My Desk Doth Persist. It Overfloweth
with Sundry Things Cool.
By Mat Smith
So, this is getting kinda ridiculous. I really and truly have caught up with the books that've come out. I figured that this month's article would be a tad short (especially compared to last month), since there are only a couple things that won't have come out by the time this posts to the website.
But then, I got hooked up with the actual printed copies of these books. I'm not complaining, but gee whiz, will there be no end to this? The stuff we're putting out there sounds cool when it's in outline form. The rough drafts are exciting. The final drafts are phenomenal. And the finished books are unbelievable.
How is this possible? I mean, every time I see a new version or alteration of one of these books, it's better. It's kinda kooky. And amazing.
Check it out:
October: Treats Galore!
This month, you're going to get a look at three things that're in stores now, a novel that'll be waiting for you on a bookshelf near you any day now, and the next guidebook that'll be hot and ready to serve in a month or two. Time to drool!
I went over this fine work of art last month, but I just wanted to jump back in on a little bit of something I'd mentioned.
The book provides everything you need to run a fantasy Asian campaign or allows you to add some elements to give your exciting campaign more flavor or another facet. It even provides a default setting, ready for your newly created samurai and wu jen. That setting is based on Legend of the Five Rings' Rokugan.
I've not played any of the L5R stuff, but I've seen many things, and I'm learning more as I read through my fantabulously sparkly copy of OA. The various clans are really interesting, and they add a really nice level of complexity to the campaign in a way that only a well-established world can. What I mean is that when you run into a Shugenja of the Scorpion clan, you might have some idea of how she's going to react to you and whether you should wait around long enough to see if you were right.
I just really like the idea of a well-entrenched society -- you can rely upon many elements as being given. It provides instantaneous flavor and background to just about everyone and everything you encounter, which is just a terrific boon to any player or DM. By having those established preconceptions, you get to naturally fall into your character's role as making assumptions about another character, and will have the exciting benefit of picking up on disparities in what should be normal. (When you walk into a room with a hot-blooded Samurai of the Crane clan, who just draws his katana and starts a fight without speaking, you know something's up. It really allows for nasty surprises, as well as pleasant ones.
And, the really cool thing about Oriental Adventures is the Rokugan-specific material doesn't even take up half the book. (That's a rough estimate -- don't call the folks in Customer Service if I'm off by less than half a book or so.)
The parts of the book that are used to play in that default setting are indicated by the L5R logo. The rest isn't Rokugan. So, you don't use it.
That's just cool. Here's a default setting. It has very clear boundaries, which you shouldn't cross. But, there's nothing stopping you from making some changes and playing Rokugan 2.0, or Rokugan PLUS (now with hengeyokai). And, man, are there a lot of things you can add, change, or delete to create the setting you want. Gee whiz, you could even just port over the bits you want into your standard campaign. There's a whole new swath of spells, equipment, weapons, feats, monsters, and magic items all ready to go.
By golly, there's no reason in the world you shouldn't pick up this book -- it really has something for just about any campaign out there.
The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game
Okay, last month you got the bare bones description of this thing.
Now, I've seen the book. I've flipped through the book. I've flipped back through the book. Again, and again. And again. I probably went back and forth through the thing a half dozen times before I could settle down enough to actually think about what to mention in the article.
The problem is: I can't. I mean, I will, but it's going to be the expurgated version -- there's just too much stuff.
Here's an example. When I started flipping through, I was taking small notes on stuff to point out -- just things to look at, because the art is so good, I wanted to call out some of the bits I liked. The Post-It got crowded before I was a third of the way through.
The book is just cool. The borders of all the pages are color-coded, very lightly. When it's closed, and much more than arm's length away, you wouldn't really notice it. But up close, it'll make flipping to the section you want easy.
Of course, that's just the trimming of the icing on the cake filled with the creamy goodness that is the rules for The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game.
Check out the stuff that's inside:
First, there's just a ton of information about Robert Jordan's world. Maps, histories, stats and descriptions of characters from the novels, monsters and everything else you need to translate those terrific books into game terms.
Second, it's got a ton of stuff that'll let you create your own stories, set right inside that world of the Dragon Reborn and the Dark One. And make no mistake -- this is all about you and your companions. There's a lot of Hero-ing that needs done, and it's up to you and your pals to get in there and do that Hero-ing.
