Previews Archive | 2/2/2009
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February and Beyond
Bart Carroll

Hi folks,

By the time you read this, we will have returned from D&D Experience—where secrets and insight into the forthcoming year will have been revealed—though not entirely. For example, you might not have learned there about Chris Young’s long-standing hatred of owlbears and flumphs. (He claims they’re too damned silly. I wonder if there once wasn’t a dreadful incident involving his character and a lurker above—another of his “least favorites”). Likewise, you might not have learned about the clever catchphrase I proposed for February’s Dragon necromancy article—“putting the romance back in necromancy”. Eh? Eh?

Ahem. Well then. On to the previews….


February: Dungeon Delve

Last time we took you through the Halls of Echoing Screams, where recent earthquakes revealed a small section of a lost dwarven fortress—a delve, set for characters at 14th level.

This time, let’s skip straight to the end—all the way to the Deific Heart of Magma, set at 30th level. At this stage in their careers, characters will have neared their epic destinies and started thinking of retirement (what are the golf courses like in Hestavar?). But that’s the fun in a product like Dungeon Delve, especially when combined with D&D Insider’s Character Builder. Using the Builder (the full version of which recently went live to subscribers), you can create a 30th level character, or a whole party of characters for your group, then run them through the following encounter as a special one-night event. The same holds true for any of the other delves—integrate them in your campaign, play them as a break from the ongoing game, or use them to introduce 4th Edition to experienced players who haven't yet tried the new edition.

30. Deific Heart of Magma

Numerous towns sit in the shadow of Rak’Sarn, a mountain of flames and death. Each day near sunset, the volcano lets loose a blast of molten rock and ash, and the ancient red dragon Dal’Sarnquin swoops down the mountainside. By the time dawn breaks, another settlement has been burned to the ground. The PCs must track the dragon to his lair and defeat him before more towns are destroyed.

Tiles: This delve uses two packs of tiles from DU3: Caves of Carnage and one pack of tiles from DU1: Halls of the Giant Kings.

Expanding the Delve
To turn this delve into a longer adventure, consider these additions.

  • After thinking they’ve killed Dal’Sarnquin, the PCs learn that he has advanced toward godhood enough that he cannot truly die unless they undertake a quest to determine the source of his power.
  • Add another room (perhaps branching off area 3 to the north) where the characters must go up against an ancient blue dragon (MM 79) that has been enslaved and brainwashed by Dal’Sarnquin. The dragon thrall is guarded by three sorrowsworn deathlords (MM 242).
  • A chamber that leads deeper into the complex is littered with traps and hazards that the PCs must bypass (perhaps as a prelude to accomplishing the quest mentioned above). You can use high-level traps and hazards from page 93 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide such as the symbol of suffering, the soul gem, and the sphere of annihilation, or you can devise your own traps and skill challenges to test the characters in unique ways.

Encounter Level 33 (157,150 XP)

  • Dal’Sarnquin, ancient red dragon (D)
  • 2 balors (B)
  • 3 great flameskulls (F)

Setup
When the PCs arrive, Dal’Sarnquin is in the middle of the final epic spell that will propel him to demigod status. Using powerful magic, he has captured the aspects of six good-aligned deities—entities derived from their divine essence. (The aspects are in the squares marked A on the map.) The dragon plans to destroy them and use the energy to boost him over the last hurdle into godhood.

The great flameskulls begin hidden behind the dragon; don’t place them unless the PCs make the Perception check to see them. If any efreets fled here from area 2 and had time to rest, they begin this encounter with a number of hit points equal to their bloodied value.

When the characters round the corner into the room, read:

A blast of superheated air hits you in the face. Ahead is an immense cavern with a high ceiling of black basalt rock, from which streams of lava pour down, forming pools and rivers on the floor. In the back sits a massive red dragon, eyes burning like hot coals, surrounded by six large angelic-looking figures with their heads down. Flanking this group are two demonic creatures wreathed in flames.

Perception Check

DC 30: The way the six figures are arranged makes it apparent that there were once eight in the circle.
DC 35: Three small objects float behind the dragon.

Religion Check

DC 21: The angelic figures are aspects of deities—specifically, Avandra, Bahamut, Corellon, Erathis, Moradin, and Pelor are represented.
DC 30: The aspects appear to be bound by strands of necrotic energy.

Tactics
Dal’Sarnquin tries to complete the ritual while fighting the PCs. He charges straight at them and uses his breath weapon on as many as possible, spending an action point if necessary. He knows the signs of falling lava and automatically avoids it when flying over a lava pool or river. On round 2, he uses his frightful presence and spends his second action point to use double attack against the same target from the first round, if possible. If he drops below 1,000 hit points, he uses essence absorption to destroy one of the aspects and gain the benefit of a healing surge. If he destroys all six aspects, all his powers automatically recharge and he is restored to full hit points.

The balors hope to be the highest in the dragon’s new order when he ascends and fight to the death for him. If they can position themselves correctly, they use flame whip to drag a PC into a pool of lava.

