Let me start by mentioning a few monsters from the game: owlbear, dragon turtle, peryton. What do they have in common (aside from producing very confusing scat)? As hybrids, their monstrosity comes from their being a combination of creatures. And the game is flush with them.
Which makes sense, after all. The game pulls from a variety of sources, including myths and legends that themselves extensively use hybrids. Greek mythology brought us quite a few creatures (half human, half animal) that crossed into the game: medusas, minotaurs, centaurs -- plus D&D's own driders and scarrows. Lycanthropes took the concept of half human and half animal creatures to create transformative werecreatures (or in the case of the jackalwere, creatureweres).
And then we have the chimeras, which incorporate any number of hybrid elements, including the mythical chimera itself, the hippogriff, manticore -- and on, to the game's displacer beast (part panther, part octopus), stirge (part bat, part mosquito), and intellect devourer (part brain coral, part pug).
Further, Demogorgon makes use of Appendix D from the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide: Random Generation of Creatures from the Lower Planes (Head: #6, monkey-like; Arms: #4, tentacles).
Hybrids make for some compelling monsters, as well as some outright silly ones (hey there, duck bunny, we're looking at you). With March upon us, and March Madness, we wanted to revisit our own D&D Creature Competition, which is coming soon – with a decidedly hybrid twist. We hope you enjoy it.
Now, on to the previews.
April: Dungeon and Dragon
Let's start off with a look at what's coming soon to Dragon: Athasian familiars, strange gods, and a deeper look at thri-kreen. Plus, henchmen and hirelings (a topic near and dear to my heart)!
Heroes in Dungeons & Dragons are well established as a cut above the common folk in the world. They have talents, training, and magic beyond most people's wildest dreams. Adventurers can stand fast against a red dragon, descend into a goblin warren, and triumph over tricks and traps, but they rely on common folk to handle all the things they cannot or do not wish to do.
Someone, for example, makes the hero's armor, forges the paladin's sword, trains the horse, stands guard at the town's walls, and so on. Most people are content to leave the adventuring business to the professionals and claim their coin and hear their tales when they return. With the right motivation, however, these common folk might be coaxed from relative safety to help the heroes accomplish their goals.
These companions are the henchmen, the lackeys, the hirelings, and servants, and for the right price, they can lend their unique talents to an adventurer's cause.
Those who wish to connect to the innate power of the Shadowfell must forge a strong bond with the plane. To do so requires nothing less than a shard of the supplicant's soul, given over to the unknown of death. How this gruesome task is accomplished varies among practitioners.
According to Evard's Legendry of Phantoms and Ghosts, "To tap into the powers of shadow, you must find that lightest part of your soul and use the following rites to kill it. Fear not. It is only right. That piece simply goes ahead, in death, to that void of great mystery beyond all mortal cares. (May the rest of your soul never join it.) The power of shadow shall bleed into the hollow, making you anew. A darker you lives on, more potent than before. In a way, you have become my kin. Think not to become my rival."
Wizards such as Evard learn arcane rituals to bond with the Shadowfell in this way. Others make pacts with obscure entities of the Shadowfell or lend magical potency to passionate oaths. Those who wield divine power swear service to the darker gods or focus on emotions that have destructive connotations.
Practitioners of primal magic evoke spirits of death, disease, and decay, which have powers rooted in shadow. Assassins learn the secrets of soul sacrifice in their hidden guilds.
Not all who tap into shadow magic deliberately set out to do so, however. Shadow magic seems to have a quiet awareness that waits to fill any dire need or unintended opening. Fiery vows sworn to no one in particular but made with ominous intent can awaken shadow magic within a person. A desire to transcend death at all costs, or the willingness to give up life and love for a goal, can infuse the soul with shadow magic. Careless use of sinister powers, rituals, or items can crack the soul, allowing the shadow in. Interaction with or falling prey to undead or entities from the Shadowfell might do the same.
