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By Mat Smith

Before I even get started, I have to apologize to Miranda Horner for this thing. It's quite long, filled will all kinds of tables, illustrations, and boxed excerpts, and she has got the unenviable task of editing the whole mess to make sure it makes sense.

For the rest of you, this is going to be a lot of fun -- it's quite long and is full of tables, illustrations, and excerpts.

With all the products coming out this month and next month, and the month after, everyone around here is going nuts trying to stay on top of everything. (Those big three books coming out all at once in July are really taking up quite a bit of everyone's time in one way or another -- either because they're working on them or because they're working on something that keeps changing because of the going-down-to-the-wire changes that are still being made.)

Anyway, while the release schedule keeps trucking along, and while everyone is cranking out great stuff month after month, it's really exciting to take a step back and try to get even a vague grasp of everything going on around here.

Check it out:

Pipeline-O'-Products

April

  • Dark Thane -- Dragonlance Age of Mortals, Volume Three (paperback)
  • Fiend Folio -- D&D rulebook (hardcover)
  • Kendermore -- Dragonlance Preludes, Volume Two (paperback)
  • Windwalker -- Forgotten Realms Starlight & Shadows trilogy, Book Three (hardcover)

May

  • Condemnation --Forgotten Realms War of the Spider Queen series, Book Three (hardcover)
  • Plague of Ice--Dungeons & Dragons Novel Line, Book 7 (paperback)
  • Shadowdale -- Forgotten Realms Avatar Series, Book One (paperback -- all-new cover art)
  • Unapproachable East -- D&D (Forgotten Realms) rulebook (hardcover)
  • Urban Arcana -- d20 Modern roleplaying game campaign setting (hardcover)
  • A Warrior's Journey -- Dragonlance Ergoth Trilogy, Volume One (paperback)

June

  • Brother Majere -- Dragonlance Preludes, Volume Three (paperback)
  • Ghostwalk -- D&D campaign option (hardcover)
  • Night of Blood -- Dragonlance Minotaur Wars series, Volume I (hardcover)
  • Night of the Dragons -- Dragonlance Young Readers (Chronicles Volume One, Part 2) (paperback)
  • A Rumor of Dragons -- Dragonlance Young Readers (Chronicles Volume One, Part 1) (paperback)
  • Tantras -- Forgotten Realms Avatar Series, Book Two (paperback -- all-new cover art)
  • Wind of Justice -- Legend of the Five Rings Four Winds Saga, Third Scroll (paperback)

July

May: Unapproachable East

I gave you a glimpse of this tour of Aglarond, Rashemen, Thay, Thesk, and the Great Dale in last month's In the Works. Let's just skip right to the excerpts.

Gee whiz, trolls can be nasty enough when you take them straight out of the Monster Manual. You start messing around with them, and *bam* there goes the security deposit on your corner of the Faerūn. Take a look at three regenerating nasties indigenous to this region of Faerūn in this In the Works excerpt!

Here is a little something for the good guys. Check out the Raumathari battlemage.

May: Urban Arcana

This 320-page hardcover campaign setting for use with the d20 Modern Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook is on the verge of transitioning from final galley to real-live book, and I can't wait. Once you see all that's in there, you'll understand why. Perhaps a couple snippets will give you an idea.

One really cool bit you'll get right up front in the introduction of the book is a series of theories on the "Nature of Shadow" -- that is, the reason why monsters and magic are popping up in the modern world. Some are scientific. Others are more spiritual. Six are provided, though you could certainly concoct your own original theory or create an amalgam of two or more of them to explain what's going on in your particular Urban Arcana campaign. If you're not terribly concerned with why there are orcs robbing the corner convenience store and just want to get on with putting a beat-down on them, might I suggest Theory 1?

The Nature of Shadow: Theory 1

"I do not know how I came to be here. All I can say is that I am here now. That is enough."

-- Deakon, Gnome Scholar

So, once you've figured out what the sweeping idea is behind why your campaign has elves and Mack trucks, you can move on to making your characters. And once they've been around the block a few times, they might want to multiclass into one of the twelve advanced classes:

Advanced Classes

Arcane Arranger -- A social engineer who can find the right service for the right price.

Archaic Weaponsmaster -- A warrior trained in weapons not commonly found on the street -- bows, swords, axes, and other accoutrements of medieval combat.

