Previews05/04/2006


Previews for May and Beyond



Characters, Campaigns, Demons, Dragons, Modern, Maps, and Minis

I suppose every one of these articles ends up being a something-for-everyone kinda thing, but this month seems to offer an impressive array of stuff for all of us -- regardless of whether you're running a game (homebrewed D&D, Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or d20 Modern) or if you're playing in one (roleplaying game or D&D minis game). There's plenty of character-building, campaign-expanding, adventure-running, and warband-planning stuff to look at, so check it out:

May:Player's Handbook II

On shelves this month, the Player's Handbook II will entice you -- not just with the cover art that conjures memories of the original Player's Handbook -- but with 224 pages of character-building material that anyone will find useful for creating and leveling up characters. (Those 3.5 characters must be more effective than their 1E counterparts -- it used to take two guys to loot those gems. Check out the cover image to see what I mean.)

Back in March, I gave you the back cover text. Last month, I passed along the entire Introduction section to give you a chapter-by-chapter run-down of what's awaiting you and your character, along with a handful of new feats from the pile you can choose from when leveling up or creating a new character.

This month, I thought I'd give you a healthy-sized chunk of easily digestible material with a look at another option you can explore with new or existing characters -- expanded classes. Here's a large slice of the introduction to Chapter Two, which will give you a good idea of the thought behind expanded classes, as well as a general idea of what sorts of things you'll see for each entry.

Chapter Two: Expanded Classes

The choice of a class delineates some of the most important aspects of a D&D character. With a class comes a specific role in the party, baseline mechanical attributes such as base attack and base save bonuses, and a host of special abilities that define the character. To complement the eleven standard classes presented in the Player's Handbook, supplements such as the Complete series have introduced additional classes. This chapter provides advice and insight on eighteen classes that fit well within most D&D games and presents a set of options to enhance characters of that class.

Each class presentation in this chapter includes sample character themes that help define a character's role and personality. These are not intended as an exhaustive catalog, and you are not required to adopt any of them. Each class entry also includes suggested backgrounds and suggested personality archetypes; see Chapter 5 for more information on these elements.

In addition to this roleplaying advice, each presentation offers one or more alternative class features and a set of alternative starting packages.

Alternative class features replace class features found in the original class description. If you have already reached or passed the level at which you can take the feature, you can use the retraining option described on page 192 to gain an alternative class feature in place of the normal feature gained at that level.

Now that you've got an overview of what an expanded class is all about, perhaps you'd like to take a look at what one might look like. Of all of the book's eighteen entries, I figure the fighter would be one of the most useful examples, so here you go:

FIGHTER

Tordek Brighthammer,
Warchief of the Iron Halls

You are an adventuring opportunist, willing to go wherever the next fight leads you. You'll take up quests, you'll accept commissions, and you'll even consider taking on leadership roles, as long as you can practice your warrior's craft. You know fighting -- none know it better. Other combatants with exotic martial styles or those who mix spells with swords obscure what is most important -- who's the best? Who can put their sword in an enemy's guts first? You, that's who. You are a straight-up, no-nonsense person, and you know the value of your hard-won, long practiced skills. While you take great risks in hopes of receiving an equally big payout, for you the thrill of combat is at least as compelling as the loot at adventure's end.

The alternative class features presented here provide alternatives to the traditional full attack routine. The fighter who takes one or more of these options seeks the flexibility to alter his tactics based on the situation he faces. Against a foe that has a high AC or damage reduction, trading less useful second, third, or fourth attacks for tangible benefits represents a significant boon to the fighter.

Suggested Backgrounds (choose one): Gladiator, Guttersnipe, Noble Scion, Soldier.

Suggested Personality Archetypes (choose one): Challenger, Companion, Leader, Martyr, Mercenary, Orphan, Rebel, Renegade, Royalty, Seeker, Simple Soul, Strategist, Theorist.

May:d20 Critical Locations

Also to be found in your FLGS this month is this long-in-the-making 96-page softcover supplement for the d20 Modern Roleplaying Game. Back in March, I passed along the back cover text. Aside from that, I've been inclined to mention only that the interior is loaded with 40 full-color maps (crafted by Christopher West), each one accompanied by adventure hooks, new rules and/or options, and pregenerated NPCs. There's a lot of really good crunch and fluff in here for GMs of any flavor of d20 Modern game, so I won't spoil any of the fun. The book's out there -- pick it up, flip through, and check it out.

June:Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss

Bound within the 160 pages of this hardcover sourcebook is a fiendish amount of information about demons, demon-related things, and more demonic stuff. (If you've sifted through Draconomicon: The Book of Dragons,Libris Mortis: The Book of Undead,orLords of Madness: The Book of Aberrations, you've had a glimpse of what's inside this chaotic fiend-filled tome.

Last month, I gave you a look at the book's back cover text. This month, I figure that I'd stick with a tried-and-true next step and give you a look at the even more descriptive (but still concise) introduction to the book.

Those who would battle the forces of evil must learn about them and turn their own works against them. Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss deals with demons and the layers of the Abyss in a frank manner. Demons are no longer simply the biggest bad guys on the D&D block. Rather, they provide a whole new set of challenges for player characters -- and new opportunities as well.

This book contains information for DMs who want to run adventures or campaigns featuring demons and the Abyss for all levels. From the quasit that curdles a cow's milk, to the dungeon passage that seems to go on a bit too long, to the expedition through demonic layers to wrest a soul from torment, adventuring against demonkind can come at any time during a campaign.

The tanar'ri, the loumara, and the obyrith populate this book. Some of the demons described herein are "ordinary" examples of their kind, if that word can be accurate where demons are concerned. Another chapter is devoted to the demon lords -- unique entities of varying power, although even the weakest among them can be a terrible and formidable opponent.

For players, this book offers new feats, prestige classes, magic items, and artifacts that can bring PCs closer to defeating -- or joining -- the fiendish hordes. The Black Scrolls of Ahm teach us about demonkind, as well as the famed Demonomicon of Iggwilv and other classic works.

The final chapter of this book, and the longest one, provides detailed information about several layers of the Abyss that far exceeds the quality and quantity of any previously published material.

DEMONS IN THE CAMPAIGN

This book discusses how to introduce fiends and the Abyss into the campaign in many interesting ways. It's important to realize that player characters do not have to be high level to fight demons. Not only are many lower-level demons contained in this tome, but there are also plenty of instances of demonic incursion on the Material Plane that a DM can introduce into his or her game. The book covers this topic further, but it is something important enough to state up front.

THE DEFINITIVE SOURCE

If you have been tainted by earlier explorations into demonic lore, rest assured that Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss is the definitive Dungeons & Dragons v.3.5 book on the subject. The material contained in this tome updates earlier material, drawing from earlier sources freely and eliminating contradictions. If you have used earlier sources and you find lore in those books that contradicts Fiendish Codex . . . well, demons are known for spreading misinformation. Use the material that works best for your campaign -- but be aware that future D&D works will rely on Fiendish Codex I for the definitive answers to Abyssal questions.

To find another excerpt for this month, I decided to just skim through the book -- to see what all caught my attention. (Kinda like I'd do when flipping through the real thing.) With little effort, I ended up with a good sense of most, if not all, of what's in each of the book's five chapters.

Mialee summons a nalfeshnee

There was an image of a dretch -- dissected on a table -- in Chapter One: Demonic Lore (being one of the lowest orders of demon, it serves as the baseline example of demon physiology). Other bits included a table of effects for demonic death throes; different roles demons might fill in a battle, adventure, or campaign; and information about demonic possession (of creatures and objects).

Chapter Two: Demons offered a number of Abyssal creatures ready to throw down on the battlemat -- the entry for the chasme popped out at me (I remember those flylike things from way back in 1st Edition).

The chapter start illustration for Chapter Three: Demon Lords depicts Orcus and Demogorgon going mano-a-tentacle-o, and then is followed by updated entries for those two and many more Abyssal Big Bad Guys, as well as some "new" rulers -- such as the one you might encounter in a realm known as Shadowsea (that's layer 89, for the mapper/note-taker in the party): Dagon, Prince of the Depths.

Chapter Four: Trafficking with Demons stood out as a storehouse of information players can make use of, with its feats, spells, artifacts, and organization dedicated to the collection of demonic lore -- the Black Cult of Ahm.

Chapter Five: Into the Abyss explores many aspects of the Abyss, including its denizens, history (with a bit on the Blood War), information about travel (including hazards and various pathways [such as the River Styx] by which individuals may travel between layers), and details about a number of specific layers (such as The Iron Wastes).

