What Do I Know About Reviews? Minsc and Boo’s Journal of Villainy (D&D 5e)

Minsc CoverToday, I want to look at a product I wasn’t really expecting. From time-to-time WOTC will release special PDF content to support charities like Extra Life, and this product supports that charity as well. Unlike many of these releases, which might provide a new playable race and/or a short adventure, this product is hefty, the size of many standard RPG supplements that get released in print.

The product in question is Minsc and Boo’s Journal of Villainy. It’s available in PDF as well as print on demand from Drive Through RPG. While other Extra Life offerings have eventually been made available on D&D Beyond, so far that hasn’t been the case for this product, and it may not be (I’ll get into why later).

What Has Minsc Done?

The PDF for Minsc and Boo’s Journal of Villainy is 158 pages. This is a full color product with formatting very similar to official D&D products. The artwork is new to an official D&D 5e product, but many of the pieces first appeared in the DM’s Guild product Heroes of Baldur’s Gate, or in Arcanum World’s Odyssey of the Dragon Lords products.

Origin Story

While this product was released as a WOTC product supporting Extra Life, the team that worked on this book is the team behind Arcanum Worlds. Many of the principal players at Arcanum Worlds are former employees of Bioware who worked on the Baldur’s Gate computer games. Arcanum Worlds released Heroes of Baldur’s Gate on the DMs Guild, a product that presented an adventure taking place before the Spellplague, closer to the events of the Baldur’s Gate video games. In addition to Heroes of Baldur’s Gate, Arcanum Worlds also released the 5e campaign setting/adventure Odyssey of the Dragon Lords.

Since the initial offerings of Arcanum Worlds were released, using Modiphius as a publisher, James Ohlen, one of the founding members and former creative director for Bioware, was hired on by WOTC for their new Archetype Entertainment division.

Common Elements

There are a few shared elements from Heroes of Baldur’s Gate. The Baldur’s Gate NPCs appear in both products, but since this product is set in the current era of the Forgotten Realms, many of the surviving characters have survived (or skipped) 100+ years and have stats reflecting more powerful versions of the characters. In the big chart of stat blocks, I put asterisks next to the monsters that appear in both products unchanged. There is a lot that is brand new in this product, but I did want to touch on the repeated elements.

LotharWhat Is this Thing?

In universe, Minsc and Boo’s Journal of Villainy is a book that Minsc recruited Volo to help him write. He also definitely didn’t get Viconia’s help with the sections detailing the Underdark. As a game product, this is a bit of an eclectic sourcebook, divided into different parts. While it’s title might imply that the whole book is about monsters and villainous NPCs, it’s more invested in creating deeper campaign structures using various aspects of the Forgotten Realms.

The first section of the book looks at hometowns, establishing a home base for the adventures, with several locations that are familiar or that can provide ongoing support for an adventuring band. These sections describe bazaars, fences, and shops, history, laws, locally active power groups, and some random encounters. The shops that are detailed often provide potential magic items for sale, but most of these shops have a limited range of items available, and may have other quirks.

My favorite aspect of this is that the hometowns are framed as active places for adventurers to live. Factions that are detailed are usually set in opposition to other factions in those towns. The types of jobs and employers available in the locations is discussed. It reminds me of the more “lived in” and “adventurer focused” Realms products that hooked me on the setting years ago, and it also feels a lot more dynamic than the descriptions in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. These are places that have ongoing conflicts. The same factions aren’t ubiquitous, and new ones are more powerful regionally than others.

The hometowns detailed in this section are:

  • Athkatla
  • Baldur’s Gate
  • Suldanessellar
  • Ust Natha

While still “technically” located on the Sword Coast, these locations lean much more towards the southern side of the coast, with cities in Amn, the shadowfell version of a Tethyrian elven enclave, and an underdark city. If you are wondering why this collection of hometowns, well, this is territory that the Baldur’s Gate video games covered. If you are worried about repeated material from Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, Baldur’s Gate as it is presented in this product doesn’t contradict that product, but it is framed much more of a rough and tumble place, as opposed to emphasis on it being a, well, living hell in Descent. That doesn’t mean that this Baldur’s Gate isn’t still corrupt and dangerous, however.

The locations are very evocative. Not only does it give you context on tensions that exist in town, but you get some nice quirky elements, like the Aboleth merchants from Ust Natha that need to fear you just a little bit before they sell to you.