Glamourist -- An amiable, engaging companion who uses charm and deception to get things most people have to buy or earn.

Mystic -- A divine spellcaster with the ability to cast noncurative divine spells at will.

Shadow Hunter -- A tracker who uses the ways of Shadow to find people and things that would rather stay hidden.

ShadowjackShadowjack -- A computer wizard capable of sneaking through servers and clients like a ghost and literally performing magic online.

Speed Demon -- A master of vehicles who is capable of pushing them to their utmost and beyond.

Street Warrior -- A fighter versed in the unwritten laws of the urban jungle.

Swashbuckler -- A light-footed, quick master of the sword.

Techno Mage -- A wizard that fully embraces and uses what the 21st century has to offer by blending magic and technology.

Thrasher -- A supremely tough individual with the ability to call upon inner will to increase physical capabilities.

Wildlord -- An individual in tune with the world around them who can deal with both the wilderness and its inhabitants.

Remember, all the advanced classes from the d20 Modern Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook are viable in an Urban Arcana campaign as well. Also, keep in mind that you've also got new starting occupations, a gang of Shadowkind character races, and a handful of prestige classes to tweak your Urban Arcana PCs into heroes to be feared and respected wherever you go.

Of course, you'll find a lot of nasty things out there in the dark and gritty shadows of Urban Arcana. Some of them, like your garden-variety, rocket-launcher-toting bugbears, are pretty straightforward. Others might catch more than a few characters off-guard. Take a look at the living dumpster, for example.

Now, you might consider some critters back in Chapter 7: Creatures to be fiercer, more frightening, or more dangerous, but you'd be hard-pressed to single out any one of them as being more interesting. The living dumpster is, all on its own, an adventure hook with piles and piles of possibility:

  • A living dumpster has found its way into the downtown area and has been feeding on the homeless in the area. Most citizens believe that this vanishing population results from stepped-up law enforcement, but street contacts that were acquainted with the missing people know that they've not just been flushed out of the heart of the city by the cops -- they're just gone.

  • A living dumpster may set up shop near a dance club or bar that attracts a specific segment of the population. Perhaps it has developed a taste for goths, urban cowboys, cigar aficionados, fans of techno dance music, or any other type of lifestyle/interest. Speculation may lead characters to conclude that perpetrators of hate crime are the cause -- particularly if the dumpster doesn't always finish its meal and leaves a horribly battered victim or two behind.

  • You could even create a diabolical waste management company that employs living dumpsters for an assortment of reasons:

    • Setting them up to block a rival company's trash bins would result in a heavy attrition rate in the employee roster of the competition, opening the door for new contract negotiations and a subsequent monopoly on the waste disposal services for an entire city, state, or even the country.

    • They could create living dumpsters trained to attack specified targets, which could be deployed as very nondescript assassins

    • A few living dumpsters set up in the parking garage of an office building could easily result in the disappearance of many top-level executives (who put in those late hours), which could have a few effects: vacating the building, suddenly dropping stock values (allowing a takeover), or providing the opportunity to place a few "insiders" on the board of directors.

  • An escaping bad guy darts down a dark ally and disappears. If the characters follow, they'll run into the thrashing metal bin as it mangles the escapee (which could work in the PCs favor or not, depending on whether there was an interrogation in the criminal's future). But, if the characters opt to circle around the building and "head him off at the pass," the bad guy never emerges.

That's just off the top of my head, but you can imagine the possibilities of how a creature like this could easily fit into dozens of scenarios in your d20 Modern or Urban Arcana game. And it could spark a lot of ideas for interesting variations, like living mailboxes that have a penchant for fingertips, or living ATM kiosks that take your card, accept your PIN, and then fry you with many volts of electricity.

If you've been tooling around the modern world with the aid of thed20 Modern Roleplaying Game core rulebook, you've already discovered how flexible and expansive the world of modern roleplaying is. You've also probably been anxiously awaiting the release of Urban Arcana. Even if you're not wholly interested in running a game with magic and monsters, you should still take a look. A lot of great material in there can work for you, either straight out of the book (such as the ammunition variants, weapons, equipment, and maps), or with minor cosmetic changes (making that living dumpster a remote-controlled robot, instead of a magical construct, for instance).

