Previews Archive | 7/5/2011
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July and Beyond
Bart Carroll

Hi folks,

Before showing off this month's previews, I have a few updates on some of the things we've been working on recently.

Cartoon Update

In Design & Development, we've been discussing our experiment of bringing cartoons to the website. June saw the Epic Campain series, which was published on Mondays and Wednesdays. We also have had additional cartoons published Fridays, which included O and Dern's Alignments, Jason Thompson's The Keep on 16th and Valencia, and Peter Lazarski's Misfit Monsters. As we've mentioned in the past, we wanted to see if you, our readers, were interested in having the cartoons become part of your website experience, and we also wanted to know which cartoons held the most interest for you.

We're still in the early stages of this experiment, but I wanted to fill you in a little further on our plans. First of all, the first Epic Campain series was intended to run through June. The response has been very positive, and we're planning a second series to run through August. In July, we'd like to fill our Monday/Wednesday/Friday cartoon slots with different artists to help showcase a bit of variety. So in the coming days, look for new cartoons from Micah Farritor, Elizabeth Torque, Scott Taylor & Jeff Laubenstein -- as well as Stan! As always, send us your thoughts and feedback.

Creature Competition Update

Earlier in our Creature Competition: Hybrids process, we challenged you to send us your new hybrid creature concepts so that we could select sixteen of them to populate the next bracket. The submission process has now ended (as of June 17th), and we're in the process of judging the entries. We hope to have a selection ready and a bracket populated so that we can start the voting process in the very near future (including more robust polling, as well). That said, you've made it difficult. We've seen some truly original entries, and in a contest like this, a sense of the bizarre feels appropriate.

For instance, we have the were-chimera (which creature will it transform into?), the half-bat/half-honey badger (it don't give a guano), and the cannibal cow. In the case of the latter, some say a wizard crossed a bull and a lion in a fit of magical animal husbandry to create this creature, and some say it came into being when a barbarian tribe held a yurt raising that went too far…

And that's just a select few. How we love a good hybrid!


July: Fortune Cards: Neverwinter

Looking to add Fortune Cards to your game? In case you need a refresher on the rules, here's how they work:

At the start of each encounter, shuffle your deck and draw a card.

You can play one card per round. It requires no action to play. The rules on each card state when you can play it and what effect it has. A card takes effect just once unless it states otherwise, and you discard the card when its effect ends.

You can have only one D&D Fortune Card in your hand at a time. At the start of each of your turns, you can do one of the following:

  • Discard the card in your hand and draw a new one.
  • Draw a new card if you don't have one in your hand.
  • Keep the card that's in your hand if you haven't played it.

When you have no cards remaining in your deck, reshuffle it.

We've also discussed optional ways to include Fortune Cards in your game (thanks to the blogging community for their advice and suggestions). But what we really want to highlight are the new cards, right? Have a gander:




July: Ebooks

With our novels releasing on the first Tuesday of each month, that means our most recent set of novels are now available in ebook form.

Gauntlgrym: Neverwinter Book I

When one of his oldest friends, Bruenor Battlehammer, chooses to spend his final days searching for the fabled dwarf kingdom of Gauntlgrym, Drizzt readily agrees. But before Drizzt and Bruenor even get close to finding the lost city, the dwarf assassin Athrogate, black-widow elf Dahlia, and Drizzt's old nemesis Jarlaxle stumble upon it first. In their search for riches and magic, the three treasure hunters inadvertently set into motion a catastrophe that could spell disaster for the unsuspecting people of the city of Neverwinter -- a catastrophe big enough to set even the mercenary Jarlaxle into risking his own coin and skin to stop it.

Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road

The witch Ilvani's nightmares of a storm and a suffering soul are luring shadow monsters into the shadar-kai city of Ikemmu, bent on hunting her down and killing her for reasons no one can ascertain.