Gorm the Hidden, the renowned assassin, came to his power in this way. A soldier in Nerath during the gnoll wars that led to the empire's fall, he was on the battlefield when King Elidyr died. Gorm survived. He swore by any powers that were listening to avenge the king. For reasons only he knows, he and his companions went on to slay three barons who also survived the battle that broke the empire. Gorm's story has no true end. He eventually went into the Shadowfell, some say bound for the Raven Queen's domain of Letherna, and never returned to the world again.
In the coming weeks, we'll be presenting our excerpts from Heroes of Shadow, but we'll do so in a slightly different way. In the past, we've showcased an example of material from each section of a particular book (a race, a class, and so on). For Heroes of Shadow, while we'll still showcase material, we'll also give you a better rundown of each section. (What classes does a book cover, for example, and why might they be of interest to you?)
Last month, I alluded to the vampire class (as to why it's a class -- we answered that in Rule-of-Three). This time, before I dive into anything further about new character options, I wanted to first present some of the magic gear and items you might be interested in acquiring for your next visit to the Shadowfell (or similarly gloomy places).
The following items are available in marketplaces found in communities ranging from small villages to large cities. Their "magic" is the power of everyday rituals and folklore. A wise old crone in a distant village might have learned the secrets of a raven's feather from her mother, who learned it from her mother before her.
Blessed Soil: The soil contained within this small, plain bag has been blessed by a cleric or some other wielder of divine magic. If sprinkled over a casket or grave, blessed soil prevents any corpse buried therein from rising as an undead creature due a ritual.
Ghoul Candle: Fashioned from fat rendered from a slain ghoul, a ghoul candle sheds light that is invisible to undead.
Poisoner's Kit: A common item found in the hands of the most dangerous assassins, a poisoner's kit consists of a collection of tools, vials, and base ingredients used to concoct deadly poisons.
Raven's Feather: This plain black feather ends in a small iron needle. When the item's user pricks a creature's skin with the needle, just enough to draw blood, the feather forms a mystic bond to that creature. At the moment of that creature's death, the black feather turns blood red.
Tomb Lock: A tomb lock is an otherwise normal lock that is imbued with magic using a hair or a small piece of flesh taken from a recently deceased creature. Each tomb lock consists of a pair of matching locks. One of the locks is used to secure a door or other opening in the tomb of the creature whose hair was used to create the set of locks. If that lock is ever opened, its twin also snaps open and emits a low, keening wail. In this manner, tomb guards or other sentinels can keep easy watch over a burial ground.
Shadow power does not merely live within those who have the willpower and fortitude to make the sacrifices necessary to wield it. Sometimes, objects that spend too much time in the Shadowfell (or near planar crossings connected to that dark world) take on the properties of the plane, becoming twisted sources of shadow power themselves. Yet others are relics of bygone eras, once held in the hands of powerful wielders of shadow magic, or forged by ancient masters in the shadows of Gloomwrought.
A useful tool for deterring pursuit, Nolzur's inkwell is filled with black ink imbued with the stuff of shadows, illusions, and transmutation. When spilled upon the floor, the ink forms a 20-foot-deep hole within the planar firmament. The hole drops downward, though any creature on a floor below would notice nothing out of the ordinary. The inkwell bends and folds space, creating a hole without expanding downward. Once the magic of the inkwell is discharged, it slowly replenishes over time, refilling with ink again after several hours.
Level 6 Uncommon
This glass inkwell is stained and battered, as if it has seen much use.
Wondrous Item 1,800 gp
Mace of Disruption
These mighty weapons were forged through a combination of Moradin's metalcraft, Kord's great strength, and Ioun's matchless knowledge. Those three gods working together crafted the maces of disruption to honor Pelor, whose powerful healing magic saved the lives of all three during the great war against the primordials. Since that time, maces of disruption have passed among Pelor's ardent followers. Though some still remain in their hands, others have been lost in battle, within deep dungeons, or in other remote places. A mace of disruption is utterly inimical to undead creatures. Within the center of its striking head rests a tiny ember of radiance. That shard is sealed in metal and wood -- were it ever exposed, its light would blind onlookers, including the weapon's wielder -- yet its power courses through the mace. The slightest touch annihilates lesser undead creatures, and vampires, wraiths, and even liches recoil from its blows.
