I have always wanted WOTC to do something for those of us that are fans of both Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering. Whether it be a few creatures from Magic used as monsters, a spell or two or even a setting book, I always felt there needed to be something done between the two games. So you can believe that I was happy when I heard about the release of the Plane Shift: Zendikar PDF a few days ago.
After getting the new computer set up I downloaded the PDF and began reading it while making a point to ignore all the comments made not only in the Blogosphere but on social media. I figured it would be met with the usual snark and derision things like this tend to be and I did not want my opinion colored.
I'm glad I stayed away because in my opinion, this is 38 or so pages of something I hope we'll see more of. While it is somewhat of a supplement to The Art of Magic: The Gathering--Zendikar the book is not needed to use the Plane Shift supplement. I will say though that it is suggested that you have the book but there is enough fan content on the web to make it optional.
Plane Shift: Zendikar is broken up into three sections: The World of Zendikar, Races of Zendikar and A Zendikar Bestiary. (I will go over these below.) Each section is brief but holds quite a bit of information to get you started on the path to running a campaign on the plane. Be forewarned that the Bestiary is light only having a handful of statted monsters and relies on reskinning monsters. Also there is no map of the plane included and I cannot seem to find one on the web so you may be on your own there.
The World of Zendikar
The first section is three pages and covers the basics of the world. You get some on the world's feel and tone as well as the eras before, during and after the Eldrazi came to Zendikar. There are sections on ruins and names of various locations from the above three eras.
Overall this section is light and provides a very basic overview that I have heard is somewhat different from the tone set for the plane in actual Magic lore. The feel I do get from this section is that Zendikar is a very 'points of light' setting (to use a 4e D&D term) and one that you do not want to be caught in the wilds of for long.
Races of Zendikar
The next twelve or so pages cover the various races of Zendikar. Included here are Humans, Kor, Merfolk, Vampires, Goblins and Elves. There are sub-races for the Merfolk, Goblins and Elves with the elves showing how a standard D&D race can be changed for a new setting. Something I hope that WOTC continues with for future D&D settings as an elf on Zendikar would not be the same as an elf on Faerun.
Of the new races I find the Kor the most interesting and may actually include them in my Eberron campaign as a replacement for the Kalishatar as I never were a fan of them. Vampires are actually playable but as a DM I would be leery of letting a player have one as it could lead to problems in a group. Merfolk are fine as is and could replace the annoying aquatic elves of the Forgotten Realms whole cloth. Goblins are actually a nice surprise and I may tweak them a bit to fit my Eberron game.
What I took away the most from this section was that you can get away with not having all the core races in a world and that even those that do appear should be different than core D&D. The elves are a prime example of a similar race evolving on a different world. I hope WOTC remembers this if they actually ever produce setting books again.
A Zendikar Bestiary
The last eighteen pages covers the monsters of Zendikar and does this well. While there are only three monsters given stats the section shines on how to reskin monsters from the Monster Manual into Zendikar creatures. While some may call this lazy, I see it as showing the versatility of 5e and WOTC backing off their old stance of rules are everything and not wanting DMs or players to change anything. In my opinion this section is a win.
Reskinning is the big theme here and it works well. Drakes can be made by using Giant Eagles or Pteradons, Baloths can be made by reskinning the triceratops and the various Eldrazi by reskinning certain monsters with a couple of stat mods.
The take away here is the versatility of the Monster Manual in different situations and how easy it is to make a new creature out of an existing one very easily. This section works both as a bestiary for Zendikar and as a guide for inventive use of existing monsters.
Plane Shift: Zendikar does some amazing things in just a few pages. It also really showcases not only how 5e D&D benefits from a design that lets you do what you want when and how you want ( A far cry from the 3e and 4e days) but also shows you how you can create, move and redo things to make an entirely new concept out of something older (looking at the bestiary again). Something that was lost in post-2000 D&D for awhile.
Would I use it as a setting? Yes and if it wasn't for running an Eberron game right now I would be working on a Zendikar campaign. As it stands it does give me ideas. Like I said above, I want to include the Kor as a race.
It also has me thinking on a couple other things; what if it was an Eldrazi that blew up the Cyre and created the Mournland? What if the Lord of Blades was actually a Phyrexian priest? How would the party deal with a Dragonmarked house doubling as an expeditionary house on Zendikar and owning a portal between the worlds? What if a few warforged made it into Zendikar and helped take on the beasts there?
If nothing else, Plane Shift: Zendikar has sparked my imagination and for that I give it a 5 out of 5.
Featured Article on WOTC's Site: Plane Shift
Get it here: Plane Shift: Zendikar