In the last couple of months, we announced the forthcoming changes to the D&D website. Now we're pleased to have launched the refresh on 2/16. As previously discussed, our main goals for the refresh were as follows:
- To create a simplified entry experience for new users.
- To create a more robust content area for existing users.
- To create a dedicated area for D&D Next/playtesting information.
For #1, we created a landing page for first-time visitors, with very clear links to general questions that lead you more instructively into the site.
Returning visitors skip past this landing page (unless their browsers have cookies disabled), and head straight to a more simplified homepage. Here, the main promotions and events are displayed—again, to better lead newer users more instructively into the site rather than overloading them with too many calls-to-action all at once. This was a common complaint with the previous homepage; new users found it far too complex to navigate and to find what they needed.
For #2, we created Daily D&D as a content-rich page for existing users. Daily D&D is meant to better display our wealth of content—to give articles more prominence and longevity before they roll into the archives. This was also a complaint about the previous homepage: content was kept fairly minimized and appeared nondynamic.
We recognize that for existing users, there's less of a need to return to the homepage. For that reason (and to keep the navigation as uncluttered as possible), we removed "Home" from the top navigation and made the D&D logo clickable instead. We also established www.dailydnd.com, which takes users straight to Daily D&D. That said, homepage promotions will still appear in Daily D&D in some fashion—we don't want users to miss out on information by bypassing the homepage.
And for #3, we created the Playtest hub; since playtesting is a main focus for us these days, we also added it to the top navigation. In addition, www.dndnext.com will take you straight to this hub, which aggregates articles and blog posts related to the D&D Next playtest.
Website News and Issues
Having launched a refresh to the website, we're still always looking for ways to improve the experience. For example, we hope to create a more mobile-friendly version (which will likely encompass the Daily D&D blog of articles).
If you are experiencing any difficulties viewing the website, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We did have initial reports of the homepage in particular not loading or displaying properly in certain browsers (Firefox and Chrome), and we believe that this largely has to do with an issue of caching. Unfortunately, a browser refresh alone will not solve this issue. We recommend users clear their cache (here are instructions for Firefox and Chrome) to alleviate the issue.
Also, although we announced that Jon Schindehette would be launching his new art column, the initial title (Prismatic Spray) did not pass the muster around the halls of R&D. It has since been renamed Dragon's Eye View, with the first column debuting back on 02/22. Be sure to check it out, and join the conversation regarding D&D's artwork and how it might move forward with D&D Next.
And with that, let's get to our previews!
As a reminder, if you're looking to get involved with the playtest, be sure to sign up for further information right here. In addition, the D&D Next community group page offers R&D blogs, polls, and community discussions regarding the playtest—and, of course, the D&D Next playtest page now aggregates relevant content as well.
Plus, Tracy Hurley's recent Joining the Party continues to offer related community blog posts and discussions regarding D&D Next.
Books and E-Books
Here they are! As always we start the month by taking a look at our most recent set of novels, which release in print and simultaneously in e-book format. (We do have a few e-book exclusives, though, so look for those!) To start, there have been a few recent revisions to the product catalog. Please note that the 10th Anniversary edition of R.A Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen Volume 1 has moved from March to April (and its product page now sports its final cover). Also, Bruce Cordell's Sword of the Gods: Spinner of Lies, an e-book exclusive, has moved from May to June.
Now then, let's take a look at what's coming out!
Venom in Her Veins
By Tim Pratt
Out this month, Venom in Her Veins follows Zaltys, a girl like any other to grow up ranging the jungles of the Southern Lluirwood. She's a crack shot with a bow and no stranger to the dangers that lurk beneath the deep forest canopy. As the veil is lifted on the world Zaltys thought she knew, a pathway to the Underdark promises the answers her family never gave. As she ventures forth in search of truth, Zaltys finds betrayal to be a much easier quarry. But it will take more than a lode of lies to quell the venom in her veins.
