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Review: Grandmother Crookbesom’s Book of Hags

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One of the most enjoyable adventures I’ve run for my players involved a hag. In the final session, the party fought and killed the hag, who wished to reclaim her ancient dominion over a fey-touched forest. I named her the Rose Lady – as she kept immaculate rose gardens – and while the final battle was intense, I failed to establish her deeper motives. How had she come to rule the forest before? What twisted schemes and methods had first attracted attention to her? How did she recruit her wicked little minions and what did she want with the forest anyway? Looking back on the encounter, I had two qualms with my villain. First, she lacked the very things I love about hags: their twisted and scheming natures, their gruesomeness, their otherworldly strangeness. Second, I didn’t understand her place within the forest’s ecology. In the end, she’d come off as a tired old trope whose lair – a sentient hut! – was far more interesting than she was. 

Since first taking my seat behind a DM screen, I’ve wanted to give my players a gripping hag encounter; I’ve just not been certain how. I’ve always loved witches, the occult, and anything involving the fey. I talk to the moon, I read tarot, I brew herbal potions; I’d be lying if I said I didn’t long for a coven of witches to scoop me up into the realm of magick. So, you can imagine my disappointment when – amidst the vast collection of well-crafted D&D modules and supplements – I just couldn’t find a hag with an interesting narrative. Volo’s Guide to Monsters has an extensive section on hags packed with names, exit strategies, Weird Magic items, treasure, and more. But pull up an adventure that features a hag and while she may be rich in body horror and the grotesque, I’ll bet she lacks a good story. There are notable exceptions in the recent Uncaged, Volume 1, a collection to which the designers in question today contributed and which offers three hag-centric modules and a new hag variant called Lauma.

And fear not, my fellow hag-lovers, for we have a delicious new supplement devoted entirely to hags and hag covens! It’s the book on hags I didn’t know I needed.

Grandmother Crookbesom’s Book of Hags, designed by Cat Evans, Oliver Clegg, Liz Gist, and Jessica Marcrum is a fabulously rich, 40-page book containing profiles and adventure hooks for 13 unique hags and covens. It’s packed with amazing lore, wickedly vivid descriptions, 3 new hag variants, Weird Magic, and more. Content warnings alert the reader to the more upsetting and/or grotesque bits and the clean, color-coded design makes flipping through the chapters a pleasant and convenient experience. 

You should buy this book.

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Review: College of Caterwauling

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In one of our three D&D campaigns, my husband Ryan plays a tabaxi lore bard named Mew’n McGregor. Yes, really. Ryan spends hours before sessions writing songs to inspire his fellow adventurers. Mew’n is charming at times, creepy at others. We like to laugh at how he casts his enchantment spells by eerily rubbing a pair of spoons together. He’s arrogant, he loves the spotlight, and Ryan enjoys playing up these moments for our friends in real time; he’s witty and generates insults and witticisms effortlessly on the spot. Mew’n is often the face of the party, a role many bards are tailored to fill.

When I played a bard, I was not nearly as charming or witty. I’m bad at smooth talk and spinning yarns is a skill I’m still building. So, what’s an awkward bard supposed to do?

One option: be weird instead.

Enter the Bardic College of Caterwauling, a subclass for D&D 5E written by Jessica Marcrum and available on the dmsguild. If you purchased Uncaged Volume 1, which I reviewed back in March, you’ll recognize her as the author of the eccentric, roleplay-heavy one-shot called “A Family Reunion.” I wasn’t surprised to see another delightfully eccentric product from this imaginative creator.

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Mermaid Self: Visualization

Last week, I ran a session of the Mermaid Adventures RPG for a friend’s birthday. She loves mermaids and I wanted to offer a fun, silly, atmospheric game for her and a few other players. To get the group in the mood to become mermaids, I wrote up a guided visualization and presented it at the start of the session. I later recorded it and mixed it with the same haunting song I’d used at the table, used and shared with permission from the composer, Brandon Feichter.

The script, included below, was adapted from this body scan meditation. Enjoy!

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Review: Uncaged, Volume 1

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Cover Artwork by Samantha Darcy

Uncaged, Volume 1 is ambitious, imperfect, and inspiring.

I’ve been awaiting this anthology since Ashley Warren posted a call for contributors on Twitter last year. Uncaged is a collection of myth- and folklore-themed one-shot adventures written for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition which subvert tropes around female mythological creatures and monsters and reinvent classical female archetypes. Each adventure is intended to be played in 1-5 hours.

Uncaged, Volume 1 is the first of four releases and it does not disappoint. The 25 modules in the collection are mostly for Tiers 1 and 2, but there are a few Tier 3 and one Tier 4 module as well. The narratives range from small town investigations to epic combat in the afterlife, from ancient mythological conflicts to spooky, cryptic fairy tales. Some of the adventures are sparse, while others are densely packed with information; most are a mere seven pages long.

There are minor grammatical and formatting issues and some modules feel much more polished than others, but the overall quality and value of the collection outweigh these concerns. The artwork is stunning and the layout is stylized and clean. I’m always seeking modules that emphasize roleplay, investigation, and exploration as much as combat and this collection fits the bill.

Some of the narratives are open-ended, allowing PCs to drive them in various directions, while others feel like short stories to be shared at the gaming table. Though my reaction to each adventure varies – and is based on my own preferences and biases – I would highly recommend purchasing the collection. Given the extent and the overall quality of the content, I have no regrets over the $14.95 price tag.

Since I haven’t yet run any of these adventures, my reviews below are based on readings alone. Starred* titles are my personal favorites, which I hope to run for my players within the next few months. I also hope to post extended reviews for any adventure I do run, along with some long overdue posts about past adventures I ran and loved. I’m getting there, it’s just…life!

THIS POST CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS. If any of my players (or anyone who is knowingly going to play through these adventures) are reading this, I advise you to stop here. Don’t ruin the surprises, however small they may be.

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Russian Doll

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I loved Russian Doll. I sat in my living room with my cat and watched the whole season in one sitting. I couldn’t stop. Lately, I’ve been reading exclusively fabulist/magical realist fiction by women and Russian Doll scratched that same itch. The emotional weight pummeled me, the supporting characters are so alive and entertaining, the twists somehow both expected and unexpected as should be with any fairy tale.  I didn’t know anything about the show before watching – including how reminiscent it is of one of my favorite films from the 1990s – and that made it all the more enjoyable. Thank you to my friends Brian and Andrea who urged me to watch Russian Doll. This is me, paying it forward to you.