Previews05/05/2005


Prepare for War
Previews for May and Beyond



While skimming over this article to get an idea for what to write in this introduction it occurred to me that we've got an interesting combination of things releasing around the same time. If you were to use both of this month's releases, Heroes of Battle and Champions of Ruin, you could craft an interesting campaign (or series of adventures) where your heroes become the instrumental force for evil in a war against a goodly nation (or perhaps against the entire world). And, just for fun, you could then create a second party of adventurers to fight on the good guys' side -- possibly switching back and forth, or just letting one side of the campaign play out and allow the second campaign the chance to undo some or all of the horrors wrought by your original party. Imagine playing a game where your main nemesis is your former adventuring party (now under the control of the devious Dungeon Master who will be using all of your old tricks against you). And if you really wanted to take that fight to another level, you can add in the upcoming miniatures release of the Angelfire expansion and turn that earthly war into the ultimate battle between heaven and hell. That's the thing I like most about this game -- you can always find stuff in just about every book (or magazine) that you can incorporate into an existing or upcoming campaign. You flip through the pages, download the new material, and just let the ideas start to percolate. Check it out:

May: Heroes of Battle

Like I've mentioned before, this 160-page hardcover is packed full of information about adventuring on and around battlefields. Intended for both players and Dungeon Masters, Heroes of Battle offers information, guidelines, options, and material that put your characters in wartime situations where their actions are crucial to turning the tide of war.

Back in March, I gave you the back cover copy. Last month, I passed along some material from the introduction, a sample battlefield encounter, and a look at one of the book's detailed prestige classes, the dread commando.

This month, I found a section in Chapter 5: The Military Character that I imagine will encourage every adventuring party to take a little time out of its busy schedule. With a little practice (and by meeting a few prerequisites), any group of adventurers can learn to work together even better -- like a well-oiled machine of combat excellence -- using teamwork benefits. I've pulled small chunks from the explanatory text, just to give you a sense of what teamwork benefits are meant to encapsulate, and included two examples (from the fourteen benefits listed in the book).

So, once you've decided to let slip the dogs of war, you're going to want an army or two. And to help escalate your campaign to full-on havoc as quickly as possible, you can flip back to the Appendices to find information about sample armies. Whether you want a war waged between humans, elves, Giants, drow, lizardfolk, undead, orcs, goblinoids (and more), you'll find pregenerated rosters of troops ready for action -- like this sample army of orcs.

Stats for each of the troop types ( orc sergeant, orc lieutenant, orc captain, and so on) are also provided, so you can recruit the troops you need for whatever army you're amassing. Of course, you don't have to press those NPCs into wartime military service -- they're nicely fleshed out soldiers ready for battle on any scale.

Since this book releases this month, I know there will be other excerpty things posted on the D&D homepage, so watch for those and check out Heroes of Battle when you see it on the shelves at your FLGS.

May: Champions of Ruin

This 160-page hardcover delves into the depths of evil in the Forgotten Realms setting -- specifically into the darkly shaded areas where evil and morally ambiguous characters, villains, and organizations are created. Champions of Ruin is filled with information, guidelines, advice, and material for both players and DMs interested in exploring the antagonist's side of things in Faerûn.

Again, I passed along the back cover copy back in March. And last month, you saw a section of the introduction, along with a quick chapter-by-chapter rundown of what's inside the book. Since this book also goes on sale this month, I thought I'd just grab a couple things for you to read.

One thing you'll definitely want to check out almost immediately, particularly if you're just toying around with the idea of playing evil characters or running an evil campaign, is the first two pages of Chapter Six: Encounters with Evil. There, you'll get a quick overview of the sorts of things to consider when rolling your dice down that dark and twisted path, moving from "The Tone of Your Game" and "What the Players Want" to "Why Run an Evil Game?" and "Keeping It Fun for Everyone." Here's how that chapter gets going:

So you want to run an evil campaign? Your players are determined to take the fight to the Harpers for a change, and you're going to give them what they want. There are many things to consider before doing so, however, such as the style of your campaign, the depths of evil you and your players are prepared to act out or encounter, and how the characters will interact within the party and with the world at large. The following section contains advice for DMs, including advice on how to present evil in your campaign, how to keep a party of evil characters together, and the different goals and methods an evil party might use that would not be part of a normal campaign.

Once you have that out of the way, it's time to start crafting your characters and major NPCs. While just about any character race can produce evil characters, some are more likely to spawn individuals that fall more readily into the Not Good category -- such as the three new character races you'll find in Chapter One: Races.

