For a little light reading these days, I've elected to go through the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide, cover to cover. Aside from the magic item tables and combat charts I'd consulted every game (to the point where those pages have long since torn away from their binding), I always knew the book held a wealth of other miscellany. Some of these things I'd found in past expeditions through its pages (the damage a lycanthrope suffers if transforming while wearing armor, the reputed magical properties of gems), and some I eagerly discovered for the first time.
At one point early in my research, I came across "The Monster as a Player Character," describing what to do if a player wishes to have a draconic, demonic, or otherwise monstrous character. "This is done principally because the player sees the desired monster character as superior to his or her peers and likely to provide a dominant role for him or her in the campaign," the Dungeon Master's Guide states. "A moment of reflection will bring them to the unalterable conclusion that the game is heavily weighted toward mankind."
As the Dungeon Master's Guide continues:
"The game features humankind for a reason. It is the most logical basis in an illogical game. From a design aspect it provides the sound groundwork. From a standpoint of creating the campaign milieu it provides the most readily usable assumptions. From a participation approach it is the only method, for all players are, after all is said and done, human, and it allows them the role with which most are most desirous and capable of identifying with. From all views then it is enough fantasy to assume a swords & sorcery cosmos, with impossible professions and make-believe magic. To adventure amongst the weird is fantasy enough without becoming that too!"
In essence, the book posits a world focused on humans largely because it's easier for players to identify with humans (and then proceed on to their adventuring) -- and as a known foundation for DMs to build upon.
"Consider also that each and every Dungeon Master worthy of that title is continually at work expanding his or her campaign milieu. The game is not merely a meaningless dungeon and an urban base around which is plopped the dreaded wilderness. Each of you must design a world, piece by piece, as if a jigsaw puzzle were being hand crafted, and each new section must fit perfectly the pattern of the other pieces. Faced with such a task all of us need all of the aid and assistance we can get. Without such help the sheer magnitude of the task would force most of us to throw up our hands in despair."
All this might have been true at the time, but I wonder how much still holds true today. Humans still remain the most popular (or perhaps, most common) race to play. Yet a few weeks back, we posted a Rule-of-Three question regarding the eligibility of kobolds to become a full-fledged player race. At the end of the article, we asked your thoughts on the matter. Most of you were strongly in favor, and some of my favorite quotes from your emails include the following.
Both kobolds and hobgoblins own. I have played kobolds and hobgoblins. They own. If you don't like kobolds and hobgoblins, then you don't own. Hope this helps.
Oh, and if you're looking for any other options for monsters as PCs…might I suggest: Owlbears! =] (Or are they going to be a class, like vampires, in Heroes of the Feywild?)
We also posted a Design & Development column that explored this very question: the decision to cast vampires as a class (examined in a Confessions article, as well). At the end of the article, we also asked for other classic monsters you thought could use the same treatment. From your emails, we determined that the leading contenders included the werewolf, lich, mummy, and medusa.
Humans have, and still do, form an important foundation for the game. Yet I have to believe that, as a gaming culture, our capacity for grasping, building, and enjoying far "wilder" fantasy milieus is appreciably greater. Playing as kobolds, vampires, or any number of supposed monsters are now character options that work for a good many people and fit into most campaigns without complaint—but that's my opinion. (If you agree or disagree or have other thoughts on the topic, let me know.)
In any case, in continuing the theme of monsters, let's take a look at the next few months of offerings.
From the product catalog:
This boxed set is for Dungeon Masters interested in taking their heroes on excursions to the Shadowfell, as well as Dungeon Masters looking for a sinister setting in which to run thrilling urban adventures. A 128-page book presents the fully detailed city of Gloomwrought, complete with location descriptions, maps, quests, and game statistics for monsters and villains. It also provides information on other locations heroes are likely to visit beyond the city's dark walls. In addition, the box contains a 32-page book of encounters set in Gloomwrought and beyond, two card stock sheets of die-cut monster and villain tokens, a foldout battle map, and a deck of 30 cards that DMs can use to add suspense to any Shadowfell-based adventure.
If the Shadowfell is an echo of the world seen through a mirror darkly, then Gloomwrought—City of Midnight—is the reflection of a worldly city seen through that same mirror. But this mirror has been smashed into pieces, then rearranged according to the whims of a lunatic. Although Gloomwrought is one of the few strongholds of civilization in the Shadowfell, it is neither a safe settlement nor a pleasant one. Its citizens come to the city or stay in it for simple reasons, but rarely good ones. To those bold enough to seek power, wealth, and glory in the plane of shadow, Gloomwrought offers a place to do so.
