Previews Archive | 5/9/2008
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May and Beyond
Bart Carroll

Hi folks,

Here we are, less than a month away now from the release of 4th Edition -- so without further ado, let's jump straight into the products and content that will be coming out in support of the new edition!

4th Edition Demos

A repeat reminder! If you didn't have a chance to hit D&D Experience and try out 4th Edition for yourself, here's good news: The product demonstration team here at Wizards of the Coast is planning a series of 4th Edition sessions at your local gaming store. Dates are everywhere between March and May, so check out the list of participating locations here (and keep checking -- this list is updated periodically).

May: H1 Keep on the Shadowfell

Welcome to the Dungeons & Dragons game! You hold the first published adventure using the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules, suitable for entertaining your friends for hours with brave deeds and harrowing perils. You, the Dungeon Master, and your friends can explore dungeons, banter with villains, and defeat vicious monsters with sword, spell, and prayer. Together, the player characters can work to thwart the insidious plot of an unholy cult, winning great treasure and a heroic reputation.

So begins H1 Keep on the Shadowfell, our first officially published adventure for, and herald of, 4th Edition! Designed by Bruce Cordell and Mike Mearls (whose interview can be read here, Keep on the Shadowfell pits adventurers against a cult of Orcus, which seeks to open a rift to the Shadowfell and launch further atrocities against the world at large! For most parties, the adventure starts in the idyllic village of Winterhaven:

Village, Population 977
The rutted King's Road leads to the foot of a broad hill that holds the walled village of Winterhaven. The village is nestled in the southern foothills of the Cairngorm Peaks. The walls are weathered stone topped by defensive palisades. Small thatched homes stand around Winterhaven, each fronting a small piece of farmland or pasture. Beyond the farms to the west and south lie dark woods, and to the north, tall mountain peaks.

From there, it's probably no large reveal that the PCs soon find themselves on the road to the Shadowfell Keep, which is avoided by the people of Winterhaven "because all ancient ruins have a disturbing feeling about them, a feeling composed of lingering memories and unknown mysteries. Some say the place is haunted. Others fear the rumors of goblinoids using the place as a lair."

Take a look at the keep as it is described in the adventure:

Approaching the Keep

The road to Shadowfell Keep is arduous. Since the keep's destruction, few travelers use the road and no one bothers to maintain the path. The road is overgrown with grass, ferns, and small trees. The keep isn't in any better shape. Evidence of its destruction can be seen as you approach the derelict ruins. Read or paraphrase the following when the adventurers come within sight of the ruined keep:

Ahead, the narrow track widens into a clearing. Great piles of shattered stone blocks and scorched timbers dominate the clearing, sprawling out from its center to the edge of the woods. No plants grow among the ruins or within the clearing. The ground is bare dirt, and although the forest has begun to reclaim the path leading here, it has not intruded into the ruins of Shadowfell Keep.

Yet clearly someone has tampered with the ruins. In the center of the debris, stone blocks and timbers have been gathered into a pile. Someone has cleared a path through the rubble and pulled aside the wreckage to reveal a stone staircase. The staircase descends into darkness.

The Real Story
The legends of the Keep on the Shadowfell are known to only a handful of sages and scholars in this age of darkness. The truth is more tragic . . .

We won't reveal too much more about the adventure; we'd rather it unfold for you and your players. But we can provide a quick look at some of the art and maps from the keep (including one encounter that nearly killed Garret Farwhere, my own playtest adventurer trying to make his way through), and wish good luck to anyone daring cross its ruinous threshold!

June: Player's Handbook

(Sara Girard with actual core rulebooks in hand!)

We promised previews for 4th Edition's core rulebooks every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday leading up to the launch, and here's what we've showcased so far for the Player's Handbook:

Since we wouldn't want to leave you empty-handed for the Player's Handbook today, and as many folks have been clamoring for a look at the warlord's at-will powers, we wanted to provide you with a couple:

Commander's Strike
Warlord Attack 1
With a shout, you command an ally to attack.
At-Will Martial, Weapon
Standard Action Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: An ally of your choice makes a melee basic attack against the target
Hit: Ally's basic attack damage + your Intelligence modifier.

Wolf Pack Tactics
Warlord Attack 1
Step by step, you and your friends surround the enemy.
At-Will Martial,Weapon
Standard Action Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Special: Before you attack, you let one ally adjacent to either you or the target shift 1 square as a free action.
Attack: Strength vs. AC
Hit: 1[W] + Strength modifier damage.
Increase damage to 2[W] + Strength modifier at 21st level.