Gamma World: Red Sails in the Fallout

Between a desert and a dried-up sea lies the town of Watering Hole, the only oasis for miles and the home of our intrepid heroes Shaani and Xoota. After some rather harrowing adventures in the desert, they are followed home by a swarm of empathic earwigs. As if a psychic bug infestation wasn't enough, the town's water supply has suddenly evaporated. Where there was once fresh water to spare, there is now only a trickle of brackish sludge. Theorizing that the water came from a source beyond the desert, Shaani proposes an expedition to replenish the town's water supply. Xoota, of course, is named to go with her. Crossing the desert has never been done -- and with water in short supply, the task seems impossible. But the ever-helpful Shaani appeals to the town patron Benek, and his love of cryogenically frozen brides, to back the project. What follows is the adventure of a thousand lifetimes.


August: Neverwinter Campaign Setting

Here it is: the Neverwinter Campaign Setting! Take a look at the description from the product catalog:

Reduced to ruins by supernatural cataclysms, Neverwinter rises from the ashes to reclaim its title as the Jewel of the North. Yet even as its citizens return and rebuild, hidden forces pursue their own goals and vendettas, any one of which could tear the city apart.

Neverwinter has long been one of the most popular locations in the Forgotten Realms campaign world. This book presents a complete heroic-tier campaign setting that plunges players into the politics, skullduggery, and peril of a city on the brink of destruction or greatness. A wealth of information about Neverwinter and its environs is provided: maps, quests, encounters, and statistics -- everything a Dungeon Master needs for his or her heroic tier adventures.

Nine Hallmarks of a Neverwinter Campaign

Instead of presenting the details of a setting in stasis, the Neverwinter Campaign Setting assumes that the DM will customize the setting and create new plots. The campaign is designed so that players become deeply involved in it and so that player choices drive the story at every turn. What the player characters decide to do -- from 1st level until the final moments of the campaign -- matters to them, the people of the North, and perhaps those people far beyond the area.

The Neverwinter Campaign Setting accomplishes this in a number of ways. The following characteristics -- taken from the first chapter of the book -- encapsulate the means used to make this a fantastic campaign to play as DM or player.

1. Low Level

While the vast majority of the campaign material can be used regardless of level, the Neverwinter Campaign Setting focuses on providing challenges the adventurers can face and overcome during the heroic tier. Having the threats they face all be within reach of characters from level 1 to 10 means that the campaign can center on events in the area for all those levels, and it allows the characters to follow many different plots and still meet villains appropriate to their level.

2. Character Themes

Players can bring existing characters to Neverwinter, but the Neverwinter Campaign Setting presents a great opportunity to start a new campaign. Newly created characters should make use of the character themes presented in Chapter 2. Designed specifically for this campaign, the character themes embroil the heroes in the plot lines of the setting from 1st level, giving each player background information and motivation to engage in the campaign's events.

3. Characters Make a Difference

The heroes in a Neverwinter campaign can make a difference and change things, for good or ill. This is not a setting where the adventurers are stuck facing flunkies of the villain because their enemy is an epic-level threat. The legendary villains of the setting are designed to be within the reach of heroic tier play, and the famous heroic nonplayer characters who might otherwise interfere are offstage. Whether they like it or not, the adventurers are on their own, and what they decide to do matters.

4. Frontier Feel

The destruction of Neverwinter made the North into more of a wilderness than it has been in centuries. People rebuild the city, but law's reach is not long and order's grasp remains weak. Things as simple as the shipments of food to the city can become sources of desperate conflict and dire events. In such a place, individuals such as the player characters can be the linchpin that holds everything together or the factor that forces the wheels to come off the cart.

5. Intrigue Abounds

Everyone wants something: the characters, normal folk, secret cults, rebels, mercenaries, invaders, assassins, conquerors, looters, would-be kings. The Neverwinter Campaign Setting presents many organizations and nonplayer characters with a multitude of plans. The heroes can interact with all these groups, discovering secret ploys, allying with some, making enemies of others, and playing them against one another or taking them all on. Allies can become enemies and enemies can become friends; it's up to the players to decide.

6. Myriad Possibilities

The setting doesn't put you in a straitjacket of interwoven plots. It's designed to encourage improvisation and for the campaign to move in whatever direction the characters push it. To this end, sidebars throughout the book provide ideas for how events might play out. They frequently offer adventure hooks. And they might provide different interpretations of events or alternative goals for factions in the game. In all cases, don't take the suggestions in these sidebars as facts.

