By the time of publication, we'll have entered the final four showdown in our massive Creature Competition: Encounters. Of course, this means that not everyone's favorite creature advanced -- in fact, my own pick for the Ultimate Winner lost out in the second round.
Additionally, this month we've been on something of a top 10 kick. Dragon and Dungeon editorials are scheduled to discuss Chris Youngs's top monsters he likes to fight as a player, as well as top monsters he likes to run as a DM. D&D Alumni looks at the top 10 monsters from the 1st Edition Monster Manual reappearing June's Monster Manual 3. So before we get into this month's previews, I'd like to present the top 10 monsters from this year's Creature Competition: Encounters that fell by the wayside. One of the final four will be featured in the upcoming Season 3 of Encounters, but I feel the following are worthy of inclusion in your own adventures:
Drelnza: Forget about the unpronounceable name! How could you not love a beautiful, sleeping maiden . . . that suddenly wakes up and attacks the party (running around the inside of a spherical chamber wearing slippers of spider climbing)?
Eclavdra: Here's a hint: You might just see her in the pages of a forthcoming Monster Manual.
Meepo: In an earlier editorial, Steve Winter talks about the usefulness of a memorable NPC. Can you think of a better candidate?
Dragotha: Dracoliches are awesome, plain and simple. And Dragotha was the first and a mere veiled reference on the map to White Plume Mountain.
Lum the Mad: We've seen his machine, but what of the mad baron himself? Perhaps more of his artifacts await discovery (one of them might be used to summon Lum from whatever spider hole in which he might have hidden in time and space).
Tomb of Horrors releases this summer. It's about as classic a dungeon as there is -- and its villain certainly deserves some more screen time.
Imix: Another hint: Also look for him in the Monster Manual 3.
Eludecia: Nowadays, we don't really give classes to monsters (hence the orc Eye of Gruumsh instead of orc wizard). That said, she could work quite well as a companion character (from our Dungeon Master's Guide 2).
Ermikol: This chaotic fellow has never appeared outside of the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide (to the best of our knowledge). Isn't it time somebody made use of this villain? (Correction: Wrong! Emirikol did appear in the 2nd Edition adventure: A Paladin in Hell, as Emirikol the Chaotic, a wizard of great power along with his five iron golem servants.)
Warduke: My pick to go all the way. Sadly, I picked with my heart, not my brain. Still, it's Warduke -- refigured in Dungeon #105 -- and he is always ready to strike terror into adventurers (despite missing half his pants).
In the past few months, we've shown off an old favorite: the catoblepas (one version, at least). As mentioned above, this month's D&D Alumni article will also take a look back at favorite monsters from past editions that are making their return in the Monster Manual 3.
But what of the new? Before we start off our excerpts in earnest, let's showcase something truly monstrous . . . something catastrophic. Iceland's volcano near Eyjafjallajokull might have dominated the news (at least the volcanic-themed news) of late. We present the volcanic catastrophic dragon.
Accounts vary on how catastrophic dragons arose, but one point is certain: They seem to have appeared first during the Dawn War after the death of Io. The most common story recounts how a group of dragons, after seeing their deity so utterly destroyed by the power of the primordials, believed that the gods would lose the war. Rather than follow Tiamat or Bahamut, whom they regarded as weak and selfish, these dragons turned to the primordials for leadership. The primordials embraced the defectors with welcome arms, transforming them into manifestations of chaos and destruction.
During the war, these catastrophic dragons offered their services to their primordial benefactors, battling those who had once been their brethren. The metallics and the chromatics regarded the catastrophic dragons as abominations, and combined forces in an attempt to destroy them. Some catastrophic dragons survived, though, and when the primordials were defeated, they turned toward their own selfish purposes. Most retreated to the Elemental Chaos, where they crafted lairs from the churning forces; a few remained on other planes, occasionally emerging to wreak destruction on those planes' inhabitants. Stories persist of the mightiest of the catastrophic dragons -- beasts capable of leveling entire astral domains and whose power rivaled that of the greatest dragons. Ancient carvings found in ruins from the Dawn War show scaled beasts sinking continents beneath devouring waves and sundering astral domains with colossal shock waves. Whether these creatures are the product of an imaginative storyteller or actual combatants in the Dawn War, none can say. Even the gods refuse to answer such questions.
