Previews Archive | 4/9/2012
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April: In the Works
Bart Carroll

Rise of the Underdark

We schedule this column as early in the month as possible (the first Monday is our preferred day). This month, however, we wanted to delay things slightly until after PAX East—and the launch of our Rise of the Underdark hub.

Last year, we tied several of our products and events to Neverwinter. It helped to have a cohesive storyline around the game throughout the fall and winter; this year we're featuring a much larger, longer campaign that runs through 2012 in three distinct phases.

The first phase you can learn about right now on the hub. "Step Into Shadow" involves the drow's machinations coming to light and their forays into the Dalelands. Those who attended PAX East met (and hopefully countered) a drow strike team at the Temple of Lathander's Light in Dagger Falls. Those who didn't go can have the background synopsis: Dareen Travaskyr, the temple's priestess, had been intent on creating a holy symbol of great power—then the drow arrived, demanding the symbol for themselves. Dareen refused and had to watch as her followers were captured and poisoned. It was up to the adventurers to arrive in time, defeat the drow, and save the poisoned worshipers.

This PAX East adventure ("The Sun Never Rises") leads into the forthcoming D&D Encounters season. War of the Spider Queen runs May 16 through August 15, and starts off with seemingly innocent times in Shadowdale:

This realm and the town with which it shares its name are better known for the past than the present. Ancient battles and the ruins they left behind draw historians and adventurers alike to these lands. Storm and Syluné Silverhand once dwelled here, and sly Elminster still does. His protection has long kept Shadowdale safe, and even if Elminster's power has greatly diminished since his time as Mystra's Chosen, who would dare attack his home?

The white granite hill called Old Skull has loomed over Shadowdale for ages, but its significance has varied over time. When drow controlled the town, it was a sign of danger and domination. When their kind was forced out, the people of Shadowdale went back to seeing the hill as nothing more than a fascinating landmark. Sheep graze around it now, while children play atop its slopes of bare white stone.

A famed tavern takes its name from the landmark. The Old Skull Inn is known throughout Faerûn as a haven for adventurers. It is said that secret tunnels lead from the tavern's basement into catacombs under Old Skull—and from there into the Underdark. Adventurers gossip that a bribe to the innkeeper, Ghessla Silvermane, can gain an honest traveler access to the realms below the earth.

Lady Addee Ulphor rules Shadowdale, presiding over a land that has been peaceful for the twenty years since Lord Azalar Falconhand retired. The symbol of leadership, the Pendant of Ashaba, is Lady Ulphor's by right, and she keeps it secured in the Twisted Tower of Ashaba.

In War of the Spider Queen, you and your fellow adventurers have come to Shadowdale to investigate the drow's activities and delve into the caverns of the Underdark. Best of luck to you—and look for further information regarding the Rise of the Underdark at the official website hub!



Books and E-Books

We start our look at forthcoming products with 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 be sure to look for those.) So, let's take a look at what's coming out!

April: 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:

Dissolution

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.

Insurrection

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.

Condemnation

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.

May: The Rose of the Sarifal

By Paul Park

Cloaked in mist and layered in magic, the denizens of Moonshae Isles move in secret circles as capricious rulers vie for power. High Lady Ordalf wanted her niece, the princess known as the Rose of Sarifal, dead. Instead, the young regent was secreted away by opponents of the fey queen of Gwynneth Isle. For years the eladrin queen has searched for confirmation of her niece's death, and word has finally come in the form of a castaway. The princess lives on the island of Moray—a mad beauty that holds a nation of lycanthropes in her sway. As long as her niece is alive, Lady Ordalf cannot rest secure in her claim to the throne. Enlisting a band of adventurers to seek out the princess is the first step toward stemming the Rose of Sarifal and her tide of wolves. Will they see the same threat the queen sees in the beautiful young maiden?

