Previews Archive | 11/7/2011
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November: In the Works
Bart Carroll

Hi folks,

In September's D&D Alumni, we asked you about your favorite henchman. Now that we've moved on to horror movies, let's finally reveal the results for your favorite henchman, shall we?

Which is your favorite henchman?
Harley Quinn (the Joker) 401 20.2%
Alfred (Batman) 394 19.9%
Samwise Gamgee (Frodo) 320 16.1%
Pinky (the Brain) 303 15.3%
H.E.L.P.eR. (Rusty Venture) 132 6.7%
Smithers (Mr. Burns) 121 6.1%
Igor (Dr. Frankenstein) 97 4.9%
Sancho Panza (Don Quixote) 73 3.7%
Mini-Me (Dr. Evil) 72 3.6%
None of the above (someone else I've nominated in the comments field) 56 2.8%
Little Helper (Gyro Gearloose) 13 0.7%
Total 1982 100.0%

Who was a write-in vote? Nodwick, Artie (Larry Sanders Show), GIR (Invader Zim), Ukko the Dwarf (Slaine), Minion (Megamind), Mr. Kidd/Mr. Wint (Diamonds are Forever), Mo (Wall-E), 21 and 24 (Venture Brothers), Dr. Watson (Sherlock Holmes), Renfield (Dracula), Baldrick (Blackadder), Thing (Addam's Family), Igor(s) (Discworld), Igor (Young Frankenstein), Sebastian Michaelis (Black Butler anime) -- with one vote for Spike, the teeny dragon from My Little Pony.

We had some debate as to whether Sam Gamgee should have been on the list: the argument is that he wasn't a henchman at all. From various sources, Sam has been described as Frodo's "batman" (not exactly the costumed vigilante sort, although it does make the top three choices all batman references). In this case, batman refers to the personal servant of a British military officer. As Tolkien wrote in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: "My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflection of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognized as so far superior to myself."

So true. Sam was also a friend and trusted companion of Frodo, but so was Alfred to the real Batman, and I'd argue for both Sam and Alfred as fitting the category of "henchman."

Sadly, my own personal choice came in last: Little Helper, from the absolutely incredible comic books of Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, his nephews, and Gyro Gearloose.

We also discussed cursed items. Although the article mentioned several famous items, I asked what cursed items might have been left out. Here are a few of your responses:

One arguably cursed item was the Siege Perilous in Arthurian legend: the chair at the Round Table in which only the perfect knight (Sir Galahad) could sit. Anyone else foolish or arrogant enough to try was immediately seized by devils and dragged off to Hell.
--Stephen

The Octavo in Terry Pratchett's book, The Colour of Magic. It would be a wonderful cursed spell book to offer up to an arcane character. It contains an ultimate-destructive-power-type spell that literally moves into its reader's mind. And because it is a sentient spell with a jealous lover personality, it refuses to allow any others spells to be contained/known by that mind.
--Perry



November: Books and E-books

With novels releasing on the first Tuesday of each month, that means our most recent set of novels is simultaneously available in e-book form. Sample chapters are offered for the following novels.

Cold Steel and Secrets
By Rosemary Jones

A whiff of brimstone, a laughing ghost, and talk of a crown . . . In part 2 of this four-part Neverwinter novella, Rucas Sarfael finds himself invited to a meeting of rebel leaders and entangled more than he would like in the plans of the beautiful and dangerous Elyne. When those plans lead to a mad seer, Rucas finds a clue to the treasure he seeks -- and more than one path to doom.

An exclusive ebook offering, with each part available as a $1.99 download.

Death Mark
By Robert J. Schwalb

"Whoever controls the mines controls the world," said Thaxos Vordon. "It is as simple as that."

In the aftermath of revolution, King Kalak of Tyr is dead and all eyes fall on the lucrative iron mines of his once mighty city-state. Merchant houses scramble to seize what scraps they can while King Hamanu of Urik, the Lion of the Desert, rallies his armies to crush the Tyr rebellion. He cannot allow insurrection to succeed and intends to seize the city's precious resources for himself. As the tyrannical specter of Hamanu's war machine looms on the horizon, the hope of the Tyr revolution seems lost.

But fate chooses unlikely heroes. The gladiator Loren, pressed into service by a corrupt prince; Alaeda Stel whose ambition isn't above exploiting chaos of Tyr's revolt; a common thief named Melech; and Korvack, a disgraced templar; these are freedom's best and only hope to overcome the greed and lust that blossom in the rebellion's power vacuum.