Feats have always been a great way to develop and define your character, providing interesting talents and abilities that can flesh out your character's identity. What better way to immerse your character in the inky depths of evil than to take a couple feats from the substantial roster listed in Chapter Two: Tools of Evil?

So, once you've got an evil character, and you're out looking for things to do, you might want to ally yourself with other likeminded wrongdoers. (Or you might want to oppose them -- you could be just that evil.) Flip back to Chapter Four: Evil Organizations, and see if any of the groups detailed there sound like your kind of people. Membership in an organization can provide instant structure and motivation for players and DMs alike -- and it's evil structure and motivation. Here's the intro paragraph from a few of the organizations, just to give you a basic idea of what they're about. (I'll start with the Cult of the Dragon, just so you can compare the others to a group with which you're probably already passingly familiar.)

May: Dragon Magazine #332

Okay, this is Dragon Magazine's 29th anniversary issue. Not only that, but it's also the June issue, which means it's going to be packed with several dragon-related, -themed, or -specific articles. (Even though it's the June issue, #332 will hit newsstands, mailboxes, hobby shops, and bookstores sometime this month.)

The thing I'm really excited about seeing in this issue is the wyrm-sized "Ecology of the Kobold" article you'll find lurking somewhere inside. Sprawling over ten pages, the art-filled article goes into detail about kobold history (a creation story), physiology, psychology, society, and lairs. (Wait until you see the one-page map of the Lair of the Blacktongue Tribe rendered by cartographer extraordinaire, Christopher West.) You'll also discover new kobold traps, tips on fighting kobolds, and the kobold tale of how the rivalry between Kurtulmak and Garl Glittergold began, including a few revisions to the story from the gnome point of view. So, if you like kobolds, check it out.

June: Dungeon Master's Guide II

If you've ever taken a turn behind the screen, or want to take a crack at it, you're probably in the same boat as me -- you want to be the best DM you can be. A great game is fun for everyone and there's nothing like finishing up a session and having your players be eager to sit down for the next one. And that, my friends, is what the Dungeon Master's Guide II is all about. It's 288 pages of information, advice, guidelines, and ready-made resources that will help you improve your game -- whether you're working up a game session or DMing by the seat of your pants when the PCs head in an unanticipated direction, as they're wont to do.

You saw the back cover copy for this one last month. This month, I thought I'd give you an even better idea of what you're going to find inside the covers of this big, blue book. And I can't think of a more succinct way to do it than to give you a look at the Introduction, which sprawls all over page 4:

Just to give you an idea of how much information is packed into the DMG II, here's an example that draws on material from just two sections of the book -- Encounter Tables and Medieval Society.

Imagine your intrepid band of adventurers needs to get a piece of information from an individual they know is somewhere within a well-guarded city -- one that won't allow them access through the city gates. They might opt to sneak into the city through its sprawling sewer system. After dealing with a number of hazards encountered in its labyrinthine and dank depths, they emerge in an alleyway. Stepping out onto a bustling street, they are startled by alarmed shouts followed by the sound of a number of runaway draft horses, spooked by who knows what (perhaps foreshadowing a future adventure). During the chaos of navigating the stampede and avoiding being trampled, one of the characters crashes through the window of a shop. Once the tumult of the horses has passed, the party decides that this place of business (which turns out to be a blacksmith's shop) is as good as any to begin their search for their contact. While negotiating the purchase of a handful of iron spikes, the party describes their acquaintance to the blacksmith, who directs them to a nearby tavern -- the Scurvy Dragon. And off they go, ready to get started on their adventure. You can do a lot with some basic ideas and just a few dice rolls. Take a look.

And that's really just touching on a fraction of what the Dungeon Master's Guide II can help you do for your game. Next month, I'll show you more.

June: City of Splendors: Waterdeep

I've got nothing to show you on this one either, beyond the back cover text I was sent. I do know that it's a 160-page hardcover that explores the most famous city in all of Faerûn -- complete with a history, who's who, laws, locations, NPCs, and guidelines for running a Waterdhavian campaign. I'll try to get hold of some material to show off next month, but until then, you can take a look at the back cover text:




Explore the Shining Jewel of Faerûn

Waterdeep beckons! For centuries, this grand city has stood at the edge of the Sea of Swords, tempting heroes with its bustling port, thriving markets, hidden perils, and half-forgotten dungeons. Adventure waits on every street corner, behind every locked door, and below every cellar!

