Ulraunt's Guide to the Planes: Acheron
by Marc Altfuldisch, David J Moore, Hiten Dave, JVC Parry, and Sean Hendrickson
There are so many amazing things about this book but the one thing I like the most is the story telling aspect of it! While the mechanical content was amazing the thing that had me dying to read more for the first few chapters of the book were the exploits of Ulraunt and his group. I didn’t necessarily need a break from reading the other parts of the book, but it was really refreshing to have that change of pace.
ALSO the guidelines for creating great old ones, primordials and elder evils would have me buying this book ever if everything else was terrible and unusable it is that great of a resource.
Layers of Acheron
Acheron is comprised of four layers: Avalas, the First Layer. Thuldanin, the Second Layer. Tintibulus the Third Layer. Ocanthus, the Fourth Layer.
Layers at a Glance
First Layer: "Avalas is populated by a multitude of spirit legions grinding in the machine of eternal war, It is a place of constant strife and bloodlust. The blood-red skies are filled with cubic, geometric bodies of iron. They vary in size from tiny islands to entire planets, each with their own gravity and velocity. As the spirit legions march across these metallic cubes, their footsteps ring out across the vast emptiness of the plane, drowned out only by the clash of armies, or the collision of cubes."
Second Layer: "When a cube is caught in a catastrophic collision in Avalas, or becomes so battered by war that it begins to fall apart, it sinks down to the layer of Thuldanin, the Layer of Waste. Geographically, this layer is similar to Avalas; great metallic cubes, each with their own gravity, fly through the empty, rust-colored skies in their own indecipherable orbits. The cubes of Thuldanin are pitted with craters and hollows from their previous lives in Avalas. These holes reveal cavities within the cubes that are honeycombed with tunnels, warrens, and caverns. While the inhabitants of Avalas live upon the cubes, those who live in Thuldanin live within them. These seemingly endless labyrinths of caves contain piles of refuse from wars throughout the planes of existence; broken weapons and armor, scrapped siege equipment, rusted war machines, and even partially destroyed fortifications. However, hidden within this cornucopia of waste are items of immense value. These lost items take many shapes and forms, but keep the economy of Thuldanin alive."
Third Layer: "Tintibulus, the Layer of Perfect Geometry. The layer is thus named because of the huge variety of perfect geometric bodies that it contains. Unlike Avalas and Thuldanin, Tintibulus contains metallic masses of a variety of shapes; the 6-sided cube is but one of many. Tintibulus’ masses vary from four to twenty sides, and each is impeccably formed so that it is perfectly symmetrical."
"The geometric bodies are rarely larger than a mile across, and even these larger examples are soon sundered by collision. The polyhedrons are formed from the shattering of cubes on the upper layers of Acheron, though collisions on this layer are even more common. The purple-gray skies of Tintibulus are filled with a terrible, cacophonous humming; an amalgamation of clattering collisions and the rending of metal as the polyhedrons constantly strike each other. The colliding masses frequently shatter, filling the skies with thick dust. Strangely, the masses in this layer manifest their own magnetism, as well as gravity, causing their perfect forms to be coated in a permanent layer of metallic dust to a depth of several inches or, in extreme cases, several feet. This magnetism is partly responsible for the high frequency of collisions here."
Fourth Layer: "A hellscape of whirling razors, the final layer of Acheron is an unfaltering death-machine of a plane. Flying throughout Ocanthus are millions of cube fragments, so thin as to be almost two-dimensional, and sharp as a blade. These metallic shards flitter around in ordered patterns, kept in strict alignment by their magnetism, creating whirlwinds of unfathomably sharp slivers. To become caught in one of these storms is death; it could eviscerate even a mighty caedes in seconds."
"Ocanthus is bordered by black ice on all sides, into which the blades inevitably become frozen when their magnetism finally fails. These sheets of ice are midnight black and as cold as the depths of Stygia. There is only one city of any note in Ocanthus, though it's an especially significant one: Zoronor, home of and refuge for the bladelings."
Tintibulus, The Layer of Perfect Geometry
I really liked this layer because of the guilds that live in the city of Lake Lerona. There are five largest guilds that control the city (Guild of Crossed Quills, Guild of Harmonious Forks, Guild of the Molten Tongue, Guild of Unfurling, and Order of Woe) plus dozens of smaller guilds that "maintain the social and economic structure of the city."
There's lots of conflict between the major guilds. For example the Guild of Crossed Quills produces the ink used for transcribing magic scrolls. The Guild of Unfurling produces and controls the use of magical parchment. The two guilds are always at each others necks trying to corner the market on magical scrolls. The Guild of the Unfurling even ropes in the Guild of the Molten Tongue to try and sabotage the Guild of Crossed Quills.
Players that find themselves in this layer can quickly find themselves involved in political intrigue, espionage and even bounty hunting depending on which guild wants what. In my mind Acheron was nothing but one large combat slog, but this layer exemplifies why that isn't the case.
