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No wonder I can't get caught up!
By Mat Smith

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It just doesn't stop. The books, miniatures, magazines, novels, and everything just keep coming out month after month after month. And it's not like my involvement on any of them is very large or lasts very long, but it sure starts to add up. And it starts to stack up. And again I'm dumbfounded by the magical superpowers of our R&D department -- and our typesetters, art directors, artists, cartographers, sculptors, and everybody else that jumps in and does something to make one of our products go from the first planning stages where someone says "Let's do this . . ." all the way to where you and I can run out to a hobby shop or bookstore to snatch up the newest piece of D&D goodness. It's unbelievable how much work so many people sink into each and every product we come out with.

Do this the next time you pick up a new rulebook. (Or just grab one you've already got.) Flip to that first printed page -- the one with all the credits on it. You really just can't imagine how hard all of those folks work on these things. It's kinda like sitting through the credits at the end of a movie. I've got a vague idea of what a Key Grip does, but I never really thought about how hard that Key Grip, or the Gaffer, or Best Boy works to get that movie on the screen. I've got a much better idea of what each of our people do, and I've got a really good idea of how hard they all work to make sure these things keep coming out, keep coming out on time, and keep coming out so nice. You can get a better idea of what some of the folks who work on the game we all love do by checking out the "But What Do They Do?" feature.

This one talks with my map-making pal, Todd Gamble. He's a really nice guy -- a cool fellah on top of that -- and very talented at what he does. (Check out the Map-A-Week and Foldup Paper Models to see just a small portion of the überslick stuff Todd works on with the lovely and talented Rob Lazzaretti.)

Anyway, I guess what I'm getting at is the fact that no matter what I've got sitting here on my desk, there's always something else on the way. And as excited as I am about each really cool thing I see, I'm even more excited about what's to come. Sometimes the amount of stuff I get to see and can talk about is almost overwhelming. But, somehow, I muddle through and get these articles turned over in something that approximates a timely manner. The goofy bit is that as soon as I turn one over, I'm ready to start working on the next one.

Here's why:





June: Book of Challenges

I went into about as much of this as I could last month. Since it's a book filled with things for DMs to incorporate into a gaming session, actual details of the content would be too much. But, it's worth pointing out that in addition to the pile of ready-to-go encounters and scenarios in there, the Book of Challenges also provides a lot of suggestions and advice for creating your own stuff. And those guidelines are a really valuable part of the book. Once you wrap your head around how to create a challenging encounter, you've got a built-in filter you can apply to just about anything. You can modify the encounters in Book of Challenges, you can adapt encounters from other products or articles, take ideas from books, TV, and movies, and so on. Soon, your devious Dungeon Mastering mind will be collecting bits and pieces of ideas from all over, with which you'll give your players a real run for their money.

Here's what's on the back cover:

Book of Challenges

Dungeon Rooms, Puzzles, and Traps

Danger around Every Corner

and behind Every Screen

The greatest threat to any adventuring party is a devious Dungeon Master.

This book is spring-loaded with ideas, both subtle and sinister, that will ensure every gaming session is fraught with peril, including:

  • Over fifty encounters designed to be dropped into any campaign
  • Scalable scenarios that can be pitted against characters from 1st to 20th level
  • Advice for creating your own deceptive and deadly situations

Dungeon Masters who want to keep their players on their toes will be inspired by the invaluable material within these pages.

June: Dragon Magazine

Check out last month's Previews for more details, but here's a run-down of some of the articles you'll find in this month's Dragon Magazine, just in case you haven't already picked up a copy or had it delivered to your door:

  • Four new dragon-related prestige classes
  • Making full use of a dragon's senses, three dragon-specific feats, a new dragon prestige class, two fleshed out dragons to drop into your campaign
  • A new type of dragonkind creature: the wurm
  • Four monster cultist prestige classes
  • Epic Level Handbook countdown article 3 of 3: Epic Monsters

If you haven't clicked on any of those last couple of links yet, then you haven't discovered one of the newest, niftiest doodads our fine website-maintaining folks have added: A listing of back issues that includes article highlights.

