Previews12/14/2003


See What's "In the Works" for Early 2004



It Sure Doesn't Feel Like the Holidays

You know, this is the time of year that things usually slow down around the office. With budgets and planning for the next year all coming due at the same time, there's often a lull in the workload, especially when schedules are front-loaded or back-loaded to work around the holidays.

But this year, somebody forgot to put on the brakes.

We've got the Dragoneye expansion coming out this month (probably a week or so after this article hits the Web), a new DM screen and PC sheets coming out in January, and some really big books (like Unearthed Arcana) following close behind. Top that off with all the work that's going on around here on the Eberron Campaign Setting and there's just too much going on around here.

Check it out:

New Releases

January

  • Dragoneye Expansion Packs -- The second D&D Miniatures expansion, featuring 60 new minis (you may see these before the end of December)
  • Deluxe Dungeon Master's Screen -- DM screen with bonus d20 Modern GM screen
  • Deluxe Player Character Sheets -- Newly formatted PC record sheets
  • Extinction -- Forgotten Realms War of the Spider Queen series, Book Four (hardcover)
  • Hope's Flame -- Dragonlance Young Readers series (Chronicles Volume Three, Part 1) (paperback)
  • The Legend of Huma -- Dragonlance Heroes series, Volume One (NYT bestseller, paperback)

February

  • Unearthed Arcana -- 224-page D&D hardcover filled with optional, alternate, and variant rules and game options
  • d20 Weapons Locker -- 192-page d20 Modern hardcover armed to the teeth with an arsenal of 500+ firearms
  • Paths of Darkness Collector's Edition -- Forgotten Realms; Four of R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt-filled NYT bestsellers (hardcover)
  • The Yellow Silk -- Forgotten Realms Rogues series, Book Four (paperback)
  • Night of Blood -- Dragonlance Minotaur Wars trilogy, Volume One (paperback)
  • The Wizard's Fate -- Dragonlance Ergoth trilogy, Volume Two (paperback)

March

  • Player's Guide to Faerûn -- 192-page compilation of Forgotten Realms character-building material, updated to D&D v.3.5, including 1st and 2nd Edition favorites (hardcover)
  • Archfiends Expansion Packs -- The third D&D Miniatures expansion, featuring 60 new minis
  • Homeland -- Forgotten Realms Legend of Drizzt series, Book One (first in a series of deluxe, annotated hardcovers of all of the Drizzt books by R.A. Salvatore)
  • Venom's Taste -- Forgotten Realms House of the Serpents trilogy, Book One (paperback)
  • A Dawn of Dragons -- Dragonlance Young Readers (Chronicles Volume Three, Part 2) (paperback)
  • Time of the Twins -- Dragonlance Legends trilogy, Volume One (first time in hardcover)

December/January: Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Dragoneye expansion

I said this last month, but just to go over it again: Dragoneye is the second expansion for the D&D Miniatures line, and brings 60 new miniatures to your gaming table straight from D&D rulebooks such as the Draconomicon, Complete Warrior, Miniatures Handbook, and the Dragonlance Campaign Setting. While the set emphasizes dragons, half-dragons, draconians, and other scaly critters (including a new kobold), there are plenty of nondraconic heroes, villains, and monsters in there for you as well.

These things could show up in hobby shops and game stores any time now. Of course, if they're anywhere near as popular as the Harbinger miniatures (which you know they will be), they won't be in stores for very long -- at least until the store restocks. Our employee store blew through the two or three pallets of Harbinger Entry Packs and Expansion Packs they'd ordered, then reordered more for us to come buy up like hotcakes. I've seen and heard the same sort of thing happening at a lot of other places out there. It's exciting. And it's good for all of us. 'Cause that means that the folks who plan things around here will keep planning on making lots of D&D minis. And it means that you and I will have lots of D&D minis to collect and use in our games. Lots and lots of cool minis. Like these guys:

Carrion Crawler: Flip open your Monster Manual to page 30 and check out the description of this critter. "[The stench of] rotten meat" -- Check (The gray mass under the rearing critter clearly contains a skull and a bone or two). "Multilegged" -- Check, plus. "Segmented, 10-foot-long body" -- Check. (I even measured the length; it's almost two Purple Dragon Knights long.) "Eight writhing tentacles" -- Check. "Clacking mandibles and tooth-filled maw" -- Check. If you glance across the gutter to page 31, you'll see the nice illustration that adds a "pair of large, black eyes on the ends of short, flexible eyestalks." This big fellah is a nice 3D rendering of a classic D&D monster that's threatened many a low-level party since the beginning of D&D time.

