Previews Archive | 2/4/2010
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February and Beyond
Bart Carroll

By the time you read this, some fairly major news will have been announced. As revealed at D&D Experience, an incredible lineup of products is slated to hit the shelves in the final third of 2010 -- two of which we'll reiterate here, in case you missed them:

September 2010

The Essential Dungeons & Dragons Starter
Mike Mearls, Bill Slavicsek, and James Wyatt
Designed for 1-5 players, this boxed game contains everything needed to start playing the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game, including rules for creating heroes, advice for playing the Dungeon Master, a solo play adventure, and group-play adventure content. Learning the game has never been so easy! Several different character races (dwarf, elf, halfling, and human) and classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard) are presented, along with powers for each race and class.

October 2010

D&D Gamma World
Richard Baker and Bruce R. Cordell
Earth. After the apocalypse. Never mind the radiation -- you're gonna like it here.
The D&D Gamma World Roleplaying Game offers hours of rollicking entertainment in a savage land of adventure, where the survivors of some mythical future disaster must contend with radioactive wastes, ravaged cities, and rampant lawlessness. Against a nuclear backdrop, heroic scavengers search crumbled ruins for lost artifacts while battling mutants and other perils.

That's right, folks -- 4th Edition D&D is getting both its own Red Box set and Gamma World! Be sure to take a look at the online product catalog for the rest of the goodness coming throughout the year. In the meantime, here are some in-depth looks at the more recent game products coming your way shortly!

In case you missed them, more about these coming products are discussed in our D&D XP Seminar podcasts:

2010 D&D Product Overview

Click on the link to listen to the file in your browser, or right-click Save As to download to your computer. (23.2 Mbs, 48:17 minutes)

D&D: Beyond the RPG

Click on the link to listen to the file in your browser, or right-click Save As to download to your computer. (26.9 Mbs, 57:24 minutes)

February: Martial Power 2

You've seen a fair bit of the book's new options for rangers, rogues, fighters, and warlords in our online excerpts (some of which were decided by you in News Digest polls). Feats, epic destinies, and two key options for the martial power source -- combat styles and martial practices -- are also being shown off in the very near future.

Today, let's move a bit from the mechanical additions and show off some of the storytelling flavor; specifically, new backgrounds for your martial characters:


The following material expands on the background system presented in Player's Handbook 2, with a focus on society and occupation backgrounds. These backgrounds give you a variety of archetypes on which to base your character's personality and motivation.

You should select a background that appeals to whatever aesthetic you have in mind for your character, whether it's the quiet, steely warrior who has seen countless battles, the gallant youth who has discovered a talent with the sword through a few local skirmishes with goblins, or any one of a hundred other possibilities.


Some backgrounds are specifically aimed at martial characters. These backgrounds provide an explanation for how your character developed his or her martial prowess. An example would be:

Garrison Child
You are the child of military parents who lived in a garrison. Your parents spent your youth drilling and going on patrol, so you were often unsupervised. You might have passed idle days training with soldiers in the garrison, tending the animals, sharpening weapons, or you could have spent your time running amok. Perhaps you resented your parents and constantly stirred up trouble for them with your shenanigans. Whether forced or out of willingness, though, you learned to wield weapons and defend yourself. Over time, maybe your skill even exceeded that of your parents. When the time came to depart, did you leave the garrison full of resentment, or were you fulfilling a sense of duty or obligation to your parents after they disappeared or met with a grisly end?
Associated Skills: Athletics, History


Martial characters usually have backgrounds that entail the use of their bodies for feats of strength or dexterity. An example would be:

Circus Performer
You were born into the circus and grew up among acrobats, performers, magicians, and animals. In your formative years, you showed a knack for feats of strength or dexterity, so you began learning from the performers. Living among the members of the circus made you tolerant of people who had alternative lifestyles. Although you never received a formal education, you learned many useful skills from the motley members of the circus. Your upbringing has left you with wanderlust, and it is this feeling that has driven you to explore a life as an adventurer.
Associated Skills: Acrobatics, Thievery