Okay, here's some actual stuff that's in the book:
It's got background feats (like the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting) that're really great. Check out the Blooded background feat. (It's on Page 42.) Only Aiel and Borderlanders can take it: "You know what it means to fight for your life, and the value of quick wits and quicker reactions when blades are bared and deadly weaves fly. Enemies find it difficult to catch you off guard." What it does for you is it gives you a +2 on Initiative and Spot checks.
And Shadowspawn Hunter, on page 43, gives you (Borderlanders only) a +1 competence bonus on melee damage and raged attacks within 30' against Trollocs. *And* you also act as if you had the Improved Critical feat. (It doesn't stack with Improved Critical.) And you can take the feat multiple times, adding other types of Shadowspawn. (Draghkar or Myrddraal the second time. The third time you take it, you can choose from either of those, as well as Darkhound or Gray Man.)
The Treesinger feat on page 100 (which requires the Latent Treesinger feat and that you be an Ogier as prerequisites) is really cool. Take some ranks in Craft (Treesinging), and you're set. What it allows you to do is coax a tree into shaping itself (or a part of itself) into an object, such as a staff, flute, rowboat or statue. The item created is of exceptional quality, and even masterwork quality is possible. The only restrictions (time and DC) are based on the complexity of the item you're creating.
One of the character classes you can start with is Algai'd'siswai. This class really captures the essence of what it is to be a brave, spear-wielding desert warrior -- moving quickly, striking quickly, and in, out, and gone before your enemy even knows there's a threat. You get Fast Movement (+10 to your base) at first level, along with Weapon Focus (short spear). At second, you get Dance the Spears, which gives you a +2 bonus to Initiative (which stacks with Improved Initiative -- wow.) At 3rd, you get Uncanny Dodge (keep the Dex bonus when flat-footed). At 4th, Stealthy Movement allows you to add your Reflex save bonus to Hide and Move Silently checks. After that, Uncanny Dodge and Dance the Spears just keep getting nastier and nastier. Sign me up.
Channeling the One Power
The One Power is one of the most unique elements in the Wheel of Time novels, so the rules for using it are entirely new. And they're really cool.
A lot of brainpower went into developing a workable system for channeling the True Source, and it shows. Not only does the system work game mechanic-wise, but it feels right. It's another significant chunk of flavor taken right out of Robert Jordan's books, distilled by the keen folk in the R&D department, and fashioned into a d20 reflection that closely mirrors what you've read in the novels.
The chapter on the One Power (number nine, if you wanna know) starts on page 154 with A History of the One Power and progresses over the next nine pages through all the information, descriptions and rules you need to know to jump in and start channeling. Of course, once the rules for casting weaves is out of the way, you've got 21 pages of descriptions of weaves.
Now, 21 pages is pretty good, but it might not sound like much. (Or, at least, not as much as you'd think should be in there.) Don't be fooled. You haven't taken a look at those weaves -- most of them have variable effects. As you gain levels, your control and ability to channel more of the One Power also grows. So, while an Initiate casting the arms of air weave as a 0-level weave can only manipulate objects of up to 5 pounds (sorta like telekinesis), that weight limit grows at an extraordinary rate. It goes up to 25 pounds as a 1st-level weave, 100 at 2nd, 1,500 at 6th, going all the way to 100,000 pounds as weave cast at 12th level. (That's 50 TONS.)
And it isn't like arms of air is limited to lifting objects. You can hurl them violently at a target (within a distance of 10 feet/level) for 1d6 points of damage/25 pounds (assuming you're chucking a hard object, like a boulder or a Volkswagen.) You can even toss bad people around for a little bit-o-damage.
Now how much would you pay? Before you answer, what if you could do even more with just that one weave?
Oh, yes -- there's more. Arms of air will also allow you to manipulate that object, as if using one hand. The example in the book is you could pull a lever or a rope, turn a key, or any other simple task. Plus, you can perform even more delicate activities (such as untying knots, picking a lock, and so forth) by making an Intelligence check (DC set by your favorite GM).
Some of the weaves are more straightforward and have a limited range of use (by comparison), but all of them make sense and are really well gauged, level-wise.
Regardless, the thing about the One Power is that it's flexible.
