Previews12/05/2005


(Gaming at) Home for the Holidays
Previews for December and Beyond



So, last year, when I went home to visit my family over the holiday break, I grabbed a copy of the D&D Basic Game to take with me. It'd been forever (1st Edition) since my brother had played, and my Mom had never really got what the game was all about. And since the Basic Game was designed for the most newbie of newbies, I thought I'd take the chance to give them a glimpse at what D&D's all about. After a relatively short amount of education (mostly about dice) and a little explanation about how characters can do just about whatever you can imagine they'd do, we got started. For the next few hours, Regdar and Aramil stomped around a dungeon, kicked in doors, fought monsters, and found treasure. When it was all over, my brother had remembered how much fun we'd had playing on our kitchen table as kids and my Mom finally understood what playing D&D was like -- and how much fun it was. This year, I plan on furthering their education by sitting them down and playing a little Three-Dragon Ante.

The way I figure it, the more people out there that have the chance to experience the games that you and I enjoy playing, the better. And anyone that has actually sat around rolling some dice and having fun will be able understand the appeal of all of those books and minis and other stuff we've all got crammed onto our bookshelves. And then, they'll want to know what's out there. What's coming? And that's what you're here to find out. So, check it out:

On Sale Now: Three-Dragon Ante

I know this thing hit shelves last month, but just in case there's anyone out there who hasn't had a chance to check it out, I wanted to make sure that you'd heard and seen enough to make you want to give it a try. Back in October, I gave you the back-of-box text, a look at three of the cards, and an overview of the game play. But just to give you the basics, Three-Dragon Ante is a standalone cardgame (for 2-6 players) that uses a 72-card deck.

Three-Dragon Ante is a fast-paced game that has been the favorite pastime of adventurers and tavern-goers in every realm for ages. In addition to playing it around your gaming table (as a part of your D&D game or on a card-playing night of its very own) Three-Dragon Ante can be played using an optional set of rules that allows your characters' skills to impact the way the game is played.

Whether you incorporate Three-Dragon Ante into your D&D game, play a few hands before or after your regular D&D session, or just crack open the box to play it as a part of its own game night, you'll find that it's a fun, quick way to just hang out and play with your friends. (Even your pals that don't play D&D will enjoy sitting around a gaming table playing a few gambits of Three-Dragon Ante, 'cause when it comes right down to it, it's just a fun little card game that anyone will enjoy.) And in addition to being a great addition to your D&D game or gaming closet, Three-Dragon Ante will also make a good gift for anyone you know (including yourself).

We just sent out a pile of Three-Dragon Ante decks to hobby shops and game stores. So, it's entirely possible that your FLGS will have one on-hand and open for you to take a look at and try out. Just ask someone behind the counter to give you a demo.

December: Spell Compendium

If ever there were a book that every spellcaster (and DM) would want to have at the gaming table, this is it -- the Spell Compendium is a 288-page hardcover compilation of the most useful/popular/useful spells out there. As the ideal companion to (all the spells in) your Player's Handbook, the Spell Compendium is filled with material gathered from over a dozen D&D supplements, D&D website, and Dragon magazine.

Back in October, I showed you the back cover text. Last month, I gave you a basic idea of what you'll find inside the book, along with a look at one of the spells you'll find in there (mainly to give you a look at the new bit they added to spell entries -- a brief description of what transpires when the spell is cast).

Chain missile puts magic missile to shame.

This month, the book goes on sale, so you can pick one up and flip through to find all kinds of good stuff you won't want to live without. So, while I could pull out another spell or two to show you, I thought that I'd rather point you to something that'll give you a small idea of just how many spells are inside the book. So, what you'll see is the extensive list of spells that appear in the Spell Compendium that appeared elsewhere under a different name. In several cases, you'll see that a proper name (such as "Mordenkainen") has been omitted to generic-ify the spell's name. In others, the spell's name has been changed to fall into line with the latest spell naming conventions. In any case, this is just a thin slice of the content you'll find inside the Spell Compendium.

Renamed Spells

The following spells were renamed before their inclusion in this book. If you look for a particular spell in this chapter and don't find it, check this list to see if the spell has a new name.

Previous Name Present Name
Aganazzar's scorcher scorch
air bubble deep breath
Alamanther's return replicate casting
analyze opponent know opponent
assay resistance assay spell resistance
Auril's flowers ice flowers
Azuth's exalted triad triadspell
Azuth's spell shield mass spell resistance
Balagarn's iron horn ironthunder horn
bane bow foebane

Check out the rest of the renamed spells here.


