In this month's exclusive interview, Gwendolyn Kestrel and Wolfgang Baur, designers for the new Expedition to the Demonweb Pits discuss the latest campaign adventure. Expedition to the Demonweb Pits takes characters from the planar city of Sigil to the darkest corners of the Outer Planes, gathering resources to battle the forces of Lloth, Demon Queen of Spiders. The PCs must navigate a carefully spun web of treachery and deceit to reach the violent heart of Lloth's domain and put and end to her sinister dreams of conquest.
Wizards of the Coast: Expedition to the Demonweb Pits releases this month, a campaign adventure spanning several daunting planes of existence. To start with, fans of the 1st edition Queen of the Spiders series may well remember module Q1: The Demonweb Pits. Was Expedition to the Demonweb Pits influenced by this module, designed as a revision, or is it a completely new expedition?
Wolfgang Baur: Of course Expedition was influenced by Q1, since there would be no Demonweb Pits without that classic module. But we took the plot in a new direction, focusing on Planescape elements such as the cities of Sigil and Zelatar, plus a wider web than the first one. Many elements carry across the history of the Demonweb: from 1st edition's Q1, from "The Harrowing" in Dungeon magazine #84, and from 2nd edition's Planes of Chaos. It's a place that has grown over time, and we're continuing that exploration. Possibly with more demons than usual.
Wizards: As far as the drow, they've long been hugely popular (and formidable) adversaries--what are they now up to, necessitating the PCs' involvement and journey to the Demonweb?
Wolfgang: They're allying themselves with other demon lords, and the combination of drow cunning and cruelty with brute demonic power is pretty deadly. Lolth is making a big play for power in the Abyss and beyond.
Wizards: For PCs looking to better combat the drow, the book offers two new prestige classes. What can you tell us about the demonwrecker and the jaunter? What benefits might they provide a party undergoing this campaign adventure?
Gwendolyn: Both prestige classes were designed for use by player characters, and focused on abilities that would be very useful both in this adventure and in a broader campaign. I'd be very surprised by any party that didn't seriously contemplate having group members train in at least one of these classes.
The demonwrecker is a fantastic class for any spellcaster seeking to get better at combating chaotic evil outsiders. Both a divine and an arcane version are included. The class focuses specifically on the typical qualities of demons. For the cleric or divine caster, the class offers much improved spell penetration and the ability to bypass DR in melee. For the arcane caster, the class provides the improved spell penetration and a unique ability to smite with a spell.
The jaunter, well, jaunts. The prestige class presents characters, likely non-spellcasters, with the opportunity to gain spell-like travel powers. The class is a great boon to any party in terms of whole-party campaign travel with teleport and plane shift, but also provides effective tactical options with increased movement, benign transposition, and freedom of movement powers.
Wizards: Along the course of the adventure, Expedition to the Demonweb Pit leads through Sigil. What decision led to a return here, the "most famous planar metropolis in all existence?" Were you daunted or excited to further develop this planar metropolis?
Wolfgang: I wrote In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil, so it felt more like returning to a familiar neighborhood. Sigil is a wonderful crossroads town, and it simplifies the design of any multiplanar adventure, which is why Zeb Cook created it, I'm sure. The real reason for returning to Sigil is based on some of the characters that the heroes will meet, including both treacherous and helpful creatures in unexpected places. Plus, I got to throw in the Lady's library, a place I think may lead to some interesting encounters.
Wizards: For those not familiar with Sigil, how would you explain the City of Doors... and for those who may have visited in the past, what new features might they discover? And, just who (or what) is the mysterious Rule of Three?
Wolfgang: The City of Doors is the place where all the planar gateways connect, a city at the center of the cosmos on top of an infinite spire in the Outlands. Frequent visitors will find a map of a familiar tavern, and a new and important temple. There's even updated statistics for the dabus, the crucial inhabitants of Sigil who serve as the Lady of Pain's eyes, ears, and hands.
The Rule of Threes is just the way that things in the planes come in threes: good things, bad things, law/chaos/neutrality, primes, planars, and petitioners. To quote Zeb Cook, "See two things and ask--where's the third?"
Wizards: From Sigil, PCs may find themselves climbing the boughs of Yggdrasil, the world tree. A component of Norse mythological cosmology, how does it feature within Expedition? How does it connect the various "roads" leading to and from it?
