Previews Archive | 10/4/2010
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October and Beyond
Bart Carroll

Well, folks...

Here we are in the cool autumnal days. So what's in store? Our Essentials line continues to roll out this month, with the Dungeon Master's Kit and Dungeon Tiles: The City. Also, we have a box set we like to call Gamma World coming out. For those of you interested in sampling some gameplay, be sure to visit the Gamma World Game Day taking place on October 23rd. Robert Schwalb wrote the Game Day adventure ("Trouble in Freesboro"), and as you'll read later on with Famine in Far-Go, his sense of the absurd suits the game perfectly.

Also this month on the website, we'll feature another D&D Outsider article from Jared von Hindman, revisit the Cult of the Reptile God, and even take a look back at what transpired this month in Dragon magazine's rich history. Our podcast series continues, and we'll even start showing off material from the Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms and the Monster Vault -- in fact, we'll start today with an early look inside the Vault!

And with that, let the previews begin!


October: Dungeon Master's Kit

James Wyatt and Bill Slavicsek might have revealed much of the contents and goals of the Dungeon Master's Kit -- basically, it provides everything a new Dungeon Master needs to run a game. For $39.99, you'll get a 272-page digest-sized book filled with rules information, as well as advice on running a game, building adventures, and of course rewarding your players. The kit also contains two 32-page adventure books, supported by two poster maps and monster tokens. There's even a DM screen, with updated tables.

As James mentioned, the two adventure books form both parts of a grand, complex adventure: Reavers of Harkenwold is set in the Nentir Vale, the region introduced in the core rulebooks (and elaborated in the novel The Mark of Nerath).

The first half of the adventure (Part 1: The Iron Circle) takes the characters from 2nd to 3rd level. Part 2: The Die Is Cast contains the second half of the adventure, designed to take characters from 3rd to 4th level.

Harkenwold

Harkenwold is a small barony in the southeast reach of the Nentir Vale. Several tiny hamlets and a number of steadings (isolated farms) are scattered across the broad dale of the White River. The great Harken Forest surrounds the realm, isolating it from the lands nearby. In better times, this quiet backwater contently avoids major trouble.

At present, Iron Circle mercenaries are plundering the land. Baron Stockmer, the rightful lord, is a prisoner in his own keep, and a villainous lord named Nazin Redthorn rules in his place. The Harkenwold folk are down to their last hope -- that brave heroes will answer their calls for help and break the Iron Circle.

The Barony of Harkenwold is a broad valley just over 50 miles long and roughly 20 miles wide located between arms of the Harken Forest. This primarily open land consists of gently rolling hills covered in a mix of cheery meadows, light forest with little undergrowth, and the occasional thicket. The climate is cool and rainy. Many small streams wind their way across the land, eventually joining the White River. These brooks are at most a few feet wide, and small footbridges cross them regularly.

Harkenwold's total population is about 2,000, scattered across half a dozen small hamlets and a score of isolated steadings. Most of the citizens are humans (50%), halflings (25%), and dwarves (20%), with a smattering of other folk (5%). Unless otherwise specified, NPCs the characters meet are human.

Harkenwolders living in the countryside are primarily farmers, shepherds, or woodcutters. Denizens of the hamlets also include woodworkers, smiths, carters, brewers, cheese makers, and leatherworkers. The other villagers tend nearby fields or orchards.

Harkenwold's Steadings

A steading is a farm or homestead in Harkenwold's countryside. Each of these settlements features a strongly built house of fieldstone and timber, surrounded by approximately 200 acres of pastureland and cropland. Some steadings have defensive palisades around the main house. A single extended family commonly lives in the house -- two or three couples with their children, their older relations, and a few hired hands. Rarely do the total inhabitants of a steading exceed 20 people.

Harken Village

Population 212 (town), 60 (keep)

Referred to as Harken by the locals, this village is the largest settlement in Harkenwold. Nazin Redthorn (see page 11) governs Harkenwold from Baron Stockmer's castle, which he's renamed Iron Keep.

