Here we are at the start of a new year—and with it, glad tidings on the D&D website.
Let me start with the following premise: the current home page of the D&D website has difficulty serving all the needs of all our users—at least, in a way that's exceptionally user-friendly. Dungeons & Dragons, as a brand, is simply too complex. There are too many different types of users. The current home page tries to meet the needs of all these users at once, and in doing so, it struggles to meet those needs in the best possible way.
What specific difficulties are we encountering? For new users, it's where to find answers to their most fundamental questions. For existing users, it's being overwhelmed with messaging—and by restricting our new content to a limited News and Articles section, it's hard to tell that our content is dynamic, even though we pride ourselves on providing daily articles.
So here's the pitch that I've been making around the halls of Wizards of the Coast.
I believe the D&D website will better serve our users by not trying to force everything onto the same home page. What we're planning for instead (rolling out next month) is a greatly revised home page. Of course, few people reading this column are new users to the website; nevertheless, I want to walk everyone through the upcoming revisions.
When new users first arrive at the refreshed website, what they'll find is a home page with very clear links to their most fundamental questions: What is D&D? How do I play? What do I need to get started? And where can I find a game? The answers to these questions should then lead them more intuitively deeper into the website.
Returning users will find a home page that clearly presents the programs, events, and products that are most relevant at any given time. We want you to know what's taking place in the game in a more immediate and compelling way. Here's where you'll find the big, splashy announcements for the next D&D Encounters season. Or, you'll discover news on the latest book, board game, or video game release. Or, you can find information on what's taking place at PAX, Comic Con, or Gen Con.
That all makes for a more straightforward home page, but what about the content?
For returning users that want to get their daily dose of Dungeons & Dragons, visit the appropriately named Daily D&D page. This will be an interior page that better showcases our online content, whether Dragon, Dungeon, or free articles. Here you'll find a more visible headline for the day's lead article, as well as a longer, more visible list of our recent content.
We hope this revision to the website, and to the home page in particular, leads to a better user experience for visitors. As always, you can send your thoughts and comments to email@example.com.
There are a few more changes and additions taking place with the website that we wanted to announce here as well.
Joining the Party
First off, Tracy Hurley (aka Sarah Darkmagic) has been writing a new column for the website: Joining the Party. The D&D community is nothing if not amazingly diverse, creative, and expressive—and we want to better highlight some of the discussions and creations constantly taking place.
This falls into a larger goal of better showcasing content from around the game, and that means finding a place for community content and related news from around the web, in addition to our own content, and making sure that it has a prominent place on the D&D site. Joining the Party is one such effort. It's also our hope that an expanded content area in the Daily D&D page will provide a better platform for expanded coverage.
A second column we're adding this month concerns things taking place within the world of D&D books. In columns such as Legends & Lore and Design & Development, we're pleased to bring information to you from within Wizards of the Coast. Bookwyrms looks to do much the same. Written by Nina Hess, editor-in-chief for D&D books, the column discusses the making of books, the business behind them, and the elements of writing.
I've been a huge fan of this column, and I'm quite pleased that moving forward D&D Outsider will become part of Dragon magazine. It will still remain a free column for all readers (just like Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard and D&D Alumni), but as part of Dragon, D&D Outsider will now also be nicely typeset and available as a free PDF. Jared von Hindman has done a masterful job with this column, and I certainly look forward to what he'll be bringing in the new year!
Now that you have the overview for the upcoming changes to the website, we'll go over the upcoming releases.
January/February: Books and E-books
Here they are! Take a look at our most recent set of novels, which release in print and simultaneously in e-book format.
Cold Steel and Secrets
By Rosemary Jones
First off, January brings the fourth part of our exclusive e-book offering, which is available as a $1.99 download. In this conclusion: Deception. Betrayal. A perfect partnership. Rucas Sarfael uncovers the twisted schemes that brought him to the city of Neverwinter and discovers a plot to end the life of its lord.
The Haunted Lands Omnibus
By Richard Lee Byers
The stories of The Haunted Lands—Unclean, Undead, and Unholy—are now in one trilogy. The Haunted Lands Omnibus is packed with riveting stories that shake the Realms to their very core with devastating magic, scheming wizards, and calculating evil.
The dead are restless in the magic-rich realm of Thay, and a necromancer has gathered them to his cause. The living citizens must unite and mount a defense before they die and join the enemy's ranks. And the mageocracy is in exile, watching from distant shores as the new King of Thay prepares a great magical ritual—one they cannot allow the king to complete.
The Masked Witches
By Richard Lee Byers
Aoth Fezim and his mercenary company have restored their tarnished reputation and attracted new recruits for their depleted ranks. But they still have one big problem. Too many griffon mounts were killed in battle. If "the Brotherhood of the Griffon" is to be more than a name, they must find new mounts.