Purple Dragon Knight: Standing just over half a Carrion Crawler high, this plate-armored warrior displays a confident "None shall pass"-style pose with his hands clasped over the pommel of a hefty bastard sword. His cloak and plume are a great shade of purple (though you could easily change that if purple's not your color), which lends an air of regal authority to the overall appearance of this prestige-class-inspired warrior. The Purple Dragon Knight makes a great mini for a PC or for an elite guard. And if you're assembling a chess set built from D&D minis, you'll want to find a place on your board for at least a couple of these.

Daring Rogue: With brown leather armor over gray clothing, a dark green cloak, and black ninja-style mask, the Daring Rogue has maxed out his ranks in the Hide skill. The matched pair of short swords gives you the notion that he won't stay hidden in the shadows for too long. His pose seems to indicate that he's dodging some nasty effect (making good use of the coveted Evasion ability) while holding his ground in order to flip out and unleash nasty sneak attack damage on some unfortunate corpse-to-be.

Stonechild: You might have gotten a look at this big fellah in the Miniatures Handbook. (The monster illustration and concept sketch for the miniature accompany its photo and the monster statistics block on pages 71-72.) This guy shows off how a simple palette of color can really be put to work on a well sculpted mini. The clean, chiseled features of the Stonechild's physique (and its dark bluish-gray coloration) bring out its made-of-stone nature, and the angular design of its armor really drives it home. The smoothness of its leather pants and the pose (which looks like he's pausing a moment before smacking some short nuisance with its two-handed sword) lend lifelike quality that makes it clear this isn't an animated statue.

Baaz Draconian: This is the second draconian you'll find in the Dragoneye expansion. (Last month, I showed you the Kapak Draconian.) This scaly customer comes right off page 212 of the Dragonlance Campaign Setting, complete with a neutral-colored cloak (a grayish, purplish periwinkle) to help it disguise itself among other humanoids. The best part of this scaly bad guy is his armor -- an ornate suit of overlapping plates.

Black Dragon: If the Large Red Dragon I showed you last month is the biggest dragon in the expansion (which it is), this Black Dragon has got to be the meanest, and definitely my favorite. Whether its tooth-filled maw is opening to bite someone in half, cover him in acid, or just bellow out a deafening roar, you really get the feeling that whatever is standing in front of that mouth isn't going to be there for long. Running away isn't a terribly viable option when you consider that one of its powerfully muscled arms is already reaching out to snatch up its prey. The toned, rippled muscles on its back give you the distinct impression that even if you did get a head start, it wouldn't take much effort for the Black Dragon to flex its wings, take to the air, and swoop down on you in seconds. So, assuming that you're spending your last few seconds in the company of this fine specimen of dragonosity, you might pause to appreciate its coloration. Since the entire line of minis is cast in a black plastic, the Black Dragon really benefits from the fact that all of the paint applications are used to add detail to the mini -- blood-red eyes, bone-colored claws (and wing tips), dirty tan-colored horns -- and the whole thing is mottled with grayish green tones (to help it blend in with its swampish surroundings). Did I mention that I liked this guy?

I've had so much fun with these minis. We're using them for everything we encounter in Chris "I still don't have a Troll yet" Thomasson's home campaign, and we've got a good mini for each of the characters (though I've got to live with using a Tordek mini to represent my spiked chain-wielding half-troll dwarf). Like I've said before, the prepainted part of these minis is a phenomenal benefit (along with the good range of monsters that're already available), but the best part about the D&D miniatures is how resilient they are. You can push them around the battle mat with a ruler or toss them across the table (or at the wall) without worrying about scratching the paint. You can pick them up by a sword or other appendage and not work about it bending or breaking. I heard about someone from Space Madness, a Premiere Store in Plano, Texas, who actually drove his car over a Tordek to demonstrate how durable the minis are. I wanted to give it a try. I backed over a Nebin, who came out from under my car's tires in a Matrix-limbo pose and just needed some help to stand upright again -- really none the worse for wear. These things are tough.