The society background element in Player's Handbook 2 describes social and economic status in the broadest terms. Additional backgrounds tell more specific stories about your character's social origin; for example:

You grew up on the streets and learned everything you know in filthy alleys, backroom brawls, and rooftop gang fights. As a youngster you were fascinated by the culture of the bravo, the rake, and the duelist. In time, you earned a reputation as a hellion, showing a capacity for being tough and improvisational in a fight. You ran the streets and roofs, engaging in duels and brawls with other hellions. You are one with the night, and you revel in the thrills of street life. You evade guards and rivals by using your knowledge of the city, and when you fight, it's always on your terms. Above all, you live for excitement.
Associated Skills: Acrobatics, Athletics

March: Dragon and Dungeon Magazines

What's in store for subscribers next month? Plenty. Over in Dragon Magazine, look for magic item rituals, which are ". . . tied intimately to the magical power of enchanted items. Using only the item as a focus and no components, a ritual caster can enact magic centered on the purpose or history of the item." Plus, Class Acts material for shaman, sorcerers, and swordmages (among others; those just had a nice alliteration); Winning Races on devas and half-elves; a look at minotaur communities; metallic dragonborn… and assassin hybrids!

And in Dungeon, you'll see a new Codex of Betrayal on Geryon, Creature Incarnations on fomorians, and a Realmslore covering the Moonsea. Plus, new Chaos Scar adventures, the Cross-City Race, and a little Keep out on the Borderlands.

March: Player's Handbook 3

Last month, we merely offered hints and veiled knowledge. This month, let's show off something from the book, shall we? As most folks know, Player's Handbook 3 brings psionic power back to the game, so here's the book's psionic source presented (followed by a few choice magical tidbits making use of its mechanics).

"The Far Realm is a disease, and we are its cure."

Long ago, before the Dawn War between the gods and the primordials changed the face of the universe, a gateway lay hidden in the depths of the Astral Sea, a Living Gate that slept through the ages. A powerful being, said to be neither god nor primordial but kin to both, guarded the Living Gate so that none could open it or peer into the madness beyond.

An often-forgotten legend describes how three gods came to the Living Gate. Pelor, who shined light into all shadows, first found the gate, though he later wished he had not. Ioun, whose mind hungered to understand all things, awoke the sleeping gate.

And a third, nameless god, who feared no danger and doubted all authority, distracted the guardian so that all three gods could catch a glimpse through the Living Gate. The three gods left, changed by the knowledge they had gained and linked by a terrible secret, and swore never to seek the gate again or share what they had seen.

Through many long ages the Living Gate rested peacefully. Even as the Dawn War sundered the fabric of the Astral Sea and its dominions, the gate's guardian kept it shut. As the war raged on, however, one of the three gods who had peered beyond the gate broke the shared vow they had all sworn, returned to the gate, and killed the guardian. Probably it was the nameless god, for it is hard to imagine Pelor or Ioun doing anything so foolish or malign. In any event, the Living Gate awoke from its eons of sleep . . . and opened.

The alien creatures and defiling energy of the Far Realm erupted into reality, and its terrors emerged across the Astral Sea and spilled into the world. Many astral realms were consumed, forcing the gods to turn their attention away from the Dawn War and defend their homes. Finally, Ioun and Pelor shattered the Living Gate, sealing the passage to the Far Realm and protecting the fabric of reality, although at the cost of Pelor's verdant dominion. It was at that time, sages in the world's oldest monasteries claim, that the gods' mortal servants first learned to harness psionic power. Monks dedicated to Ioun learned to harness the tiny fragments of psionic power set loose in the world as a result of the Far Realm incursion. Through rigorous discipline and self-control, monks trained themselves to access this rare and mysterious power.

