Last month we showed off a fearsome foursome; this time we look at just two more masterful minis before the full set releases later this month.
Let’s bring out one more giant to celebrate the namesake Against the Giants set -- and if you thought the Fire Giant Raider hit hard, this fellow hits that much harder still. In the 4th Edition Monster Manual, you’ll see titans categorized within giants; in fact, titans are now considered larger, elder cousins to the giants.
Like the Fire Giant, the Death Titan is a veritable tank -- surrounded by his moaning, screaming shroud of souls -- with plenty of hit points, a sweeping attack (to better rid himself of pesky foes surrounding him underfoot), and a potent ranged attack. As his name implies, the Death Titan also brings necrotic damage to his attacks, as well as the ability to harvest defeated opponents.
Creature of myth and legend, the cockatrice proudly stands alongside the gorgon, basilisk, and other oddities that made their way into the game from medieval bestiaries. (My personal favorite, the catoblepas, sadly did not make the cut, though I’ll always appreciate its reference in China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station.) Of course, some elements of the cockatrice’s legend could not be translated into game terms (at least, not practically): only a weasel is immune to its petrification and it dies upon hearing a rooster crowing.
That said, the cockatrice’s main function -- turning enemies to stone -- is still very much a part of this version. In 4th Edition sensibilities, save-or-die effects have been mitigated so that the cockatrice, for example, needs to peck away at a foe. First, they are slowed. Then, they are immobilized. Finally, they are turned to stone -- but until that happens, this inexpensive 18-point figure is still very useful in reducing the mobility of your enemies.
Since DDM is releasing Against the Giants, there’s no better tile set to host these figures than the Hall of the Giants Kings, which offers plenty of giant-sized dungeon dressing: thrones, feasting tables, chests, and doors. There are, of course, tiles made with Medium characters in mind: a barracks, watchtower interior, and dungeon stocked with a cells and a rack -- plus, a fenced defensive pit that could very easily double as a makeshift gladiatorial pit (even larger than the one Conan fought within).
Now that many groups have had a chance to play through H1 Keep on the Shadowfell, what does H2 hold in store? Last month we presented a peek at the backstory. This month let's reveal a little more on how Thunderspire Mountain unfolds:
"You set off after the Bloodreavers several days ago, and you've tracked them to a stronghold below Thunderspire Mountain. Here, Underdark merchants and surface traders meet in the great Seven-Pillared Hall to do business."
So we left off last time, at the threshold to the mountain. Without revealing too much of the adventure itself, it’s perhaps no secret that the Bloodreavers may eventually lead within the namesake Thunderspire Mountain. What do the PCs find within it?
In the spirit of a thousand words, here are some of the locations you and your players may encounter within Thunderspire:
The Seven-Pillared Hall
A mighty chamber, this was once the market square and meeting place of the ancient undermountain city of Saruun Khel. In some ways, it still serves as a market and meeting place of sorts, but for a different kind of inhabitant. Today, the Mages of Saruun provide order and safety within the Hall, chiefly so that they can trade with the intelligent monster races that live within the Labyrinth and the Underdark beyond. While the mages seek to acquire goods and items important to their arcane experiments from creatures that normally don’t conduct trade with the surface dwellers, the relative safety of the place has given rise to an underground market—both figuratively and literally.
Chamber of Eyes
Carvings of eyes cover the walls, floor, and ceiling of this room. An idol of a horrible toadlike creature dominates the area. In the center of the floor, chains are affixed to the flagstones, though no prisoners are chained there. A huge black wolf lies on the floor nearby, and three hobgoblins are busy oiling the chains.
Well of Demons
The Well of Demons was once a monastery dedicated to Baphomet, demon lord of berserkers, destruction, and mindless fury. The minotaurs of the Labyrinth worshiped Baphomet above all other gods, devils, and demons. The Well of Demons was an isolated complex used by Baphomet’s priests to test those who wished to gain the demon lord’s greatest blessings.
Once, this place consisted of a series of chambers designed to challenge a petitioner’s abilities. Those who survived the tests were inducted into Baphomet’s inner mysteries. Many of Baphomet’s high priests dwelled here, and many of the cult’s greatest treasures were gathered and sealed within the area’s inner sanctum.
When the Labyrinth fell into ruin, the Well of Demons remained an active center of Baphomet worship for many decades. In the end, a band of Demogorgon worshipers raided the place and drove out Baphomet’s faithful, yet many of the cult’s treasures remained undisturbed within the inner sanctum.
"Learn ye well the lesson of the pebble that begets a landslide. Likewise a single betrayal unleashed the Spellplague, whose consequences yet dance and stagger across Toril, and beyond."
-- Elminster of Shadowdale
Year of the Ageless One (1479 DR)
Last month, we broke out some Forgotten Realms wordplay. This time, let’s dive a little further into the campaign setting. We mentioned in a past In the Works how core rulebook previews would be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday leading up to launch; the preview articles achieved a good level of success in this format, and we plan to do much the same with the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide. Look for a series of preview articles leading into August, showcasing some of the people, places, and threats of the Forgotten Realms.