Danger lurks everywhere in Gloomwrought, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. Large or small, humanoid or monstrous -- in the City of Midnight, anything might be out to get you. Much as in any city, you'll see that political, religious, and commercial factions constantly wrestle for power, and adventurers passing through make enemies among them through their very presence.
Today we'll examine one such danger: the Ghost Talon, a group dedicated to the dominance of shadar-kai. Why did we choose them? I'll confess, perhaps because their leader bears a striking resemblance (in my opinion) to the immutably cool Mickey Rourke.
Read on, and judge for yourself.
The Ghost Talon
Gloomwrought is a cosmopolitan city with citizens representing every race, creed, and origin. Most residents of the city accept this fact, but some groups chafe at associating with others. Such protestations rarely rise above muttered curses or minor scuffles. The Ghost Talon, though, doesn't stop there.
These shadar-kai militants assault citizens of other races. They work to drive all but shadar-kai out of Gloomwrought. They disregard any mandate of ownership or rightful possession, and they hate everyone else and wish them either gone or dead.
Around a hundred shadar-kai follow the group's leader, Oristus. In recent years, the Ghost Talon has grown its membership slowly but surely. Oristus's message reaches shadar-kai that are eager to purge Gloomwrought of its oppressive nobility and make room for their people.
The gang uses brutal, effective tactics, from sabotage to campaigns of violence. It targets people it deems unfit to live in the city. Oristus sees visitors and residents alike as representatives of decadence, and he leads the Talon in missions against them in every district.
Whenever members of the Ghost Talon complete a task, they disappear. As a result, authorities can't pin them down. So far, the shadar-kai have limited their efforts to isolated acts of terrorism, but as their group's membership grows, they are becoming increasingly audacious, able to attack on multiple fronts and practice more sinister terrorist attacks. Anyone who does not fit into the gang's vision for the city can fall victim to its attacks, so naturally the group has many enemies. Shadowborn residents of the city, particularly those in positions of power, are targeted by the group, as are devotees of any god other than the Raven Queen. Some members of the Ghost Talon also join the Ebony Guard, making them extremists among extremists. Most of Gloomwrought's nobility would like to see the group destroyed, but it considers the organization to be someone else's problem. The Deathless Watch despises the Ghost Talon, since members of the group always opt to fight rather than pay bribes. For the same reason, the Watch is slow to react to threats involving the Talon, so it is rarely able to curtail the group's efforts.
The top spot on the Ghost Talon's hit list belongs to Prince Rolan. As a human and the political head of the city, Rolan represents everything the gang aims to destroy. The Talon jumps at any opportunity to strike at Rolan or members of the Prince's Guard. So far, the group has had few successes against his forces, and Rolan isn't too worried. He has assigned spies to keep tabs on the organization in case its numbers swell enough to challenge his control.
The Ghost Talon believes the shadar-kai were chosen by the Raven Queen and naturally should control the most prominent city in her realm. Ultimately, the Talon plans to transform Gloomwrought into the capital of an empire for shadar-kai.
Part of the Ghost talon's ethos exalts the inherent abilities of shadar-kai. The warriors learn to expand their shadow jaunt ability to work with other combat powers. They practice diligently and subject themselves to unique rituals to improve their powers. They ingest poisons that push them to the brink of death. Some members die as a result of these practices, but those who stare death in the face and remain with the living are bequeathed with extraordinary abilities surpassing those of ordinary shadar-kai. Talk of these rituals has given rise to the belief among much of Gloomwrought's populace that members of the Ghost Talon are undead. The Talon has found that this speculation helps instill fear in its victims, so the gang does nothing to discourage the rumors.
History of the Ghost Talon
Oristus founded the Ghost Talon almost three years ago, upon his banishment from Raven's Eyrie. In his view, his exile served only to prove the weakness of the temple in dealing with outsiders. He swore he would take the fight to the impure, and he dedicated the Talon to rebellion against the corruption and weakness of the shadowborn noble and merchant houses.
At the beginning, the gang consisted of only a few members. Oristus and his cohorts railed against the nobility and the other races, but they lacked the numbers to back up their words with actions. After a few months, they had just enough members to attempt a simple mission of sabotage against the Goldhammer General Store in the Plaza District. As the order made a name for itself, disaffected and powerless shadar-kai throughout the city found their way to Ghost Hall.
In the years since, the Ghost Talon has expanded its operations into many types of crime and widened its targets to even the richest noble houses. Many of the houses have fought back, attempting to expunge the gang from the face of the city. Some of these campaigns inflicted heavy casualties on the Talon—one effort by House Carradh penetrated Ghost Hall, leaving behind the bodies of nearly half the order. Each time, Oristus survived and rebuilt, earning him a level of infamy on the streets of Gloomwrought. The Ghost Talon won't die until he does. He remains one of the most wanted criminals in the city.