That's why 21 Pages = A Lot of Stuff.
Plus, there's a lot of new thinking. The way the one Power works in Robert Jordan's world is similar to magic in other settings (like good ol' D&D), but it is different (which explains that contortionist-like flexibility). And that means even familiar abilities and powers have a different feel.
Healing is really interesting. (That is, the weave named heal -- on page 176.) It has increasing levels of effects that vary from 1 hit point recovered (as a 0-level weave) to 8d8+channeler level (as an 8th-level weave). That's pretty cool, because it gives you access to additional healing ability as you gain single levels, rather than skipping over some every now and then.
But, the thing that seems most intriguing to me is that healing converts standard damage to subdual damage. So, it doesn't just instantaneously wipe away the wound as if it never happened -- the injured character can't take much more of a beating and is still feeling bad. But that will pass, given time. (And, if you really need to get patched up and out of there, you can cast the renew weave to relieve that subdual damage for a short time.)
That just seems cool. A little touch of real in the game. I'm sure I'll whine about it when my character gets pounded into the dirt by a Trolloc or something, but it really is a great, new idea about how healing works. Very cool.
Now, let's go back to all that great art I'd mentioned at the very beginning of this. It's so good -- all of it. For example, the illustration of Aviendha on page 255 is just right -- she's quite striking and looks like someone you wouldn't want to tangle with. The image of Moiraine on the following page is just beautiful. And across the spine of the book from her could be no one other than Loial, with book in-hand. That's three of the nicest illustrations in the book in a row. (Created by three different illustrators, respectively: Scott Fischer, Terese Nielson, and Kev Walker.)
The Grenadelike Weapons chart page 152 is really nifty -- it's an illustration of a piece of parchment featuring the chart that's been tacked to a tree. I know that's not a huge innovation in rulebook design, but it sure does make the fairly standard eight-pointed doo-dad that tells you which way that flask of flaming oil went a lot more interesting.
You'll also notice the stark black and white illustrations you're familiar with from the beginning chapter pages from the Wheel of Time novels. (Like the five dice, or the ravens.)
But my favorite touch is the cover of the book. It's a rich, detailed painting by Darrell K. Sweet, the artist who created all the covers for all of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time novels. It shows a trio of adventurers about to open a Waygate to an unknown destination. (It also shows the nasty bad guys lurking in the shadows who are about to interrupt that happy traveling scene.) The cover art really does a great job of illustrating what the game is about -- putting you and your gaming group (as the three new characters) right in the center of Robert Jordan's world, ready to embark upon great and heroic adventures.
And, it really binds The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game to the novel series. With good reason, too: Robert Jordan was involved with the whole project from beginning to end. What a swell fellah -- really -- that's a lot of work for anyone. (Let alone, for someone who writes books that seem to tilt the scales dangerously close to 1,000 pages.) He looked over everything, approved everything, and even wrote the foreword for the thing.
Mr. Jordan was here, in Seattle, at the end of October (when the book released) to sign copies of the RPG, which was quite cool. And he was nice enough to sign a pile of additional copies for us to put in the online store so all you folks who live in Not Seattle could grab an autographed copy.
So, here's the deal: If you like the Wheel of Time novels, you're going to like The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game (even if you just pick it up for the awesome art and treasure trove of information.) If you like roleplaying games in general, you're going to like The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game, as it offers a huge amount of great, new gaming material, an unbelievably great setting, and a huge amount of gaming material. Plus, there's a whole lot of gaming material. And, if you're one of those lucky folks out there that like the Wheel of Time *and* RPGs, you're going to have just as hard a time trying to read this book as I did, 'cause you'll want to start playing right away! Zounds.
I'm just hoping someone around the office here pulls me into a game soon, so I can try talking a GM into allowing my Borderlander Armsman-turned-Algai'd'siswai (with the Blooded and Shadowspawn Hunter background feats) to work towards the Blademaster prestige class and still use spears instead of a sword. (Sure, he could use a sword, but the spears -- the spears -- he's got to Dance the Spears.)
November: Chock Full of Things For Which To Be Thankful
Just be careful that the darkness and wolves don't get to you. Perhaps that armchair of protection with the blanket of comfort +5 will keep the baddies away. It will at least give you a good place to read this great stuff!
