So, here we are counting down to the end of the year. I’ll spare you my inept attempt at creating a D&D-themed Twelve Days of Christmas. (I have twelve drums of panic, eleven satyrs piping . . . and that’s about it; if you can come up with a complete version, I’d love to see it.)
For the spirit of holidays past, we’ve hung up with care Stan!’s holiday cartoons. Plus, we have our loving tribute to the Rankin-Bass classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, with our own Chest of Misfit Items. You know, that would make a pretty good setup for a Gamma World scenario, come to think of it—the Island of Misfit Omega Tech...
Speaking of Gamma World, for those of you attending the Gamma World Game Day, you might have gotten your hands on the best little piece of Omega Tech (in name, at least) to date: Dehydrated Man. I’d also recommend experimenting with this item in your D&D game. It can be the perfect addition to any odd laboratory or wizard workshop, perhaps as follows:
This jar of white powder is labeled “Powdered Alchemist—just add water!”
Effect: You summon the dehydrated man in an unoccupied square adjacent to you. It occupies 1 square. Enemies can’t move through its space, but allies can. Whenever you take a move action, you can move the man up to 6 squares as a free action.
The dehydrated man’s defenses are all 20. If a single attack deals 20 or more damage to the man, it’s destroyed. While the man is summoned, you gain a +5 bonus to Arcana, Dungeoneering, and History checks. At the end of the encounter, roll a d6. On a 1–3, the dehydrated man collapses into lifeless powder. On a 4–6, the man leaves to pursue its own goals.
Since we’re in a North Pole state of mind, there’s no better place that epitomizes that in the D&D cosmos than Icewind Dale . . . although Bruenor Battlehammer isn’t likely to grab a bag of holding anytime soon and distribute toys to all the good little girls and boys of Ten Towns.
Speaking of Ten Towns: To crib a discussion from the D&D Online boards, what are the Top 10 Towns in the game, past or present? Culling their list, I’d present the following as my own top 10 (in no particular order). Feel free to disagree with me.
- Village of Hommlet
January: Dragon and Dungeon Magazine
What’s going on in the next month of magazines? Let’s offer a quick sample from January’s Channel Divinity: Vecna (respected by my own troublesome halfling warlock, as a matter of fact, to the concern if not annoyance of his fellow party members).
Evil gods cast dark shadow across the D&D pantheon. In many people’s minds, an evil god is indistinguishable from an archdevil or demon prince. It is a being committed to evil for evil’s sake. Yet evil covers a wide range of sins, such as apathy, depravity, ambition, and fury. Some gods are traitors to their own kinds, consorting with primordials or hiding out in the Abyss where the dark magic poisons their bodies and minds. Others are evil for the spheres they control, representing conquest, murder, and greed. When it comes to Vecna, though, his evil is naked ambition.
And one of the new feats (a rather appropriate one, considering our later coverage of Heroes of Shadow):
Prerequisite: Cleric, turn undead power, you must worship Vecna
Benefit: You gain a +1 bonus to all knowledge skill checks. In addition, you replace turn undead with command undead.
You bend undead enemies to your will, compelling them to go where you direct them.
EncounterDivine, Implement, Necrotic, Shadow
Standard Action Close
burst 2 (5 at 11th level, 8 at 21st level) Target:
Each undead creature in the burst Attack:
Wisdom vs. Will
Hit: You slide the target up to a number of squares equal to 3 + your Charisma modifier. The target then becomes immobilized until the end of your next turn and each enemy adjacent to the target takes 1d10 necrotic damage.
Miss: The target is dazed until the end of your next turn.
Just look at this awesome DM Screen (click for a larger view).
Just look at it.
After the Big Mistake, everything was different. Multiple realities collapsed together, creating a single consensus reality combining nuclear devastation, robot armies, mutant conquerors, and alien invaders in an irradiated aftermath called Gamma Terra.
The year is 2162, according to the calendar of the Ancients. One hundred fifty years have shuffled by since everything changed. A landscape of radioactive deserts, ruined cities, mutated jungles, and vast unexplored wildernesses stretch across the world.
