Make room on your shelves --
the Cool Book Truck is now unloading.
By Mat Smith
We just keep coming out with stuff, and it just keeps getting better. With D&D and Chainmail and Dragon Magazine and Dungeon/Polyhedron Magazine, plus our novels, there sure seems to be an unending torrent of nifty stuff to take a look at, pick up, and play. I know I'm running out of shelf space here at the office. I've got pounds of Chainmail minis waiting to be painted and a short stack of books and magazines to read through. And if you've been keeping up with all the wicked-good things we've been shipping out of here, you're probably in the same, blissful boat. It's a great time to be a gamer.
Check it out:
May: Faiths and Pantheons
If you didn't read last month's Previews, you should check it out. I went into a fair amount of detail about what you'll find inside this most impressive, latest addition to the growing library of beautiful books for the Forgotten Realms setting.
But, since our fine Production Manager, Chas DeLong, was so good as to let me wander off with a full-color and still-warm off-the-press copy, I had to flip through to see how awesome the illustrations (which were mightily impressive in black and white) turned out.
I'd mentioned before how diverse the illustrations were. (Twenty-five artists provided the interior illustrations.) The addition of color made that diversity even richer. Just about every time you turn the page, you're not only looking at a new god, but you're most likely looking at art done by a different artist. It really makes flipping through the book a worthwhile effort. (Not that this will come as a surprise to any of you; the art in all of the books we've been making has really been stunning.)
The first thing I looked for was the illustration of Gond. I've always wanted to do stuff with Gondites in my home campaign, and I wanted to find out if the Wonderbringer actually wears one of those big sunhats. Nope. At least, not when he's working at his forge he doesn't. If you flip to page 27, you'll see a burly man wearing a tool-laden leather apron who's in the middle of crafting a hefty-looking spear. He looks right. He looks like the Lord of All Smiths -- equipped with tools, wearing functional clothing, and focused on the task at hand.
Really, a pile of these illustrations really caught my eye. A lot of what interested me was how different many of these gods looked from how I pictured them in my mind. In some cases, it's just slight differences I can't even put my finger on (such as Mielikki on page 49), or large shifts that are surprising and pleasing all at once (such as Oghma on page 53 or Tempus on page 72).
One last bit. On page 126, you'll see a picture that depicts the moment in which Corellon Larethian takes out one of Gruumsh's eyes. Take a look at it, and pay particular attention to Gruumsh's armor and longspear. When you flip to page 149, you'll see him wearing that same armor and toting that same longspear. Okay, both illustrations were done by the same artist (Michael Dubisch), so it's not surprising that they're consistent. But what's really, really cool is how they're different. Gruumsh lost that eye "back in the day," so the action scene with Corellon shows a relatively young Gruumsh who is in the middle of screaming in pain over the longsword-induced eyeball-ectomy. The illustration of Gruumsh as he is today shows an older, more grizzled orc, complete with graying beard and an eye socket that's scarred over quite nicely. Attention to detail. That's what you've got right there, mister.
And, that's what you'll find throughout the whole 224 deified pages of Faiths and Pantheons -- much attention (to each god) and lots of detail.
May: Stronghold Builder's Guidebook
The Stronghold Builder's Guidebook has stuff for Dungeon Masters. It's got stuff for players. It's got just about everything anyone with polyhedral dice could ask for when it comes to strongholds. And don't let the title lead you to think the Stronghold Builder's Guidebook is only about building strongholds. It's also about designing strongholds, equipping strongholds, staffing strongholds, running strongholds, commandeering strongholds, protecting strongholds, assaulting strongholds, destroying strongholds, and more.
Step-by-step guidelines help you determine things such as where to build, how big to build, and what to build. Designing a stronghold is greatly streamlined by the introduction of the idea of "stronghold components." The components include various rooms or features you'd want in a stronghold, such as guardhouses, libraries, servant's quarters, training areas, magic laboratories, and so on. Each component takes up a certain number of "stronghold spaces" and has a set cost. Several of the components have basic, fancy, and luxury versions that allow you to make each space as nice as you'd like -- for an incremental cost. Regardless of how frugal or flashy, each component is appropriately furnished, decked out, or equipped with most of the appropriate goods. So, when you decide to add a barracks to house your guards, it comes with ten straw-mattress beds and footlockers.