Instead, use them as you will. You might find ideas in them perfect for your campaign, or they might provide inspiration for your own ideas.

7. The Story Goes On

Many settings describe the world as it is and make it seem like it will always be that way. The important individuals are necessary to the setting and forever out of reach of the player characters. The Neverwinter Campaign Setting turns this situation on its head by presenting a world in flux where things are changing every day. If the characters do nothing, something will still happen. If they go after and kill the big names in the setting, the story doesn't end -- it gets more interesting.

8. Adventure Is Everywhere

No matter which direction the characters turn or what clues they follow, another adventure or intrigue lies just around the corner. The characters' allies and enemies in the setting have agendas that entwine, and events the heroes don't keep their eye on might suddenly interrupt their lives. Characters in this setting shouldn't be twiddling their thumbs wondering if an adventure will come their way. Instead the heroes will need to make tough decisions about what quest to accomplish, and while trying to end one adventure, they'll encounter many others.

9. Neverwinter and Beyond

The adventure doesn't stop at Neverwinter's crumbling walls. The tangled plots of the campaign might draw the heroes to explore the wilds of the North, to plunge into the gloom of the Shadowfell, to discover the lost dwarven kingdom of Gauntlgrym, and even travel to far-flung and magic-steeped Thay.

Excerpts for the Neverwinter Campaign Setting are scheduled to kick off next week, on July 11th, starting with a look at character themes. We'll cover one of these themes in depth, but for now here's a look at all the themes this setting offers.

Neverwinter Character Themes

Theme Description Class Prerequisite Race Prerequisite
Neverwinter noble A true heir to Neverwinter -- Human
Oghma’s faithful Gifted with divine visions -- --
Harper agent A betrayed Harper trying to win the trust of the organization -- --
Dead Rat deserter A former thieves’ guild member -- Human, half-elf, or halfling
Iliyanbruen guardian An eladrin returned from Faerie -- Eladrin
Uthgardt barbarian A savage warrior seeking revenge -- Human
Pack outcast Cast out of a pack of werewolves -- Human or shifter
Heir of Delzoun Blood relative of ancient dwarf kings -- Dwarf
Renegade Red Wizard A Red Wizard no longer in service to Thay Wizard (mage) --
Scion of shadow A noble of Netheril who has abandoned that land -- Human, shadar-kai, or shade
Devil’s pawn Marked by infernal powers -- --
Spellscarred harbinger Scarred by the Spellplague -- --
Bregan D’aerthe spy A drow mercenary -- Drow

September: Madness at Gardmore Abbey

Chaos runs wild through the ruins of Gardmore Abbey, warping reality and threatening its utter dissolution. The legendary Deck of Many Things, an artifact scattered long ago in a titanic clash between good and evil, seeks to reassemble itself and spread chaos through the world.

Madness at Gardmore Abbey is a super-adventure for five characters of 6th-8th level. The adventure features numerous quests that might lead the adventurers on many expeditions into the ruined abbey over the course of two or three experience levels of play.

Using the Adventure

This box contains enough material to keep a gaming group busy for as long as three months of real time. However, it's also designed to be very flexible and open-ended, using a variety of quests to bring the party into the ruined abbey several times over the course of two or three levels' worth of play. Its nonlinear nature, combined with the random determination of certain elements, makes it well suited for a variety of different approaches, from a single session of play up to the full adventure.

This boxed set includes the following components:

Book 1: Gardmore Abbey. This book introduces the adventure, provides an overview of how to use the material in this box, and describes the physical location of the abbey. You'll also find rules and advice for using the other components in the adventure.

Book 2: Enemies and Allies. Book 2 focuses on the story of the adventure. It describes patrons, quests, rivals, villains, and the monstrous factions within the abbey that adventurers might interact with and play against each other.

Book 3: Encounters 1 and Book 4: Encounters 2. These two books present a wide variety of encounters to challenge adventurers in the abbey, including combat situations, skill challenges, and roleplaying interactions.

Two poster maps. These double-sided maps depict locations for certain key encounters.

One sheet of tokens. In conjunction with the tokens included in Monster Vault, these tokens give you everything you need to represent the monsters in this adventure, as well as unique terrain and special effects created by the Deck of Many Things.