The great flameskulls target PCs according to the dragon’s instructions, lobbing firestorm to try to catch three or more in the burst at once. They do their best to stay out of melee.


February: Dungeon Tiles Caves of Carnage

In our recent Use This Book Tonight ("The Treasure Thieves"), we utilized the following tiles (let’s show them off individually for you to take a better look):

Adding onto these, you might expand the underground river in the following ways (including the small clutch of eggs!):


March: P3 Assault in Nightwyrm Fortress

Local hero Jothan Ironspell has fallen in battle. All attempts to raise him from the dead have failed. And he is not alone. Someone or something is stealing and devouring the spirits of the dead, in defiance of the Raven Queen. All signs point to the Shadowfell and an ancient fortress with a monstrous secret.

So begins the ultimate adventure in the P-series. Before we reveal a bit of this ancient fortress, let’s examine a few of the locations your players might journey through along the way and a few of the hazards they’ll face.

Gloomdeeps Overview
Several routes exist into the cavern complex known as the Gloomdeeps. A few connect to the deeper Underdark; two lead down from the surface near Vaester. The upper tunnels are inhabited by troglodytes, orcs, and other typical threats, as well as a few creatures native to the Shadowfell, but they are immaterial to the PCs’ quest. What may impact the PCs, however is “the Bride That Crawls”, a mammoth carrion crawler worshiped by the caverns’ troglodytes.

Magrathar’s Teeth Overview
Magrathar’s Teeth, the name given to the outer walls of Nightwyrm Fortress, are topped with jagged spikes and hold fearsome guards. The walls are named for Magrathar, the larva mage leader of the troops that protect the fortress.

Navigating the Teeth
The complex of mostly empty chambers making up Magrathar’s Teeth is too large and the inhabited areas too spread out to make an exhaustive map meaningful. Getting around this vast complex thus might seem daunting at first glance. Only one clear and obvious path winds through the Teeth, however, from the entrance the PCs see when they first appear in the Shadowfell to the portion of the walls Magrathar inhabits at the top. All the encounter areas described in the Teeth are found along this path, including Zry’s Slaad Patrol:

Zry is a black slaad who leads others of his ilk. Although the slaad and his entourage fit his needs, Magrathar could not allow the chaotic creatures unfettered access to the fortress. He performed a ritual of binding on Zry and his followers, leaving them free to patrol the top of the Teeth and kill anything they find there. Despite the binding, though, sometimes slaads and other forces collide in bloody melee.

Urishtar’s Keep Overview
The lofty central tower of Nightwyrm Fortress is accessible from Magrathar’s Teeth by several catwalks extending over a great chasm, although only the highest leads into the entry hall proper. The zenith of Urishtar’s Keep seems to pierce the heart of the sky-spanning Soul Vortex.

Inhabitants of the Keep
Many of the creatures inside the keep serving Urishtar hail from a clan of rakshasas that have thrown in their lot with the shadow dragon. The leader of the rakshasa contingent is Varun, a noble of his kind. Varun spends his hours holed up in the Hall of Knowledge, where he digs ever deeper into the mysteries of the Shadowfell. Everything Varun learns, he transmits to Urishtar to further the shadow dragon’s understanding of the Soul Vortex.

Urishtar the Shadow Dragon
Shadow dragons are not common, even in the Shadowfell, and most are content to lurk in the shadows (literally and figuratively). Of those known, Urishtar stands out for her grand aspirations.

Urishtar is looking for something, in a location suggested to her by peculiar dreams which grow stronger and more troubling the closer she draws to her goal. Her ambitions led her to explore regions of the Shadowfell where even many of the natives fear to tread. Since finding what she rechristened Nightwyrm Fortress, all of Urishtar's dreams have turned to nightmares. She has given up sleep altogether, despite the guidance the nightly sendings provided.

Urishtar now suspects the dreams that led her to her current lair might not be the guiding hand of fate, as she first told herself. Rather, she imagines that they are the machinations of a tremendously powerful being, who might be weaving subtle threads of opposition against the Raven Queen herself! Urishtar has no desire to draw the ire of that dark goddess. On the other hand, she enjoys the boons granted to her each time she diverts a soul from its intended destiny. The dreadful aperture that gapes in the topmost spire of her keep hungers always for such offerings, pulling them to a fate that even Urishtar shudders to imagine.

Shadow Dragons

Shadow dragons are treacherous monsters that prowl the darkest corners of the Shadowfell. Whether skulking in the deeps of the plane’s Underdark or commanding armies from the ruins of old cities infested with undead, shadow dragons are a dreadful force in this realm.

At a glance, a shadow dragon appears insubstantial. Its dark hide and translucent scales help it blend into its dim surroundings. Often mistaken for black dragons, shadow dragons have heads featuring rows of backward-pointing horns. A long fringe of spines emerges from the back of the dragon’s neck, and its powerful tail features a swimming fin.

Shadow Dragon Lore
A character knows the following information with a successful Arcana check.