Brimstone Angels

Farideh met the devil in the dead of winter, seventeen years after she'd been left at the gates of a village on no one's map. It was the winter after she'd drunk too much whiskey for the first time, and four winters after she'd had her first heartbreak, infatuated with the dairyman's much older son. Seven winters had passed since she'd first managed to swing a sword without dropping it.

And ten winters had blown through the village of Arush Vayem since she'd first realized that all of these things were bound to be heavy with other implications -- all because she was a tiefling.

Rejected at birth and raised in a village of tiefling misfits, Farideh expects a life without friends, love, or control over her destiny. Then she makes a pact with a devil named Lorcan, and everything changes.




November: Heroes of the Feywild

Full previews for Heroes of the Feywild have just wrapped up, but let's end with a final early look inside this book. First, we have a tour through the most alluring and dangerous places in the Feywild: the demesnes belonging to the archfey. The personal realms of the mightiest fey creatures, these locations reflect the true nature of their lieges, each acting as a mirror of what lies within its core.

From there, we take a look at new options offered for the druid (a class with obvious connection to the natural wonders of the Feywild).

Senaliesse

Cresting the titanic silver trees of the Summer Queen's demesne is a palace woven from the living wood by the hand of Oran, the Green Lord, one of the greatest of the archfey. Summer never ends in this realm, hung with curtains of ivy and cascades of orchids, lavender, and roses. Here, the archfey of the Court of Stars gather to confer, revel, and scheme. Courtiers and petitioners from every realm in the known universe, overburdened with wondrous gifts, come to beg the Summer Queen's favor.

Cradled in mighty silver limbs high above the Feywild, the Summer Queen's demesne is a sacred haven reserved for the Court of Stars and those who have business with the archfey. The sheltering light of high Senaliesse bathes the enchanted forest for miles around in the protective glow of the Summer Queen's presence. It is here in the land of eternal summer that you make your home. Industrious gnomes flit amid the massive roots of great trees while sun-eyed summer nymphs play in the shady groves among passionate satyrs, stately treants, and quiet dryads.

When the sun sets over the Feywild, unicorns the color of midsummer stars emerge to drink from the enchanted streams, and the tall grasses giggle with the childlike laughter of pixies reveling in the warm summer night.

If you hail from Senaliesse, you are accustomed to a life of perpetual merriment, experiencing every sensation as if for the first time. Your people never tire of games and sport. Visitors to Senaliesse who refuse to play become the targets of your tricks and pranks -- a game unto itself. However, you give each friend of the fey a blue chrysanthemum that never loses its petals; those favored few can travel through your realm without molestation.

Diplomats and courtiers of every stripe pass through your enchanted forest, including benevolent sprites, wicked hags, and everything in between. Few creatures encounter as many powerful beings in their lives as you do in the course of a year, and you are quite comfortable in the presence of such beings. When you cross paths with a mighty archfey or hag, your people chant the rhyme, "Beneath the sun or falling rain, I yield to thee thy path again," in deference to the dominant traveler. Such verses have power in the fey realm, and anyone who recites that particular rhyme must immediately be excused for any perceived slight against the archfey.

Despite the wonder of Senaliesse, as an adventurer at heart you yearn for something beyond the protective light from above. Even among the most exquisite sights in existence, a restless part of you craves the conflicts and struggles of the wider world. People come to the Summer Queen for favors, bringing desperate causes, terrible tragedies, and tales of tyrants and monsters to be overthrown. And when they cannot find succor among the Court of Stars, some turn to you, begging for your help.

Vale of the Long Night

Beneath the oppressive snowfalls that drown the land in a crystal-white ocean of winter, the Fortress of Frozen Tears rises from a high glacial spire like a jagged icicle. The constant glow of the ever-full moon shines down on frozen lakes, gnarled and barren orchards, and lonely, snow-covered mountains. The stars burn coldly overhead, as distant and pitiless as billions of icy snowflakes poised in the everlasting darkness, waiting to descend.

Long ago, the Summer Prince who lived here lost his heart to one of the fair Daughters of Delight (see "Court of Stars: The Prince of Frost" in Dragon 374). She betrayed him for the love of a mortal hero, escaping to a time and place beyond his reach. As a result, the prince's heart turned to solid ice, and his demesne became a desolate realm of frozen night, the least hospitable land on the surface of the Feywild. Only the winter fey feel at home here, although they do not share the intense spite exhibited by the Prince of Frost.