To start things off, however, let’s take a look at one such place:
Amn is a nation under the golden thumb of a few obscenely rich and corrupt merchant houses. With the wealth these oligarchs command, Amnian fleets dominate Faerûn’s southern coasts. Amn’s rulers have declared arcane magic to be illegal, except in the hands of spellcasters licensed by the High Houses. All others are denied the opportunity to level the magical playing field. Rebellion simmers constantly among numerous disaffected and disenfranchised, many of whom are halflings.
A character knows the following information with a successful skill check.
History DC 20: Amn’s colonies across the Trackless Sea vanished in the Spellplague, but Amnian merchant companies (backed by highly prized charters obtained from the ruling Council) still control profitable areas of Chult, the Mhair Archipelago, and the Moonshaes.
Streetwise DC 15: Nobody really likes Amn. Amnian merchants organized into various “companies” have strong-armed and intimidated people for thousands of miles around. The nation revels in plundering the wealth of a dozen other countries. Still, it is a human land, and individual Amnians aren’t really all that bad. It’s only the rich ones you have to watch out for.
Amn’s rivalry with Waterdeep is particularly fierce, although it’s more competition between certain merchant houses than national fervor. The monstrous realm of Muranndin to the south is a constant headache to Amnian trade.
Tethyr regards Amn’s voraciousness with no small concern, despite declaring its friendship with the nation. Such a “friend” is not likely to be of much help when trouble strikes, unless well paid for the effort.
Settlements and Features
Amn is heavily settled, especially along its great rivers and around Lakes Esmel and Weng. Inns and taverns cater to traffic along the Trade Way, lining the road for the length of its passage through the country.
Capital City; Population 122,000
Anything goes in Athkatla. What is considered illegal, immoral, or despicable in other places passes without comment in this so-called city of sin if the price is right. Lewdness, slavery, and even less savory acts such as murder occur here, as in any large city. But in Athkatla, the law permits almost anything. The only illegality is speaking or acting against a merchant house. In all other cases, the response to an offense is a fee, whose size depends on the degree of inconvenience to the other party. Once the fee is paid (often in advance), the act is not considered criminal -- only not paying is seen as unlawful behavior. Gold flows freely in Athkatla. As one of the busiest ports in all Faerûn, almost any good or service can be had here. Ships from places near and far dock in the city, transporting exotic vegetables, slaves, jewelry, strange relics, pirate booty, and more. Athkatla’s marketplace might even overshadow Waterdeep’s. Above the bay is Goldspires, a temple to Waukeen nearly as large as a small town.
Popular shops include Tiny Deaths (poisons), the Museum of Inquisition (torture equipment), Madroon’s Curios (a little of this, a little of that), Lowmarket (slaves), Faded Ages (memory tailoring), Odd Candy (sweets . . . ?), and I Change (body modification).
Caravan City; Population 40,000
The “caravan capital of Amn” is a fortified mustering point for practically all trade heading northward by land. Shadow Thieves (see the “Powers of Amn” sidebar) openly headquarter in Crimmor because it is the one city where they do not practice their trade. Indeed, they ruthlessly stamp out any freelance thieves.
Crimmor bristles with inns, taverns, and festhalls serving the numerous caravanners and adventurers who pass this way.
Powers of Amn
Amn’s Council of Five includes the Meisarch, Tessarch, Namarch, Iltarch, and Pommarch. Although these positions were once anonymously held, they now openly belong to the houses Selemchant (from Athkatla, sponsors of the Cowled Wizards), Dannihyr (from Eshpurta, secret masters of the Shadow Thieves), Alibakkar (from Athkatla), Ophal (from Crimmor), and Nashivaar (from Esmeltaran, strongly allied with the Church of Cyric), respectively.
Each of the High Houses (whose leaders make up the council) sponsors a number of smaller client houses. The mercantile cabals constantly feud, each wanting a bigger piece of the pie and working to insinuate their members into good positions. In theory, a highly successful independent house could claim a spot on the council and make it a Council of Six as it once was. Right now, about the only thing the leaders of Amn agree on is that there’s no reason to cut the take six ways.
Other important groups include the following.
The Cowled Wizards: This cabal of the only “legal” arcanists in Amn is under the control of House Selemchant. The Cowled Wizards serve as the Meisarch’s spies, troubleshooters, and assassins. Most are little more than mercenaries.
The Shadow Thieves: This widespread syndicate has largely succeeded in driving all other Amnian thieves’ guilds out of business.
