n today's preview of the Dungeon Survival Handbook: Into the Unknown, we look at new powers that can help you survive the perils of the dungeon—with a special look at those powers gained in the shadow of the Ziggurat!
Black passageways stretch out in all directions. The still, stifling air swirls gently with each cautious step forward. The clank of armor and the crunch of footsteps on gravel are the only sounds in the deep chambers, but their soft echoes seem deafening.
Around the next corner, faint lights are visible down the corridor. With no way to gauge distance in the darkness, they could be anything: far-off torches, nearby glowing fungi, or the eyes of a lurking beast reflecting the flame. After sharing a glance with the others, the party leader lifts the shutter of the bull's-eye lantern to reveal what lies ahead. . . .
Your character's class, theme, and other background information probably say much about why he or she braves the depths (or intends to). The following sections discuss different ways for players to put a sharper focus on why their characters do what they do. Each section is about a type of people or an organization and elaborates on or is connected loosely to one of the themes presented earlier in this chapter. For example, the Deep Guides is an organization of Underdark explorers that works well with the deep delver theme.
Each of the entries that follows includes a number of attack powers for certain classes. Each entry also includes skill powers associated with useful subterranean exploration skills. You can choose these powers to flesh out a character with an associated theme, but anyone who wants to explore under the earth can benefit from them.
Gaining and Using Skill Powers
Skill powers, which first appeared in Player's Handbook 3, present an alternative to class utility powers. You can gain and use only the skill powers associated with your trained skills. Whenever you reach a level that grants you a utility power from your class, you can choose a skill power in place of a class power. The skill power you choose must be of the same level as or lower in level than the class power you would have gained.
You can use retraining to replace a class power with a skill power and vice versa, as long as the new power is of the same level as or lower in level than the replaced power.
You cannot replace a utility power from a paragon path or an epic destiny with a skill power.
Shadow of the Ziggurat
"I must confess these caverns fill me with dread. They feel different from the corridors before . . . familiar in a way I can't understand."
—Mord, escaped thrall
Something disturbs the oily surface of the Dark Lake. Ripples spread slowly, washing against the eight sides of the enigmatic structure that rises sheer from the fathomless depths, its black stones brooding in oppressive silence. The surface of the lake breaks, revealing for a moment a shape not meant for mortal eyes before it slips again beneath the stygian waters.
The Dark Lake Ziggurat (Underdark, page 42) is a place of terrible import. An artifact created by entities from the Far Realm, it exudes an alien unwholesomeness. Heroes of the sane world point to the dreadful structure when rallying forces against the aberrations of the depths.
Yet the ziggurat is but one of many such places in the Underdark that spread evil to the world above. In recent years the traffic to these insane locales has increased, pointing to the growing influence of the Far Realm. Individuals affected by this horrid presence are being drawn to the dungeons and caverns of the Underdark. The weak-willed never return; the strong triumph over madness.
Aberrant creatures are the true lords of the Underdark, more so then even the drow. The dark elves possess a culture and history that the surface races can comprehend, but aberrations are inscrutable. They seem intent on dominating all life, though scholars can only speculate on their true nature and motives.
Aboleths, beholders, and mind flayers are the best known of these monsters, but the weird darkness holds numerous others. Their presence portends dire things to come as the Far Realm slowly uncoils its tentacles across the world. More and more incidents on the surface are being instigated by intellects from below—sometimes subtle, sometimes catastrophic.
Few individuals realize the truth behind these malignant events. Only those who have encountered the Far Realm’s corruption and survived its maddening influence understand the threat. They are compelled to explore and overcome the terrible dark, even when their instincts scream at them not to. Whether they experience very strong emotions or are acutely sensitive to psychic phenomena, they hear the Far Realm’s call more clearly than others.
Adventurers who face aberrant creatures too often end up devoured, enslaved, or driven mad. Those who survive such encounters have developed effective methods to defeat them. Such techniques exploit aberrant creatures’ psychic abilities or use specialized magic to burn away their otherworldly flesh.
Only a fool dares face aberrants without training in Dungeoneering—especially since most such horrors make their lairs in the Underdark. Not only does this skill help you navigate and survive the depths, it can also give you vital insight into your foe. Knowing the unique strengths, vulnerabilities, and behavior of these alien beings can mean the difference between striking a victorious blow and having your brain sucked from your skull.
Sometimes an aberrant’s tricks are more subtle, involving illusions. Training in Insight and Arcana are handy for distinguishing between reality and delusion.
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.