Few “pure strain” humans remain. Most folks possess a mutant quirk after generations of exposure to radiation, mutagens, and the debris of other worldlines, but these are minor blemishes; an extra thumb is nothing to write home about, especially when grandma has a third eye. A blind third eye she covers with a kerchief, but there you go.
But adventurers and monsters are a whole different breed. What poisons and degrades one creature only makes others stronger, tougher, smarter, and sometimes, extra tentacle-y.
Yes, folks, it’s the second expansion for D&D Gamma World—and this one’s set to take players bang, zoom, straight to the moon! Beyond the adventure, the expansion also includes eight new character origins (including demon, vampiric, and octopoid) and options for character vocations—in case your Gamma World hero would like a formal job title, such as soldier of fortune, mad scientist, or bounty hunter. And who doesn’t want to be a bounty hunter?
You’ll also find new monsters here (compatible with your D&D games, for insidious DMs looking to port them over): cyborgs, haunts, advanced robots, and the return of the saurians. Plus, since this is Gamma World, we also have the lornak (much different from the lorax): Take something that should have never come out of the ocean depths, let alone walked on dry earth, add some radiation, mutations, and improbable probabilities becoming probable, and you get an unimaginable horror. Yes, it’s a giant land squid.
Now, let’s look at the adventure.
You’re probably under the impression that the Moon is an airless hunk of rock.
You also might labor under the misapprehension that the Moon, whose cracked face leers down on Gamma Terra each night, is uninhabited.
Don’t you get tired of being wrong all the time?
Professor Rat knows the true nature of the Moon. He has firsthand experience, thanks to an unexpected trip in a linear accelerator surface-to-orbit ore cart, and he’s returned (or his clone has returned, at least— he’s a little fuzzy on the details) to tell the tale.
Before the Big Mistake, the Moon was a lifeless and boring place. In the current reality, the Moon has been partially terraformed and holds a thin atmosphere, akin to that of Gamma Terra at 35,000 feet. The orb is a desert of silver and white, littered with crystal alien ruins, wrecked domed bases, and forests of weird plants. It has a small frontier population—the descendants of colonists, astronauts, science station personnel, aliens, and various folks who found their way to the Moon over the years.
The Moon has several inhabited regions, including Moon Zone 9. Moon Zone 9 is historically important because it’s the home of the abandoned Apollo 11 lunar module. In some realities, that spacecraft made it possible for humanity to take its first steps on the Moon. In other realities, the humans of Earth had more advanced access, including teleport stations, linear accelerator transport, and other exotic ways to move from place to place. Of course, after the Big Mistake, most methods of transportation failed, leaving those on the Moon at the time to fend for themselves.
But, how to get back to the moon? Not to worry, Legion of Gold has those contingencies covered as well. That said, the adventure kicks off planet-side:
They come at sunset—mysterious warriors wearing armor of golden alloy. At first they numbered only a handful, but over the past two months, more and more of the marauders have appeared to terrorize the peaceful trade-towns that comprise the Barony of Horn. What they want, no one knows —the golden warriors never speak. They lay waste to farms and villages without warning. The armored raiders have dragged scores of captives off to unknown fates, vanishing into the wilds east of the Barony of Horn. The warriors are known as the Legion of Gold, and no one knows where they will strike next.
Legion of Gold is a designed for five characters of 6th or 7th level. By the adventure’s end, the characters should be 9th or 10th level. And they should be well versed on lunar exploration.
The Shadowfell is a mysterious realm that mortals fear. It is the world’s dark reflection, containing in abundance elements that most people prefer to avoid—death, darkness, and peril. The souls of the dead pass into the Shadowfell on their way to their final rest. Ghosts and other undead linger there, alongside darker creatures. But the plane of shadow also contains power for those willing to seek it and pay the price. Perhaps the call of such power appeals to you.
In the coming weeks, we’ll begin our previews for this much anticipated book. (And how could it not be anticipated? The book promises information on assassins and necromancers, among a great deal more.) Let’s first look at shadow magic before moving on to a few of the new class offerings.