When you can lay your hands on a copy of Urban Arcana, flip through the book from front to back and watch as the recently spray-painted spot behind the page numbers drips and runs down the outer margin -- it's neat-o. (I assume that's paint.)

May: Condemnation

Like I mentioned in last month's In the Works, Condemnation is the third title in the six-book War of the Spider Queen series. I also mentioned that it was written by Richard Baker, which should give you an inkling of how dead-on this trek through the Underdark is going to be.

Now that we're at volume three of six, I'm getting to the point at which I really don't want to go into much detail about what the story is about, because I don't want to spoil the pure enjoyment of reading this finely wrought story. But I've got to impress upon you the truly gratifying degree of authenticity, detail, and consistency you'll experience as you skulk from one page to the next -- and from one book to the next.

First off, I should remind you that the full name of the book series is "R.A. Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen." The reason for that is that Mr. Salvatore and each of the six authors working on the series got together to hash out the storyline, ensuring that the Menzoberranzan you remember from the Dark Elf Trilogy is the same one you're returning to now. (Or at least it's as close to that Menzoberranzan as it can be -- the years haven't been entirely kind to the city.)

So, the author who really began plumbing the depths of Faerūn's drow was involved from the beginning of the series, and he continues to consult and review each story as it's coming along. And, the writers who are crafting the books in the series are exceptionally talented authors who have risen to the challenge of collaborating on such an involved project. These are the best-of-the-best up-and-coming authors we've got putting words on paper for our book department -- and they're doing a stunning job.

The story throws a handful of dark elves, all with individual schemes, goals, and motives, and keeps them together (for the most part). They're still the evil dark elves you'd imagine running into down there, but they're working together, but in a very believable way. They're not skipping along a stalagmite-strewn path being each other's best pals, but they're also not necessarily waiting with bated breath and poisoned dagger for someone to let down their guard. This is a real adventuring party with realistic interpersonal relationships. Some of them get along better than others. Some of them outright hate one another. But they're working together toward a larger goal. They're all watching each other's back, maybe with a little bit of an eye for where to stick that poisoned dagger, but ultimately they all want to resolve the situation into which they've found themselves thrown with great force.

After reading the manuscript for Condemnation, I had to wander down to Rich Baker's desk to tell him what a great read it was. It's full of action. It's full of intrigue. It's extremely well-paced in such a way that the story doesn't slow down when it turns your attention to clandestine conversations, or even a scene involving nothing more than single character's observations and musings. You really get to the point where you can't wait to finish one page just so you can get to the next one. And, perhaps best of all, it meshes flawlessly with its prequels.

One of the bits I pointed out to Rich as being particularly gratifying was a scene that involved the party's wizard, Pharaun, replying to a sending spell from Archmage Gromph Baenre. Gromph was asking for some semblance of a status report from his elusive and not-entirely-cooperative protégé. And as I read Pharaun's 25-word response, it struck me as being extremely straightforward, particularly when compared with the purposefully cryptic answers with which he usually vexed his mentor. I actually paused at the end of the response and felt a pang of fear that there was a disconnect between this Pharaun and the one I'd gotten to know in the previous novels. Upon resuming my read, I was immediately assured that all was well since Gromph also took note that Pharaun had answered his questions with "uncharacteristic efficiency." That did it. That small excerpt of fewer than four sentences at the bottom of page 25 nailed me to the couch for the remainder of the weekend until I'd polished off all 344 pages.

Another nice touch that Rich and I talked about was how each and every one of the sending messages that flit back and forth between characters makes full use of the 25-word maximum allowed by the spell. I know that the wizard I play on Wednesday nights wouldn't ever dream of not using each and every one of those twenty-five words in his messages, and it's good to know that Masters of Sorcere are of the same mind.

Right. If you've been reading the War of the Spider Queen, just hang on a little longer -- it'll be well worth the wait. And if you've not gotten started on it yet, here's a great way to get a taste of what you're missing:

Over on our sample chapters page, you can download a PDF of the opening chapter from book one, Dissolution, as well as the one from book two, Insurrection.Those should give you more than enough of a tantalizing look at what you can expect from this terrific series.