To really speed things up, you can choose to build your stronghold using clusters of stronghold components. Say you want to build a military outpost. You could easily use the Army Base cluster, which houses 100 infantry soldiers. You've got ten barracks components, five training areas, two guard posts, five basic armories, two basic kitchens, and servants' quarters. It comes with four cooks and 100 soldiers ready to go, costs 24,000 gp to build, and costs 612 gp per month to maintain.
That's really just the beginning. You've also got a laundry list of building materials to choose from and a swath of magical augmentations to add to your walls (not to mention doors, windows, and locks). You can decide to make a stronghold that can fly, burrow through the earth, sail across the sea, sink beneath the waves, shift to various planes of existence, and more. There's a list of magic items from the Dungeon Master's Guide that are particularly useful, and a pile of Player's Handbook spells that will come in handy, as well.
Add to that over 150 new wondrous architecture magic items that span from the Bed of Regeneration (which can reattach severed limbs and heal injured characters) to the Tornado's Eye (which maintains tornado-force winds around the outside of your stronghold at all times) to the Chamber of Seeing (which maintains a constant invisibility purge).
Of course, once you've built a stronghold, someone's got to attack it. So, you've got advice on coordinating a successful strike team and various ways to lay siege, including descriptions of how to effectively employ certain spells that are ideally suited for anti-stronghold activity.
Then, you've got five example strongholds that take you from a bare-bones keep to an underwater castle to a subterranean dwarven redoubt to a floating tower to a plane-spanning citadel -- more than enough bricks and mortar to give any campaign plenty of stronghold-exploring fuel for months and months.
The great thing about the Stronghold Builder's Guidebook is that it offers way more than just the information conveyed in the printed words and diagrams. It provides you with an endless supply of ideas for buildings, dungeons, taverns -- any place you'd explore in a Dungeons & Dragons game. And, best of all, those places will make sense. They'll actually "work." And it's a truly impressive thing to explore a structure, no matter how humble or grand, in which nothing that should be there is missing. And with the Stronghold Builder's Guidebook, you can do just that.
May: Dragon Magazine #295
Castles. That's what this month's Dragon Magazine focuses on. And, not coincidentally, it has a ton of material that fits quite nicely upon the foundation laid by the Stronghold Builder's Guidebook.
First off, you'll find a "short" eight-page history of castles (by Dean Poisso) that provides a really insightful and detailed run-down of the development of fortified structures.
Then there's a poster map that features the eight-level Stone Tower, ready for you to pull out of the magazine, slap down on your gaming table, grab your miniatures, and start playing. (And since it's "snot glued" in, it won't hurt the book when you take it out. Plus, you can use that nifty adhesive to craft a custom-made miniature for your favorite slime or jelly.)
If that isn't enough exploration fodder for you, the "New Rooms and Castle Layouts" article (by Darrin Drader) that starts on page 36 offers up 18 new rooms that complement and expand upon the pile of them from the Stronghold Builder's Guidebook. Then, just to give you a fine idea of how to use those rooms, the article provides four more complete strongholds (with super-great full-color maps) to explore.
You want more magical augmentations for your castle? Need to do some repairs or install a customized moat? Swell. The next article, which is called "Mortar & Stone," is just what you're after. It starts off with three pages that feature nine new magical augmentations that may just suit your special castle wall needs. (I'm particularly fond of this article since I spent my Christmas break writing it.) The following three pages, crafted by Dragon Magazine's Associate Editor, Matt Sernett, provide guidelines for making repairs (both magical and mundane) to your castle walls, as well as cover an array of different types of moats (and things you can do with them.).
Just in case the moat and magic walls don't keep your attackers out of your stronghold, you might want to take a look at the five pages of traps crafted by Penny Williams.
And, if you're more interested in being one of the folks who are doing the attacking, check out the fine array of magic siege weapons and ammunition featured in the Bazaar of the Bizarre article by Eric Cagle.
In addition to all the other regular features, you can also find the second installment of the three-part Epic Level Countdown, which highlights spells and magic items from the upcoming Epic Level Handbook.
May: Chainmail Set 3
June: Book of Challenges
Okay, this is a blue book (like the Dungeon Master's Guide), which means I can't spout terribly much about what is inside without ruining the surprise for players.
But, I can point out a few things.
