Aureum, which I can best describe as being a fictional version of the Holy Roman Empire: motivated by what they think is a holy mission to conquer the world and spread their influence. East Emberez, however, is under the control of demons, so it's much more haunted, which gives it its own charm and beauty. 

The story begins in the city of Magra, which I loosely based on Prague, one of my absolute favorite cities in the world (and where I got married). Prague was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire in the 1300s, and the influence of that is still visible in much of the city, but it also has its own distinct culture that is so fascinating.

Vítězslava Kaprálová  looking fly as hell.

Vítězslava Kaprálová looking fly as hell.

Prague is known for artisanry, such as a puppet-making, and I have a love for luthiers, so it seemed only natural to make Magra a city that attracts artisans. With that came the creation of the Magran Forest, which provides the artisans with the materials for their trades. 

Once I decided to kick off the story in a luthier's shop, I based the quest-giver, a woman named Vela Kapra, off of Vítězslava Kaprálová, a young Czech composer who tragically died far too young during WWII. However, her work has influenced female composers around the world, so I'm glad to know that she is still being celebrated, and this was my version of an homage.

The characters are tasked with retrieving an item called the Starlight; Vela discovered the location in sheet music sold to her by a mysterious patron. I always love ancient folk songs in stories, so I wrote my own called "The Song of the Starlight":

O winged beings, do you hear
The voice of the forest, the trees that sing?
Where river rushes over weir
Where blue and green pour into spring —
Awaiting you is ancient starlight
Evermorning, evernight

O winged beings, what shades your eyes
A luminous ring or obsidian horns?
I maintain my cimmerian guise
My roses bloom among my thorns —
For I care not about your making
Your wings are hapless, mine for taking

O winged beings, come claim your gift
Lost in the willow, maple, spruce
For only you can close the rift
An outstretched hand awaits your truce —

But winged ones, be forewarned
A danger protects the thing you seek
For should my temple incur your scorn
A beast will rise, with heads and teeth...

And: a bonus! I had actually written an actual melody to accompany the song. But alas, I'm not much of a musician beyond playing some simple tunes on my fiddle. But I found a really fun app called HumOn and put together a little sample of what "The Song of the Starlight" sounds like:

There's so much more to this adventure; I really challenged myself to write a less linear narrative to give the players lots of choices. I introduce a character in this module named Sira Harisa, who I absolutely love — mostly because she's a warlock and I'm obsessed with warlocks. But there's much more to her than that, so I'm excited to hear how players interact with her. 

The Starlight Relic also prominently features a runic alphabet called Dethek, which is a dwarven language that is already part of the lore of the Forgotten Realms. This provided a cool mechanic that the players can choose to use to navigate around the dangers of the forest. 

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In all honesty, all of my adventures are written for selfish reasons; I basically write stories that I personally would want to play. My favorite things to do in Dungeons & Dragons are explore new places, meet new people, and solve puzzles. I'm a sucker for atmosphere and lore, so I really try to evoke certain feelings and aesthetics in everything I write. I hope I've accomplished that in this adventure! 

And, as always, here's one of my early moodboards for this story:

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YOU CAN GET THE STARLIGHT RELIC ON DMS GUILD. HOPE YOU ENJOY EXPLORING THE FOREST OF MAGRA!

Labyrinth of Thorns

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My third original title for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition was released last week. Labyrinth of Thorns is about — you guessed it! — a labyrinth. I wanted to write a story for Valentine's Day because I absolutely LOVE Valentine's Day, and the familiar symbols associated with the holiday make for fun storytelling.

Labyrinth of Thorns is set in a city called St. Valentine, which exists within a demiplane called Emberez. Emberez is embroiled in a long-lasting war between celestials and demons, and that larger narrative arc plays a role in this standalone module. My first one-shot, A Night of Masks and Monsters, is also set in Emberez, and both of these stories are part of a full campaign called A Requiem of Wings. Emberez is loosely inspired by old European cities; West Emberez is very Mediterranean — Italy/Greece — and East Emberez is eastern European, evocative of Czechia and parts of Russia. This campaign is a way for me to explore my heritage, since I am Italian on my mom's side and Russian-Jewish on my dad's.