Acheron is home to Bane the God of Tyranny, the Orc Pantheon, the Goblinoid Pantheon, along with Duergar and Gnome gods.
The Orc Pantheon
I love the orc pantheon. They are one big mostly close family, unlike the others that exist on Acheron so I was really excited to see them fleshed out both role playing wise and mechanically. The Orc pantheon consists of six deities: Bahgtru God of Strength, Gruumsh One-Eye God of Storms and War, Ilneval God of Strategy and Hordes, Luthic Mother-Goddess of Fertility and Healing, Shargaas God of Darkness and Stealth, and finally Yurtrus God of Death and Disease. Each of these deities get stat blocks not only for their godly abilities and forms but also for their avatars.
I've rarely seen any bestiary stat out the avatar's of beings let alone the stat blocks for their true form and I'm excited about this being a thing for two reasons: one if it bleeds you can kill it. Having concrete stats for creatures always makes it easier for me to see how my players can defeat it. Sure I could come up with some complex ritual to destroy a being that doesn't have an actual stat block but I love me a good fight.
Second now I have something to compare my own stat blocks to when it comes to avatars and greater and lesser gods. So far every section of this book has given me ideas for my own campaign outside of the context of Acheron.
All 14 classes have at least one new subclass themed around Acheron. While all the features below 20th level are usable, they also include epic options for those that have their Epic Characters book. I won’t claim to be the upmost expert on class balance but from what I can see everything is properly balance and thematic. I will say since each subclass includes abilities up to 27th level I can’t really say how well those are balanced since I don’t have experience with classes that high. The Blood Hunter, Cleric and Warlock each have subclasses that are of great interest to me.
The three subclasses: Oder of the Warmonger (Blood Hunter), Domination Domain (Cleric), The Tyrant (Warlock) are all very geared towards evil and destruction. I love having expanded subclasses that lean into the un-heroic aspects of adventurers. I’ve never been a big fan of the Blood Hunter but the Warmonger’s aesthetic and mechanical abilities have me seriously considering playing one in the next game I am playing in.
There are over 140 new stat blocks of creatures and vehicles in this supplement, each that add breath and depth to Acheron along with unique obstacles and situations for anyone traveling or fighting in in the plane.
So I have always had a soft spot for orcs and other races in d&d that get a bad rap for being completely evil (see goblinoids, drow, duergar). I’ve given them a complete revamp in my own setting as far as culture and alignment goes but for the most part they are still the standard orcs you can find in any official supplement. These new orcs range from challenge rating 3 – 9 and allow the orcs to be a challenge at higher levels since the base orcs stop at CR 4.
While the new orcs (Bloodrager, Brood Sister, Darkwalker, Drummer, Legionnaire, Rot Guard, Stormhammer, Orog Reaper, Orog Warshaper) are made for Acheron it’s easy to strip them of that and have them appear anywhere in the world. The Orc Drummer in particular caught my eye. I have a player that is an orc bard that uses a drum for performances and battle. This is a perfect champion to put against him when they visit Acheron (or it visits them).
The warsworn are “towering undead creations, grotesque amalgams of countless fallen soldiers and their armaments constantly shifting in a dense, crimson morass of gore.” When I first saw the picture and stat block I imagined these things being created and summoned by one of the many legions of humanoids that populate Acheron – which brought up some cool imagery of like two sides fighting and a host of mages creating this creature in the heat of battle from the corpses lying around. But then I read the descriptive text and it got even cooler.
Just picture this. A bloody battle between the orcs and goblins on the first layer of Avalas. Both sides giving as hard as they get, and suddenly in a writhing mass of flesh rises this gargantuan creature ready to kill ANYONE on the battlefield sides be damned. Imagine your players on either sides of the battle witnessing this and having to adjust the battle strategy. Do the two sides agree to a ceasefire while dealing with this creature? Do they ignore it as it tears through their ranks, focusing on their original enemy? Do they flee? A battle drastically changes when one of these things appears.
The three new war machines (Duergar Gyrocopter, Duergar Psiolith, and Goblin War-Mover) are styled after the ones in Descent Into Avernus and follow the same rules in that adventure with a few add-ons. There are new ways to fuel these machines, a repair mechanic and an exhaustion mechanic due to the harsh conditions of Acheron. All of the additional rules are straight forward and pretty easy to integrate into your game. The hardest thing might be deciding which tools get used to repair parts on the machine.
I really like the addition of these war machines because they add another element to the standard fantasy setting. I am a big fan of Eberron exactly for this reason. Like you’ve got magic and fantastical monsters, but you also have machinery you might find in different genres of fiction. When two (or more) worlds collide correctly it deeply enriches the setting.
The things I covered are by no means all that this book has to offer. There is so much more, hours of reading that will improve whatever game your playing even if Acheron doesn't exist in your world. You need to grab a copy of this book and check all the other parts out because they're amazing and guaranteed will enrich your game.