Vandar Cherlinka hefted the straw-wrapped earthenware bottle. The lack of weight made it plain that only a few swallows of jhuild remained inside, and he wished he could keep all the tart red firewine for himself.
Only for an instant, though, and then he pushed the thought firmly out of his mind. For no man rose to lead a berserker lodge without training himself to be as generous as he was valorous. He told himself that he never would have felt the selfish urge at all if his traveling companion weren't so . . . uncompanionable.
The problem wasn't that Lady Yhelbruna—reputedly the oldest hathran in all Rashemen—never removed her brown leather mask and gloves or even pushed back the cowl of her robe in Vandar's view. As curious as the next fellow, he'd wondered if at some point during the trek, he might discover if the witch was a magically preserved beauty or a hideously wrinkled crone—the only possibilities that gossip and rumor entertained—but he hadn't really expected it. No, what rankled was her cheerless taciturnity for mile after hard, clambering mile, the silence broken only by her incomprehensible murmurs to herself and the occasional terse command.
Still, he wouldn't let her haughty aloofness turn him into a bad companion. He pulled the cork, and it came out with a little popping sound. He offered the bottle. Instead of taking it, she suddenly twisted away from him, and the campfire, too, to peer at the black masses of the mountains rising against the night sky. The patches of snow on the peaks were pale smudges in the moonlight.
Vandar's heart beat a little faster. He cast about but saw nothing. Which didn't necessarily mean they were alone on the mountainside. The High Country possessed more than its share of dangers, and it was possible a hathran had sensed what even an experienced hunter couldn't have.
"What is it?" he whispered.
"Be still," she replied in her steely contralto, "and you'll hear."
D&D Experience is taking place January 26–29 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. From the official website: A foot plus of snow couldn't slow us down before and this year looks to be even bigger and better than last year. Come join hundreds of your fellow RPGA and D&D enthusiasts for a four-day extended weekend of gaming goodness.
What's taking place at D&D Experience this year?
D&D Secret Special: A four-hour D&D adventure with content provided by R&D. Several tables will be run by Wizards of the Coast staff! More information on the adventure will be available prior to the show. Characters will be provided.
Living Forgotten Realms: D&D Experience features the LFR Special (SPEC4–1 Cerulean Dreams) and the third 4th Edition running of the Battle Interactive (ADCP3–1 Swarm of Chaos).
The Battle Interactive is a unique event where multiple tables work together to overcome major objectives. The success or failure (and choices made by the tables) of all the tables are tallied together and affect the outcome of these events as they progress. Available only at conventions—and always premiering at D&D Experience.
Ashes of Athas: For players who prefer the merciless world of Athas, D&DXP 2012 will feature the premier of the fourth chapter of the Ashes of Athas campaign. A list of adventures that have come to pass before can be found on the Ashes of Athas website. This campaign uses 4th Edition D&D rules.
Living Divine: For players who want to explore this original campaign setting (and have a chance to be a god among men), there is an introductory adventure as well as a new Two-Slot Special (As He Lay Dying). This program uses 4th Edition D&D rules.
Seminars: Covering a range of topics from upcoming releases to principles of game design, seminars are a quintessential component of D&D Experience. More information about the seminar offerings at D&D Experience will be available soon, so keep checking for more details.
You can find out more at our D&D Experience page.
Corresponding to the forthcoming D&D Encounters season, which is called The Elder Elemental Eye, we give you a peek at the latest Fortune Cards to add new ways to survive the challenges around the table. For those of you who haven't yet tried them, here's how they work:
At the start of each encounter, shuffle your deck and draw a card.
You can play one card per round. It requires no action to play. The rules on each card state when you can play it and what effect it has. A card takes effect just once unless it states otherwise, and you discard the card when its effect ends.
You can have only one Fortune Card in your hand at a time. At the start of each of your turns, you can do one of the following:
- Discard the card in your hand and draw a new one.
- Draw a new card if you don't have one in your hand.
- Keep the card that's in your hand if you haven't played it.
From the product catalog: Masters of fire and earth. Lords of air and water. Heroes of the Elemental Chaos is the definitive sourcebook for creating and playing characters with ties to the Elemental Chaos and the primordial beings that dwell there. It shows how the elements can influence heroes of the natural world and presents elemental-themed character options for players.
Now, let's take a peek inside the book, which details how the ability to wield elemental magic in its purest state is reserved for elemental creatures. These creatures channel the raw energy of the Elemental Chaos through themselves when they call on that plane's power. A vast number of ways exist for adventurers to transform themselves into elemental creatures and to begin the process of mastering the power of the Plane Below.
Heroes of the Elemental Chaos's first chapter explores the ways your character might come across elemental power, examines how you can transform yourself into an elemental creature or attune yourself to elemental energy, and looks at elemental patrons that might provide your character with the power he or she seeks.