If you hail from the Vale of Long Night, your existence constitutes little beyond grim survival in the endless moonlight. You spend your days hunting the hardy game animals that feed on tundra moss and grass, making clothes of their hides and tools of their bones; the realm has precious few resources, and even fewer crops grow in this area. Winter fey sculpt the snow to make ice castles, hags take flight across the frosty skies, and winter nymphs ride on the backs of wolves, howling across the tundra in search of prey.

You might cling to this place for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the Prince of Frost froze you in a block of ice and kept you captive in his fortress for years or centuries, then recently released you to further his ends. You might be part of a nomadic tribe living on the border of the Vale of Long Night, or a subject of the prince, dwelling within the walls of his cold fortress. If you are a hamadryad, perhaps the vale contains your tree home, and you subsist on moonlight and snow rather than sunlight and water.

However you came to be here, your survival depends on your wit, strength, endurance, and capacity to make uncompromising choices. The indecisive are extinguished as quickly as candle flames in the winter wind. In this land, emotions are flaws to be manipulated, and the weak fall quickly to stronger predators. As a native of the Vale of Long Night, whenever you allow your emotions to rule your actions or words, it is your custom to spill three drops of your blood on the ground. You take this action in homage to the Prince of Frost, whose frozen heart can no longer feel or bleed.

Druid

Druids are exceptional masters of primal magic. Capable of summoning creatures out of thin air and shapeshifting, druids are found among many races of the Feywild, defending the primeval regions of the plane from despoilers.

Protector

Primal Controller: You have mastered the power and magic of nature, using it to create a line of defense between the natural world and those that would harm it.

Key Abilities: Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity

Though most people associate the Feywild with arcane magic, it is also home to some of the most pristine regions of natural growth across all of the planes. Primeval forests sit untouched by civilization since their creation, alongside mountainsides and hilltops upon which no intelligent being has ever set foot. It should be no surprise that there are those who have chosen a life of protection and guardianship over the natural treasures of the plane.

As with all druids, protectors are the masters of the magic first shared with mortals by the primal spirits. The primal spirits might dwell chiefly in the world, but the druids of the Feywild hear their call and heed their guidance even in the fey realm. Though it might seem as though the presence of the primal spirits in the Feywild would be at a diminished level, in truth primal magic is often among the most effective tools to use in a plane infused with arcane magic. Where many of the dangers of the Feywild have evolved over the eons to deal with the omnipresent nature of arcane threats, primal magic is still untamed and unanticipated by most creatures of the plane.

As a protector, you learned your primal magic from a druid circle, which trained you to protect nature and punish those that would do it harm. By ensuring that the land, the water, and the sky inhabited by the primal spirits is protected, you become a staunch defender of those who live in harmony with nature and show respect for their natural surroundings. You might go out into the world to seek new experiences and powerful artifacts of primal magic. Though you will stray far from your druid circle in the course of your adventures, your efforts reflect on its goals, and you will use the knowledge it has granted you to battle despoilers and defilers throughout the world and across the planes.

(199 Kbs PDF)


November: Dragon Collectors Set

Of all the monsters in the world, dragons are the most feared. A fledgling group of adventurers might have what it takes to best a weak dragon, but the most powerful dragons are awesome, devastating creatures that rival even the gods.

Inside this limited-edition box set, you will find the five most iconic evil dragons in the Dungeons & Dragons game. We've already revealed the white and green dragons, but in case you missed them, here they are in all their draconic glory!




December: Book of Vile Darkness

No description adequately evokes the fear and revulsion experienced by those who have encountered the dreaded Book of Vile Darkness. An ancient tome, it is said to be the foremost authority on evil, exploring every manifestation of darkness as it appears throughout the world and the planes beyond. It corrupts and destroys all whose eyes fall upon its filthy pages. It is a unique tome. There is no other of its kind or equal. Copies do exist and some might even contain excerpts from the original, but all are fragmentary -- flawed, imperfect facsimiles lacking in the true power contained by the original work.

The Book of Vile Darkness is not a traditional tome; it is never fixed or complete. The book is always changing. New pages replace the old. Each time the book falls into wicked hands, its contents evolve. Those with the power to master the book are free to replace, revise, and add to its contents, and the tome changes form and composition to reflect the interests of its user. Anyone else -- anyone too weak, too good, or too easily frightened -- finds annihilation as his or her only reward.