Where the world is life and light, the Shadowfell is death and gloom. Where the world is growth and vitality, the Shadowfell is decay and apathy. The world, being a point of balance, holds these darker elements too. But even the Shadowfell’s lighter side is beset with such sinister components.
The darker aspects of existence embodied in the Shadowfell contain fearsome power. Any magic laced with the essence of the plane of shadow already has dread on its side. Shadow magic is the stuff of fell legends, wielded by terrible villains.
In stories it is the province of the desperate, the vicious, and the reckless. Such tales fall from the lips of the ignorant and the superstitious. Shadow magic is no more evil than any other magic. It is attractive because it can be easier to acquire than other forms of power, but it is also demanding.
Divine power requires, at least initially, devotion to an external source. Arcane magic can entail study and hard work. Martial excellence comes through difficult training and mastery of refined techniques. Psionic power hones the mind in a similar way. Shadow magic, unlike all of the foregoing, requires simple surrender.
New Paladin Build: The Blackguard
Divine Striker: You are a warrior who focuses divine power through a dark vice. You wield this vice as a weapon, using it to slay any who oppose you.
Key Abilities: Strength, Charisma
Blackguards are shadow warriors who embrace the power of what most people consider to be a vice or a dark emotion. A blackguard’s vice becomes a central focus for that individual’s divine power. Dominance and fury are among the forces that blackguards cultivate to fuel their might.
Because malevolent deities and wicked forces in the cosmos are more likely to hold a vice in esteem, most blackguards are villains. Nevertheless, blackguards who cling to higher ideals do exist. A heroic blackguard might be born when a divine soldier who tries to exemplify virtue cannot control his or her anger or some other base emotion. Such blackguards are referred to as fallen paladins.
Other heroic blackguards cleave to a vice that a non-evil religion or deity promotes as an asset, or they have learned by necessity to turn their negative tendencies into a divine focus so that they can lead productive lives.
The power of vice is alluring because it offers fewer restrictions than virtue does. Though the power comes easily, a blackguard always faces the worst temptations of his or her vice, as well as that of other negative emotions that echo the vice. Scruples can be hard to maintain in the face of such a lure. A truly heroic blackguard can never give in and take the easy path.
Heroic blackguards have a hard road to travel. Their truly immoral counterparts form orders that actively oppose virtuous knights and cavaliers. Whether or not a specific blackguard is a member of such a dark order, those same knights and cavaliers rarely understand that a person can channel divine power through a vice without becoming debased. The common people rightly fear all blackguards the same way they fear the black knights of legend. A blackguard who uses the divine power of the dreaded vices to combat evil still has difficulty finding a wide array of allies. He or she rarely enjoys a hero’s accolades.
Two new schools of magic, necromancy and nethermancy, join those presented in the Rules Compendium and Heroes of the Fallen Lands. Any wizard can choose spells from these schools. A mage can choose either school as the basis for his or her Apprentice Mage class feature.
Among the magical practices that raise the most concern are the dark, forbidden arts of necromancy and nethermancy. Both of these schools of magic entail wielding arcane energy influenced by shadow. Acquiring this knowledge is rarely as simple as tracking down a master or enrolling in an academy. Both schools are shunned among reputable wizards—few masters will admit to knowing a spell steeped in shadow, much less confess to being familiar with either school’s more profound mysteries. The rare work of scholarship is tucked away inside an ugly manuscript, jotted down in the margin of a treatise on undead and the Shadowfell, or contained in the head of a reclusive master whose true nature is best left unexplored. A shadow magic practitioner is largely a product of self-taught trial and error.
Necromancers and nethermancers are not the only wizards who use shadow magic. Many wizards who specialize in other schools have dabbled in the dark arts, incorporating shadow to some degree. The results are often sinister, eliciting questions and accusations from those who witness the use of those spells. As a result, shadow-themed spells associated with other schools have the same reputation as those found within the dark schools.
Necromancy is more widely practiced than nethermancy, but this recognition brings with it little in the way of acceptance. Necromancers and their magic are gist for terrible stories. Legends speak of mad wizards leading vast, rotting hordes, waging war against the living. These infamous figures are the rare few exceptions among necromancers, despite their prominence in the public attention.
