What Are The Grim Harrow In DND?

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  • The Grim Harrow And The Skull Card
  • Using The Grim Harrow In A Campaign

The Book of Many Things is true to its name, presenting plenty of themes, items and factions for DMs to use in their Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. They’re all based around the mythical Deck of Many Things, a set of cards that can give you great fortune, or doom you for all eternity.


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Among the many factions introduced, the ones that serve as perfect antagonists are the Grim Harrow, an army of undead hell-bent in destroying all Decks in the multiverse. They can’t be reasoned with, nor can they be fully slain, and among their ranks there are creatures weak and strong at all campaign levels.


The Grim Harrow And The Skull Card

a grim reaper with a moon like sythe in the darkness
Skull card by Alex Diaz

Of the many cards with punishing effects in the Deck of Many Things, the Skull card is one of the worst. Drawing it means that an Avatar of Death is summoned, whose sole purpose is to slay whoever summoned it. Being killed in this way means being cursed to turning undead.

But these aren’t regular undead, for they can’t be forever slain; they’ll always reform to wander the planes once more. After centuries of victims, these undead started to come together, forming the Grim Harrow, and as more are slain by the Skull card, the larger their army gets.

Their primary goal is to destroy all copies of the Deck of Many Things, believing that in doing so their curse will be ended. No one knows if that’s the case, but there’s no reasoning with them; they’ll slay anyone in possession of a Deck, asking no questions and leaving no survivors.

Gardens Of Decay

map depicting the Gardens of Decay, with a forest and a tower in the center
Gardens of Decay by Mike Schley

When the Grim Harrow was first being formed, the increasing mass of undead needed a place to call home. They found a demiplane called the Gardens of Delight, and after killing most of the denizens of the Garden, they made it their base of operations.

As more undead reached the Gardens, and as the centuries passed, the demiplane became the Gardens of Decay, and would be forever marked by the necrotic magic of both the Harrow and the Skull card. Now, anyone slain by the Skull card is transported to the Gardens.

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What’s more, the undead can’t leave the Gardens for long. After they spend 24 hours away from the Gardens, they’re pulled back. While this whole process makes it incredibly easy for the Grim Harrow to gain new forces, it in turn makes it difficult for them to hunt the Decks.

Harrowing Hunts

Dungeons & Dragons army of undead marching forward
A Harrowing Hunt by Domenico Cava

With the limited time they have outside the Gardens, the Grim Harrow organizes expeditions called the Harrowing Hunts. These Hunts serve as ways to gather information, and once they know of the location of a Deck, they send a vast force to destroy it.

There are many animals that are part of the Grim Harrow, that they either slay or train, bolstering their ranks. The most notable of these are the Harrow Hawks, birds of prey that can blend well for reconnaissance missions.

When a Deck has been located, the Grim Champions themselves take part in the hunt, being the most powerful undead among all the Grim Harrow. They rarely work together, since their own personal madness makes it difficult for them to coordinate their efforts.

The Grim Champions

Dungeons & Dragons lich summoning undead
Dungeon Master’s Guide Key Art by Tyler Jacobson

The power of each undead isn’t marked by what they were in life, but how they feel about their curse, and this is best exemplified by the leaders of the Grim Harrow: Wynemar Brack, Jyn Corvis and Aleron.

Grim Champion Of Bloodshed

Wynemar Brack is the Champion of Bloodshed, because of the wrath she feels over her curse. In life, she was just a farmer whose village had been razed to the ground. Desperate for a way to change her fate, she drew from a Deck of Many Things, ending up trapped in the Gardens after being slain by the Avatar of Death.

Now she’s enveloped in constant searing fire, ready to set all her enemies ablaze. She can induce her enemies to attack each other, and summon a storm of blades. She rides a flaming steed that’s as strong as a Nightmare horse, but is undead instead of a fiend.

Grim Champion Of Desolation

It’s believed that Jyn Corvis was the first ever victim of the Skull card, and the one that formed the Grim Harrow. Jyn herself doesn’t remember, since it was so long ago. Besides, the Grim Champions aren’t fond of introspection, they just want results.

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As the Grim Champion of Desolation, Jyn is the most driven to destroy the Decks, and, if possible, take the entire multiverse with her. She can nullify most magic effects cast around her, and her arrival is noted by a strange, unnatural silence all around.

Grim Champion Of Pestilence

Aleron remembers very clearly how he was slain by the Skull card, since that very injustice is what drives him to madness. This is because he wasn’t the one who drew the card, but one of the allies of their adventuring party. He tried to help said ally, and was, in turn, slain himself.

When an Avatar of Death is summoned by the Skull card, it announces that its target must defeat it alone, for anyone helping will have to face their own Avatar of Death.

He’s the weakest of the champions, but still a powerful entity, and likely the smartest of the three. He’s still as mad as all the undead in the Gardens, but his strategies can be a little more subtle when put into practice.

Using The Grim Harrow In A Campaign

Dungeons & Dragons, a crowned mummy lord with a background filled with skeletons
Noekam By Sam Flegal

The Grim Harrow is a great antagonistic faction that has a lot of flavor while being very classical villains. If you’re planning on making them the main enemies of your campaign, there are some things to keep in mind about how they work.

You don’t have to use the Deck if you don’t want to. Instead, you can replace it with an artifact they’re looking for, giving a reason for the party to protect it. Or you can keep the Deck, but it’s in the king’s treasury, and figuring out what the Grim Harrow is after can be part of the campaign.

While they can’t be killed, they do have a time limit to roam the planes. This can make some encounters with them more about survival than victory, letting you send over-leveled enemies to your party, and letting them know that they have to choose flight over fight.

A final purpose of the Grim Harrow is for adventures that get too lucky with the Deck of Many Things. If they avoided the awful draws like Donjon or Flames, you can instead send the full might of the Grim Harrow their way, giving your party something to use their new toys on.

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