Vecna is often credited as the book's original author, and the introduction quoted above seems to confirm this. Others have argued that Vecna came upon the tome during his rise to power. The book's secrets proved a contributing factor, along with Kas's betrayal, to the archlich's apotheosis. Some point to another figure as the original writer -- a horrific monster called Nhagruul, who allegedly fashioned the tome from his own flesh. Nhagruul supposedly crafted the ink from his blood and bound his very soul into the manuscript. A third belief holds that anonymous seers of Tharizdun, the Chained God, created the book as a tool to annihilate the works of law and chaos -- the worlds of the gods and the primordials. The tome's true origins are likely lost forever, since its changing nature and numerous contributors make it difficult to identify the original author.

The book is a great, ugly thing, its black patchwork cover held in place by heavy metal plates and adamantine wire. Claws and teeth sprout from its spine, while a heavy iron hasp and padlock hold the book closed. Textual revisions and additions are immediately obvious when examining its contents. Most pages are parchment, likely made from humanoid skin, though other sheets are made of thin lead, a dragon scale, or stranger materials. The writing's clarity ranges from lucid to incoherent, some in tight, neatly cramped rows and others in insane scrawls spattered with drool and blood. Diagrams, illustrations, and commentary from past owners break up the text. The book is almost impossible to navigate rationally, and learning anything useful from the book requires long hours of study.

It is hard to guess why this book was originally written. Many believe that the book was intended to serve as a profane liturgy for priests of the newly ascendant Vecna, and one can find passages in Vecna's surviving entries of the book similar to parts of other works authored by the archlich. The writing covers a wide range of grisly subjects -- ritual sacrifice, demon husbandry, methods of extracting pain from the innocent, and so on. One does not read the book from front to back, since there is no order or structure to its contents. Instead, a reader leafs through the book, letting the corruption in his or her soul guide the eyes as they fall upon the page, to glean what lore the book bestows.

Devouring the tome rewards the dedicated reader with profound insight into evil's machinations, aiding the scholar in refining individual talents, while adding fuel to the corrupt fire burning in his or her breast. To all others, this book is an accursed thing, an object to be torn asunder, burned, its ashes scattered to the four winds. The darkness within the tattered pages is palpable. Those of pure spirit unfortunate enough to handle the text find their flesh blistering almost instantly. For those daring to read it, many things might occur: death is the most common result, the reader's brain liquefied in place. Others are driven mad or so corrupted they become monstrous things, filthy wretches beyond redemption. There are a few -- perhaps those the book chooses -- who find wisdom in the erratic text, and with that wisdom plunge into true villainy.

Introduction

"You're adventurers, aren't you? I used to be an adventurer, back before I got turned into a demon. I was also a king. Yeah, a king! With a great kingdom and a million loyal subjects! Say, is that the Book of Vile Darkness you got there? Y'know, they only made nine copies. I have the other eight. Wouldn't mind adding that one to my collection."
—Fraz-Urb'Luu, Demon Prince of Deception

The Book of Vile Darkness corrupts all who come into contact with it. Its pages contain the wisdom, musings, and mad ravings of evil gods, demons, archwizards, liches, dragons, and other mighty beings. By opening its covers and thumbing through its contents, one can achieve great power -- at the cost of one's life, soul, sanity, or all of the above. Such is the nature of evil, and such is the nature of this unholy tome.

Adventurers, not surprisingly, are among the most tempted to seek out the Book of Vile Darkness, drawn by the promise of power and too arrogant to think they could fall victim to its destructive tendencies. What they find in its pages are disturbing images and countless ways to inflict pain and terror on their enemies. What they don't see is the path down which the book guides them -- a path leading to their own annihilation and the destruction of everything they hold dear -- for the power and the allure are oftentimes too great to ignore.

We noted last month that the Book of Vile Darkness comes with two books and a foldout battle map.

The smaller book is a guide for players interested in creating and playing evil adventurers. It provides new options for adventurers of any alignment, although the contents are even more tempting to characters who are evil-curious or rotten to the core. These new options include the following:

  • New character themes: cultist, disgraced noble, infernal slave, reaver, and vile scholar.
  • New paragon paths: bloodcrazed berserker, contract killer, demonologist, idol of darkness, and vermin lord.
  • The Exemplar of Evil epic destiny.
  • A selection of divine devotion feats, divinity feats, and vile feats.

