2002 Isn't Just a Palindrome.
It's Also the Year of the Drow

By Mat Smith

You know, the next time you can talk about the year being a palindrome, you'll be able to make a joke about it also being an album by Rush.

But this year, it's all about those nasty elves from deep underground.

Not really all about them, but there's sure going to be an uncomfortably large number of hand-crossbow-wielding types running around -- under and above ground -- to make it seem that way.

Check it out:

Stuff Out Now: You Gotta Watch Out for those Icky Spider Lovers!

We have some things that you definitely need! And all of them lead toward dark places.

D&D Chainmail's Drow Mercenary and the Kilsek Faction

I mentioned last month, the first drow mini (the Kilsek Mercenary Drow Warrior) would be hitting shelves this month. He's a very cool mini with a buckler that sports an unfriendly, curving blade, and a hand crossbow extended as if to put a bolt through anyone who looks at him sideways, frontways, backways or slantways.

Since he's a mercenary unit, you can add his wicked deadliness to your warband, regardless of whether you fight on the side of good or evil. Of course, later on in the year (say, July-ish), his drow elf buddies are going to come looking for him.

The Kilsek faction will bring the number of groups battling for the Sundered Empire up to seven. I can't wait to see the rest of the minis for that group of spider-loving baddies.

I popped down to the desk of Mike McVey (the Art Director for Chainmail Miniatures) just to check out the new Chainmail miniatures -- again. (You should see the shelf he's got next to his desk. It's filled with miniatures that are painted so amazingly well, you nearly break down in tears.) Mike showed me a couple of extremely interesting things.

The first was an uncast mini (a "green") of the Kilsek miniature that's going to be released in April. It's a Drow Sniper, which is kneeling down with a shortbow in hand. I have to say that if there were two words that could be used as synonyms for "deadly," it'd be "drow" and "sniper." You put them together, and you end up with something that just makes you want to hide.

The other thing Mike showed me was the female sculpt of the Kilsek Drow Mercenary. That's an alternate casting of, essentially, the same miniature. More accurately, it's an alternate casting of the same Chainmail unit. The abilities will be the same as the male version that just came out, and her equipment (that buckler and hand crossbow) is the same, but she's all-new. Place the two side by side, and you see the similarities, but you also notice the many differences. It's as if the two were issued the same basic equipment, but they finished getting geared up in two different Shops of Doom.

And here's the nifty thing about the alternate sculpt: The sculptors working on Chainmail are going to be doing that a lot. With quite pleasing frequency, you could pick up a version of a mini that may be in a new pose, have a different gender, an alteration of gear, or whatever.

Very often, though not always, you'll find those alternate poses in the combo boxes.

Every month, new minis come out (one, sometimes two, per faction). Every three months, a combo box for each faction will come out. Those combo boxes will feature the minis that came out during the previous three months. (So, the combo boxes that come out in April will have the minis from January, February, and March.)

January: Blood and Darkness

The new guidebook for the Chainmail miniatures game covers all the rules you need to take your warband underground. That means skirmishes in tunnels and caves and dungeons and all sorts of fine places to do battle. It also means there's less clean-up when the battle is over -- your opponent is already planted in the ground.

Those rules are also going to be the rules used in the Chainmail Organized Play (OP) League next season. So, when you pick up Blood and Darkness, not only are you getting the chance to whip up on your pals in a new and exciting earthbound venue, you're also getting to hone your skills for the OP League. As you can imagine, some warbands that absolutely devastate anyone foolish enough to challenge them above ground might not fair as well when they head underground. So, you've got three months to craft a warband for effective subterranean butt-kicking.

July: The Drow Keep Coming!

We're skipping ahead to something that will thrill any follower of those drow elves!

R.A. Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen Novel Series

So, there's this guy, R. A. Salvatore -- he knows a thing or two about drow. Maybe you've heard of him. He's written some books.

Anyway, there's a whole new series of novels set in the Underdark. Mr. Salvatore crafted the basic outline of the whole series, and he's going to be consulting on each of the stories. (And he will be writing the introductions to each of the six installments.) Each book in the series will be written by a different author -- our hottest, new writers.

I can't tell you a lot about the plotline (mainly 'cause I'm still a little fuzzy on exactly what's going on), but the title of the first book, Dissolution, does a pretty good job of describing the situation. Look it up in your favorite dictionary or thesaurus. You'll see terms like "death," "decay," and "breaking down."

Drow society has always struck me as a phenomenally lawful structure that contains (read: keeps in check) a nearly infinite amount of chaos. But imagine what could happen if that organization faltered. What happens if the reason for many and most of the rules, laws, and all that just sort of went away -- for no reason, even. Or at least for no reason anyone is aware of.

Things are going to be bad.

Dissolution hits shelves in July. The second book, Insurrection, will go on sale in December.

I can't wait.

Stuff You Should Watch For

I'm certainly not done yet! Of course not! Here's some more drow goodness that'll come out this year.

City of the Spider Queen

Every year, we're going to be putting out a super-adventure for the Forgotten Realms setting (as well as one for D&D in general). And this year, (August, specifically) the adventure is going to be set in that nasty, nasty, nasty situation I was just telling you about.