For most mortals, there can be no greater betrayal than to pledge service to a primordial. These beings once sought the world's destruction, emerging from the Elemental Chaos to lay siege to the mortal realm and the astral dominions alike. The cosmic struggle between god and primordial is laid down in sacred scrolls and annals preserved from ancient times, guarded by devout and dedicated servants. In those texts, dire warnings can be found of what will happen if the primordials break their chains or awaken from their slumber. Doom. Destruction. Apocalypse.
Yet across the world, gathering in secret cellars and shrines hidden in the deep wilds, an increasing number of mortals willingly serve these catastrophic beings, worshiping them as gods. Despite the actions of hunters and inquisitors whose purpose it is to stamp out these cults wherever they are found, the faithful of the primordials persist in their misguided beliefs. And as the world decays, sliding deeper into darkness, more and more people turn from the gods' temples in the hope of seeking a better future.
The reputation for evil and destruction carried by the primordials is not always warranted. Certainly, wicked powers can be found in their ranks. Erek-Hus, the King of Terror, was known for his lust for destruction. Haemnathuun the Blood Lord committed unspeakable atrocities when the elemental host invaded the Astral Sea, before the gods cut him down. But though many primordials craved nothing more than the utter destruction of the gods and the unraveling of the world they themselves had forged, others were too vast or self-absorbed to be concerned with the Dawn War.
A few primordials fostered life in the world, seeing the gods as partners in shepherding creation to its true potential. Then the Dawn War severed the ties between those powers, making enemies of allies and casualties of those who stood apart. Since certain gods proved indiscriminate regarding whom they named as foes, the good primordials were drawn into the conflict, swept up in the world-shattering events that destroyed everything for which they had worked. Whether good or evil, all primordials faced divine judgment before being locked away in dark oubliettes, bound in chains, and forgotten.
In noting the primordials' role in creation, one might argue that they deserve worship more than the gods who usurped them. Without their efforts, there would be no mortal realm. No time or history. Nothing but endless chaos. As such, it is easy to understand why some mortals find themselves turning away from the heavens and searching elsewhere to place their faith. Too often, though, mortals with evil beliefs, deviant interests, and other less-admirable qualities turn to the primordials only in search of the power and chaos that is their legacy. For every well-intentioned wisdom seeker who communes with the likes of Sunnis or Ben-hadar, a vile arsonist burns homes in the name of Imix, even as a foul cultist of Olhydra drowns the young as sacrifices to that mercurial mistress.
The primordials described in this section represent a small selection of the major known primordials that an adventurer might choose as a patron. The list excludes dead primordials and those whose wholly destructive or overwhelmingly evil bent is unsuited to an adventuring group. As with the primal spirits in the natural world, the primordial powers are open to expansion, and DMs should feel free to add new primordials important to their individual campaigns. Likewise, a player might suggest a new primordial to best fit a character's selection of class features and abilities.
To many mortal minds, even those steeped in religious lore and ancient history, the primordial host consists of nothing but figures vast and terrible—violent, warlike beings whose role in creation has ended and who now remain hidden away in the deepest recesses of the Elemental Chaos, wrapped in chains, sealed in inescapable vaults. They evoke fear and misgivings about what calamities they might bring about if freed—yet as dangerous as these beings might be, to conceive of them as an extended family is a foolish simplification. It does not account for the tangled alliances and grudges that pervade these ancient elemental powers and persist to this day despite their status as prisoners, exiles, and dormant monstrosities.
One group, known as the archomentals, is often included in the primordials' ranks but stands apart from the others in many ways. Some lore suggests that these figures played little or no part in the world's creation and arose at some point afterward. The archomentals might have been the first servants crafted by the primordials, infused with such chaotic power that they held sway over all other elemental beings beneath them.
Regardless of their origin, the archomentals have only grown in power since the end of the Dawn War, and today they exert influence in the mortal world. Most mortals refer to these entities as the elemental princes. The evil princes Imix, Ogrémoch, Yan-C-Bin, and Olhydra, among others, form a wicked pantheon of sorts, gathering followers and servants from across the planes for some dark and despicable end.
Countering their depredations is the group of archomentals known as the princes of elemental good. These include Ben-hadar, Chan, Sunnis, Zaaman Rul, and more. Although they are characterized as good, their virtue stems from their opposition to their evil counterparts and not from any moral code. If these entities have good intentions, they express them on behalf of the elemental creatures that dwell in their realms.
For all the uproar they foment and represent, for all the shows of force that one visits upon another, most of the elemental princes cancel each other out. Although the threat that any one of them presents to the world is great, the archomentals check each other, the good containing the evil, the evil pushing back against the good, so even as one gains power and influence, the others rally to send the ambitious peer toppling once more.