Mace of Disruption
Level 5+ Rare
This iron mace is scribed with a variety of holy runes. It glimmers with white light as divine magic flows through it.
Lvl 5 +1 1,000 gp
Lvl 10 +2 5,000 gp
Lvl 15 +3 25,000 gp
Lvl 20 +4 125,000 gp
Lvl 25 +5 625,000 gp
Lvl 30 +6 3,125,000 gp
Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls
Critical: +1d8 damage per plus
Property: An evil creature that uses this weapon to make an attack takes radiant damage equal to 5 + this weapon's level.
Property: If you attack an undead minion with this weapon, that minion is destroyed, whether the attack hits or misses. If the minion has powers or traits triggered by its destruction, they are not triggered.
Property: If you hit an undead creature with this weapon, you gain a power bonus to the damage roll against that creature. The bonus equals the weapon's enhancement bonus.
Power (Encounter): No Action. Trigger: You hit an undead creature with this weapon. Effect: You push the creature up to 3 squares, and it is immobilized (save ends).
Of course, I'd feel slightly remiss if I did not offer some new character options as well. Heroes of Shadow not only brings new classes, races, feats, and items to the game, but also paragon paths and epic destinies that work, not just for these new classes, but for classes outside the book as well. We've chosen one that fits a wide spectrum of classes.
Prerequisite: Any arcane class
You became a shadowthief when you fell victim to a curse that stole your own shadow away, replacing it with a dark hunger for the shadows of other creatures. You now use your arcane knowledge to seek and draw strength from those shadows, fueling the magic on which your dark power is built.
Even the gods have secrets.
Demascus wakes up alone on the cold stone bed of an ancient altar surrounded by dead cultists. He doesn't know who he is. He doesn't know where he's from. He didn't even know his name until a stranger told it to him. What he does know is that someone -- or something -- wants to kill him.
At the same time, a demon from a dead universe, fossilized and forgotten, is freed by careless miners. His sentience takes root in the nightmares of his chosen host and begins the transformation that will return him to his former glory.
But then the demon runs into the last person he thought he would ever see again: Demascus, the Sword of the Gods, the assassin who'd almost killed him before he escaped into Faerûn. He's back from the dead to finish what he started.
But not if the demon kills him first.
"Heroes? Aye, that's what we need. More heroes to feed the shadows."
-- Soldier in the Deathless Watch
The Shadowfell thrives on the cusp of decay, the moment when death finishes dissolving life to feed rebirth and new birth throughout the planes. A land cocooned in near twilight, it is a bubbled mirror of the mortal world, bewitching loosed souls and adventurers alike. Thrumming with danger, it is home to the living and the dead, the decadent and the desperate, the daring and the despondent.
The Campaign Guide for The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond offers hooks to lure adventurers to Gloomwrought and its sister locations, and it should keep them engaged in action and intrigue. The purpose of the accompanying Encounter Book is to provide Dungeon Masters with quick, premade encounters that (with little or no effort) can blend into any campaign.
Let's examine one such encounter, and then more of the creatures it features: golems!
Encounter Level 13 (4,800 XP)
1 hearth golem (H)
2 watchful ghosts (G)
1 malicious ghost (M)
Gloomwrought's Undercity, a catacomb of aged buildings and rooms the city has absorbed and entombed over centuries, usually swallows empty structures, but not always.
Decades ago, a brutal rivalry reached its crescendo when House Treyvan attacked the company headquarters of House Sulist, destroying the building with its enemy's soldiers inside. When the city consumed the structure, the soldiers went with it -- body and soul. The corpses have long since turned to dust, but the soldiers' spirits remain on duty.
Strangely, the headquarters lives on as well. Since outside forces damaged it before its maturation, the structure had not fully lost the living energy Gloomwrought suffused it with. Part of the wreckage absorbed that energy and manifested as a hearth golem. Recognizing the soldiers' spirits as its former occupants, the golem still attends to them.
When the heroes enter the building, read:
As you entered the broken remains of a large, utilitarian building, you heard sounds of low voices. Now that you're in the foyer, you can see an orange glow coming through the doorway from the room adjacent to the foyer. A ghostly figure dressed as a soldier stands in the corner of the foyer at the foot of a stairway, and another guard is right behind it on the steps.