MOVED: d20 Critical Locations

Back in October, I showed you the back cover text for this book. And ever since, I've been describing what's supposed to be in there and promising to dredge up some pieces of this 96-page softcover supplement for the d20 Modern Roleplaying Game. As it turns out, the release date for d20 Critical Locations has been pushed back a bit (I'm not sure how much) so it falls into a better place on the calendar. So, sit tight. I'll show you stuff as soon as it resurfaces.

January:Races of the Dragon

As the latest addition to the Race Series, (Races of Stone, Races of the Wild,Races of Destiny, and Races of Eberron), this

160-page hardcover delves into a number of player character races descended from or related to dragons.

Last month, I passed along the back cover text. This month, I thought I'd give you a quick chapter-by-chapter overview of what's inside.

Chapter One introduces the first of the new races of the dragon -- the dragonborn of Bahamut. (These individuals originate from other races who have answered Bahamut's call to fight in his name and have undergone a transformation, becoming reborn as a dragonborn.) Following the same format you'll find in all of the other Races series books, this chapter explores the dragonborn of Bahamut by first giving you a glimpse into a day in the life of a dragonborn. That's followed by an explanation of the Call of Bahamut and the Rite of Rebirth (the way in which dragonborn come into being). After that, you return to the standard set of information you'd expect to see: appearance, psychology, dragonborn life, society and culture, dragonborn and other races, religion, holidays, history and folklore, language, settlements, and creating dragonborn characters.

Dragonborn have a new dragonblood shape, but
discerning eyes can still see their former identities.

Chapter Two introduces you to the books' other new race: the spellscale. Following the same format as Chapter One, the chapter on spellscales explores this gregarious and mystically charged race in detail. (Page 24 offers a look at one of the more interesting/entertaining/frustrating aspects of a spellscale's personality: Living without Apology or Explanation) You'll also want to check out the section on blood-quickening meditations, which is the way in which a spellscale attunes his mind and draconic blood to gain particular benefits for the day. Here's a chunk of that.



BLOOD-QUICKENING MEDITATIONS

As part of his daily introspection, a spellscale focuses his mind with mental exercises for one hour, attuning him to benefits tied to one of the dragon deities. This blood-quickening meditation, as it is called, centers a spellscale's mind on his sorcerous nature and enhances it by connecting it to a draconic divinity.

Each day, a spellscale chooses one meditation to perform and can gain no other benefits from another meditation until the next day.

  • The benefits of the performed meditation last for 24 hours.

  • Meditations that grant a bonus on a check provide a racial bonus equal to half the spellscale's character level.

  • Feats gained are temporary but otherwise treated as if the spellscale had taken the feat, except that having the feat in question doesn't count for the purpose of meeting any requirements or prerequisites.

The meditations are individualized according to the dragon deity and to suit the particular spellscale. Each spellscale performs the blood-quickening meditation differently each time -- the important thing to the spellscale is to sharpen his wits and focus his power. The meditation need not be a solitary exercise. Sometimes a spellscale involves members of his household or other companions in these mental calisthenics. Most spellscales try to perform each different meditation at least once every year.

(This is just a sample of the eleven meditations you'll find.)

Aasterinian: When a spellscale focuses on this whimsical deity's trickery, originality, and quick thinking, he gains a bonus on Disguise checks and the use of the Improved Counterspell feat three times on that day.

Sample Meditations: A spellscale tries to sneak into a library of arcane lore. Another spellscale endeavors to figure out a new way to use his silent image spell.

Falazure: Focusing upon the Night Dragon attunes a spellscale to the immensity and power of death. He can treat all inflict spells as being on his spell list for the purpose of using spell completion and spell trigger magic items on that day.

Sample Meditations: Cutting an apple and watching it brown and decay for an hour is how one spellscale honors Falazure. Another regales the other patrons at an inn with the tale of his encounter with a ghostly dragon.

Io: A spellscale who considers the role of the Great Eternal Wheel in the multiverse acquires insight into the workings of magic. He gains a bonus on Spellcraft checks and the use of the Empower Spell feat three times on that day.

Sample Meditations: The multicolored and metallic disk that is the holy symbol of Io is an ideal meditation tool. Its colors change and shift slightly in different lights and at diverse angles. Many spellscales spend their meditation hour staring at the disk as they slowly rotate it. Another common meditation is for a spellscale to wonder if he has ever met Io, since the Swallower of Shades can appear as any sort of draconic creature. The spellscale considers all the dragons or dragonblood creatures he has ever encountered.