May: R.A. Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen, Volume II

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—continues here. Ten years after its initial publication, we are proud to present this groundbreaking series in two attractive collector's editions. This second volume contains the following books:

Extinction
Pharaun, Quenthel, Jeggered, Danifae, and Valas search for a way into the burning infinity of the Abyss. In an effort to survive, will they lose everything it means to be a dark elf? Simply asking that question could bring the entire drow race to the brink of extinction.

Annihilation
At the end of a journey through the unforgiving expanse of the Abyss, a ragged band of dark elves hopes to find Lolth. They've survived thus far, but the Underdark is child's play compared to the chaotic latticework of the Demonweb Pits. Truth is what they seek, but they may well only find annihilation.

Resurrection
Vying to be Lolth's chosen vessel, Quenthal and Danifae search for the Spider Queen in the depths of her hellish domain. Another seeks the Queen of the Demonweb Pits with the intent to kill—but only if she finds Lolth before the goddess completes her mysterious resurrection.



April: Halls of Undermountain

Yes, I have seen the halls of Undermountain. Bruenor and I ventured there in our search for clues to the location of Gauntlgrym. We found nothing but folly and death.
—Drizzt Do'Urden, adventurer

Undermountain, that seemingly endless dungeon explored in countless Forgotten Realms products including two boxed sets and several adventures, a labyrinth so vast that such efforts have barely scratched the surface of its many miles of corridors and acres of rooms, remains one of the most recognizable locations in Faerûn. Often called the "deepest dungeon of them all," Undermountain has tempted countless 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 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.

Today, let's examine Undermountain's three adventures: Zarr's Invincible Army, Tombs of Dayan, and Scaly Doom!

Zarr's Invincible Army

This adventure pits the characters against a half-elf mercenary who has taken control of two small tribes, one kobold and one goblinoid. Through luck and superior leadership, the half-elf and his growing army have secured a small section of Undermountain, and they are growing their numbers as they prepare to launch a larger campaign.

Not all the army's conscripts are happy with their new lot, however. Even though the characters might try to fight their way through the half-elf 's turf, leaving nothing alive in their wake, they could attempt to foment a rebellion within the kobold and goblinoid ranks.
Tombs of Dayan

This adventure sees the heroes infiltrating a domain controlled by the vampire Dayan and his undead servants. Dayan is using the power and knowledge gained from a secret laboratory left behind by a long-dead necromancer whose identity is lost in the fog of time. This area of Undermountain also contains long-forgotten tombs that provide Dayan with an abundant supply of corpses to fuel his ambitions.

Scaly Doom

This adventure finds the heroes investigating the disappearance of indigents and criminals in the southwestern section of the first level of Undermountain. As the characters begin their investigation, they also hear rumors that a band of unscrupulous treasure seekers could be working in the area. While the evidence appears to point at first to a gang of thieves being behind the disappearances, the truth turns out to be something a bit more unsettling.


April: Dungeon Tiles: Cathedral of Chaos

This latest set of Dungeon Tiles offers four double-sided sheets of dungeon terrain as well as two double-sided sheets of tokens to represent spell effects, magical traps, and elemental hazards. First off, let's take a look at sample terrain, which includes:

  • An elevated area with stairs to access the upper and lower portions.
  • A railing tile to further delineate the upper and lower portions of your map.
  • A round fire pit, with lighting effects from the glowing flames.
  • A stone ledge surrounding a pool of water.
  • A pit, surrounded by a stone ledge. You can't see the bottom of this pit, since it's filled with roiling smoke and fog.



And also, one of the sample tokens:




May: Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook

Black passageways stretch out in all directions. The still, stifling air swirls gently with each cautious step forward. The clank of armor, the crunch of footsteps on gravel are the only sounds in the deep chambers, but their soft echoes seem deafening.

Around the next corner, faint lights are visible down the corridor. With no way to gauge distance in the darkness, they could be anything: far-off torches, nearby glowing fungi, or the eyes of a lurking beast reflecting the flame. After sharing a glance with the others, the party leader lifts the shutter of the bull's-eye lantern to reveal what lies ahead. . . .