  • 4 prestige classes
  • 38 magic items
  • 1 city map

June: d20 Apocalypse

Not surprisingly, last month, I passed along the back cover copy for this latest addition to the d20 Modern roleplaying game. Inside, you'll unearth 92 soft-covered, radiation-free pages of rules and options you need to bring about the end of the world to find adventure.

While most of the rules focus on the kind of trouble your characters can run into in your freshly post-apocalypsafied world, the book starts out with a liberal offering of world-ending options. (Nine, in fact, not counting the crazy number of options available once you start combining them.) Take a look:

Once you've figured out the HOW/WHY and WHEN the world as we know (knew?) it came to a dramatic conclusion, you can jump in and start dealing with the WHAT NOW? And that's where both the GM and players get to start having some fun. Next month, I'll pull some excerpts out of the fallout-covered rubble on my desk to show you.

July: Angelfire Booster Packs

We had our pre-release tournament for Deathknell expansion about a week ago (at the time I'm writing this.) And while I lost my first match to my pal Shawn (by just one point, mind you), I did walk away from the table with my second Beholder. (Like I said last month, this is a good expansion.)

Of course, if there's one thing that might distract me for a little while from the thought of cracking open more Deathknell boosters, it's taking a look at some of the minis that will be coming out in July when the Angelfire expansion hits the streets.

Last month, I showed you the Kobold Soldier, Imp, and Large Copper Dragon. This month, I've got three more minis for you. (If that's not enough, make sure you check out the D&D Minis page for Rob Heinsoo's always savvy and insightful preview articles that're posted every Thursday. (At least that's the plan.) We'll occasionally show you the same minis, but he'll always have something crunchy for your skirmish and/or roleplaying enjoyment.

Okay, enough of that. Let's look at some minis.

Dwarf Mercenary -- So, we've got lotsa dwarves with axes. There are dwarves wielding hammers and even a dwarf swinging a pick. And while Deathknell's Dwarf Samurai is toting a katana, we haven't yet seen a dwarf armed with a good ol' longsword -- until now. Clad in heavy-looking full plate armor crafted from a dark metal (adamantine, perhaps?), the Dwarf Mercenary is carrying a (dwarf-sized) longsword forged from some sort of dark coppery metal in one hand and a very sturdy-looking metal shield (which matches the armor) in the other. A heavy, bright red cape contrasts with the dark armor in such a way that you can imagine that it might be some sort of identifying article of clothing -- possibly a signature piece of a hero's outfit or (part of) a uniform worn by a member of a larger force. And that's one of the really cool things about this mini -- the Dwarf Mercenary is one of those great Common minis that could serve as the mini for a character or significant NPC while also being a mini of which you wouldn't mind having a handful -- so you can rally a mercenary strike force or squad of dwarf warriors. One last detail you'll quickly notice ('cause it's painted a different color) is the reddish-brown braids draping down from the Mercenary's full helmet and tied together at belt level -- those braids easily could be either the braided beard of a male dwarf or the woven tresses of a female dwarf, further expanding the multitasking usefulness of this sturdy, little, sword-swinging warrior from under the mountain.

Mounted Paladin -- At last, the first mounted mini. (Sure, there was the Halfling Outrider in the Dragoneye expansion, but this is the first guy on a horse.) This large, Rare, left-handed noble warrior-on-a-horse is clad in shining silver full plate armor accented by a golden-hued gorget (which matches the hilt of the knight's sword.) His surcoat and cape (which flows out over the back his steed) are a creamy white, while his gauntlets are a vibrant, dark blue. His large metal shield is ornately decorated with a stylized wing motif and a little touch of blue enamel on its front (tying it into the paladin's white-and-blue color scheme.) Moving on to the paladin's mount (which is a chestnut brown horse with black "socks" and tail), the horse's neck is protected by scale mail barding and its head by a fitted piece of plate. The steed's caparison and saddle blanket match the knight's surcoat, cape, and gauntlets -- completing the knightly ensemble. The horse, guided into a slight turn by the knight's rein-holding right hand, seems to be galloping forward at a moderate pace (not quite charging). The paladin is slightly turned in his saddle, with his upraised bastard sword poised to take a long, powerful slice at something that's about the same height as, say, a Medium mini's head. I imagine that I'll see pairs of these guys lined up, jousting, on monitors all over the office.