Although Harken is the center of the Iron Circle's strength, the characters can visit without difficulty. The Iron Circle hasn't banned travelers from using the King's Road. Adventurers who represent themselves as "just passing through" and who are not belligerent or nervous can move about or stay overnight without being subject to harassment. Given the Iron Circle forces present, however, characters who act suspiciously or are openly hostile quickly attract a heavy-handed response.

Important locations of Harken include:

  1. The Broken Gaol. Once a respected taphouse named the Silver Nail, this tavern has been adopted by the Iron Circle garrison as a favored off-hours drinking spot.
  2. Iron Keep. Formerly the castle of Baron Jonn Stockmer, Iron Keep now serves as the headquarters of Nazin Redthorn and the Iron Circle.
  3. Cliffside Brewery. The three Ironbeards -- brothers Omurk and Dannurk, and Dannurk's notoriously short-tempered wife Dathilda -- run this fine brewery.
  4. Old Kellar's House. Once the elder of Harken, Kellar is an ancient dwarf who worked as a master stonecutter and mason for a century.
  5. Grimbold's House. Grimbold and his family are shifters. They keep to themselves, making a living as woodcutters and trappers. Grimbold knows the woodlands around Harken quite well.
  6. Tower of Green Flame. A mysterious crystal spire rising above the town, this tower is thought to be the residence of an ancient archmage who long ago departed the world to explore other planes.
  7. Harkenwold Trading Station. The major mercantile outlet in Harken, the Trading Station is owned by a stout, oily little man named Rennis.
  8. House of Faith. A large temple built by an adventuring cleric of yore, the House of Faith has seen better days. Shrines dedicated to Pelor, Moradin, Erathis, and Sehanine stand inside.
  9. Nonnie's Place. The doughty halfling Nonnie Farwhere runs a small inn with a kitchen and common room. "Aunt Nonnie" is something of a gossip and a busybody, but she minds her tongue around the Iron Circle soldiers.

As the heroes travel, read:

You arrive in Harkenwold in the middle of the day. It's a broad, lightly settled valley between two arms of the Harken Forest. You haven't traveled more than a mile or two into the valley before trouble appears. Rounding a bend in the road, you spy a pillar of smoke climbing into the clear blue sky. The source, hidden by rolling hills, is roughly a mile along a dirt track that intersects the road.

When the characters investigate, read:

You see human brigands and a pair of wolves surrounding a farmhouse. The humans all wear black cloaks with a gray ring device. They're preparing pitch-soaked torches, laughing and taunting whoever's inside. They've already burned a small outbuilding -- the source of the smoke column.

The overarching adventure concerns no less than a struggle with Iron Circle mercenaries, an attempt to recruit a band of elf allies, and an all-out assault against a fortified stronghold! Much more than a mere few, linked encounters, Reavers of Harkenwold is a chance for the players to make an immediate and lasting impact in their campaign world.

(278 Kbs PDF)

November: Dragon and Dungeon Magazines

I remember editor-in-chief Steve Winter discussing this premise several months back: a gladiatorial arena that was itself sentient, and a call for new champions to test themselves in its proving pit. This nightmarish arena will finally release in November's Dungeon, with Sterling Hershey's "Scarblade." Of course, the arena already has a current champion to unseat -- and his name is Morrn Bladeclaw.

Over in Dragon, a companion piece of sorts offers new grandmaster training for gladiator adventurers; grandmaster training appeared in the Dungeon Master's Guide 2 as an alternate reward. Instead of gaining new magic items, your heroes might instead learn Grandmaster Banoc's cunning deflection, Vanous's coordinated assault, or perhaps even Magnificent Tsor's horrid dispatch.

And that's but a small sampling of what you'll find in the online pages next month!


November: Monster Vault

They lurk in the shadows. They beat down the doors. They wrap their slimy tentacles around you and drag you down into a hole. They come with fire, axes, spells, and teeth. They are the creatures of Dungeons & Dragons, and they are yours to command.

