“The wind howled across the dark, starry night. The moon was full again tonight, it’s eerie glow descended ominously on the small fair town. The townsfolk had shut themselves in, not to stray from the cold wind but from much darker things that lurked in the shadows. Some prayed to their angels and would-be gods to protect them, others cloistered behind blades and pitchforks, and the rest cowered underneath their beds. Those foolish to wander this eve may find themselves face to face with the grizzled snarl of a werewolf, or have their neck sampled by a gang of blood-sucking vampyr, or worse.”
The Plane of Innistrad is the embodiment of the gothic horror genres; there are aristocratic vampires, savage werewolves, pious knights, mad scientists, and zombies (I mean this is Magic: the Gathering, there are always zombies). Magic: the Gathering players ventured to the plane of Innistrad shortly after returning to Mirrodin in the Fall of 2011. The Scars of Mirrodin had brought back another wave of nostalgic players, a new plane was rather refreshing after the Plane of Mirrodin was lost to the Phyrexians. The storyline followed Liliana Vess as she ventured to the realm to slay the demons that had a hold on her soul, a contract enacted to grant her many of her powers. In her quest, she encountered the wildsman, Garruk Wildspeaker. After gaining a powerful artifact known as the Chain Veil, she cursed the green-mana warrior. The warrior went on a multiplanar chase for the black-mana using Liliana to undo the curse placed upon him.
Liliana managed to evade Garruk for most of the time, but there were moments when the two would clash. The corruption of the Chain Veil eventually caused Garruk to become warped under the premise of “the Hunt” and eventually turned on other planeswalkers (the premise and tagline for Magic 2015). Liliana met many denizens in Innistrad, like the infamous vampire Olivia Voldaren to Thalia.
Innistrad is the home plane of Sorin Markov, the vampiric planeswalker who, with Ugin and Nahiri, sealed the Eldrazi titans on the plane of Zendikar. Once the titans broken free at the end of the Rise of the Eldrazi set, the planeswalkers retreated to formulate their next plan to combat these otherworldly terrors. Sorin was a being that knew that the humans of Innistrad needed protection from the creatures that predated them, and thus he created a guardian for the plane in the form of Avacyn, the Angel of Hope. Using a shard of the silvery moon of Innistrad, Sorin crafted the Helvault, which was an interdimensional prison of sorts. Liliana traced one of the demons she was indebt to, broke the Helvault which released the angel and the demons imprisoned within, and slew the demon Griselbrand.
That’s the story of our first go-around in the plane of Innistrad.
Magic players would later return to one of the most beloved planes, Ravnica shortly after Innistrad. Ravnica resulted in one of the largest resurgence of Magic players which also led to its spiritual rebirth.
Innistrad was an instant fan favorite for players due largely to their top-down design of flavor and then game mechanics. The Day/Night flip effects was a novel new integration to the flavor and lore of the world, one of the most impact cards would the infamous Delver of Secrets which changed the game formats (from Legacy to Modern & Standard).
Alright this is not a magic history lesson or a magic review article, I could do that all day but we’re here for Dungeons & Dragon and Wizards unveiled a new Plane Shift going to Innistrad (here).
The World of the Dark and Gloom
Like the previous Plane Shift to Zendikar, this guide provides flavor and lore for players and DMs regarding the world of Innistrad. Humans are divided into subraces unlike the traditional method of character creation from the Player’s Handbook, these subraces are stemmed from the four provinces in Innistrad.
The Church of Avacyn was a very impressive write-up, establishing the hierarchy and the functions of the branches within the church. The Inquisitor background is a great addition for not just this setting but for other settings as well. I plan on using it for NPCs and even characters (if I ever get around to play a D&D game myself), there are some fun ideas for all of them.
Werewolves: Werewolves in Innistrad only have the hybrid form (which they call Canid form) and their humanoid forms. Most werewolves in Innistrad transform mostly under moments of extreme stress or emotion, and under the influence of the full moon. Certain werewolves from different howlpacks have additional abilities which again enriches the various packs of Werewolves that exist within the world. I honest enjoy this aspect as it allows werewolves to be distinct but still similar.
Vampires: Vampires in Innistrad are a by-product from humans, a evolutionary branch if you will. If you have watched the Underworld series, it’s sort of treated like that in this setting, werewolves too. Vampires in this setting still need to drink blood, have some additional weakness to living wood. While these vampires cannot shapechange (at least not by default), they make an area eerily silent and cast a glamer on themselves to appear beautiful to their intended victim. Elder vampires have the abilities similar to the normal Vampire found in the Monster Manual but perhaps toned down.