Dungeons hold everything an adventurer could want: untold riches to plunder, new areas to explore, dangerous beasts to challenge, and strange societies to navigate. An ordinary adventurer accustomed to a soft life in the surface world might get a little way into a dungeon and consider it a glorious victory. But hardscrabble Underdark natives and veteran delvers know just how hard survival is down there in the darkness, and that the tunnels keep descending into realms of ever greater danger.

A dungeon adventure is all about huge risks and even greater rewards. You (as well as your character) need careful preparation, problem-solving skills, nerves of steel, and a healthy dose of good luck to take on a dungeon crawl. The character options presented in this chapter can help increase your adventurer's chances of survival. Familiarize yourselves with the tools and tricks of the most successful dungeon explorers, and maybe—just maybe—you'll stand a chance. Even so, death can strike at any time, and a party might have to improvise or bring in new recruits from the Underdark just to make it back out.

The Dungeon Survival Handbook provides new character themes and playable races, the list of which we showed off last month. One such theme is the trapsmith—as personified by Thorry the Unlucky.

Character Theme: Trapsmith

Kobolds took two fingers on Thorry's left hand, or rather, a trap set by kobolds did. That Thorry didn't lose his arm and bleed to death earned him the moniker "the Fortunate"—a name he hates. Wish him good luck, and he winces; comment on a winning streak, and he spits a curse. Thorry calls himself "the Unlucky" and believes luck favors him only if he doesn't acknowledge it. Yet he won't admit this idea even to himself lest luck somehow find out.

As a young svirfneblin, Thorry had ambitions to be a baker, but the elders noticed he had quick reflexes and steady hands. So he was tasked with rooting out and dismantling traps set by kobolds around his warren, deep in the Feydark. Crawling through cramped passages, dagger clenched between his teeth, and carrying an oilcloth filled with tools, Thorry got to know all sorts of dia¬bolical devices hatched from the wickedest minds.

He discovered he had a knack for analyzing traps, a talent that helped him figure out how to disarm one after just a few seconds of study. Whether a mundane pit or scything blade, or a magical glyph or curse, he could see the patterns and know just what to do to mess up the works. He was a natural, and thus he unwillingly found his calling.

Even the best trapsmith can't handle the strain forever. After a decade spent pulling apart kobold traps, losing his fingers along the way, Thorry had had enough. He sneaked away one night and slipped through a portal to the natural world, where he thought to earn a livelihood in a less dangerous profession. The trouble was, he didn't know how to do anything else. So he ended up hiring himself out to adventuring parties as a trapsmith. Figuring that dungeons hold fewer traps than he encountered on the front lines against the kobolds, he hopes to do this job only for a few years and then retire. Thorry is good at what he does, and despite everything he usually enjoys it. He has come to realize that he is a valued master of his trade, and he makes sure he is rewarded appropriately.

Thorry serves as a sample trapsmith, which is a character theme that focuses on the idea that some things you just don't fight. To take on adversaries that have superior strength, cunning, or resources (or all three), you need to remove their advantages. Such an alternative approach is the job of a trapsmith.

Humanoids have been building traps since the earliest times, developing techniques to take down big game for food and clothing. According to loremasters, goblin tribes were the first to perfect this method of hunting. They were able to obtain and store more food, allowing them to survive harsh winters and increase their numbers. Many years later, other races caught up to the ingenuity of their counterparts—mainly through direct interaction with goblin traps.

Playing a Trapsmith

Trapmaking started out as an essential survival tool but became more advanced as technology improved and magic was discovered. Dwarves developed methods of blasting stone with black powder and incorporated the new techniques into traps to create terrifying inventions. Arcane practitioners also began their own experiments, which ultimately led to the development of magical traps using special sigils and runes. As great kingdoms and empires arose, traps became tools of warfare in addition to protecting valuable people and possessions. The new reality required masters of both disarming and creating traps. That's where you come in.

You're not just an expert in all things relating to traps. You see every new trap as a puzzle to be solved, its secrets waiting for you to bring them to their highest expression. The physical and emotional scars of your profession are small costs to pay for the sense of aliveness you experience as you practice your trade.