Chapter Three offers up a full-blown exploration of kobolds as a playable character race. And Chapter Four: Dragon-Descended explores the extraordinarily varied race of half-dragons. Chapter Five gives you access to five dragony prestige classes, followed by Chapter Six's hoard of character options that includes twenty-six feats (five are breath channeling feats and six are draconic feats) and seven different racial substitution levels.

Chapter Seven: Magic and Psionics explores a number of spells and powers, while Chapter Eight makes available an array of new equipment (including new armor materials, special substances and items, wondrous items, and draconic grafts). And Chapter Nine: Campaigns of the Dragon provides a number of different ways to incorporate the races of the dragon into your campaign.

January: Player's Guide to Eberron

Last month, I showed you the back cover text from this 160-page hardcover filled with invaluable information, advice, rules, and resources for players (and DMs) embroiled in the action-packed, intrigue-laced world of Eberron. This month, I'll give you a better idea of what's inside. I'll start with the Wayne Reynolds artwork that grabs you by the front of your tunic and lets you know that you're in Eberron now, buster. (If you take note, those characters should be somewhat familiar -- it's the same adventuring party from the cover of the Eberron Campaign Setting.)

And now, another whirlwind tour through each chapter of the book:

Chapter One: Building an Eberron Character provides guidelines and information that will help you tailor your character to make it feel even more like an individual that belongs in the world of Eberron. It outlines a dozen character archetypes that you can choose (or draw from) that provide basic background and personality packages that will help you flesh out your character's identity. Some of the archetypes are extremely Eberron-specific (like chroniclers and inquisitives) while others are suitable for importing into just about any campaign world. For example, take a look at the restless wanderer.

Restless Wanderer

"It's time to stretch my legs, flex my sword arm, and give this quill something worthwhile to record." -- Thunvarch, half-orc bard

The world is a big place, and you have no desire to settle down until you've seen it all. You move from place to place as freely as the wind -- blowing through the boring spots, lingering for a while in more interesting locations, and sometimes kicking up a storm.

Adventuring: Adventures are what happens to you while you travel. If you seek out adventure, it's because a place sounds interesting, not because there's anything in particular you want to accomplish there. You are eager to visit new places, try new modes of transportation, see creatures you've never seen before, and (at least to some extent) do things you've never done. If you can also learn new abilities, acquire more treasure, and otherwise improve yourself along the way, that's even better.

Personality: You've always had trouble sitting still. Perhaps you grew up in a tiny village where there was nothing to do, and yearned for a taste of the wider world. Some experience of the world beyond your village might have sparked your wanderlust: Perhaps a traveling troupe of actors or musicians came through, or a party of adventurers stayed in the village for a couple of weeks while exploring nearby ruins. That experience gave substance to your dreams of a different life -- you might even have followed the travelers out of town, launching your life of wandering in a dramatic way. You still retain some of that youthful, wide-eyed dreaminess and a sense that the world is full of wonders just waiting to be explored. You are not necessarily naive about life's harsh realities, but you retain a sense of wonder that no amount of bitter experience has yet been able to quash.

You might have a particular interest that gives a focus to your wandering. Perhaps you are particularly drawn to spectacular natural wonders such as the Goradra Gap or the Guardian Trees. Or maybe you're fascinated with ancient ruins, great monuments, or exotic cultures.

Behavior: Stay on the move. Whenever you feel that a dungeon room, a site, a nation, or even a continent has shown you all it has to reveal, it's time to move on. You can spend all the time you want searching the rooms of a dungeon -- as long as there are interesting things to find. But you should be the first member of your party to call a halt to tedium whenever it arises and get things moving again.

Language: Your mind wanders even faster than your body, making your speech seem disconnected at times. Pepper your conversation with wide-eyed observations about the sights, sounds, and smells of whatever place you're exploring now and comparisons to places you've been before.

Variants: Not all wanderers are motivated by wanderlust. Instead, you might be on the run -- a fugitive hunted by agents of a widespread organization, such as the Dreaming Dark, the Aurum, the Chamber, the Lords of Dust, or a dragonmarked house. If you stay in any one place too long, they're certain to find you. So you keep moving, you try to avoid attracting notice, and you don't talk much about your past.

Chapter Two: A Guide to Eberron starts on page 15 and takes up the rest of the book. That's a beefy chapter. So, what could take up that many pages? Just a huge pile of information that would be appropriate for worldly characters to know about anything and everything in the word of Eberron -- from Aerenal to Xen'drik from magical traditions to villainous organizations. This is the stuff your characters would pick up during the course of their long and storied careers -- the things you'd learn from talking with people during long airship rides, whilst sitting around a table at a tavern, and by soaking it in whilst gallivanting all over the sprawling world of Eberron.