Barbed Devil -- Straight from the "ultimate battle between heaven and hell"-themed portion of the Angelfire collection comes the Barbed Devil. If you flip to page 51 of your Monster Manual, you'll see the stats and illustration for the Barbed Devil. But if you compare the mini to that illo, you'll notice a couple things. The illo's version is quite a bit spikier (the drawing didn't have to take the molding process into consideration), while the mini looks like it's been getting a lot of exercise (paying particular attention to its abs.) When it comes to coloration and general appearance (particularly when you look at the very sinister, tooth-filled grin), it's clear that the mini is a 3D incarnation of that infernal drawing (though the pose of the mini is much more active and threatening). The ear frills, claws, teeth, and spiky ridges running down its spine, coupled with the overall sharpness of its long, drawn features definitely give you the sense that you wouldn't want to bump into this guy. Bright yellow pinpoints of evil gleam out from beneath the Barbed Devil's furrowed brow. The super-sharp-looking teeth (wait till you see the great detail on that paint app.) lend a disturbing air of confident menace to its sneer that makes you feel as if this guy is about to do something absolutely terrible. (Like hit you with hold person, smack you around with a couple claws, grapple and impale you, (putting the fear of a hamatula into you), and then might even summon a few bearded devils to come punch you in the gut or something.) As a Rare mini, this will probably be one of those nasty creatures of which you'll want to have several, but will have a Barbed Devil of a time collecting "enough." (Really, I can't imagine ever cracking open a booster and thinking "Oh, another Barbed Devil? I've got too many of those things -- onto the trading list it goes.) This lawful evil denizen of the Nine Hells is quickly and easily my favorite devil we've done, though the Imp (which I showed you last month) is a screamingly close second. (In CR order, we've now done the Lemure, Imp, Bearded Devil, Erinyes, Bone Devil, and Barbed Devil -- perhaps even one more, which you've not yet seen.)

If you've not tried playing a skirmish game, you really should give it a try. It's a quick, easy, fun thing you can do with all those minis you've got stored away or it can become part of the fun of opening new boosters. (I'm more of a RPG-playing minis guy, but I'm a fan of the sealed booster-type games where you crack open a couple boxes and play with a warband you construct on the fly.)

July: Five Nations

This 160-page hardcover for the Eberron campaign setting is filled with information about the powerful nations that form the core of the continent of Khorvaire. If you want to see the back cover copy for this fine book, just keep looking through last month's article.

If you want to see something inside the book, you'll have to wait for next month's article (or take a look at a copy of the thing when it releases later that same month.) Sadly, I haven't been able to lay my eyes or hands on any sort of galley or manuscript for this upcoming addition to your burgeoning Eberron library -- the folks down in RPG R&D are really cranking on the guts of this book to get it just the way they want it.

July: Weapons of Legacy

I don't really know anything about this book just yet, beyond the fact that it's a 224-page hardcover that provides a wealth of material about magic weapons that have rich histories. Hopefully, I'll have something to show you next month, but until then, you can take a look at the back cover text I was able to get.




Great Heroes Demand Legendary Weapons

Some heroes find weapons of legacy, while others forge them. Unlike other magic items, a weapon of legacy gains new abilities as its wielder becomes more powerful. In the hands of a true hero, a simple greatsword might achieve fame and power as great as that of the dark blade Exordius, the wizard-hating Hammer of Witches, or the skull-shattering morningstar known as Mindsplinter.

This supplement describes nearly 50 items of legacy. Each item has its own detailed history, special wielder requirements, unique powers, and adventure seeds. Weapons of Legacy provides rules and tools that a player or DM can use to forge new items of legacy, including menus of legacy abilities. In addition, this tome offers new legacy feats, spells, a prestige class, and psionic powers for characters interested in wielding mythic weapons and other renowned items.

July: Deluxe Eberron Dungeon Master's Screen

Again, I haven't actually seen this new DM Screen, but I can tell you a few things about it. It's a four-paneled, landscape-format screen (just like the Deluxe Dungeon Master's Screen). It has some Eberron-specific material on the DM side and Wayne Reynolds artwork (which first appeared on Grasp of the Emerald Claw) on the other. And, bundled inside the screen, you'll find a full-color poster map of the continent of Khorvaire. I've also tracked down the back cover text for this thing, which you are now fully prepared to see:

The Eberron DM's Best Friend

Behind this sturdy four-panel screen, you control your Eberron campaign. This invaluable game aid helps you conceal notes, miniatures, and other surprises from your players' eyes. The landscape format makes it easier for you to see the game in front of your screen while maximizing the space you have behind it. In addition to providing useful tables from the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide, this deluxe screen highlights information of particular interest to Eberron DMs, including dragonmarks and an Eberron calendar.

This product also includes a detailed poster map of the continent of Khorvaire, the point of origin for most Eberron campaigns. This comprehensive and richly detailed poster map includes political borders, settlements, roads, and lightning rail routes.

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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