If you have never encountered them, the Uncaged anthology series is a series of adventures that revisit tropes in Dungeons & Dragons and view those tropes from a more feminist perspective. The first four anthologies in the series involved expanding the perspectives and the motivations for D&D monsters that are often presented as female characters. During the production of these anthologies, the idea was floated about doing a similar anthology reframing neutral and evil goddesses.
It’s been about two years since Uncaged Volume IV was released, and now we have what appears to be the capstone of the Uncaged series, Uncaged: Goddesses. The result is 21 new adventures, all for high-level (17th-20th level) play. Now that it has arrived, let’s take a closer look at this volume.
I was not provided a review copy of Uncaged: Goddesses, and I purchased this copy myself. I reviewed the first anthology in the series, and I own every volume. While I have not played any of the scenarios in this anthology, I am very familiar with D&D 5e, both as a player and as a dungeon master.
There is a quick primer to running Tier 4 adventures, which includes the utilization of safety tools. In addition, this anthology starts each adventure with a Content Warning. This is something the anthology series has done from the beginning, and something I would love to see expand out to other adventures and anthology adventures for D&D (and other RPGs).
This review is based on the PDF version of the adventure, although a print-on-demand version is also available through the DMs Guild. The PDF is 297 pages long, including a credits page, a table of contents, fifteen pages presenting four pre-generated Tier 4 characters, sixteen pages of blank player maps and handouts, and six pages of author bios.
The book has great formatting, with very attractive headers, sidebars, stat blocks, and tables included throughout. In addition to the layout and formatting, the adventures are grouped by theme, with each theme having its own full-color piece of art. In addition to the full-page section break artwork, there is additional full-page artwork of the goddesses involved in each of the adventures. This is some of the most stunning art you are going to find of these characters anywhere.
Unlike the other anthologies in this series, there isn’t a separation between different tiers of adventure, since all of these are designed for 17th-20th level play. Instead, the adventures are thematically grouped based on some of the clerical domains in the game. The organization breaks down this way:
- Tempest Domain
- Death Domain
- War Domain
- The Red Knight
- Arcana Domain
- Life Domain
- The Great Mother
- The Raven Queen
- Trickery Domain
- The Queen of Air and Darkness
- Beyond Faerun
- The Fury
- Mother Night
While there is a section for “Beyond Faerun,” some of the adventures deal with the concepts that the goddesses represent in a more abstract fashion that doesn’t particularly need to be used in the context of the Forgotten Realms, and in many cases, don’t provide context within the setting.
Auril’s adventure is set in Icewind Dale, and Loviatar’s adventure is set in Cormyr. Talona’s adventure touches on Netherese lore, and Lolth and Kiaransalee’s adventures deal with some of the aspects of her history that were first explored in Realms novels. Luthic’s romance with Grumbar also originally comes for Forgotten Realms lore.
While Shar, Beshaba, and Umberlee’s adventures deal with related deities from the Realms, there is some reworking of concepts that make their stories less rooted in, and a little divided from Realms history. The Red Knight, The Raven Queen, Leira, and Waukeen’s adventures deal more the with general concept of their domains more than any specific established history or setting. While the Great Mother and Tiamat’s adventures don’t deal a lot with Forgotten Realms setting information, they do deal with the general D&D lore that has surrounded these goddesses in the past.
If you haven’t read any of the Uncaged adventures, one of the guiding principles of the project isn’t to always make a vilified woman into a hero, but to provide greater nuance and understanding of those characters that are often dismissed only as villains. In some cases, this means reframing a villain as a hero, but just as often, it’s about showing the characters have done what they need to survive and thrive in situations that tested them and pushed them in challenging and sometimes devastating directions.
What About Tier 4
There aren’t as many Tier 4 adventures as there are adventures for just about every other level of play, and if you count official content from WotC, that amount dwindles even further. There has been a lot of discussion about Tier 4 adventures and how to make them fun and challenging for player characters. Does this anthology provide the key to overcoming this hurdle?