There's one for Dragon Magazine back issues.

And another for Dungeon Magazine back issues.

June: Chainmail Set 3

  • Ahmut's Legion: Skeletal Equiceph
  • Drazen's Horde: Orc Champion
  • Mordengard: Ice Paraelemental
  • Thalos: Ogre Penitent
  • Naresh: Gnoll Cleric
  • Ravilla: Wood Elf Skirmisher
  • Kilsek: Drow Archer

July: Epic Level Handbook

Only one month to go, and I can't wait to see the finished book. I already knew it was going to be a great book from reading through the manuscript. But I'm even more excited about it now that I've laid my hands on a full-color galley -- it just makes everything come to life.

Let's start with the cover illustration. It's one of those beautiful, sepia-ish line drawings by Arnie Swekel like you'll find on the first page of each chapter in all the hardcover rulebooks. This one depicts the iconic paladin, Alhandra, at low level and at epic level. She's divided down the center, with call-outs to her various and sundry pieces of equipment. The low-level Alhandra sports things like a wooden buckler, a small sack, and a longsword. Epic-level Alhandra is geared up with a pale green ioun stone, a cloak of charisma +6, and a +5 holy avenger. I really like the drawing, partially because I just like Arnie's drawings, but I think it does a really nice job of demonstrating how different a character is after 20 levels of adventuring -- it's quite dramatic.

The epic character section features images of the epic versions of the familiar iconics from the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide , and Psionics Handbook (standard classes and prestige classes). They're all interesting to look at and to contemplate how they got where they are from where they started. Of the standard classes, I liked the epic Devis and Tordek most. But my absolute favorite is the epic blackguard -- he's just plain tough and evil. A ragged, livid scar tears from his forehead over one eye, past the corner of his mouth and disappears at the base of his determined chin. The thing that's most striking about this fallen paladin is that you can picture what he might have been if he'd not strayed from the path of good. But he's most definitely a bad guy now, complete with a sword engraved (in very small rune-like letters) with the motto "Vengeance be my guide."

In addition to epic versions of the eleven standard Player's Handbook character classes, the six prestige classes from the Dungeon Master's Guide, the psion, and the psychic warrior are nine new epic prestige classes. And if that isn't enough, you're given guidelines and suggestions for constructing and extrapolating your own epic prestige classes.

The epic feats chapter is astonishing -- twenty pages filled with descriptions of just over 150 epic feats. And if you checked out the Epic Level Countdown in Dragon Magazine 294, you've got a good idea of just how mighty those feats are.

The countdown in Dragon Magazine 295 described how open-ended and infinitely flexible epic spellcasting is. Regardless, you'll find several dozen epic spells, spanning across a staggering range of power, listed as examples of what your magic-slinging types are going to have access to.

The wizard I play on Wednesday nights just hit 13th level, so he's got a while before he's tapping in to the awesome might of the Epic Level Handbook. Of course, that just means I'll have some more time to figure out what I want to do once I cross over to the 21-and-up club.

Pages 117, 118, and 119 feature a huge table listing one hundred epic adventure ideas to help with getting your epic campaign moving. You'll also find all kinds of really helpful and insightful advice, hints, guidelines, and variant rules for making your epic level campaign work for your gaming group.

Like I had mentioned above, Dragon Magazine 296 features a look at just one of the many, many epic monsters that fill pages 155 through 230. There are some really nasty customers in the Epic Monsters chapter. Certainly more than enough to make any sane adventurer consider retirement -- the Umbral Blot on page 223 does it for me.

Though, once you get a look at all the cool doodads listed in the Epic Magic Items chapter, it might be worth a little peril. I'm interested in picking up a headband of epic intellect +12 as soon as I can scrape together the 1.5 million gp it'll take to buy one. (The cost listed is just a tad under that, but I figure there'll be a small mark-up or some sort of tax.)

Really, the whole book is filled with stuff, with each bit better than the last. It makes me want to pull out all my old, retired characters to see if they can be rebuilt -- we have the technology. It also gives me something to shoot for in the realm of prestige classes for my wizard, whose selection of feats have worked out nicely for him, but don't mesh with anything yet. I like the idea of being able to continue playing a favorite character for as long as I want. As long as I have a Dungeon Master who can put together an epic adventure (and that I do), the game can go on forever and ever and ever.