December: Dragon Magazine #315

I don't know what else is going to be in Dragon's newest issue (which will be marked "January" but will hit shelves and mailboxes this month), but I do know that there will be an article in there about the Eberron Campaign Setting. It's the first in a six-part "Countdown to Eberron" series of articles that will introduce you to various aspects of the new D&D campaign setting. The first article gives you a general overview of the tone and feel of Eberron, along with a little bit of the world's backstory.

January: Deluxe Dungeon Master's Screen

It's a DM screen. You know what that is: art on one side, charts on the other. Check out the back cover copy:

January: Deluxe Player Character Sheets

These things are something you're also basically familiar with -- character sheets for keeping track of absolutely everything about your character. Check out the back cover copy:

February: Unearthed Arcana

Like some of you out there, I remember playing with the original 1st Edition D&DUnearthed Arcana. I had a lawful good cavalier that was just death-on-wheels with a lance (and gained 2d10% on Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity every level). Another guy in the party played a two-handed sword-wielding barbarian, while a third couldn't resist skulking around on tightropes with his pole-vaulting thief acrobat. There was the two-page line art illustration of polearms that really let you see the difference between a bec-de-corbin and a voulge-guisarme. There were new weapons, options for specializing in groups of weapons, new spells, magic items, and just a pile of things that expanded our D&D game.

But the one thing I remember most about the 1st Edition Unearthed Arcana (aside from the notorious binding) was the assortment of alternate methods for generating character statistics. The die-rolling method I recall my group gravitating toward was one that had you rolling anywhere from three to nine 6-siders (keeping the top three results) for each score. You'd roll more dice for a statistic that was important for your particular class, and fewer dice for a stat that was less crucial. (So, your fighter would roll 9d6 to get a Strength score, but only 3d6 for Intelligence.) Sure, the characters we built with that system were a tad tougher than your average characters, but since we were all rolling up übercharacters, the impact on the game wasn't immense -- we were just able to be a little more heroic, a little tougher, a little smarter, and a little more capable of taking on whatever our DM threw at us.

Interestingly enough, the brand-spanking new incarnation of Unearthed Arcana offers the same sort of stuff for the D&D game you're playing right now. It's a 224-page hardcover filled with optional, alternate, and variant rules and game options that you can pick and choose from to suit your current and future D&D campaigns.

Here's a look at the back-cover description and Andy's foreword:

This supplement for the D&D game presents an inexhaustible source of new rules to introduce into your Dungeons & Dragons game. Inside are ideas, options, and alternatives to the standard D&D rules you can choose from to fit your campaign's style of play. From variant classes, races, feats, and abilities to alternate spellcasting systems, combat and campaign options, Unearthed Arcana offers a tremendous array of material for you to explore.

When you crack open the book, you'll encounter the foreword by Andy Collins, which really puts into perspective what you're getting yourself into as you start flipping through the book.

Foreword

Warning: Get ready to drink from the fire hose.

Over the next six chapters, Unearthed Arcana exposes you to more variant rules and alternative methods of gaming than anyone can hope to use in a single campaign. On top of those, a bunch of House Rule sidebars written by various members of R&D describe personal variants they've used in their home campaigns. In fact, there's probably more in here than you could reasonably use in a dozen campaigns, and some of it you probably won't ever get around to actually introducing to your game.

Take a deep breath -- it's OK.

Just as no player actually casts all the new spells in the latest sourcebook, and no DM actually uses all the new creatures in the latest manual of monstrosities, you shouldn't feel any compulsion to use all these variants, even in a lifetime of gaming.