Say your adventuring party is considering trekking up into the frozen lands known as the Frostfell. Here's the kind of information your character might have rolling around in her head:

FROSTFELL AND EVERICE

North and South

The northern continent called the Frostfell sits astride the top of the world like a brooding storm cloud. The people of Khorvaire, in addition to using its descriptive proper name, call it Winter's Home, the Source of Winds, and the Icy Heart of Winter. Only one expedition has made landfall on the Frostfell and returned to Khorvaire to tell the tale. The journey was led by Lord Boroman ir'Dayne of the Wayfinder Foundation, who is said to be very interested in mounting a second expedition to the frozen land he visited long ago.

The Frostfell is a continental landmass, with a variety of terrain features providing diversity despite the unending cold. The Iceworm Peaks, a mountain range cloaked in great glaciers, bisects the continent. Barren plains of everfrost nestle in mountain valleys where snow rarely falls, while ice sheets cover hundreds of miles on either side of the mountains. Near the coast, tundra prevails, and in the summertime, lichens grow as the ground thaws briefly before plunging back into frigid winter.

The frost-covered lands closer to Khorvaire are slightly more accessible, particularly in the summer. The northernmost islands of the Lhazaar Principalities at the eastern end of Khorvaire are draped in perpetual winter. Similarly, off the northwest coast of Khorvaire lies Icewhite Island with its three children -- Tlalusk (the southernmost, nearest the Demon Wastes), Qorrashi, and Icegaunt (the northernmost, between Icewhite and the Frostfell proper). Mapmakers consider these islands part of the Frostfell rather than Khorvaire. All are tundra, though more vegetation grows on Tlalusk and the southern end of Icewhite.

Little is known of the opposite end of the world, but it is believed to be just as cold as the Frostfell. The Icemaw Sea south of the Xen'drik mainland is dotted with snow-covered islands and floating icebergs. According to the reports of those few sailors who have braved the Icemaw, the farther south one sails, the more the sea begins to solidify into one great sheet of ice. It is believed that islands are scattered across the southern ocean, some of them possibly quite large, but they are all swallowed in the sheet of eternal ice that lies there. This region is known as Everice, or simply the Frozen Sea.

Magical snow effects -- including blood snow, ebony ice, faerie frost, and razor ice (all described in Frostburn) -- appear occasionally in the Frostfell but seem more common in Everice. Both regions contain manifest zones linked to Risia, the Plain of Ice.

What Do You Know?

Knowledge (geography)

DC 10: The northernmost reaches of the world contain a great snowshrouded continent called t he Frostfell.

DC 15: A few groups of humans live on this barren land, with slightly larger populations on the outlying frozen islands and the cold reaches of Khorvaire and Sarlona.

DC 17: The southernmost reaches of the world, no less cold than the north, hold a great sea choked with ice called Everice, or the Frozen Sea.

DC 20: The Frostfell includes a variety of terrain, including a great mountain range (the Iceworm Peaks), ice sheets, glaciers, and tundra.

Knowledge (history)

DC 20: Some historians claim that the race of dwarves migrated from the Frostfell to Khorvaire some twelve thousand years ago, establishing strongholds in Khyber before later moving to the surface in what is now the Mror Holds.

Knowledge (nature)

DC 15: The tundra areas of the Frostfell experience some seasonal change, thawing in the summer, whereas most of the area is cold year-round.

DC 20: A race of small fey known as uldras live in the far north, particularly in the cold mountains of the Eldeen Reaches and the cold islands northwest of Khorvaire.

Knowledge (religion)

DC 15: The savage people of the frozen north give their own names to the Sovereign Host and the Dark Six.

DC 20: They call Dol Arrah by the name Aengrist and picture her as a male warrior. They call Olladra by the name of Hleid, and her son the Keeper they call her brother Iborighu.

DC 25: Some residents of the Frostfell revere an ancient rakshasa who is said to have been imprisoned in a block of ice at the end of the Age of Demons. Now called Levistus, this ancient fiend supposedly once broke his bonds and wreaked havoc on the settlements of the Frostfell before returning to his icy prison.

Races of the Frostfell

Frostburn introduces a number of new character races, including arctic variations on dwarves, elves, gnomes, halflings, and humans (neanderthals as well as four modern human peoples native to cold lands). Each of these new races can be found in Eberron's coldest regions.

Humans: The sea raiders of the Lhazaar Principalities are cold seafarers like those described in Frostburn. They are known to replace their ships with icerunners during the winter months, particularly in the farthest northern reaches of the Bitter Sea.