Most necromancers have little interest in conquest, instead using their art to examine the secrets of life, death, and the connections between them. It is true that necromancers can raise undead creatures, wield dread magic that rots flesh and sunders souls, and snuff out life with a whisper. Those who defend the art offer comparisons to other magic: How, they ask, can these abilities be considered more destructive than an evoker’s fireball or more insidious than an enchanter’s mass charm? Despite their logic, such thinkers find little sympathy among the masses.
The nethermancer’s methods were devised when renegade wizards fled to the Shadowfell long ago and delved into the plane’s secrets and the malign influence found there. These original nethermancers identified shadow magic as the impetus for the Shadowfell’s creation. The strength of shadow magic derives from the dark stuff that the primordials rejected when they first gave form to substance. Nethermancers focus their efforts on extricating shadow from various environments, then blending it with arcane forces to create magical effects.
Among other manifestations, such spells excite or dull the senses, spin creatures from raw shadow, and punch holes through reality to allow swift passage.
Summon Shadow Servant: Using this spell, necromancers and nethermancers summon servants from the realm of the dead, creatures that can accompany their masters until dismissed or destroyed. Because of this fact, such a wizard is rarely seen without a shadowy creature at his or her side.
Summon Shadow Servant
Wizard Attack 5
The shadows swirl and coalesce into a dark creature that awaits your command.
DailyArcane, Shadow, Summoning
Minor Action Ranged
You must have the Expert Mage benefit associated with necromancy or nethermancy.
Effect: You summon a creature associated with your necromancy or nethermancy Expert Mage benefit. The creature appears in an unoccupied space within range, and it is an ally to you and your allies.
The creature lacks actions of its own. Instead, you spend actions to command it mentally, choosing from the actions in the creature’s description. You must have line of effect to the creature to command it. When you command the creature, the two of you share knowledge but not senses.
When the creature makes an attack roll or a check, you make the roll using your game statistics, not including any temporary bonuses or penalties.
The creature lasts until it drops to 0 hit points, at which point you lose a healing surge (or hit points equal to your surge value if you have no surges left). Otherwise, it lasts until you use a minor action to dismiss it or until you use this power again.
Necromancy: Shadow Skeleton: A shadow skeleton, formed from shadows and the bones of the dead, is adept at hitting enemies that don’t take it as a serious threat.
Medium shadow animate (undead)
HP your bloodied value; Healing Surges none, but you can expend a healing surge for the skeleton if an effect allows it to spend one
Defenses your defenses, not including any temporary bonuses or penalties
Immune disease, poison
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); your level + 6 vs. AC
Hit: 2d8 + your Intelligence modifier damage, and the target cannot shift until the end of its next turn.
Effect: The skeleton either crawls, runs, stands up, shifts, squeezes, or walks.
Trigger: An enemy adjacent to the skeleton takes an action that provokes opportunity attacks.
Effect: The skeleton makes its standard action attack against the triggering enemy, with a +2 bonus to the attack roll and the damage roll.
Nethermancy: Shadow Beast: A quasi-real monstrosity bearing the features of various creatures, a shadow beast is a dependable ally in combat, and it throws off a burst of gloom whenever it takes damage.
HP your healing surge value; Healing Surges none, but you can expend a healing surge for the beast if an effect allows it to spend one
Defenses your defenses, not including any temporary bonuses or penalties
Speed 6 (8 while charging); phasing
Attack: Melee 2 (one creature); your level + 4 vs. Reflex
Hit: 2d8 + Intelligence modifier necrotic damage, and the target takes a –2 penalty to attack rolls until the end of its next turn.
Effect: The beast either crawls, runs, stands up, shifts, squeezes, or walks.
Trigger: The beast takes damage from an attack. Effect: The beast creates a zone in a close burst 1. The zone is heavily obscured and lasts until the start of your next turn.
Well, folks -- that's this month's sneak peeks. As always, be sure to check our excerpts for individual previews from our books, and Bill Slavicsek's Ampersand column for the earliest insights and announcements about the game.
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.