Previews Archive | 9/7/2010
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September and Beyond
Bart Carroll

Hi folks,

Of all the months so far this year, August might have been the most chaotic. Seattle is not exactly known for its heat waves (or its cold snaps either, for that matter -- part of the reason I enjoy living here), and yet it felt like someone had let loose a wild pack of hell hounds to run around and barf fire on everyone. Those of you in Phoenix, San Antonio, or Atlanta will no doubt mock our vulnerability to fire, but we here are simply not equipped to handle 90+ degree days. We are delicate ice sculptures here, and we suffered terribly.

And yet Indianapolis turned out to be remarkably mild during this year's Gen Con. Don't get me wrong -- August in Indy is still hot, but I could actually walk around outside this year without the fear of melting like an Otter Pop left in the sun. Of course, it was great to meet folks well indoors as always: bloggers from Stupid Ranger, Critical Hits, Geek's Dream Girl, Loremaster, and the Tome Show among others; plus Jared von Hindman, whose D&D Outsider column has been bringing his brand of humor and cartoons to the website. The D&D Celebrity Game included some personal heroes: Ed Greenwood, R.A. Salvatore, and Larry Elmore—and three members of the audience chosen at random (which included Loremaster's Matt James). It was great fun to meet gamers at the Forgotten Realms reception, including a fellow dressed as Drizzt, and a former officer of a US Navy submarine crew. Plus, I bought new dice, picked up some geek soap, and brought back a copy of Space 1889 for my cohort Steve Winter. All in all, a wonderful four days of gaming.

Hot on its heels came PAX Prime, with the D&D-themed bus, Totally Rad Show, and the triumphant return of Acquisitions Incorporated to the gaming table, with DM Chris Perkins running the crew through "Prisoners of Slaughterfest" (and inviting audience participation in the challenges to overcome).

Oh, and a little thing called Dark Sun released. All in August.

But let's find out what's taking place in the next months…

September: D&D Minis: Lords of Madness

Here's just one of the advantages of traveling to Gen Con -- at this year's show, we revealed all the miniatures appearing in this month's Lords of Madness set. In case you missed the preview, Peter Lee has also discussed the booster pack distribution for the figures (including very rares) in his articles.

In addition, Bill Slavicsek presented the Beholder Collectors Set, first hinted in his Ampersand column, at his D&D Preview and Q&A seminar. Due out in November, the set contains four beholders, the Eye of Shadow, the Ghost Beholder, the Eye Tyrant . . . and Snowball (previously a holiday exclusive for employees).

But since we're here, let's show off at least one more mini. Personally, my favorite of the set varies between the brain-in-a-jar and Dispater, Iron Duke of Hell. Others, I know, will favor this mystery guest:

He resembles a human in general form, but only at first glance. His head is that of a hyena, his chest is canine in form, his hands are paw-like, and his feet are pawed. He is thin to the point of being skeletal, and his only body hair is a mangy crest of putrid yellow from his head to his mid-back. His skin is a dead gray in color, and it is smooth. His eyes are lambent amber and large.

Who is he?

September: Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game

As mentioned at Gen Con: Larry Elmore is the artist of the original D&D Basic Game Starter Set, also known as the "red box." The box is back (so sayeth our PAX T-shirts), and we had to use a cover illustration so very, very many of us remember as our introduction to the game.

The Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game releases this month, and in case you'd care to see its components beforehand, the Totally Rad Show posted their unboxing of it -- before their trip out here to PAX. Considering that the TRS crew met through playing D&D, they had no small interest in this latest incarnation of the red box. In it, you'll find:

  • 32-page book for players, with rules for character creation and a solo adventure
  • 64-page book for Dungeon Masters, with the rules of the game, advice on how to run the game, and adventure content
  • 2 sheets of die-cut tokens for characters and monsters
  • Cardstock character sheets and power cards
  • Double-sided dungeon map
  • 6 polyhedral dice

Now, although many of you reading these previews are already familiar with the game, the red box might be something you keep in mind for curious or fledging players. The Player's Book runs them through a choose-your-own-adventure style storyline to help determine and build their character. The DM's Book introduces them to the concept of running the game for others. Its advice, as might be expected, holds true no matter your level of DMing expertise.

The Dungeon Master has many hats to wear in the course of a game session:

  • Referee: When it's not clear what ought to happen next, the DM decides how to apply the rules and adjudicate the story.

  • Narrator: The DM sets the pace of the story and presents the various challenges and encounters the players must overcome. The DM is the player's interface to the world of the game, the one who reads (or writes) the adventure and describes what happens in response to the characters' actions.