THE IRON WASTES

Kostchtchie takes care of intruders

Layer Number: 23

Ruler: Kostchtchie (see page 68)

Traits: Infinite

The frigid Iron Wastes are home to the dullard lord Kostchtchie, the malformed demon-giant who claims all frost giants as his protected kin. A place of unrelenting blizzards and icy rifts, the inhospitable layer might have been avoided by most Abyssal inhabitants if not for the presence of one of the most coveted gates in the Abyss, a rime-encrusted stone monolith arch leading to Jotunheim on Ysgard, near the frost giant town of Utgardt. More importantly, the gate opens near the roots of the Great Wheel-spanning Yggdrasil Tree, a major transplanar thoroughfare leading to locales throughout the Upper Planes. Demons from all corners of the Abyss therefore congregate in the Iron Wastes in hopes of moving through this gate, but Kostchtchie's fierce protection of his home realm results in de facto protection of the Yggdrasil, making the Prince of Wrath one of the most hated demons in the Abyss, despised by good and evil alike.

The Prince of Wrath nonetheless enjoys strong support from his chosen people, tribes of frost giants from the Material Plane who have sworn themselves to Kostchtchie in return for eternal life in the Iron Wastes. Such is the demon lord's control over his Abyssal layer that he can prevent the aging and natural death of mortals who dwell upon it. While intended as a reward for the demon's chosen folk, several canny mortals benefit from the effect as long as they can avoid detection.

Weather in the Iron Wastes ranges from cold to extreme cold. See Cold Dangers, DMG 302, for more information. DMs who wish to make the environment an important part of their campaign should consult Frostburn, which also includes numerous monsters suitable for populating the layer.

A number of locales within the Iron Wastes bear further discussion.

The thing that drew my attention to that particular entry was the illustration, which depicts the lord of level 23, Kostchtchie, Prince of Wrath. (He's detailed back in Chapter Three.) Anyone that had a subscription to Dragon magazine back in 1987 (or has flipped through a well-stocked back-issue bin at their FLGS) would recognize the image as an homage to the cover of Dragon magazine #119. (If I recall, I think the painting's title was something like "Why the Romans Left England") Ah, nostalgia.

June:Mysteries of the Moonsea

I can't really tell you too much about this supplement for the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. Not because I don't have information about what's inside this 160-page hardcover, but because it's a big book filled with a campaign arc designed to take 1st- through 18th-level characters on a series of harrowing adventures in one of Faerûn's most infamous regions. If you want a little more info, you can take a look at the back cover text in last month's article.


June:Dungeons & Dragons Player's Kit

For all of you out there interested in helping your friends and/or family to really take a crack at the gaming table, point them to this thing. Designed for anyone who has either played through the D&D Basic Game, or is just getting started playing D&D, the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Kit has everything you need to jump right in -- no skill check required.

Here's a good description from the "Read This First" insert you'll find inside the box that tells you what else is in there, and what you can do with these items:

This Dungeons & Dragons Player's Kit contains everything a player needs to create and run characters in any Dungeons & Dragons game. Let's look at the components in this box and what you can do with them.

Quick-Start Character Creation

This booklet walks you through the process of D&D character creation, showing you how to create your own player characters from scratch.

Character Creation Sheet

This blank D&D Character Sheet can be photocopied so that you have extras. Use it to record the player characters you create from scratch.

Quick-Start Game Rules

This booklet provides a quick overview of the game rules that players use most often, including how to make attack rolls, skill checks, and ability checks.

Solo Adventure

This booklet presents a practice adventure that you can play by yourself. It lets you run your new character through the paces and see if the character is ready for the dungeons.

Premium Dice Set

Your own set of high-quality Dungeons & Dragons game dice, so that you don't have to share.

D&D Player's Handbook

A soft-cover version of the core D&D rulebook, it contains all the rules you need to create characters and play the Dungeons & Dragons game.

July:War of the Dragon Queen Huge Packs

Ever since the Giants of Legend expansion, we've all been anxiously awaiting the next set with Huge minis. Now, knowing that those twelve new Huges are only two months away, the anticipation is even worse. Just as with Giants of Legend, you'll find a Huge mini in every War of the Dragon Queen pack. This time around, though, there's a total of sixty minis in the set, including the Huges -- so the checklist looks more like any other expansion.

Last month, I showed you the Aspect of Tiamat; Meepo, Dragonlord; and the Dragonwrought Kobold. This month, I've got a pair of Rares for you.

(The minis I'm looking at are production run minis. And we should have the updated images of the minis that changed since the Master Paint stage by the time this posts. But I promised I'd put this in here: As always, just like it says on the back of the box: "Product contents and colors may vary.")

