What Do I Know About Reviews? The Blasphemies of Bor Bwalsch (OGL 5e)
Wow, it’s been a while since I did a D&D review here on my home blog. I should rectify that. I should dig into some ancient tome of knowledge and extract some information that no one should ever delve into. I know just the product!
Today I’m looking at The Blasphemies of Bor Bwalsch, a third party product from Schwalb entertainment’s new Max Press line, a line that will be creating 5th edition OGL supplements compatible with Dungeons and Dragons.
One particular reason that I wanted to take a look at this product is that Rob Schwalb has been deeply involved in numerous D&D projects over the years, including extensive and ongoing work on D&D 5th edition itself.
The Shape of Blasphemies
The Blasphemies of Bor Bwalsch is a nine-page supplement, only available as a PDF. One page is dedicated to the obligatory OGL statement, and another is an ad for Shadow of the Demon Lord. There are four prominent pieces of art in the product, as well as parchment page formatting and borders. If you have seen any of the Shadow of the Demon Lord products, this has a very similar feel.
One thing that didn’t quite sink in when initially looking at these pages—because I’m acclimated to the Shadow of the Demon Lord artwork, it didn’t quite sink in that while this line isn’t meant to be quite as dark as those products, anyone not familiar with Shadow of the Demon Lord might not be prepared for the art. It’s gorgeous, but it if you find details like highly rendered scars, severed body parts worn as adornment, or malignant growths a little bit too much, you may want to be careful with this release.
I think the overall product looks great, but I do wonder if the trade dress is a little too similar to the Shadow of the Demon Lord products. When I first saw this one go up for sale, I mistook it for another release for that line. Schwalb Entertainment has distinctive trade dress at this point, but this is a new product line, and I don’t know how well the 5e support has penetrated the overall fandom yet.
Between the “Covers”
There is some brief fiction that explains who Bor Bwalsch is, the history of the book that contains the spells in this supplement, and some sly references to wizards from other worlds that bear striking resemblances to certain wizards from Faerun, Krynn, and Oerth, without coming right out and mentioning those famous personages.
The framing device of Bor Bwalsch’s story intimates that the wizard came from a world that resembles something closer to the default of Shadow of the Demon Lord, with spells from that reality, translated into spells functioning in other realms of the multiverse. The spells detailed in the supplement include the following (spell level listed in parentheses):
- Boiling Blood (2nd)
- Compelled Truth (2nd)
- Corpse Face (2nd)
- Drown in Maggots (2nd)
- Final Breath (2nd)
- Screams of the Dying (2nd)
- Unhealthy Obsession (2nd)
- Corpse Bomb (3rd)
- Spectacular Expulsion (3rd)
- Steal Bone (3rd)
- Wandering Eye (3rd)
- Blood to Vermin (4th)
- Horrid Fusion (4th)
- Maddening Drone (4th)
- Part Flesh (4th)
- Betrayal in Bone (5th)
- Desecration (5th)
- Open the Gate (5th)
- Stone to Flesh (5th)
- Night Terrors (6th)
- Sever Soul (7th)
- Inversion (8th)
- Cranial Burst (9th)
- Verminous Tide (9th)
By default, these spells are all available only to wizards. While it’s entirely possible for non-evil wizards to employ some of these spells, even some of the tamest of the spell effects are at least a little disturbing.
Some of these spells are conversions of popular effects from Shadow of the Demon Lord. If you have ever heard of the infamous Hateful Defecation, and wanted something like that for your Dungeons and Dragons game, look no further than Spectacular Expulsion. Similarly, Horrid Fusion is an adaption of a spell that teleports your opponents into solid objects that I remember very fondly . . . er . . . I mean well, from my Shadow of the Demon Lord campaign.
Two things jump out at me about these spells. The first is that the product does a great job of coming up with disturbing effects for spells beyond necromancy spells. I particularly like Compelled Truth, which manages to make a divination spell into an intimidating tool of interrogation (your target doesn’t need to tell the truth, they just take psychic damage if they don’t).
The other thing that strikes me, especially after seeing more 3rd party supplements coming out for 5th edition, is that all of these spells feel very “tight” in their use of terminology and how they are worded. I’ve come across spells in other 3rd party books that, while not broken, don’t quite feel like they were written by someone with Rob Schwalb’s level of comfort with the rules. The spells may be more disturbing than most standard 5th edition spells, but they have a certain resonance with how those core spells work (likely because Rob wrote a lot of the official spells as well).
If there is any downside to this product (other than possibly being a bit dark in theme, which may not align with everyone’s tastes), it’s that many of these spells make extensive use of the concept of killing a character outright if they are brought to 0 hit points. While spells with that effect exist in 5th edition D&D, this product has several more. If you are a GM whose players haven’t run into that concept often in their 5th edition play, giving too many of these spells to one particular spellcaster might feel a little overwhelming.
There are also a few spell effects that reference optional rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, such as lingering injuries or short-term madness. This isn’t much different than some of the published adventures utilizing this material, but it’s worth noting since some GMs may not want to reference these optional rules even for limited spell effects.
Those caveats aside, these spells would be thematically right at home on Acererak’s spell list in a Tomb of Annihilation campaign, should you get the urge to swap out some of his “official” spells for something more evocative.
Crossing the Boundaries
This product is filled with evocative, well-written spells that are perfect for adding to an evil wizard’s spell list, and one or two might even fit just right for some less scrupulous PC spellcasters to use. There is a nice variety of effects, and the spells don’t favor one school of magic too heavily. While the spells all have a disturbing ring to them, they also all “feel” very comfortable compared to the official spells in the game.
Falling Into the Void
This product is very intentionally written to evoke a darker tone than some of the 5e material that a GM or players may be familiar with, so if that darker tone doesn’t work for anyone at the table, it may limit the usefulness of this product. A few of the spells may have greater or lesser utility depending on how you feel about minor references to optional rules. While the spells are noted as being for wizards, and it also says that the GM can allow other classes to take them if they feel it is appropriate, some guidelines for other casters might have been nice.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
This product will be a good purchase for anyone that want’s some nasty spells for their villains, or who might be okay with some edgier spells for their PCs. Even without directly using the spells, it can be an interesting product to look at to see how conversions from one game system to another might work, and to look at the patterns of how 5e spells generally work. Just remember that I warned you if you aren’t normally into darker content, both in text and artwork.