Tribes of everfrost barbarians live on the Tashana Tundra at the northern end of Sarlona, on Icewhite Island off the northwest coast of Khorvaire, and on the islands in Xen'drik's Icemaw Sea. The Sarlonan tribes are true nomads, trailing herds of caribou on their seasonal migrations. The island-dwellers are seminomadic, building settlements in different sites as the seasons change.

Mountain folk live in the northern Hoarfrost Mountains, where they coexist in relative peace with the dwarves of the Mror Holds. They also live in the mountains of Adar in Sarlona, under the protection of the kalashtar.

Ice folk dwell in the Frostfell and on Everice, subsisting on the fish, seals, and whales they hunt on the frozen coasts and ice sheets. Many groups of ice folk have no contact whatsoever with the natives of warmer climes, while a few clans trade with the peoples of Khorvaire or Sarlona.

Dwarves: The race of dwarves is sometimes said to have originated in the Frostfell and migrated to Khorvaire some twelve thousand years ago. Some dwarves remained behind in the Frostfell, however. These glacier dwarves are called Toldun Nordorthak, "Those Who Stayed," since they continue to inhabit the frozen keeps and glacial strongholds.

Elves: The glimmering cities of the snow elves seem now to be all fallen. On the islands of the Icemaw Sea, the ruins of these ice cities remain, suggesting that some elves fled to the freezing south to escape their giant masters, but did not survive to the present day. Snow elves may yet exist in Everice, but no explorer has returned with evidence of them.

Gnomes: The gnomes of Eberron are most at home in the tropical climate of Zilargo. It is possible that small villages of ice gnomes dwell in remote regions of the Frostfell, but they remain unknown to the rest of the world.

Halflings: Small communities of tundra halflings are known to exist in parts of the Lhazaar Principalities, particularly the region around Skairn in the northern mainland. These halflings are more closely related to those of the Talenta Plains in their cultures and attitudes than to the more urban halflings of Khorvaire, and are known to ride fastieths and white-feathered clawfoots.

Neanderthals: These primitive humans coexist uneasily with the everfrost barbarians of Icewhite Island and the folk of the Frostfell.

Uldras: These small fey dwell in cold wilderness areas, mainly the Icehorn Mountains and the smaller islands near Icewhite Island. Uldras reject the identification of Hleid and Iborighu with Olladra and the Keeper. They believe these deities have objective reality and their own histories, which are vitally important in the uldras' society.

Frostfell Gods and Fiends

Some of the deities described in Chapter 2 of Frostburn are revered in the frozen regions of Eberron, but people from the civilized lands of Khorvaire believe that the "savages" of the north (and the distant south) have simply given their own names to the deities of the Sovereign Host. Thus, Aengrist is said to be a name for Dol Arrah in a masculine aspect. Hleid and Iborighu are identified as Olladra and the Keeper, with the mother-son relationship distorted into a sibling relationship.

Levistus is not an imprisoned archdevil, but rather one of the great rakshasa rajahs defeated at the end of the Age of Demons. The war between dragons and fiends raged over the entire surface of Eberron, and Levistus (as he is now known) was imprisoned beneath the surface of the Frostfell. Levistus is served by a particularly active sect of the Lords of Dust. Legend tells that this powerful fiend actually did once slip his bonds, briefly wreaking havoc on the Frostfell before being imprisoned again. That brief taste of freedom makes him loathe his imprisonment all the more, and encourages his followers -- if Levistus was freed once, he can be again. It was during this brief period of freedom that the rajah acquired his modern name. His original name is lost to history -- or a closely guarded secret.

The iceberg city of Icerazer, described in Chapter 7 of Frostburn, is governed by followers of Levistus. Its population includes a number of rakshasas rather than devils, but the city is otherwise as described in the book. Azediel, the half-fiend Matriarch of Icerazer, seeks tirelessly to find the Crown of the Black Fire, a mighty artifact dating from the great war between the dragons and the fiends. (See Remnants of Creation, page 31, for more information.)

Of course, that's just one small piece of the information you'll find in there (two pages of it, to be accurate). You'll find similar information about other places and destinations, along with write-ups about the many different races you'll encounter, traditions, rules and regulations, and more (such as a handful of spells, feats, and prestige classes sprinkled throughout).

February:d20 Future Tech

I don't know too much about this 96-page softcover supplement for the d20 Modern Roleplaying Game, but I do know that you'll find it to be an invaluable resource if you're also using d20 Future.