The weakest part of this section is the encounter charts. They are short and try to incorporate monsters from this volume. Some feel like a stretch and don’t give you much to go on, or they feel like they actually work a little against the theme and tone of the city.

Group Patrons

The Group Patron section merges the group patron concept from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, with some of the factions of the setting. This makes a lot of sense as presented. Group patron entries include jobs that the patron might provide, perks that members might enjoy, different contacts that player characters might acquire at different levels, and what those patrons are willing to provide to the group. The Group Patrons detailed in this section include the following:

  • Adventurer’s Guild
  • Candlekeep
  • Church of Sune
  • Emerald Enclave
  • Flaming Fist
  • Harpers
  • Knights of Bahamut
  • Order of Icarus
  • Raven Circle
  • Shadow Thieves

Each of these entries also include suggested campaign villains and opposing organizations. I like that many of these organizations can easily cut both directions. The Order of Icarus is the least “heroic” of the organizations, but even then, the goal of returning trapped people from a Domain of Dread is laudable.

One of the best aspects of this presentation is that you don’t feel like you nebulously belong to a monolithic organization. If you use this material, for example, you are a member of a sect of the Emerald Enclave that has its own secrets and internal political maneuverings. It feels a lot more personalized to an adventuring company.

Between the hometowns and the local contacts and interactions, there is a lot being drawn from the Baldur’s Gate video games, some Forgotten Realms lore that hasn’t been touched on much since 2nd edition, and a bit of the “multiversal” angle that D&D products have been increasing indulging.

For example, we get references to Shadowfell duplicate cities, Amn/Waterdeep tensions exacerbated by the Shadow Thieves, and adventurers from other worlds that have settled down in the Realms. There is even a gnomish contact with a magical ship that can take PCs to locations connected to various 5e adventures, as well as strange locations like this place called Greyhawk.

PhaerimmCampaign Villains

I’m not going to go through the specific campaign villains in this section, as I have included them in the big table of stat blocks. I just want to say that I really missed some of these villains, and I want to give them all a big DM hug. While some of the villains are straightforward, some have their own introductory hooks. Not only do I know that Pazuzu is trapped in a bottle that everyone wants to get their hands on, but it’s great that Ssendam wants someone to drink her, so she can infect them to enact her plan.

But seriously, Mephistopheles is one of my favorite archfiends, and now I really want to use him again in a campaign.

Henchmen

If you didn’t see one of your favorite Bioware Forgotten Realms characters as a contact, there is a good chance you will see them in the henchmen section. I was fully expecting to see more Baldur’s Gate characters show up, but I must admit, I wasn’t expecting Aribeth from Neverwinter Nights to make an appearance, and I’m thrilled she’s here (also, affiliated with Mephistopheles . . . hm . . . )

Monsters

Many of these monsters make an appearance in Heroes of Baldur’s Gate and were included in that adventure due to their role in the Baldur’s Gate games. For example, who doesn’t love those lovable screaming gibberlings? Beyond the monsters that appeared in Heroes of Baldur’s Gate, however, we also get gehreleths/demodands, and my absolute favorites, the phaerimm.

If you don’t know what phaerimm are, they are, well . . . they are this kind of funnel with spikes, and an injector tail, and four arms, and a gaping maw that eats magic. They are adept at throwing spells, and they almost wrecked Netheril on their own. They are also responsible for that big old desert of Anauroch.

Stat Block Table

Since there are A LOT of stat blocks in this, I wanted to summarize all of them, along with their challenge ratings, type, and what section of the book the stat block appears in.

 

Creature

Challenge Rating

Type

Role

Cornelius Watson

12

Humanoid (human)

Contact

Flimp Shagglecran

9

Humanoid (gnome)

Contact

Valygar

9

Humanoid (human)

Contact

Xan Moonblade

8

Humanoid (elf)

Contact

Naes Inuus

13

Humanoid (human)

Contact

Tiberius Inuus

9

Humanoid (human)

Contact

Kivan the Grim

7

Humanoid (elf)

Contact

Faldorn

13

Humanoid (human)

Contact

Nauk the Bag Man

9

Humanoid (half-orc)

Contact

Borivik Windheim

10

Humanoid (human)

Contact

Jaheira

13

Humanoid (half-elf)

Contact

Vellin Farstride

9

Humanoid (halfling)

Contact

Suldil Baldoriel

10

Humanoid (half-elf)

Contact

Minsc and Boo!