June: Dungeon Master's Guide

Bill Slavicsek recently discussed skill challenges in his preview article, so we wanted to expand the challenges your party may face with a look at traps and hazards. From the DMG:

One wrong step in an ancient tomb triggers a series of scything blades that cleave through armor and bone. The seemingly innocuous vines that hang over a cave entrance grasp and choke at anyone foolish enough to push through them. A narrow stone bridge leads over a pit filled with hissing, sputtering acid. In the D&D game, monsters are only one of many challenges that adventurers face.

If it can hurt the party, but it isn't a monster, it's either a trap or a hazard.

Trap or Hazard?

What's the difference between a trap and a hazard? Traps are constructed with the intent to damage, harry, or impede intruders. Hazards are natural or supernatural in origin, but typically lack the malicious intent of a trap. Though both feature similar risks, a pit covered with a goblin-constructed false floor is a trap, while a deep chasm between two sections of a troglodyte cave constitutes a hazard.

Traps tend to be hidden, and their danger is apparent only when they are discovered with keen senses or a misplaced step. The danger of a hazard is usually out in the open, and its challenge determined by the senses (sometimes far too late) or deduced by those knowledgeable of the hazard's environs.

The common link between traps and hazards revolves around peril -- both to adventurers and monsters. Because of this similarity, traps and hazards feature similar rules, conventions, and presentations.

And, here are three traps for your perusal:

Whirling Blades
Level 5 Obstacle
XP 200
Blades rise out of hidden compartments and spin wildly across the chamber.
Trap: A whirling blades contraption emerges and spins like a top, moving its speed in a random direction and attacking each round.
DC 22: The character notices trigger plates around the chamber.
DC 27: The character notices the hidden control panel.
Initiative +7 Speed 4
When a character moves into a trigger square, the whirling blades contraption emerges and attacks.
Standard Action Close burst 1
Targets: All creatures in burst
Attack: +10 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8+3 damage
A character can engage in a skill challenge to deactivate the control panel. DC 22 Thievery. Complexity 2 (6 successes before 3 failures). Success disables the trap. Failure causes the whirling blades to act twice in the round (roll a second initiative for the trap).
A character can attack the whirling blades contraption (AC 16, other defenses 13; hp 55; resist 5 all) or the control panel (AC 14, other defenses 11; hp 35; resist 5 all). Destroying either disables the entire trap.

Flame Jet
Level 8 Blaster
XP 350
Two hidden nozzles let loose a blast of flame.
Trap: When the trap is triggered, two hidden nozzles in the walls attack each round on their initiative.
DC 24: The character notices the nozzles.
DC 28: The character notices the control panel on the far side of the room.
Initiative +5
When a character enters the blast area of one of the flame jets, it makes its first attack as an immediate reaction. It then rolls initiative, attacking each round.
Immediate Reaction or Standard Action Close blast 3
Targets: All creatures in blast
Attack: +11 vs. Reflex
Hit: 3d8+4 fire damage and ongoing 5 fire damage (save ends).
Miss: Half damage, no ongoing damage.
An adjacent character can disable one flame jet with a DC 24 Thievery check.
A character can engage in a skill challenge to deactivate the control panel. DC 28 Thievery. Complexity 1 (4 successes before 2 failures). Success disables the trap. Failure causes the control panel to explode (close blast 3, 3d8 + 4 damage to all creatures in blast) and the trap remains active.
Upgrade to Elite (700 XP)
Increase the Perception and Thievery checks by 2.
Increase the number of nozzles to 6, or to 3 with a larger area of close blast 5.

Soul Gem
Level 26 Solo Blaster
XP 45,000
A strange, many-faceted gem in the center of the chamber suddenly emits blasts of blinding light.
Trap: This fist-sized cut crystal is often embedded in a statue or placed on a pedestal in the center of a room. When a creature steps within 5 squares of the soul gem, it starts emitting blasts of radiant power from its many facets.
DC 29: The character spots the strange gem.
Additional Skill: Arcana
DC 33: The character recognizes the soul gem.
Initiative +8
When a creature moves within 5 squares of the soul gem, it rolls initiative and attacks.
Standard Action Close blast 5
Targets: All creatures in blast
Attack: +29 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 4d10 + 5 radiant damage and ongoing 5 radiant damage and stunned (save ends).
Aftereffect of stun: Dazed (save ends).
Special: Each round, roll 1d8 to determine the direction of the blast. The blast is centered on one square of the gem's space, starting with the north square and moving clockwise around the gem's space.
A character can engage in a skill challenge to detach the soul gem from its socket and thereby disable it. DC 37 Thievery. Complexity 1 (4 successes before 2 failures). Success detaches the gem and disables the trap. Failure causes the gem to explode (close burst 8, 4d10 + 5 radiant damage and stunned (save ends) to all creatures in burst).
A character can attack the gem (AC 33, other defenses 29; hp 100; resist 15 all). When reduced to 0 hit points, the gem explodes in a close burst 8, as above. Destroying the gem disables the trap.

