Previews Archive | 8/2/2010
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August and Beyond
Bart Carroll

Hi folks,

What's in the works these days? Well, if you've been following Bill's Ampersand column, you'll no doubt have been reading up on Essentials. With his column on a limited, weekly, free run to help showcase material from the Essentials line . . . well, he's either made my job easier by doing so, or harder by stealing In the Works' thunder!

Of course, he pays the checks, so I'll go with easier. And we have more than a few items to discuss outside of the Essentials -- August sees the release of Psionic Power, so this time we've taken a particular psionic bent to our previews.

In addition, Gen Con is literally upon us -- so look for even further coverage of the game on our Gen Con Indy page. If you're going, we hope to see you there!


August: Psionic Power

A psionic character wields the power of the mind, whether honed by rigorous training or inspired by wild and uncontrollable impulse. Disciplined monk and psion, unhindered ardent and battlemind -- psionic characters defend the world against dark threats with the most potent of all arms, the weapon within.

This month, we turn our spotlight on the monk. Although the quivering palm (also known as dim mak, as featured in the recently viewed The Men Who Stare at Goats) appeared in the Player's Handbook 3, Psionic Power offers the gaze of the basilisk.

Monks

"Find what you need, strangers?"

The figure approached the two nondescript travelers in the all but deserted library. A bear of a man, he sported a thick black beard and a gapped-tooth grin. They had been warned about the local sheriff, but had hoped to complete their research before running into him.

"Indeed," Lenaris said carefully. "Ioun's temple is a veritable font of knowledge."

"Ain't a free font," the sheriff quipped. "There's a tax for outsiders."

"We were told of no such tax," Inelda protested.

"I'm telling you now." The sheriff pushed his cloak aside to show the sword at his belt, glancing down as if to say he'd already noted that both traveling companions were unarmed. Lenaris reached into his pouch for a handful of silver. The grizzled warrior sneered as he sauntered away.

Inelda glared, but Lenaris only shrugged. "A fight here might destroy irreplaceable texts. I've told you, Inelda, your temper undermines you. A bit of discipline --"

He was interrupted by the angry voice of the sheriff a short way off, berating the old priest who served as the temple's librarian. The burly warrior had a fragile tome in his hand, raised as if he was ready to throw it.

Lenaris was suddenly gone from his seat, vanishing as quickly as the book subsequently vanished from the sheriff 's fingers. The grizzled face had time for a puzzled look before Lenaris's leg came up, striking with the force of a battering ram.

Inelda was smiling by the time the sound of the beating faded away. "You were proclaiming the virtue of discipline . . ." he said as Lenaris returned to the table.

"I showed substantial discipline," Lenaris said quietly. "I stopped hitting him the instant he struck the floor."

Each day is a step on a lifelong journey toward a spiritual awakening -- the ultimate melding of body, mind, and soul. If pursued with discipline and dedication, the odyssey brings success, contentment, and greater understanding. Perceptive allies gain insights about themselves as you follow your path. For your enemies, each day brings the vital, life-altering revelation that standing against you is extremely unwise.

As a monk, you seek mastery of your entire being. Others think of body, mind, and soul as separate, but you understand that self, absent division, is the highest truth. Mortal weakness and misunderstanding separate the aspects of a person. Only through iron discipline can you shatter false barriers and attain true unity.

Your final goal is not at issue. How far along you are and whether you are advancing or regressing are less certain. How you pursue your spiritual passage toward enlightenment also varies. Did you seek out a monastic order to gain the control that you previously lacked, or were you already disciplined and looking only for purpose? Are styles of combat tools by which you achieve unity, an end in themselves, or just a few of many steps on the path to wholeness?

Monks in the World

Although scholars, sages, and religious leaders understand the holistic nature of a monk's training, many common folk view monks primarily as religious figures. They consider the monk's ascetic lifestyle and spiritual philosophy as a product of strict religious fervor. This opinion is reinforced by the overtly religious nature of many monastic traditions.

Such folk expect you to be part of a formal ecclesiastical hierarchy, and to display holy symbols or other religious trappings. If your tradition does not include those features, you could be viewed with suspicion. Locals might wonder if your lack of religious accoutrements hides an allegiance to an unholy or a disfavored deity.

If your tradition emphasizes teaching enlightenment or correcting misapprehensions, you might find that your explanations concerning the trinity of body, mind, and soul only confuse or annoy people. Monks whose spirituality does not include a religious dimension avoid these social difficulties by adopting a quiet presence. They act rather than talk, speaking only when a situation calls to mind a parable or a homily that might provide instruction. This approach leads many folk to view nonreligious monks as inscrutable.