Fleetwood Robbins writes about Zaltys in tomorrow's Book Wyrms column—specifically concerning her nature as an antihero: "Heroes are morally good, courageous, honest, and self-sacrificing. There are perhaps a few more characteristics, but you get the picture: A deficiency in any of those characteristics will not result in a hero. Everything has to be just right, like it is with Superman or Tim Tebow. The antihero, on the other hand, has the luxury of being a lying, morally ambiguous coward."
The Eye of the Chained God
By Don Bassingthwaite
From the dark of a ruined universe, the eye of the chained god sees all . . .
Tormented by his near transformation at the hands of the plague demon prince Vestapalk, Albanon has retreated to Moorin's tower, seeking answers—and solace. He is the last member of the Order of Vigilance, touched by both the Voidharrow and Tharizdun. He stood on the precipice of madness and saw into the heart of the Abyss.
The Nentir Vale is rampant with plague demons while heroes Shara, Uldane, Roghar, and Tempest scout for the source of the pestilence. With Vestapalk growing ever stronger, they know they have to act soon. The world cannot afford to wait any longer.
As they journey toward the greatest concentration of demons, they learn they are on the right path, and they gain an unlikely ally. From beyond the reaches of the universe, Tharizdun looks on.
R.A. Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen, Volume 1
By Richard Lee Byers, Thomas M. Reid, and Richard Baker
The War of the Spider Queen—the epic, six-book series from the fertile imaginations of R.A. Salvatore and a select group of the Forgotten Realms best-selling authors—begins here. Ten years after its initial publication, we are proud to present this groundbreaking series in two attractive collector's editions. This first volume contains the following books:
While their whole world is changing around them, four dark elves struggle against different enemies. Yet their paths will lead them all to the most terrifying discovery in the long history of the drow and set them on a quest to save not only Menzoberranzan but the entire dark elf race from dissolution.
A handpicked team of the most capable drow adventurers begins a perilous journey through the treacherous Underdark, all the while surrounded by the chaos of war. Their path will take them through the very heart of darkness, and the Underdark will be shaken to its core. If the powerful dark elves falter, the world below is open for insurrection.
From the burning sand of Anauroch to the labyrinthine Underdark, an epic quest for the very essence of the Spider Queen takes one startling turn after another. Powerful forces are at work to discover where Lolth has gone. She might return as something greater than she was, or she might have gone from her drow children forever, leaving them to their own devices in a chilling condemnation.
The latest board game is set to release later this month: Lords of Waterdeep, a strategy board game for 2–5 players. Take a look at part of the game's introduction.
Welcome to Waterdeep, the City of Splendors! You are a Lord of Waterdeep, one of the secret rulers of this great city. Through your Agents, you recruit Adventurers to complete Quests and advance your agendas. The Lords of Waterdeep all have the safety of their city at heart, but each one is also laying his or her own plans! Through backdoor dealings, mercenaries, and plain old bribery, can you guide the city to become the greatest Lord of Waterdeep?
We released the Quick Rules Reference last month, as well as the full downloadable rules. If you haven't had a chance to look through them yet, here they are for your perusal!
We've also been presenting who these Lords of Waterdeep are—in the context of the game's lore. You've met five of them so far; here are three more that you'll soon have a chance to play in the game!
Brianne Byndraeth: Brianne (female human sorcerer) is the widow of Carril Byndraeth, a crime lord and former Lord of Waterdeep murdered by a black wyrm in human form seeking the return of its eye.
Brianne herself is a Lord of Waterdeep, and the rift between Brianne and Carril, before his death, nearly split the Lords into two factions. After Carril's death, Brianne played the role of respectable Waterdhavian widow, courted by a long string of men seeking to marry into wealth (and secretly of interest to the Lords). Now, after many years of looking, Brianne has finally been engaged to Randulaith of Mirabar, a charming wizard who moves easily among the city's social elite.