One sheet of Dungeon Tiles. The tiles on this sheet, combined with those in the Dungeon Tiles Master Set products, let you represent encounter areas in this adventure other than those depicted on the poster maps.

Deck of Many Things. This deck of twenty-two cards is a classic artifact from Dungeons & Dragons history and one of the driving forces behind the adventure.

Treasure Cards. These provide statistics for two unique items: the torc of justice and the ancestral longsword Moonblade.

Rodney Thompson provided 4th Edition designs for the Deck of Many Things as an online feature (also discussed in a corresponding interview). Here's your chance for a physical version of the deck, as well as an adventure that incorporates this iconic artifact. From Book 1:

The Deck of Many Things

The ancient artifact scattered in the destruction of Gardmore Abbey is a central theme of this adventure, which assumes that the characters start with one of the cards. You can place this card in a treasure hoard near the end of the adventure immediately preceding this one. For example, if you're running the "Cairn of the Winter King" adventure from Monster Vault and plan to run Madness of Gardmore Abbey next, you could place a card from the Deck in the vault within the cairn (area 13 of that adventure), among the other treasure stored there.

The specific card found by the adventurers determines important elements of the adventure, as described in Book 2. The adventure works fine if you choose this card at random and let that determine those story elements. But it works equally well if you decide which of the three patrons you want to act as the secret collector, and what motivation you want to attach to that character, then select the appropriate card based on those determinations.

When the adventurers find the card from the Deck, make sure they understand that it's part of a larger whole, one card among many. You might encourage them to spend time researching the source of the card they've found, seeking information across the Nentir Vale -- from Kharas the Just in Hammerfast to Valthrun the Prescient in Winterhaven. In fact, both those characters can serve as patrons to the adventurers while they explore Gardmore Abbey (see "The Temple of Golden Treasures" and "Tower of the Archmage" quests in Book 2). Once the adventurers have an idea of what they're dealing with, you can give them the "Deck of Many Things" quest (page 5 of Book 2).

The party doesn't need to start the adventure with one of the cards. If you prefer, you can use one of the patrons described in Book 2 to send them into the abbey for reasons that have nothing to do with the Deck. Once they're inside, add one card to their first encounter and let them learn more about the Deck as the adventure progresses.

Encounter 6: Arcanian's Study

Encounter Level 10 (2,500 XP)

Setup
Vandomar, blue arcanian (V)
4 coldspawned mummies (M)

The adventurers face Vandomar, the undead wizard responsible for creating the flesh golem and sealing the garrison.

Perception DC 20: The door to the upper level is protected by some sort of magical ward.

If the adventurers have not fought the flesh golem in encounter 5, they might awaken it if they trigger the ward. The door is frozen shut and requires a DC 18 Strength check to open.

When the adventurers open the door, read:

The door yields after a sharp shove, shattering an interior sheet of ice. A freezing gust sweeps across the stairs. Inside the room stand four long tables that hold the frosty, mummified remains of four humanoids. Square blocks of ice line the walls, each trapping the frozen form of some preserved creature.

A humanoid thing in white robes emblazoned with the platinum dragon symbol of Bahamut stoops over one of the tables. Its withered face is pale blue, and dozens of tiny icicles hang from its beard. Whenever it moves, its body crackles as layers of frost break and freeze again. The creature looks up as the door opens.

"Visitors at last!" it says. Its words form no steam in the bitter air. "Let us remember this moment forever."

(263 Kbs PDF)

September: Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons

Subtitled: One Woman's Quest to Trade Self-Help for Elf-Help Shelly Mazzanoble.

Author Shelly Mazzanoble pens our Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard column, and also wrote Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress. She’s back with a new novel book, the first chapter you can download here!

From the product catalog:

Who would have thought that the answers to life’s biggest questions can all be found in the greatest role-playing game of all time? Shelly Mazzanoble, that’s who! With her signature wit and down-to-earth writing style, Shelly heads down the self-help aisle, exploring universal issues surrounding careers, romance, spirituality, and many more, drawing hilarious yet surprisingly insightful lessons from D&D.

That's it, folks -- until next month!


Bart Carroll
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.
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