The larger book is intended for the Dungeon Master, and it contains everything you need to place evil on center stage in your games. It offers extensive advice about building story villains and running campaigns for evil adventurers. It also includes an assortment of tools to test and shock your players (these include vile encounters, evil monster themes, and new monsters, which we'll preview below).

It also concludes with an adventure ("The Vile Tomb") that explores what might happen when heroes come across the Book of Vile Darkness and includes combat encounters that use the battle map.

The Vile Tomb

"Destroying the book is easy. You need only three things: the Ritual of Endings and Beginnings, the Well of Many Worlds, and a death wish."
—Rule-of-Three, cambion

The greatest prize any servant of darkness can win is without a doubt the Book of Vile Darkness. There are more fabrications than truths about this dark work, yet it surely offers power beyond any mortal reckoning. Wicked beings have claimed this tome at various points in history, each time blotting the world with sinister deeds and vile acts. Sometimes the book finds its way into less villainous hands. When it does, tragedy almost always follows.

"The Vile Tome" is a short set of encounters you can add to an ongoing campaign to describe what happens when the Book of Vile Darkness falls into heroes' hands. The various encounters detail key events that can occur during the paragon tier as the adventurers grapple with the dread power in their hands. Unlike other adventures, the encounters described here do not immediately follow each other. Instead, you decide when to use them based on when they would be most appropriate to your campaign.

This chapter presents four encounters:

  • The heroes find the book amid the ruins of a shattered fortress and battle demons.
  • Hounded by agents of evil, the heroes stumble upon a crazy knight with a sordid tale.
  • The heroes pursue a lead that could help them destroy the book -- or master it.
  • The future of the cosmos hangs in the balance as the heroes use the Well of Many Worlds to empower or destroy the Book of Vile Darkness.
  • In addition to the adventure itself, this chapter includes the Book of Vile Darkness artifact and support for introducing the item, dealing with its influence, and getting rid of the artifact once the adventurers have had enough.

New Monsters: Dragonspawn, Nhagruul

Nhagruul, the deformed wizard who sought to use the Book of Vile Darkness to conquer and enslave the world, left behind many dark legacies. The Nhagruul dragonspawn are among the most fearsome remnants of his schemes. The psychotic mage grew the dragonspawn in his laboratory from evil dragon eggs his apprentices stole. The wizard used his own demonic essence to corrupt the embryos. When the eggs hatched, twisted, dragonlike monstrosities magically connected to Nhagruul greeted their maker, and they instinctively bent their necks to the greater wicked power.

At the height of Nhagruul's influence, the dragonspawn were formidable and cunning beasts that could magically outmaneuver even the most accomplished magi. When the Book of Vile Darkness consumed Nhagruul, the dragonspawn weakened and grew desperate. Eventually, the monsters turned on one another as they vied for territory and treasure. It's unknown how many of the creatures survived the rivalry. In the years since, the survivors have withdrawn to their secluded lairs, and their memories of Nhagruul and the glory days have faded away with their magic.

Lore
Arcana or History DC 29: Dragonspawn are the foul progeny of the demon-wizard Nhagruul, who incubated their eggs in festering pools of demonic slime. Dozens of these wyrmlings were born linked to the mage's evil essence, but Nhagruul destroyed the most heinously deformed ones.

Few Nhagruul dragonspawn have survived since the dark wizard's destruction (or disappearance, as some attest). Although it's hard to mistake them for true dragons, Nhagruul dragonspawn possess certain characteristics in common with their draconic ancestors, including leathery wings and breath weapons.

No two Nhagruul dragonspawn look exactly alike. Their draconic features blend hideously with the more monstrous traits of the vile wizard who spawned them. For this reason, they are often referred to in historical accounts as "vile dragons," though this name hardly captures the terror their appearances instill in would-be prey.

Encounters
The hardiest of the Nhagruul dragonspawn live on civilization's fringes, lairing in deep caves, forests, and old ruins.

A Nhagruul dragonspawn attacks any dragon it encounters. After laying claim to a dragon's lair, a dragonspawn devours all but one of its victim's eggs. The dragonspawn corrupts the remaining egg with its saliva, bathing the shell in sputum several times a day until it hatches into a new Nhagruul dragonspawn.



And that's this month's look at what's coming out in the months ahead!

Bart Carroll
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.
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