Although they don't entirely understand monks, commoners grant monks and their monasteries a measure of respect. Monks are recognized as the embodiment of discipline -- highly learned and physically exceptional. Moreover, most folk have heard of (or seen firsthand) a monk's prowess in combat, and so are eager not to make enemies of those who follow that path. Exceptions do exist, particularly among religious or militant organizations that view the monastic traditions as a challenge to their own power. Monasteries and schools have their own rivals and enemies, but even the foes of a particular monastic tradition acknowledge the capabilities of that tradition's members.

Most commoners assume that all monks are members of a larger sect—a monastery, an order, a school, or a temple. This impression might be accurate in many cases, but any given monk might live, train, and travel alone. He or she might have abandoned an order or been trained by a lone master. People who encounter such loners often refuse to believe they do not belong to a larger faction.

New Paragon Path: Basilisk's Fury Adept

"Look into these eyes and see the doom awaiting you."

Prerequisite: Monk

The basilisk is renowned for its hunting prowess, and its pitiless gaze. Inspired by both the basilisk's sinuous movements and the immobilizing effect of its gaze, a group of monks have developed disciplines that mirror this creature's fearsome reputation.

Your study of the basilisk's fury has opened your mind to the emotions around and in you. Achieving this state empties your body of thought and draws the sensations of others through your eyes. Foes that peer into your obsidian gaze are drained of hope. All that remains for your enemy are apathy, stasis, and death.

(753 Kbs PDF)

August: Dark Sun

The Dark Sun materials are about to release in full: the Campaign Setting, Creature Catalog, and the adventure Marauders of the Dune Sea. This new version of the Dark Sun campaign setting returns to the days immediately after King Kalak's overthrow, when freedom glimmers weakly in a single city-state and ancient evils begin to stir once again -- a reimagining of the campaign world as its story begins.

Dark Sun Campaign Setting: Psionics

All living creatures on Athas have some minor ability to affect the world with their minds. Most folk fail to tap into these abilities, experiencing déjà vu or random flashes of insight at best. Every so often, a person naturally develops the capacity to close a door from a distance or bring a small object to hand.

More than a few natives, however, display strong mental aptitude. Psions, wild talents, and other psionic creatures, individuals, and institutions can be encountered on a daily basis.

On the streets of a typical city-state, a character might observe:

  • A dowser using her wild talent to locate a good site for a new well.
  • A stately noble keeping dust and grim from his fine slippers and elaborate hems by levitating a few inches above the street.
  • The impressive facade of an academy where influential people can pay to be educated in the Way.

To showcase the importance of psionics in the world, include psionic monsters in adventures. Instead of using an archer as an artillery monster, use a telekineticist who delivers bolts of force. Organized fighting groups could include empaths who heal, or telepaths who fight as controllers. Adventures might include story elements based on noncombat psionic talents. For example, a villain could have the ability to command lackeys using long-distance telepathy.

Psionics and Magic

Psionic power is prevalent on Athas, and many natives practice the psionic arts. Widely known as "the Way," psionics serves the same purposes that arcane and divine magic serve on other worlds. It offers a potent weapon against enemies, a sturdy shield against harm, and the ability to perceive hidden things. Most nobles and merchants employ talented psionic masters to advise them, spy for them, and foil the efforts of masters who work for their rivals. Poor or nomadic Athasians who miss the chance to train their powers formally can develop wild talents, psionic abilities that can be surprisingly powerful. More than one gladiator has died in surprise after a foe in the arena used a wild talent to telekinetically grab a discarded weapon or teleport a potion fruit to a wounded ally.

Arcane magic is dangerous and uncommon. Without taking special care -- by using the technique of "preserving" -- an arcane spellcaster can defile the immediate surroundings by casting a spell. Fundamental vitality is leeched away: Plants wither, animals and people suffer crippling pain, and the soil at the site of the casting is drained such that nothing will grow in that spot again. Because of this harm done to the world, those who use arcane magic are hated and persecuted across Athas. They must practice their arts in secret or seek the patronage of a sorcerer-king and gain the ruler's sanction for their spellcasting.

Primal magic is more widespread than arcane magic, although it is rarely practiced in the cities. Out in the barrens, wielders of primal magic serve as healers and defenders of their villages or tribes. Shamans, druids, wardens, and other primal wielders are regarded with deep suspicion by the templars, who dislike the notion of magic that lies outside the control of their tyrannical overlords.