Monsters: Many of Innistrad’s iconic creatures like geists, zombies, skaberns (which are cool with their additional modifications), and demons can be largely found in the Monster Manual with very little changes. What I love the most out of the monsters depictions would have to be the Cult of Madness and the Creepy Doll stat block. The Creepy Doll is definitely a monster you will want to use in a gothic horror setting, or you really want to torment your party’s low Intelligence characters. Read up on it, page 25 on the Plane Shift pdf.
Angels: The angels of Innistrad follow Avacyn, along with 3 lesser archangels to create the three hosts or flights. Each flight has some unique characteristics that are provided in this supplement. It’s a nice touch especially in a setting where there are different types of angelic hosts.
The Rise of Madness
Several months back, I wrote an article on Madness & Corruption (or Taint for you 3.5 players) which can be found here.
I have since refined the system but it’s still a bit away from publishing. Anywho, the rise of Emrakul as the mega-Lovecraftian horror big bad was extremely thematic and wonderful. A creature of such alien origin could potentially warp not only the mental landscape but even the physical one. I separated physical and mental depravity into Corruption and Madness respectively. In the Innistrad supplement, we utilize a Sanity score where the influence of Emrakul grows and the manifestation of the Eldrazi’s madness intensifies as the score goes down. Due to the ungodly reality warping power of Emrakul, the physical changes cause humanoids to resemble monsters or gain monstrous attributes until they resemble creatures from the Far Realm like Aboleths and Mind Flayers.
I like the idea of a Sanity score, especially in a game full of madness or corruption by some dark power. It provides the players a numerical value to their characters’ deterioration which I’m sure will have them on the edge of their seats as their Sanity continues to drop with each failed Sanity saving throw. I would still probably separate the two types of depravities but use the Sanity score to emphasize the sort of corruption or madness that could be afflicted. Still a great way to expand on the Madness mechanic from the Dungeon Master’s Guide nonetheless. I encourage DMs to continue to expand on this model.
Innistrad borders Barovia, Strahd makes an appearance
Since Curse of Strahd is still the “current” adventure module and it’s thematically appropriate for Innistrad, this supplement spent time incorporating Strahd into the Innistrad lore. I love this portion of the supplement the most, especially when setting the mood and atmosphere of the Ravenloft setting and implementing it into a Magic: the Gathering of a similar theme. It’s a helpful section for DMs trying to incorporate Barovia into Innistrad with NPC knowledge and lore, along with name changes and adjustments to effectively make things in Curse fit seamlessly with the supplement.
There are also adventure hooks adapted to fit Curse of Strahd with the Innistrad supplement to carry the narrative toward the eventual adventure and storyline. Again a continuing useful tool for DMs in regards to planning an Innistrad with a touch of Curse of Strahd.
Granted there are tons ideas and supplements for the Ravenloft setting in the DMsGuild marketplace as well, which continue to add flavor and mechanics for DMs.
While I enjoy this portion of supplement, I found it missing the crucial aspect of incorporating elements of Innistrad into Ravenloft or any other setting. But then again, the this particular supplement is for the Plane of Innistrad so that logically suggests that DMs and players find themselves in Innistrad or a world like it.
Once again, Wizards has brought to life another Magic: the Gathering plane into the D&D world and this one is particularly flavorful and mechanically impactful compared to the previous Plane Shift: Zendikar. Zendikar did include more racial options and ideas, but lacked ideas for dungeon delving or crafting dungeons in the world of Zendikar. The use of Eldrazi and the conflict against them were rather pedestrian in Zendikar, while Emrakul had more flavor context in Innistrad, the use of Eldrazi Horrors being missing was rather disappointing but not surprising since DMs can use them from the Zendikar supplement.
The takeaway from this Innistrad supplement was the inclusion of madness and the Sanity score, along with integration of Curse of Strahd into the fan-favorite gothic horror plane. The next expectation from fans would be the Plane of Ravnica, which has been highly regarded as the most beloved plane for players. The Return to Ravnica block saw a surge of returning players, many from the days after the original Mirrodin block almost 10 years prior. For Wizards to craft a supplement for the City of Guilds, it would garner a lot more attention and along with critical reviews for the beloved plane. Ravnica has a multitude of lore and beloved NPCs, along with a life and energy that almost expands beyond the confines that Wizards crafted the setting (even beyond the books).
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