The general advice provided at the beginning of the anthology is as follows:
- Utilize Safety Tools
- Adjust the Difficulty as Needed
- Inform the Players of Difficulty Spikes
- Wish is Not Your Enemy
- Always Fail Forward
- Have Fun
I think this is all solid advice, especially “Wish is Not Your Enemy.” That advice isn’t about just wish, but about all of the player character’s higher-level abilities. This is the tier where they get some ridiculously powerful abilities, and if you are playing at this level, if you have a natural DM inclination to try and curb the outrageous effects of an ability, learn to turn that inclination off for tier 4 play.
I think what works for most of these adventures is that the focus of the adventure isn’t placed on “how will they get to another plane,” or “can they ride to another city before X happens.” Most of the adventures either send the PCs where they need to go, or they assume that the PCs will be able to leverage something at their level to mitigate the problems of time = distance/speed.
One interesting aspect of an anthology of this nature is that not every designer uses the same tools. This is most obvious in the adventures that provide special circumstances to make a Legendary creature tougher, versus the adventures that utilize the newer rules surrounding Mythic creatures and Mythic action.
Out of Context
One thing I wanted to touch on was the list of new stat blocks that are available from this product, which can provide a lot of value even for those not using these adventures. I’m just going to touch on things with CRs of 17 or higher, or those that have Legendary or Mythic actions for this section:
- Beholder Brain (CR 23, Legendary)
- Sentient Darkness (CR 18)
- Manifestation of Shar (CR 21, Mythic)
- Greater Star Spawn Emissary (CR 21, Legendary)
- Lesser Star Spawn Emissary (CR 19, Legendary)
- Talona (CR 30, Mythic)
- Ygorl (CR 23, Legendary)
- Zazzaluth (CR 30, Mythic)
- Assassin of Vhaeraun (CR 20)
- Chronophage (CR 21, Legendary)
- Living Destroyer’s Storm (CR 24, Legendary)
- Mystra (CR 28, Legendary)
- Talos, the Destroyer (CR28, Mythic)
- Avatar of the Great Mother (CR 25, Legendary)
- Luthic (CR 30, Mythic)
- Ogremoch (CR 20, Legendary)
- Beshaba (CR 30, Legendary)
- Cartographer of Oghma (CR 18, Legendary)
- Bazil (CR 23, Legendary)
- Ice, The Dark Hunter (CR 18)
- Bel (CR 25, Legendary)
- Tiamat (CR 30, Legendary)
- Jorgen, Corrupted Dragon (CR 24, Legendary)
- Lady Illmarrow (CR 22, Legendary)
- Fiendish Wizard (CR 22, Legendary)
- Mother Night (CR 20, Legendary)
- Ephikix The Diseased (CR 26, Legendary)
Also, I’m trying to stick by my 17+ rule, but there is also a CR 16 Undead City that I had to mention, because it’s a city, that is undead. It feels like a natural progression for epic characters to go from haunted houses to haunted cities.
The Quick Rundown (Spoilers Ahead)
I wanted to give some quick thoughts on each of these adventures because they deserve a little more exposition, but I’m going to try very hard to be brief. Also, while I’m going to note some of the adventures that were special favorites of mine, that’s not meant as a knock to any of the other adventures in the anthology.
Winter’s Mourning–If you want more Icewind Dale action, but you wanted to have higher level action related to Auril, this adventure revisits some of the locations of Rime of the Frost Maiden and explores the relationship of a mother to her daughter. Also, there are giants, so I’m in.
The Sea Beneath the Trees–An adventure where Umberlee sinks lands sacred to Mielikki, and the adventurers have the opportunity to consecrate the location to either, both, or neither goddess.