Divine magic is virtually unknown on Athas. The gods of old have been silent for dozens of centuries. The ruins of ancient shrines and fragments of crumbling texts in the sorcerer-kings' libraries suggest that the gods were more active in the past. In the absence of true divinities, Athasians turn to other types of gods. Some sorcerer-kings pretend to godhood and build false mythologies, encouraging their subjects to worship them. Other Athasians venerate the primal spirits of the world or turn to cults of demons or primordials. Unfortunately for worshipers, a primordial makes for a grim and uncaring deity, taking little notice of its mortal servants.

Themes: Resurgent Wilder

"I will stand! I will fight! If every bone in my body breaks and the sandstorm strips my flesh, still I will stand and fight!"

Prerequisite: Wilder theme

Practitioners of the Way form connections between their minds and bodies that allow them to go beyond their physical limits. Wilders with strong inborn talents have the strongest connection, and hurting such an individual causes his or her psionic power to flare even brighter. Some wilders have returned after being exiled to the desert, walking tall when they should be nothing but piles of picked-clean bones. Others have become notorious for their battle prowess, taking on wave after wave of enemies and dispatching each more viciously than the last.

As your foes attack, your mind surges and you feel your muscles and senses burn with new strength. With every cut and bruise you suffer, more power rushes over you, making your mind more dangerous and protecting or healing your damaged body.

(662 Kbs PDF)

The Creature Catalog : Golems

The Dark Sun Creature Catalog contains nearly 200 monsters and hazards. It is your guide to building adventures and encounters in the Dark Sun setting. With this book, you can alter existing monsters using themes, add fantastic terrain to spice up an encounter area, or introduce nonplayer characters that can be either allies or enemies of the player characters. Those of you playing the current season of D&D Encounters recall the crystalline constructs recently battled. For this look inside the Creature Catalog, we present one more construct that is sure to raise blood pressure around the table: the salt golem.

Golems

Unthinking automatons energized by potent magic, golems can be found in desert ruins or in the treasuries of the sorcerer-kings. Powerful defilers craft golems from bone, clay, flesh, stone, and more unusual materials. The relative abundance of obsidian, salt, and sand on Athas has inspired creators to rely on these substances when constructing golems.

Lore

Arcana DC 23: Golems abide by the instructions of their creators, or anyone their creators order them to obey. They are fearless and unflinching, executing their masters' commands without concern for their own survival. They plow straight ahead in battle, mashing anyone or anything that obstructs their progress.

The creation of a golem requires potent arcane rituals and expensive components. Such resources are exceedingly rare on Athas. Much of the lore regarding golems comes from ages past, and a great deal of it is lost even to sorcerer-kings. The few ritualists who can create golems do not necessarily even understand why their rituals work.

Legends tell of golems far more potent than any created today. Constructed from substances now rare on Athas, these creatures still haunt the depths of forgotten ruins, obeying orders uttered by creators thousands of years ago.

Salt Golem

The air grows hazy as a salt golem approaches. The ambient particles from its body sting the flesh and burn the eyes. A blocky, rocklike form of white and gray becomes more distinct as it draws close enough for its heavy limbs to strike.

Salt Golem
Level 11 Elite Brute
Large natural animate (construct)
XP 1,200
HP 278; Bloodied 139 Initiative +6
AC 24, Fortitude 23, Reflex 21, Will 23 Perception +9
Speed 5 (cannot shift) Darkvision
Immune disease, poison, sleep
Saving Throws +2; Action Points 1
Traits
Aura Toxic Salt (poison)Aura 2
Any enemy that starts its turn within the aura takes a –2 penalty to all defenses until the end of its next turn. If the enemy is bloodied, it also takes 5 poison damage.
Standard Actions
Melee Slam (poison)At-Will
Attack: Melee 2 (one creature); +16 vs. AC
Hit: 4d6 + 6 damage, and the target takes ongoing 5 poison damage and a –2 penalty to attack rolls (save ends both).
Melee Double AttackAt-Will
Effect: The golem uses slam twice.
Close Burst Horrid DehydrationRecharge 5 6
Attack: Close burst 3 (enemies in burst); +12 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 4d10 + 3 damage, and the target is weakened and slowed until the end of the golem's next turn. A bloodied target is instead weakened and slowed (save ends both).
Str 22 (+11)
Dex 12 (+6)
Wis 18 (+9)
Con 19 (+9)
Int 3 (+1)
Cha 3 (+1)
Alignment unaligned
Languages

Salt Golems in Combat

Salt golems leave tiny toxic shards in the wounds they inflict, causing agonizing pain. Like most golems, they aren't capable of sophisticated tactics. They are cunning enough, though, to distinguish between strong and injured foes.

Monster Options: Psionic Adept

The powers of the mind are common throughout Athas. Some societies adopted psionic ability to fill the void left by the fading of arcane and divine power; creatures of the wild developed it as another means of surviving in a harsh and malevolent world.