Try to imagine the first twenty levels of character advancement as being a high-rise building (or castle tower, if you will). The Epic Level Handbook doesn't just add another ten or twenty floors to the structure. It blows the roof off of the whole thing and then hands out rocket packs.

Epic Tchotchke: Olidammara's Dice -- Coming Soon

When I was first flipping through the manuscript for the Epic Level Handbook (and was passing through the minor artifact section of the magic items chapter) I came across a nifty little item on page 152 called Olidammara's Dice. (For those of you keeping score at home, you already know that Olidammara is one of the deities from the Player's Handbook. He's the god of rogues, associated with the Chaos, Luck, and Trickery domains. If you're not keeping score, you're now at least up to speed.) Anyway, Olidammara's Dice function much the same way as the Deck of Many Things. That is, you roll the dice and the resulting total determines which magical effect is bestowed upon you. The dice are described as being a pair of yellowed ivory cubes that appear much like any other pair of (six-sided) dice, but the "one" pip is replaced with the comedy/tragedy mask symbol of Olidammara. It sounded like a pretty neat-o doodad, and one that we could actually have made to give away for free with copies of the Epic Level Handbook. So, we decided to make 'em.

Koplow Games is crafting them for us. Here are some particulars: They're standard, six-sided, 16 mm, ivory-colored dice with black ink in the pips and the mask symbol. And the mask is going to be carved into the die, not just printed on the face -- extra cool.

Now, the tricky bit is that only 5,000 are going to be made, which means only 2,500 pairs will be available. Plus they're going be available ONLY through Wizards of the Coast Premiere Stores and our online store, while they last. But keep in mind, these things aren't available until the Epic Level Handbook comes out in July.

If you want to increase your chances of getting a set of Olidammara's Dice along with your copy of the Epic Level Handbook, ask the folks at your favorite hobby shop to pre-order a copy of the book for you while the dice are still in stock. Though if your hobby shop isn't a WotC Premiere Store, check out this Retail Locator to help you find one.

If you can't get to a Premiere Store, don't fret. Just make sure that when you order your Epic Level Handbook through the online store, you do it through the Olidammara's Dice promotion when it goes live.

I'm really looking forward to putting my new dice alongside the Deck of Many Things I got in my copy of Dragon Magazine 148 long, long ago. (This is now downloadable in pdf format, by the way.)

July: Silver Marches

Last month, I ran through a lot of what you'll find inside this awesomely detailed book.

July: Dissolution

When our Book Publishing department is coming out with a particularly hot novel, they'll do a print run of Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs). That's basically a paperback version of the entire story (sometimes not fully edited) that's sent out to book reviewers, as well as distributors and other entities that sell our books through some retail channel (like your hobby shop or bookstore).

I mention this because I got hold of an ARC of Dissolution the other day. I took it home Friday night. I cracked the cover on Saturday evening. And Sunday afternoon, I finished reading the last word in the book. (That was on page 344, and ironically, that word was "joy.")

I didn't blow through it because of any kind of speed-reading skill, or because every other page was a line art illustration. I read the whole thing -- all 344 pages -- cover-to-cover without really slowing down because it was good. Really good.

And what's not to like? It's set in Menzoberranzan and is chock-full of drow -- the drow you know and love. You know . . . the kind of drow you've met in R.A. Salvatore's novels. And it's not Drizzt or Jarlaxle, but the scheming, backstabbing, evil, opportunistic drow that are just far too much fun to read about. And, if you've torn through one or more of Mr. Salvatore's novels that dipped into the Underdark, you might have met some of the characters and visited some of the locations you'll come across in Dissolution.

That's where the fun begins. This new set of novels -- R.A. Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen -- is a six-book series written by six of our hottest, up-and-coming authors. Mr. Salvatore (Bob) is overseeing the project and is consulting on each title, but he's just laid the elaborate groundwork for some really talented folks to come in a build an awesome new sextet of spidery goodness.