Ghost Talon Thug
Level 12 Minion Brute
Medium shadow humanoid, shadar-kai
HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion. Initiative +10
AC 24, Fortitude 25, Reflex 24, Will 23 Perception +7
Speed 6 Low-light vision
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +17 vs. AC
Hit: 9 damage, or 15 on a critical hit. The thug becomes insubstantial until the start of its next turn.
Effect: The thug teleports up to 3 squares and becomes insubstantial until the start of its next turn.
Effect (Immediate Interrupt): The thug makes a saving throw. If it saves, it ignores the triggering damage.
Str 20 (+11)
Dex 18 (+10)
Wis 12 (+7)
Con 15 (+8)
Int 11 (+6)
Cha 16 (+9)
Equipment hide armor, heavy flail
Ghost Talon Death Dealer
Level 14 Controller (Leader)
Medium shadow humanoid, shadar-kai
HP 115; Bloodied 57 Initiative +7
AC 28, Fortitude 24, Reflex 25, Will 28 Perception +14
Speed 6 Low-light vision
When an ally in the aura drops to 0 hit points, it doesn't die or fall unconscious until the end of its next turn.
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +19 vs. AC
Hit: 3d6 + 8 cold and necrotic damage.
Attack: Ranged 5 (one creature); +17 vs. Reflex
Hit: 2d10 + 5 cold damage, and ongoing 5 cold damage (save ends). The death dealer becomes insubstantial until the end of its next turn.
Attack: Ranged 5 (one creature taking ongoing cold damage); +16 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2d6 + 4 cold damage, and the target is petrified (save ends).
If the target is targeted by an attack that deals fire damage, it can make a saving throw against the effect after that attack is resolved.
Effect: The death dealer teleports up to 3 squares. Each enemy adjacent to it before the teleport takes 5 cold and necrotic damage.
Str 11 (+7)
Dex 10 (+7)
Wis 24 (+14)
Con 16 (+10)
Int 18 (+11)
Cha 15 (+9)
Oristus is hostile to all outsiders and immediately considers the adventurers enemies. It's unlikely he would deign to talk to any characters. If a conversation does occur, Oristus is utterly contemptuous toward the heroes. He continually strokes the handle of his weapon, making it clear he would like nothing more than an excuse to use it. He especially hates halflings, and he spews insults and challenges at any such character.
The new season of D&D Encounters is almost here: Dark Legacy of Evard starts up this week on May 5th!
Duponde might seem like nothing more than a sleepy little stopover along the broad banks of the Nentir River. But the village harbors a dark secret. The tomb of the notorious Evard the Black, master of shadow magic, lies in the town's cemetery.
Many years ago, Evard came to Duponde to destroy his rival Vontarin, a powerful wizard who lived in a manor at the edge of town. The two mages met near the walls of the abbey of St. Avarthil and dueled all night long with black spells, laying the old monastery in ruins with their magic. In the morning, the surviving friars found Evard dead in the wreckage, and buried him in the tower's graveyard. Vontarin was never seen again.
Now, almost fifty years after his death, Evard's final curse is about to descend on the town and everyone within it.
Rich Baker, who wrote this season, also has a forthcoming Design & Development article that discusses the Dark Legacy of Evard. As he hints: "The final piece of the puzzle that brought the adventure's plot into focus for me was one simple question: Who's buried in Evard's tomb?" Plus, this month's D&D Alumni will take a look back at Evard -- and his connections with Jack Vance and the game's spellcasting systems.
If you've never played before, you should know that D&D Encounters is an exciting, weekly campaign that takes place at participating game stores. As you defeat enemies, solve puzzles, finish quests, and perform heroic deeds, you'll earn Renown Points that you can use to get exclusive rewards. Each session only takes 1-2 hours to play, so it's easy to fit your game in after school or work. And each week you can experience a new and exciting challenge. Jump in anytime!
From the product catalog:
The monsters and villains contained within are appropriate challenges for heroic- and paragon-tier characters and fit easily into any home campaign, as well as other Dungeons & Dragons published campaign settings. In addition to a 128-page book of ready-to-play monsters and villains, this product includes 8 die-cut sheets of card stock monster and villain tokens and a double-sided battle map featuring four different encounter locations you can use when running encounters.
In this book, you'll find a codex of monsters and villains to throw at the heroes as they explore every nook and cranny of the Nentir Vale or, by extension, your home campaign setting. Most of the entries mention locales within the vale, but if your campaign uses a different setting, you can easily adapt the story material to suit your needs.