  • Monster Player: The Dungeon Master plays the monsters and villains the adventurers battle against, choosing their actions and rolling dice for their attacks. The DM also plays the part of all the other characters the players meet in the course of their adventures, like the merchant on the road or the blacksmith in town.

Who should be the Dungeon Master for your gaming group? Whoever wants to be! The person who has the most drive to pull a group together and start up a game often ends up being the DM by default, but that doesn't have to be the case.

The role of Dungeon Master doesn't have to be a singular, ongoing, campaign-long appointment. Many successful gaming groups switch DMs from time to time. Either they take turns running campaigns, switching DM duty every few months, or they take turns running adventures and switch roles every few weeks.

The Dungeon Master controls the monsters and villains in the adventure, but the relationship between the players and the DM isn't an adversarial one. The DM's job is to provide a framework for the whole group to enjoy an exciting adventure. That means challenging the player characters with interesting encounters and tests, keeping the game moving, and applying the rules fairly.

Many Dungeons & Dragons game players find that being the Dungeon Master is the best part of the game. With the information in this book, you'll be prepared to take on that role for your group. As Dungeon Master, you are the final authority when it comes to rules questions or disputes. Here are some guidelines to help you arbitrate issues as they come up.

  • When in doubt, make it up! It's better to keep the game moving than to get bogged down in a rules argument.

  • Use skill or ability checks. When players try something not covered by the rules, have them make skill checks or ability checks to determine success. See "The Most Important Rule," page 7, for more details.

  • It's not a competition. The DM isn't competing against the player characters. You're there to run the monsters, referee the rules, and keep the story moving.

  • It's not your story. It's the group's story, so let the players contribute to the outcome through the actions of their characters. The Dungeons & Dragons game is about imagination, about coming together to tell a story as a group. Let the players participate in the storytelling.

  • Be consistent. If you decide that a rule works a certain way in one session, make sure it works that way the next time it comes into play.

  • Don't play favorites. Make sure that every character has a chance to shine. If some of your players are reticent about speaking up in the group, make sure you ask them what their characters are doing.

  • Let the players help. If you can't remember a rule, ask your players how they think it should work. Maybe one of them remembers something from the Player's Book that you had forgotten. You don't have to be the rules expert.

  • Be fair. Use your powers as Dungeon Master only for good. Treat the rules and the players in a fair and impartial manner, and everyone will have fun.

  • Pay attention. Make sure you look around the table occasionally to see if the game is going well. If everyone seems to be having fun, relax and just keep going. If the fun is waning, it might be time for a break, or you can try to liven things up a little.

  • Have fun! The Dungeons & Dragons game is a game, after all. Everyone should be at the table with the expectation of having a good time, and ready to contribute to the fun of the table.

September: Heroes of the Fallen Lands

We're going to stay a bit mum on Heroes of the Fallen Lands for the simple reason that Bill Slavicsek has taken charge of releasing preview material for each of the book's new class versions, including the following:

  • Cleric (Warpriest): Warpriests use a combination of religious dedication and keen insight to access the divine magic granted by the gods they serve. Using that magic to back up impressive martial ability, warpriests serve as the shield of their faith. Warpriests protect the innocent from marauding monsters and lead adventuring expeditions into the dark unknown. They are drawn to the borderlands between the scattered settlements of civilization and the realms of chaos. There, they attend the spiritual and military needs of the population.

  • Wizards (Mage): A mage is a specialized wizard, a spellcaster who focuses on the tenets of a particular school of magic. This specialization makes each mage distinctive. After all, a mage who casts evocation spells presents a very different picture to the world from a mage who has mastered the art of illusion or enchantment.

  • Fighter (Knight): Along the borderlands, knights are the stalwart commanders of peasant militias, caravan guards, and adventuring groups. Their cunning and skill puts them in control of the battlefield and lets them minimize the onslaught of their enemies. Rampaging monsters fear a knight above almost any other attacker. While the knight locks down a formidable foe, the other members of a party close in for the kill.

  • Fighter (Slayer): When tales are told of the most legendary warriors, slayers are the heroes those stories speak of. Slayers are elite shock troops, standing at the forefront of battle with a combination of strong armor, advanced tactical cunning, and a mastery of withering two-handed weapon attacks.

  • Rogue (Thief): A thief specializes in agility and trickery, using hard-earned skills to pilfer and hide, escape from tight situations, and overcome deadly traps. A thief has powerful combat abilities, but relies first and foremost on circumventing an enemy's defenses through acrobatics and stealth. Brute strength and arcane power have their uses, but a thief's quick reflexes and agile touch can get the drop on enemies before they know what hit them.