Some speculate that psionic magic is a force that originates in the Far Realm and came into the universe with the sundering of the Living Gate. Others, including most practitioners of psionic ways, believe that their power is the world's response to the intrusion of the Far Realm, similar to a mortal body's reaction to disease. Perhaps Ioun herself learned the mysteries of the psionic way when she peered through the Living Gate, and foreseeing a future incursion of Far Realm monstrosities into the world, she taught her mortal followers the use of psionics so that they might have a defense prepared.

In more recent years, the presence of the Far Realm has had an increasing influence on the world. Perhaps Pelor and Ioun failed to completely seal the rift where the Living Gate once stood, and the passage of uncounted centuries has allowed the slow seepage of the Far Realm's defiling energy into the universe. Or perhaps another rift has opened, allowing aberrant monstrosities to stream into the world and spread their corruption. Whatever the cause, the heightened presence of Far Realm energy has provoked a stronger response from the psionic forces of the world, making psionic magic more common, stronger, and easier to control.

Monks continue to study their disciplined techniques of harnessing psionic magic as though it were still a precious resource to be husbanded. Psions share a similar approach, using careful study and rigorous self-control to measure and direct the powerful stream of psionic magic at their command. Ardents and battleminds, though, seem to acquire psionic powers at the whim of the universe, channeling their power with little effort and carrying it on the tides of their emotions.

Psionic characters aren't necessarily driven by a knowledge of their purpose in the defense of the world or their place in Ioun's visions of the future. Most of them begin their careers with the same sorts of motivations that drive other adventurers: a thirst for revenge, a desire to protect their villages, a hunger for gold or glory, or simple wanderlust. Depending on your DM's campaign, your psionic character might have a very different role to play in protecting the world -- defending it, perhaps, against a demonic invasion or the reawakening of slumbering primordials.

However, the various psionic philosophies all agree on one thing: by simply practicing psionic magic, you are increasing the world's ability to defend itself against the Far Realm.

Feedback Armor
Level 4+
Crackling psychic energy cascades around you, flaring outward when you make a mental assault on a foe.
Lvl 4 +1 840 gp
Lvl 9 +2 4,200 gp
Lvl 14 +3 21,000 gp
Lvl 19 +4 105,000 gp
Lvl 24 +5 525,000 gp
Lvl 29 +6 2,625,000 gp
Armor: Cloth, leather
Enhancement: AC
Power (Daily Augmentable, Psychic): Free Action.
Trigger: You use a psychic power. Effect: Each creature adjacent to you takes 1d6 psychic damage and is pushed 1 square.
Augment 2: The psychic damage increases to 2d6.
Augment 4: The psychic damage increases to 3d6.

Psychokinetic Weapon
Level 2+
A single thought sends this weapon leaping from your hand to strike a distant foe.
Lvl 2 +1 520 gp
Lvl 7 +2 2,600 gp
Lvl 12 +3 13,000 gp
Lvl 17 +4 65,000 gp
Lvl 22 +5 325,000 gp
Lvl 27 +6 1,625,000 gp
Weapon: Any melee
Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls
Critical: +1d8 damage per plus
Power (Encounter Augmentable): Standard Action. Make a ranged basic attack using this weapon, even if it doesn't have the light thrown or the heavy thrown property. The weapon returns to your hand after the attack.
Augment 2: The attack deals 1[W] extra damage.

Ki Focuses

A ki focus is an implement that certain classes use as a focus for their inner magical energy, known as their ki. A ki focus might take the form of a training manual, a scroll of ancient secrets, or a blunt training weapon. To use a ki focus, you must first attune yourself to it. Some characters study their ki focus to attune themselves to it. Others meditate with it or wield it as they practice their fighting techniques.

Once you have attuned yourself to a ki focus, you must either wear or hold it to use it as an implement.

When you attune yourself to a ki focus, you draw on magic within it to shape your ki. This attunement is temporary, fading away if you attune yourself to a different ki focus or if you die. The ki focus that you're attuned to occupies your ki focus item slot.