Dracolich -- Without a doubt, this is absolutely my favorite mini in the set (possibly, the entire line). I suppose I've wanted a dracolich mini since discovering them in the Forgotten Realms campaign I played in back in college. But I've really been looking forward to a dracolich mini ever since we started talking about making Huges -- it's finally here, and it was well worth the wait. The thing that still grabs my attention the most is the hollowness of the mini's sculpt (and construction). The ribcage is hollow -- you can see in-between individual ribs all the way through to the other side of the mini. And the space inside that skeletal torso is big enough for a d20 to rattle around in. The skull also shows off advanced mini-making technology with its wide-openness. (Remember the black plastic filling the gaping maw of the Behir in Giants of Legend?) Moving beyond just the ribcage and skull, the rest of the Dracolich's sculpt epitomizes what you'd imagine an undead, skeletal dragon would look like -- just check out the intricate construction of each of its legs, and you'll see what I mean. (Even though this is an erstwhile blue dragon, you can easily compare it to the sketch of a red dragon's skeleton on page 8 of the Draconomicon.) Starting at the Dracolich's short neck, every dorsal spine is depicted, slowly diminishing in size until they merge smoothly with the remaining clearly rendered vertebrae that make up the dragon's tail. And, there's the bared bones (alar phalanges, if you prefer) of the creature's sizable set of wings. Twixt those wing bones is the fleshiest part remaining on the creature -- its ragged, dark cobalt blue, wing membranes. (The worn-through-in-places quality of those wing membranes are reminiscent of one of the nicest details on the Zombie White Dragon from the Deathknell expansion.)

You'll also notice a bluish tinge to the bones on the Dracolich's back and shoulders, which I imagine must be all that remains of the creature's former scaly hide. Of course, while the blueness of the wings and those bits of bone are significant hints, the thing that makes it completely clear that this was once a blue dragon is that distinctive single (rhinolike) horn on its skull. And that singular brow horn is just the largest of many horns, spikes, spines, and spurs that festoon the Dracolich's natural weapon-laden form. (You can track down the early (3E) monster entry for the dracolich on pages 310-312 of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, but you'll encounter the most recent incarnation of this infamous creature on pages 146-149 of the Draconomicon).

Cadaver Collector -- You'll find this gruesome guy listed on pages 22-23 of Monster Manual III. Cadaver Collectors were originally created to retrieve the bodies of fallen soldiers from battlefields, for a variety of strategic reasons (though necromancers and other folk interested in amassing a menagerie of corpses might employ these massive constructs). Regardless of the reason it's there, when you run into one of these behemoths, you should beware -- the line between a living body and a dead one isn't always distinct. (Particularly when impalement becomes involved in the equation.) Based on the illustration found on page 22 of the Monster Manual III, this Large miniature really captures the essence of what a hulking, spike-covered construct built for policing dead bodies should be. Built of stone and metal, the Cadaver Collector has added large pieces of cloth, leather, and pelt to its armor-plated accoutrement. Its relatively short legs, massive upper body, and unusually long arms make it well suited to efficiently moving across a battlefield while going about its duty -- minimal effort needed to reach a large swath of bodies on the ground and a lot of surface area upon which to store them. And it's the storage part -- all those spikes -- that makes the Cadaver Collector so interesting. (I might be off, give or take a couple, but I counted eighty-seven pointy bits.) And, of course, the thing that makes the spikes so mesmerizing is the stuff on them. There's four skulls scattered about; one green, helmeted head pierced on his right forearm; someone else's right arm (clad in golden plate armor) tacked behind his right shoulder; and an entire corpse (a humanoid with pointy ears) skewered on his back. Staring out from deep within the helmetlike head, the Cadaver Collector's yellow-green eyes have a menacing, mechanical quality about them that suggests that you'd do best to just stay out of his way.

For more minis preview action, be sure to check out Steve Schubert's weekly articles over on the D&D Minis page and Dragon magazine for the exclusive D&D minis coverage you'll find in every issue.

You'll really want to check out Dragon magazine issue 344 -- the super-sized, 132-page, 30th Anniversary issue. In addition to the extra-big share of special, 30th anniversary-caliber material (including a top ten list of D&D minis dragons), you'll get all the details on the exclusive, limited-run, alternate paint miniature they'll have for sale in June. (There's only going to be 5,000 of these special minis made. To order one, you have to be a subscriber -- even if you sign up for the subscription at the same time you order your sweet, sweet mini.)