October: Dragon and Dungeon Magazine

What's taking place over in the magazines? Here are just a couple hints:

Next month in Dragon, look for more content on psions, wardens, and paladins; plus you can read more about elves, halflings, and devas. All this is accompanied by an article on the free side by Jared von Hindman. Also, look for information on dark legacies for your heroes, as well as new fiction by fantasy author, Paul Park: "Watchers at the Living Gate."

Over in Dungeon, Bruce Cordell further explores Gauntlgrym, the lost dwarven city featured in R.A. Salvatore's forthcoming book of that name—and there, he stumbles upon the return of the dire corby! Plus, there's a Dark Sun adventure connected to Marauders of the Dune Sea—the aptly named "Revenge of the Marauders."

October: Dungeon Master's Kit

Again, we've been disseminating our preview for the Essentials line throughout the website; James Wyatt examined the Dungeon Master's Kit in his Countdown to Essentials article. In it, he answers these questions: What do you get with your buy-in, and can you really play for months with just that investment? As James writes:

The Dungeon Master's Kit is a linchpin of the Essentials products, the first key product for a new Dungeon Master after playing the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set (the new "red box"). It covers a lot of the same ground as the Dungeon Master's Guide but comes at the material from a slightly different perspective.

The most important goal for the Dungeon Master's Kit is to provide everything a new Dungeon Master needs to run the roleplaying game.

That's a big deal, actually. It's something the game has never really tried to do before. In the past, being the DM always meant buying more stuff. If you were just playing a character in a game, you needed the Player's Handbook. If you wanted to be the DM, you needed the Player's Handbook plus the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual.

In addition, Bill Slavicsek (man, he's stealing all my thunder, isn't he!) also looked into the Dungeon Master's Kit in his Ampersand column.

October: Gamma World

An Introduction to Gamma World

In the fall of 2012, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, embarked on a new series of high-energy experiments. No one knows exactly what they were attempting to do, but a little after 3 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon came the Big Mistake. Something unexpected happened, and in the blink of an eye, many possible universes all condensed into a single reality.

In some of these universes, little had changed; it didn't make a big difference which team won the 2011 World Series, for example. In other universes, there were more important divergences: The Gray Emissary, who was carrying gifts of advanced technology, wasn't shot down at Roswell in 1947, the Black Death didn't devastate the known world in the 14th century, the dinosaurs didn't die out, Nikolai Tesla did conquer the world with a robot army, and so on. The Cold War went nuclear in 83 percent of the possible universes, and in 3 percent of the possible universes, the French unloaded their entire nuclear arsenal on the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, because it had to be done. When reality stabilized again, an instant after the Big Mistake, the familiar Earth of the 21st century was replaced by one formed from many different realities.

The year is now 2162 (or 151, or 32,173, or Six Monkey Slap-Slap, depending on your point of view). It's been a hundred and fifty years since the Big Mistake, and the Earth is a very different place. The ruins of the Ancients (that's you and me) litter a landscape of radioactive deserts, mutated jungles, and vast, unexplored wildernesses. Strange new creatures, such as beetles the size of cars and super-evolved badgers with Napoleonic complexes, roam the world. The survivors of humanity gather in primitive tribes or huddle in trade towns that rarely rise above the technology of the Dark Ages. Even the nature of humanity is now different, because generations of exposure to radiation, mutagens, and the debris of other realities have transformed humans into a race of mutants who have major physical alterations and potent mental abilities.

And so begins your introduction to the world of the D&D Gamma World Roleplaying Game. It's a world of dangerous mutant monsters, jungle-grown ruins of the cities of the Ancients, and mysterious artifacts of awesome technology. It's your world to survive, to explore, and to conquer—if you're up to the challenge. The Gamma World box includes the following:

  • 160-page rule book, which includes rules for how to play
  • Instructions for how to make characters, descriptions of monsters, and your first adventure
  • 2 two-sided battle maps
  • 4 character sheets
  • 4 sheets of tokens representing characters and monsters
  • A Game Master 's deck of 80 cards, divided into 40 Alpha Mutation cards and 40 Omega Tech cards

In addition, you'll probably want to pick up a few D&D Gamma World Booster Packs. These contain additional Alpha Mutation and Omega Tech cards. You can play the game using only the Game Master's deck, but the cards in the booster packs let you customize your character with a broader selection of powers.