Church of Cyric: Cyric’s faith is powerful in Amn, since it espouses as virtues ambition, self-reliance, and the principle of “buyer beware.” The church is not seen as particularly murderous or antisocial by most Amnians. Those initiated into the deeper circles of the faith know otherwise. Merchants who don’t want to suffer mysterious monster attacks against their caravans and ships pay off the Black Sun. Many wish to arrange such things for their rivals and willingly participate in every sort of degradation and initiation demanded by the Prince of Lies. The Cyricists are working to elevate the Pommarch to the position of council leader.
The Emerald Cabal: This secret society of unlawful spellcasters opposes the whole crooked Amnian system. The cabal occasionally arranges “unfortunate events” for merchant lords who become excessively destructive.
Plots and Adventure Sites
The Cloud Peaks: These mountains mark the northern border of Amn. Despite being home to white dragons and other dangerous creatures, they are mined for iron, precious metal, and gems. A pair of steep crags known as the Fangs guards the Trade Way leading to the Sword Coast lands. Giants are sometimes seen scaling the crags as part of some ceremony or game. The Cloud Peaks are also home to the Mountain of Skulls, a temple dedicated to Cyric.
Lake Esmel: This dark blue lake plummets to unknown depths in its central, southern, and eastern portions. Hot mineral springs flow in the western shallows. Rumors speak of a great wyrm lairing there -- some stories describe it as red, others copper.
The Wailing Dwarf: An enormous vertical slab of rock 4,000 feet high in the western portion of the Troll Mountains is carved to resemble a dwarf. Named because of the noise of the wind blowing through its hollow eyes, ears, and mouth, it marks the site of an abandoned dwarven city. In more recent times, the underground ruin was controlled by an unusually clever tribe of trolls. A newer, more vicious force has taken over the site, however, slaughtering the trolls. During the last decade, no creature entering the Wailing Dwarf has returned to tell what new monstrosity hides in the fallen city.
Behind the facade of the Wailing Dwarf, the shackled bodies of maimed, regenerating trolls are strapped across walls and ceilings. This terrible spectacle is a warning posted by several guardian nagas that the trolls disturbed after pushing too far into the ruin, a clear message to intelligent creatures to retreat from the complex immediately lest they face a similar fate. The nagas, sentinels imbued with an unquenchable desire to protect their secrets, remain potent obstacles to any other creature seeking to find treasure or knowledge in the old dwarven city.
South of Amn lies the monster kingdom of Muranndin, comprising the city of Murann, the Small Teeth, and portions of the northern Wealdath and eastern Dragon’s Head peninsula. This realm isolates the independent duchy of Velen from the rest of Faerûn and exacts tolls on all traffic along the Trade Way. Marauders from Muranndin roam all nearby lands.
Slavery is common here. The monstrous conquerors of the city enslaved thousands of Amnians back in the 1370s, and many of the descendants of those unfortunates still serve the ogres, orcs, and bandits of the area. A human in Muranndin can easily fight his way out of slavery -- if he’s willing to show the orcs and ogres he’s as mean, nasty, and tough as they are.
Orc and ogre chieftains (as well as black-hearted human bandit lords) maintain scattered strongholds and keeps here. Although all are theoretically subject to the dictates of the kingdom’s leader, the Great Mur, infighting and feuds are common.
Last time we set up just a small introduction to the concluding adventure of 4th Edition’s H-series (to take characters from 7th to 10th level). But just what is this pyramid?
"The Pyramid of Shadows is a bizarre extradimensional space full of weird monsters and strange magic effects. It exists beyond space and time, appearing in multiple places in the world and planes beyond, its inside knowing nothing of the passage of years. It’s a prison by its nature, and it has caught up countless people and monsters over millennia."
We also gave you a quote from the adventure. Here’s one more your characters might someday hear:
"Now you are trapped in the Pyramid of Shadows. The only way to win your freedom is to kill me—three times."
We’ve just begun to start previewing the Campaign Guide, so detailed information on the Player’s Guide will need to wait . . . for just a short while longer. That said, let’s take a look at some of the information this book does contain:
Races: Information on playing races from the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook in the Realms . . . plus new races added to the list.
Classes: An entirely new class and new multiclass-only class (available to characters who have a spellscar, a mark that is the corroded echo of spellfire twisted by the disaster that was the Spellplague), as well as new paragon paths and an epic destiny.
Backgrounds: Regional benefits for characters.
Feats: New class and multiclass feats, plus Channel Divinity and racial feats.
Rituals: New rituals between levels 1-30.
Almanac: Quite a bit of setting information, on everything from lore, currency, cosmology, to information on the Spellplague.
And yes, plenty of new items are coming out in September’s Adventurer's Vault (formerly titled Tome of Treasures) . . . including new alchemy items, vehicles, and additional mounts. (Would you like to ride an elephant? How about a shark?)
Look for detailed previews to come soon.
Yes folks, our Product Catalog has now expanded to include the first four months of 2009. Take a look at what’s in store the first trimester of next year right here.
D&D Around the World
Finally, we have a quick roundup of some of the game’s references across the Internet: