Art Work - PlanetsArt Work - Planets

So, a lot of stuff happening here in the land of Sarah Darkmagic.

First, I recently joined a local artists' group and we had our first show at a local cafe. For those who may not have seen my other social media stuff, I've been working with various media for several years now. It's been my main source of creative outlet after some of the events in the mid 2010s.

At the opening reception, I sold my first piece! As I was chatting with the buyer, it turns out he is a gamer too and said my piece reminded him of Traveller. I have a website with examples of my artwork at TracyHurley.com.

Second, I was asked to provide an affidavit in the case between Smith and Nagy. I wrote up my experiences with Zak over the past dozen or so years. At first, it looked like he was going to challenge me but when the Zoom call started, the judge let me know my time was no longer required. It appears that Zak's side withdrew the challenge and my affidavit is going to the judge as is.

Putting together the affidavit was hard because I still have a lot of trauma related to what happened. But doing it, while hard, has left me wanting to write again, which is really nice.

For the Tome Show, we just recorded our book club episode on the newish Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Fate. I was able to finish this one however, it's left me pretty confident at this point that Dragonlance isn't for me. Next up, we're reading Dungeons & Dragons - The Fallbacks - Bound for Ruin (affiliate link) by Jaleigh Johnson, whose books I absolutely adore.

We've also been working on reviewing the Book of Many Things, part of the Deck of Many Things release(affiliate link). In the past, there's been a rush to try to read an entire book for a podcast episode, which I have struggled with in part because it's super hard for me to read dense gaming books in that way and even harder for me to recall what I read on demand. This time we're doing more episodes with just a few chapters at a time which I'm enjoying much more.

I'm taking an art journaling course called Wanderlust by Everything Art. It's a year-long course with lots of interesting lessons, one per week. Here are two examples of recent spreads.

Art Journal - Depth of LayersArt Journal - Depth of Layers

Art Journal - HealingArt Journal - Healing

Finally, Shadow of the Weird Wizard (affiliate link) by Robert Schwalb recently released. I backed it on Kickstarter and have been reading through it as I get time. I'm enamored with the health vs damage system and hope to write up my thoughts on it soon.

Hopefully I'll be back to writing and playing more often but juggling a 7 year old, a full-time job, and everything isn't easy. Hope you all are hanging in there!

Art Journaling with Fat Goblin Games Stock Art

Art Journal Spread with Character ArtArt Journal Spread with Character Art
This page contains some affiliate links

Over the past 10 years, I've been doing a lot of learning and experimenting with different art mediums. I've shared some of the results here and if you want to see more, I post most of it to Facebook (2024, 2023, 2022, 2021, and 2020) or to Instagram. One of the things I've been doing a lot is working in an art journal which is a place for me to just play and see what happens.

I also became a patron of Fat Goblin Games on Patreon. For the basic tier, patrons get access to the stock art Rick Hershey creates for the month. My hope is to eventually start creating content for gaming more regularly again but in the meantime I wanted to just play with the amazing art he's been releasing.

My first experiment was to create a basic two-page spread using two of his characters, Baba Yaga and The Aunties.

I was curious about two things. The first is how would it look to print the line art on rice paper and collage it on top of a watercolor background. The second was what would happen if I used my Kuretake Gansai Tambi on the rice paper. I threw in a third experiment as I was working on these and that was to see how color printing on the rice paper would turn out. A quick note, I have a color laser printer and my prints aren't impacted by water, which is important for what I did. Also, the reason for using rice paper is that it's super strong while being fairly thin and, when used in collage, has some transparency.

Print out artwork to rice paper

The first thing I did was find some artwork to use. I used a bunch of files from the Fat Goblin Games Patreon as well as an image from the British Library collection on Flickr. The latter are images from books in the British Library that should be out of copyright.

I happen to use a program called Pixelmator Pro, but lots of programs will let you do what I did. I created a blank image and set the size to be the size of my paper. Then I imported the images I wanted to use and resized them to fit on the page. Once I had a good assortment, I printed it out. This helped reduce waste. I later did a second page to get The Aunties.

Experiment: Line art printed on rice paper and collaged on top of watercolor

Art Journal Spread with Baba YagaArt Journal Spread with Baba Yaga

The first experiment was the side with Baba Yaga.

My first step was to use my Kuretake Gansai Tambi to create a watercolor background. I had received the Art Nouveau set from my husband as a Christmas gift. I did this in my art journal, which at the moment is a Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Art Journal. It has a decent weight paper that is 100% cotton which helps it hold up to the abuse I throw its way. You can see some of the abuse around the edges for instance. I let that dry.

Then I cut out the character art, trying to stay fairly close to the outer outline. I use matte medium to help glue the character art down. I applied some of the medium down first with brush and then applied some on top as well.

I thought the page could use something more and so I applied the circular artwork. It's from the book Fairy Mary's Dream.

I did two things to help make it feel more like part of the page. I used the same pink that was in the background to paint the area between Baba Yaga and the broom. And then I took some brown ink to create a shadow under the character with a brush.

Experiment: Painting the Rice Paper

Art Journal Spread with The AuntiesArt Journal Spread with The Aunties

The second experiment started similar to the first. I created another background using the same colors as the first page.

This time, instead of applying the rice paper with just the lines to the page, I painted it first with the same watercolor paint set. I hadn't tried this before but I know that one of the things about rice paper is that it can be very absorbent. I found out pretty quickly that control of the colors was not easy with this method which, honestly, was refreshing. I could try out how painting with a looser style could be. I think the Aunties came out pretty decent all things considered and I'm excited to keep playing with this technique.

After painting, I let it dry, cut out the characters, and used matte medium to glue it to the page. One thing I found interesting is that neither the background nor the paint on the rice paper seemed to be affected much by the matte medium.


One of the things I want to do is start developing some NPCs in my journal, using stock and public domain art to build that out. I'm hoping to use it to eventually run a game and also create content here and potentially elsewhere.

But even without that, doing art like this has been really helping me with anxiety and stress. It felt really nice creating this.

I want to say thanks to Rick Hershey, not only for the awesome art but for being ok with this use of it.

Baba Yaga and The Aunties: Publisher's Choice Quality Stock Art © Rick Hershey / Fat Goblin Games
British Library digitised image from page 34 of "Fairy Mary's Dream. By A. F. L. With illustrations by the Author"

Understanding Defamation Suits Part 2

First, I am not a lawyer. I’ve checked a few things with lawyers, I learned how to read court rulings in college, and this is an area I’m interested in. That said, nothing I write here should be construed as legal advice. If you take away anything, I suggest getting advice from a lawyer in your area to understand how things are done where you live.

Second, the allegations are quite difficult stuff involving descriptions of events that could fall into potential sexual assault territory and/or could at the very least be triggering. For the most part, I’m not going to include the statements themselves.

In this one, we’ll go over G’s complaint regarding S’s statement on his blog. This one is a bit trickier because it's not a small number of concise statements that need to be addressed and the Court organized this part of the ruling a bit differently.

Statements of Opinion

First, one of the defenses against defamation is that it is “non-actionable opinion.” The Court found one statement, 2-70 to meet that definition, “[G] only jumped on board with her accusations once the mob was decidedly on [N]’s side.” This means it can’t be defamation.

However, in this section the Court says the rest of the statements in the complaint “can reasonably be understood as declaring or implying actual facts capable of proving them true or false” and thus meet one of the requirements for a defamation claim.


Next, the Court discusses the falsity of the statements. One of the requirements is that the statements of fact must be false.

The Court references the previous finding on the case of S v G. And thus finds the following true: Statement 2-09b and Statement 2-18a. Those statements are not false and thus do not meet the requirements of a defamation claim.

However, using the findings from the first suit, the Court says several statements are false: Statement 2-02, Statement 2-09a, Statement 2-11, Statement 2-16, Statement 2-18a, Statement 2-18b, Statement 2-19b, Statement 2-39, Statement 2-75. These statements would meet one of the requirements for a defamation claim.

There’s an additional statement, 2-20, which the court finds partially true, in terms of why G was not invited to the Maxim shoot, but finds the stated motivation for posting the accusations in relations to the Maxim shoot to be false.

At this point of the review of the case, the court has found 10 statements or parts of statements that meet two of the requirements for a defamation claim: Statements 2-02, 2-09a, 2-11, 2-16, 2-18a, 2-18b, 2-19b, 2-39, 2-75, and 2-20.

Civil Code Section 45

California has some requirements in terms of what can be considered libel. As quoted from the ruling, the statement must “expose[] [the plaintiff] to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or…cause[] [plaintiff] to be shunned or avoided, or…ha[ve] a tendency to injure [plaintiff] in his occupation.”

This is a key difference between the two cases. S’s complaint is about accusations made against him that he did something to G. G’s complaint is more about S saying she lied in his defense of himself. It’s unclear if S’s statements had any of the above effects on G, or at the very least, G didn’t provide evidence to satisfy the Court that it was the case. Thus, the Court concludes that it doesn’t qualify as libel even though it does conclude that several statements in S’s post are false.


The Court further discusses the issue of what if there was evidence that the statements caused reactions that satisfy Section 45. The Court says since the statements don’t qualify as “libel per se,” G would need to prove special damages. There is a reference to a court case, Western Broadcast Co. v Times-Mirror Co (1936), which sets out an idea that “[I]t has been held in certain cases that it is not libelous per se to publish an answer challenging the correctness of an opponent’s statements and charging such opponent with ‘telling falsehoods’ or ‘falsely asserting.’”

The Court likens S’s post to that case, saying “[S]’s blog is clearly a response in self-defense to an earlier statement by [G]…[S] does not paint [G] to be a liar generally. Instead, [S]’s statements are limited in responding to the particular allegations in [G]’s Facebook post. Moreover, [S]’s blog is disjointed and makes sense only after reading [G]’s February 13, 2019 Facebook post, which provides necessary context for what it is that [S] is denying. Without the ‘explanatory matter’ of [G]’s February 13, 2019 Facebook post, it is difficult to follow [S]’s blog. Thus, [S]’s statements are not libel on their face.”

Given that, G would have to prove special damage in order to make the statements actionable. The Court found “that [G] has failed to prove any damages, let alone special damages.”

Thus, G’s case fails on this requirement of a defamation claim as well, which is why her claim overall failed. She failed to meet the burden of proof in her complaint.

However, even though G lost her case, those statements by S listed above as having been found false still have that finding, even if they weren’t actionable in this defamation claim.


So one of the things I’ve seen fans of S say is that he has been vindicated by this outcome.

I guess that means what one means by vindication?

Was he the only party that met their burden of proof for a defamation lawsuit…sure.

But it came at the cost of having a number of G’s statements being found to be substantially true by the Court, including ones that form part of the reason why a number of entities have distanced themselves from S. In addition, S has been found by the Court to have made false statements, which, while not legally damaging to him in this suit…definitely differs with the narrative some say about him.

Support for G

This case comes at a great cost to G, monetarily and otherwise. If you’d like to support her, she has a GoFundMe to help cover a portion of her overall legal expenses.

Understanding Defamation Suits

First, I am not a lawyer. I’ve checked a few things with lawyers, I learned how to read court rulings in college, and this is an area I’m interested in. That said, nothing I write here should be construed as legal advice. If you take away anything, I suggest getting advice from a lawyer in your area to understand how things are done where you live.

Second, the allegations are quite difficult stuff involving descriptions of events that could fall into potential sexual assault territory and/or could at the very least be triggering. For the most part, I’m not going to include the statements themselves. For those who want more info, I have a link to where one can find the court documents.

I recently posted on Twitter some of the results of the defamation lawsuit by [S] against [G]. Twitter isn’t always the easiest way to make some points, so I’d like to explain a bit more here.

What is defamation?

Loosely speaking, defamation is a false statement of fact made about someone that can harm that person’s reputation. It has to be communicated to at least one other person.

According to this pamphlet from Sacramento County Public Law Library (a group that attempts to provide self-help resources for the community, but importantly is education, not legal advice), a plaintiff in California attempting to prove a defamation claim must prove all of the following:

  • The defendant made an unprivileged statement to someone other than the plaintiff.
  • The statement was a false statement of fact.
  • The statement was made about or was understood to be about the plaintiff.
  • The statement was negligently made (if the plaintiff is a “public figure” then actual malice must be shown).
  • Actual damage naturally arising out of the statement or that the statement was slanderous per se or libelous on its face.

One important thing to note here is a fact is something that could be proven to be true or false.

What are some of the defenses against defamation?

The Sacramento County Public Law Library offers the following as defenses against defamation. I won’t include the descriptions here but feel free to reference the pdf linked above.

  • Truth
  • Not a Statement of Fact/Opinion
  • Fair Comment and Criticism/Plaintiff is a Public Figure
  • Privilege
  • Libel-Proof Plaintiff
  • Death

What was the outcome thus far of the suit?

[S]’s claim stated that there were 8 allegedly defamatory statements in [G]’s post. Since I want to be careful about the sensitive nature of the details, both to the defendant and to the community members, I’m going to concentrate less on what was alleged and more on the outcomes.

Statement Sub Part Is a statement of fact? Paraphrased Misquoted/Out of Context Defamatory
Statement 1 1 Yes No No No
Statement 1 2 Yes No No No
Statement 1 3 Yes No No Yes
Statement 2 * Yes No No No
Statement 3 * Yes Yes No No
Statement 4 * Yes Yes Yes No
Statement 5 * Yes No No No
Statement 6 * Yes Yes Yes No
Statement 7 * Yes Yes Yes No
Statement 8 * No No

So what does this mean?

For statement 8, the court said it was “a nonactionable opinion.” That means it doesn’t meet the definition of defamation because it’s not a fact.

For statements 2-7 and statement 1 parts 1 and 2, those were demonstrated to be true according to the court. Those as well don’t meet the definition of defamation because they are not false.

Only for statement 1, sub-part 3, did the court find that that portion of the statement was defamatory. To quote the court, “Thus, the Court finds that [S] has proven that [G] failed to use reasonable care to determine the truth or falsity of her statement concerning ‘forcing [G] to move in with [S],’ and the statement is not substantially true.”

For the others, the Court found as follows:

Statement 2
”Given the abundance of testimony noted above on this point, which the Court credits, the Court finds that [G] has demonstrated that Statement Two and all of its subparts true.”
Statement 3
[G] has demonstrated that Statement Three is true.
Statement 4
[G] has demonstrated that Statement Four is true.
Statement 5
[G] has demonstrated that Statement Five is true.
Statement 6
[G] has demonstrated that Statement Six is true.
Statement 7
[G] has demonstrated that Statement Seven is true.

That means for those statements, they are not defamatory because they are true according to this ruling.

Please always check with a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but broadly speaking, having a “Findings of Fact” from a court likely could be used as evidence in a substantial truth defense. This may also be why the Sacramento County Public Law Library cautions, “Any plaintiff considering filing a defamation case in court should consider the possibility that the defendant will assert a truth defense.”

Additionally, besides the above findings of fact, there were a number of times where the Court had to correct the statements claimed by [S]'s complaint. I bring this up because it’s a pattern others have noted about [S]’s “debate” style.

For statement 4, the Court noted, “[S] has taken Statement Four out of context and characterized the quote that [G] attributed to [S] as a threat when in fact the context of Statement Four makes clear that [G] was describing what initially started as a joke that [S] repeatedly made. Even when the joke no longer felt like a joke to [G], Statement Four makes clear that [S] ‘still would laugh when saying it.’”

For statement 6, the Court notes not only is the claimed statement paraphrased but also misquoted. “First, the Court notes that [G]’s February 12, 2019 post did not use the word ‘coerced’ as alleged in [S]’s Complaint. Instead, [G]’s post used the word ‘pressured,’ which is reasonably construed as an inherently subjective term[.]”

For statement 7, the Court again notes the claimed statement is paraphrased and misquoted. The exact statement was “For my birthday, he bought me my first breast implants,” but the claim has the statement as “[S] pressured [G] to obtain breast implants.”

Libel-Proof Plaintiff

I want to bring up another detail I found interesting in the ruling. Under the damages section, the judge points out not only did [S] not provide evidence of the damages that could be attributed to the single instance of defamation alleged in his suit, the defendant’s lawyer pointed to a plethora of other sources of [S]’s loss of reputation not to mention the general downturn in some activities due to Covid during this time period.

Note above that in the list of common defenses, one of them is the “libel-proof plaintiff.” From the Sacramento County Public Law Library informational guide, a libel-proof plaintiff is “[a] person whose reputation is tarnished as to have no value, such as a convicted serial killer, cannot prove damage.”

One of the issues brought up in the ruling is with everything [Z] is in the middle of, with 4 other similar suits, thoughts of suing 2 others, having “been involved in a large number of highly visible clashes with people in the role-playing games industry,” and with his allegations of harassment and “hate mob” against even more people, how can he ever show the damages can be tied to any single allegedly defamatory statement.

I have no idea if [G]'s lawyer was trying to lay the groundwork for that defense or if [S] would qualify in this case, but it was interesting to me.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are a few questions that keep coming up about this case that I’d like to discuss.

How can both parties claim to have won?

So, civil lawsuits like this can be confusing and hard because there are multiple types of winning. So in this particular case, legally speaking [S] as the plaintiff in his original complaint is the winner because he was able to find part of [G]’s statement to be defaming. Had none of the statements or subparts thereof been found defaming, he would have lost his claim.

However, just because he is listed as the winner of the case, doesn’t mean that all of the alleged defaming statements were ruled by the court to be defaming. [G] was able to prove to the court’s satisfaction that Statements 2-7 were substantially true. This not only means is she not liable for any damages from them but there is now a Statement of Fact regarding them in Court records. I hope it’s easy to see how some folks might feel that [G] won in that sense.

If the Court believes [G]’s statements 2-7 were true, how could they declare [S] the winner?

Because the Court is about the law. They are not there to make value judgments. [G] couldn’t prove the one subpart to be true according to the law and since the burden of evidence was on her, [S]’s claim stood and it was determined to be defamation.

The case was unfair so we should accept the part that supports [S] and reject the rulings that don’t

I’m seeing this argument a decent bit from a few people. There are a few things to consider with this argument.

First, everyone had to play by roughly the same rules and the rules are known at the beginning. According to this self help guide, discovery in California can start 0-10 days from the time the first papers are served and must be completed 30 days before trial. Additionally, parties often have at least 30 days to respond, so plenty of padding needs to be added in. And the rules for how to do discovery are often very strict. Not following them may mean that evidence might not be usable during trial.

Second, even after the trial starts, there are legal ways of doing things. Typically the evidence all has to be shared between the parties before it can be used, it needs to be entered into the record, the arguments need to build on each other, etc. This can seem very arbitrary and unfair, and sometimes…they are. What one judge might allow, another won’t.

But that’s the system we all agree to. That’s why defamation lawsuits can be a bit of a gamble. They are intentionally designed to be hard to win because otherwise they can be used to silence any criticism or opposition.

But no matter those feelings and arguments, the current ruling is the legal ruling. And the same arguments made by [S]’s supporters could be made regarding the one sub-part that was ruled to be defamatory. Had [G] had just a bit more time, maybe enough evidence could have been produced. Who knows? But in the end, it doesn’t matter legally.

If you have a need to see the ruling itself or any of the other records pertaining to the case, they can be downloaded from the LA County Court and the case number is 20STCV09708.

Artish Explorations: Simple Web Server Architecture as RPG Map

My day job is in tech. I spent about 10 years working as a full-stack engineer at start ups which really meant I did a bit of everything. Javascript, CSS, backend programming and configuration, etc. For the past 10 years or so, I’ve worked more on the DevOps, cloud engineer, and now security side of things.

An issue I see is that while things are less complex in many ways than they used to be, they are still complex and some spaces have gotten even more so. For cloud platforms like AWS and GCP, the more you make things simple for end users by offering higher level services, the more important the configurations become in protecting things.

So I’ve been reflecting a lot on my career lately and I had challenged myself to do something artful each day of October. One of those days, both streams converged and I created this image.

Simple WebServerSimple WebServer

It’s a simple web server portrayed as a small one-bedroom house. It’s sort of just out there and people could in theory approach from any direction.

The front door is to the top of the drawing and it leads to a simple entry way. I used a proxy icon as a rug in the room. In my mind, I was thinking of that front door as port 443, which is the port often assigned for secure hypertext protocol (http) traffic. Today, it’s the main way we should be conversing on the public internet although sometimes we open up other means.

Off of the entry there are just two options. One can go to the living room or the dining room. For the Living room, I have three pieces of furniture representing the common types of static content: html (the structure of web pages), css (the design for web pages), and javascript (providing some dynamic elements, fetching information via apis, etc). Living rooms tend to be more formal and rigid.

The dining room for me represented the first level of the backend, the part that most application developers out there would be working on. It’s taking the outputs of a lot of more private (like the database) or semi-private (such as the kitchen or family room) and making it into something that guests might like.

There’s a pretty free flow between the dining room and the semi-private areas. That’s because there often has to be communication between libraries or other services on the machine. And sometimes we might even invite our guests to be part of those areas for us. However, the bedroom (which represents the data layers on our web server) has a door and we likely will limit who goes through there.

That said, as with many simple public web servers, there are a few flaws with this architecture.

A notable one is that the house’s only bathroom is inside the bedroom. We often have this in web servers too. We sometimes have to let guests into the most sensitive areas of our systems because we don’t have a place to duplicate the service in a safe way.

Likewise, in order for us to have easy access to our kitchen, we have a door that opens near where we park our cars. While we can use a different key, keep it locked, etc, it can be very difficult to ensure only we can get in the back door.

Additionally, if things grow, like we get a bunch of valuable stuff, it’s hard for us to store it without potentially giving guests access to it. If we want more security, it has to go in that little bedroom. We don’t have a good way to scale out as our life changes.

I super enjoyed exploring these ideas in this way. I’m tempted to continue with the metaphor. :)

Cleaning? How is that Gaming Related?

Cleaning has never been my strong point and after I was diagnosed with ADHD, my issues with it made a lot more sense. A lot of the things folks tell you to do, like creating routines, magically remembering to do things, etc, are just…a lot harder if not nigh impossible. And what works for one person (even someone with ADHD) might not work well for another. We have a cleaner who comes in every other week but stuff was easily getting out of hand between visits from our cleaning fairy. All of this has been a hurdle to getting back to gaming. I decided to do something about it.

So…it’s only be two weeks…but I found something that at least makes sense at the moment for me and it’s been helping. Importantly, it reminds me so much of games, I just had to share my thoughts about that portion of it.

The framework I’ve been using is called The Organised Mum Method. The creator is in the UK and it’s full of hovering and hobs. She provides a few routines for folks to use to keep their home tidier with limited effort.

The Organized Mum MethodThe Organized Mum Method

There are two “levels” of tasks that one does each day, Monday thru Friday. The level 1 tasks are things you do on each day and that list doesn’t change. The level 2 tasks change each day of the week with a slight twist. Monday thru Thursday are the same tasks for each day every week with Monday being Living Room, Tuesday being Bedrooms, etc. And then on Friday, it’s a Focus Day and it picks one area from an 8-week cycle.

For level 1 tasks, the idea is you do what you can in about 15 minutes. Since this level includes doing laundry, it definitely is not wall clock time but rather how much time it takes to do the active parts of the task. For level 2 tasks, you do 30 minutes of work, choosing the highest priority tasks first. So, can’t get to the dusting today? Do that first next week!

And the idea is that your week won’t become perfect within the first week but that the ongoing application of these little tasks will, over time, make your home cleaner.

I’ll be upfront, sometimes it over promises. Like the idea that your house will be clean in just 30 minutes a day (not including weekends). That time doesn’t include things that we are assumed to be doing, like dishes or laundry and the like. But that’s ok, it’s not important at the moment. I’m probably putting way too much thought into this but it reminded me of a board game or even D&D, on a few different levels.

The first similarity I see is the idea that you have certain actions to take each turn. Here the turns are days and you have two types of actions, the level 1 and level 2 ones. You are resource constrained in terms of those minutes, and so you pick the actions you can take, trying to get the best result with the resources you have left.

What I also am digging about it is that it’s a loose framework that’s primed for being extensible. Think D&D and our ability to use different methods for generating a character’s ability scores. Here each day has 2 types of tasks with the second group having a different meaning Monday thru Thursday than on Friday.

The other similarity I see, more for D&D than for some other types of games, is that it’s about incremental change rather than big flourish changes while also not getting such a large list that it becomes overwhelming. D&D has traditionally been about a bunch of smaller choices/actions leading to a larger outcome. This has the benefit of being less swingy (which isn’t for everyone). But the outcome is super clear and obvious and builds on itself over time.

If one uses the app, it will keep track of what you have and haven’t done, allow you to reschedule some tasks, customize each group of tasks, and congratulate you when you complete all of your tasks. It’s not quite gamified but still fairly nice.

If you think about games as finding ways to simplify and organize thoughts around a topic or genre and helps reproduce those experiences in a steady manner, it makes sense that a system that tries to simplify cleaning could feel comfortable to a gamer. If like me, you need to tame your house, you might want to give it a try.

One D&D Backgrounds

Now that we’ve taken a look at the changes to the fantasy races (Part 1, Part 2), let’s look at the backgrounds. Clearly this is one of the biggest areas of change since the start of 5e. There are a number of facets to look at these changes and I’m likely going to miss a few of them.

One D&DOne D&D


First, let’s look at what a background looks like from the start of 5e. I will leave out the flavor text

You have spent your life in the service of a temple to a specific god or pantheon of gods. You act as an intermediary between the realm of the holy and the mortal world, performing sacred rites and offering sacrifices in order to conduct worshipers into the presence of the divine. You are not necessarily a cleric — performing sacred rites is not the same thing as channeling divine power.

Choose a god, a pantheon of gods, or some other quasi-divine being from among those listed in appendix B or those specified by your DM, and work with your DM to detail the nature of your religious service. Were you a lesser functionary in a temple, raised from childhood to assist the priests in the sacred rites? Or were you a high priest who suddenly experienced a call to serve your god in a different way? Perhaps you were the leader of a small cult outside of any established temple structure, or even an occult group that served a fiendish master that you now deny.

Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Religion
Languages: Two of your choice
Equipment: A holy symbol (a gift to you when you entered the priesthood), a prayer book or prayer wheel, 5 sticks of incense, vestments, a set of common clothes, and a pouch containing 15 gp
Feature: Shelter of the Faithful
As an acolyte, you command the respect of those who share your faith, and you can perform the religious ceremonies of your deity. You and your adventuring companions can expect to receive free healing and care at a temple, shrine, or other established presence of your faith, though you must provide any material components needed for spells. Those who share your religion will support you (but only you) at a modest lifestyle.

You might also have ties to a specific temple dedicated to your chosen deity or pantheon, and you have a residence there. This could be the temple where you used to serve, if you remain on good terms with it, or a temple where you have found a new home. While near your temple, you can call upon the priests for assistance, provided the assistance you ask for is not hazardous and you remain in good standing with your temple.

Now, let’s look at the background of the same name in Unearthed Arcana:

Ability Scores: +2 Wisdom, +1 Intelligence
Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Religion
Tool Proficiency: Calligrapher’s Supplies
Language: Celestial
Feat: Magic Initiate (Divine)

You devoted yourself to service in a temple, either nestled in a town or secluded in a sacred grove. There you performed hallowed rites in honor of a god or pantheon. You served under a priest and studied religion. Thanks to your priest’s instruction and your own devotion, you also learned how to channel a modicum of divine power in service to your place of worship and the people who prayed there.


Book (Prayers) Calligrapher’s Supplies
Holy Symbol Parchment (10 sheets)
Robe 3 GP

From Feature to Feat

One of the biggest shifts is the move from feature to feat. Most of the features appear to have been intended to connect characters to the world, to give them networks of folks that they could tap into for help and assistance. When 5e was released, there was a huge push for factions to help provide connections as well.

An issue I could see with the features as often written is that they often required a Dungeon Master to make flesh out those networks. Even many adventures didn’t necessarily provide tie ins for them. They were ambiguous and unclear, which can work great depending on player and DM but can also be frustrating or unused.

By moving to a Feat, things are now more defined. In the case of the Acolyte, it also addresses an issue often remarked upon which is that they cannot perform any divine magic unless they happened to take a class that allowed it.

Previously, feats were an optional rule that allowed the player to forgo an ability score improvement to take on a feat. Now, instead of adding a background’s feature, one can add a first-level feat related to the background.

If you’re interested in the shift for backgrounds that exist in both the Players Handbook and Unearthed Arcana Playtest, here’s what the shift looks like.

Background PHB Feature UA Feat
Acolyte Shelter of the Faithful Magic Initiate (Divine)
Charlatan False Idenitty Skilled
Entertainer By Popular Demand Musician
(Guild) Artisan Guild Membership Crafter
Hermit Discovery Magic Initiate (Primal)
Noble Position of Privilege Skilled
Sage Researcher Magic Initiate (Arcane)
Sailor Ship’s Passage Tavern Brawler
Solider Military Rank Savage Attacker
Urchin City Secrets Lucky

Ability Scores

As mentioned in previous articles, another big change is that it’s now backgrounds that provide ability score bonuses instead of the character’s fantasy race. This makes a whole lot more sense to me. What you do and what you apply yourself to shapes what you are good at.

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything has an explanation of why ability scores were originally tied to the fantasy races and why they gave alternate rules for apply ability score increases.

The Ability Score Increase trait in a race reflects an archetypal bit of excellence in the adventurers of this kind in D&D’s past. For example, if you’re a dwarf, your Constitution increases by 2, because dwarf heroes in D&D are often exceptionally tough. This increase doesn’t apply to every dwarf, just to dwarf adventurers, and it exists to reinforce an archetype. That reinforcement is appropriate if you want to lean into the archetype, but it’s unhelpful if your character doesn’t conform to the archetype.

Now that we are moving away from using ability scores to help define archetypes, how can the game help create that sort of story within the rules? We get an interesting look into that in terms of the languages.


One of the more subtle changes is in how languages get assigned. Before we get into how languages help define the setting and create archetypes, let’s look at how language assignment via backgrounds has changed over the years in 5e.

In the Players Handbook, fantasy race typically bestowed about 2 languages to the character and 7 out of 16 of the backgrounds would add 1 or 2 more languages.

Book Backgrounds with Languages Backgrounds without Languages
Players Handbook Acolyte (2 of your choice)
Guild Artisan (1 of your choice)
Hermit (1 of your choice)
Knight (1 of your choice)
Noble (1 of your choice)
Outlander (1 of your choice)
Sage (2 of your choice)
Folk Hero

In later books, it’s interesting to see how few backgrounds don’t add languages.

Book Backgrounds with Languages Backgrounds without Languages
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide City Watch / Investigator (2 of your choice)
Clan Crafter (Dwarvish or 1 other)
Cloistered Scholar (2 of your choice)
Courtier (2 of your choice)
Faction Agent (2 of your choice)
Inheritor (1 of your choice)
Knight of the Order (1 of your choice)
Uthgardt Tribe Member (1 of your choice)
Waterdhavian Noble (1 of your choice)
Mercenary Veteran
Urban Bounty Hunter
Curse of Strand Haunted One (2, one must be Abyssal, Celestial, Deep Speech, Draconic, Infernal, Primordial, Sylvan, or Undercommon)
Tomb of Annihilation Anthropologist (2 of your choice)
Archaeologist (1 of your choice)
Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron House Agent
Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica Azorius Functionary (2 of your choice)
Boris Legionnaire (1 of Celestial, Draconic, Goblin, or Minotaur)
Dimir Operative (1 of your choice)
Golgari Agent (1 of Elvish, Giant, or Kraul)
Gruul Anarch (1 of Draconic, Giant, Goblin, or Sylvan)
Izzet Engineer (1 of Draconic, Goblin, or Vedalken)
Orzhov Representatives (2 of your choice)
Rakdos Cultist (1 either Abyssal or Giant)
Selesnya Initiate (1 of Elvish, Loxodon, or Sylvan)
Simic Scientist (2 of your choice)
Ghosts of Saltmarsh Fisher (1 of your choice) Marine
Acquisitions Incorporated Celebrity Adventurer’s Scion (2 of your choice)
Failed Merchant (1 of your choice)
Far Traveler (1 of your choice)
Gambler (1 of your choice)
Plaintiff (1 of your choice)
Rival Intern (1 of your choice)
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus Acolyte (2 of your choice)
Faceless (1 of your choice)
Guild Artisan (1 of your choice)
Hermit (1 of your choice)
Noble (1 of your choice)
Outlander (1 of your choice)
Sage (2 of your choice)
Folk Hero
Acolyte (2 of your choice)
Sage (Cobalt Scholar) (2 of your choice)
Volstrucker Agent (1 of your choice)
Criminal (Myriad Operative)
Sailor (Revelry Pirate)
Spy (Augen Trust)
Mythic Odysseys of Theros Athlete (1 of your choice)
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft Investigator
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight Feylost (1 of Elvish, Gnomish, Goblin, or Sylvan)
Witchlight Hand (1 of your choice)
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos Lorehold Student (2 of your choice)
Prismari Student (1 of your choice)
Quandrix Student (1 of your choice)
Silverquill Student (2 of your choice)
Witherbloom Student
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space Astral Drifter (2 of your choice) Wildspacer
Total 47 20 (32 if we count each individual House Agent background)

Unlike in the PHB where approximately half of the backgrounds provided languages, across the remaining books, we’re looking at 47 backgrounds that do versus 20 or 32 that do not. So the move to just standardize that the background will assign one language makes a lot of sense.