Monster Vault is a reference for Dungeon Masters that contains the essential monsters of Dungeons & Dragons. Inside the pages of this book, you'll find a codex of monsters and villains to throw at the heroes as they delve into dungeons or stage attacks on planar fortresses. You can use this book as a reference when running published adventures or as a tool when designing your own encounters.

Most monster entries in this book begin with a two-page spread consisting of an illustration of a monster and some lore about its origin, habits, allies, and ecology. You'll also find information on how to run the monster in both combat and noncombat encounters, as well as details about adventure and campaign hooks related to a monster.

Following the illustration and lore is a series of monster statistics blocks representing different varieties of a type of monster. You can use these statistics blocks together or with other monsters described in a creature's lore. You might also mix and match monsters as appropriate for your campaign or adventure. The monsters have a variety of roles and levels, allowing you to utilize the creatures throughout the heroes' adventuring careers.

Before we start excerpting the Monster Vault in full, we wanted to showcase the material and a new build for the book's cover monster: the much maligned, misunderstand (does it go "hoo-roar"?) owlbear!

Owlbear

Owlbears are terrifying, nocturnal predators that inhabit the forests of the world and the Feywild, where they hunt to satisfy their voracious appetites. Their haunting cries echo through valleys and across plains, warning to travelers that they are on the prowl.

An owlbear's innocuous name belies its deadly ferocity. These hunters possess more cunning than an owl and more ferocity than a bear, and they have a ravenous appetite far exceeding either animal.

An owlbear has a powerful body and bristly fur similar to that of a bear, but they also possess feathers, a wicked beak, and sharp talons. Despite its exotic appearance, an owlbear is not a magical beast, the creation of some mad wizard who sought to combine the bear and owl. Whatever its origin might be, the owlbear is a species unto itself, occurring with the same regularity that one might encounter other predatory beasts.

Consummate Predators: Gifted with the vision of an owl, an owlbear emerges from its den around sunset and hunts into the darkest hours of night. The creature's den, usually a cave, a ruin, or a hollow tree, is littered with shattered bones and offal, the ghastly remains of the creature's prey. When prey is plentiful, an owlbear drags its kills back to its lair, where it adorns nearby trees or rocks with the corpses. This flesh attracts scavengers, giving the owlbear more opportunities to catch prey. The scent of blood and rotting meat is thick near an owlbear's lair. Aside from the baleful hoot of the creatures, the smell is usually the only other warning that an owlbear is near.

Owlbears hunt alone or in mated pairs. If quarry is plentiful, a family of owlbears might remain together for longer than is required to rear cubs. Otherwise, the irascible creatures typically go their own ways as soon as their young are ready to hunt. Few things can dissuade a hungry owlbear from attacking. An owlbear is a stubborn predator that fights without a sense of self-preservation Even when it is about to die, an owlbear still keeps its victim clenched tightly in its claws, snapping at the foe with its bone-crushing beak.

Supernatural Powers: Despite resembling fairly mundane animals, an owlbear possesses some extraordinary powers based on the environment in which it lives. All owlbears possess a magical call, and each species' call has a different effect. During the night, an owlbear hoots or screeches to declare territory, search for mates, or to flush prey toward terrain that is hazardous or has no escape route.

Savage Pets: An owlbear's carnivorous and violent nature doesn't rule out the ability to train them. Owlbears are difficult to tame, but with enough time and food, a person can train an owlbear to recognize him or her as a master. Owlbears are used as guard beasts and mounts, though even a trained owlbear can still be dangerous.

An elf community sometimes encourages owlbears to den beneath their treetop village, using the beasts as a natural defense during the night. Hobgoblins favor owlbears as war beasts when they manage to control them. A starved owlbear might show up in a gladiatorial arenas, where it eviscerates foes with ruthless efficiency. Large humanoids, such as hill or frost giants, sometimes keep owlbears as pets and playmates.