July:Monster Manual IV

Whether you're a Dungeon Master, player, or both, you can't go wrong with a big book full of monsters -- like, say, this 224-page hardcover packed with a horde of new creatures -- including an unhealthy number that have prepainted plastic incarnations. In addition to the fully illustrated menagerie of monsters, you'll also find sample encounters, pregenerated treasure hoards, and sidebars with advice on incorporating creatures into Eberron or Forgotten Realms campaigns. The book also introduces a new, more detailed layout that will help facilitate faster gameplay. (I'll try to get a sample page for you as soon as I can.)

Until I have more, take look at the back cover text:

This supplement for the D&D game offers a fully illustrated horde of new monsters such as the clockwork steed, the tomb spider, and the evil creatures known as the spawn of Tiamat. It also includes monsters that have previously appeared as D&D miniatures, including the bloodhulk, the justice archon, and the wizened elder. Finally, the book provides varieties of existing monsters such as the drow arcane guard, the orc battle priest, and the yuan-ti pureblood slayer.

In addition to an easy-to-use statistics format, this supplement features maps of monster lairs, sample encounters, and tactics sections to help DMs run more complex creatures. Additionally, many entries contain information about where monsters are likely to appear in the Forgotten Realms and Eberron campaign settings.

Hey, here's some stuff that'd fall into the Good Stuff to Look At category -- initial sketches of some of the creatures you'll find inside the book. (If you like what you see here, be sure to watch for the Monster Manual IV art gallery.)

Bluespawn Ambusher Concordant Luminary Greenspawn Ambusher

July:Secrets of Xen'drik

This 160-page hardcover supplement to the Eberron Campaign Setting, offers the first in-depth exploration of the lost continent of Xen'drik. The book establishes a firm foothold (for DMs and players) with a chapter's worth of information about Stormreach -- bustling port city and staging ground for most adventurers. Beyond that lies a wealth of information about the ruin-laden land, including new monsters, adventure seeds, playable encounters (ready to drop into any game), and information about sites of interest -- as well as new information about the secretive drow of Xen'drik. Players will be particularly interested in the array of new equipment, feats, prestige classes, spells, and magic items that will help characters survive their treacherous expeditions.

That's all I have right now, besides the back cover text:

There's an old saying in Stormreach: "Great power rests in the ruins of the past." The shattered cities and vast dungeons of Xen'drik hold the secrets of countless fallen empires. Legends speak of titanic landmarks, sunken treasure vaults, and forgotten places suffused with powerful magic. Beyond the walls of Stormreach, an entire continent waits to be rediscovered. But beware! Terrible monsters rule Xen'drik now, and explorers searching for gold or glory often find death instead.

Inside this book, you'll find everything you need to adventure in the shattered continent of Xen'drik:

  • Comprehensive overview of the continent of Xen'drik and the gateway city of Stormreach
  • New feats, prestige classes, spells, equipment, and magic items
  • Encounters and magical locations you can drop into your existing campaign
  • Ready-to-play adventures, monsters, and villains

July:Fantastic Locations: Dragondown Grotto

This is the fourth in the ongoing "Fantastic Locations" series of stand-alone accessories for roleplayers and miniatures skirmish gamers. (The most recent installation, Fantastic Location: Fields of Ruin, just hit shelves last month.) Like the rest of its kin, Dragondown Grotto houses a 16-page adventure (this one, designed for mid-level characters) that features monsters represented in the most recent miniatures expansion -- in this case, you'll encounter a number of creatures found in the War of the Dragon Queenexpansion. The double-sided poster maps serve as the setting for all of the adventure's key encounters, and they also provide skirmish gamers with three new battlegrounds. (One of the four maps is an RPG-only design.)

Being all adventure-y, I won't go into much more detail, but I can pass along the descriptive bits of the back cover text:

The Dragondown Grotto accessory is the fourth in the Fantastic Locations series of products. It contains two beautifully illustrated, double-sided battle maps scaled for Dungeons & Dragons play, as well as a 16-page adventure booklet that presents sample encounters designed for use with the maps.

The battle maps feature fantastic terrain designed to create large, fluid encounters, key scenes, and exciting game sessions. Rather than simple dungeon encounters, these maps evoke the epic struggles that campaign memories are made of. Three of the maps also make ideal battlegrounds for D&D Miniatures Game play. Build your own warband and fight for control of the Forest Cliff Lair, the Dragon Graveyard, or Dragondown Grotto.

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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