Volcanic dragons are foul-tempered, cruel, hateful, and ambitious. They are as destructive as earthquake dragons, but they veil their lust for devastation with the pursuit of a loftier goal, such as rulership over a kingdom in the Elemental Chaos or revenge for a petty slight half a century in the past. In the end, these goals are all justifications. The volcanic dragons' true credo is: All things burn, and nothing burns more sweetly than flesh.
Ancient Volcanic Dragon
Level 25 Elite Brute
Huge elemental magical beast (fire, dragon)
HP 574; Bloodied 287 Initiative +20
AC 37, Fortitude 38, Reflex 36, Will 37 Perception +21
Speed 10, fly 10 (clumsy) Darkvision
Saving Throws +2; Action Points 1
Any enemy that ends its turn within the aura takes 15 poison damage.
Attack: Melee 2 (one creature); +29 vs. AC
Hit: 3d10 + 8 damage, and ongoing 10 fire damage (save ends).
Attack: Melee 2 (one creature); +31 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 8 damage, and the target loses all fire resistance until the end of the dragon's next turn.
Effect: The dragon uses bite and claw or uses claw twice.
Effect: The noxious fumes expands to aura 3. At the start of the dragon's next turn, the noxious fumes expands to aura 5. At the start of its following turn, the dragon makes the following attack.
Attack (No Action): Close burst 5 (enemies in burst); +28 vs. Reflex
Hit: 4d10 + 4 fire damage, and ongoing 15 fire damage (save ends).
Effect: The noxious fumes aura reverts to its original state and size (aura 1).
Effect: The dragon creates a zone of hindering terrain in 6 contiguous unoccupied squares. At least one of the squares must be within 10 squares of the dragon. The zone lasts until the end of the dragon's next turn. Any enemy that enters the zone or starts its turn there takes 20 fire damage. This power does not provoke opportunity attacks.
when first bloodied
Effect: The dragon creates a zone in an area burst 2 within 10 squares that lasts until the end of the encounter. Any creature that enters the zone or starts its turn there takes 15 fire damage.
Trigger: The dragon is hit by a fire attack.
Effect (Free Action): Each enemy in the dragon's noxious fumes aura takes 15 fire damage.
Str 29 (+21)
Dex 26 (+20)
Wis 28 (+21)
Con 27 (+20)
Int 23 (+18)
Cha 25 (+19)
Languages Common, Draconic, Primordial
Next month in Dragon: a look at paladins, wizards, and the new assassins of the gloaming dance.
Scattered across the world, in cities and towns, controlling vast regions and kingdoms, are the assassins' guilds. Each a complex and sinister organization involved in killing's business, they recognize no authority but that of the guildmaster who rules them.
Plus, there's a new epic destiny from R&D's Rodney Thompson: Heroes of Legend Reborn.
From time to time, mortal creatures transcend the boundaries between what is possible and what is unthinkable. Those who break through the barrier between what mortals can do and what should only be the province of the gods become something more. They undergo a transformation that alters their very place within reality. Their souls are transformed, and they cease to be just another soul passing through the world and into the Raven Queen's grasp. They glow brightly with the light of ambition and aspiration, and are more than just mortal souls; they are the life force of legends.
Over at Dungeon, not only will we see a new Eye on the Realms (Ondal's Stand), but an Eye on Dark Sun as well, with a visit to the Sunwarped Flats.
Anyone that spends enough time in the wastes of Athas knows that the deep desert produces mutated creatures, sometimes even producing short-lived new races. Those brave (or foolhardy) enough to travel off the well-known paths have come across strange places in the desert where everything seems twisted and out of proportion. In these places, cacti grow to towering heights, while rodents the size of a crodlu gallop from one stony outcropping to the next. The desert-dwelling tribes call these places "sunwarped flats," since their constant exposure to the red sun of Athas has twisted them in strange ways.