Caladorn Cassalanter: Caladorn (male human fighter) stands six feet tall, with short brown hair, a clean-shaven face, and a prominent cleft in his chin. This young gallant is often sardonic, very perceptive, and intelligent. He is quite fun loving when he can find an occasion to abandon his customary serious resolve in private. He is the third son of Lord Ohrl Cassalanter, but has chosen to drop the family name "until he does something worthy of it." His father has come to suspect that Caladorn will never consider himself "worthy," leaving him the privileges of the nobility without having to answer to the family patriarch.
The Cassalanters are unaware that their restless scion is actually a Lord of Waterdeep. In recent years, Caladorn has taken an increasing interest in Waterdeep's navy, posing as a bored young noble who could lend an extra swordarm to a raker on patrol. This has left him uniquely positioned among the Lords to understand the challenges Waterdeep faces in maintaining its hegemony on the Sea of Swords.
Nindil Jalbuck: Nindil (male halfling rogue) stands some three feet high, sporting a distinctive jet-black crewcut and golden nose ring. His common clothing and grocer's apron do little to disguise the knowing look of a joker and mischief-maker in his sea-green eyes. Outside the city, he dons a suit of chainmail emblazoned with the emblem of Goldenfields. At his core, Nindil is loyal, good-natured, and trustworthy. He is slow to anger, only losing his temper when "talked down to."
Nindil hales from Secomber, having come to Waterdeep to make his fortune and survived through petty thievery and pickpocketing, eventually finding work as a spy and broker of underworld information. In time, Nindil turned aside from such work and established the Garrulous Grocer. He built a good reputation with the city by providing food out of his pocket to many left homeless and destitute. Nearly a decade later, Nindil was selected to be a Lord. He now speaks for the common folk of Waterdeep.
Yet some time ago, Nindil was killed and subsumed by Hlaavin the doppelganger. For now, Hlaavin is content to continue in Nindil's guise, doing nothing untoward to reveal his deception. However, Hlaavin sees this victory as the first step of many in his long-term plan to supplant the Lords of Waterdeep.
Undermountain? Ah, yes. It's a great place to have fun, and it's the most famous battlefield upon which a wet-eared wanderer can earn a reputation as a veteran adventurer. Of course, Undermountain is also the largest known mass grave in Faerûn today.
— Elminster of Shadowdale
Undermountain, that seemingly endless dungeon explored in numerous Forgotten Realms products, has in the past included two boxed sets and several adventures. This labyrinth is so vast that such efforts to present it to gaming groups have barely scratched the surface of its many miles of corridors and acres of rooms. Undermountain remains one of the most recognizable locations in Faerûn. Often called the "deepest dungeon of them all," Undermountain has tempted many adventurers to delve into its depths. Some return with tales of its horrors. Most are never seen again. A lucky few resurface toting astonishing finds that bring them astounding wealth. And their oft-repeated stories entice others to also brave the mysteries, misfits, and monsters that meander beneath the great city of Waterdeep.
Halls of Undermountain details some of the rooms and halls of Undermountain. As with the many Undermountain products of the past, Halls of Undermountain cannot hope to detail every room and corridor of the vast labyrinth beneath Waterdeep. Instead, it provides you with a wealth of material to get you started in your own explorations, including three full adventures set within the first level of the deadly dungeon.
The Ruins of Undermountain, the original boxed set that gave an overview of Undermountain's topmost three levels, provided the first details of this famous locale in 1991. A few things have changed since then. Fans of the old dungeon description will find many new elements, recognize some old favorites, and encounter twists on some classics. Meanwhile, this book also acts as a primer for Dungeon Masters who are new to Undermountain, explaining everything they need to know to imperil characters' lives in the Realms' most infamous locale.
Halls of Undermountain provides you with advice and materials to run adventures in Undermountain, including:
- Three adventures for 1st- through 5th-level characters, which can be run individually, tied together in a provided plot, linked to D&D Encounters: The Elder Elemental Eye, or woven into a campaign in any world you're already running.
- Advice and ideas for improvising as players explore the dungeon.