Trained Owlbear
Level 9 Soldier
Large fey beast
XP 400
HP 96; Bloodied 48 Initiative +8
AC 24, Fortitude 23, Reflex 22, Will 20 Perception +7
Speed 7 Darkvision
Standard Actions
Melee ClawAt-Will
Attack: Melee 2 (one creature); +14 vs. AC
Hit: 2d8 + 8 damage.
Close Burst Thunderous Shriek (thunder)Recharge56
Attack: Close burst 2 (creatures in the burst); +12 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 4d6 + 5 thunder damage, and the target is knocked prone.
Triggered Actions
Melee Guardian ClawAt-Will
Trigger: An enemy adjacent to the trained owlbear makes an attack that does not include it
Attack (Opportunity Action): Melee 1 (triggering enemy); +14 vs. AC
Hit: 2d8 + 8 damage.
Miss: 5 damage.
Str 19 (+8)
Dex 14 (+6)
Wis 16 (+7)
Con 16 (+7)
Int 2 (+0)
Cha 10 (+4)
Alignment unaligned
Languages --
Equipment

December: D&D Gamma World: Famine in Far-Go

More than an adventure, Famine in Far-Go presents a wealth of new material for your Gamma World campaign. What material? Try 20 new character origins, including gelatinous. Twenty-five new monsters, including the froghemoth, vegepygmy, and the garbug (remember those flying lobsters, folks?). And then there's the adventure itself, which (as you've probably gauged from the monsters above) has a certain Expedition to the Barrier Peaks feel to it.

The people of Far-Go have always been able to rely on a steady supply of food. The area's rich, fertile soil is perfect for growing crops, and the abundance of staple foodstuffs has given the folk here a leg up in making decent lives in a post-apocalyptic world. But as this year's harvest nears, strange reports from the surrounding farms tell of a mountain that fell from the sky, crops vanishing overnight, and unexplained attacks by weird mold creatures. The people are panicking as terrors stalk their lands and food begins to grow scarce. If something isn't done soon, the residents of Far-Go will face death from rampaging plant monsters or death from starvation. Either way, not so good.

"Famine in Far-Go" is a D&D Gamma World adventure for five 3rd-level characters. By the adventure's end, the characters should be 6th level.

Expanded Origins

As mentioned, Famine in Far-Go adds twenty new origins to those presented in the core game rules. You can create a character using only these new origins, or you can determine which table to use randomly. To do so, roll a d6. On a result of 1–3, use the Character Origin table from the core game rules (page 34). On a result of 4 –6, use the table below. Then roll a d20 to determine the specific origin. As usual, if you roll the same origin twice, your secondary origin becomes engineered human.

Character Origin Table

Roll Origin Roll Origin Roll Origin
1 AI 8 Fungoid 15 Prescient
2 Alien 9 Gelatinous 16 Reanimated
3 Arachnoid 10 Magnetic 17 Shapeshifter
4 Cryokinetic 11 Mythic 18 Simian
5 Ectoplasmic 12 Nightmare 19 Temporal
6 Entropic 13 Plaguebearer 20 Wheeled
7 Exploding 14 Plastic

December: Dungeon Tiles: Wilderness

We've had Essentials Dungeon Tiles sets for the dungeon and city. This new set covers the wilderness, with pieces for camps, abandoned towers, and strange menhir rings -- as well as all the trails, rivers, and general terrain tiles you'll need for when your heroes have to travel from the dungeon back to the city. But let's have the tiles speak for themselves, shall we?

Well, folks -- that's this month's sneak peeks. As always, be sure to check our excerpts for individual previews from our books, and Bill Slavicsek's Ampersand column for the earliest insights and announcements about the game.

About the Author

Bart Carroll was thought to be extinct until recently when this horror reappeared. He is the result of a mad wizard's experimental cross-breeding of a snapping turtle and armadillo with infusions of demons' ichor. Bart wanders temperate climates feeding on horses, men, and most other flesh—although he dislikes dwarf and shuns elf of any sort. He loves halfling and will hungrily dig them from their burrows. Bart is irascible and always hungry, and fears nothing, so he will attack a large, powerful party just to eat a horse or two.

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