Lords of Darkness
Here's part of what I wrote last month:
"Lords of Darkness details evil organizations, villainous leaders of those groups, headquarters, plots, strategies, resources, and a lot more. If your campaign gets into more depth than stomping goblins, this book is going to be something you'll want to take a look at."
I added a bit about the Cult of the Dragon, and a little about the Red Wizards. But in the end, I really couldn't come close to describing just how good the book is. And when I say good, I mean EVIL. (But in a good way. You know.)
Now, as I've got a proofing copy of the final book to look at, I'll try to give you a better idea. (The proofing copy is basically the finished book, but it's a spiral-bound, black-and-white version that's ready for one last look before sending it off to the printers.)
It doesn't just give you some names, stats, maps, and other game mechanic-esque information. (You do get all that stuff, of course.) The best part about the book is how well it conveys what the evil organizations are like and how they feel.
The introduction to each group is a short story-like scene that gives you a vivid idea of what that particular group is like -- a little slice of life from the world of Evil.
I really liked the introduction to the Night Masks. (It's on page 38. Check it out.) It's a half-column-long vignette that not only changed my perception of the organization in a very large way, but it also gave me a few ideas I want to try out the next time I run a campaign.
Once you've read the opening scene, you move on to a brief overview and history of the organization. More specific details follow: location of headquarters, membership numbers, hierarchy, leadership, religion, alignment of members, how secret the organization is, and a description of the group's symbol.
You get descriptions and descriptions of the primary leaders of the organization, motivation and goals, recruitment techniques, and enemies and allies of the organization.
Then comes the section dedicated to encountering members of the group. It starts with stats for sample (archetypical) groups (such as a Zhentarim Caravan or a Wing of Kir-Lanan). Then, it moves on to a very detailed description of a stronghold, headquarters, shrine, encampment, or whatever might make an appropriate (and extremely challenging) adventure. It includes a room-by-room (or whatever) description, including basic NPC listings, and a lovely map.
Each organization is treated in this fashion, with major organizations (such as the Church of Cyric or the Shades) getting a lion's share of pages, and lesser organizations (like the Fire Knives or the Kraken Society) receiving fewer pages (but not less attention to detail -- some of those smaller organizations are gemstones around which entire campaigns could easily form.)
I'm still particularly excited about the idea of a party in a long-standing campaign returning home to the city where they feel most safe and secure to find that the Red Wizards of Thay have established an enclave, have set up shop and are doing business right in their backyard.
Sean and Jason really did a fantastic job of crafting twenty-seven completely different (and sometimes interconnected) organizations.
And since most of them are somewhat modular, in that they're self-contained pockets of trouble (with icky tendrils oozing out across all of Faerûn), any one of them could insinuate itself into a campaign and cause a lot of problems for the heroes.
It's just about time for me to bust out my DM Screen -- I can't take it any more. There's much evil work to be done.
This is the third book in the Sembia series, and I can't wait to read it. That is, I can't wait to read more of it. Once I'd read the sample chapter, I was more than ready for the rest of the book. (I have to see if I can track down the rest -- it's gotta be around here somewhere.)
Okay, first things first. If you haven't picked up any of the Sembia series yet, you should take a look. It's a seven-book series, and a different author writes each book. The series revolves around various activities, adversities, and adventures of the Uskevren family in the intrigue-rich city of Selgaunt. Each book focuses on a single member of the family.
The series begins with The Halls of Stormweather, which is an anthology of short stories that introduces you to each of the seven main characters. It's the zero-level book you'll want to tear through on your way to the seven novels in the series.
So, if you've not touched the Sembia series yet, go grab the first couple and settle down to enjoy some good stories. Then come back and finish reading this -- it'll wait.
All right, so you've already blown through Halls of Stormweather, Shadow's Witness and Shattered Mask, and you're all set for book three -- Black Wolf.
The central character of Black Wolf is Talbot Uskevren. He's a young nobleman who is more interested in his rising career as a thespian than with the business dealings and intrigues that surround his family (not that he doesn't get caught up in them). Talbot has other interests and distractions, such as his recently acquired bout of lycanthropy.