Character Origins

Gamma Terra is made up of the debris of multiple fractured realities, all competing to occupy the same time-space. You're a native of this altered world, and a lucky one: You have powers and abilities bequeathed upon you by mutations, reality transpositions, and adaptation to the world left over from the initial time-space disaster. These special gifts are described by your character origin. Each Gamma World character begins play with two character origins. A character origin is a mutation, a body form, or a talent tree. Each origin has its own ladder of powers and traits, and describes what kind of character you are.

Determining Your Character Origins

To determine your two character origins, roll two d20s and consult the table below for each result. Your first roll determines your primary origin, and your second roll determines your secondary origin. If your second roll is the same as the first, then your second origin is Engineered Human (page 56).

Character Origin Table

Roll Origin Roll Origin Roll Origin
1 Android 8 Gravity Controller 15 Radioactive
2 Cockroach 9 Hawkoid 16 Rat Swarm
3 Doppelganger 10 Hypercognitive 17 Seismic
4 Electrokinetic 11 Mind Breaker 18 Speedster
5 Empath 12 Mind Coercer 19 Telekinetic
6 Felinoid 13 Plant 20 Yeti
7 Giant 14 Pyrokinetic

So what happens when you roll two origins that don't seem to go together, such as Android and Yeti, or Cockroach and Hawkoid? This might seem like a challenge, but thinking up possible explanations for why two contrary origins work together is a great chance to exercise your imagination. For example, you might combine Android and Yeti and come up with "robot bear." Maybe all the polar bears drowned, so someone decided to make robotic replacements. Or maybe you're a cyborg bear and you have had part of your body replaced by machine parts.

Here are a few examples of potential hooks for connecting two unlikely origins together.

  • Seismic and Hawkoid: You're rocky, and you fly. You're a gargoyle!
  • Giant and Cockroach: You're big and insectlike. You might be a giant beetleoid.
  • Rat Swarm and Felinoid: You're a swarm of small creatures, and you're feline in nature. Either you're a pack of kittens, or you're a swarm of rats that climbs and clings together in a panther-shaped collection of individuals.
  • Android and Plant: Oooh, a toughie. Maybe you're a robot deliberately designed to have vegetative camouflage. Or maybe you're a robot constructed from some sort of bizarre biotechnology. You might even hail from a really remote worldline where psionic masters animate golemlike servants made of plant materials.


You were made, not born.

Simulation of a living creature is implicit in your shape, though sometimes you forget to boot up your "pretend to breathe" subroutine. But are you a living being who has machine parts, or a machine who has living parts?

Appearance: Your metallic body parts draw attention before people notice one of your eyes is a flickering LED.

Android Traits

Mutant Type: Intelligence; Dark; +2 to dark overcharge.
Skill Bonus (Level 1): Gain a +4 bonus to Science checks.
Built to Last (Level 1): Gain a +2 bonus to Fortitude.
Machine Powered (Level 1): You do not need to eat, drink, or breathe.
Android Critical (Level 2 or 6): When you score a critical hit, the attack deals 1d10 extra damage, and the target grants combat advantage to you until the end of the encounter.

Android Powers

Machine Grip
Android Novice
When you get a hand on an enemy, your grip tightens like a steel-jawed vise.
At-WillDark, Physical
Standard Action Melee 1
Target: One creature
Attack: Intelligence + your level vs. Reflex
Hit: 1d10 + Intelligence modifier + twice your level physical damage, and the target is immobilized until the start of your next turn. If you move to a square that isn't adjacent to the target, the immobilization ends.

Be My Battery
Android Utility
You transform energy attacks into reserve energy you use to protect and repair yourself.
Immediate Interrupt Personal
Trigger: You take electricity, fire, laser, or radiation damage
Effect: You gain immunity to the triggering damage type until the start of your next turn. You also gain temporary hit points equal to 10 + your Intelligence modifier.

Dark Energy Meltdown
Android Expert
You've learned to harness the radioactive leakage from your power plant containment vessel to harm your foes.
EncounterDark, Radiation
Standard Action Close burst 2
Target: Each creature in burst
Attack: Intelligence + your level vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2d10 + Intelligence modifier + your level radiation damage.
Effect: The target is slowed 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 (never more true now than ever!).

About the Author

Bart Carroll was thought to be extinct until recently when this horror reappeared. He is the result of a mad wizard's experimental cross-breeding of a snapping turtle and armadillo with infusions of demons' ichor. Bart wanders temperate climates feeding on horses, men, and most other flesh—although he dislikes dwarf and shuns elf of any sort. He loves halfling and will hungrily dig them from their burrows. Bart is irascible and always hungry, and fears nothing, so he will attack a large, powerful party just to eat a horse or two.