June: Ghostwalk

"By Monte Cook and Sean K Reynolds" -- quite possibly reason enough to pick up this book without knowing anything more. Ghostwalk offers an entirely new campaign option for your Dungeons & Dragons game that allows you to play and interact with ghosts as tangible characters. That is, in Ghostwalk, ghosts are not the undead monsters you create using the template on page 212 in the Monster Manual. In Ghostwalk, ghosts are, essentially, just regular people that don't need to eat, breathe, or sleep, and they can fly, pass through solid objects, and do other spookily useful things. I think the cool idea that pervades the whole Ghostwalk "experience" is that character death isn't necessarily a hindrance or stopping point. In fact, in a lot of ways, being a ghost is more advantageous. Of course, it all depends on what your characters are up to. Sometimes being flesh and bone is the way to go, and sometimes being a glowing mass of ectoplasm is the order of the day. With Ghostwalk, you get the chance to fully explore the adventurer's life from both sides of the grave.

I'll see what I can do about getting something a little more crunchy and excerpt-ish for you next month. But for now, here's the back cover copy.

Adventure in the Afterlife

The city of Manifest rests atop ruins from ancient times and far above the entrance to the land of the dead. Here, the world of the living is shared equally with the deceased who linger in physical form before finally passing through the Veil. Whether currently living or dead, residents and visitors are assured of an eternity of action and intrigue.

Ghostwalk contains everything needed to run a stand-alone campaign in and around the city of Manifest, or to integrate it into an existing world, including:

  • Complete rules for playing ghost characters and advancing in the new eidolon and eidoloncer classes
  • New prestige classes, such as the bone collector and the ghost slayer
  • Over 70 new feats and 65 new spells, including Ghost Hand, Incorporeal Target Fighting, death armor, and ectoplasmic decay
  • Three complete adventures, four highly detailed encounter sites, and fourteen new monsters and templates

June: A Rumor of Dragons and Night of the Dragons

Take a look at the "young readers" section of your favorite bookstore or library. You'll find that A Rumor of Dragons and Night of the Dragons offer a great way for a new reader to become immersed in the world of Dragonlance. With all-new cover art and interior art, these two paperbacks comprise the first and second halves of the story told in Dragonlance Chronicles, Volume One, Dragons of Autumn Twilight (which became available in hardcover for the first time ever this past January).

July: Dragons of Winter Night

The second published Dragonlance title, Dragons of Winter Night will be available, for the first time ever, in a hardcover edition to go along with that copy of Volume One for which you've already made room on your shelves.

July: Twilight Falling, Erevis Cale Trilogy, Book 1

Author Paul S. Kemp returns to focus on a tale centered upon the most popular character in the Sembia series. Introduced in Mr. Kemp's contribution to the series, Shadow's Witness, the intriguing Erevis Cale will step out of the shadows and into the spotlight for what's sure to be an exciting, if somewhat clandestine story.

I haven't laid my hands on a copy of the manuscript for the story yet, but Erevis was a standout character in the cast of the Sembia series, and I've been looking forward to reading more about this dangerous bald guy since I heard he was getting his own trilogy.

If you want to check out the Sembia Series, start with The Halls of Stormweather. (Shadow's Witness comes next.)

Insight and Answers from Ed Stark, Dungeons & Dragons Design Manager

3.5 Revision Update

If you want the best insight on what's going on with 3.5, you should be reading Ed Stark's monthly article in Dragon Magazine.

D&D Revision Spotlight

This is a monthly Q&A with Ed, which is created from questions and discussions taking place on the D&D message boards that you can read right now.

July: Revised D&D Core Rulebooks

Excitement is building. The buzz is growing. And we're all going nuts trying to do our collective parts to get all three of the revised core rulebooks out the door, to the printer, and into your hands in July. It's exciting and exhausting, particularly for all the folks you'll find listed on the credits page of each book. It's a lot of work just to get one D&D book out a month, let alone two. Three is just insane. And, considering the fact that a tweak in one book inevitably has some impact on the other two, there are going to be a lot of people around here who are more than ready for a vacation (and a trip to Gen Con.)

I ended the last In the Works quite abruptly because I'd received a copy of the revised Player's Handbook. And while you might be ready for a look at something from Brown Book 3.5, you won't be getting that here today. Mainly that's 'cause I've got something from the copy of revised Dungeon Master's Guide that was dropped off last week. Check out THIS In the Works excerpt to see the revised blackguard!