- Descriptions of the most infamous areas in Undermountain's first level.
- Rules for Undermountain's iconic traps and magic items.
- Descriptions of classic Undermountain monsters, with game statistics.
To orient yourself as you run adventures in Undermountain, you can consult the maps that appear in this book or look at the poster map of the dungeon's first level. Statistics for unique monsters and NPCs are included in the adventures, but you will need to consult Monster Vault for other monsters' statistics.
Ways In and Out of Undermountain
Rumors of secret entrances into Undermountain abound, be they whispers about tunnels beneath the house of a cruel noble or the ale-spurred tavern tales spread by members of the Cellarers & Plumbers' Guild. Although several secret entrances doubtlessly exist, only a few physical connections to the first level of Undermountain can be verified.
The uppermost level of Undermountain is roughly 140 feet below the city's street level. Passages stretching deep into the earth either wind in kinked and gradual slopes or plunge into darkness. Such links to the surface might be guarded from both above and below, although not always by the same group or for the same reason. The "ownership" of these secret paths often changes hands, due to dangers in the deep or treachery in the ranks.
The Citadel of the Bloody Hand squats in the bowels of Mount Waterdeep high above Undermountain. Once patrolled and used by the City Guard, these dungeons in the mountain were abandoned to the dangerous creatures and magic that claimed them more than a decade before the Spellplague. A long staircase connects the citadel to the first level of Undermountain (see Area 74, page 84). A strange magic protects the stairwell, causing the ceiling over it to collapse when any creature approaches it. It's plainly hopeless to try to use the stairway—unless one waits for about an hour. Then the stones and dust return to their former places and allow safe passage for ten minutes before the magic fully resets. Of course, climbing the stairs to the Citadel of the Bloody Hand is not a way to escape danger. Even if the climbers make it past the citadel's threats, other barriers and magic wards have been set up to keep creatures from climbing into Castle Waterdeep's dungeons.
A steep alley in the Dock Ward has been known locally as "the Slide" for generations, due to its use by youths for fun in winter. Near this happy place is a grate that gives entrance to the sewers, and very near this place stands a small secret door in the sewer wall. Behind this door is a tight crawl space that wends through bricked-up basements and disused privy chutes, eventually curving into a dead end. Here, another secret door is hidden in the floor. Once open, it reveals a 20-foot drop to the Grim Statue (see Area 41, page 59), a huge and headless relic that retains shocking links to its past.
Knight 'n' Shadow
This ramshackle tavern stands atop a passage to Undermountain, which the Spellplague's tumult opened. From the street, the Knight appears to be nothing more than a dive bar frequented by shadowy and down-on-their-luck folk. However, by following a flight of rickety wooden steps built into a chute that descends from a back room, a patron can arrive at the Shadow—an even more disreputable tavern built upon a ledge near the ceiling of the Downshadow caverns (see Area 76, page 86). From there, a person can descend the last 50 feet via a rope lift operated by a spellscarred half-orc.
Recognized Downshadow folk are the only ones who regularly use this passage into Undermountain, because the way to the Shadow is guarded at all times. Of course, bribes can win guards' sympathy, but they scoff at anything less than the sums forked over by hooded members of Waterdeep's nobility.
The Blushing Nymph, a festhall, sprawls along Rainrun Street, and a wide cobbled yard abuts it. Within this yard is the festhall's midden pit, and hidden therein are the first few steps of the Long Dark Stair.
For years, festhall workers have opened the trapdoor over the pit and thrown in the establishment's refuse, not knowing or caring why the level of trash gradually sinks or occasionally drops dramatically. All that matters to the festhall's owners is that the broken bottles, rotten food, empty ale casks, broken chairs, stained rags, and other trash goes away without them having to pay for anyone to collect it.
What they don't know is the garbage has been disappearing down a steep staircase—which an overhang and the heaped refuse has kept hidden—that descends from the pit's bottom into Undermountain (see Area 79, page 88).