Inside, you'll find a storehouse of personal gadgets, gear, equipment, and weapons (for PL6 through PL9), along with rules for building, flying, fighting, and equipping starships (including templates for creating starships built by/for particular races, such as dralasites). You'll also find a swath of information on fleshing out your campaign world by including fundamental details such as systems for communication, commerce, and other aspects of day-to-day life that are so pervasive, you might not even realize how much depth they can add to your game world. (Imagine how different Blade Runner would be if the world weren't suffused with advertising and Asian culture. Or what Star Wars would be like if interstellar travel weren't so commonplace that a farmboy and friends could simply hire a ship to take them off planet.) Mecha are also explored, providing more material that makes giant walking tanks (or giant space-going tanks) a part of your futuristic campaign setting. And what would the future be like without robots? A big rip-off, I'd say. Good thing you'll also find information about building and playing robots (including new feats and accessories). Oddly enough, combat seems to crop up every now and then in d20 Future games, so the kindly authors have also included some more rules for improving combat in your game, including expanded rules for character, vehicle, mecha, and starship combat -- most frighteningly, providing guidelines for combining them.

But as I said, I don't know a lot about the book. So, you'll have to settle for a chunk from the back cover text:

d20 Future Tech describes a dazzling array of new gear and gadgets -- the latest and greatest technology for heroes and villains of the future. In addition, it presents new types of starships, robots, and mecha and expands the rules for combining character, vehicular, starship, and mecha combat.

February:The Red Hand of Doom

I've not gotten a chance to look at this thing just yet, but it's a 128-page softcover super-adventure that will challenge a party of 6th-level characters long enough to take them all the way through 9th. (If they survive, that is.) And, because it's noncampaign-specific, any Dungeon Master out there can easily incorporate The Red Hand of Doom into his campaign.

You know, even if I had read through the whole adventure, I wouldn't want to tell you too much about it anyway. So, how 'bout a look at the back cover text:

Who Can Stand Against the Son of the Dragon?

The Wyrmsmoke Mountains shook with the thunder of ten thousand screaming hobgoblin soldiers. From the phalanx emerged a single champion. One by one the tribes fell silent as the warlord rose up, red scales gleaming along his shoulders, horns swept back from his head. A hundred bright yellow banners stood beneath him, each marked with a great red hand. He stood upon a precipice and raised his arms. "I am Azarr Kul, Son of the Dragon!" the warlord bellowed. "Hear me! Tomorrow we march to war!"

Red Hand of Doom is a Dungeons & Dragons adventure designed for characters of levels 6-12. Confronted with the relentless advance of Azurr Kul's horde, the characters must undertake vital missions to influence the outcome of the war. Can they shatter the armies of the enemy, or will Azarr Kul's dreams rain destruction upon the human lands?

March:War Drum Booster Packs

I'm sure that most of you, like me, are still buying, collecting, trading, and playing with all of those new minis from the Underdarkexpansion.

I'm also quite confident that your interest in Underdark won't prevent you from eagerly looking forward to getting your hands on your first booster from the War Drum expansion. So I'll be showing you a few minis from that upcoming set.

Before I launch into that, I wanted to take a moment to make sure that you all know to tune in to the D&D Minis page, every Thursday for the other Miniatures Previews articles -- the ones that focus on D&D minis in skirmish play.

Starting with the War Drum expansion, those strategy- and mechanic-based articles will be written by the lovely and talented Stephen Schubert. (Good Mr. Heinsoo wanted to pass the torch over to Mr. Schubert because Steve's the guy who worked on this set.) Steve and I sat down last week to look over the set and to pick the minis we'd each be showing off. And, just for you guys, we tried as hard as we could to get a good selection of minis that gave you a nice look at the set without showing off everything cool. Even better, we built lists of minis-to-preview that have very little overlap. So you'll have less duplication between our articles this time 'round -- just four minis will show up in both of our articles. (Can't promise that we'll do that every time, but it's always a concern we take into consideration.)

And -- make sure you pick up Dragon magazine, 'cause they're going to have exclusive access to a mini or two that you won't see until the set releases.

All that said, it's time to show off my first three War Drum minis (all of 'em Rare). (Just as a caveat: I'm looking at the master paint minis this month, so the paint apps may change a bit by the time they hit production.) Okay, on with the minis.