Like I said, if you read Bob's dark elf books (like the Dark Elf trilogy) you'll feel right at home. You'll recognize some of the characters, just as you'll recognize various locations, patterns of behavior, and many other aspects of drow society. It's really a brilliant idea. You already know House Baenre. You've visited Arach-Tinilith. You've watched Narbondel's glow creeping upward as the day progresses. You know how things work in Menzoberranzan. You know how drow interact with each other, whose place is where, and all that.

Really -- Richard Lee Byers has done a phenomenal job of taking you right back to the Menzoberranzan you already know and then starts revealing all kinds of new stuff. And it all meshes so well with everything you've come to know and expect. He introduces you to new characters and new developments that will draw you in to the point where you won't be able to put the book down either.

Here's more proof: I took another copy of the ARC down to James Wyatt (who's responsible for City of the Spider Queen, the superadventure that ties in to the War of the Spider Queen novel series) on Monday afternoon. Tuesday morning, he emailed me asking whether I needed it back, since he had already read the whole thing.

It's a good book. And it 's a good drow book. Betrayal, assassination, all that and more. Everything you'd expect, and a lot that you won't.

I'm not telling you what happens in the book, but the title does do a pretty good job of describing the situation. Look up "dissolution" in your favorite dictionary or thesaurus and you'll see terms like "death," "decay," and "breaking down."

You want more? Put this in your noggin: Menzoberranzan is a place where waking up breathing is a pleasant surprise and your friends and family can easily become your worst enemies (which they often do). When you open the cover of Dissolution and start reading, you're going to discover that Life as a Dark Elf Just Got Dangerous.

July: Shadow of the Drow (Chainmail Set 4 Guidebook)

If you've been waiting for the nasty drow elves to slip out of the darkness and into the battle, your wait is nearly over. House Kilsek will feel right at home on the subterranean turf that's seeing all the Godwarring action this time around. However, the other factions aren't going below ground without bringing along a few new recruits capable of duking it out in the dank caverns.

As with the other guidebooks (Blood & Darkness and Fire & Ice), Shadow of the Drow continues the ongoing story of the Godwar and introduces new terrain, scenarios, spells, and abilities (as well as new models). Here is some cover text:

The Godwar Plunges into Forbidding Darkness

Deep beneath the surface of the Sundered Empire, warbands clash upon magical battlefields. As the exiled House Kilsek enters the fray, every faction seeks out new allies, abilities, strategies, and spells.

The material in this book includes:

  • New recruits, such as the Drow Wizard, Werebear Trooper, Zombie Minotaur, and Drider Trooper.
  • New scenarios, such as the Cave of Pain, as well as new special abilities and spells, including Veil of Shadows, Displacement, and hold person.
  • Rules for using the Set 4 models and statistics for all models from Set 3.

If you're to survive the day, your warband must bolster its forces and devise new strategies. This guidebook will give you the tools you need. Master their use, and you will emerge victorious.

July: Chainmail Kilsek Faction Box

Oh, yeah. They're almost here alright. In fact, six of them are sitting downstairs on that shelf next to Mike McVey's desk. (The Displacer Beast is still being finished.)

Okay. Since I mentioned one of the models in he Kilsek Faction box, I suppose I shouldn't go further without coughing up the complete list:

  • Drow Wizard
  • Drow Soldier
  • Drow Ranger
  • Troglodyte Warrior
  • Displacer Beast
  • Kuo-Toa Trooper (x2)

I didn't get to spend nearly enough time down there staring at them trying really, really hard to burn them into my head so I could sit down and write this. But, being a clever fellow, I popped up to Rick Achberger's desk to see if he had any photos yet. (Rick's the art director that's making all the Chainmail packaging look so good.) He had some preliminary sketches of all but the Displacer Beast. (Now I'm tortured -- what does it look like?)

So, lemme just run down what I saw and what you'll see when this faction creeps out of the dark next month. (Though, keep in mind that I'm describing an amalgam of the actual minis and the sketches, so I might be a tad off on some stuff.)