The subtle thing is how they provide which language the background will assign.

Language Backgrounds
Abyssal Cultist
Celestial Acolyte
Common Sign Language Urchin
Draconic Noble
Dwarvish Guard

Elvish Entertainer
Giant Guide
Gnomish Artisan
Goblin Soldier
Halfling Farmer

Infernal Charlatan
Orc Gladiator
Primordial Sailor
Sylvan Hermit
Thieves’ Cant Criminal

From this list, we have a bunch of world building, right? The strategies of goblinoid generals are widely studied by soldiers and are so revered that soldiers learn the Goblin language to study them. Elvish is key for recording and studying lore, whether in the form of books or ways of entertaining the masses. So much of the knowledge used by guards or stone masons is tied to the Dwarves and thus folks with those pursuits learn Dwarvish. This world building ties the different groups to trades or roles.

In addition to the language from the background, players get to choose one language from the standard list and provide their own reason for why their character knows it.

Skill and Tool Proficiencies

While all backgrounds in the PHB provided skill proficiencies, tool proficiencies were not universal. In the UA playlets, a core component for the background is adding a tool proficiency. This overall feels more like a tweak to make it easier to custom build backgrounds rather than a major change.

Likewise, while there are some changes in the skill proficiencies, most of them remain the same. Here’s a comparison of the backgrounds that are in the PHB and UA.

Background PHB Skills UA Skills
Acolyte Insight, Religion Insight, Religion
Charlatan Deception, Sleight of Hand Deception, Sleight of Hand
Entertainer Acrobatics, Performance Acrobatics, Performance
(Guild) Artisan Insight, Persuasion Investigation, Persuasion
Hermit Medicine, Religion Medicine, Religion
Noble History, Persuasion History, Persuasion
Sage Arcana, History Arcana, History
Sailor Athletics, Perception Acrobatics, Perception
Soldier Athletics, Intimidation Athletics, Intimidation
Urchin Sleight of Hand, Stealth Insight, Stealth

As you can see, very few of the skill proficiencies have changed. The ones that have are interesting. Artisans get “Investigation” instead of “Insight.” I like this because “Investigation” seems to be a rare trait and a lot of art is about experimentation and discovery.

The Sailor moves from “Athletics” to “Acrobatics” which is a good way to further distinguish sailors from soldiers.

Finally, the Urchin has “Sleight of Hand” move to “Insight.” The background talks about how they only resort to theft when nothing else has worked to get what they need, so having both Thieves’ Tools and Sleight of Hand was probably a bit too much.

Overall Thoughts

I went right into the details when discussing the backgrounds, in part because it was the easier part to discuss. Overall, backgrounds were given a bit of a promotion. There is a solid core that remains from the earlier version in that skill proficiencies largely stay the same, some of the equipment was shifted around, in part to give every one a tool proficiency, and while languages were expanded a bit, they were there in many backgrounds already.

The move of ability scores to background helps the game sidestep some of the issues around them being tied to fantasy race which helps the game feel lighter to me. I get that Tasha’s said to ignore it if it didn’t fit your concept anyway but not having to do the work of ignoring is much easier. And moving from the features that I always struggled to use at the table to a feat helps give it that oomph that makes me want to pick or create a background.

And that’s something we should talk about here, there are 3 ways proposed to use backgrounds:

  • Use a prebuilt background
  • Choose a prebuilt background and alter it
  • Create your own background

It’s an extensible system to provide something for just about everyone.

Speaking of extensible, these suggested changes point to the flexibility of the 5e system. Using an older version that applies the ability scores? Either forgo the ability score increases from the older fantasy race or the ones from the background. But you can use bits from each.

What will be interesting is going forward, what gets the plain moniker of “Orc,” the original Player’s Handbook version or whatever comes from the play test.

One D&D Character Races (Part 2)

So, let’s continue checking out what’s in the Arcana Unearthed regarding fantasy races. In Part 1, we looked at the more traditional classes of Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and Human. This time we’ll take a look at Dragonborn, Gnome, Orc, and Tiefling as well as the brand new race of Ardling.

One D&DOne D&D


Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Charisma score increases by 1.
Age. Young dragonborn grow quickly. They walk hours after hatching, attain the size and development of a 10-year-old human child by the age of 3, and reach adulthood by 15. They live to be around 80. Life Span: 80 years on average
Size. Dragonborn are taller and heavier than humans, standing well over 6 feet tall and averaging almost 250 pounds. Your size is Medium. Size: Medium (about 5–7 feet tall)
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Draconic Ancestry. You have draconic ancestry. Choose one type of dragon from the Draconic Ancestry table. Your breath weapon and damage resistance are determined by the dragon type, as shown in the table. Draconic Ancestry. Your lineage stems from a dragon progenitor. Choose the type of dragon from the Draconic Ancestor table. Your choice affects your Breath Weapon and Damage Resistance traits. The chosen dragon also affects your appearance, with you displaying coloration and other features reminiscent of that dragon.
Breath Weapon. You can use your action to exhale destructive energy. Your draconic ancestry determines the size, shape, and damage type of the exhalation.
When you use your breath weapon, each creature in the area of the exhalation must make a saving throw, the type of which is determined by your draconic ancestry. The DC for this saving throw equals 8 + your Constitution modifier + your proficiency bonus. A creature takes 2d6 damage on a failed save, and half as much damage on a successful one. The damage increases to 3d6 at 6th level, 4d6 at 11th level, and 5d6 at 16th level.

After you use your breath weapon, you can’t use it again until you complete a short or long rest.

Breath Weapon. As an Action, you exhale destructive energy in a 15-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a Dexterity saving throw against a DC equal to 8 + your Constitution modifier + your Proficiency Bonus.

On a failed save, a creature takes 1d10 + your character level in damage of the type determined by your Draconic Ancestry trait. On a successful save, a creature takes half as much damage.

You can use this Breath Weapon a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest.*

Damage Resistance. You have resistance to the damage type associated with your draconic ancestry. Damage Resistance. You have Resistance to the damage type determined by your Draconic Ancestry trait.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Draconic. Draconic is thought to be one of the oldest languages and is often used in the study of magic. The language sounds harsh to most other creatures and includes numerous hard consonants and sibilants. Draconic Language. You instinctively know the language of dragons. You can therefore speak, read, and write Draconic.
Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.

Key Changes:

  • It was too much info to include in this chart but one of the key changes is that the breath weapon follows just one template, cone, instead of being a line or a cone depending on “Draconic Ancestry.”
  • Another change to the breath weapon is around damage. In the PHB, the damage is 2d6 damage on a failed saving throw and half that on a successful saving throw, versus 1d10 + character level on a failed and half of a successful. This change makes the damage swingier since it’s just one die and lowers the max damage, at least at first level. Instead of scaling by adding another die at 6th, 11th, and 16th, you gain an extra point of damage for each level. This simplifies what one needs to remember and makes the breath weapon fierce through level progression.
    Level PHB Average PHB Max UA Average UA Max
    1 7 12 6.5 11
    2 7 12 7.5 12
    3 7 12 8.5 13
    4 7 12 9.5 14
    5 7 12 10.5 15
    6 10.5 18 11.5 16
  • An additional change to the breath weapon is how many times it can be used/when it recharges. Under the PHB rules, it wouldn’t be available again until after the next short or long rest. This could push players to want to take short rests more often. Under the UA rules, one can use it up to a proficiency bonus number of times and all expended uses are regained after a Long Rest.
  • Another change has to do with draconic. Most races don’t get a language as part of the fantasy race anymore but Dragonborn automatically know draconic, even if they haven’t been around anyone who speaks it. It’s an instinct, which is pretty cool especially since, at least according the PHB, it’s the language of magic.


Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 2.
Size. Gnomes are between 3 and 4 feet tall and average about 40 pounds. Your size is Small. Size: Small (about 3–4 feet tall)
Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Age. Gnomes mature at the same rate humans do, and most are expected to settle down into an adult life by around age 40. They can live 350 to almost 500 years. Life Span: 425 years on average
Darkvision. Accustomed to life underground, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray. Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.
Gnome Cunning. You have advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws against magic. Gnomish Cunning. You have Advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Gnomish. The Gnomish language, which uses the Dwarvish script, is renowned for its technical treatises and its catalogs of knowledge about the natural world.
Subrace. Two subraces of gnomes are found among the worlds of D&D: forest gnomes and rock gnomes. Choose one of these subraces. Gnomish Lineage. You are part of a gnomish lineage that grants you supernatural abilities.

Choose a lineage from the Gnomish Lineages table: Forest Gnome, the lineage of magic-filled forests, or Rock Gnome, the lineage of primeval mountains. You gain the benefits of that lineage.

Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma is your spellcasting ability for the Spells you cast with this trait (choose the ability when you select the lineage).

Gnomish Lineage

Forest Gnome

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 1.
Natural Illusionist. You know the minor illusion cantrip. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for it. You know the Minor Illusion cantrip.
Speak with Small Beasts. Through sounds and gestures, you can communicate simple ideas with Small or smaller beasts. Forest gnomes love animals and often keep squirrels, badgers, rabbits, moles, woodpeckers, and other creatures as beloved pets. You can also cast the Speak with Animals Spell with this trait. You can cast it with the trait a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest.*
You can also use any Spell Slots you have to cast the Spell.

Rock Gnome

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 1.
Artificer’s Lore. Whenever you make an Intelligence (History) check related to magic items, alchemical objects, or technological devices, you can add twice your proficiency bonus, instead of any proficiency bonus you normally apply. You know the Mending and Prestidigitation cantrips.
Tinker. You have proficiency with artisan’s tools (tinker’s tools). Using those tools, you can spend 1 hour and 10 gp worth of materials to construct a Tiny clockwork device (AC 5, 1 hp). The device ceases to function after 24 hours (unless you spend 1 hour repairing it to keep the device functioning), or when you use your action to dismantle it; at that time, you can reclaim the materials used to create it. You can have up to three such devices active at a time.

When you create a device, choose one of the following options:

Clockwork Toy. This toy is a clockwork animal, monster, or person, such as a frog, mouse, bird, dragon, or soldier. When placed on the ground, the toy moves 5 feet across the ground on each of your turns in a random direction. It makes noises as appropriate to the creature it represents.

Fire Starter. The device produces a miniature flame, which you can use to light a candle, torch, or campfire. Using the device requires your action.

Music Box. When opened, this music box plays a single song at a moderate volume. The box stops playing when it reaches the song’s end or when it is closed.

In addition, you can spend 10 minutes casting Prestidigitation to create a Tiny clockwork device (AC 5, 1 HP), such as a toy, a fire starter, or a music box. Casting the Spell in this way consumes 10 GP worth of raw material (string, gears, and the like), which you provide during the casting.

When you create the device, you determine its function by choosing one effect from Prestidigitation; the device produces that effect whenever you or another creature takes a Bonus Action to touch the device and activate it. If the chosen effect has options within it, you choose one of those options for the device when you create it. For example, if you choose the spell’s ignite-extinguish effect, you determine whether the device ignites or extinguishes fire; the device doesn’t do both.

You can have three such devices in existence at a time, and each one dismantles itself 8 hours after its creation. You can also touch one of your devices and dismantle it as an Action. After a device is dismantled, the 10 GP of materials used to create it can be reclaimed.

Key Changes

  • For the base fantasy race, the key difference is the removal of the limitation on advantage for Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma-based saving throws.
  • For the Forest Gnome, the key difference is moving from a special and unlimited trait of “Speak with Small Beasts” to the generally defined “Speak with Animals” and limiting its use without using spell slots to proficiency bonus (reset after Long Rest). This feels like it clears up misunderstandings between players and DMs and should be easier to track with a digital tracker.
  • For the Rock gnome, a key difference is the move away from adding additional proficiency bonus for certain types of skill checks to getting 2 cantrips. This helps solidify the hint of magic they have.
  • Also for the Rock gnome, we have a restructuring of how their tinker ability works. Instead of taking an hour and working with tools, a Rock gnome can take 10 minutes and use some magic to create a tiny clockwork device that can do one of the Prestidigitation effects. The type of creation is not predefined, but examples are given. Again, adds a bit of magic to Gnomes and streamlines the creations.


Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse/th> Unearthed Arcana
When determining your character’s ability scores, increase one score by 2 and increase a different score by 1, or increase three different scores by 1.
Size You are Medium. Size: Medium (about 6–7 feet tall)
Speed. Your walking speed is 30 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Adrenaline Rush You can take the Dash action as a bonus action. You can use this trait a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest. Whenever you use this trait, you gain a number of temporary hit points equal to your proficiency bonus. Adrenaline Rush. You can take the Dash Action as a Bonus Action. When you do so, you gain a number of Temporary Hit Points equal to your Proficiency Bonus.
You can use this trait a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest.*
Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You discern colors in that darkness only as shades of gray. Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.
Powerful Build. You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift. Powerful Build. You count as one Size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
Relentless Endurance. When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. Once you use this trait, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest. Relentless Endurance. When you are reduced to 0 Hit Points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 Hit Point instead. Once you use this trait, you can’t do so again until you finish a Long Rest.*

Key Changes

Not surprisingly (as this race was released much later), there is only one change to this race and that’s the removal of the ability score changes.


Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1, and your Charisma score increases by 2.
Age. Tieflings mature at the same rate as humans but live a few years longer. Life Span: 100 years on average
Size. Tieflings are about the same size and build as humans. Your size is Medium. Size: Medium (about 4–7 feet tall) or Small (about 3–4 feet tall) , chosen when you select this Race
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Darkvision. Thanks to your infernal heritage, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray. Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.
Hellish Resistance. You have resistance to fire damage. — (Moved to Infernal Legacy)
Infernal Legacy. You know the thaumaturgy cantrip. When you reach 3rd level, you can cast the hellish rebuke spell as a 2nd-level spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. When you reach 5th level, you can cast the darkness spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells. Fiendish Legacy. You are the recipient of a fiendish legacy that grants you supernatural abilities. Choose a legacy from the Fiendish Legacies table: Abyssal, associated with Chaotic Evil planes; Chthonic, associated with Neutral Evil planes; or Infernal, associated with Lawful Evil planes. You gain the 1st-level benefit of the chosen legacy.
Starting at 3rd level and again at 5th level, you gain the ability to cast a higher-level Spell with this trait, as shown on the table. Once you cast the Spell with this trait, you can’t cast that Spell with it again until you finish a Long Rest*;

Fiendish Legacies

Unearthed Arcana adds 2 more legacies in addition to changes to the Infernal legacy as detailed in the above table. Here’s the version in UA.

Legacy 1st Level 3rd Level 5th Level
Abyssal You have Resistance to Poison Damage. You also know the Poison Spray cantrip. Ray of Sickness Hold Person
Chthonic ou have Resistance to Necrotic Damage. You also know the Chill Touch cantrip. False Life Ray of Enfeeblement
Infernal You have Resistance to Fire Damage. You also know the Fire Bolt cantrip. Hellish Rebuke Darkness

Key Changes

  • Tieflings can now be size Small or Medium.
  • The big change is the move from just one legacy, Infernal, to three of them, Abyssal, Chthonic, and Infernal. Hellish resistance which is resistance to fire damage and has moved to the infernal legacy and that legacy’s cantrip changes (but its spells remain the same). The two new legacies also get a type of resistance, a cantrip, and 2 spells.


Brand new to this Unearthed Arcana is the Ardling. It’s a celestial race of the Upper Planes and also has 3 lineages, making it a good counter point to the tiefling. An interesting element here is that each Ardling has a head that resembles an animal, “typically one with virtuous associations.” It can also temporarily fly up to its speed, although if it ends its move in the air, it will fall.

The design seems to be a great way to provide a high degree of flexibility of appearance while having common mechanics.

Thoughts so Far

I don’t find these particular changes to be all that dramatic and are similar to changes that have already happened in 5e over time. One of the difficulties with a game like Dungeons & Dragons is that not everything can be known about the game upfront. It’s a living game where the designers and the players will continue to evolve it over time, and thus, it can be nice to go back and refresh things.

If they keep some fantasy races having lineages, legacies, ancestries, and such, and have others that are just the base fantasy race, that could be an interesting way to balance the desires of some players for more complexity and choices while keeping some more focused with fewer choices.