Dave Gross wrote Black Wolf. (You might know his name from his stint as editor of Dragon Magazine or from his current editor-in-chief position at Star Wars Gamer and Star Wars Insider.) Dave was one of the first people I was introduced to when I was interviewing here, which was really exciting. And, I've gotten to do some small projects for him recently. So, I had to go over to talk with him about his story before I sat down to write any of this.
Dave admits that he's possibly a tad too close to the story, but he says the real interesting bits in his story are the villains and secondary characters. After reading the sample chapter, I can see why he thinks this -- there are some really great, nasty things going on in Black Wolf. I won't tell you quite what happens in that tidbit of novel preview goodness, but I will say that you get an uncomfortably good first glimpse at the bad guys. I can't wait to see what Dave did with them.
If you want some more dirt on the villains of Black Wolf, pick up Dragon Magazine #289 (this month's issue.) It's got a four-page article, starting on page 94, that introduces you to them. Dave wrote it, so you'll get a good idea of what the bad guys are like and a little of what they're capable of, but nothing that'll spoil the story.
(I discovered this while looking through back-issues for some old D&D ads: If you've got Dragon Magazine #273 (from July of 2000) lying around, flip through pages 66-72 to check out some stats and descriptions of each of the seven members of the Uskevren family.)
Hey, d'you want that sample chapter? Get it here.
December: Grab Your Music and Join the Chorus
We've got the bard and rogue book coming your way, so start humming now! Oh, and before you get your mug of winter cheer and fill it with your favorite beverage, watch for those of the sticky fingers. They've just gotten sneakier!
Song and Silence
Okay, this is supposed to come out November 30th, but that's just the day before December, so you might as well consider it a December release, right?
I saw the cover of Song and Silence on the proofing table last week. It's different from the prototype cover you might've already seen floating around here on the website. Todd Lockwood did 'em both, so you know the art is terrific. But the new art -- the stuff that's going on the cover of the real thing -- is extra good. It's got a more sneaky kind of feel. Lidda is still acquiring a shiny, new souvenir, with Devis providing back-up, and there's still a sinister figure lurking in the shadows. But this iteration of the scene seems to make it even clearer that the bad guy is about to get the drop on the little rogue and her bardic chum. I love that. It's like the front of Defenders of the Faith -- there's (what I imagine to be) a demonic paladin of Hextor who's just sundered Jozan's mace.
Bad guys getting the upper hand on the cover of the book is pretty cool. You know the heroes are supposed to prevail, and all that. But who wants to play in a game where you don't get your butt kicked around before you finally win the day? Beating the monsters and villains and monsters is much better when there's a real threat of failure.
In my Wednesday night game, there have been many instances where the mortality of a character (or three) was demonstrated in some rather spectacular way. Until three sessions ago, I was playing a doppelganger rogue. (Isn't that nifty?) But, there were some NPCs flying around a huge aerial battle that were tossing disintegration rays around like they were pieces of 2-cent candy at a Fourth of July parade -- poor Tholo.
The round that green ray tagged my little shapeshifter and turned him into a handful of dust and falling magic items (with better saving throws) was fully exciting. Not that I wanted a 9th-level character to go*poof*, but that's the kind of stuff that makes playing the game worthwhile--danger.
That's what's inside Song and Silence. Dangerous things you're going to want to put to use, whether you're a player or DM.
That's all I've got to tell you about for right now.
I know of a couple things you'll want to tune in for next month, though.
The next Adventure Path module (Lord of the Iron Fortress) is winding its way through the pipes.
The guidebook for Barbarians, Druids, and Rangers (Masters of the Wild) is also coming along.
And, I'm going to see if I can get a look at the prototype D&D Chainmail miniatures that our sculptors are working on right now -- I hear they're really great.
There it is.
About the Author
Mat Smith is a copywriter who's been here for something like 15 months now, but who has been playing Dungeons & Dragons and waiting to get a job with the company that makes it for well over 18 years. Now he gets to spend most of his days and nights thinking about new ways to tell everyone in the world to play D&D, which is, without question, the coolest thing ever.
This month, he's having to make lots of room for all the great, new books his pal Chris is hooking him up with. Not only do they help him write this stuff, but it's one of the best perks that comes along with this whole job at Wizards of the Coast thing.
Go to the D&D main news page for more articles and news about the new D&D or check out the D&D message boards for a lively discussion of all aspects of the D&D game.