Golems that come into being in Gloomwrought take life from the same energy that causes the city's architecture to shift. The reason why buildings and other physical features of the city wax and wane is unknown, but whatever power causes the phenomenon is imperfect.
Collapsing buildings do not always go quietly -- a spark of life sometimes escapes. A column, an archway, or even a street corner can absorb this energy and become animate. Even the wall that surrounds the city might slough off a chunk of itself to form a wall golem.
A Gloomwrought golem acts as an independent creature but remains part of the whole -- it can still tap into the city's energy, causing the ground to rise up and hinder enemies. Though the golems are dangerous, residents of Gloomwrought bear them no ill will, understanding that they are a normal hazard of life in the City of Midnight.
Like most golems, Gloomwrought golems have little intelligence. Any one that comes into existence wanders aimlessly until it is destroyed or "tamed" by a member of one of Gloomwrought's factions. If someone can imitate or impersonate a resident of the house or the area where a golem originated, the construct might serve as that person's guardian. (Needless to say, the same is true for anyone who actually is affiliated with the house or the area.) Except for those who enter into this sort of relationship, Gloomwrought golems stand apart from any other creatures and do not hesitate to attack anyone who approaches them.
A golem that enters into service with an individual is a loyal ally of that person, just as if the new master had personally made the golem. The golem might show up as a guard at its master's home or place of business. Sometimes a clever master commands his or her golem to disguise itself as part of the architecture to fool intruders.
Whenever a building or a street in Gloomwrought undergoes a major change of form, a golem might split from it. Even though golems must normally be created deliberately by an intelligent crafter, observation and examination of Gloomwrought golems reveals that they exhibit all the usual characteristics of golems. They aren't just some other form of construct.
This fact suggests that the City of Midnight itself has a form of sentience, but everyone who has made this connection in the past has gained no more information by exploring it further.
Those who know the proper rituals can create their own Gloomwrought golems by calling them forth from the shifting city. These rituals work best in areas of the city that have recently undergone -- or are in the middle of -- major, rapid changes. The would-be master has a better chance of creating a golem if the faint sentience that imbues it no longer feels "at home" where it was located.
Golems in Your Game
The street golem, hearth golem, and wall golem are good additions to almost any fight in Gloomwrought. The golems can serve virtually any faction, or they can be monsters that spontaneously join a fight. The street golems are not elite like most other golems, so you can use several of them during a battle on the streets, perhaps against Midnight's Own or the Deathless Watch. Wall golems can leap out of a wall on either the inside or outside of a building. Their absence could destabilize a structure or create a new opening, causing the battlefield to change in interesting ways.
In this book, you'll find a codex of monsters and villains to throw at the heroes as they explore every nook and cranny of the Nentir Vale or, by extension, your home campaign setting.
Each entry includes information about how to use the monsters in the story of your campaign. Most of the entries mention locales within the vale, but if your campaign uses a different setting, you can easily adapt the story material to suit your needs. Accompanying the story material are statistics blocks representing various threats, including unique villains and monster variants. The villains and monsters span a variety of roles and levels, allowing you to use this material throughout much of the heroes' adventuring careers.
This product includes tokens you can use to represent the monsters in encounters, plus a poster map that depicts four different locations: a boulder-strewn wilderness, an underground throne room, a shoreline camp, and a town hall. Each of the monster entries in this book can be paired with one or more of the maps; occasional sidebars provide examples of how to use a particular map for an encounter with the creatures in that section.
We're just a short ways out from previewing the monsters in depth, but let's leave with a few images of what monsters (many new, plus some old favorites) you can expect to find! Our thanks to artists Eric Deschamps, Ben Wooten, Howard Lyon, Dave Allsop -- and Wayne Reynolds rockin' the peryton!
Well, folks -- that's this month's sneak peeks. As always, be sure to check our excerpts for individual previews from our books, and Bill Slavicsek's Ampersand column for the earliest insights and announcements about the game.
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.