I also like the move from sub races to lineages, legacies, and ancestries, although I haven’t been great about keeping the terminology consistent in these posts.

The move towards creating terms for various parts of the game, like the move to “D20 Test.” These provide a common vocabulary and can streamline rule writing. There have been movements towards that before and away as well as they try to find the right balance in terms of technical writing and prose with its ability to inspire.

Dungeons & Dragons Japan

To put some of these changes in context, it’s important to highlight that Dungeons & Dragons is expanding officially to Japan this year. They are looking to foster and grow a “truly global D&D community.” Looking at the assumptions made without intention become even more important in that move.

One D&D Character Races (Part 1)

I’ve been seeing a lot about the new Unearthed Arcana and the associated announcement of One D&D and want to explore what changes are being made.

One D&DOne D&D

My understanding of what they are trying to do with the fantasy races is make sure that any crunch associated with each race is something that a member of that race would have even if they were raised by a different race and/or outside of the culture typically associated with that fantasy race.

This lets them do a few things:

  • Under the theme of One D&D, a halfling in Forgotten Realms shares the overwhelming majority if not all of the same traits as a halfling in Eberron or Dark Sun. It’s less to remember as one shifts between settings, which is potentially even easier now with The Radiant Citadel and Spelljammer.
  • It moves further away from some of the problematic elements of fantasy races, the ones that felt more like eugenics and racist/sexist psuedoscience than objective descriptions of fantasy races. Applying ability score changes based on fantasy race often reminded me of the attempts to measure skull shapes and the like between real world human races.
  • Allows for so much more variation in characters and makes one’s background at least as important, if not more so, to character creation. The delineation appears to be if it’s something innate, it’s in the fantasy race description, and if it’s something that one learns, it’s based on your background, what you did and the culture you were around. This incorporates the reality that there is often more differences within a group than the differences between groups.
  • With character race no longer defining ability scores, multi-race characters can be simplified. Just decide which parent race’s traits most defines you instead of trying to create full fantasy races for each pairing. We no longer have to pick between half elves being reviled or great at diplomacy and we can sidestep the traditional history connected to half orcs.

A few more things I noticed as I compared the Players Handbook version of each fantasy race with the Unearthed Arcana one:

  • Not sure if because it’s not important in this round, but they removed the age of maturity in the switch from “Age” to “Life Span.” This could make sense as age of maturity is a cultural thing; not something innate.
  • They also removed weight from “Size.” There can just be so much variation within each group, including weight never made much sense to me.
  • They simplified speed. Instead of being tied to size, the base rate is 30 feet for all characters in this document. Now this could be a change that was actually made in one of the books after the Players Handbook, I haven’t kept up with the minutia of each book.

With all that, let’s look at what the changes actually entail. For this article, we’ll look at the key fantasy races of Dwarf, Halfling, Elf, and Human. We’ll look at Dragonborn, Gnome, Orc, and Tiefling in the next article.


Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 2.
Age. Dwarves mature at the same rate as humans, but they’re considered young until they reach the age of 50. On average, they live about 350 years. Life Span: 350 years on average
Size. Dwarves stand between 4 and 5 feet tall and average about 150 pounds. Your size is Medium. Size: Medium (about 4–5 feet tall)
Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet. Your speed is not reduced by wearing heavy armor. Speed: 30 feet
Darkvision. Accustomed to life underground, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray. Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.
Dwarven Resilience. You have advantage on saving throws against poison, and you have resistance against poison damage (explained in chapter 9, “Combat”). Dwarven Resilience. You have Resistance to Poison Damage. You also have Advantage on saving throws you make to avoid or end the Poisoned Condition on yourself.
Dwarven Combat Training. You have proficiency with the battleaxe, handaxe, light hammer, and warhammer.
Tool Proficiency. You gain proficiency with the artisan’s tools of your choice: smith’s tools, brewer’s supplies, or mason’s tools. Forge Wise. Your divine creator gave you an uncanny affinity for working with stone or metal. You gain Tool Proficiency* with two of the following options of your choice: Jeweler’s Tools, Mason’s Tools, Smith’s Tools, or Tinker’s Tools.
Stonecunning. Whenever you make an Intelligence (History) check related to the origin of stonework, you are considered proficient in the History skill and add double your proficiency bonus to the check, instead of your normal proficiency bonus Stonecunning. As a Bonus Action, you gain Tremorsense* with a range of 60 feet for 10 minutes. You must be on a stone surface or touching such a surface to use this Tremorsense. The stone can be natural or worked. You can use this Bonus Action a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest.*
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Dwarvish. Dwarvish is full of hard consonants and guttural sounds, and those characteristics spill over into whatever other language a dwarf might speak.
— (Originally part of just hill dwarf) Dwarven Toughness. Your Hit Point Maximum increases by 1, and it increases by 1 again whenever you gain a level.

Key changes for Dwarves:

  • The new version of the race has a couple of items that feel like they could be part of background/culture such as Forge Wise (which gives a tool proficiency) and Stonecunning (now the granting of tremorsense), but the description of Forge Wise lays the groundwork for it being innate. In this case, the character’s divine creator gifted the Dwarf race “an uncanny affinity for working with stone or metal.” Thus a narrative justification for it being innate and making a statement about the nature of dwarves.
  • There are no separate classifications of Dwarf such as Hill and Mountain as in the Players Handbook. This could signify a go forward change or it could be that they want more time to figure out what makes those sub races key. The reason I say that is both Mountain Dwarf abilities are tied to things that should likely be part of culture/background (a strength ability score increase and the armor training) and one of the two items for Hill Dwarf was incorporated into the main race description (with the other being the ability score bump).
  • May just be me, but Tremorsense is way cooler than a history check as something iconic to a Dwarf. It helps with the “dwarfiest dwarf” goal.


Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
Age. Although elves reach physical maturity at about the same age as humans, the elven understanding of adulthood goes beyond physical growth to encompass worldly experience. An elf typically claims adulthood and an adult name around the age of 100 and can live to be 750 years old. Life Span: 750 years on average
Size. Elves range from under 5 to over 6 feet tall and have slender builds. Your size is Medium. Size: Medium (about 5–6 feet tall)
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Darkvision. Accustomed to twilit forests and the night sky, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray. Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.
Keen Senses. You have proficiency in the Perception skill. Keen Senses. You have Proficiency in the Perception Skill.
Fey Ancestry. You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep. Fey Ancestry. You have Advantage on saving throws you make to avoid or end the Charmed Condition on yourself.
Trance. Elves don’t need to sleep. Instead, they meditate deeply, remaining semiconscious, for 4 hours a day. (The Common word for such meditation is “trance.”) While meditating, you can dream after a fashion; such dreams are actually mental exercises that have become reflexive through years of practice. After resting in this way, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep. Trance. You don’t need to sleep, and magic can’t put you to sleep. You can finish a Long Rest* in 4 hours if you spend those hours in a trancelike meditation, during which you retain consciousness.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Elvish. Elvish is fluid, with subtle intonations and intricate grammar. Elven literature is rich and varied, and their songs and poems are famous among other races. Many bards learn their language so they can add Elvish ballads to their repertoires.



Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 1.
Superior Darkvision. Your darkvision has a radius of 120 feet. The range of your Darkvision increases to 120 feet.
Sunlight Sensitivity. You have disadvantage on attack rolls and on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight when you, the target of your attack, or whatever you are trying to perceive is in direct sunlight.
Drow Magic. You know the dancing lights cantrip. When you reach 3rd level, you can cast the faerie fire spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. When you reach 5th level, you can cast the darkness spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells. ou also know the Dancing Lights cantrip 3rd level: Faerie Fire 5th level: Darkness
Drow Weapon Training. You have proficiency with rapiers, shortswords, and hand crossbows.

High Elf

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1.
Elf Weapon Training. You have proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
Cantrip. You know one cantrip of your choice from the wizard spell list. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for it. You know the Prestidigitation cantrip. Whenever you finish a Long Rest,* you can replace that cantrip with a different cantrip from the Arcane Spell List.* 3rd Level: Detect Magic 5th Level: Misty Step
Extra Language. You can speak, read, and write one extra language of your choice.