First off, take note that the book is titled Book of Challenges -- not Book of Traps. Traps are included inside, of course, but you'll also find puzzles and particularly challenging dungeon rooms and encounters. That means that the book is more than a recreational tool for rogues to exercise their Find Traps and Disable Device skill points. This book is full of all sorts of problem-solving encounters that can offer every character a chance to save the day. Also, in most cases, the players themselves are going to have to step up to figure out what's going on and how to deal with it.
Also, the 50+ encounters inside the Book of Challenges fit into virtually any campaign. When you find a particular encounter you want to incorporate into your adventure, you usually need to do only superficial work to make it fit completely seamlessly.
Encounters range from CR 1 all the way to CR 22, and many of them have guidelines for scaling them up and down to accommodate your party's skill level.
Perhaps most invaluable of all is the advice and guidelines for DMs scattered throughout the book. Many suggestions and directions help you create your own challenging encounters and situations.
I got to playtest a couple of the low- to mid-level encounters, and I had a lot of fun. Of course, we all knew that we were walking into a room in which something wasn't right. Regardless, none of the iconic characters we were playing breezed through a session unscathed. I can imagine how much nastier any one of these things can be when set in the middle of an actual dungeon crawl AND I know how satisfying each one would be when it's defeated by a clever party of characters.
The back of the book says: "The greatest threat to any adventuring party is a devious Dungeon Master." That's so true.
June: Dragon Magazine #296 (Dragonslayers)
Okay, here's a quick overview of some of the stuff I've seen that's going into this fine issue of Dragon Magazine. Oddly enough, it's a bunch of dragon-related articles.
The first thing I've got is four new prestige classes designed for characters crazy enough to actually want to meet up with a dragon. The dragonscribe is an arcane spellcaster who is particularly interested in all-things-dragon. The knight of the scale is a warrior wearing dragonhide armor who bravely seeks to bear sword and shield in battle against his or her scaly nemeses. The heartseekers are a special caste of spellcasting archers with talents and skills focused on bringing their draconic quarry to ground -- permanently. Lastly, the frenzied and devout vengeance sworn hurl themselves into battle against dragonkind.
That sure seems like a lot of good guys going after those poor, defenseless dragons. Good thing one feature highlights the phenomenal array of finely honed senses all dragons possess, as well as three dragon-specific feats, a new dragon prestige class, and two fierce exploiters of these new dragon toys (a young adult black dragon and an adult green -- not friendly characters, nor are they character-friendly).
The last draconic article is a frighteningly useful Bestiary of Wurms -- a new family of draconic creatures that resemble serpentine, wingless dragons. These fearsome creatures were created long, long ago by powerful druids in an attempt to protect the wilderness from the encroaching blight of civilization. They typically range in size from Small to Huge, have powerful bite attacks, potent breath weapons, and druidic spellcasting ability. The various sorts of wurm (there are twelve) differ by terrain type. That is, they range from forest wurms and tundra wurms to sand wurms and lava wurms. In case your characters don't stumble upon a wurm fast enough to suit you, look at the three new summoning spells for enlisting the aid of increasingly larger wurms. The article also provides additional information and advice for incorporating these critters into your game with character-centric information (such as how to play a wurm as a character) as well as DM-focused information (such as alternate origins and motivations).
While this last article I'm covering doesn't feature dragon-type stuff, it's far too cool not to mention. It's a collection of prestige classes for monster cultists. These demented characters have been drawn to the immense power and allure of creatures such as beholders, illithids, medusae, and the tarrasque. As these crazed minions persist in their worship, they slowly gain powers and abilities that emulate those of their terrible patrons, eventually turning into hideous monsters that take on certain aspects of their chosen cult icon. For example, a sphere minion (beholder cultist) begins growing eyestalks, gains the ability to levitate, and so on. I can imagine this article is going to spawn some really nasty encounters and even more horrifying campaign storylines.
June: Chainmail Set 3
July: Epic Level Handbook
Yep. Only two months left to get your characters up to 20th level.
Last month's issue (#294) of Dragon Magazine featured an Epic-Level Countdown article that highlighted epic skills and epic feats. Next month's issue (#296) will highlight epic monsters. This month's issue (#295) highlights epic spells and epic magic items. So, here's a little something that ties very neatly into that subject.