Wolfgang: Most planar travel is through gates and portals, but Yggdrasil is different because it's a more literal path, even though it's a slower way to get around. And it has its own inhabitants, such the linnorm and the ratatosk (yes, they're back).
The World Tree has connections to several valuable items that the PCs might want--but it's also just a cool way to travel the planes.
Wizards: On then, to the Demonweb! For those who might not have had the pleasure of vacationing on the 66th layer of the Abyss, what can they expect in terms of its dangers--environmental as well as perhaps in terms of new creatures?
Wolfgang: The environment is exactly the same as it was first described for 3E in the Harrowing. The creatures are rather different though; I think the carnevus demon might get a lot of attention, and new giants, new mephits, and some updates like the lamia noble. Plus, there are several new Demon Lord aspects. A place as chaotic and fertile with evil as the Abyss should always include a fistful of new demon types; we don't want players getting too complacent.
Wizards: Any advice for DMs running encounters in this layer, or for PCs planning an expedition there (outside of their weapons and of course, what #1 spell or piece of gear you would recommend they have on hand)?
Wolfgang: Scrolls of raise dead are always helpful in the Abyss.
Gwendolyn: The items of legacy offer great power to PCs wanting to do well in the adventure. The items can be acquired early in the adventure and will be great assets. Spidersilk is a mithral shirt most arcane casters will love. Thaas, "The Vigilant Bow," is ideal for an archer in Expedition to the Demonweb Pits.
Wizards: Throughout the adventure, encounters are presented in the new format as seen in Expedition to Castle Ravenloft. What led to the development of this encounter format? How does it look to benefit DMs?
Gwendolyn: We wanted to make it easy for DMs to run encounters, providing them with all the information they need right there: monsters, maps, features of the room, read-aloud text. Very convenient. Very challenging to the adventure designer. It makes us work harder so the DM doesn't have to.
I'd earlier worked in the format with Scourge of the Howling Hordes, and folks have seen and used it in Expedition to Castle Ravenloft and in Cormyr. Dave Noonan created the first version of the format to use for the Dungeon Delve in the Wizards of the Coast booth at Gen Con.
A very good description of the origins and background of the format can be found in Dave's Design & Development article.
Wizards: Do you have any especially favorite encounters from the book, either in terms of design or running your groups through them? What might the PCs be wise to watch out for?
Wolfgang: My favorite encounters are all in Zelatar, the demon city. I've always wanted to revisit it since first creating it in the 2E era (in Planes of Chaos). Having Graz'zt play a role in the adventure meant that a visit was pretty much required, but it's not the sort of place that's easy for even fairly powerful PCs to run all over. Yes, demons are allowed to be ultra-violent, but visitors to the city need to be careful about who they kill, and how. It doesn't do to draw too much attention.
Gwendolyn: What I like best about the adventure is the combination of encounters. There's combat, roleplaying/social encounters, and great opportunities for stealth. To succeed, a party needs to think and assess what they're going to do. The group with a single-minded, "problem = nail, and party = hammer" approach is apt to need those scrolls of raise dead that Wolf advocated bringing. A more flexible group, able to conquer challenges using shadows or smiles as well as swords will do better and have lots of fun.
Wizards: Ultimately, the PCs might well face the Queen of Spiders herself, correct (or one of her suitably nasty representatives)? Perhaps even more terrifying, Lloth does not look to be the only Aspect presented. Who else might the PCs meet--and might there be ways to avoid combating each one?
Wolfgang: Without giving too much away, yes, a fistful of demon lord aspects are wandering around the Demonweb with some big ideas. And a party that wants to fight them all can do so (that's the beauty of using Aspects, from a design perspective). A party that wants to save their resources for a confrontation with Lolth might choose not to fight every demon lord they see; it's up to them.
Wizards: Should the PCs ultimately prevail, what rewards wait in store for them--in terms of outcomes affected, as well as more monetary gifts: new items of legacy, perhaps?
Gwendolyn: While the items of legacy come early in the adventure, but other monetary and magic treasure provide great incentives for the treasure-focused party. The challenges are exciting and the experience should be plentiful. Unfolding the story and finding out just what's going on will reward inquisitive players. But the PCs have an opportunity to save the multiverse from an unholy alliance of demons. What's a better reward than that?