DC 25: Shadow dragons haunt crumbling cities and sunken palaces. They are especially greedy and rapacious, hungry for power and wealth. Shadow dragons regularly enslave other races, forcing them to serve as soldiers and lackeys.

Shadow Dragon Tactics
A shadow dragon rarely fights fair. It lurks in the darkness, biding its time for the proper moment to strike. In fact, a shadow dragon might follow its quarry for hours before revealing itself. When it finally strikes, it drops globes of darkness, then shadow walks to the best position for its breath weapon, spending an action point to use it on that turn. While its foes struggle against the rotting power of the breath attack, the dragon tears into them with fangs and claws, spawning additional globes of darkness to help it teleport about the battlefield.


March: Player’s Handbook 2

Get ready for the next level!

What? Even after our online playtests and previews, you want to know more about what this book offers your characters? Very well! True, PH2 introduces five new races (including the gnome) and eight new classes (including the barbarian, druid, and bard) … but you know that already, don’t you? What does it offer the character you’re playing now?

How about information on character backgrounds, plus new feats across all three tiers, new epic destinies, new rituals … and new magic items, including the ultimate in defensive armor:

Sudden Escape Armor
Level 28
This shimmering armor allows you to invoke astral energy to spirit yourself away from an attack.
Lvl 28 +6 2,125,000 gp
Armor: Chain
Enhancement: AC
Power (Daily Teleportation): Immediate Interrupt.
Trigger: An enemy hits you with a melee or a close attack.
Effect: You teleport 5 squares and become insubstantial until the start of your next turn.

And, just because we love them so much, a bit more on gnomes:

Playing a Gnome

In quiet forests of the Feywild and remote woodlands in the world, gnomes live out of sight and mostly beneath the notice of larger races. Gnomes dwell in homes dug among the roots of trees, easily overlooked and cleverly concealed by camouflage and illusion. They are fond of the burrowing mammals that share their habitat, such as badgers, foxes, and rabbits, and have a sense of kinship with these small animals that share their forests.

Unobtrusiveness is a virtue among gnomes. They grow up on games of stealth and silence, in which the winner is the last to be discovered. An adult gnome who draws attention in a crowd is considered dangerously rude. Gnome folk heroes are not mighty warriors, but tricksters who slip out of captivity, play great pranks without being detected, or sneak past magical guardians. They deflect both aggression and attention with humor, and they guard their thoughts with friendly laughter.

Gnomes also value a quick mind and the ability to come up with a clever solution to any problem. They appreciate witty conversation, especially rapidfire repartee. They are inventive and resourceful, although they have little interest in or aptitude for the kind of technology found in human cities. They have an innate talent for magic and a love of illusion, music, poetry, and story.

Eager to see what the world has to offer and willing to be awed by its wonders, gnomes greet the world with open curiosity. Gnomes who are drawn to adventure are most often driven by curiosity and wanderlust above any desire for wealth or glory.

Gnomes were once enslaved by the fomorian rulers of the Feydark, the subterranean caverns of the Feywild. They regard their former masters with more fear than hatred, and they feel some degree of sympathy for the fey that still toil under fomorian lashes—particularly the spriggans, which some say are corrupted gnomes. Gnomes are not fond of goblins or kobolds, but in typical gnome fashion, they avoid creatures they dislike rather than crusading against them. They are fond of eladrin and other friendly fey, and gnomes who travel the world have good relations with elves and halflings.


April: E1 Death’s Reach

Those seeking to usurp the Raven Queen’s powers and perquisites threaten reality’s foundation. To prevent this cosmic coup, heroes must trace the disruptions into the Shadowfell’s timeless core, where all things find their end…

To trigger the first adventure in the E-series, here’s something your PCs might soon overhear… whispered to them, or to one of them, in shadowy confidence:

"Listen, mortal. I sense great potential in you. I like to see such potential come to fruition, so mark my words well.

"A secret place exists that contains relics of primordial vintage, perhaps so powerful they can reorder the cosmos. This place has been walled away from the universe since the elder gods willed it so, but its walls have been breached! Even now, fell creatures loot this most ancient trove. If you would secure any of its wonders for yourself before they are all carted away to serve an Abyssal master, seek the Raven Queen in Letherna. Claim for yourself and yours a relic of the dawn time, see a place lost since elder days, and move closer to unlocking the secrets of reality. In doing so, you help many besides yourself ... including me."


April: Arcane Power

We won’t reveal too much just yet (and nothing on the new arcane classes still set to release in Player’s Handbook 2), but what might this book offer the current arcane classes? Here’s a small taste:

  • Swordmage: new class feature, new build (the ensnaring swordmage, who foils his foes with cun¬ning footwork, entangling spells, and dazzling swordplay), and new powers and paragon paths.
  • Warlock: new eldritch pact, new powers and paragon paths (such as the God Fragment and Hellbringer).
  • Wizard: new implements, builds, powers, and paragon paths (focusing on specialized techniques such as invisibility and teleportation, or even exploiting random chance.)

Until next month!

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.