This article was first broadcast in Episode Eleven on 14th February 2018.
Ryu: Hey Len, everything alright?
Lennon: Ehhhh, kinda. It’s Valentine’s day and I’ve still not managed to find anything for my wife. Even with my ukulele my Performance check would be a critical failure what with still recovering from the Ryuflu, and just in case the Ryuflu turns out to be lycanthropy, moonlit walks on the beach are probably best avoided… I’m just stuck for ideas.
Ostron: Well, you should just do what any good adventurer does — look for an item to give a bonus to your Persuasion skill check!
Ryu: Yeah, take it from me: chocolate. Oooh! I have a plan! We can get the finest stuff right at the source. Can you take us to Ixalan?
Ostron: Ixalan? Uh, sure, but first, it might be worth going over what we can expect. So, I happen to have these parchments from the Archives of Candlekeep, here you go, one for you, ok.
Plane Shift: Ixalan. Like the previous Plane Shift offerings, provides considerable material that can be incorporated into existing campaigns and is available as a free download on the Magic the Gathering side of the WotC website. Ixalan, after all, being one of the planes that MtG takes place on. A quick conversion to the D&D 5e rules later, and after the introduction the PDF opens with four nations, the factions that serve as the center of conflict for the plane, of which the Sun Empire is the first. Capturing the flavor of the Aztec, Incan, and Mayan empires, the Sun Empire is dominates the eastern coast of Ixalan. They seek to expand back into territory they once occupied that is currently held by the River Guardians faction, who seek to protect the ruins and artifacts of the Empire from the abuse that led to the Empire’s original exile. On the other hand, the Empire also struggles to hold their current lands against the invading force of vampiric conquistadors of the Legion of Dusk, while the pirates of the Brazen Coalition prey upon the vessels of all factions. In addition to a thumbnail description for each faction, the supplement includes roleplaying guides for each faction as well as a breakdown of which classes appear in each and what role those classes play in that faction. It’s easy to imagine the kinds of adventures members of each faction would participate in.
Ixalan also provides several exotic new races for player characters, including new takes on several races that previously appeared in Plane Shift: Zendikar. As always, humans appear as the most populous race. With the exception of adapting to the language peculiarities of the Ixalan setting, they are identical to the humans presented in the Player’s Handbook. Similarly, while the orcs of the Brazen Coalition have a different history and appearance, they use the PHB’s statistics for half-orcs. Joining them are the all-new avian Sirens, as well as Ixalan variants of the merfolk, vampires, and goblins that Ixalan shares with Zendikar, including rules to treat those shared races as a single race with multiple sub-races. Merfolk are most easily incorporated into campaigns that haven’t yet had seaborne elements; they simply become a fact-of-life the players haven’t run into yet. Similarly, it wouldn’t be surprising for the players to encounter a region where goblins and orcs are readily accepted by the rougher elements of society, and thus integrate to a greater extent than usual with the more “civilized” races. The vampires and sirens of Ixalan, however, present greater challenges to incorporate into non-Ixalan campaigns, and thus it might be simpler for a DM to leave those elements out than to try to merge them in seamlessly.
The next segment of Ixalan brings us an overview of significant sites the region, complete with map. While it fails to list likely zones to find cocoa beans, it gives brief descriptions for a number of sites within Ixalan, including a suggestion for incorporating The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, cited earlier as a primary source of inspiration for Ixalan. With Tamoachan once again available in 5e thanks to the release of Tales from the Yawning Portal, DMs have a fully developed adventure ready to introduce their players to Ixalan. Following this is a list of Ixalan-themed art objects of each treasure level, suitable for spicing up any treasure hunter’s or pirate’s haul, as well as a table to help modify magic item descriptions to incorporate decorative or magical themes for treasures originating from Ixalan.
The penultimate section of the Ixalan supplement is the bestiary. Like the previous Plane Shift offerings, rather than providing stat blocks for a modest selection of the many creatures in Ixalan, it assigns most stats from creatures in the Monster Manual and Volo’s Guide to a wide variety of Ixalan beasts, much larger than would be possible if every stat block had to be reproduced. Some monsters are simple reskins; the dinosaurs of Ixalan usually feature brightly-colored feathered crests, but operate identically to their more drably colored counterparts. Some matchups are more extreme, but still logical. As an example, while the hammerskull may be a bipedal, feathered lizard, its tendency to make ramming attacks makes it a perfect match for the giant goat statistics. A handful of creatures require minor stat changes compared to their vanilla counterparts, while others are unique enough to merit their own stat blocks. Of special note is the inclusion of six tarrasque-class CR 30 dinosaurs. Whether you need to teach your players humility or want to recreate your favorite Godzilla movie, Ixalan has you covered. Of course, this material is still not-Adventurer’s-League-legal so the actual level of terror brought by these creatures may be less, or more, than advertised.
The final section is primarily of interest to those who are interested in a campaign that draws heavily on the lore of Magic: the Gathering, being a discussion of the five colors of mana and how they are viewed by the denizens of the MtG multiverse. Like the notion of the Weave in the Forgotten Realms lands, the five-color mana system has no rules nor impact on how the game plays, it’s simply a matter of flavor.
For those that may want to set a campaign in Ixalan, the Plane Shift document is just the starting point. Plane Shift: Ixalan accompanied the release of The Art of Magic: The Gathering – Ixalan, which includes much more detail about the plane of Ixalan than can be included in the 40-page Plane Shift document, not to mention showing off the artwork from the card set. It will prove invaluable to anyone looking for the in-depth lore of the world. Additionally, Wizards of the Coast’s website includes more information, including the full card set as well as a lengthy fiction offering, following the story of the planeswalker Jace who finds himself trapped on Ixalan. On the other hand, those that may want to use this as part of a more general Mesoamerican campaign would do well to hunt down material for the Maztica campaign setting, an older D&D product created as a fantasy version of the Mayan and Aztec empires, with a heavy focus on historical accuracy. Of the material presented in Plane Shift: Ixalan, the playable races are probably the most problematic for non-Ixalan settings, but there’s no reason they can’t be left out, using the setting with humans alone or with a different blend of races.
Ostron: Alright, anything else you wish to know?
Ryu: No, but I’m going to grab my daggers, juuuuust in case
Lennon: Yeah, pick me up a longbow… we’re going on an adventure!