Wood Elf

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Fleet of Foot. Your base walking speed increases to 35 feet. Your Speed increases to 35 feet.
Mask of the Wild. You can attempt to hide even when you are only lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, and other natural phenomena. You also know the Druidcraft cantrip. 3rd Level: Longstrider 5th Level:Pass without Trace

Key Changes:

  • Most of the changes to the base fantasy race are to remove things that belong in backgrounds now and to restructure some details (such as moving “magic cannot put you to sleep” from “Fey Ancestry” to “Trance”
  • The key changes are in the lineages, streamlining them so each lineage gets a minor trait and a first level cantrip and then spells at 3rd and 5th level.


Lucky. When you roll a 1 on the d20 for an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll.
Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
Age. A halfling reaches adulthood at the age of 20 and generally lives into the middle of his or her second century. Life Span: 150 years on average
Size. Halflings average about 3 feet tall and weigh about 40 pounds. Your size is Small. Size: Small (about 2–3 feet tall)
Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Luck. When you roll a 1 on the d20 of a d20 Test,* you can reroll the die, and you must use the new roll.
Brave. You have advantage on saving throws against being frightened. Brave. You have Advantage on saving throws you make to avoid or end the Frightened Condition on yourself.
Halfling Nimbleness. You can move through the space of any creature that is of a size larger than yours. Halfling Nimbleness. You can move through the space of any creature that is of a Size larger than yours, but you can’t stop there.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Halfling. The Halfling language isn’t secret, but halflings are loath to share it with others. They write very little, so they don’t have a rich body of literature. Their oral tradition, however, is very strong. Almost all halflings speak Common to converse with the people in whose lands they dwell or through which they are traveling.
Naturally Stealthy. You have Proficiency in the Stealth Skill.

Key Changes

  • As with the Dwarves, the subraces of halfling have been removed and one of the traits of one of the subraces became part of the main fantasy race, in this case “Naturally Stealthy” from the “Lightfoot” sub race.
  • Here is the first use in this document of a new term, “d20 Test.” This term defines certain d20 die rolls where inspiration points and luck may be used.


Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your ability scores each increase by 1.
Age. Humans reach adulthood in their late teens and live less than a century. 80 years on average
Size. Humans vary widely in height and build, from barely 5 feet to well over 6 feet tall. Regardless of your position in that range, your size is Medium. Size: Medium (about 4–7 feet tall) or Small (about 2–4 feet tall), chosen when you select this Race
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and one extra language of your choice. Humans typically learn the languages of other peoples they deal with, including obscure dialects. They are fond of sprinkling their speech with words borrowed from other tongues: Orc curses, Elvish musical expressions, Dwarvish military phrases, and so on.
Resourceful. You gain Inspiration* whenever you finish a Long Rest.*
— (Matches variant rules in PHB) Skillful. You gain Proficiency in one Skill of your choice.
— (Matches variant rules in PHB) Versatile. You gain the Skilled Feat or another 1st-level Feat of your choice

Key Changes

  • Giving an average life span for humans of 80 years is interesting. It keeps the maximum lifespan a mystery which could be nice for some characters (in our real world, we have humans who live past 110 years for instance). It also counteracts a lot of the assumptions about the world where folks want to apply a medieval life span of something like 40 years.
  • I believe the ability to pick a different size than medium has been around for a bit now but again, makes total sense to include as we have real life humans who are under 4 feet tall. I’m wondering if this is part of the reason for the change to a base speed of 30 for most fantasy races, rather than having it based on size.
  • Adding a link to inspiration as part of a human trait might signal trying to incorporate it more in the game. It’s been a while but I feel like inspiration was often seen as a bolt on system that folks might or might not use.
  • Adding the two variant traits to the base race is really nice because it signifies more clearly the versatility and skillfulness of humans, rather than just bumping ability scores which might not have much if any affect, at least for early levels.

Thoughts so Far

I’m enjoying this restructuring of the core fantasy races and the intentionality around separating what is innate about a character versus what is more about life experience. I like that the non-human races all have a bit of magic to them. This should also help the races seem more distinct.

I also get why they can’t just get rid of races entirely. They were core to the start of D&D and are something that most players are expecting when they play.

A Look At Gender in Dragons of Stormwreck Isle

Warning: There will be some minor spoilers for the adventure, Stormwreck Isle, in this blog post.

I recently purchased the new Starter Set, Dragons of Stormwreck Isle, from Target. I have a bit of a soft spot for starter sets and I was interested to see how things have changed from the first 5e starter set, Mines of Phandelver.

My son has been asking to start doing his own YouTube videos so I convinced him to do an unboxing of Dragons of Stormwreck Isle with me.

Over the past few years, I've really felt that the adventures have become more inclusive and intentional, at least when it comes to gender. I know at the beginning of 5e, I used to be keep count of how often named characters were mentioned and which pronouns were used in the text, and, well, I decided to check this adventure using that methodology.

Before we dive into the results, I'd like to define my approach. I only counted characters that were named. So I didn't capture references to a certain type of dragon, the harpy, or to a character's unnamed lover.

Additionally, I'm struggling a little on how to talk about pronouns versus gender. I did a quick search on myconids and saw them referred to as gender neutral and no pronouns were really used for them. I captured when she/her vs he/him were used. I didn't notice any uses of 'they' about named characters but I may have missed something. There are some characters where nothing more than a name is given and they are listed as unknown.

I also did not look at any of the information within the appendices.

I want to stress this is something I put together in about two hours, so it's not scientifically rigorous. :)

Frequency of Names Mentioned

First thing I'd like to look at is just how often characters' names appear in the adventure. Each time a character's name was mentioned, I put a little tick and added it up in the end to create the following chart.

Number of Mentions vs. Character Name - Dragons of Stormwreck IsleNumber of Mentions vs. Character Name - Dragons of Stormwreck Isle

The counts show two primary NPCs, Runara (she/her) and Sparkrender (he/him) with Tarak (he/him) and Aidron (he/him) as secondary NPCs. There is then a fairly large cast of additional characters with about 47 named NPCs in total.

What's interesting here, is that Sparkrender has more mentions than Runara and overall the mentions of male NPCs is a bit higher than those of female NPCs.

Number of Pages Where Names Are Mentioned

However, one of the things I noticed as I read through is that often the character needed to be named repeatedly on a page in order to reduce confusion. This is partly due to the NPCs being in spaces together where they can interact. So when we look at the number of pages that each character is mentioned on, it looks a bit different.

Number of Pages vs. Character Name - Dragons of Stormwreck IsleNumber of Pages vs. Character Name - Dragons of Stormwreck Isle

One character, Runara, is mentioned consistently throughout the adventure. Sparkrender and Aidron are still near the top of the list, but we see additional characters come through as well, ones that often didn't have their name repeated for clarity.

Overall Comparison by Pronouns

The next check is to see how many named characters are in each pronoun designation.

Numbers by Pronoun Designation - Dragons of Stormwreck IsleNumbers by Pronoun Designation - Dragons of Stormwreck Isle

Here number of characters using he/him (13) is a bit more the number of characters using she/her (10). We also have 16 characters, Myconids, whose group doesn't have genders and 8 characters where no pronouns were used and are marked as unknown.

While the number of overall mentions is much higher for characters with he/him pronouns, the number of pages is much closer (47 vs 45).

Comparison to Mines of Phandelver

Next, I wanted to compare this to what I saw in Mines of Phandelver.

Gender in Mines of Phandelver and Dragons of Stormwreck IsleGender in Mines of Phandelver and Dragons of Stormwreck Isle

Here we're just looking at the number of named characters grouped by gender/pronoun groups. In Mines, we had 27 named male characters, 9 female, and 7 unknown whereas in Dragons we have 13 male, 10 female, 8 unknown, and 16 with no gender. This definitely explains why I felt the adventure was more balanced when it came to gender.

Qualitative Remarks

The numbers are definitely exciting to me but there were a few more qualitative things I noticed in reading through the adventure.

One of the characters has a former lover mentioned. We don't get a name and gender pronouns are never used, giving space for the Dungeon Master to add a non-heterosexual relationship to the adventure. In fact, I only remember reading two defined relationships, one that is heterosexual and this one. I'm a bit torn overall on this one, but it seems clear that the ambiguity was intentionally there.

The myconids and the lack of gender pronouns in that section was very interesting. I knew before reading this adventure that they had gone that direction but it was interesting to see it here.

I loved that detail given that Tarak (male) is the botanist and the best cook of the lot and that Varnoth (female) is a retired soldier who is well-known.

I'm sure I could go into more, but I don't want to give away too many spoilers. I hope to write up my thoughts on the adventure itself in a separate post.

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