A long time ago, a cult of Loviatar (a darling of the nobility) frequently and covertly used these stairs to reach cult-sponsored Undermountain activities. At the time, an allied tribe of orcs guarded the entrance. Since the dissolution of the cult's dungeon activities years ago, the Long Dark Stair has remained untraveled. To use the stairway now, a person would have to dig through the trash in the midden pit and brave the slick, grimy, and cluttered steps of the passageway. At the base of the stairwell, a grinning, bearded human face is carved into the wall opposite the steps.
The Yawning Portal houses the most famous and accessible entrance to Undermountain. Built around a vast pit in the earth that drops to the Dungeon Level, the inn has for more than a century used its connection to the dangers below to attract the brave, foolhardy, or merely curious.
Built on the site of Halaster's ruined tower and founded with loot claimed from Undermountain, the Yawning Portal is a rambling structure that boasts three upper floors of guest rooms and a huge taproom. The centerpiece of this taproom is a 40-foot-wide well with a low wall. This is the "yawning portal" to Undermountain. Tables for patrons surround the well, and a large winch-and-pulley contraption grips the thick rope dungeon delvers use to descend the 140 feet into Undermountain. Entrance costs 10 gp per person and takes 10 rounds as Durnan lowers the individuals while they cling to the rope, their feet in attached stirrups.
Durnan the Sixth, descendant of the Durnan who originally built the inn, happily lowers any paying patron into the well by means of the winch. If a dungeon delver returns to the well room below and wants to come back up, he or she must drop 10 gp into a bucket Durnan lowers down before the innkeeper will haul the person back up. Durnan doesn't provide healing or other help to returning adventurers, but he'll send a runner with a message to one of the temples for no extra charge. (He considers the Undermountain entrance fee enough to cover such service.)
When adventurers pay to enter the well, patrons cheer, share rounds of drinks, and generally give the dungeon delvers a grand going-away party. For those the celebration doesn't distract, the scene might seem a bit grisly as customers and inn workers openly bet on whether the adventurers will return, and how many will live to tell their tales.
The Yawning Portal's cellar holds another means of entry into Undermountain. A steeply sloping hallway in Undermountain's first level (see Area 78, page 88) descends into groundwater, eventually ending at a cistern. A steep staircase clings to the cistern wall and twists upward, gradually becoming little more than ladderlike ledges in a chute roughly 10 feet wide. This well shaft climbs until it reaches a small landing with a curtained archway. Nearby stands a bucket, winch, and rope. Beyond the curtain is the Yawning Portal's cellar. Durnan has no inkling that an entrance to Undermountain lies beyond the flooded cistern at the bottom of the well, nor would he be inclined to share that information.
If you know nothing else before you go into a dungeon, remember these five tips, presented in The Dungeon Survival Handbook. They are about pure survival. You'll need more than these tricks if you hope to beat the monsters, best the traps, and haul out the treasure, but at least these rules will keep you from dying like a complete fool.
1. Don't split the party. The biggest rule in the dungeon is the same as anywhere else. If only the halfling can fit through that narrow tunnel, nobody can go to his rescue when a monster on the other side paralyzes him and starts nibbling away.
2. Map it. Learn the standardized symbols for mapping, and pace out every passage you go through. Whenever you get a chance to rest, review your maps and plot the best course of retreat in case you need to make a quick escape. A word of warning if you're traveling in the Underdark: That place has a way of reshaping itself from time to time, so your map might not be trustworthy. Take extra precautions down there.
3. Gear up. Use good judgment when buying your equipment and supplies. Sure, plenty of gadgets will help out in specific situations, but don't purchase too much stuff or you'll end up loaded with junk you never use. Better to bring more rope, pitons, and rations that you know will come in handy than a dozen tools you might not need.
4. Track time. Without the course of the sun to guide you, it's easy to lose track of time in a dungeon. Keeping a regular sleeping schedule is tough, too, when you're constantly looking out for danger. Use a candle clock (see Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium) or some other means, mundane or magical, to keep time.