City of the Spider Queen is an adventure that runs concurrently with the story being covered in R. A. Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen. Not that you'll be running through an adventure that mirrors the books. Instead, the adventure is sparked by the same turn of events that sets the novel series in motion, but your adventuring party will have an entirely different direction to explore.

Yesterday, in the D&D Worlds meeting, as we went around the table seeing what everyone was working on, we eventually got to James Wyatt. The first thing James did was to spring out of his chair to perform what was described as the Dance of Doneness. Not only was it a singularly entertaining event, but it was also significant in that James is *the* author for City of the Spider Queen.

He spent the last five and a half months crafting this super-adventure, and he very literally worked night and day for the past six weeks to get it finished.

Like all the adventures I get to peek at, I'm not going to tell you a lot about this one. But like I said, it takes place in the Underdark. As James describes it, the adventure is tangential to the War of the Spider Queen storyline -- it starts in the same place, but it goes in its own direction. I also discovered that, at some point, there's the opportunity to explore an entirely new drow city. Or at least the ruins of it.

Gee whiz, what would reduce a drow city to rubble? What could? I'm not sure I want to know. I have a hard enough time sleeping.

The Hunter's Blades Trilogy

If you're a fan of the Dark Elf novels, you might be a little sad at this point. You saw "R. A. Salvatore" and then found out that he's not writing that series.

Well, don't be sad, little buckaroo.

First off, you can't even pretend to dismiss the War of the Spider Queen series. It's going to be hot. Wait 'til you find out more about what's going on. I can't ruin it for you, but you've gotta check it out. Really. All kinds of drow evil nastiness.

Second, you can't be sad 'cause he's writing a new Drizzt trilogy. And this trilogy is all Drizzt, all the time.

That's Drizzt, the scimitar-wielding, purple-eyed, ranger with the magical panther companion.

And no one else.

At least, there's no Bruenor, Regis, Wulfgar, Cattie-brie, Jarlaxle or Artemis Entreri. This is going to be an intense, exciting trilogy focused solely on the dark elf hero.

Sure, there are going to be other characters. For example, check out the title of the first book: The Thousand Orcs. Now, I'm not 100% certain what part those orcs are going to play in the story, but I'm thinking most of 'em aren't going to have a recurring role if you know what I mean.

A thousand orcs. You know, if anyone could take 'em on, it'd be Drizzt.

Dragon Magazine 298

The theme for this fine, late-summer package of sweet, sweet D&D-ness is drow. There'll be coverage of all the RPG, novel, and D&D Chainmail products coming out, along with dark elf-related articles. It's a little too far away to have anything nailed down specifically, but you can be sure that if you've got any inkling about lighting a torch or ten and delving into the Underdark, you'll want to take a look at this issue of Dragon Magazine.

Foldup Paper Models

I'm about out of time, but I've gotta make sure each and every one of you has checked out the Foldup Paper Models. The free Foldup Paper Models.

If you play the Chainmail miniatures game, the links to the models are right there on the Chainmail page for you, and they're ready to be downloaded and used as terrain -- free.

If you play D&D, these are over on the Chainmail page, and they're ready to be downloaded and used as models for your game, too -- for zero dollars and zero cents.


You must have a use for these.

Right now, you'll find a set of three cottages, an awesome tower (intact and ruined), and a covered bridge.

And there's more on the way.

I spent way too little time talking with Rob Lazzaretti and Todd Gamble about what they've got up their master crafter's sleeves.

They've already got a curtain wall that nestles nicely up against the tower (and can be destroyed right alongside it, as well). They did an awesome mausoleum, complete with graves, headstones, and wall sections lined with wrought-iron fencing. There's also an unbelievably cool blacksmith's shop (again with an intact and ruined version) ready to go.

Full-color, meticulously detailed, masterworks of 3-D miniature structural eye-candy -- that's what these are.

I also saw the unfinished model of a huge inn/tavern. Even without the texture and color, this building (which can be used as two separate structures, or one hugely big one) is impressive.

And they've got more ideas. Todd started rattling off a list of props and accessories he wants to do: crates, banners, windows, doors, signs, river sections, and more. They talked about a stable, docks, and possibly even a ship or two. I can't wait to see what they're going to do next!

When these guys are finished, you'll have access to an entire town's worth of fold-up models.

And, once more, just for the people in the nosebleed seats who might have missed it, these things are free. How can you not like that? These unbelievable models are labors of love wrought for the enjoyment of all. Tons of work goes into each one. Tons of fun as well. Make it all worth the time and effort these guys have put into each and every one of 'em. Download 'em and use 'em.

There it is.

About the Author

Mat Smith is a copywriter who's been here for something like 17 months now, but who has been playing Dungeons & Dragons and waiting to get a job with the company that makes it for well over 19 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 discovered that the light at the end of the tunnel was indeed a freight train filled with more work. And while it sure does make it tough to get around to straightening up his progressively more cluttered desk, it doesn't matter 'cause it means he gets to have fun with even more nifty books and games as a part of this whole job at Wizards of the Coast thing.

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