June: Monster Manual

This week we wanted to take a look at monster variants within the Monster Manual... and we asked Mike Mearls to walk us through the development process. Here's what he had to say:

If you've been playing D&D since the old days, the new Monster Manual looks like a mutant cross between the 1E or 3E version and the 2E Monstrous Compendium. Each monster entry takes up at least a page, but those entries have multiple stat blocks. You have to do some hunting to find a monster that has one, lonely stat block in its entry (balhannoth, we're looking at you!).

Back when we did 3.5's Monster Manual IV, we decided that giving gamers a single, level 1 warrior for a humanoid monster was pretty lame. DMs were stuck generating stat blocks for, well, almost everything. Even nonhumanoids suffered a bit. If you liked carrion crawlers, you had a narrow window of opportunity to use them before they became too weak to face the party.

For 4th Edition, we decided to pack as many examples or variations on a monster as possible into each entry. We don't give you a 1st-level warrior in the drow entry, but an arachnomancer, a blademaster, a priest, and that typical warrior. Hopefully, that lets you spend time creating your drow NPCs and villains. The Monster Manual thus covers the basic "job functions" of the drow.

For more monstrous monsters, we tried to include at least one variation on an existing beast, like the stormrage shambler and its shambling mound cousin, or a variant that occupied the next tier up. If you like carrion crawlers as dungeon scavengers, you can throw the level 17 Huge version at the party later on in their careers. The classic D&D monsters are classics for a reason, and with the game covering levels 1 to 30, we wanted DMs to use the most popular monsters across an entire campaign.

The key to making this design work was to make the variations interesting and fun. At one point, the humanoid variants were slated as humanoids with class levels. However, we didn't see that as a useful tool for DMs. It's much easier to make NPC humanoids in 4th Edition, and if we aren't saving the DM time, why bother doing something that you can do with a few spare minutes before a game session? Furthermore, we wanted our humanoids to have unique, colorful traits, tactics, and abilities. We designed the class lists to make ranger and warlock characters feel cool, rather than reflect what makes fighting orcs different from fighting gnolls. By taking a "build it from scratch" approach, we could give unique, special abilities to the humanoids. That way, the gnolls, orcs, or whatever use tactics and abilities unique to them.

The designed humanoid monsters were a big hit in playtesting, with a bugbear strangler scoring the first confirmed character kill in 4E. They kept players on their toes. Hopefully, they'll have your group never 100% sure what that mangy, half-mummified gnoll priest is going to do next. . . .

For a look at monster variants, we present the orc -- from Drudge Minion to Chieftain!

D&D Insider

So what else is on the docket, in terms of previews? With a month to go, here's the remaining schedule; topics are subject to change, but rest assured we will continue to follow the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday schedule.

  • Mon 05/12: Epic Destinies (PH), Giants (MM)
  • Wed 05/14: Economy (DMG), Archons (MM)
  • Fri 05/16: Magic Items (DMG), Quests (DMG)
  • Mon 05/19: Minions (MM)
  • Wed 05/21: Undead (MM)
  • Fri 05/23: Magic Weapons (PH), Swarms (MM)
  • Mon 05/26: Fallcrest (DMG)
  • Wed 05/28: Rituals (PH)
  • Fri 05/30: Humans as Monsters (MM)
  • Mon 06/02: Alignment (PH)

July: H2 Thunderspire Labyrinth

Finally, before we sign off on this month's preview-heavy previews, let's take a quick look beyond the big month of June and venture onto the topic of the next adventure coming out for 4th Edition. In July, the H series continues, taking adventurers of levels 4-6 to Thunderspire Mountain.

Beneath the stormy peak of Thunderspire Mountain lies the labyrinth, an ancient, ruined minotaur city. For over two decades, an order of wizards called the Mages of Saruun has governed the labyrinth's upper levels, creating a safe haven called the Seven-Pillared Hall where surface-dwellers and underground denizens can meet to trade. Humans, halflings, dwarves, duergar, goblins, orcs, troglodytes, and others come to the hall to barter under the watchful eyes of the Mages of Saruun and their towering minotaur constructs.

The mages have one rule in the Seven-Pillared Hall: Maintain the peace. Visitors who leave the safety of the hall and venture into the labyrinth go at their own risk, for in the darkness of the labyrinth dwell foul creatures, eager for the chance to capture or kill foolhardy explorers.

About the Author

Bart Carroll is loathsome beyond description and has no redeeming features. His body resembles that of a huge, bloated buffalo and gives off an offensive odor. The author's neck is long and thin, and perched atop it is a big head uglier than that of a warthog. His legs are thick and stumpy, much like a hippopotamus. The author's tail is strong and snakey, however, and moves with amazing swiftness to strike enemies.