To attune yourself to a ki focus, you must have the item on your person during a short or an extended rest. Whenever you take a rest, you can attune yourself to a ki focus in your possession, but you can be attuned to only one ki focus at a time. Also, only one creature at a time can be attuned to a particular ki focus. Once you attune yourself to a ki focus, no one else can attune to it until you are no longer attuned to it.

If you can use a ki focus as an implement, you follow the normal rules for implement use. Being able to use a ki focus as an implement means you can also use it with your weapon attacks. You can add its enhancement bonus to the attack rolls and the damage rolls of weapon attacks you make using a weapon with which you have proficiency. However, you must choose to use the enhancement bonus, properties, and powers of the ki focus, rather than the weapon you're wielding, or vice versa. You can't use both when you use a power.

Ghost Strike Ki Focus
Level 2+
This white orb seems little more than a worthless bauble, but when you focus on it, you see paths where the dead walk.
Lvl 2 +1 520 gp
Lvl 7 +2 2,600 gp
Lvl 12 +3 13,000 gp
Lvl 17 +4 65,000 gp
Lvl 22 +5 325,000 gp
Lvl 27 +6 1,625,000 gp
Implement (Ki Focus)
Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls
Critical: +1d6 damage per plus
Property: Whenever you make a melee attack against an insubstantial creature granting combat advantage to you, the attack ignores the insubstantial quality.

March: Dungeon Tiles: Harrowing Halls

What's especially cool about our latest set of dungeon tiles? How about the fact that two sheets of the set offer three-dimensional terrain elements, allowing you to create platforms, staircases, and other dungeon fixtures (such as this tile, which you might have a very specific use for when Tomb of Horrors releases later this summer).

Other tiles bring you into the halls:

And present gorgeous interior locations once inside:

April: Hammerfast

Mike Mearls mentioned his design of this mini-setting, in our "A Look Back . . . and Forward!" podcast episode. Hammerfast presents a fully detailed, ready-to-use dwarven town, complete with secret locations, maps, adventure hooks, monster and NPC statistics, ready-to-play encounters, and a full-color, double-sided battle map. The book is perfect for Dungeon Masters looking for an intrigue-laden adventure location that fits instantly and easily into their existing D&D campaigns.

Of course, that's what the catalog has to say about Hammerfast. Here's what the book itself has in the way of introduction:

Welcome to Hammerfast

"Assault on persons living or dead without just cause is grounds for prosecution."
-- Warning posted at the Trade Gate, Hammerfast

History walks the streets of Hammerfast in the form of the dead, the dwarves and orcs who died in this place over a century ago. They are now ghosts consigned to wander Hammerfast's streets until the end of days. Hammerfast was once a necropolis, a city of tombs where the dwarf lords interred their people. As the dwarves' wealth grew, so too did their burial chambers change from simple, stone sepulchers to lavish treasure houses filled the material wealth garnered over a lifetime.

Hammerfast transformed from a graveyard, to a treasure house, to a target. A century ago the great Bloodspear orc tribe conquered the necropolis, but at a heavy price. The orcs killed the priests and warriors tasked with guarding it and set to loot the place, but learned that the dwarves' burial chambers yielded their treasures only grudgingly. The necropolis held street after street of unmarked tombs, some riddled with traps, many empty, and only a few containing great treasure. The orcs grew weary of their losses and left Hammerfast, content to have butchered its guards and captured a few of its treasures.

In time, the dwarves returned to Hammerfast. The orcs had smashed their citadels, famine and plague grew thick across the land, and horrid monsters and raiders followed in the Bloodspears' wake. In the face of such chaos, the dwarves made a fateful decision. Hammerfast had fallen only because its garrison was too small to hold back a great army. Why waste such fine fortifications on the dead? They had no use for it, as the orcs had already carried off many of their treasures. The ever practical dwarves transformed Hammerfast from a city of the dead to a city of the living. Since that time, it has grown into the largest and richest settlement in the Nentir Vale.