Wardrummer -- When the set's called "War Drum," and you see a mini named "Wardrummer," you have to show it, right? Of course. As long as it's a cool-looking mini, that is. And not surprisingly, this orc percussionist fits the bill as a more than respectable namesake of the expansion. (Our artists, art director, and R&D guys have done a really great job of keeping the orcs very consistent, appearance-wise. That orc horde just keeps getting bigger and bigger.) So, the thing that draws your attention to this guy is the large tom-tom he lugs around as a part of his one-orc marching band. Suspended from a heavy leather strap that is slung over one shoulder and across his back, the drum is immense (it's bigger around than he is). The body of the drum seems to be constructed from a hollowed section of a tree; its dark wood is smoothed down, while the head is a large piece of tanned leather that has been stretched and nailed tight. A bandolier of small bones is strapped around the body of the drum as a tastefully grisly decoration. Those adornments also follow a theme, since the Wardrummer is playing his instrument of choice with a pair of thick femurs (that would otherwise look right at home resting behind a skull on a Jolly Roger flag). Red leather straps are wrapped around the bones, providing the Wardrummer with a better grip so he can more easily hang onto those sticks during a heated battle, whilst aboard a wave-tossed ship, or through whatever other gigs an orc Wardrummer might land.

He clearly is playing a slow, steady, thunderously loud beat to aid his fellow orcs in marching, rowing, or rhythmically slaying their enemies. (Perhaps he's beating out a cadence to inspire courage or inspire confidence, if he has bard levels, that is.) So, taking a look at the rest of this guy, he's only lightly armored, and it seems as if all of it is strategically placed to ease the discomfort of carrying a heavy drum around a battlefield. The spiked pauldron on his left shoulder probably keeps that strap from cutting his arm off. A section of scale mail covers his right hip and thigh as additional protection against the leather strap. And he has a metal kneepad on his right knee that has to be there to cushion the impact of that heavy drum as it bangs against his leg while marching forward.

His forearms and calves are wrapped in leather straps, either black or reddish brown, that offer both style and protection as if they were bracers or puttees. (Check out his right leg and you'll see a trio of claws/fangs jutting out from the strapping there -- just a nice bit of character.) He's wearing a light tan shirt that looks like it's probably homespun, but could be lightweight leather. And he has a heavy reddish leather skirt that has seen better days. (When you get him turned around, you'll see that he has a large patch stitched onto the garment right over his backside -- I'm sure there's an amusing anecdote that goes with that.) His long, matted-but-flowing, black hair hangs freely down his back, tucked behind his pointed ears. He has an intense look on his face, furrowed brows and all that, which makes sense -- it probably takes a decent amount of concentration to keep a consistent drumbeat in the middle of a combat. His tusky/fanged mouth is slightly agape in a way that suggests that he might be either intoning a low-pitched chant or has just zoned out (concentrating more on drumming than keeping his mouth closed.) His red eyes seem to be focused intently on nothing -- the thousand-yard stare. All combat marines have it. And you'll have it too.

Chimera -- The chimera is one of the great, classic monsters that just couldn't get turned into a mini soon enough. But at least it was worth the wait. This three-headed magical beast really works hard to live up to its mythical status. If you check out the monster entry on page 34 of your copy ofMonster Manual, you'll notice that (compared to the illustration) the dragon head and the lion head have swapped positions. Placing the dragon head in the center of the Chimera puts it in-line with its wings and tail, creating as much symmetry as you can get in a critter with three different heads and two different sets of legs.

Speaking of its different heads, each one is a really nicely detailed specimen, starting with that maneless lion head (which sounds like a female lion head to me). The Chimera's left head, with its bright (metallic?) green eyes gleaming out at you, is the epitome of a fierce predatory great cat. Its ears are flattened in the way that cats flatten their ears when they're being aggressive, sneaky, or just plain mean. Its powerful jaws are wide open, in a snarling growl that shows off its full array of teeth and fangs. The lion head also blends very seamlessly with the Chimera's forequarters -- if you just focus on that head and front, left leg, you're looking at a very powerful great cat. The tawny coloration of the forequarters blends into a darker fur that covers the creature's flanks (which helps the wings mesh, color-wise) and then lightens to a dirty, creamy white as the Chimera's hindquarters bend back, turning into the hooved legs of a stocky goat.

The other goat-themed part of the Chimera takes up its position on the right-paw side of the creature, and it is also a terrific specimen of its kind. Really, if you were to have a fierce-looking goat miniature, this would be the head you'd want on the thing. It's got blazing orange eyes that make it clear that you're facing an evil goat, complete with a billygoat's beard and slightly askew horns that curve back (threatening to impale the dragon head's neck). Tilted at a slightly downward angle, that goat head is prepared to butt heads with anyone that gets within reach.