The Drow Wizard's staff is the bit that stands out most for me. It starts off as a fairly standard-issue pole, but it is topped by a really wickedly bizarre sharp-angled-skull-spider thing. He's got a jagged longsword and a look on his face that easily gives you the idea that you've done something to upset him.

The Drow Soldier is sporting a bladed buckler similar to the ones being toted around by the Drow Warrior that came out back in January. (By the way, you'll find a female sculpt of the Drow Warrior in the "Shadow Lurkers" Mercenaries Combo Box #2 and another alternate sculpt as a Chainmail League prize model.) The Drow Soldier is carrying a kris-bladed longsword (wavy-bladed, if you prefer) in her other hand. She, too, is not a happy camper. (Though, what dark elf is?)

The Drow Ranger is particularly interesting. If you're familiar with all things drow, you might have stumbled across other drow rangers. You might have even read a book or two about a particular drow ranger who wields a pair of scimitars just like this fellah. And the resemblance doesn't end with the weapons-of-choice. The cloak and armor also fall strikingly close to some artwork I've seen on page 177 in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. The hairstyle on the mini I saw is a departure from the standard coiffure I'd expect on a mini I'd want to paint lavender eyes upon. But that's about all that sets this tough customer apart from his Icewind Dale-romping cousin. The concept sketch is very, very dead-on. And I wouldn't be surprised if an alternate sculpt gave all of us fans of Drizzt a mini to snatch up. (Though, that's really and truly just a hopeful guess.)

The Troglodyte Warrior is a real treat. Fully armored from head-to-toe and using a two-handed grip on a formidable-looking spiked mace, this stench-ridden lizard-critter is huge stride beyond what I'd expected when I first heard about him. I'd never pictured him (her?) as being anything more than your standard troglodyte with a club or rusty short sword. But here you've got a mean character who has stopped off at the armorer and the weapon shop on his way out of the swamp.

The Kuo-Toa Troopers are the more primitive creatures in this set. They're minimally equipped with a belt that sports a dagger and pouch (possibly more) and are armed with spears. I can imagine picking up a dozen or so of these just to use in a cool encounter in a D&D game -- they're really nicely done. The bit that really struck me when I looked at these guys was their eyes. They're big, large-pupiled, fish-like orbs that were painted silver. They looked so real.

Like I said, I didn't get to see the Displacer Beast model or sketch, but good Mr. McVey (who stopped what he was doing to point out each of the new minis so I could write this) did assure me that this was an all-new sculpt and not the same one that came out with the D&D miniatures line (not that it was a bad model). Very exciting. I can't wait to see it.

July: Chainmail Set 4

  • Ahmut's Legion: Half Orc Assassin
  • Drazen's Horde: Orc Gangfighters
  • Mordengard: Dwarf People's Guards
  • Thalos: Half-elf Sorcerer
  • Naresh: Gnoll Monk
  • Ravilla: Wood Elf Starstrike Archer
  • Mercenary: Salamander Troopers

The Half Orc Assassin is carrying a couple of skull-pommeled daggers, and he looks like he woke up on the wrong side of the bed and just needs to find someone to take it all out on.

The Orc Gangfighters are very cool. They're moderately armored (and very interestingly so) and carrying a couple of different pole arms. These guys strike me as being particularly useful in any D&D game that involves running into a half dozen or so members of the local orc army.

The Dwarf People's Guard is a pair of stout, slit-visored dwarves carrying medium shields and hand axes.

The Gnoll Monk picked up some kung-fu accoutrements from the shop Ember the iconic monk shops at -- cloth wraps and all that. He's maneuvering up to get a good crack on someone's skull with the three-section staff he's carrying.

The Wood Elf Starstrike Archers are each carrying an interesting longbow -- possibly composite longbows. They're standing firm, ready to draw and fire a hail of arrows at a moment's notice.

The Half-Elf Sorcerer is a striking fellow with a flowing half-robe thing and a bladed pole arm (perhaps a naginata).

The Salamander Troopers are very wicked looking. Very evil faces that look down the length of their stout longspears at whatever it is that got in their way.

