The Deck of Many Presents
Writing Team: Christopher Pinch, Matthew Grevelyn, et al.
Art Director: Leesha Hannigan
Publisher: The Deck of Many
Page Count: 224
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (The Deck of Many) – $29.99
Print (The Deck of Many) – $79.99
In the world of Everden, on the eastern coast of a great continent, there is a vast forest nestled between the mountains and the sea. This is the Humblewood, a place that is ancient and magical. The “Wood,” as it’s known locally to its inhabitants, is unlike any other forest. Here trees are old and powerful; some rare specimens are as tall as small mountains. Familiar beasts grow to unusual sizes, bearing marks and patterns as unique as the Wood itself. The region is home to two groups of animal-like humanoid races (species)—the birdfolk and the humblefolk. Together they live in the Wood and share its bountiful resources.
Welcome to Humblewood, a setting and adventure which spoke to me long after its Kickstarter ended and pulled me back into playing Dungeons & Dragons 5e again! This review will take an in-depth look at the Humblewood Box Set. For transparency, The Deck of Many has provided me with review copies of the box set’s physical and digital versions for this review.
Humblewood is a campaign setting for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition and an adventure that takes characters from 1st to 5th level in this enchanting anthropomorphic world. The uniqueness of the setting and its inhabitants deviates from traditional D&D tropes in the available races and new options through classes, backgrounds, and spells. As a stand-alone campaign setting, Humblewood only requires using the three Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition core books. All setting-specific information, items, and monsters are contained in the book and accompanying Reference Cards.
Humblewood is an enchanting anthropomorphic world where humanoid birds and woodland creatures walk upright. They live out their lives in complex relationships, raise their young, worship their gods, and above all else, peacefully co-exist with one another. As players begin their journey, they will create characters from the native denizens that inhabit the Wood, playable birdfolk and humblefolk races. It’s what truly sets Humblewood apart from other D&D settings. Everden is not part of the Forgotten Realms, D&D’s default world, but a resourceful Game Master (GM) could place it there, though Humblewood is really meant to stand on its own, which it does rather well.
Humblewood Box Set contents include:
Hardcover campaign setting book
1 single-sided world map
1 double-sided location map
4 double-sided battle maps
1 Deck of 72 tarot sized reference cards
2 sheets of cardboard standees
20 plastic standee holders
While the book (reviewed in detail below) is the core of the box set, the other items included provide considerable bang for your buck. The map pack gives GMs a visually stunning array of tabletop visuals to “wow” their players. The world map will be a regular feature on the table, and its small size ensures it’s not overly intrusive. Alderheart and Avium are two locations visited often and have their own maps. Alderheart is a large map and is likely to see repeated use. The four battle maps are stunning and are keyed to specific encounter locations in the adventure; they are of limited use beyond their intended purpose.
Having folded and unfolded many of the maps numerous times, I am happy to report that they are holding up exceptionally well. They are dry-erase compatible. Its special dry-erase coating does not separate at the folds or the edges with repeated use. The quality is top-notch.
You can’t have battle maps without something to place on top of them. The box set includes two sheets of cardboard standees of various sizes. Each is brightly colored, front and back, on a thick punchboard. Warning! Take special care when punching these out, as they could tear if you’re over-aggressive. I recommend using a razor blade to carefully separate them from the punchboard. The included stands will securely hold the standees, but they could damage their lower edge due to their design.
The Humblewood Reference Cards enable the GM to make session prep, in-game player-facing visuals, and decisions faster and smarter. The deck contains 72 tarot-sized cards printed on thick stock with a premium linen finish, with each depicting one of the setting’s NPCs, monsters, spells,
and or magic items. Every card features beautiful artwork, though some of it is a little dark in terms of the color palette. On the reverse side, each card features all necessary stat blocks, item details, or spell information necessary to fully use the card, whether in the GM or a player’s hands. Furthermore, the cards eliminate the need for GMs and players to spend time looking up information in the book and are a nice table visual.
Each of these additional components, maps, standees, and reference cards, has a PDF version included in the box set’s digital version. The maps come in two versions, standard and a tiled print-and-play version for home printing. The reference cards and standees are laid out for printing, with all necessary cut and fold lines. If printing PDF maps, I suggest using a laser printer or a professional printing service.
The Humblewood Book
Chapter 1: Welcome to the Wood
Chapter 2: Religion in the Wood
Chapter 3: Traversing the Wood
Chapter 4: Adventuring in the Wood
Chapter one of the book begins with a short and concise history of the birdfolk, followed by the humblefolk, and their relationships with one another. It then continues with a ten-page spread, “The Humblefolk,” presenting each of the ten new races. The birdfolk include Luma, Corvum, Raptor, Gallus, and Strig. The humblefolk include Vulpin, Mapach, Jerbeen, Hedge, and Cervan. Each one is similarly presented like other D&D products: a short, flavorful introduction, a list of traits, and two subraces—all accompanied by wonderful art.
Readers should note that a character’s gender or a lack thereof does not convey any bonuses or penalties. The playable races do not exhibit physical characteristics based on their gender. Traits such as plumage, markings, or size differences do not denote a character’s gender. Most significant variations in physical appearance come from a character’s subrace.
In “Characters in the Wood,” beyond the basics like the height and weight chart, we find a concise treatise on what real-world animals inspired each of the ten races in Humblewood. It not only adds additional detail but also provides context. The languages of the Wood are another unique and important element. While race determines language, a background may give you access to additional languages. The Wood has six different languages: Birdfolk, Cervan, Hedge, Jerbeen, Mapach, and Vulpin. Birdfolk is the common tongue and language of trade and custom in Humblewood. The Folk of the Wood who don’t speak it take the time to learn it.
Additional resource: Humblescratch, the Birdfolk font is available for free from The Deck of Many website.
Defining physical characteristics, backgrounds, class options, feats, and spells further customizes Humblewood characters. “New Class Options” gives players new ways to customize Bards, Clerics, and Fighters. These include a new Bard College, College of the Road; two new Divine Domains: Community Domain and Night Domain; and one new Martial Archetype, Scofflaw, for Fighters. Backgrounds play an important role in 5th edition D&D. Three new Backgrounds, Bandit Defector, Grounded, and Wind-Touched, provide unique alternatives to the standard options. Seven new Feats: Aerial Expert, Bandit Cunning, Heavy Glider, Opportunistic Thief, Perfect Landing, Speach of the Ancient Beasts, and Woodwise hone in on Humblewood-specific abilities. Ten new spells wrap up Chapter one, including a convenient spell list showing which spells can be cast by characters of each class.
Modoc’s Thoughts? The new character races are cool, and I appreciate the care taken in choosing how each is characterized and presented. The artwork with each entry indicates a potential “favored” class but in no way forces a player’s decision. Each race is so rich and diverse that they can assume any class from the Player’s Handbook with ease. Finally, the setting-specific options are lovely and really add both a touch of class and realism to the characters.
Chapter 2, “Religion in the Wood,” presents a rich pantheon that takes the Humblewood up a notch. Pantheons are an essential and often overlooked element of a campaign setting. They are tone-setting, and each deity serves as a moral guidepost for not only Clerics but for mundane non-player characters as well. Humblewood’s pantheon consists of twelve deities called Amaranthine. The Amaranthine consists of two creators—Adrea, the Dawnmother, and Tyton, the Nightfather; they are accompanied by five birdfolk, and five humblefolk Amaranthine representing each of the ten Humblewood races. Each is aligned to one of the traditional D&D alignments; only eight of the nine alignments are represented—no Amaranthine is Chaotic Evil.
The Amaranthine are presented as one-page portfolios containing everything both players and GMs need to know. The portfolios consist of a short narrative that highlights the Amaranthine’s place within the pantheon. Other, more traditional information is arranged on a beautifully presented sidebar. Here readers will find the Amaranthine’s alignment, domain(s), dogma, and both a written description and a visual representation of their holy symbol. Following the portfolios are several concise stories that give life and context to several of the Amaranthine.
Modoc’s Thoughts? Those who appreciate a well-thought-out pantheon or who enjoy playing clerics will find “Religion in the Wood” to be an enjoyable read. Depending on the value you place on pantheons and how central it is to your game or character (for clerics) will dictate how much you get out of this chapter. I find pantheons fascinating, and while never making the most of them, I know a well-thought-out and presented pantheon when I see one.
Humblewood is an ancient land covered by a vast temperate forest. In some places, the forest is so old the trees dwarf even the tallest castles. In other places, smaller trees provide food and shelter for the fauna and folk of the Wood. Humblewood is a sprawling geographical location, nestled between two mountain ranges and bordering the sea on the eastern edge of a much larger continent. No campaign setting book would be complete without some sort of “tour” of the realm. Chapter 3, “Traversing the Wood,” gives a broader view of the places that exist within its boundaries. The majority of locations covered in this rather short chapter will be visited while playing the enclosed adventure. The other locations are provided for context and give GMs other places for adventurers to visit if they’re crafting their own adventures.
Each entry serves to provide a detailed look at each location. Locations linked to the enclosed adventure have additional details, so GMs can fully flesh out these places—giving them a sense of realism. Many locations have short but insightful entries, but there is enough information for GMs to work with.
Modoc’s Thoughts? There’s a lot of information packed into a short few pages, but… I wish there was more. While the Humblewood campaign setting is described as a sprawling geographical location, it should have far more cities, towns, settlements, and other locations adventurers could visit. The number of locations detailed here seems sparse compared to the region’s size. Most of the locations are specific to the adventure, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a setting book. I would like to point out that there is supposed to be a second part to the adventure released in the future as a result of the Kickstarter. Therefore, I remain hopeful that any additional published material will provide us with other locations to incorporate into our own games.
The book’s largest chapter is Chapter 4, “The Adventure in the Wood,” encompassing ninety-one pages. If you’re purchasing Humblewood, you’re likely buying it for the adventure. The adventure is presented in five parts, each having an overarching theme that fits into the larger story. The adventure is designed and balanced for four players but can be easily adapted to more or less, depending on your group’s size.
Prospective GMs should also note that the adventure has been structured with the milestone leveling rules in mind for ease of play. For groups who would prefer standard XP rewards to milestones, there are experience points rewards for the social, puzzle, and other non-combat encounters provided in the green boxes (as noted below) alongside the milestone rewards. However, GMs opting for XP rewards will need to award experience points for combat encounters as players progress through the adventure.
There are several GM-facing design elements employed that will make game prep and game execution easier. Humblewood is a shining example of it being done right! There are four types of text boxes used to convey important information at a glance. Each has a different colored background—gray, pink, green, and yellow. The gray box is for “read aloud” text that should be read to the party when they first arrive at that point in the adventure. The pink boxes provide additional background information used to help shape the campaign. This information can be revealed to the players if and when necessary. Green boxes outline the rewards players have earned, including both XP and milestone advances. Lastly, yellow boxes provide the details of any treasure associated with a particular location or point within the adventure.
Additional helpful text formatting includes bold blue text for all monster or non-player character stat blocks in the Humblewood book and Humblewood Reference Cards. Any monster or non-player character in bold purple text denotes its stat block can be found in the 5th Edition Core Rules. NPC names appear in bold green text the first time they are introduced to the players. Bold red text references other sections within the Humblewood book. Magic items and spells appear in italics. Those with an asterisk can be found in “Appendix D: New Magic Items,” “Chapter 1: New Spells,” and in the Humblewood Reference Cards. Those without an asterisk are from the 5th Edition Core Rules.
If you are using the PDF, each bold red text reference is hyperlinked to its respective section or sub-section elsewhere in the book.
As previously mentioned, the adventure is broken into five parts. To be brief and spoiler-free, I’ll provide just a short summary of each part, meaning you’ll have to play to find out what happens. Though I hope there is enough information here to whet your appetite.
There have been disturbing signs over the last few months, signalling that something is wrong in Humblewood. The troubles appear to originate from activity in the Scorched Grove, an ashen plain that was ravaged many centuries ago by a destructive fire. Whatever caused the fire has scarred the land with elemental magic, making it inhospitable to all but strange fire-based creatures. Of late, the Grove has begun to expand. At first, it was hard to notice the slow expansion, but those in tune with nature (especially the Tenders) could see the imbalance in the elemental forces of Humblewood. For many common folk, this imbalance has been experienced as unseasonal dryness, which has led to crop failure and an increased frequency of forest fires. There have also been a number of unusually aggressive emberbat clouds reported far outside of their natural ranges.
Part 1: The Adventure Begins
This first part launches the party onto the path of their heroic journey. How a GM starts depends on if their players are using Humblewood races or core 5th Edition races. While the latter can be used, it will pose additional challenges and is not recommended. But in this case, characters are likely to start directly in Alderheart and will therefore bypass much of Part 1 of the story. Groups electing to play birdfolk and humblefolk will kick off their journey in Meadowfen, a small village south of the Scorched Grove. Here, they will be asked to travel to Alderheart to convey a dire message to the Council, but not before their skills are put to the test. From Meadowfen, they will travel to Winnowing Reach. This part of the story serves two purposes. First, it foreshadows future story developments, and second, it provides the characters with plausible challenges resulting in their leveling up at the end.
Part 2: The Bandit Menance
This part of the adventure introduces one of the greatest forces threatening the Wood: the Bandit Coalition, which rose up and gained power as fires began to spread. Their membership comprises mainly humblefolk that have been displaced by the fires, and birdfolk fared far better simply because most of them live in the trees. Originally, many sought shelter and refuge in Alderheart, but far too many were refused entry due to increasing overpopulation, and have turned to a life of banditry.
The party will leave Winnowing Reach and arrive at Alderheart, hoping for an audience with the Council. The bandit menace becomes all too real for the heroes, and they will have a decision to make. One way or another, they will get their audience with the Council! Hopefully, having proven their worth and prowess, the Council will soon summon them again, only this time to task them with a mission of the utmost importance—travel to Crest Mountain and dispatch the bandit leader. The heroes will take the fight to the bandit’s stronghold, which has several possible outcomes that will influence future story developments.
Part 3: An Urgent Summons
As “An Urgent Summons” opens, the Council has agreed to aid Meadowfen (Part 1), confronting the bandit forces (Part 2), and now the Wood is enjoying a respite and relative peace. The party is free to engage in some downtime activities in Alderheart or elsewhere in the Wood. [They are 3rd level at this point] Before long, the party receives an urgent summons from the Council in Alderheart. Upon their return, the Council explains that a huge creature was recently spotted burrowing under the Scorched Grove’s ashen fields.
Having previously proven their mettle in dealing with the bandit threat to Alderheart and the Wood itself, the party is once again implored to deal with the growing threat posed by this unknown creature and other risks in the area. In addition to the creature, travelers in the same area are being harassed by swarms of emberbats, Tenders (Druids) have gone missing or have been killed, and fires spreading from the Scorched Grove threaten the Wood. Agreeing to undertake such a mission, they’re accompanied by a Tender named Trevor and venture forth with the utmost haste. This part of the adventure is fraught with dangers and will challenge the party. If they’re successful, they will reach 4th level and return to Alderheart to continue working to solve what is turning out to be a growing menace.
Part 4: Mysteries of the Avium
Something has awoken from its long slumber; it’s only a matter of time before it fully replenishes its strength. Once it does, it will have enough power to reduce all of Humblewood to ashes in its wake. The Avium, a place of wizardly learning, is beset with its own troubles connected to the more recent happenings the party is embroiled in. Here they will need to solve a mystery to save the Avium from potential destruction and learn of the dangerous schemes of an alumnus of the Avium. Depending on how “Mysteries of the Avium” plays out and concludes, several possible developmental outcomes will affect the fifth and final part of the adventure. At the conclusion of “Mysteries of the Avium,” the party will now be 5th level.
Part 5: Of Fate and Flame
“Of Fate and Flame” is the adventure’s conclusion, and it will challenge the players in every way possible. The party will learn how to quell an elemental’s rage and of a dungeon hidden somewhere within the Scorched Grove. Furthermore, an artifact awaits someone worthy enough to wield its power! The artifact is the key to ending the adventure and is the heroes’ last best hope to save the Wood from a fiery ruin. How “Of Fate and Flame” plays out depends on the decisions and choices made up to this point. After some much-needed downtime, the heroes are summoned back to the Avium by the Dean and embark on the greatest of quests to save their homeland…
Appendices A-F provides GMs with everything they need to run the enclosed adventure that is not contained in the Core Books. Below is a brief summary of the appendices.