According to the Monster Manual, Chimeras might have a dragon head that resembles that of any of the chromatic dragons -- this one is a black dragon head. And, again, it's a great-looking black dragon head, with those iconic forward-curving horns, sunken eye sockets (with glaring red eyes), and the jutting teeth that lend a crocodilelike aspect to its closed maw. The dragon head's black-and-gray spinal crest runs down the back of its neck along its spine and onto its curving draconic tail (which is mostly extended to help the Chimera balance as it pounces forward.) The upraised and mostly unfurled wings are also nicely impressive, with long, spiny phalanges (that remind me of those great wings on the Wyvern we did a while back). Those wings not only add to the Chimera's daunting presence, but they might also be in the midst of allowing the creature to take flight. (It could be leaping into the air, rather than atop its prey.)

Aspect of Hextor -- I saw this mini when it was just a first-cast, all-black-plastic mini. And it was far too cool even then. Now that it's painted, the Aspect of Hextor is all the more impressive. If you check out the illustration on page 74 of your copy of Deities and Demigods, you'll see the drawing upon which the sketches and sculpt for the mini were based. Aside from a change in pose and a little bit of simplification in his adornment (you won't see Hextor's holy symbol emblazoned on the mini's armor, for example), the mini is a faithful 3D incarnation of the god of tyranny.

So, perhaps the first thing you'd notice about this guy is the six-arm thing. Hey, when you're (also) the god of war, you need to make an impression on the battlefield -- and laying waste to everything within reach with a half dozen weapons at once is a fine, fine way to do that. Each of his muscular, gray arms is "protected" by a bracer of one design or another, and each is wielding a different weapon. Though they're in different hands, the weapons are all the same ones from the Deities and Demigods illustration (axe, longsword, scimitar, mace, kama, and flail). His armor, trimmed in blood red, is a formidable-looking combination of plate and scale mail that clearly offers some protection, but in a way that suggests he doesn't really need it.

Just as in the illustration (only different), Hextor is festooned with skulls: two on his belt buckle (a skull-on-skull motif), one on his breastplate (flanked by two side-facing skulls etched into the metal), one big skull (with tusks) on the middle of the armor on his back, three hanging from the back of his belt (one of which is equine and seems to be a unicorn's skull, minus the horn -- you'll see what I mean), and one sculpted into the armband around his lower right bicep.

Hextor strikes an imposing figure, towering just over 2-1/2 inches tall (with the upraised weapons pushing past 3-1/4 inches). And, as if the six arms and bluish-gray skin didn't already give Hextor an inhuman appearance, his fearsome visage drives it home. His head juts forward in an aggressive posture (aided by his broad, hunched shoulders) and has an almost bestial look about it. Pointed ears aren't out of the ordinary for "normal folk" in the world of D&D, but couple them with an unnaturally wide mouth filled with pointed, sharklike teeth and an enormous pair of tusks, and you're in a new realm. And his heavy, angrily furrowed brow just makes the burning white pinpricks of lights gleaming from his eyes all the more menacing.

If a nongamer ever looked at this guy and asked, "What's that supposed to be?" and you said, "the God of War," they'd probably just nod in agreement -- this guy is easily one of the most mightily impressive Aspects we've seen.

If you keep up with these articles, particularly the first ones I write for each set, you'll notice that there's no kobold in that trio -- which is the same as pointing out that there are no kobolds in the War Drum expansion at all. Sadness. While a kobold-free set isn't something I'd vote for, there's still plenty of good stuff in the War Drum expansion that tries really hard to make up for this shortcoming. If you check back next month (and keep up with Steve's articles), you'll see what I mean.

March:Tome of Magic: Pact, Shadow, and True Name Magic

This is so far out in the production timeline ether, I don't even have back cover copy to pass along right now. (Really, I think the move to our new building pushed some deadlines around, which is really why I don't have anything to show.) Here's what I have dredged up on this book. It's a 288-page hardcover that introduces three new magic systems to the game. Pact magic allows characters to channel the powers and abilities of lost souls. Shadow magic draws its power from the mysterious Plane of Shadow. And by learning (and properly using) the true name of a creature or object, characters can use true name magic to gain great power and/or control over that specific creature or object. With new base classes, prestige classes, feats, magic items, and spells, Tome of Magic: Pact, Shadow, and True NameMagic provides spellcasters (on both sides of the screen) an immense amount of new power.

March:Power of Faerûn

Again, I've almost got nothing for this book. It's a 160-page hardcover supplement that provides players and Dungeon Masters with a wealth of information, advice, guidelines, and rules for high-level play in the Forgotten Realms. And, if you've spent much time kicking around in Faerûn, you already know that there's a lot of high-level challenges already out there -- good guys, bad guys, kingdoms, governments, monsters, organizations, and more. So, by the time an adventuring party hits those higher levels of play, you'll all be looking for material to make your characters (and adventures) as formidable as possible.

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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