Be All My Sins Remember’d–A goddess that wants what’s best for her worshippers wants the PCs to intervene on behalf of her followers against the intertwined essence of an elder brain and a beholder, leading to some trippy questions about what it means to exist. One of my favorites in this anthology.
Villa Loviati–An adventure that explores repressed desires and has the player characters exploring a house where the rooms reveal secrets. Some of those secrets can unleash a fight, but for the most part, the secrets help the PCs determine the context needed to help an NPC make an important decision.
Dark Side of the Moon–Followers of Selune send PCs to rescue their goddess from Shar on the Astral Plane, where they will encounter Shar’s powerful creatures, enter her fortress, and try to convince her of a truth that may allow her to better live in harmony with her “sister.”
Bonds, Wasted Away–A race to find the corpse of Talona’s divine sister and extract the essence of her power before forces from the Far Realm or Cyric can gain control of it, and along the way, possibly learn something about Talona and help her confront the actions of her past.
The Wounds Once Made–Vhaeraun attempts to use time travel to assassinate his sister before she is born, which will cause the PCs to meet Araushnee before she became Lolth, and to explore the state of Arvandor and the nature of Araushnee’s relationship with Corellon, leading to what may be her destiny.
Knight to Crimson Cage–The PCs get caught up in a magical casino where they end up playing potentially deadly games and solving dangerous puzzles as representatives of the Red Knight as she plays a game of strategy against the archdevil Bael. This is another one of my favorites, as it plays on the “proxy battle of the gods” tropes well.
Vengeance Reborn–After the theft of a magical fountain from Arvandor, the PCs are charged with invading the Abyss and infiltrating Kiaransalee’s domain. They might ally themselves with former worshippers if they think they can trust their new allies, and in the end, they have to decide if they will allow Kiaransalee to perform a ritual without their interruption.
A World Unbroken, a Woman Unchained–Talos manages to pull aspects of Mystra across the Realms to various locations that have had meaning to her in the past. The PCs must regain these pieces and help her fight off Talos before he can subsume the Weave. I like the delve into locations of interest for Mystra, as well as the clever use of three of the Chosen as what are effectively beneficial lair actions for the PCs.
Mama Bear Takes a Holiday–PCs are asked by powerful orc leaders to investigate the disappearance of Luthic, and after exploring her home on the planes, they must decide how best to convince her to return to her duties, or if they will do so.
I Know Her Name–The PCs adventure in the dreams of a girl who has lived a difficult life, trying to connect the part of her that is an aspect of the Raven Queen before Orcus can learn the true name of the Raven Queen through the girl’s unrealized connection.
When Luck Runs Out–The PCs find out Beshaba has been trapped under a magical casino since the passing of her mother Tyche, and her sister Tymora refuses to bestow bad luck, forcing Beshaba to be the bad sister, then imprisoning her when she does her duty. The PCs have to negotiate who should be doing what.
Leira–The PCs find out that Leira is actually a collection of mortals with a divine spark, and they must decide if they will help that collective ally to different factions that want Leira’s power while protecting her sacred training grounds.
Sympathy for the Goddess–The PCs encounter the Dark Hunt, an unseelie band that steals items from the Prime Material plane. After this encounter, a representative of the Summer Court hires the PCs to steal the black diamond that transformed The Queen of Air and Darkness into what she is now. They also have the opportunity to banter with Erevan of the Seldarine, and to bargain with another Unseelie lord to unseat the Queen.
She Who Ran the World–Tiamat attempts to show the PCs all of how Bel and Asmodeus have betrayed her before imprisoning her in Avernus, and they must determine if righting the wrongs done to Tiamat by the archdevils outweighs the potential risk of freeing her from Avernus.
The Golden Lady and the King of Dragons–An ascended dragon horns in on Waukeen’s role as the goddess of wealth, and attempts to steal her power to become the worst kind of wealth deity he can be.