Trapsmiths are rare, so you have little difficulty gaining employment. Adventuring parties, military expeditions, and explorers all value your efforts and often call upon you for follow-up duties if you perform well. You command higher payment for dungeon expeditions than most other adventuring professionals, due to the danger involved in your work as well as your specialized skill set. Indeed, the older you are, the more you can charge for your services, since most young and inexperienced trapsmiths die early.

For Thorry, he is in this strictly for the money, though he does like to keep his hand in. He isn't willing to take stupid chances, with retirement so close. When hired on to an adventuring team, he bluntly advises the others on the best course of action. If he can pass on even a fragment of his experience and knowledge, he considers himself obligated to make the attempt. He takes pride in his work, though, and once he has started a task, he is unwilling to leave it unfinished.

In your line of work, being a little paranoid is an important survival trait. You come across as dour and suspicious to those who have never spoken to you. That trait, along with your matted hair, disfigured hand, and scarred face, make you hard to approach. Those willing to make the effort, though, find you to be excellent company. You like to speak with people, having been a loner for most of your life. You have a dark sense of humor and tell quirky stories about your prior employment. Though you hope to escape that life forever, you're always willing to help—if the pay is right.

Steps in Setting a Trap

Placing a trap always comes with the risk of setting it off. Trapsmiths follow these careful steps so they can keep their extremities and improve the chance of their traps working as intended.

1. Pick the Right Spot: Place traps in narrow tunnels or around valuable objects. Don't give anyone room to skirt around them.

2. Avoid Collateral Damage: Don't let your trap hurt anybody or anything it's not supposed to. Also watch out that you don't place a trap where it can damage the thing it's meant to protect.

3. Use the Right Tools: Don't cut corners. If you don't have the tools to make a particular trap, make a different trap. End of story.

4. Keep Your Distance: If you stay close to your trap while you set it, you're begging to get yourself maimed. Long-handled tools, such as tongs and ten-foot poles, were made for a reason. Protective goggles can't hurt, either.

5. Don't Test It: It's disappointing when a trap fails in the field, but it's not worth risking your life to try the trap out. Far better to be known as the trapsmith who set a couple of duds than as the one who got killed by your own trap.

Building a Trapsmith

Trapsmiths prefer to live in solitude, honing their skills and mastering their trade. You spend your free time researching new and exciting places to go. You might have a core group of friends, but beyond that, you are not very social. Ironically, you might feel like a prisoner in life—with death the ultimate trap to be defeated.

You might become a trapsmith if you enjoy creating dastardly devices to hinder and harm foes; rogues and possibly rangers are typical classes. You might also choose this theme if you like to play clever tricks or conduct intricate research. A mage or bard makes a good trapsmith. Members of any race might take up such a career, but those with an aptitude for mechanical constructions (such as dwarves, gnomes, or svirfneblin) find greater success, as well as those with some magical aptitude. When creating a trapsmith character, consider the following story elements.

Analytical Mind: You understand physics innately and see life's challenges as equations to be solved, using strict logic to determine the likely success or failure of a course of action. You might not be conscious of this thought process; even in social situations, you tend to analyze the situation coldly instead of considering body language and emotion. Thus, others might think you odd. You prefer to live in solitude, honing your skills and mastering your trade, and spend your free time researching new and exciting places to go. You might have a core group of friends, but beyond that, you are not very social.

Adrenaline Rush: Nothing is more exciting than disarming a trap that could splatter you across the room. You love getting into the face of death and kicking it hard. You also enjoy the accolades for overcoming dangerous challenges and might purposely seek out bigger and more hazardous traps. The knowledge you win when you survive such dangers lets you make your own creations that much more fiendish. Your creations are feared by all and coveted by those who need to protect something precious.

Your profession is not a risk-free one. You have suffered for your art and are likely to have scars, welts, or even a missing limb. Rare is the trapsmith who has not had a mishap while setting or disarming a trap. You might also bear emotional scars, which, though not visible, can have longer-lasting effects.