Also look for new adventures in the Chaos Scar, at the Hammer Falls (beware Spleed!) and the Splintered Spring, where the following clue awaits:
Even with the time that's passed, the distinct tracks of the so-called "ghost spiders" are easy to follow on the open ground. Every ten paces or so, huge clusters of spiked footprints slash the ground. You estimate the number of creatures at a dozen or more, but their impossibly long stride defies easy explanation.
Six volumes of the legendary Demonomicon of Iggwilv are known to exist, all of which have changed hands countless times over long centuries. This vile codex held the dark secrets of Iggwilv's dominance over more than a dozen abyssal lords, and countless wizards and sages have sought to equal that power by gaining access to all six tomes. As yet, none have succeeded.
The Demonomicon is said to be based on a prior work titled the Tome of Zyx, written by the legendary archmage and former mentor of Iggwilv, Zagig Yragerne. It represents the Witch Queen's primary repository of demonic knowledge, drawn from countless years plumbing the hidden depths of the Abyss and her personal interactions with the demon lords themselves.
Each volume is a heavy, brassbound tome, filled with parchment pages and set with clawed clasps. Dark covers crafted from demon leather and sinew bind and protect the profane lore within. Beyond its invaluable information regarding the Abyss and its inhabitants, the Demonomicon contains secret lore for summoning and binding demon lords, unique rituals for crafting permanent demongates, and spells and prayers of the utmost evil.
Although that describes the game's actual Demonomicon, here's your chance to own a copy of the latest sourcebook of the same name. Contents vary, however (as does construction: our version of the book is not bound in demon leather). Here's a quick rundown of what you'll find inside.
Chapter 1: Demon Lore
Demons are the dread manifestation of malign chaos -- the embodiment of vile perversion and elemental ruin. Even the weakest of these creatures are hideous to behold, their features the stuff of nightmares. The most powerful fiends are anathema to mortal sensibilities, their mere presence enough to drive other creatures to madness. As living engines of annihilation, demons have an innate desire to consume and destroy, ideally causing as much pain as possible in the process. Fear and mercy are unknown to their kind.
Mortals who attempt to understand what drives a demon need only look into their own hearts. Peel away the veneer of virtue, civility, and charity, and each mortal race reveals a writhing core of darkest corruption and rage. It is said that the progenitors of demonkind were not so unlike the mortal races once. However, they let their darkness grow within them until it had warped them body and soul. Now, a demon's every thought is tainted by hatred and malice. No longer possessing any shred of conscience, these horrific creatures live only to feed their insatiable hunger for destruction.
This chapter provides new insights into the history, life, and horror of these iconic monsters, bringing to life the information presented in one of the game's most legendary works -- The Demonomicon of Iggwilv. Be warned, however -- the lore contained in these pages is perilous indeed.
Chapter 1 covers the following topics:
- History of the Abyss: The creation and dark past of the realm of demons.
- Demonic Physiology: A study of demonic form and function.
- Demonic Ascension: The driving force behind every demon's thirst for power and destruction.
- Society: Demon lords, demonic cults, and the mysterious obyriths.
- Summoning Demons: Mortals who seek abyssal power can bind demons to their service, but at great risk.
- Demonic Monster Themes: New powers for customizing demons and their masters in your campaign.
- Mechanics and Options: A demon-themed campaign arc, a skill challenge for disrupting a powerful cult ritual, and demonic traps and hazards useful for running demon-themed adventures.
Chapter 2: The Abyss
This chapter explores the physical landscape and nature of the Abyss, including:
- The Abyssal Realm: The structure and organization of this dark plane.
- The Layers of the Abyss: A sampling of the countless layers that make up the Abyss, from the entry layer of the Plain of a Thousand Portals to the Deep Layers from which it is said no outsiders can escape.
- Roll of Abyssal Layers: A summary of some of the known layers of the Abyss, and the demon lords that control them.
- Abyssal Corruption: The taint of the Abyss seeps into the mortal world through abyssal portals and the temples of demonic cults.
- Demonic Delves: A pair of dungeon delves let epic tier characters face off against a cult of Demogorgon and infiltrate one of the Abyss's deadliest fortresses.