Dancing with the Fury– A major conjunction with Dolurrh is afflicting Khorvaire, and after a skyship crash, the PCs may or may not be getting hints from the Fury that leads them to the creature prolonging the connection, as the creature attempts to recreate the story of The Fury’s genesis to ascend.
Blessings of Night–Characters must face the Night Army and determine why chaos has erupted when a powerful wizard returns home for the funeral of a family member. In the end, the PCs may have to choose between warring family members, while potentially benefiting from a tainted gift from Mother Night, as she seeks to force the resolution of a pact made with her.
The Exigency of Affliction–As a plague ravages Theros, the PCs must find the mythic creatures that are the source of the plague, as they are directed by Pharika, Goddess of Affliction. However, Pharika wants the plague to make an impression on the world before it’s cured.
I think I would have a really difficult time running The Exigency of Affliction. It’s a commentary on how society has to be prepared for what to do in a global emergency, and how maybe letting thousands die now will save millions later. Part of this story is that Pharika has a cure for the plague, but wants to construct a specific narrative before the cure can be distributed. I think I’ve run into way too many conspiracy theories about who in authority knew what, how dangerous it is, and how effective vaccines are, to engage with this narrative.
I’m not pointing fingers regarding this plot, just pointing out that context can make adventure context a bit sticky. I say this as a DM that ran an adventure about a blood mage that one of my players construed as an anti-vaccine narrative, which caused me to stop the game and explain my personal feelings on the matter, and to issue an apology for promoting a theme I was not engaging with on a deeper level.
What About those Pregens?
I wanted to touch on the included pre-generated characters, for anyone that wants to know what’s available to players if they don’t have a PC of the proper tier:
- Halfling Battle Master Fighter 18th
- Aasimar Grave Domain Cleric 18th
- Human Arcane Trickster Rogue 18th
- Goliath School of Divination Wizard 18th
The pregens each have a quote to give a slight indication of their personality. They have backgrounds assigned to them, as well as Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws. They have lists of equipment provided, as well as a guide to level up the character for 19th and 20th levels. They are not assigned names, pronouns, or history, outside of what their background information might infer.
While I may have wanted maybe two more pregens, I know that 18th level characters are an investment to create. I like that they cover the main bases of fighter, cleric, rogue, and wizard, but they also bring in some less standard ancestries into the mix.
Divine Ascension While there are several of these adventures I want to get to the table eventually, I think every one of these adventures has thoughtful elements that help illustrate deeper nuance in motivations.
While there are several of these adventures I want to get to the table eventually, I think every one of these adventures has thoughtful elements that help illustrate deeper nuance in motivations. If I listed everything I enjoy about these adventures, this review would be almost as big as the anthology. I especially love the existential questions in Blibdoolpoolp’s adventure, the imagery of the Talona adventure, and the inclusion of Luthic’s romance with Grumbar, which is one of my favorite bits of lore. I love the adventures that give the PCs hard choices to make that could potentially change the destiny of the whole world, decisions that aren’t always easy to make given what the PCs know. I’d also be remiss if I failed to mention all of the neat high CR stat blocks that can get repurposed for other adventures in the future. Who hasn’t wanted more gods to throw at PCs to end a campaign?
Time of Troubles
I love the details that the adventures give you, especially those sticky details that allow you to make an informed, but potentially more painful, decision. However, some of the adventures are light on engaging high-level mechanics, which may feel less satisfying if players are expecting that in an adventure designed for very high-level characters. While engaging with difficult topics is important, it does open the door for some topics that are much harder for some groups to navigate. That’s not bad, but some topics are harder to engage with versus just being exposed to greater narrative texture.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
I don’t have any problem recommending this to anyone that enjoys D&D 5e. There is a variety of adventures, and they cover a tier for which there isn’t much content. They broaden your horizon by exploring how characters, even gods, are more than just an alignment, and they bring up relevant themes for the group to think about and discuss. Even for people that play other RPGs, the plots, decisions, and motivations in evidence might be worth your time to read through.