- Appendix A: Bestiary – Imagery and stats for 12 new adversaries
- Appendix B: Non-Player Characters – Imagery, stats, and details for 33 non-player characters
- Appendix C: Creating NPCs – A streamlined racial generation system for creating NPCs on the fly.
- Appendix D: New Magic Items – Details for the seven magic items found in the adventure.
- Appendix E: Random Encounters – Random encounter charts that are location-specific and level-appropriate.
- Appendix F: What Did They Find? – Two random tables to determine what players find when conducting a search.
Modoc’s Thoughts? I will keep my thoughts brief. In short, I really like the adventure’s premise. “The Adventure Begins” and pieces of “The Bandit Menance” feel a little like they’re on rails. This is not a sandbox story and is linear in its presentation, but players still have the latitude to make meaningful decisions that will impact the unfolding story. In places where the writers thought players may stray too far afield of the story, thoughtful and creative advice is given to discretely nudge them back on track. I find these suggestions especially welcoming in any published adventure, not just this one. Like most published adventures, the story is relatively linear, but there are enough “if this, then that” options baked into the writing that keeps the entire thing from being on rails.
The story has a definite good-natured feel about it, and playing anthropomorphic races really helps reinforce the setting’s theme and tone. Don’t let its good-natured feel give you the wrong impression. This is no easy scenario. It’s challenging for a party of four or five players. I recommend players carefully balance out their party to ensure a decent mix of abilities and skills. Various parts of the adventure will challenge different character abilities, in addition to fighting prowess.
The appendices are smartly laid out and well presented. As I noted above, the bold red text is hyperlinked to its respective appendices if using the PDF. GMs taking advantage of this feature will find them easy to use. If you purchased either the box set or the Humblewood Reference Cards separately, Appendices A, B, and D are replicated in a more table-friendly format.
All-in-all, it’s a well-written and compelling story. It invites players in and has the right balance of combat and non-combat situations to appeal to all player types.
The physical qualities of the book are fantastic. The book is only available in hardcover and well is constructed with a sewn spine that is proving durable thus far. The high gloss finish to the cover has not shown any visual signs of wear from reading and general handling. I suspect it will hold nicely over time.
The overall layout is superb and in keeping with what you might expect to find in any Wizards of the Coast release. The flow of the information is logically presented in a way that just makes sense. The color formatted text used in the adventures is a nice touch and makes running the game easier for GMs. There is little wasted space from my observations. Any space that might have gone unused is filled with art.
The artwork is beautiful, with my preference being the full-color art over black and white line drawings. Although the line drawings are quite lovely, some, but not all, stand in stark contrast to themselves and to the full-color art. That being said, none is particularly bad. Some of the line drawings just didn’t excite me as much as the full-color art.
The PDF is fully developed and hyperlinked, which, in 2020, shouldn’t be considered a premium feature, but far too few publishers make use of them. I am happy The Deck of Many has seen fit to make their digital product equally useful or more so than the physical book. Despite all the hyperlinks, I have one very minor quibble regarding it. There is no easy way to return to your previous page or the chapter beginning when a link takes you to another section or one of the appendices.
The box set includes the hardcover retail version of the book and not some sub-par softcover version. Furthermore, I would like to highlight that the maps and standees are exclusive to the boxset. If purchased separately, the Campaign Book ($49.99) and Humblewood Reference Cards ($29.98) would cost $79.97. Compare that to the box set for $79.99, meaning you get the maps and standees for two more cents. For those who prefer digital options, the Humblewood Campaign Setting PDF ($29.99) contains the same products as the physical box set. Either way, this is a no-brainer!
In closing, The Humblewood Campaign Setting is a must-buy for anyone who wants something other than vanilla Dungeons & Dragons 5e and wants a compelling good-natured story. If you like an anthropomorphic theme, this is doubly a treat for you. It was a refreshing treat for me to read; it drew me back in from my long hiatus from D&D. I’m now preparing to run Humblewood!
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