Chapter 3: Demons of the Abyss
This chapter presents more than seventy new demons and demon lords, ready to challenge PCs from the beginning of the heroic tier to the height of any epic tier campaign, including:
- Abyssal Demons: From the stealthy abyssal scavenger to the mighty zarvax; from the lowly mane to the unstoppable mahataa, these new demons epitomize the horrors of the Abyss.
- Demons of the World: All demons are capable of carrying their madness out of the Abyss, but creatures such as abyssal scavengers, demon spawn, ixitxachitls, incubi, nabassus, and the dreaded wendigos are found more often in the mortal world than in their native realm.
- Demon Lords: This chapter presents statistics and background for five dread demon lords -- Phraxas, Kostchtchie, Oublivae, Pazuzu, and Zuggtmoy.
A crowd of dwarves huddles in small groups before you. They look tired and anxious despite their safe surroundings. None seem to be soldiers. Four ornately clothed elders consult with a much younger, black-bearded dwarf who wears a simple silver crown. One of the elders notices you and points you out to the crown wearer, who moves toward you.
"Greetings, friends. I am Rangrim, son of Thorvil, son of King Harvak of Clan Glintshield. We have come from Stonefang Pass and seek those who can free our birthright and our clan from evil. I hope that you can help."
HS2 Orcs of Stonefang Pass is an adventure for five characters of 5th level, loosely tied to HS1 The Slaying Stone, which introduced the Severed Eyes orc tribe. The two adventures shouldn't be played back-to-back. Rather, characters that survive The Slaying Stone will need to gain a few levels before challenging the orcs that appear in this adventure. You can either create your own interim adventures or find adventures of the appropriate level in Dungeon Magazine.
The mighty Ironwall Mountains lie west of the Nentir Vale. Anyone who follows the old trade road southwest of the village of Winterhaven eventually arrives at the frontier village of Timbervale, in the shadow of this indomitable mountain range. The Ironwalls are impassable except for one deadly route: Stonefang Pass. The tunnel through Stonefang Mountain offered safe passage to all friends of the dwarven Glintshield clan, until the dwarves mysteriously disappeared. Stories claim that the clan fell to infighting and that the dwarves slaughtered one another in a terrible civil war.
After years of isolation, the dwarves of the Glintshield clan have reappeared. The clan is trying to return to its ancestral holdings and reopen the way through the mountains. The dwarves had begun rebuilding the citadel that guards the far entrance of the pass when their blood enemies, the Severed Eyes orcs, attacked them. Those dwarves who were not killed or captured fled into the pass, a deadly tunnel through the mountain, and sealed it shut behind them. They now seek brave souls to defeat the orcs, promising the wealth of kings to any heroes willing to help them.
Yet this is only half the story. Unknown to all but members of the Shadowed Chain, a secret cult among the Glintshield clan, Stonefang Pass is not named for the mountain it pierces, but rather for the terrible being entombed beneath the mountain by ancient dwarves: an earth titan. The civil war that nearly caused the clan's ruin started over the theft of an item intended to bind the titan. The cultists had hoped to return the item to the binding site when the pass was made safe, but fate intervened. Some of the cult members stayed behind for this purpose when the rest of the clan fled through the dark, but the orcs followed the cultists and hindered their efforts. Now the titan stirs, causing earthquakes to shake the mountain.
We'll leave with a description of the titular pass -- what the heroes see as they approach this vast entrance to the depths of the mountains!
A huge tunnel bores into mighty Stonefang Mountain; it's easily wide enough for four wagons to travel abreast and tall enough for one giant to stand on another's shoulders and not brush the ceiling. The crumbled dwarven ruins near the entrance can't hide the fact that this marvel must have been built by giant hands. In fact, two enormous statues of wild-haired giants flank the entrance, carved in place as if holding up the weight of the mountain.
Vor Rukoth: An Ancient Ruins provides a wealth of locations, hooks, threats, items, NPCs, and more for DMs who wish to explore the crumbling ruins of a once-great tiefling city of the empire of Bael Turath.