Yet while Hammerfast has changed, its past lingers on. The remaining, sealed tombs stand untouched on pain of death by decree of the ruling council. Ghosts, some of orc warriors slain in the Bloodspear attack on the city, some of priests of Moradin and the necropolis's doomed guardians, and even a few of the dwarves laid to rest here long ago, still walk the streets. Such creatures are full citizens of Hammerfast as long as they observe the rule of law. In a sacred compact struck with Moradin and Gruumsh, the town's founders agreed to respect the dead and defend their resting places in return for the right to settle here.

Welcome to Hammerfast!

Hammerfast's Three Unique Traits

There are three key points to what makes Hammerfast a unique location.

  • Hammerfast is a city where the living dwell among the dead. The buildings are converted tombs and sepulchers, cleared of rubble and refurbished to serve as homes and businesses.
  • The dead must rest. Some of the tombs remain sealed. Their treasures are a powerful lure for adventurers, but raiding such a tomb is punishable by death. In some of the inhabited tombs, secret doors to forgotten passages and chambers await discovery.
  • The dwarves must endure the presence of orcs. As per the divine compact that created the town, Gruumsh demanded that his dead be honored, too, by a temple devoted to his power.

April: The Plane Above: Secrets of the Astral Sea

On the Astral Sea, characters face off against angels, devils, githyanki, and even the gods and their exarchs while exploring dungeons, raiding astral galleons, and establishing themselves as demigods. This game supplement builds on the overview of the Astral Sea presented in the Manual of the Planes game supplement and explores the heavenly plane in greater detail. From the cavernous layers of Nine Hells to the dark dungeons of Tytherion, adventure awaits in every astral dominion and on the vast, uncharted sea that stretches between them.

But what precisely is the Astral Sea you ask? The Astral Sea . . .

. . . is a former battlefield still ravaged by the cosmic conflict known as the Dawn War.

. . . is the home of the gods.

. . . is the setting for many separate afterlives for mortal worshipers of the gods.

. . . is the home of many native mortal races whose goals will shape the characters' adventures.

. . . is most suited to paragon- and epic-tier adventures.

Astral Vehicles

The five vessels that player characters are most likely to use to sail the Astral Sea are the astral clipper and astral schooner detailed in The Plane Above, and the astral skiff, planar dromond, and spelljammer detailed in Manual of the Planes.

Astral vessels aren't necessarily for sale in every port of the Astral Sea. Hestavar and the Daybreak Islands are the most likely place to find a full selection of vehicles for sale. The ports of Starhallow and Luethvar generally have a full selection of astral vessels available. Other ports in the Foothills or the Green Isles usually have at least one vessel for sale, even if it's just a broken-down skiff at full price.

Of course, the time-honored method of acquiring a better vessel by seizing it from the first astral pirates who make the mistake of attacking you is still the most cost-efficient method -- so, yes, absolutely, The Plane Above provides stats for these new ships, as well as rules and options for ship-to-ship combat, including chasing, conquering enemy vessels, and repelling boarding attempts. Plus, as noted above, you'll have plenty of new monstrous enemies to face in addition to astral vessels -- a description of just a few of which follow:

Indwelling Devil

Twisted dark spirits who scour unsuspecting souls, the indwelling devil is the unseen puppet master of the Nine Hells. They know all and see all, making excellent spies throughout the planes. Their true mission is to hunt down souls that escape from the Hells.

Githyanki Sword Stalker

The silver sword is a sacred item to the githyanki. Some silver swords possess fragments of astral detritus, giving them the power to banish aberrations from existence. Should a silver sword fall into the hands of nongithyanki, a small but elite cadre of githyanki knights known as the sword stalkers is tasked with recovering the weapon. The sword stalkers are trained to cross the Astral Sea, travel to other planes, and even delve into the dens of their hated mind flayer enemies to recover a lost sword.