10

Humanoid (human)

Contact

Jon Irenicus

22

Undead

Contact

Bodhi Irenicus

15

Undead

Contact

Lothar

9

Humanoid (human)

Contact

Viktor Khun

9

Humanoid (human)

Contact

Montaron and the Laughing Skull

11

Humanoid (halfling)

Contact

Imoen

8

Humanoid (human)

Contact

Baalzebul

26

Fiend (devil)

Campaign Villain

Bhaal, Slayer Form

20

Humanoid

Campaign Villain

Bhaal, Ravager Form

24

Beast

Campaign Villain

Cryonax

22

Elemental

Campaign Villain

Mephistopheles

27

Fiend (devil)

Campaign Villain

Pazuzu

25

Fiend (demon)

Campaign Villain

Ssendam, Lord of Madness

23

Aberration

Campaign Villain

Aribeth De Tylmarande

10

Undead

Henchmen

Dagryn the Lost

4

Humanoid (dwarf)

Henchmen

Darien the Ice Witch

9

Giant (ogre)

Henchmen

Edwin Odesseiron

15

Humanoid (human)

Henchmen

Eo Ashmajiir

11

Humanoid (tiefling)

Henchmen

Kagain the Scream Hunter

11

Humanoid (dwarf)

Henchmen

Pelyious Avhoste

9

Humanoid (human)

Henchmen

Saemon Havarian

10

Humanoid (human)

Henchmen

Sarevok Anchev

15

Humanoid (human)

Henchmen

Viconia DeVir

13

Humanoid (drow)

Henchmen

Xzar the Chaos Clone

11

Humanoid (human)

Henchmen

Achaierai

5

Monstrosity

Monsters

Bebilith

12

Fiend

Monsters

Demodand, Farastu

7

Fiend

Monsters

Demodand, Kelubar

11

Fiend

Monsters

Demodand, Shator

15

Fiend

Monsters

Dread Doppelganger*

5

Monstrosity

Monsters

Gibberling*

¼

Aberration

Monsters

Hamadryad*

2

Fey

Monsters

Sirene*

3

Fey

Monsters

Phaerimm

15

Aberration

Monsters

Skeleton Lord

9

Undead

Monsters

Deep Spider

7

Beast

Monsters

Sword Spider*

3

Beast

Monsters

Tasloi*

¼

Humanoid

Monsters

Tasloi Sniper*

1

Humanoid

Monsters

Wolfwere Alpha*

6

Humanoid

Monster

Wolfwere*

4

Humanoid

Monster

 

Aribeth UndeadD&D Beyond Bound?

While other Extra Life products like the Tortle Package, One Grung Above, Locathah Rising, and Mordenkainen’s Fiendish Folio Volume 1 have made it to D&D Beyond, I have a feeling this one is going to remain separate. The reason I feel this way is, in part, because these stat blocks look like they have been painstakingly developed, but not with the current stat block paradigms in mind.

Casters don’t have action based, spell simulating abilities. Spellcasting monsters often have spell lists instead of per day spells. I would love to be wrong, but this is a big book with a lot of content to add into D&D Beyond so close to future products that are going to revamp an entire category of monster stat blocks. It’s also worth noting that this still has DMs Guild symbol on the cover.

Chant of Alaundo

The way this product provides “adventurer focused” information about the hometowns, interactions between the different factions, and contacts for the organizations, this product has given me serious nostalgia for my favorite Realms products, while also feeling as if it would be a great introduction to the locations and people to a new player. This doesn’t provide dry facts about a location. It doesn’t provide high level, zoomed out goals for organizations. This tells you more of why you would want to have a given group patron, and what makes a location unique. There is at least one example of a gender fluid character, as well as LGBTQ+ characters.

Leaves of One Night

I mentioned previously that there is a lot that fleshed out the locations, but the encounters fall flat in that regard. While this may be because of reused assets, the number of male presenting contacts outnumbers the female presenting contacts. Because the adventuring patrons section merges the concept with some of the setting’s factions, I wish there had been a way to work in the renown system instead of gating new contacts and perks behind character levels.

Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

I feel that it’s easy to recommend this product to long term Forgotten Realms fans. I also would love for people to check out this product if they just didn’t feel like the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide gave them enough. I think it’s a great example of how to make the adventuring patron idea really sing, and it does a fine job explaining why you would want to use the locations presented.

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