The psionic adept theme allows you to add a touch of these mental abilities to a creature, whether a sentient enemy or an instinct-driven predator. Although such powers are best suited to controllers, any monster can benefit from the ability to manage the battlefield.

Attack Powers

Psionic adept creatures use attacks that manipulate, impede, or frustrate their foes rather than dealing damage directly. These powers are appropriate for monsters that prefer to influence foes from a distance or that can make enemies vulnerable to more damaging physical assaults.

Mental Marionette

Controllers prefer a dominating attack, but other monsters can benefit from taking over enemies' actions. Only brutes are unlikely to exploit this power, since their at-will attacks probably deal more damage than those of their foes.

Standard Actions
Close Burst Mental Marionette (charm)Encounter
Hit: The target is dominated until the end of this creature's next turn.
Miss: The target is dazed until the end of this creature's next turn.
Sustain Standard: This creature repeats the attack against the same target.

Utility Powers

Psionic adept creatures develop utility powers that translate mental acuity into heightened awareness, telekinetic defenses, or the ability to manipulate their own bodies.

Psionic Flight

This power is especially suited to skirmishers that are hard pressed in combat and need to make a swift escape. Controllers and artillery might also want a way to get away from encroaching enemies.

Move Actions
Psionic FlightRecharge 5 6
Effect: This creature pushes each enemy adjacent to it 1 square and then flies its speed.

Marauders of the Dune Sea

Nightmares of desert horrors trouble the dreams of the innocent while raiders grow ever bolder beyond the walls of the great city-state of Tyr. Children cry of midnight portents, and mercantile houses fear the disruption of their trade. Bandits and merchants chase rumors of a temple hidden in the desert, an ancient shrine to the primordial Ul-Athra said to safeguard a fragment of the artifact known as the Crown of Dust. Can the heroes recover a caravan lost in the wastes, repel the threat of vicious raiders, and win the relic from the perilous temple?

Marauders of the Dune Sea is an adventure for five 2nd-level player characters. It can be played as a follow-up to the short adventure in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting. The characters should approach or reach 4th level by the end of the adventure.

Background

During the Green Age of Athas, civilization reached its zenith, and great structures were built above and below the surface of the earth. Today, lost ruins of that period lie across the Tablelands and beyond. Most of these crumbling structures are empty and worthless, but others have endured the ages, still guarding the secrets of ancient days.

Recently, gith nomads discovered the Face in the Stone, an old temple northeast of Tyr. Within the shrine, the gith found doors that bore runes referring to the relic of Ul-Athra, an entity also known as the Dust Kraken or the Mouths of Thirst. While trying to open the doors, the gith were attacked by creatures in the temple. The surviving nomads fled and made for the base of the raider lord Yarnath the Skull, hoping that he would reward their discovery. However, before the gith could reach Slither, Yarnath's crawling citadel, a sandstorm caught them unprotected in the desert and slew them.

Later, Yarnath's raiders found fragments of a journal among the nomads' remains and pieced together what the gith had found, but the bandits did not know the location of the ruin. In addition, they found hints that the sandstorm that killed the gith was unnatural. Intrigued, Yarnath became determined to find the Face in the Stone and its mysterious relic. He turned his attention to merchant caravans that passed through the area, hoping to force caravaneers to give up the location of the ruin. Unfortunately for the raider lord, so far everyone has been ignorant of the old temple.


August: Novels

We'd like to bring to your attention to two releases for August.

Fans of the Forgotten Realms have a choice: Pick between your love for the Simbul, once the proud Witch-Queen of Aglarond . . . and your love for Cormyr, the kingdom under peril from powerful artifacts. At least, that's the choice our famed savior of the Realms -- Elminster Aumar, the Sage of Shadowdale -- must make. Elminster Must Die!, written by (none other than/who else but) Ed Greenwood, represents the debut 4th Edition appearance of the Realms' most iconic character.

And for fans of magic, monsters, meddlesome halflings, revenant assassins, and machinations in play from Orcus himself, August also sees the release of The Mark of Nerath -- the first novel set in the core world of Dungeons & Dragons. The book also contains the second part of The Gates of Madness, prelude to the Abyssal Plague. More on both are discussed in our recent podcast!


September: Dragon and Dungeon Magazines

What's happening next month in the magazines? Let's take a look at the following art order for one of Dragon's features:

FEMALE SHADAR-KAI WARLOCK with tattoos and scarification on her face, arms, and pretty much everywhere there is exposed skin. She's wearing black LEATHER armor with tiny silver studs all over.