St. Valentine, specifically, is very much a fantasy version of Florence, a city known for its incredible food and wine. I was in Florence last year (on my birthday! best day ever) and just swooned over all of the gorgeous architecture and art. I die over medieval and gothic cities so I wanted to write something that felt both pleasant and mystical. 

In the story, characters travel to a labyrinth through the back of a bakery called Dante's Casa di Dolci. Dante's wife, Simonetta, was kidnapped by the keeper of the labyrinth, so the characters must go find her. The character of Dante is somewhat inspired by my grandfather, Paul, who was so very handsome. (And my mom makes an appearance in the story! She is the NPC named Paula, who is a florist in St. Valentine.) Since this story is so Italian, it only made sense to include members of my family.

Florentine chocolates... which definitely contained magical properties. 

Florentine chocolates... which definitely contained magical properties. 

I've been fascinated by mazes and labyrinths since I was a kid. Something about getting lost among hedges just seems so appealing to me. I pulled inspiration from Greek and Roman mythology, so I picked specific creatures and places that the players may encounter, including a harpy, a satyr, and a river of lost souls (a nod to the River Styx). The players will fight a three-headed beast called a chimera, which is a pretty obvious reference to Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the underworld. I love choosing creatures for my stories; that's usually where I start, by just looking through the Monster Manual

In a review of my one-shot, DM_Dango spoke kindly of the detail I include in describing the setting and scenery, and that made me happy since I always try to make the atmospheres of my stories very immersive. Here's the moodboard I made before writing; as you can tell, I was going for something lush and moody and sinister while also beautiful.

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You can get Labyrinth of Thorns on DMs Guild. Hope you enjoy exploring the labyrinth of St. Valentine!

Sleeping Giant Mountain

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I'm so excited that my new original adventure, Sleeping Giant Mountain, was released earlier this week! The response has been so amazing so far and I can't wait to hear how people explore Kaiva!

This story was really different than anything I've written before. I tend to write very character-driven stories, and there's only ONE character in Sleeping Giant Mountain (to be fair, she is a super rad woman named Silja.) I start each campaign with a question: what kind of adventure do I want to play? I think the best stories begin with our own desires. So, I wanted to write something that was very focused on exploration that still had a very distinct atmosphere. Here's an early moodboard I made for it:

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The story is about a race of elemental giants who have been banished to wild abandoned planet called Kaiva and have remained in stasis for centuries, thanks to a lich's curse. An archaeologist named Silja has spent her life studying the giants and wants the giants to be awakened so they can claim Kaiva as their home. To get to Kaiva, characters must step through a portal that has appeared in the Forgotten Realms. I was initially inspired by this portal depicted in this piece of art by Andrei Pintea:

 
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Giants are fascinating to me, and I was inspired by the mountain range in Forgotten Realms called "Spine of the World." What if the spine wasn't a metaphor, but once belonged to an actual giant? From there I came up with some lore for the backstory.

Beyond that, the story is a pretty straightforward quest — go into a mountain and break a curse by defeating the enemies who protect it. Rather than having an elaborate system of traps, I thought it'd be fun to just use the natural challenges of a mountain, such as slippery ice, dark tunnels, and treacherous ledges.

I enjoy writing stories in which mountains play an important role. I live in Northern Nevada and I absolutely love the Sierra Nevada mountains; I see them every single day and they never fail to inspire awe. 

My favorite part of this adventure is the unique mechanic I created for it called prismatic flux. At the start of the quest, each character is given a gemstone found around the perimeter of the portal.

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The gemstones have magical properties that trigger a "prismatic flux," impacting the story in different ways and aiding the characters through encounters and challenges. Because this is such an elemental story, I thought gemstones were a fun way to capture that and reward players with a unique item. (Clearly I have crystals and gems on the brain, because minerals play a huge role in my upcoming full campaign, The Fractures.)

Sleeping Giant Mountain is the first in a quadrant I'm calling the Giants of Kaiva series. The next installment probably won't be out for a few months since I have some other projects coming out before then, but I am excited to explore all of Kaiva's lore and diverse ecosystems. For now, you can experience Kaiva by downloading the free one-shot or listening to my playlist below!

Download Sleeping Giant Mountain