The most important thing an aspiring epic-level spellcaster needs to know is this: Max out skill points in Spellcraft and your appropriate area of Knowledge (arcana, divine, or nature). It's entirely likely that you're already doing that (I can't imagine not wanting those to be topped out), but just in case you haven't kept up that level-plus-3 maximum, here's reason enough to start sinking those skill points into your key skills: The Knowledge skill is important because it determines the number of epic spell slots you have. For every 10 skill points you've got, you have one open epic spell slot. That means your 21st-level wizard, who has been maxing out her Knowledge (arcana) for a total of 24 skill points has two open epic spell slots.
A high Spellcraft score is what you need to fill those slots with new spells. To use an epic-level spell, you have to develop it first, which means making a Spellcraft check. The power of the spell determines the DC and could range all the way up into the hundreds.
Also, there is more to developing an epic spell than a simple three-digit skill check. Epic spells can be developed only through intense research and development. It costs time, money, and experience points -- and plenty of all of them.
July: Silver Marches
Pack your winter wolf pelt cloaks and ready your weapons and spells for a long, hard trek into one of the fiercest regions in the Forgotten Realms.
A Vast Frontier Fraught with Endless Peril
Haunted by malicious dragons, hordes of orcs, and other ferocious creatures, the relentless cold and unforgiving terrain of the Silver Marches promise undiscovered riches and unspeakable danger to those bold enough to venture there. Complete information on the towns and settlements of the burgeoning Silver Marches alliance and the many hazards that threaten it highlight this detailed survey of one of the most exciting regions in the Forgotten Realms game setting.
With page after page after page of descriptions, Silver Marches takes you on a breathtakingly detailed tour of virtually every location of note -- from campsites to citadels -- within the boundaries of the newly formed confederation.
Scattered throughout the book are profiles, stats, and illustrations of various NPCs of note, including familiar faces from the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (such as Alustriel, Bruenor Battlehammer, and King Obould Many-Arrows), as well as all new enemies and allies (such as Turlang, an advanced treant druid, and Cirre, a drow spy).
The book details the various cities that make up the Silver Marches alliance, including the recent history, articles of confederation, the council's bylaws, and current membership. In addition to the politics, you also get a hearty serving of the people -- their life and society, economy, laws, defense, and more. You also get introduced to six new regionalized prestige classes.
The final section of the book provides four nicely fleshed out adventures to give you all the more reason to gain a foothold in this wild expanse of the North.
My favorite things about the book, though, have got to be Chapter Two and Chapter Seven. Chapter Seven provides a look at new monsters that are indigenous to the region. Chapter Two runs you through the native trees, shrubs, herbs, and ground plants, as well as a zoo full of local critters, with a list of beasts (deer, rabbits, berrygobblers, and more), birds (vultures, hawks, tereeps, and others), insects (which, apart from giant beetles and wasps, go mostly unnoticed), and various snakes (poisonous and nonpoisonous). A listing of nine dragons (including short descriptions) gives you a brief introduction to just a few of the most prominent wyrms of the region. You've got your requisite wilderness encounter tables, which include things such as forest fires and avalanches in addition to all sorts of creatures (some are potentially friendly, but not many).
And then, there's the weather. You'll find just over six and a half pages of descriptions and details on how various weather conditions and hazards can affect a party. That's everything from getting lost in the fog-shrouded valleys and being swept away by an icy flash flood to being struck by lightning, pelted by hail, and even scoured by a violent sandstorm blown from the neighboring Anauroch. You'll also see seasonal tables for generating random weather conditions (which includes temperature, winds, and precipitation). What an unbelievable amount of information, and what a great way to really add realism and new challenges to your campaign.
Can the Forgotten Realms be any cooler?
July: Chainmail Set 4
Hey, if you didn't get to pick up your copy of The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets' Let Sleeping Gods Lie CD, along with Call of Cthulhu through our online promotion, you still have a chance.
The band jumped on the chance to snatch up the small number of extra "overrun" copies that were made. If you hit their website, a couple of clicks is all it'll take to get the information you need to have a CD sent your way. (And, they're only $10 U.S., $15 CAN, plus shipping.)
I think that'll do for a month.
There it is.
About the Author
Mat Smith is a copywriter who's been here long enough to stop keeping up with it on a monthly basis. He's 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. Hey, play D&D, won't ya!?
This month, he's reeling from the speed at which that Call of Cthulhu CD disappeared from our warehouse, and he is ecstatic over getting his first real article in Dragon Magazine. Of course, he's already moving on to other cool promotions and more articles, 'cause that's what this whole job at Wizards of the Coast thing is about.
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