For the sword stalkers, recovering a silver sword is more than just a matter of pride; it's about retrieving one of the most precious weapons in the githyanki arsenal that will be used in the final battles of the Eternal Crusade -- battles that many githyanki believe will take place in the Far Realm itself.


Vlaakith CLVII, the leader of the githyanki, is far more than the simple heir to the githyanki throne. Long ago, Vlaakith performed a ritual to transform herself into a lich, securing an extended lifespan and making herself the longest reigning Vlaakith in the githyanki's history. The Lich-Queen of the githyanki is a being of supreme power, who has not only secured her throne through undeath, but also by eliminating any rivals before they get too powerful.

More frightening than her immense power as a lich and ruling tyrant is the fact that Vlaakith is in pursuit of divine apotheosis. Vlaakith hopes to channel the energy of the dead god upon which Tu'narath is built to become a goddess herself. In recent years, she has taken steps to transition the githyanki into a society that will accept her as their goddess; she has already put a priest caste in place (the ghustil), and has her loyal duthka'gith servants spreading throughout Tu'narath and the Astral Sea in preparation for the quelling of any rebellion that might spring up. Through the madness that she has fallen into after centuries of undeath, Vlaakith believes that, through her own willpower and the strength of new githyanki castes she has created, the githyanki will come to worship her as other races do their own gods.

Unfortunately for her, Vlaakith has underestimated both the resourcefulness and the conviction of her enemies. Already, many rebellious githyanki have made attempts to bring down the Lich-Queen, though so far all have been unsuccessful. To prevent such dissent from spreading, Vlaakith created a caste of loyal inquisitors who call themselves the Ch'r'ai, and has ordered them to seek out and destroy any that would oppose her. Vlaakith has become even more of a tyrant as her apotheosis approaches, and many githyanki fear that she will destroy or enslave their race before her plan runs its course.

May: HS1: The Slaying Stone

A cold wind whips sleet at you and tears at your cloaks. The moon is shrouded behind a gray haze, and you hear wolves baying in the dark woods all around. Against the dusky sky, you can just make out the shadow of a low tower. A lantern burns in one of its windows and begins to sway, beckoning you toward the safety of shelter.

A standalone adventure for 1st-level characters, HS1 centers around the city of Kiris Dahn -- built by human hands, it stood strong against invaders for decades. They had magical stones -- created by tiefling artisans -- that could kill anyone who attacked the city. The number of stones dwindled until all were spent.

Eight years ago, the citizens of Kiris Dahn abandoned the city when faced with invading goblin hordes. The city had endured a long decline under the rule of the Kiris family, and the citizens scattered rather than follow their ruler, Kiris Alkirk. Along with his advisor and seer Treona, Alkirk found a place to live in obscurity.

The goblins overran the city and renamed it Gorizbadd. The city quickly fell into ruin, since goblins were far more interested in vandalism than proper maintenance. A faction of kobolds took over the slums, since the goblins mostly live in what were once residences for the wealthier people of Kiris Dahn.

Recently, Treona discovered old records that indicate one slaying stone still remains. She now looks for powerful individuals to recover it.

And that's this month's sneak peek! As always, be sure to check our excerpts for individual previews from our books, and Bill Slavicsek's Ampersand for the earliest insights and announcements about the game!

About the Author

Bart Carroll is most frequently found underground, although he infrequently will lair in desolate wildernesses. The globular body of the author is supported by levitation, and he floats slowly about as he wills. Atop the sphere are 10 eyestalks, while in his central area are a great eleventh eye and a large mouth filled with pointed teeth. His body is protected by a hard chitinous covering. The author's eyestalks and eyes are also protected, although less well. Because of his particular nature, Bart is able to withstand the loss of his eyestalks which will eventually grow back (1 week per lost member).

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