5. Know when to turn back. Plenty of adventurers press on deeper into a dungeon even when they know the odds are against them. We call those people corpses. You'll probably meet a few, or become one yourself if you make the same mistake.
That said, if you're not in too big a hurry to get yourself killed, familiarize yourself with the rest of the book before you pack up and hit the dungeon. Further studies on dungeon survival include the following elements.
Expert Delving Tactics: Learn how to travel in a dungeon carefully and safely. You might run into ancient traps and strange environmental hazards, but this advice can help you best all challenges.
Dungeon Types: Dungeons come in many forms, from working prisons to lost mines to active volca¬noes. Understanding variations in dungeon design lets you prepare for a dungeon's unique dangers and challenges, including what creatures might live or lurk within and what special rewards might hide in its depths.
Dungeon Denizens: Read up on the creatures that walk, slither, or flap through hellish underground tunnels. Identify the signs of danger before you stumble into a stirge nest, literally walk into a gelatinous cube, or get eaten by what you thought was a treasure chest.
Infamous Dungeons: Think you've mastered the previous advice and are ready for the big time? These extremely dangerous dungeons are the ones you've always heard about in tall tales. Separate the facts, however scant and disheartening they might be, from the fiction.
Dungeoneers' Tools: Smart dungeon delvers know that the ordinary supplies in an adventurer's kit don't always get the job done. Items such as a mirror or a rubbing kit might not seem like much, but they can mean the difference between a delve's success or failure. This section also provides alchemical items adventurers might take into a dungeon or make from raw materials found there.
The book also provides the following character themes and playable races to help further your dungeon-delving career!
Bloodsworn go into a dungeon to kill a specific enemy, who defines the character's life and quest for vengeance. The eladrin Meliera changed from a peace-seeking diplomat into a bitter hunter after a drow betrayed her.
Deep delvers expertly explore underground environments, preferring the dark tunnels of the Underdark to the sunlit hills above. Karl Deepwalker saw his companions slain by grimlocks, and now the human youth searches for the traitor he's sure was in their midst.
Escaped thralls tore themselves free from the mental control of other creatures. They still bear the physical and mental scars of their imprisonment. Mord lost his childhood memories but sees flashes of his enslavement while he dreams. The half-orc has found some measure of peace as a servant of Ioun.
Trapsmiths create deadly and debilitating devices. They get by on ingenuity, adrenaline, and elbow grease. Thorry the Unlucky lost a couple of fingers to a kobold trap when he was a young svirfneblin. He left his people to pursue safer work but keeps getting pulled back into the dungeon-delving life.
Treasure hunters seek glory and wealth, setting their sights on specific items of considerable worth. Ella the halfling was saved by the mysterious Green Man, along with her siblings—at a price. Unless she finds his crown, scepter, and armor, she'll never see her brother and sister again.
Underdark envoys act as diplomats for Underdark societies. They might be spies, delegates for dark masters, or merchants. Khiira the bard uses her wiles, honed as the seventh daughter of her house, to hide both from the other drow who hunt her and from the topsiders who fear and hate her kind.
Underdark outcasts are disgraced exiles from their societies, forced to wander the lightless realms in a struggle to survive. Through his hubris, Korag made it possible for grimlocks to slaughter many of his dwarf clan, and he was cast out in shame.
Numerous races call the Underdark and its dungeons home, though many of them are monstrous or hostile. Their distinct ways of life are adapted to the harsh realities of underground existence. Though they are viewed with suspicion or hatred by other races, these dungeon dwellers can be every bit as heroic as their surface-dwelling counterparts.
Goblin: Pint-sized rascals that infest dungeons the world over, goblins are endlessly curious.
Kobold: Small and weak, kobolds depend on their traps and each other to survive in the Underdark.
Svirfneblin: Many believe these mysterious Underdark gnomes to be only a fable.
And that's this month's look at what's coming out in the months ahead!
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).