In addition to getting to show you a revised prestige class, along with one of the coolest, new illustrations going in the revised Dungeon Master's Guide, this little glimpse at 3.5 also gives me a fine opportunity to segue to a product line you may or may not have heard about -- our new Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures.

This Fall:Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures

They'll be releasing sometime this fall. (I'm not being cagey about that release; I really have no idea exactly when they're hitting.) They're fully assembled, prepainted, plastic miniatures based directly (and exclusively) on characters, classes, and monsters in Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks.

Now, the reason that the blackguard prestige class and Sam Wood's awesome illustration were great introductions to the miniatures line is because you can pick up a miniature based directly on that villainous black-hearted knight. Check out the concept sketch for him!

Blackguard Concept
(Click Here to Enlarge)
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Blackguard Sculpt
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Blackguard Painted
(Click Here to Enlarge)

How cool is that? Same armor, same helmet, same sword -- same everything. It's the blackguard -- straight from the revised DMG. I'm not sure whether he is more vile-looking with the upraised, blood-dripping sword, or hefting the 8-pound noggin of an unfortunate passer-by. Regardless, it's a great sketch for what's sure to be a really nefarious-looking miniature -- that is if they can pull off turning that super-detailed sketch into a mini.

Ah, it appears as if they can. Despite the brown color, this is the "green" sculpt for the miniature. Notice the objects in the background that look like fingers? Those are fingers -- I'm still stunned by the fact that miniatures are actually sculpted at their actual size. I don't know why, but I always assumed there was some sort of shrinking process they went through. I mean, the detail on those things is hard enough to paint. I can't imagine getting in there and actually carving the individual smaller-than-a-pin-head links in that chainmail, or (even worse) the eyes -- yow. Anyway, when you compare the green to the concept sketch, it's really amazing that someone can translate the 2-D drawing into a tiny 3-D rendering without losing any of the detail.

At this point, I should bring up that point about the Dungeons & Dragons miniatures being pre-painted. We're aiming at getting the best-quality pre-painted mojo they can muster on these things. And, man, from what I've seen, these little plastic medieval army men could be truly awesome. Look:

Keep in mind that this bad guy is at the pre-production "Master Paint" stage. That means that we had the fantabulous Mike McVey paint the mini the way we want the factory to paint it. So, it's an example for them to use as a guideline. And while the image I have is a little fuzzy, you can certainly get the impression of the detail we're shooting for on the paint job.

I don't want to seem overly hyperactive with my enthusiasm for these minis, but when you look at the detail of the sculpt and consider the quality of the paint job we're expecting, it's almost too much to hope for. But it isn't. In just a few months, these things will be real. And while I really do enjoy painting minis, I sure like playing with them even more. Hey, I've got a couple pounds of unpainted lead, and a few dozen bottles of paint at home. But more often than not, I take a look at them and sigh wistfully about the fact that I know that I'll never get around to even priming them all, let along finishing them off. I can't wait for the chance to start collecting a horde of pre-painted minis that I'll be more than willing to use -- without having to repaint, touch-up, or add detail to. I have to say, if I were to be planning an evil knight, that blackguard could very easily tumble out of the box and onto the gaming table as my character.

And here's the extra supersweet bit about the miniatures line (as demonstrated by this collection of images): Each miniatures expansion that comes out will contain minis based on characters, classes, and monsters featured in Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks that we release during the same quarter. And, we'll be filling in the miniatures line with minis based on the rest of the line as well. (So, you can expect to see critters from books like Monster Manual II and Fiend Folio.)

That's all I've got for you right now. But I'm going to be working with all of our miniatures folks around here to get more insight, more details, and (most importantly) more pictures of the miniatures.

If you can't bear to wait, you'll have to check out the other miniatures content we've got floating around here.

Okay, one more:

Owlbear Concept Owlbear Sculpt Owlbear (Front) Owlbear (Side)
(Click Here to Enlarge) (Click Here to Enlarge) (Click Here to Enlarge) (Click Here to Enlarge)

Best Owlbear Ever!

There it is.

About the Author

Mat Smith is a copywriter who has been playing roleplaying games for a disturbing number of years, and now he gets to spend an astonishing amount of time thinking about clever ways to get more people to do the same.


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