When I sat down to write up this little peek at Unearthed Arcana, I found that Andy's fire hose metaphor was particularly appropriate. There's just so much stuff in the book, I had a hard time figuring out what to pull out to show off. So many different things, from environmental racial variants, bloodline abilities, variant monk fighting styles, character traits and flaws, and spontaneous divine spellcasters, to weapon group feats (a definite blast from the past), power spell components, legendary weapons, a spellpoint casting system, character backgrounds, combat rules with facing, and more. I had a hard time settling on what to use as an excerpt. I settled on Reserve Points, an alternate rule that enables characters to recover from damage more quickly, allowing them to really take a beating and keep going.

At a rate of one point of healing per minute, Reserve Points won't really keep characters from dying in a big fight, but they will speed the recovery afterward. That means your characters will be able to survive longer without taking serious downtime to recuperate -- something that can really make a difference in time-sensitive situations. And, not only does it keep the party going for the long haul, it also lightens the burden of clerics and other healers in the party and gives them a little more flexibility and freedom to cast spells other than cure X wounds. And what party wouldn't benefit from a few more searing lights or flame strikes?

February: d20 Weapons Locker

This 192-page d20 Modern hardcover is armed to the teeth with an arsenal of 500+ firearms. Here's the back cover copy:

Lock and Load, then Rock and Roll

Check your target and open fire. Inside, you'll find a fully illustrated arsenal ranging from pistols and submachine guns to grenade launchers and antimateriel rifles. The d20 Weapons Locker provides detailed descriptions and statistics for each firearm to make sure the characters of any d20 Modern roleplaying game are packing the right gun for the job.

Every weapon is described in exhaustive detail, covering its development and history, reputation and use, the basics of its operation, any quirks or special features it may have, variant models, and important users. The statistics provided for each weapon entry cover the standard version as well as any variants. And each entry is accompanied by an illustration so you know what your character is toting or staring down the barrel of.

March: Player's Guide to Faerûn

If you've already got a character or campaign running in the Forgotten Realms, you might have noticed that the v.3.5 core rulebooks altered some things about the D&D game that impact the Realms (like turning some of those Regional Feats into just plain old regular feats). It's also entirely possible that you may have been secretly wanting a single sourcebook for creating and leveling up characters in Faerûn -- one book filled with all the Realms-centric races, feats, spells, prestige classes, and so on. The 192-page hardcover Player's Guide to Faerûn does all that and more. Check out the back cover:

Make Your Mark on the Realms

The heroes of the Forgotten Realms are as diverse and varied as the regions from which they hail. This collection of Faerûnian lore and arcana allows you to create and equip an endless array of characters braced for the challenges they'll encounter. From races, feats, and spells to prestige classes, magic items, and more, Player's Guide to Faerûn provides a v.3.5 update to the Forgotten Realms setting, reintroduces some old favorites from 1st and 2nd Edition, and offers all-new character-building material.

  • Over 60 feats
  • Over 30 prestige classes
  • Over 90 spells

Here are couple regional feats that have changed since the Player's Handbook incorporated their original forms. (The benefit of the Forester feat was pulled into the Self-Sufficient feat, and the Stealthy feat was ported directly over.)

In addition to adding several new prestige classes (one of which I could possibly pull out and show you next month), the book changes several existing prestige classes in one way or another. Some changes were minor, like altered skill lists, while others were more drastic -- like the Harper Scout becoming the Harper Agent:

March: D&D Miniatures Archfiends Expansion Packs

Archfiends is the third D&D Miniatures expansion. Featuring 60 new minis, Archfiends is dominated by demons, devils, and other outsiders, along with a horde of heroes, villains, and monsters taken straight from D&D rulebooks, such as the Monster Manual,Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, Miniatures Handbook, Psionics Handbook, and Savage Species.

I just discovered that Chris Toepker (the miniatures category manager) had on his desk a whole bag of Archfiends first shots (the first run of minis that come right out of the new molds and over to us, unpainted, to check over before going into production). They taunted me into grabbing a digital camera and asking Chris if I could get them to pose for a quick candid photo or two. Chris graciously let me pop a couple shots before taking them away to a meeting. This photo is the more in-focus of the two:

I can't go into detail about what you're looking at there, just yet, but you can probably figure out what some of those critters are. I should be able to get some good single mini shots for next month. We might even have painted versions by then.

There it is.

About the Author

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

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