The book (as with its predecessor, Hammerfast) is not intended to be a cohesive adventure path, but rather, it features dozens of locations and hooks that a DM can weave into an existing adventure or campaign setting. Characters might visit Vor Rukoth occasionally throughout heroic and paragon tier, searching for lost lore, valuable items, or ancient magic.
Vor Rukoth is chock full of quests and hooks, so characters can instead spend the duration of their heroic and paragon adventures in and around the ruins, returning ten or twenty times. A rich patron, for instance, might send the PCs to the ruins to recover an item, and in the process of retrieving the relic, they might learn of the Blackwhip Slavers. After they eliminate the slavers, one of the slaves might ask the heroes for help in searching for a brother who went missing in the ruins. With Vor Rukoth, you can put together narrative threads as you see fit, forming a tapestry that produces a campaign or else offering a series of short, one-shot quests.
Three Things to Know About Vor Rukoth
Three features define Vor Rukoth and contribute to making it a unique adventure site.
Deep in the bowels of Vor Rukoth, infernal forces stir. Like a toxic fog, corrupt energy from the Nine Hells flows through Vor Rukoth, filling every crack and crevice. None can escape its influence. Weapons, long since abandoned, still burn to the touch. The smell of brimstone stings the nostrils. And the crackle of flames can be heard where no fire burns. The source of this evil is Najala's Gate, a yawning archway that maintains a thin veil between the world and Hell.
During the final mad years of Najala's reign, she became suspicious of everyone. To affirm her hold on power, she conscripted the construction of a gate that would give her unlimited access to a diabolic retinue. Once the gate's construction was complete, Najala had its architects executed, ensuring they would take the secret of its location and power to the grave. Najala went one step further, though. From a spellcaster named Inariam, she learned the ritual to become a lich. She modified the ritual, though, for she had discovered how to instill her soul within a much larger object than a normal phylactery. She placed her soul within the gate, giving her control over its flow.
On the Day of Devils, as rebellion sparked within Vor Rukoth and a dragonborn host marched on the city, she desperately turned to the gate for power. Manipulated by her advisors, many of whom were devils, Najala threw open the portal and called upon an infernal host to defend the embattled city. In the Nine Hells, the gate shone like a beacon, calling devils to it. The diabolic forces poured out from the portal, and Najala briefly lost control.
When the dust settled and the blood soaked into the streets, the portal was closed again, but its malign influence persisted. Devils occasionally emerge from the portal, either by their own power or at Najala's behest. The corruption of Hell remains rife within the walls of Vor Rukoth, and any adventurers daring to remain in the city for long are likely to find evil drawn to them unless they destroy the gate or surrender to its malevolence.
Although Vor Rukoth lies in ruins, it remains a city alive with iniquity. Devils lure hapless travelers into the city under the guise of prostitutes. Slavers funnel their captives through the city to eager buyers. And bandits and murderers find refuge in the dark recesses of shattered buildings. Vor Rukoth is a constantly changing environment. If one group loses its grip on power, another rises to fill its place. If, for example, some zealous heroes wipe out a group of slavers, they might return weeks later to find that one of the slaves they released has turned the slave den into a pit for taking bets on beast fights.
Even the old influences in Vor Rukoth are not diminished. House Varrik still seeks to unseat Najala -- now called Queen Najala -- from her seat of power. Queen Najala, meanwhile, continues consorting with devils. Many attend her, even centuries after Vor Rukoth's fall. She is a major player in the politics of the region, offering power to those who will flatter her and offer tribute. Warlords, pirates, tribal chiefs, and necromancers are among her beneficiaries. Over the course of their adventures, the characters might confront a number of villains who have received power or influence from Queen Najala. Alternatively, the characters might find that they have to visit Najala and request her assistance to resolve a problem. Ultimately, she is an evil figure, but if you want to run an adventure or campaign with intrigue, help the characters understand that Vor Rukoth is a tightly knit web of alliances and enmities, in which a single action can ripple through the factions in and around the ruins.