Oh, and even though he's part of the August Set 4 release, I thought I'd mention that I saw the concept sketch of the Drider Trooper. He looks like he's going to be a tad on the large side, and he is very sleek, creepy, and crawly on the spidery bottom and wickedly ferocious on the drow-top end. He's got a nasty barbed, curving blade strapped to each forearm that extends from just behind his elbow out to what would be about a foot and a half beyond his cruel fingertips. I'm looking forward to seeing this guy scuttling across the battlefield.

July: D&D Miniatures Boxed Sets (Round II)

The first boxed sets of D&D miniatures were quite popular, so they decided to release another set. Last time, it was a collection of particularly useful minis from the D&D miniatures line. This time, it's a collection of particularly useful (and interesting) models from the Chainmail miniatures game. The great thing is, even if you've already picked up a couple of the minis for your Chainmail warband, you probably don't have all of them. (And, even if you do, can you really have too many minis?)

Anyway, they chose models that complement that first pair of D&D boxed sets. There are six heroes and eight monsters, and each model is accompanied by its Chainmail stat card as well as a D&D Battle Sheet, so they're all ready to drop in to your Chainmail warband or D&D game.

D&D Miniatures Heroes II Boxed Set

  • Aasimar Cleric
  • Dwarf Cleric
  • Dwarf Fighter
  • Halfling Sneak
  • Human Swiftwing Disciple
  • Human Templar

D&D Miniatures Monsters II Boxed Set

  • Crazed Minotaur Cultist
  • Drow Warrior
  • 2 Ghouls
  • 2 Goblin Troopers
  • 2 Hyenas

July: Dungeons & Dragons E-Tools: Character and Monster Generator

I'm still desperately trying to get a look at this. Until I do, I suppose the text that's going on the back of the packaging might suffice:

D&D E-Tools: Character & Monster Generator

Welcome to a whole new way to enhance the Dungeons & Dragons® experience!

D&D® E-Tools: Character & Monster Generator provides players and Dungeon Masters alike with a versatile new option for embellishing the tabletop roleplaying experience. The easy-to-use interface allows quick roll-up of any type of character, monster, or NPC, and an expansive database of magic items, spells, feats, and more is accessible at the click of a button. Users can take advantage of advanced functionality to organize player and character information, track statistics, and even create new worlds for their game. Let D&D E-Tools expand your gameplay like never before!

System Requirements:
Processor IBM® compatible Pentium® II 400 Mhz
OS Windows® 98 w/DirectX 7.0 or better
Hard Drive 40 MB Space
Video Card 4 MB SVGA
CD-Rom Drive

Coming Up Sooner Than You Think: d20 Modern Countdown

Okay. One last bit. The d20 Modern roleplaying game comes out in November. And between now and then, we'll be giving you a lot of information to get you up-to-speed and excited about this thrilling 320-page core rulebook for roleplaying in the modern world.

You might have already gotten a taste of d20 Modern in the Shadow Chasers mini-game feature in Polyhedron 150 (which is bound along with Dungeon Magazine 91 -- the March/April issue). Polyhedron 151 (Dungeon Magazine 92 -- the May/June issue) gives you a first look at one of the d20 character classes: the Tough Hero. And Polyhedron 151 (Dungeon Magazine 93) will put you in the driver's seat of the d20 Modern vehicle combat rules in the Thunderball Rally feature. You can expect Polyhedron to continue giving you a look at more d20 Modern sneak previews (along with all the other great, crunchy d20 gaming good stuff) in the following three issues as well.

Much in the same way we did the Realmswatch last year, you can get a look at d20 Modern in a monthly d20 Modern Countdown web feature. I'll be getting chunks of the manuscript to take a look at, and I will be talking with the people working on the book. To make the deal even sweeter, we'll grab bits of the artwork and will wrangle some excerpts to pass along each month as well. So you'll wanna check that out.

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. Partner, how long has been since you played a good, long session of D&D? Well, that's too long.

This month, he's still excited about getting his first articles in Dragon Magazine and is really looking forward to getting his hands on his set of Olidammara's Dice. He's having a blast working on all the different projects he's got going. It can really get overwhelming at times, but that's just a part of 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.


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