This balance does not apply to the "fifth" prince of elemental evil. No directly opposing force exists to counteract his evil, and as a result he is ever so slowly succeeding in the fight to break free from his imprisonment. Cryonax, the Blizzard King, is a tentacle horror shackled to a glacier that flows down from the jagged mountains known as the Teeth of Lormoch. He claims dominion over elemental cold and all creatures associated with ice, snow, and freezing temperatures. The adamantine chains that hold him strain against his thrashing, and the hordes of elementals and ice archons that attend him constantly work to loosen the bindings so their master will be free once more.
Cryonax is an enormous, bestial monstrosity, a fur-covered thing similar in appearance to a yeti, but with muscular tentacles in place of arms. As the bindings on him have grown weaker, the terrain around his prison has fissured and cracked, releasing plumes of absolute cold that can freeze a mortal in an instant.
Murky, conflicting tales suggest many origins for the Blizzard King. Some claim he was the last horror whelped by the Elder Elemental Eye. Others say Cryonax was a demon lord who led an army out from the Abyss to conquer the Elemental Chaos. Some have even claimed he is none other than Khala, the one-time goddess of winter, not dead but cast down to the Plane Below to languish for her wickedness. Whatever the case, Cryonax is a renegade archomental who takes part in none of his peers' infighting and instead sets his sights higher, to become free and conquer not just the Elemental Chaos, but all of creation.
When most natives of the mortal world think about primordials, what comes to mind are entities that they believe to be sealed away, never again to ravage the natural realm. Whether "sealed away" is accurate or not, the deities have certainly taken pains to imprison or neutralize each bound primordial in a unique and (they hope) effective fashion. Five of the more distinctive stories of these entities are provided here.
Bryakus, the Many-Headed One
One of the most monstrous primordials is Bryakus the Many-Headed, whose spilled blood spawned the first hydras. A vicious and terrible foe of the gods in the Dawn War, Bryakus was named the Great Maw, his appetite never slaked no matter how many angels he devoured. Kord defeated him in a mighty battle, delivering what should have been a killing blow. However, Bryakus thrashed about to spray his ichor down upon the world. The more the primordial fought, the more Kord was moved to strike, so that blow after blow rained down until only an unrecognizable mess remained.
Despite the appalling injuries he endured, Bryakus survived, each piece of sundered flesh and bone imbued with his hatred. Since his fall, his servants have roamed the planes for his remains, reconstructing their master in some deep place where none can interfere with their task. The degree to which Kord mutilated the Many-Headed One is a testament to how many centuries his cultists have sought in vain to reclaim him, with no end in sight. As long as Bryakus remains in this wretched state, he has no say in how the elemental power he offers is used.
For one reason or another, a small number of primordials were not subjected to the revenge of the deities at the end of the Dawn War. The reasons why they remain unfettered are as varied as the entities themselves.
Ty-h'kadi, Prince of Thunder and Lightning
The lord of the storm elementals is a violent and unpredictable primordial—a great, fickle monstrosity who swings between subtle rumbling and destructive outburst with little warning. If not for the efforts of Chan, who tempers Ty-h'kadi's anger, the Prince of Thunder and Lightning would have lost all control long ago. It was Chan who lured Ty-h'kadi from the Astral Sea in the Dawn War's waning days, thus sparing him from almost certain destruction.
Since Heur-Ket's defeat and disappearance, the Prince of Thunder and Lightning has grown stronger. His ascendancy has made him more aggressive concerning developments in the Elemental Chaos, and he resents the gods' influence in the natural world. From time to time, his anger gets the better of him, requiring Chan to engage him in battle to once more bring him under control.
Ty-h'kadi employs storm archons as soldiers and messengers, and mortals wishing to commune with his power speak through them. The primordial sometimes rails against the primal ban. At such times, violent storms erupt in the skies of the world, flashing green lightning and unleashing deafening thunder.
As far as what elemental powers these patrons might offer your heroes, those will have to wait until our full suite of excerpts kicks off later this month! We will say, however, that Heroes of the Elemental Chaos includes elemental character themes such as the earthforger, firecrafter, watershaper, and janissary (servant of the genies). You'll also find class additions such as the elementalist, a subclass of the sorcerer, and the sha'ir, a subclass of the wizard, as well as options for other classes, including two new monastic traditions for the monk: desert wind and eternal tide. Plus, you might cast Melf's minute meteors, or summon an invisible stalker. You might even crack the very world!
The latest board game is set to release later this spring: Lords of Waterdeep, a strategy board game for 2–5 players. From 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?
In the days ahead, we'll showcase the rulebook and components from the game. In the meantime, we wanted to close out this month's previews with a look at the game's contents.
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) and at bartjcarroll.com.