Starting Feature

You can create and disarm elaborate traps, but sometimes a simple device is all that's needed to stop an enemy in its tracks.

Benefit: You gain a trap-making kit (15 lb.), which you use to lay your traps. If you ever lose the kit, it costs 40 gp to replace. You also gain the trip the trap power.


Additional Features

Level 5 Feature
Few professions rival the trapsmith's trade for danger. You are intimately aware of the threat that any hazard or trap presents, and you have honed your ability to sense when one might be nearby.

Benefit: You gain a +2 power bonus to Perception checks and Thievery checks.

Level 10 Feature
Once you have mastered your trade, you can modify the traps you create on the fly to create specialized effects.

Benefit: You can forgo dice of damage from your trip the trap power for one of the following effects. You choose to forgo the dice after you know you hit, but before you make the damage roll.

If you forgo one die of damage, the target falls prone.

If you forgo two dice of damage, the target is dazed until the end of your next turn.

Optional Powers

Level 2 Utility Power
You can rig a simple alarm system to warn your party of intruders.


Level 6 Utility Power
You have refined your skills to the point that your simple alarm can surprise and upset those who trigger it.


Level 10 Utility Power
Sometimes you run into situations that require just a few moments more.


Svirfneblin

We've looked at Thorry the Unlucky as a trapsmith, but what about as a svirfneblin? The Dungeon Survival Handbook detailed three new races including these deep gnomes—who live primarily in the Underdark and rarely associate with their kindred on the surface. The two bloodlines separated so long ago that few similarities remain between them beyond a natural connection to magic. Many who don't understand the svirfneblin's way of life assume they are as dark and sinister as other creatures that live deep below the earth. For this reason, the "deep gnomes" must be vigilant against not only threats from their environment, but also from those who travel down from the surface. They have grown dour and insular by necessity, but they remain fundamentally good at heart. In a world of eternal darkness, where death lurks around every corner, a svirfneblin community provides a welcome contrast.

Svirfneblin's muted expressions convey a sense of dreariness to most outsiders and certainly don't seem welcoming. Deep gnomes act standoffish to newcomers to protect their community, but anyone who gains their trust quickly learns they form close bonds of friendship. They focus on fulfilling their duties through hard work, either in the mines or around their settlement. In their off hours, svirfneblin enjoy telling stories in the company of their family and neighbors.

Svirfneblin are a proud race that respects strength in numbers. They work well with others and value community over individual tastes. Constantly beset by threats, deep gnomes band together and form bonds of friendship that last a lifetime. They will die to protect the people they bond with.




June: Dungeon Tiles: The Urban Underdark

This next set of Dungeon Tiles ventures below ground—after all, it is the Rise of the Underdark, and you'll be able to use these subterranean tiles to help build your encounters. This pack includes six double-sided sheets, a sample of which includes:

  • A cavern mouth, or a simple widening of a cavern. Here's where the party enters!
  • An ogre lair, or a crude lair for a semi-intelligent creature, such as a troll or an ogre. Bear fur lies on the ground, with a pile of bones next to the bear fur bed (hey, an ogre's gotta eat!).
  • A camp, or a fire pit with a lit and glowing fire, logs for chairs, bear skin rug, and rubble. These bears are apparently having a tough time of it here.
  • A miner hall with discarded mining equipment: barrels, pick, wheelbarrow, and piles of rocks.



June: Dungeons & Dragons Online: Menace of the Underdark

We started with the drow, so let's end with the drow! On June 25th, Turbine releases their next major expansion for DDO: Menace of the Underdark. From the official DDO website:

The shadow of Lolth has cast darkness over the kingdom of Cormyr where heroes struggle to stem the unrelenting tide of the drow forces. The hopes of the Realms lie with champions from Eberron, whose world has become entangled in Lolth's schemes, bringing them to Faerûn where they will make the final stand against the Queen of the Demonweb!
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.