She stands or sits precariously on a BALCONY overlooking the city of SHADE ENCLAVE. An ancient, open BOOK dangles from one hand as if she is not aware of it and might drop it at any moment. Her other hand holds a dagger with which she traces shadowy magical symbols in the air. She appears tensed, almost ready to spring, utterly engrossed in what she is doing, yet in a scene that evokes a sense of ennui. Parts of her might seem to be insubstantial, but that should be implied only -- perhaps a trick of the light.

And over in Dungeon, Bruce Cordell (purveyor of things psionic in his own right!) presents the following tale:

Raidon saw Japheth standing over the severed tentacle that had clutched the artifact. Raidon took a limping step toward the warlock. "Be careful," he advised, "Don't touch the . . ."

The monk trailed off as Japheth slowly turned to face him. The warlock held a dark oblong object in both hands.

"Drop it, now!" Raidon commanded, his voice shocked. "We must destroy it!"

"No," came Japheth's voice, drenched in sorrow. "Not yet. It has Anusha's mind. I must wake her. It is my fault she couldn't wake up! Her soul is trapped inside . . ."

"If you don't release the stone, it will claim you, too," replied Raidon. He sidled toward Angul's flickering length.

Japheth ignored the monk. All the warlock's attention was on the stone. Japheth gazed into it as if it were a scrying ball. He began to chant words slippery with magic.

"What are you doing? Stop, lest you disturb it further!" Raidon yelled.

Japheth paid no mind. The warlock spoke into the stone with a voice augmented with magical tremolo, "Wake up! Wake up! Anusha, if you're in there, wake up! Ignore the thrice-damned elixir!"

The Sign on Raidon's chest fell in temperature so precipitously the monk's breath began to steam.

"Wake up!" Japheth yelled again with all the force of an invocation.

The Dreamheart bucked in the warlock's hand.

It woke up.

A seam on the stone parted, an eyelid shuttering open. Raidon met the eye's primordial stare.

It was like looking down on the clouds of some distant storm-tossed world, clouds that ringed a pupil empty as death.

"Oh," gasped Japheth.

Raidon took two more steps, plunged his arm into the water, and came up with the Blade Cerulean. It was the only tool capable of destroying the relic. He whirled, charged, yelling "Release it!"

"No," replied Japheth. "I'll not abandon Anusha so easily."

The great eye blinked. The darkness in the pupil's center rushed out, seemed to billow and inflate the warlock's cloak with a malign influence all its own.

Japheth stepped backward into the darkness and was gone.

If these characters sound familiar to you, that's because they derive from Bruce's Abolethic Sovereignty -- and in Dungeon, he brings us the trilogy's vile artifact: the Dreamheart. As described:

This oblong chunk of stone usually appears unimpressive to the eye. But on the plane of the mind, the Dreamheart is a scintillating font of color, dreams, and endless possibilities. It is a beacon of power, and a literal promise of incredible knowledge and dominance to any willing to listen.

When the relic's most potent power is channeled, a seam along the stone splits and an eye blinks open. Through it, the Eldest aboleth looks out.

Key of Stars: Abolethic Sovereignty Book 3

In the novel Plague of Spells, Raidon Kane discovered a uniquely powerful artifact that proved to be the petrified eye of the Eldest aboleth. In City of Torment, he kept the Eldest from completely waking, but at the cost of his own shattered mind. In Key of Stars, destiny hands Raidon one last chance to avert the Sovereignty's agenda, but only if he can find within himself the strength to care. Raidon, the warlock Japheth, and Anusha, a young woman whose dreams are made real, must find the Key of Stars before all reality drowns beneath a tide of mind-shattering revelations.


September: D&D Minis: Lords of Madness

Once more, Peter Lee has offered another tableau of minis (click for a larger view) for this early preview of September's forthcoming set. Clockwise from center, we have:

  • Heroslayer Hydra (Very Rare)
  • Stone Giant (Uncommon)
  • Efreet Fireblade (Uncommon)
  • Trapped Chest (Uncommon)
  • Stormclaw Scorpion (Uncommon)
  • Iron Golem Juggernaut (Uncommon)

Trapped chest my foot -- that's a mimic if we ever saw one! Well, folks, that's this month's sneak peeks. 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!

About the Author

Bart Carroll was thought to be extinct until recently when this horror reappeared. He is the result of a mad wizard's experimental cross-breeding of a snapping turtle and armadillo with infusions of demons' ichor. Bart wanders temperate climates feeding on horses, men, and most other flesh—although he dislikes dwarf and shuns elf of any sort. He loves halfling and will hungrily dig them from their burrows. Bart is irascible and always hungry, and fears nothing, so he will attack a large, powerful party just to eat a horse or two.