Vor Rukoth's unique geography lets a DM run a game with a variety of moods and in an array of terrains. Seismic activity, possibly resulting from the volcanic dragon Kaxhar, has caused the city to become seismically unstable. Furthermore, the events on the Day of the Devil caused water to come rushing in, flooding part of the city. For an aquatic adventure, characters can explore the seafront. For an Underdark adventure, the characters can delve into the Blood Grounds or below Najala's Court. Or, for a Feywild excursion, the characters can visit the gardens or swamps in the city.
The way that Vor Rukoth is parceled out among the power groups also allows characters to launch quick excursions into the city. Adventurers can visit the city, tackle a few encounters, and then escape without considerable effort. Although refuges exist within the city, Vor Rukoth is intended to be an adventure site that can be used consecutively or interspersed across several adventures. If you want Vor Rukoth to become the site for a larger scale adventure, the geography also caters to that. Because the entry points into Vor Rukoth are limited -- and because the city is surrounded by sheer cliffs and treacherous water -- it might become an adventure just to get into or out of Vor Rukoth. As a living city, the geography of Vor Rukoth might even change, perhaps spontaneously or perhaps through the PCs' actions.
"I bring you greetings, strangers whom I hope to call friends. I have heard tales of your exploits. You should be proud indeed, for my home lies far from here, and only the names of worthy mortals reach my ears.
"I would speak with you on a matter of great importance to both our peoples. Will you hear me?"
Few villains throughout the history of D&D have a legacy as daunting as that of Acererak the demilich. From the earliest days of 1st Edition, tales of his lair have spread throughout populations of bold characters and fascinated players alike. It was a short adventure that first introduced Acererak and his penchant for fiendish traps, but its name has lived on throughout every incarnation of the game. You know it, of course, as the Tomb of Horrors.
It's time to bring Acererak's legacy to today's gamers.
The 4th Edition Tomb of Horrors is not a simple conversion of the original adventure. In addition to the fact that many players are familiar with the original adventure in one way or another, the game play and design aesthetics of the game have evolved over the various editions; it would be doing both 4th Edition and the original adventure a disservice for us to convert the latter to the former and call it a day.
Instead, 4th Edition's Tomb of Horrors involves the characters in Acererak's ongoing schemes, exploring not one, but three other "tombs of horror," created by the demilich for his own inscrutable purposes. Like the popular 2nd Edition boxed set Return to the Tomb of Horrors, this version builds on Acererak's legacy and finds inspiration in the original, rather than repeating what's come before.
And hopefully, we've done a good enough job that you, your players, and their characters -- those who survive -- will agree that we've created something worthy of the "Tomb of Horrors" title.
Using this Adventure
The 4th Edition Tomb of Horrors is not a single adventure, designed to run consecutively. Instead, it allows you to weave Acererak's schemes throughout an ongoing campaign by presenting four separate adventures intended for different levels. Thus, it becomes a recurring plotline throughout most of the characters' adventuring careers, allowing Acererak's vile presence to loom over the characters far longer than a single adventure. If you choose to run these adventures at a "standard" difficulty, Chapter 1 is intended for 10th-level characters, Chapter 2 for 14th-level characters, Chapter 3 for 17th-level characters, and Chapter 4 for 22nd-level characters. However, the Tomb of Horrors adventures are known for their extreme difficulty; if you want to set that tone, consider running each chapter with player characters that are about two levels lower than the standard requirement.
Should you start your heroes in the first chapter, for example, they might well run across the following odd and unsettling events:
The sounds of the forest begin to shift around you, subtly at first but with increasing intensity. You can almost hear words in the songs of the birds and whispers in the rustling leaves of the trees. In the distance, a child giggles -- on and on, far longer than anyone could possibly draw breath. Ahead of you, a number of trees grow together in a single clump, as though shunning the company of the rest of the forest. Their branches cross and meld overhead, forming a perfect arch, barely wide enough for two horses side by side. There's magic here; you can sense it. The arch of branches sways gently as though touched by a breeze, but no wind blows past you. The forest is clear, but peering through the arch, the trees are faintly obscured by a thin yet pervasive mist. Surely, what lies through the arch of branches is another location - perhaps even another world.
And that's this month's sneak peek! As always, be sure to check our excerpts for individual previews from our books, and Bill Slavicsek's Ampersand for the earliest insights and announcements about the game!