Irena’s Guide to Intrigue and Illusion is the second of Chamomile’s series of kickstarter 5e zines. Each of which is focused on a specific topic of D&D that’s always been a little wonky. This one, obviously, is focused around Illusion and Social skills. I’ve got a hard copy, and plan to review that, although the art is screenshots and cropped from the pdf (with permission). You can pick one up at Drivethrough in physical or digital versions.
Of the books released so far Irena’s is my personal favorite. It tackles one of the biggest challenges with RPGs in general, and provides some clear rules for the DM to use. There are rules for setting up a party, rules for tracking relationships, and rules for illusion magic. Each of which are framed out and and give good general guidelines, and specific well thought out rules.
Playing with Intrigue and Illusions, is the players chapter. We get two subclasses, a beguiler for sorcerers, and a college of mana for bards. The beguiler has loads of illusion options, and ways to make your illusions bigger and better. It’s very straight forward, but it’s also welcome. The college of mana is all about counter casting. A sensitive topic that’s sure to annoy your GM. A nice thing about this subclass is that it gives triggers for you to make it so you don’t have to sit through rounds saying “Boy I hope someone casts so I can counter it”.
Figments of the Imagination: A Theory of Illusion Magic is phenomenal. Its concrete rules for using illusion magic, including both guidelines for what to expect and the mechanics to support it, which are written in bold. For example…
Attending a Party is probably my favorite section in the book. It might be the reason to buy it on its own. Parties come up in games all the time, and in my experience there’s a lot of awkward silences, and long pauses or just some fade to black “you had fun at the party” statements. These rules give a framework to govern the events of a party, encourage folks to engage with guests, and gives them something to do during it. Even if they normally aren’t a Face. Generally, actions can be taken, inspiring small little scenes to roleplay out. Players have a goal, and talk to guests giving or taking Fun, by playing towards Interests and Traits. I converted these, and used the framework to kickoff a 3e game and it was easily one of the best start I’ve done in a long time. I legit ran a 4+ hour session that was just a single party. If you’ve played my games in the past, you know that’s a statement.
Natives of the Astral Sea, is a section on Greys and Watchers. Greys are psionic natives to the astral who use telepathic mind powers, and frankly I can take them or leave them. Watchers are certainly not beholders, that have made some appearances in a lot of Chamomile’s work. Over time, they have taken on a lore of their own, and while the mini you use at the table might be a beholder, the character you play will certainly not be. They are much more an ageless otherworldly horror, which might not be a perfect fit for every game, but will certainly see some play.
Running Intrigue and Illusions is the DM chapter. It’s significantly longer than the previous chapter, but that’s because it has to break down why intrigue and illusion so often fails, before the solutions make sense. Things like how friendly exactly does charm person make you, or what can I really get with a persuasion check? Chamomile does a great job of breaking down what the rules say, where they fall short, and how you should fill the gaps or change the rules.
In addition to generally good advice about running an intrigue game, there is the introduction of The Favor Economy, Wheel’s of Intrigue, and Councilors and Courtiers. These are concepts that break down how a government actually works, even if on paper it says that guy is the king and people do what he says. The Favor Economy breaks down how favors actually work, and how that could actually have value if one were a ruler or influential person. The Wheel of Intrigue is a great framework for a ruling council of advisors. Sure, what the king says goes, but how does he keep his throat from being slit at night when he says something disagreeable one too many times?
The GM section includes an example court, the court of Irinduel, which should spell out how it all is supposed to tie together. With factions, councilors, courtiers, their friends and enemies, motivations, traits, and goals. You will get the same for The Astral Court, which I personally found to be the way cooler of the two. One is elves, and the other is starspawn.
For the $5 price tag, this is the sort of book I’d recommend to any DM who wants to step up their social encounters. The rules lend themselves to generating RP moments for players, and help DMs structure their NPCs for deeper, more interesting relationships. Plus, you can play as a tentacle monster.