Since we've been discussing the Abyssal Plague in recent Design & Development columns lately (by James Wyatt and Bruce Cordell), let's take a look at how these demons are presented in this Monster Vault.
Abyssal Plague Demons
Alien entities from a dead universe, plague demons have the same chaotic and destructive nature as demons from the Abyss deep within the Elemental Chaos. Unleashed upon the natural world, they are a virulent infection that spreads like wildfire through a parched forest.
A ritual undertaken in ancient times released the exarchs of the demon lord of a dead universe, a universe where the demon lord succeeded in conquering its Abyss but also inadvertently destroyed the planes around it. Brought to the natural world, these exarchs planned to establish the Abyssal plague, unleash hordes of plague demons, and open the way for their demon lord to step into this existence.
Heroes of the age stepped forward to disrupt the ritual, and the threat of the plague demons seemed to have been dealt with. Recently, however, one of the exarchs escaped from its ancient prison, and the demon lord found a host in the natural world.
Now the Abyssal plague has ignited a fever that burns throughout the land. Plague demons of various forms have begun to appear, threatening civilized settlements across the Nentir Vale. The very touch of a plague demon can pass along a debilitating disease that can lead to death or even transformation in rare cases. The alien disease can turn humans and other natural creatures into plague demons.
All plague demons so far observed share certain physical characteristics. A crimson crystal substance, either in liquid or solid form, is somehow incorporated into each plague demon's body. The crimson substance contains strands of silver and flecks of gold, and it appears as either an oozing liquid or as hard as an armored shell. The substance might manifest as veins of pulsating liquid crystal running between armored plates or undulating from cracks in the skin, solid crystal protrusions, or even crystalline weapons emerging from limbs.
Plague Demon Chaos Vanguard
Level 9 Soldier
Large elemental beast (demon)
HP 100; Bloodied 50 Initiative +8
AC 25, Fortitude 24, Reflex 19, Will 19 Perception +6
Speed 6 Darkvision
Whenever an enemy in the aura makes an attack that doesn't include the plague demon as a target, the enemy takes 10 damage.
Attack: Melee 2 (one creature); +14 vs. AC
Hit: 3d6 + 6 damage, and the plague demon pushes the target up to 2 squares.
Attack: Close blast 3 (enemies in the blast); +14 vs. AC
Hit: 2d12 + 6 damage. At the end of the encounter, the target makes a saving throw. On a failure, the target contracts Abyssal plague (stage 1).
Trigger: The plague demon takes acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage.
Effect (Free Action): The plague demon gains resist 5 to the triggering damage type until the end of the encounter or until it uses variable resistance again.
Str 24 (+11)
Dex 15 (+6)
Wis 14 (+6)
Con 20 (+9)
Int 14 (+6)
Cha 12 (+5)
Alignment chaotic evil
Out of nightmares and shadows
The witch Ilvani's nightmares of a storm and a suffering soul are luring shadow monsters into the shadar-kai city of Ikemmu, bent on hunting her down and killing her for reasons no one can ascertain.
Into the heart of the storm
Ashok, one of the thrill-seeking shadar-kai imbued with the power of shadow, is determined to find a way to stop it before the shadow monsters destroy the city he worked so hard to save. But the trail leads him and his companions far from Ikemmu and the Shadowfell.
The only thing thicker than darkness is blood
The companions find themselves deep in the frozen kingdom of Rashemen, where similarly strange attacks are happening among the secretive masked witches of the steppes. Picking apart the threads, they chance into a history as bloody and unforgiving as their own, the untangling of which might solve both Ikemmu and Rashemon's plights. Or prove their mutual destruction.
In the fall of 2012, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, embarked on a series of high-energy experiments. No one knows exactly what went wrong, but in the blink of an eye, thousands of possible universes all condensed into a single reality….
Between a desert and a dried-up sea lies the town of Watering Hole, the only oasis for miles and the home of our intrepid heroes Shaani and Xoota. After some rather harrowing adventures in the desert, they are followed home by a swarm of empathic earwigs. As if a psychic bug infestation weren't enough, the town's water supply has suddenly evaporated. Where there was once fresh water to spare, there is now only a trickle of brackish sludge.
Theorizing that the water came from a source beyond the desert, Shaani proposes an expedition to replenish the town's water supply. Xoota, of course, is named to go with her. Crossing the desert has never been done -- and with water in short supply, the task seems impossible. But the ever-helpful Shaani appeals to the town patron Benek, and his love of cryogenically frozen brides, to back the project. What follows is the adventure of a thousand lifetimes.
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.
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.